Inter Press Service » North America http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 26 Feb 2015 23:55:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 OPINION: U.S. and Middle East after the Islamic Statehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/us-and-the-middle-east-after-the-islamic-state/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-and-the-middle-east-after-the-islamic-state http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/us-and-the-middle-east-after-the-islamic-state/#comments Thu, 19 Feb 2015 16:38:31 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139262 Former CIA Director Tenet warned the Bush administration of the negative consequences of failing to consider the aftermath of a U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.

Former CIA Director Tenet warned the Bush administration of the negative consequences of failing to consider the aftermath of a U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Feb 19 2015 (IPS)

As the Congress ponders President Barack Obama’s request for an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to fight the Islamic State (ISIS or IS), U.S. policymakers must focus on the “morning after” before they embark on another potentially disastrous war in the Levant.

The president assured the nation at his press conference on February 11 that IS is on the verge of being contained, degraded, and defeated. If true, the United States and the West must address the future of the region in the wake of the collapse of IS to avoid the rise of another extremist threat and another “perfect storm” in the region.

The evidence so far that Washington will be more successful than during the Iraq war is not terribly encouraging.

The Iraq War Parallel

George Tenet, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, wrote in his book At the Center of the Storm that in September 2002 CIA analysts presented the Bush administration with an analytic paper titled “The Perfect Storm: Planning for Negative Consequences of Invading Iraq.” The paper included “worst-case scenarios” of what could go wrong as a result of a US-led invasion of Iraq.

The paper, according to Tenet, outlined several negative consequences:

  • anarchy and the territorial breakup of Iraq
  • regime-threatening instability in key Arab states
  • deepening Islamic antipathy toward the United States that produced a surge of global terrorism against US interests

The Perfect Storm paper suggested several steps that the United States could take that might mitigate the impact of these potentially negative consequences. These included a serious attempt at solving some of the key regional conflicts and domestic economic and political issues that have plagued the region for decades.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration spent more time worrying about defeating Saddam’s army than focusing on what could follow Saddam’s demise. Ignoring the Perfect Storm paper, as the past decade has shown, was detrimental to U.S. interests, the security of the region, and the stability of some key Arab allies. The U.S. and the region now have to deal with these consequences—anarchy, destruction, and refugees—of the Bush administration’s refusal to act on those warnings."If U.S. policymakers are interested in creating political stability after IS, they should explore how to re-establish a new political order on the ashes of the century-old Sykes-Picot Levant political architecture"

The past decade also witnessed the resurgence of radical and terrorist groups, which happily filled the vacuum that ensued. U.S. credibility in the region plummeted as well.

When CIA analysts persisted in raising their concerns about a post-Saddam Iraq, the Pentagon’s Under Secretary for Policy Doug Feith dismissed the concerns as “persnickety.”

If the Obama administration wants to avoid the miscalculations of the previous administration about Iraq, it should make sure the land war against IS in Iraq and Syria does not become “enduring” and that the presence of US troops on the ground does not morph into an “occupation.”

Defeating IS might be the easy part. Devising a reasonably stable post-IS Levant will be more challenging because of the complexity of the issues involved. Before embarking on the next phase of combat, U.S. policymakers should have the courage and strategic vision to raise and answer several key questions.

  1. How will Sunni and Shia Muslims react to the re-entry of U.S. troops on the ground and to the likelihood that US military presence could extend beyond three years?

The “liberation” of Iraq that the Bush administration touted in March 2003 quickly turned into “occupation,” which precipitously engendered anger among the population. Iraqi Sunnis and Shia rose up against the US military. The insurgency that erupted attracted thousands of foreign jihadists from the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world. Bloody sectarianism and vigilantism spread across Iraq as an unintended consequence of the invasion, and it still haunts the region today.

During the Iraq war, the Iraqi Sunni minority, which has ruled the country since its creation in the early 1920s, perceived the United States as backing the Shia majority at the expense of the Sunnis. They also saw the United States as supporting the sectarian policies of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, especially as he excluded Sunnis from senior government positions. This feeling of alienation pushed many Iraqi Sunnis to support the Islamic State.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld refused to admit that an insurgency and a civil war were spreading across Iraq. By the time he admitted that both were happening, it became impossible to defend the “liberation” thesis to Iraqis and other Arabs and Muslims.

  1. If the U.S.-led ground war against IS extends to Syria, how will Washington reconcile its announced policy favouring Assad’s downfall with fighting alongside his forces, and how will the Arab public and leaders react to such perceived hypocrisy? 

It’s foolish to argue that the US-led war against IS in Syria is not indirectly benefiting the Assad regime. Assad claimed in a recent BBC interview that the coalition provides his regime with “information” about the fighting. Regardless of the veracity of his claim, Assad has enjoyed a breathing room and the freedom to pursue his opponents viciously and mercilessly, thanks to the US-led coalition’s laser-like focus on IS.

Sunni Arab regimes, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are already urging the Obama administration to increase substantially its military support of the anti-Assad mainstream opposition. These regimes, which are also fighting IS, argue that the United States could simultaneously fight IS and work toward toppling Assad.

If this situation continues and Assad stays in power while IS is being contained, Sunni Arab populations would soon begin to view the United States as the “enemy.” Popular support for radical jihadists would grow, and the region would witness a repeat of the Iraq scenario.

The territorial expansion of IS across Iraq and Syria has for all intents and purposes removed the borders between the two countries and is threatening the boundaries between Syria and Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, and Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

If U.S. policymakers are interested in creating political stability after IS, they should explore how to re-establish a new political order on the ashes of the century-old Sykes-Picot Levant political architecture. Otherwise, the “Iraq fatigue” that almost crippled U.S. efforts in Iraq in recent years, especially during the Maliki era, will surely be replaced by a “Levant fatigue.”

It will take a monumental effort to redesign a new Levant based on reconciling Sunnis, Shia, Christians, Kurds, and Arabs on the principles of inclusion, tolerance, and respect for human rights, economic opportunity, and good governance. If the United States is not prepared to commit time and resources to this goal, the Levant would devolve into failed states and ungovernable territories.

  1. If radical Sunni ideology and autocracy are the root causes of IS, what should the United States do to thwart the rise of another terrorist organization in the wake of this one?

Since the bulk of radical Sunni theology comes out of Saudi Arabia and militant Salafi Wahhabism, the United States should be prepared to urge the new Saudi leadership, especially the Deputy to the Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Nayef, to review the role of Salafi Wahhabi preachers and religious leaders in domestic public life and foreign policy. This also should certainly apply to Saudi education and textbooks.

Whereas in the past, Saudi officials have resisted any perceived foreign interference as an encroachment on their religion, this type of extremist, intolerant ideology has nevertheless given radical jihadists a religious justification for their violence. It now poses an undeniable threat to the national security of the United States and the safety of its citizens in the region.

Autocracy, corruption, repression, and anarchy in several Arab states have left millions of citizens and refugees alienated, unemployed, and angry. Many young men and women in these populations will be tempted to join new terrorist organizations following IS’s demise. The governments violate the rights of these young people at whim, imprison them illegally, and convict them in sham trials—all because of their political views or religious affiliation or both—in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere.

In Egypt thousands of political prisoners are languishing in jail. In Bahrain, the regime has been stripping dozens of citizens of their citizenship because of their pro-democracy views. Once their passports are taken away, Bahraini citizens are deprived of most government services and opportunities. When visiting a government office for a particular service, they are required to show the passport, which the government has already taken away, as a proof of identity—a classic case of “Catch 22” leaving these citizens in a state of economic and political limbo.

Partnering with these autocrats in the fight against IS surely will reach a dead end once the group is defeated. Building a new Levant cannot possibly be based on dictatorship, autocracy, and corruption. Iraq and Afghanistan offer stark examples of how not to build stable governments.

The Perfect Storm paper warned the Bush administration about what could follow Saddam if critical questions about a post-Saddam Iraq were not addressed. The Bush White House did not heed those warnings. It would be indeed tragic for the United States if the Obama administration made the same mistake.

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. 

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Everything You Wanted to Know About Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-climate-change/#comments Thu, 19 Feb 2015 15:39:19 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139258 A woman watches helplessly as a flood submerges her thatched-roof home containing all her possessions on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar city in India’s eastern state of Odisha in 2008. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A woman watches helplessly as a flood submerges her thatched-roof home containing all her possessions on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar city in India’s eastern state of Odisha in 2008. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Feb 19 2015 (IPS)

So much information about climate change now abounds that it is hard to differentiate fact from fiction. Scientific reports appear alongside conspiracy theories, data is interspersed with drastic predictions about the future, and everywhere one turns, the bad news just seems to be getting worse.

Corporate lobby groups urge governments not to act, while concerned citizens push for immediate action. The little progress that is made to curb carbon emissions and contain global warming often pales in comparison to the scale of natural disasters that continue to unfold at an unprecedented rate, from record-level snowstorms, to massive floods, to prolonged droughts.

The year 2011 saw 350 billion dollars in economic damages globally, the highest since 1975 -- The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)
Attempting to sift through all the information is a gargantuan task, but it has been made easier with the release of a new report by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a think-tank based in New Delhi that has, perhaps for the first time ever, compiled an exhaustive assessment of the whole world’s progress on climate mitigation and adaptation.

The assessment also provides detailed forecasts of what each country can expect in the coming years, effectively providing a blueprint for action at a moment when many scientists fear that time is running out for saving the planet from catastrophic climate change.

Trends, risks and damages

The Global Sustainability Report 2015 released earlier this month at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, ranks the top 20 countries (out of 193) most at risk from climate change based on the actual impacts of extreme climate events documented over a 34-year period from 1980 to 2013.

The TERI report cites data compiled by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) based at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, which maintains a global database of natural disasters dating back over 100 years.

The study found a 10-fold increase to 525 natural disasters in 2002 from around 50 in 1975. By 2011, 95 percent of deaths from this consistent trend of increasing natural disasters were from developing countries.

In preparing its rankings, TERI took into account everything from heat and cold waves, drought, floods, flash floods, cloudburst, landslides, avalanches, forest fires, cyclone and hurricanes.

Mozambique was found to be most at risk globally, followed by Sudan and North Korea. In both Mozambique and Sudan, extreme climate events caused more than six deaths per 100,000 people, the highest among all countries ranked, while North Korea suffered the highest economic losses annually, amounting to 1.65 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP).

The year 2011 saw 350 billion dollars in economic damages globally, the highest since 1975.

The situation is particularly bleak in Asia, where countries like Myanmar, Bangladesh and the Philippines, with a combined total population of over 300 million people, are extremely vulnerable to climate-related disasters.

China, despite high economic growth, has not been able to reduce the disaster risks to its population that is expected to touch 1.4 billion people by the end of 2015: it ranked sixth among the countries in Asia most susceptible to climate change.

Sustained effort at the national level has enabled Bangladesh to strengthen its defenses against sea-level rise, its biggest climate challenge, but it still ranked third on the list.

India, the second most populous country – expected to have 1.26 billion people by end 2015 – came in at 10th place, while Sri Lanka and Nepal figured at 14th and 15th place respectively.

In Africa, Ethiopia and Somalia are also considered extremely vulnerable, while the European nations of Albania, Moldova, Spain and France appeared high on the list of at-risk countries in that region, followed by Russia in sixth place.

In the Americas, the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia ranked first, followed by Grenada and Honduras. The most populous country in the region, Brazil, home to 200 million people, was ranked 20th.

More disasters, higher costs

In the 110 years spanning 1900 and 2009, hydro-meteorological disasters have increased from 25 to 3,526. Hydro-meteorological, geological and biological extreme events together increased from 72 to 11,571 during that same period, the report says.

In the 60-year period between 1970 and 2030, Asia will shoulder the lion’s share of floods, cyclones and sea-level rise, with the latter projected to affect 83 million people annually compared to 16.5 million in Europe, nine million in North America and six million in Africa.

The U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) estimates that global economic losses by the end of the current century will touch 25 trillion dollars, unless strong measures for climate change mitigation, adaptation and disaster risk reduction are taken immediately.

As adaptation moves from theory to practice, it is becoming clear that the costs of adaptation will surpass previous estimates.

Developing countries, for instance, will require two to three times the previous estimates of 70-100 billion dollars per year by 2050, with a significant funding gap after 2020, according to the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Adaptation Gap Report released last December.

Indicators such as access to water, food security, health, and socio-economic capability were considered in assessing each country’s adaptive capacity.

According to these broad criteria, Liberia ranks lowest, with a quarter of its population lacking access to water, 56 percent of its urban population living in slums, and a high incidence of malaria compounded by a miserable physician-patient ratio of one doctor to every 70,000 people.

On the other end of the adaptive capacity scale, Monaco ranks first, with 100 percent water access, no urban slums, zero malnutrition, 100 percent literacy, 71 doctors for every 10,000 people, and not a single person living below one dollar a day.

Cuba, Norway, Switzerland and the Netherlands also feature among the top five countries with the highest adaptive capacity; the United States is ranked 8th, the United Kingdom 25th, China 98th and India 146th.

The study also ranks countries on responsibilities for climate change, taking account of their historical versus current carbon emission levels.

The UK takes the most historic responsibility with 940 tonnes of CO2 per capita emitted during the industrialisation boom of 1850-1989, while the U.S. occupies the fifth slot consistently on counts of historical responsibility, cumulative CO2 emissions over the 1990-2011 period, as well as greenhouse gas (GHG) emission intensity per unit of GDP in 2011, the same year it clocked 6,135 million tonnes of GHG emissions.

China was the highest GHG emitter in 2011 with 10,260 million tonnes, and India ranked 3rd with 2,358 million tonnes. However, when emission intensity per one unit of GDP is additionally considered for current responsibility, both Asian countries move lower on the scale while the oil economies of Qatar and Kuwait move up to into the ranks of the top five countries bearing the highest responsibility for climate change.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Sexist Laws Still Thrive Worldwidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/sexist-laws-still-thrive-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sexist-laws-still-thrive-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/sexist-laws-still-thrive-worldwide/#comments Wed, 18 Feb 2015 16:15:47 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139243 Zambian women at a rally demanding equal political representation. The United Nations says that sexist laws worldwide violate international conventions and treaties. Credit: Richard Mulonga/IPS

Zambian women at a rally demanding equal political representation. The United Nations says that sexist laws worldwide violate international conventions and treaties. Credit: Richard Mulonga/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 18 2015 (IPS)

A rash of sex discriminatory laws – including the legalisation of polygamy, marital rape, abduction and the justification of violence against women – remains in statute books around the world.

In a new report released here, the New York-based Equality Now has identified dozens of countries, including Kenya, Mali, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Bahamas, Malta, Nigeria and Yemen, which have continued with discriminatory laws in violation of international conventions and U.N. declarations.

The same [...] governments who decry equal rights for women as Western or immoral “have no qualms using Western medicine, weaponry, technology, education, media and probably Viagra and pornography.” -- Sanam Anderlini, executive director and co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)
Antonia Kirkland, legal advisor for Equality Now, told IPS, “Our report highlights a cross-sample of different sex discriminatory laws from a range of countries, which harm and impede a woman or girl throughout her life in many different ways.

“We urge not only these countries – but all governments around the world – to immediately revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex, as called for in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action.”

In 2000, she said, the U.N. General Assembly reaffirmed the urgency of doing this by setting a target date of 2005.

“Although this was not achieved, we are encouraged by the U.N.’s continued reflection of this priority in the development of a post-2015 framework,” she noted.

This year the United Nations, spearheaded by U.N. Women, will be commemorating the 20th anniversary of the historic Beijing Women’s Conference, taking stock of successes and failures.

The new study identifies dozens of discriminatory laws, either in existence, or just enacted.

In Malta, if a kidnapper “after abducting a person, shall marry such person, he shall not be liable to prosecution”; in Nigeria, violence “by a husband for the purpose of correcting his wife” is considered lawful; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, “the wife is obliged to live with her husband and follow him wherever he sees fit to reside”; and in Guinea, “a wife can have a separate profession from that of her husband unless he objects.”

Sanam Anderlini, executive director and co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) told IPS hypocrisy and double standards are pervasive – not just about the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) or the Beijing Plan of Action but also about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which all countries have signed.

She said the problem is exacerbated by a lack of equality in basic terms – for example there is no equal pay in the United States. Also, the fact that so many countries refuse to live up to their own commitments means the bar is lowered constantly or remains forever low.

“We have to call it what it is – universally sanctioned sexism,” said Anderlini, who was the first senior gender and inclusion adviser on the U.N.’s standby team of expert mediation advisers (2011-2012).

She said cultural excuses are given to block changes in the laws in each context, but given how pervasive it is, “we have to be frank – it’s sexist and it’s about power.”

Meanwhile, the report also points out that, as recently as last year, Kenya adopted a new Marriage Act that permits polygamy, including without consent of the first wife.

Mali revised its family code in 2011, rejecting the opportunity to remove the discriminatory “wife obedience” and other provisions that were found in the 1962 Marriage and Guardianship Code, while Iran’s new Penal Code of 2013 maintains the provision stipulating a woman’s testimony to be worth less than a man’s.

Equality Now’s Kirkland told IPS sex discriminatory laws are in direct violation of the equality, non-discrimination and equal protection of the law provisions of the major international treaties and conventions.

There is no good reason why those countries highlighted in the report – as well as many others – are yet to reform their laws, she added.

Women and girls must have their rights protected and promoted and an equal start in life so they can reach their full potential, she said.

“Without equality in the law, there can never be equality in society,” Kirkland declared.

Currently, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is meeting in Geneva, as it does periodically, to review reports from several of the 188 States Parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

At the current session, the Committee of 23 independent experts is reviewing the implementation of CEDAW by several countries, including Azerbaijan, Gabon, Ecuador, Tuvalu, Denmark, Kyrgyzstan, Eritrea, and Maldives.

The discriminatory sex laws cited in the study also include Kenya’s 2014 Marriage Act, which says, “A marriage celebrated under customary law or Islamic law is presumed to be polygamous or potentially polygamous.”

An Indian act from 2013 states, “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.”

A Bahamian act from 1991 defines rape as the act of those over 14 years “having sexual intercourse with another person who is not his spouse”, thereby permitting marital rape.

In Yemen’s 1992 act, Article 40 suggests that a wife “must permit [her husband] to have legitimate intercourse with her when she is fit to do so.”

In the United States, a child born outside of marriage can only be granted citizenship in certain cases relating to the father, such as, if “a blood relationship between the person and the father is established by clear and convincing evidence” or “the father (unless deceased) has agreed in writing to provide financial support for the person until the person reaches the age of 18 years.”

And in Saudi Arabia, a 1990 Fatwa suggests: “women’s driving of automobiles” is prohibited as it “is a source of undeniable vices.”

Asked whether countries practicing discriminatory sex laws should be named and shamed, ICAN’s Anderlini told IPS it is time for an annual report card of countries – to show clearly where they are on the hypocrisy scale vis-à-vis gender equality in actions and changes evident in the lives of women and girls.

She said public statements, rhetoric, pledges and even ratifications are meaningless if there is no action and more importantly more positive outcomes.

“Why not have an ascendency process – like joining the European Union – where countries get recognised based on demonstrable actions [or] outcomes, not just what they say or sign?” she suggested.

Anderlini also pointed out that, sadly, progressive voices just don’t care enough or understand the political repercussions enough to act; or they have such an Orientalist view of women in developing countries that they minimise and marginalise their role.

But the extremists get it, she said – they understand women’s power and influence. That’s why they are killing the ones who speak out and are actively recruiting young and older women into their fold.

“And too often those who oppose equal rights will claim it counters their culture or traditions – but it’s hypocritical and inaccurate.”

She pointed out that a close look at the history, religion or traditions of many countries provides ample evidence of women’s rights and equality. But that just gets erased away by those – typically men – who interpret and recount the past.

Islam for example, said Anderlini, not only states that women and men were created equal but specifically calls for equal rights to education and pay, among other things.

“Or when we think of land ownership, it was Victorian colonialists who imposed their version of inheritance laws – property goes to the eldest son – on many countries where collective ownership and matrilineal systems were in place.”

Never in the history of humankind has culture been static, she said.

Furthermore, she claimed, the same people and governments who decry equal rights for women as foreign or Western or colonial or immoral or ask for ‘patience’ or cultural sensitivity “have no qualms using Western medicine, weaponry, technology, education, media and probably Viagra and pornography.”

These have a far more damaging impact on their culture or going against religion and tradition than giving women the rights to inherit land, get equal pay for equal work, pass citizenship to their children, “or, dare I say, drive,” she concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Marshall Islands Nuclear Proliferation Case Thrown Out of U.S. Courthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/marshall-islands-nuclear-proliferation-case-thrown-out-of-u-s-court/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marshall-islands-nuclear-proliferation-case-thrown-out-of-u-s-court http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/marshall-islands-nuclear-proliferation-case-thrown-out-of-u-s-court/#comments Thu, 12 Feb 2015 20:58:38 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139131 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 12 2015 (IPS)

A lawsuit by the Marshall Islands accusing the United States of failing to begin negotiations for nuclear disarmament has been thrown out of an American court.

The Marshall Islands is currently pursuing actions against India, Pakistan and the United Kingdom in the International Court of Justice, for failing to negotiate nuclear disarmament as required in the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.“By side-stepping the case on jurisdictional grounds, the U.S. is essentially saying they will do what they want, when they want, and it’s not up to the rest of the world whether they keep their obligations.” -- David Krieger

Action against the U.S. had been filed in a federal court in California, as the United States does not recognise the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ.

David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, said the U.S. conducted 67 nuclear weapons tests in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958, the equivalent of 1.6 Hiroshima bombs detonating daily for 12 years.

Despite documented health effects still plaguing Marshallese islanders, U.S. Federal Court judge Jeffrey White dismissed the motion on Feb. 3, saying the harm caused by the U.S. flouting the NPT was “speculative.”

White also said the Marshall Islands lacked standing to bring the case, and that the court’s ruling was bound by the “political question doctrine” – that is, White ruled the question was a political one, not a legal one, and he therefore could not rule for the Marshalls.

Krieger, whose Nuclear Age Peace Foundation supports Marshall Islands in its legal cases, called the decision “absurd.”

“I think it was an error in his decision. There were very good grounds to say the Marshall Islands had standing, and this shouldn’t have been considered a political question,” he told IPS.

“The Marshall Islands know very well what it means to have nuclear bombs dropped on a country. They’ve suffered greatly, it’s definitely not speculative.”

The foundation of the multiple cases brought by the Marshall Islands was that the U.S., and other nuclear powers, had not negotiated in good faith to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. White ruled it was “speculative” that the failure of the U.S. to negotiate nuclear non-proliferation was harmful.

Krieger said the Marshalls would appeal the decision to the Ninth Circuit of Appeals. He said the decision set a troubling precedent regarding U.S. adherence to international agreements.

“The U.S. does not accept the jurisdiction of the ICJ, and in this case, the judge is saying another country does not have standing [in an American court]. In essence, it means any country that enters into a treaty with the U.S. should think twice,” he said.

“Another country will be subject to the same decision of the court. Where does that leave a country who believes the U.S. is not acting in accordance with a treaty?

“By side-stepping the case on jurisdictional grounds, the U.S. is essentially saying they will do what they want, when they want, and it’s not up to the rest of the world whether they keep their obligations.”

Krieger said that the judge’s comments about the “speculative” nature of the case meant essentially that a nuclear accident or war would have to break out before such a case for damages could be heard.

“It’s saying a state must wait until some kind of nuclear event, before damages won’t be speculative,” he said. “It’s absurd that the claim that the U.S. has not fulfilled its obligations to negotiate in good faith to end the nuclear arms race, is called ‘speculative’ by the judge.”

Marshall Islands had intended to pursue all nine nuclear powers – the U.S., China, Russia, Pakistan, India, the U.K., France, North Korea and Israel – in the ICJ on their failure to negotiate for nuclear non-proliferation.

The Marshall Islands is still pursuing cases in the ICJ against Pakistan, India and the U.K., but John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, said the other cases had stalled as those nations did not accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ.

“The other six states, the Marshall Islands invited and urged them to come before the court voluntarily, which is a perfectly normal procedure, but none of them have done so,” Burroughs told IPS.

Burroughs, also a member of the international team in the ICJ, said China had explicitly said it would not appear before the court.

“Any of those countries could still agree to accept the court’s jurisdiction,” he said.

He said preliminary briefs had been filed in the India and Pakistan cases, with responses due by mid-2015. A brief will be served on the U.K. case in March.

Burroughs said he doubted the decision in U.S. federal court would impact the cases in The Hague.

“I don’t see the decision having any effect at all,” he said.

Edited By Kitty Stapp

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Money Pipeline Flowing Between U.S. Congress and Big Oilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/money-pipeline-flowing-between-u-s-congress-and-big-oil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=money-pipeline-flowing-between-u-s-congress-and-big-oil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/money-pipeline-flowing-between-u-s-congress-and-big-oil/#comments Thu, 12 Feb 2015 00:02:16 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139107 Representatives from a coalition of over 30 environmental and progressive groups delivered more than 800,000 messages to Democratic Senator Harry Reid and Republican Senator Mitch McConnell in 2012 urging them to block attempts to resurrect the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Credit: 350.org/cc by 2.0

Representatives from a coalition of over 30 environmental and progressive groups delivered more than 800,000 messages to Democratic Senator Harry Reid and Republican Senator Mitch McConnell in 2012 urging them to block attempts to resurrect the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Credit: 350.org/cc by 2.0

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

With battle lines sharpening over the stalled Keystone XL pipeline, a new analysis details the intense industry lobbying of both houses of the U.S. Congress since 2013 – to the tune of 58.8 million dollars by five refinery companies alone.

According to MapLight, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organisation that reveals money’s influence on politics, the oil and gas industry gave, on average, 13 times more money to members of the House of Representatives who voted “yes” (43,375 dollars) on the bill called H.R. 3 than those who voted against it (3,610 dollars)."Another climate denier-controlled House vote in favour of oil isn't a surprise, and the Democrats who voted with them of course are oil-funded politicians too." -- Kyle Ash of Greenpeace

The bill would allow TransCanada to build the highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline without a presidential permit or additional environmental review. It passed the House on Wednesday with a vote of 270-152.

The U.S. Senate approved a virtually identical measure last month.

“How can we truly trust legislators to vote in the public interest when they are dependent on industry campaign funding to get elected?” Pamela Behrsin of MapLight told IPS. “Our broken money and politics system forces lawmakers into a conflict of interest between lawmakers’ voters and their donors.”

She noted that Rep. Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota and the sponsor of the legislation, received 222,400 dollars from the oil and gas industry, the ninth most among members of the House voting on H.R. 3.

Figures for the Senate were comparable, with the oil and gas industry giving, on average, 10 times more money to senators who supported the measure (236,544 dollars). The Senate sponsor, John Hoeven – also a Republican from North Dakota – received 275,998 dollars.

“Big Oil thinks it can buy votes in DC, and unfortunately the Keystone vote shows that is still possible in the halls of Congress,” David Turnbull of Oil Change International, a nonprofit working to promote a shift away from fossil fuels, told IPS.

“But what’s more important is that Big Oil can’t buy the American people, who are standing up to the industry’s bullying in Washington and demanding the president reject the pipeline and take bold action to move us off fossil fuels and towards a safer climate future.”

President Barack Obama has 10 days to decide on a veto. Since the 1,179-mile pipeline crosses national borders, Obama needs to issue a permit declaring the pipeline serves the “national interest” in order for it to be approved. The new legislation would circumvent such approval.

The pipeline has united every prominent U.S. environmental group in opposition, and even prompted the venerable Sierra Club to suspend its 120-year ban on civil disobedience. The group’s executive director, Michael Brune, was arrested in front of the White House during a protest against Keystone in February 2013, and there have been massive rallies against it since then.

Studies have shown that burning the heavy oil the pipeline would carry would emit more than 181 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide each year – equal to the emissions of nearly 38 million cars or 51 coal-fired power plants.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that two-thirds of proven fossil fuel reserves need to be kept in the ground in order to have a 50 percent chance of staying below the two-degree threshold of warming that could avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

Kyle Ash of Greenpeace told IPS that since the House had already passed the companion of the Senate bill, normally each chamber would reconcile their respective bills in conference, especially since both chambers are now controlled by the Republicans.

Instead, the full House went ahead and voted on the Senate version without making any changes, “apparently because GOP leaders fear that House Republican conferees will be too crazy”.

“As the Senate votes on climate amendments like Hoeven and Schatz also demonstrated, that the House voted on S.1 (the Senate version of the bill) ironically may be a sign that at least the crassest of congressional fossil fuel love is no longer in vogue,” he said.

“Another climate denier-controlled House vote in favour of oil isn’t a surprise, and the Democrats who voted with them of course are oil-funded politicians too.”

Indeed, MapLight found that the oil and gas industry gave, on average, 3.2 times more money to Democratic Senators voting for S.1 (73,279 dollars) compared to Democratic and Independent Senators voting against it (22,882 dollars).

The industry gave, on average, five times more money to Democratic Representatives voting “yes” (18,199 dollars) on H.R. 3 compared to Democratic and Independent Representatives voting “no” (3,610 dollars).

“We’ve done quite a bit of work on the massive amount of money members of Congress receive from the industry,” Turnbull said. “Indeed, it’s unfortunately not a surprise.”

The pipeline would carry petroleum from Canada’s oil sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast, and MapLight notes that some of Keystone XL’s strongest supporters are the Gulf Coast refinery companies that have expanded their facilities and would benefit from Canadian oil that will flow through the pipeline.

Valero, ExxonMobil, Marathon Petroleum, Phillips 66, and Motiva Enterprises (a company owned by Shell and the Saudi Arabian state oil company Saudi Aramco) constitute the five companies with the most refinery capacity along the Gulf Coast, the group says.

Together, the five companies control 45 percent of the refining capacity in the U.S., and all have been reported as possible customers of the pipeline.

“The vote in Congress on Keystone XL is a desperate distraction by an oil-soaked Congress. The president has said numerous times that he will veto the bill, and he’s right to do so,” Turnbull said.

“As the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] recently laid out, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline clearly fails the president’s own climate test, and should be rejected. The president has all the information he needs to reject the pipeline and we hope he does so as soon as possible, so we can all move on to building the clean energy economy rather than catering to the whims of Big Oil.”

A Washington Post/ABC News poll last month found 34 percent of respondents wanted the pipeline built now, while 61 percent said the environmental impact reviews – including by the State Department and the heads of eight other government agencies – should continue.

“The House is expediting this bill getting to the president so they can gloat about how Congress loves oil and he doesn’t – despite the Obama administration going out of its way to expand oil drilling on public lands,” Ash said.

“However, the KXL pipeline may have died when the president agreed with New York Times reporter Tom Friedman last June that growing fossil fuel supply is bad for the climate (‘we can’t burn it all’). I believe he will do as he said and veto this bill.”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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OPINION: This Is Going to Hurt Me More Than It Hurts Youhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-this-is-going-to-hurt-me-more-than-it-hurts-you/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-this-is-going-to-hurt-me-more-than-it-hurts-you http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-this-is-going-to-hurt-me-more-than-it-hurts-you/#comments Sat, 07 Feb 2015 17:45:38 +0000 Peter Costantini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139063 The Third Geneva Convention and the UN Covenant Against Torture do not exempt tortures that somebody believes to be “effective”. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

The Third Geneva Convention and the UN Covenant Against Torture do not exempt tortures that somebody believes to be “effective”. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

By Peter Costantini
SEATTLE, Washington, Feb 7 2015 (IPS)

“Enhanced interrogation”: the George W. Bush administration bureaucrats who coined the term had perfect pitch. The apparatchiks of Kafka’s Castle would have admired the grayness of the euphemism. But while it sounds like some new kind of focus group, it turns out it was just anodyne branding for good old-fashioned torture.

Unfortunately, the debate around it unleashed by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report has largely missed the point.If the leaders of the richest and most powerful empire in history can claim that defending it requires torturing prisoners, what other government or non-state actor will hesitate to make the same claim?

Certainly, the report did provide overwhelming evidence that torture did not produce useful intelligence.  The CIA had concluded previously that torture is “ineffective”, “counterproductive”, and “will probably result in false answers”.

An FBI agent wrote that one prisoner had cooperated and provided “important actionable intelligence” months before being tortured.  Some CIA agents and soldiers reportedly questioned the legality of the policies and resisted carrying them out.

A Bush Justice Department lawyer acknowledged: “It is difficult to quantify with confidence and precision the effectiveness of the program.”  In any case, it is inherently impossible to know that any intelligence purportedly extracted by torture could not have been elicited by legal interrogation.

Fundamentally, though, whether torture “works” or not is immaterial.

The Third Geneva Convention and the U.N. Covenant Against Torture do not exempt tortures that somebody believes to be “effective”.  The codes are based on the hard-headed calculation that by agreeing not to torture non-combatants, nations can reduce the probability of their own non-combatants being tortured.

Post-WWII trials imprisoned and executed German and Japanese officials for war crimes including torture.  Nuremberg and Tokyo established the indelible principle that acting as responsible government officials, or following the orders of one, is not a defense against accusations of war crimes.

Granted, these norms have been observed as much in the breach as in practice.  And on the blood-soaked canvas of the past century, the damages of torture pale beside the scope of suffering inflicted by the “legal” savageries of war.  Yet if the leaders of the richest and most powerful empire in history can claim that defending it requires torturing prisoners, what other government or non-state actor will hesitate to make the same claim?

Dick Cheney, former Vice President and current Marketing Director for the Spanish Inquisition, says: “I’d do it again in a minute.”  No one should doubt his sincerity.

One of the “enhancements” was reportedly an effort to fabricate a justification for invading Iraq.  High Bush administration officials allegedly put heavy pressure on interrogators “to find evidence of cooperation between al-Qaeda and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime,” in an effort to fabricate a justification for invading Iraq, according to a former senior US intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist cited by McClatchy News.  No such evidence was found.

But beyond such immediate imperatives, the torture policy meshed seamlessly with a discretionary war premised on lies and optimized for “Shock and Awe”.  This neat ideological package asserted the unchallengeable power of a “Unitary Executive” above constitutional checks and balances, national law and international treaties.

Echoing Richard Nixon’s circular self-justification of three decades earlier, Justice Department lawyer Steven Bradbury told Congress: “The president is always right.”

Strategically, the Bush-Cheney project targeted conceptual smart bombs on the very idea of human rights.  The rest of the world got the message, and the damage to US national security has yet to be repaired.

“Enhanced interrogation”, however, has roots reaching back decades into CIA collaboration with dictatorships in Latin America.

Brazil’s National Truth Commission recently concluded that from 1954 through 1996 the US gave some 300 military officers “theoretical and practical classes in torture”.  Current President Dilma Rousseff was one of those tortured by the military, which ruled the largest country in Latin America from 1964 through 1985.

Over the past half-century, the CIA has been implicated in providing similar training to military dictatorships across South and Central America.  The United States also provided military aid and advice to many of them, participated in coups against elected governments, and was complicit in the murder and disappearance of hundreds of thousands, according to investigative journalist Robert Parry.

In Guatemala, for example, the CIA trained and supported a military and intelligence apparatus that exterminated close to 200,000 people over 30 years and committed genocide against Mayan communities, according to an independent Historical Clarification Commission.

The origins of US torture policies go back to early in the Vietnam War. According to the Senate report, “In 1963, the CIA produced the KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual, intended as a manual for Cold War Interrogations, which included the ‘principal coercive techniques of interrogation …’”.

In 1983, sections of KUBARK were incorporated into the Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual, “used to provide interrogation training in Latin America in the early 1980s”.

One of the CIA officers who provided these trainings was later “orally admonished for inappropriate use of interrogation techniques.”  But his efforts ultimately proved to be a good career move.  In 2002, the CIA made him chief of interrogations.

Bush’s head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center allegedly destroyed videotapes of torture and discouraged field agents from questioning the practices, according to historian Greg Grandin.

In 1992, the Pentagon destroyed most documentation of these training programmes, Parry reported.  The orders came from the office of then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.

In response to mounting evidence of decades of torture, what would an “indispensable nation” do?

The release of the Senate report was an important precedent. But until perpetrators all the way to the top are brought to justice, our government will rightly be seen as hypocritical when it criticises the human rights violations of others.

Ultimately, the gravity and scope of wrongdoing call for a reincarnation of the 1975 Church Committee, which investigated abuses by intelligence agencies in the wake of Watergate. It should serve as a truth commission exposing the US government’s use of torture, terror and other human rights violations, going back 40 years to where Church left off.

The official U.S. Senate history of the Church Committee cites historian Henry Steele Commager, referring to executive branch officials who seemed to consider themselves above the law: “It is this indifference to constitutional restraints that is perhaps the most threatening of all the evidence that emerges from the findings of the Church Committee.”

Meanwhile, allies have begun digging.  In 2009, Spanish jurist Baltasar Garzón Real opened two investigations of the Bush torture programme, one of which is still pending.  In December, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin filed complaints accusing several high Bush administration figures of “the war crime of torture” under German and international law.

The odds of seeing Cheney and company in a glass booth may be slim.  But it would be a small victory for humanity if they had to look over their shoulders whenever they travel abroad.

As some of us never seem to learn, genuine national security is about not black ops and drones, but hearts and minds.

As an epitaph for the Bush-Cheney vision, consider Percy Bysshe Shelley’s 1818 poem “Ozymandias”:

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

 

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.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Debating U.S. Foreign Policy: Where are the Women?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/debating-u-s-foreign-policy-where-are-the-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=debating-u-s-foreign-policy-where-are-the-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/debating-u-s-foreign-policy-where-are-the-women/#comments Fri, 06 Feb 2015 22:25:07 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139058 By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Feb 6 2015 (IPS)

Women are running some of the United States’ most prominent foreign policy focused think tanks, leading U.S. diplomatic initiatives, and reporting from the front lines of the world’s most dangerous conflict zones.

But there’s a dearth when it comes to women’s voices in U.S. media coverage of foreign policy issues, according to the founders of a new organisation that aims to amplify women’s voices in the media.“Those who say that they make an effort to include women but cannot find any are pushing a load of BS.” -- Suzanne Dimaggio

“There is a disparity between the number of women [and men] we see commenting on foreign policy issues,” said Foreign Policy Interrupted co-founder Elmira Bayrasli to a packed room of women (and a few men) Feb 4. at the Washington-based New America, a non-profit public policy institute and think tank.

While some well-known female commentators are called upon by major media outlets to “check the box,” added Bayrasli, “Every six months there’s still an uproar about ‘where are the women?’”

Absent or overshadowed?

According to data compiled by U.S. foreign policy analysts Tamara Coffman Wittes and Marc Lynch, 65 percent of last year’s Middle East events at six influential think tanks in Washington included no female speakers.

Women are also “systematically cited less than their male peers,” wrote Wittes and Lynch in a recent Washington Post op-ed discussing the gap between the considerable number of senior women in the field and their notable absence from public discourse.

With women comprising roughly half of the U.S. population, the question becomes: Is the dearth due to a lack of qualified women for media outlets to reach out to when covering foreign policy issues?

“Those who say that they make an effort to include women, but cannot find any are pushing a load of BS,” said Suzanne Dimaggio, who has been directing Track II diplomatic initiatives with several countries in the Middle East and Asia throughout her career.

“Today we see an ever-growing cadre of women with expertise on every aspect of foreign policy—from the traditional to the non-traditional and emerging issues,” Dimaggio told IPS during a telephone interview.

Bayrasli and co-founder Lauren Bohn—both commentators on international affairs—argue that women are underrepresented in media coverage of U.S. foreign policy because mainstream media has traditionally relied on male commentators and because women hold themselves to extremely high standards, which can hold them back.

In today’s fast-paced, competitive news media world, staff are scrambling to get out good information fast, so they don’t always have or take the time to look for new voices, said Bayrasli.

“The reality is that what bookers, producers and editors know is a rolodex of white men and that needs to change, but we also need to help them change that,” she said.

“I do think there’s this sense [among women that what they send to editors] has got to be really, really good, and honestly there’s a point when the best is the enemy of the ho good,” added moderator and New America president Anne-Marie Slaughter, the director of policy planning at the State Department from 2009-11.

Beyond checking the box

Dimaggio, a leader in facilitating U.S.-Iran policy dialogues, has a long resume of achievements in her field. But she acknowledged that especially earlier in her career, there were occasions when her abilities were underestimated because she is a woman.

“It was assumed that I would take a secondary role and men were given the last word,” said Dimaggio, an expert dialogue practitioner who runs New America’s Iran programme from New York. “But that’s not to say that I accepted playing a secondary role.”

She added that if major media outlets overlook qualified women when seeking expert commentary on foreign policy issues they should be held accountable, but more needs to be done by women as well.

“This problem won’t be resolved by only pressing those in positions of power to include more women. That certainly is a big piece of this. But, we, as women, must [also] change our own behaviour,” said Dimaggio.

“Things are getting better, but we still have a long way to go,” she said.

While Foreign Policy Interrupted, though still in its launch phase, exists to help women increase and improve their media presence, at least one well-known U.S. media publication has meanwhile been actively incorporating more women into its overall operation.

In the last three years Foreign Policy Magazine, a division of the Graham Holdings company, has gone from having one to 11 female regular columnists—half of its regular roster of 22—and its editorial staff is roughly 50/50.

“We realised that the magazine needed to be better, that there were too many of the same voices, and that our publication, which covers the ‘big tent’ of foreign policy, would not be adequately representative if it didn’t include women’s voices,” Executive Editor Ben Pauker told IPS.

Although the magazine now features an equal balance of female and male columnists, the male columnists write more frequently than the women. That could be for a number of reasons.

“It’s a function of getting some of our new columnists, both male and female, up to speed,” said Pauker.

Pauker told IPS that the magazine’s equity initiative, which will extend beyond the gender issue, is still a work in progress, but said at least anecdotally the response from readers has been “enormously positive.”

“It just makes us a better publication,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Medical Marijuana May Not Benefit New York’s Poor Patientshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/medical-marijuana-may-not-benefit-new-yorks-poor-patients/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=medical-marijuana-may-not-benefit-new-yorks-poor-patients http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/medical-marijuana-may-not-benefit-new-yorks-poor-patients/#comments Wed, 04 Feb 2015 20:50:30 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139012 Medical marijuana from a dispensary in California. Credit: David Trawin/cc by 2.0

Medical marijuana from a dispensary in California. Credit: David Trawin/cc by 2.0

By Roger Hamilton-Martin
NEW YORK, Feb 4 2015 (IPS)

A bill which will bring medical marijuana to New York State in 2016 will leave the treatment inaccessible to low-income patients, community groups warn.

New Yorkers spoke out about limitations to the draft regulations of the Compassionate Care Act, which should introduce medical marijuana to the state early next year.“I have stage four prostate cancer, so I have access, but I’m trying to broaden this for those who aren’t included. I’m concerned about veterans with post traumatic stress, victims of agent orange, traumatic brain injury from IEDs, and the effects of depleted uranium poisoning." -- Bill Gilson

At a public forum held Tuesday in the Bronx, concerns were raised about the proposed regulations, including access for low income patients, and the small number of illnesses which qualify for the treatment.

“The Department of Health can create incentives for industry,” said Julie Netherland of the Drug Policy Alliance, a drug-reform advocacy organisation that worked with legislators during negotiations.

“One of the things they could weigh as criteria for selecting companies who will produce the strains would be their plan to support low-income patients,” said Netherland.

The bill was signed into law last July, but the programme will likely be implemented in New York State in January 2016. This will be nearly two decades after medical marijuana was first introduced to the United States, with an initiative in California to allow medical cannabis in 1996.

Some 23 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalised cannabis for medical use, and four allow its recreational use.

In their current form, the regulations allow treatment for only 10 illnesses: cancer, HIV/AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury with spasticity, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathy, and Huntington’s disease.

The commissioner of health for New York State, Howard Zucker, has the power to include any number of conditions as he sees fit.

To pass the bill, legislators were forced to drastically narrow the eligibility criteria, according to the Alliance.

In the bill’s original form, marijuana was to be prescribed at a physician’s discretion. Partway through negotiations, it was reduced to 25 conditions, then in the final days before being passed, it was cut to just 10.

Those with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and rheumatoid arthritis would be ineligible for the treatment.

Bill Gilson, president of the New York City chapter of Veterans for Peace, told IPS, “I have stage four prostate cancer, so I have access, but I’m trying to broaden this for those who aren’t included. I’m concerned about veterans with post-traumatic stress, victims of Agent Orange, traumatic brain injury from IEDs (improvised explosive devices), and the effects of depleted uranium poisoning.

“The Department of Health has to broaden the eligibility conditions,” he said.

There is no requirement that insurance cover medical marijuana, raising concerns that the treatment will be inaccessible to low-income groups.

Also under the regulations, as patients are not allowed to smoke the drug, they will be using vaporisers, which range in cost, and a registration fee is needed in order to receive a patient identification card.

The Drug Policy Alliance is calling on the department of health to make companies who want to produce the marijuana come up with a plan to support those with lower incomes who need the treatment.

Another option could be for the state government to divert some of the significant tax money to support those in need. Medicaid will not provide for the treatment.

The small scale of the proposed programme was also criticised. There will be only five producers of the drug and 20 dispensaries across the whole state.

Netherland from the Alliance told IPS, “It’s insufficient to meet patient demand. Also geographically, having just 20 dispensaries across a state 54,000 square miles large isn’t enough.”

Many see the regulations as a step toward full legalisation of marijuana in the state, including New York City Council member Mark Levine, who told IPS, “I’m really excited, but there are many limitations we need to address. I see this legislation as a step towards taxation and regulation.”

Limitations have also been placed on the delivery method the treatment will take – only oils and extracts are allowed, no smoking.

As the 45-day public comment period comes to a close on February 13th, those with concerns are encouraged to submit testimony on the New York State Department of Health website.

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, although four states have now legalised it for recreational use, and 23 states and the District of Columbia have enacted medical marijuana laws.

Helen Redmond, a clinical social worker for the NGO Community Access, told IPS, “The exciting thing is, for the people who I work with, medical marijuana will help. Some people with mental illness have symptoms that are very distressing, for example, hearing voices, anxiety.

“Marijuana lowers the anxiety that they feel, and can boost a sense of wellbeing. It’s a beautiful thing. There are few side effects.

“Having a registration fee is problematic,” she added. “Also oils and extracts cost more to produce compared to having plant material – people can’t afford that. There are so many people in New York who are at poverty level or below. People who need medicine, their lives matter.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.S.-India Partnership a Step Forward for Low-Carbon Growthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-india-partnership-a-step-forward-for-low-carbon-growth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-india-partnership-a-step-forward-for-low-carbon-growth http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-india-partnership-a-step-forward-for-low-carbon-growth/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 20:44:06 +0000 David Waskow and Manish Bapna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138861 President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India travel by motorcade en-route to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Sept. 30, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India travel by motorcade en-route to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Sept. 30, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By David Waskow and Manish Bapna
WASHINGTON, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

India garnered international attention this week for its climate action.

As President Barack Obama visited the country at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation, the two leaders announced a new U.S.-India agreement on clean energy and climate change.With the U.S.-India partnership, the world’s three-largest emitters—China, the United States and India—have all made strong commitments to curbing climate change and scaling up clean energy.

The agreement will help turn India’s bold renewable energy targets into reality.

Rather than relying on one major plank, the collaboration is a comprehensive set of actions that, taken together, represent a substantial step in advancing low-carbon development in India while also promoting economic growth and expanding energy access.

This agreement comes just two months after the U.S-China climate agreement.

While expectations for the two agreements were quite different — India’s per capita emissions are a fraction of those from China and the United States, and India is in a very different phase of economic development— Modi’s commitments are significant steps that will help build even further momentum for a new international climate agreement.

Prime Minister Modi’s new government has made a significant commitment to sustainable growth in the past several months, setting a goal of 100 gigawatts (GW) of solar power capacity by 2022 and considering a new target of 60 GW in wind energy capacity.

The Indian government has also created a new initiative to develop 100 “smart cities” across the country, aimed at building more sustainable, livable urban areas.

The U.S.-India collaboration takes a multi-pronged approach to turn these promising pledges into concrete results. For example:

Setting a renewable energy goal

Building on India’s 100 GW solar capacity goal, Modi announced India’s intention to increase the overall share of renewable energy in the nation’s electricity supply.

Setting a percentage of overall energy consumption that will come from renewables can not only help India reduce emissions, it can also play a key role in expanding energy access.

Roughly 300 million Indians—nearly 25 percent of the country’s population—lack access to electricity.

Solar power—which is already cheaper than diesel in some parts of the country and may soon be as cheap as conventional energy—can put affordable, clean power within reach.

Accelerating clean energy finance

Given that the entire world’s installed solar capacity in 2013 was 140 GW, India’s plan to reach 100 GW by 2022 is nothing short of ambitious.

The Modi government estimates that scaling up its 2022 solar target from 20 GW to 100 GW will save 165 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, the equivalent emissions of about 23 million American households’ annual electricity use.

The U.S.-India announcement reveals a clear commitment from both countries to stimulate the public and private investment needed to achieve this bold target.

Improving air quality

Of the 20 cities with the worst air pollution, India houses 13 of them.

The cost of premature deaths from air pollution in the country is already 6 percent of GDP, and it’s poised to worsen as the urban population increases from 380 million to 600 million over the next 15 years.

The U.S.-India plan to work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s AIR Now-International Program can help cut back on harmful urban air pollution, improve human health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Modi’s plan to establish 100 “smart cities” can support this initiative by designing compact and connected rather than sprawled urban areas, which are associated with a heavy transportation-related emissions footprint.

Boosting climate resilience

India is already one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change: rising sea level threatens 8,000 kilometers of coastline and nearly half of its 28 states.

The U.S.-India deal builds on both countries’ previous commitment to climate adaptation, outlining a plan to better assess risks, build capacity and engage local communities.

With the U.S.-India partnership, the world’s three-largest emitters—China, the United States and India—have all made strong commitments to curbing climate change and scaling up clean energy.

This action is not only important for reducing emissions in the three nations, but also for building momentum internationally. Obama and Modi have created a direct line of communication, a relationship that will be important for securing a strong international climate agreement in Paris later this year.

Prime Minister Modi made it clear that he sees it as incumbent on all countries to take action on climate change.

Rather than being motivated by international pressure, he said what counts is “the pressure of what kind of legacy we want to leave for our future generations. Global warming is a pressure… We understand this pressure and we are responding to it.”

Modi is tasked with confronting not just global warming, but a number of immediate threats—alleviating poverty, improving air quality, expanding electricity access and enhancing agricultural productivity, just to name a few.

Many of the actions under the U.S.-India agreement will not only reduce emissions, but will also help address these development challenges.

With the new agreement, India is positioning itself as a global leader on pairing climate action with economic development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Cuba and U.S. Skirt Obstacles to Normalisation of Tieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuba-and-u-s-skirt-obstacles-to-normalisation-of-ties/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuba-and-u-s-skirt-obstacles-to-normalisation-of-ties http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuba-and-u-s-skirt-obstacles-to-normalisation-of-ties/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 20:15:35 +0000 Patricia Grogg and Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138835 The Cuban (left) and U.S. delegations on the last day of the first round of talks for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Jan. 23, in Havana’s convention centre. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The Cuban (left) and U.S. delegations on the last day of the first round of talks for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Jan. 23, in Havana’s convention centre. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg and Ivet González
HAVANA, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

The biggest discrepancies in the first meeting to normalise relations between Cuba and the United States, after more than half a century, were over the issue of human rights. But what stood out in the talks was a keen interest in forging ahead, in a process led by two women.

After a meeting with representatives of Cuba’s dissident groups, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson reiterated on Jan. 23 that the questions of democracy and human rights are crucial for her country in the bilateral talks, while stressing that there are “deep” differences with Havana on these points.

But the head of the Washington delegation said these discrepancies would not be an obstacle in the negotiations for restoring diplomatic ties – a goal that was announced simultaneously by Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro on Dec. 17.

In her statement to the media after her two-day official visit to Havana, Jacobson added that her country’s new policy towards Cuba is aimed at greater openness with more rights and freedoms.

Nor does independent journalist Miriam Leiva, founder of the opposition group Ladies in White, believe the U.S. focus on defending human rights and supporting dissidents will be a hurdle. “The Cuban government knew that, and they sat down to talk regardless,” she remarked to IPS.

In her view, the important thing is for the normalisation of ties to open up a direct channel of communication between the two governments. “This is a new phase marked by challenges, but also full of hope and opportunities for the people. Of course it’s not going to be easy, and the road ahead is long,” she added.

The Cuban authorities have consistently referred to opposition groups as “mercenaries” in the pay of the aggressive U.S. policy towards Cuba.

Nor are they happy when U.S. visitors to Cuba meet with opponents of the government. And they are intolerant of the relationship between dissidents and the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, which is to be turned into the new embassy as part of the process that got underway with the first round of talks in the convention centre in the Cuban capital.

Jacobson and her Cuban counterpart, Josefina Vidal, the Foreign Ministry’s chief diplomat for U.S. affairs, addressed the issue of human rights during the talks on Thursday Jan. 22.

The high-level U.S. diplomat described the process of reestablishing bilateral ties as “long” and “complex.”

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, the head of the Washington delegation in the first round of bilateral talks, between the two countries’ flags. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, the head of the Washington delegation in the first round of bilateral talks, between the two countries’ flags. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In a written statement distributed to reporters in a no-questions-allowed media briefing, Jacobson said: “As a central element of our policy, we pressed the Cuban government for improved human rights conditions, including freedom of expression.”

Vidal, meanwhile, said “in our exchange, each party laid out their positions, visions and conceptions on the issue of the exercise of human rights.”

She said the word “pressure” – “pressed” was translated into Spanish as “pressured” – did not come up in the discussion, and that “Cuba has shown throughout its history that it does not and will not respond to pressure.”

In the 1990s and early this century, the question of human rights triggered harsh verbal confrontations between Havana and Washington in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and since 2006 in the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Havana complained that the U.S. used the issue as part of its “anti-Cuba” policy.

Vidal said she suggested to Jacobson that they hold a specific expert-level dialogue at a date to be agreed, to discuss their views of democracy and human rights.

Josefina Vidal, the Cuban Foreign Ministry's chief diplomat for U.S. affairs, arriving at the convention centre in Havana, where the first round of talks for reestablishing diplomatic relations with Washington was held. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Josefina Vidal, the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s chief diplomat for U.S. affairs, arriving at the convention centre in Havana, where the first round of talks for reestablishing diplomatic relations with Washington was held. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Jurist Roberto Veiga, who leads the civil society project Cuba Posible, told IPS that “the circumstances that have influenced the issue of human rights should be considered in any bilateral talks on the issue, to avoid mistaken judgments that could stand in the way of possible solutions.”

In his view, during the process that led to the 1959 triumph of the revolution, which was later declared “socialist,” there was a “struggle between a vision that put a priority on so-called individual rights to the unnecessary detriment of social rights and inequality,” and one that put the priority on social and collective rights.

As a result, in this Caribbean island nation what has prevailed up to now is “a conception [of human rights] that favours equality and social rights at the expense of certain freedoms, and of this country’s relations with important countries,” he said.

Veiga said Cubans must complete the effort to find a balance between individual rights and social equality. It is important to discuss this issue “for the development of Cuba’s political system and the consolidation of our civil society,” he argued.

The two delegations also addressed possibilities of cooperation in the areas of telecommunications, national security, international relations, people smuggling, care for the environment, responding to oil spills, the fight against drugs and terrorism, water resources, global health, and a joint response to the ebola epidemic in West Africa, among others.

In the first part of the meeting, the two sides analysed the practical steps to be taken for the opening up of embassies, which will basically follow the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in effect since 1964.

Reporting the results of the first meeting, aimed above all at laying the foundations for the process, Vidal stressed that following the Convention “implies reciprocal respect for the political, economic and social system of both states and avoiding any form of meddling in internal affairs.”

The date for the next round of talks was not announced.

The meeting was preceded, on Wednesday Jan. 21, by a round of follow-up talks on the migration accords reached by the two countries in 1994 and 1995.

Most Cubans are sceptical and even incredulous about the surprising decision to “make friends” with the United States.

“I think both sides are demanding a lot of each other,” 37-year-old Ángel Calvo, a self-employed driver, told IPS. “Both countries have completely different politics, which it is best to respect in order to start reaching agreements.”

Manuel Sánchez, 33, who described himself as a worker in the informal economy, said both countries “will make more progress towards improving relations than in the past, but they’ll never have the excellent ties that many people are hoping for.”

What is clear is that the talks led by the two high-level officials in Havana have raised expectations.

As renowned Cuban writer Leonardo Padura wrote in a column for IPS earlier this month, after the historic Dec. 17 announcement, “with our eyes wide open, we can catch a glimpse of the future, trying to see shapes more clearly through the haze.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Obama-Congress Iran Sanctions Battle Goes Internationalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/obama-congress-iran-sanctions-battle-goes-international/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-congress-iran-sanctions-battle-goes-international http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/obama-congress-iran-sanctions-battle-goes-international/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 01:25:57 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138790 President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Jan 23 2015 (IPS)

While it’s anyone’s guess whether a final deal will be reached over Iran’s nuclear programme this year, a number of key international actors have forcefully weighed in on calls from within the U.S. congress to impose more sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

President Barack Obama reiterated his threat to veto new Iran-related sanctions bills while talks are in progress during his State of the Union (SOTU) address this week.There’s no guarantee at this point whether the bills at the centre of the battle will garner the veto-proof majority necessary to become legislation.

“It doesn’t make sense,” he said Jan. 20 in his second to last SOTU. “New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails—alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear programme again.”

The administration’s call to “give diplomacy with Iran a chance” was echoed a day later by key members of the P5+1 (U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China plus Germany), which is negotiating with Iran over its nuclear programme, through an op-ed in the Washington Post.

“…[I]ntroducing new hurdles at this critical stage of the negotiations, including through additional nuclear-related sanctions legislation on Iran, would jeopardize our efforts at a critical juncture,” wrote Laurent Fabius (France), Philip Hammond (U.K.), Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Germany) and Federica Mogherini (EU) on Jan. 21.

“New sanctions at this moment might also fracture the international coalition that has made sanctions so effective so far,” they continued. “Rather than strengthening our negotiating position, new sanctions legislation at this point would set us back.”

Last week, during a joint press conference with Obama at the White House, the U.K.’s Prime Minister David Cameron admitted he had contacted members of the U.S. Senate to urge against more sanctions on Iran at this time.

“[Y]es, I have contacted a couple of senators this morning and I may speak to one or two more this afternoon,” he told reporters on Jan. 16.

“[I]t’s the opinion of the United Kingdom that further sanctions or further threat of sanctions at this point won’t actually help to bring the talks to a successful conclusion and they could fracture the international unity that there’s been, which has been so valuable in presenting a united front to Iran,” said Cameron.

In what has been widely perceived by analysts as a rebuff to Obama’s Iran policy, reports surfaced the day after Obama’s SOTU that the House of Representatives Speaker John A. Boehner had invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—who has made no secret of his opposition to Obama’s approach to Iran—to address a joint session of Congress on Feb. 11.

Netanyahu accepted the invitation, but changed the date to Mar. 3, when he would be visiting Washington for a conference hosted by the prominent Israel lobby group, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The invite, which was not coordinated with the White House, clearly surprised the Obama administration, which said it would not be receiving the Israeli prime minister while he is in town, citing a policy against receiving foreign leaders close to election dates (the Israeli election will be in March).

While Netanyahu has long recommended hard-line positions on what a final deal over nuclear program should entail—including “non-starters” such as zero-percent uranium enrichment on Iranian soil—he cannot be faulted for accepting the speaker’s invitation, according to the U.S.’s former ambassador to NATO, Robert E. Hunter, who told IPS: “If there is fault, it lies with the Speaker of the House.”

“If the Netanyahu visit, with its underscoring of the political potency of the Israeli lobby on Capitol Hill, is successful in ensuring veto-proof support in the Senate for overriding the threatened Obama veto of sanctions legislation, that would saddle Boehner and company with shared responsibility not only for the possible collapse of the nuclear talks…but also for the increased chances of war with Iran,” he said.

But there’s no guarantee at this point whether the bills at the centre of the battle—authored by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Bob Menendez, and another by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker—will garner the veto-proof majority necessary to become legislation.

With the support of the Democratic leadership in Congress, the administration has so far successfully prevented the Kirk-Menendez bill from coming to the floor since it was introduced in 2013.

A growing number of current and former high-level officials have also voiced opposition to more sanctions at this time.

“Israeli intelligence has told the U.S. that rolling out new sanctions against Iran would amount to ‘throwing a grenade’ into the negotiations process,” Secretary of State John Kerry told CBS News on Jan. 21.

“Why would we want to be the catalyst for the collapse of negotiations before we really know whether there is something we can get out of them?” asked former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week after opposing new sanctions during a forum in Winnipeg, Canada.

“We believe that new sanctions are not needed at this time,” the Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen told the Wall Street Journal this week.

“To the contrary, new sanctions at this time, even with a delayed trigger, are more likely to undermine, rather than enhance, the chances of achieving a comprehensive agreement,” he said.

While the battle isn’t over yet, in the wake of Obama’s veto threat and Boehner’s invitation to Bibi, even some of the Democratic co-sponsors of the original Kirk-Menendez bill appear to be moving in the White House’s direction.

“I’m considering very seriously the very cogent points that [Obama’s] made in favour of delaying any congressional action,” Senator Richard Blumenthal told Politico.

“I’m talking to colleagues on both sides of the aisle. And I think they are thinking, and rethinking, their positions in light of the points that the president and his team are making to us,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.S. May Soon Stand Alone Opposing Children’s Treatyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-may-soon-stand-alone-opposing-childrens-treaty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-may-soon-stand-alone-opposing-childrens-treaty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-may-soon-stand-alone-opposing-childrens-treaty/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 00:48:08 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138787 Children walk during a sandstorm in Gao, Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

Children walk during a sandstorm in Gao, Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 23 2015 (IPS)

When the East African nation of Somalia, once described as a “lawless state”, ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) early this week, it left two countries in splendid isolation from the rest of the world: South Sudan and the United States.

South Sudan?"The U.S. cannot credibly encourage other nations to embrace human rights for children if it fails to embrace these norms." -- Meg Gardinier

Understandable, say human rights experts, because it was created and joined the United Nations only in July 2011 – and has since taken steps to start the domestic process in ratifying the treaty, probably later this year.

But the United States?

Kul Gautam of Nepal, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general and deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, told IPS the United States did sign the CRC back in February 1995 when Ambassador Madeline Albright was the U.S. envoy to the United Nations.

But the U.S. government has never submitted the treaty for ratification by the U.S. Senate, he added (where it needs a two-thirds vote for approval).

Asked if there is ever a chance the United States will ratify the treaty, bearing in mind that a conservative, right-wing Republican Party now wields power on Capitol Hill, Gautam said: “With the current composition of the U.S. Congress, there is no chance for its ratification.”

But still held out hope, adding, “Future ratification is not to be ruled out.”

Somalia became the 195th State Party to the CRC, described as “the most ratified international human rights treaty in history.”

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake applauded Somalia’s ratification of the CRC and said he looks forward to supporting the nationwide effort to translate the rights of the Convention into practical action for every child in that country.

He said by ratifying the Convention, the government of Somalia is making an investment in the wellbeing of its children, and thus in the future of its society.

“The central message of the Convention is that every child deserves a fair start in life,” said Lake. “What can be more important than that?”

The CRC, which was approved by the U.N. General Assembly in 1989 and came into force in 1990, commemorated its 25th anniversary last year.

Asked about U.S. objections, Meg Gardinier, chair of the Campaign for U.S. Ratification of the CRC, told IPS U.S. opposition to ratifying the Convention is largely centered on two arguments.

First, the CRC will undermine the role of parents in raising their children and, second, the U.S. ratification of international human rights treaties will weaken U.S. sovereignty.

Asked about the chances of future ratification, she said, “We are hopeful that the U.S. will eventually ratify the CRC, but it is a question of when?”

When U.S. President Barack Obama was campaigning in 2008, he said, “It is embarrassing that the U.S. is in the company of Somalia, a lawless land. If I become president, I will review this and other human rights treaties.”

But to date, there has been no “review” of the CRC, an important first step before submitting this to the Senate.

Gardinier said the Campaign for U.S. Ratification led an important effort urging the president to send the CRC to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

As a result, executives of some 125 national and global organisations signed onto a letter to President Obama pressing this request.

This includes a diverse group of U.S. organisations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Bar Association, Child Welfare League of America, Covenant House, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and United Methodist Church – all of them supporting U.S. ratification of the CRC.

Ironically, the United States was a leading contributor to the drafting of the treaty and in fact shaped a significant number of provisions.

In total, the United States initiated seven articles, including Article 10 (family reunification), Articles 14 (freedom of religion), 16 (right to privacy), 19 (protection from abuse) 13 (freedom of expression), 15 (freedom of association and assembly) and 25 (review of placement.)

The provisions contained in the CRC are largely consistent with U.S. law, while additional provisions would be implemented through federal and state legislation in a manner and timeframe determined by the U.S. legislative process.

“The U.S. cannot credibly encourage other nations to embrace human rights for children if it fails to embrace these norms,” Gardinier told IPS.

“It is the Campaign’s conviction that the CRC protects children, preserves and strengthens families and is unquestionably improving the lives of children,” she declared.

Contrary to U.S. misgivings, the Convention strongly defends the need for families and the importance of parents, say human rights experts.

The treaty underscores that a strong family is crucial for children and for societies and there is ample language throughout the CRC to support the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents.

In fact, 19 articles of the CRC explicitly recognise the importance of parents and family in the lives of children.

The rights for children in the CRC mirror both the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, at the insistence of the two former administrations – under President Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations – that worked on this treaty.

“They are not meant to set children against parents,” said Gardinier.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Banks, Inequality and Citizenshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 13:27:17 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138778

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that alarming figures on what has gone wrong in global society are being met with inaction. Citing data from Oxfam’s recent report on global wealth, he says that the rich are becoming richer – and the poor poorer – in a society where finance is no longer at the service of the economy or citizens.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 22 2015 (IPS)

Every day we receive striking data on major issues which should create tumult and action, but life goes on as if those data had nothing to do with people’s lives.

A good example concerns climate change. We know well that we are running out of time. It is nothing less than our planet that is at stake … but a few large energy companies are able to get away with their practices surrounded by the deafening silence of humankind.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Another example comes from the world of finance. Since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2009, banks have paid the staggering amount of 178 billion dollars in fines – U.S. banks have paid 115 billion, while European banks 63 billion. But, as analyst Sital Patel of Market Watch writes, these fines are now seen as a cost of doing business. In fact, no banker has yet been incriminated in a personal capacity.

Now we have other astonishing data from Oxfam – if nothing is done, in two years’ time the richest one percent of the world´s population will have a greater share of its wealth than the remaining 99 percent.

The richest are becoming richer at an unprecedented rate, and the poorest poorer. In just one year, the one percent went from possessing 44 percent of the world´s wealth to 48 percent last year. In 2016, therefore, it is estimated that this one percent will possess more than all the other 99 percent combined.

The top 89 billionaires have seen their wealth increase by 600 billion dollars in the last four years – a rise of five percent and equal to the combined budgets of 11 countries of the world with a population of 2.3 billion people.

In 2010, that figure was owned by 388 billionaires, and this striking and rapid concentration of wealth has, of course, a global impact. The so-called middle class is shrinking fast and in a number of countries youth unemployment stands at 40 percent, meaning that the destiny of today’s young people is clearly much worse than that of their parents.“In a world where the value of solidarity has disappeared (Europe’s debate on austerity is a good example), apathy and atomisation have become the reality. We are going back to the times of Queen Victoria, substituting a rich aristocracy with money coming from trade and finance, not production”

It will probably take some time before those figures become part of general awareness but it is a safe bet that they will not lead to any action, as with climate change. U.S. President Barack Obama is the only leader who has announced a tax increase on the rich, although he stands little chance of succeeding with his Republican-dominated Congress.

In a world where the value of solidarity has disappeared (Europe’s debate on austerity is a good example), apathy and atomisation have become the reality. We are going back to the times of Queen Victoria, substituting a rich aristocracy with money coming from trade and finance, not production. But up to a point: 34 percent of today’s billionaires inherited all or part of their wealth, and – interestingly – “inheritance tax is the most avoidable of levies”, as James Moore noted Jan. 20 in The Independent.

The “father of modern times”, late U.S. President Ronald Reagan, saw it clearly when he said that the rich produce richness, the poor produce poverty. So let the rich pay less taxes.

Well, in a just-released report, the U.S. Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy notes that in 2015 the poorest one-fifth of Americans will pay on average 10.9 percent of their income in taxes, the middle one-fifth 9.4 percent, and the top one percent just 5.4 percent.

Now, 20 percent of the richest billionaires are linked to the financial sector and it is worth recalling that this sector has grown more than the real economy, and has regulations only at national level. At global level, finance is the only activity which has international body of some kind of governance, as do labour, trade and communications, to name just a few.

Finance is no longer at the service of the economy and citizens. It has its own life. Financial transactions are now worth 40 trillion dollars a day, compared with the world’s economic output of one trillion.

At national level, there are now attempts half-hearted attempts to regulate finance. But let us look what is happening in United States. The new bland regulation is the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, commonly known as the Dodd-Frank, and it does not go as far as restoring the division between deposit banks, which was where citizens put their money and which could not be used for speculation, and investments banks, which speculate … and how!

This separation was abolished during the U.S. presidency of Bill Clinton, and is considered the end of banks at the service of the real economy. In any case, the lobbyists on Wall Street are intent on having the Dodd-Frank chipped away at, little by little.

There is some schizophrenia when we look at the relations between capital and politics. The U.S. Supreme Court has eliminated any limit to contributions from companies to political elections, declaring that the companies have the same rights as individuals. Of course, there are not many individuals who can shell out the same figures as a company, unless you’re one of the 89 billionaires!

Meanwhile, banks are not only responsible for the corruption of the political system, and for the illegal activities which have earned them billions of dollars, they are also responsible for funding only big investors, and leaving everybody else out from easy credit. The efforts of the Chairman of the European Central Bank,  Mario Draghi, to have banks give credit to small companies and individuals has gone largely nowhere.

But a new and imaginative initiative comes from the very stern Dutch bankers. All 90,000 bankers in the Netherlands are now required to take an oath: “I swear that I will endeavour to maintain and promote confidence in the financial sector. So help me God”.

This is not so much oriented towards the customer, and it is very self-serving; and it brings God in as the regulator of the Dutch banking system. Perhaps the Dutch bankers have been paying heed to the words of Goldman Sach’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein who said at the time of the financial crisis in 2009 that bankers were “doing God’s work”.

Well God will have to be actively involved. All the three biggest Dutch banks – Rabobank, ABN Amro and ING Groep – have been involved in scandals that have hurt consumers, or were nationalised during the financial crisis, costing taxpayers more than 140 billion dollars. In one case, Rabobank was fined one billion dollars.

New York’s Wall Street and London’s City are said to be open to the idea of introducing a similar oath.

It is probably only that kind of Higher Power which could turn the tide in this world of growing inequality and lack of ethics. (END/IPS 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. 

The author can be contacted at utopie@ips.org

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OPINION-CUBA/US: Catching a Glimpse of the Possible Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-cubaus-catching-a-glimpse-of-the-possible-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-cubaus-catching-a-glimpse-of-the-possible-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-cubaus-catching-a-glimpse-of-the-possible-future/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 12:14:18 +0000 Leonardo Padura http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138755 Leonardo Padura

Leonardo Padura

By Leonardo Padura
HAVANA, Jan 21 2015 (IPS)

All Cubans, on either side of the Florida Straits, but in places like Spain, France or Greenland – where there must be a couple of Cubans – as well felt it was a historic moment that included each and every one of us, when U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Dec. 17 the normalisation of relations after half a century of hostility.

Those of us who are in Cuba felt that way precisely because we live here; and those who live abroad felt it because of the various motives that prompted them, at different times and for a range of reasons, to move away and rewrite their lives.

The great majority met the news with joy and hope; a smaller percentage felt a sensation of defeat and even betrayal; and another small group perhaps felt little about what the decision might mean for their futures.

But what is indisputable is that each one of us was shocked by the announcement, which some media outlets even dubbed “the news of the year” – extraordinary, really (even if you consider it an exaggeration), given that we’re just talking about the normalisation of ties between the United States and a small Caribbean island nation that is not even decisive in the economy of the region and supposedly does not influence the world’s big political developments.

But for years Cuba’s small size, in terms of both its geography and economy, has been far out of proportion to its international stature and influence, and the “news of the year” really was (or may have been) such due to several reasons, besides the emotional ones that affected us Cubans.We Cubans who live on the island have already felt a noticeable initial benefit from the announced accords: we have felt how a political tension that we have lived in for too many years has begun to ease, and we can already feel it is possible to rebuild our relationship with a neighbour that is too powerful and too close, and relate to each other if not in a friendly way, then at least in a cordial, civilised manner.

This was because of its symbolic nature as a major step towards détente and as a final stop to the long-drawn-out epilogue to the Cold War, as acknowledgement of a political error sustained by the United States for far too long, because of its weight in inter-American relations, and because of its humanistic character thanks to the fact that the first concrete measure was a prisoners swap, which is always a moving, humanitarian move.

And it also was so because in a world where bad news abounds, the fact that two countries that were at a political standoff for over half a century decided to overcome their differences and opt for dialogue is somewhat comforting.

Three weeks later, the machinery that will put that new relationship in motion has begun to move. On the eve of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson’s visit to Havana to start high-level “face-to-face” talks with the Cuban government, President Obama announced the introduction of his government’s first measures towards change.

The policies will make it easier for people from the U.S. to travel to Cuba, expand the remittances people can send to Cuba, open up banking relations, increase bilateral trade in different areas, and help strengthen civil society by different means, including improved information and communications and economic support for entrepreneurs.

Cuba, meanwhile, released prisoners with regard to whom Washington had expressed concern.

The measures recently implemented by Obama could be extremely significant for Cuba. Above all because they have punched holes in the straitjacket of the half-century embargo and have practically made its removal a question of time, and since they eliminate many of the fears that investors from other countries had with regard to possibly investing here.

Cuba, in the meantime, is waiting to be removed from the U.S. government’s list of nations that sponsor terrorism, which it has been on for years.

And on both sides of the Straits, Cubans have an understandable sense of uncertainty about the future of the Cuban Adjustment Act, which guaranteed U.S. residency to any Cuban who set foot on U.S. soil – an issue that will surely be discussed during Jacobson’s visit.

But while the political agreements are moving along at a surprising pace, we Cubans insist on asking ourselves how this new situation created since Dec. 17 will play out on the island.

Because while Obama’s intention is to bring about a change in policy that will lead to a transformation of the system in Cuba, at the same time there are decisions that the Cuban government will be adopting internally to take advantage of the useful aspects of the new relationship and eliminate potential dangers.

The possible massive arrival of U.S. citizens to Cuba could be the first visible effect.

Today the island receives three million visitors a year. That number could double with the new regulations announced by Obama. Everyone is asking themselves whether the country is prepared for this – and the answers are not overly encouraging in general.

After a lengthy crisis triggered by the disappearance of the Soviet Union and its generous subsidies, and the stiffening of the U.S. embargo with the Torricelli Act [of 1992] and the Helms-Burton Act [of 1996, which included extra-territorial effects], Cuba today is a country with serious problems of infrastructure in communications, roads, transportation, buildings and other areas.

The lack of resources to make the necessary investments also affects the purchase of products that the presumed visitors would demand and will create difficulties for domestic consumption, where there are already problems of high prices and occasional shortages.

Perhaps the first to benefit from the massive arrival of U.S. citizens to Cuban shores will be the small businesses that offer accommodation (and the thousands of other people connected to them).

Currently in a city like Havana there aren’t enough rooms in the hotels (which belong to the state or are joint ventures with foreign companies), let alone quality service in the state-owned restaurants that would make them competitive.

That means a significant part of the money that will circulate will pass through the hands of those involved in private enterprise (the so-called “cuentapropistas” or self-employed) – a sector that even though they must pay high taxes to the state and extremely high prices for inputs purchased in the retail market (because the wholesale market that they are demanding does not yet exist), will make major profits in the scenario that will take shape in the near future.

And this phenomenon will contribute to further stretching the less and less homogeneous social fabric of this Caribbean island nation.

Another of the major expectations in Cuba is for the chance to travel to the United States because, even though this has become much more of a possibility in recent years, obtaining a visa is still a major hurdle.

And there are new questions among those who hoped to settle down in the United States under the Cuban Adjustment Act, and who now have the added possibility of not losing their citizenship rights on the island under the protection of the migration laws approved two years ago by the government of Raúl Castro, which eliminated the rule that if a Cuban stayed overseas for a certain amount of time, their departure was automatically seen as permanent, and they lost their rights and assets on the island.

And then there is the less tangible but no less real aspect of discourse and rhetoric. Half a century of hostility on many planes, including verbal, should begin to wane in the light of the new circumstances.

The “imperialist enemy” and “communist menace” are sitting down at the same table to seek negotiated solutions, and the language will have to adapt to that new reality to achieve the necessary comprehension and the hoped-for political accords.

In the meantime, we Cubans who live on the island have already felt a noticeable initial benefit from the announced accords: we have felt how a political tension that we have lived in for too many years has begun to ease, and we can already feel it is possible to rebuild our relationship with a neighbour that is too powerful and too close, and relate to each other if not in a friendly way, then at least in a cordial, civilised manner.

For that reason many of us – I include myself – have felt since Dec. 17 something similar to waking up from a nightmare from which almost none of us believed we could escape. And with our eyes wide open, we can catch a glimpse of the future, trying to see shapes more clearly through the haze.

Edited and translated by Stephanie Wildes

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. 

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Cuban Diplomacy Looks Towards Both Brussels and Washingtonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuban-diplomacy-looks-towards-both-brussels-and-washington/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuban-diplomacy-looks-towards-both-brussels-and-washington http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuban-diplomacy-looks-towards-both-brussels-and-washington/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 20:24:42 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138723 Several Cuban dissidents released at the start of the year, standing in front of other opponents of the Cuban government, including Bertha Soler (second to the right, in the second row), the leader of the organisation Ladies in White. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Several Cuban dissidents released at the start of the year, standing in front of other opponents of the Cuban government, including Bertha Soler (second to the right, in the second row), the leader of the organisation Ladies in White. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Jan 19 2015 (IPS)

Cuba has decided to move ahead in its talks with the European Union towards an agreement on cooperation parallel to the negotiations aimed at normalising relations with the United States after more than half a century of hostility.

As everyone’s attention is focused on the start of talks this week to restore diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States, Brussels and Havana scheduled for Mar. 4-5 the third round of negotiations launched in late April 2014 in the Cuban capital.

“We first thought we had slipped down a bit on the list of priorities; now the message is that no, the Cuban state wants to keep a balance between the two processes, which is good news for us,” the EU ambassador in Havana, Herman Portocarero, told IPS.

Delegations from Cuba and the United States will meet Jan. 21-22 in Havana, in the first meeting since the two governments announced Dec. 17 that diplomatic relations would be reestablished, and since sweeping new measures to ease trade and travel between the two countries were presented by Washington on Jan. 15.

In a process that got underway in 2008, Cuba and the EU finally held their first round of talks Apr. 29-30 for a future bilateral accord on political dialogue and cooperation which, according to Portocarero, should define aspects like the role of civil society and the main issues involving long-term cooperation.

Cuba is the only Latin American country that lacks a cooperation agreement with the EU.

A second meeting was held in August in Brussels, and on Jan. 8-9 the Cuban and EU delegations were to sit down together for the third time. But in early December the meeting was postponed by the Cuban authorities, with no new date scheduled, apparently solely due to a busy agenda.

After a year during which Cuba strengthened its relations with the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean and with traditional allies like China and Russia, and which ended with the historic announcement of a thaw with Washington, Havana will now be in a different position in its negotiations with Brussels.

The main aim of Cuban diplomacy in this case is to push for more trade, but above all for an increase in capital inflows under the new law on foreign investment.

The European bloc is currently Cuba’s second trading partner after Venezuela, whose economic difficulties raise doubts about what will happen to its wide-ranging trade ties with this Caribbean island nation. In 2013, according to the latest available figures, Cuba’s imports from Europe totalled 2.12 billion dollars and exports amounted to 971 million dollars.

According to analysts, the government of Raúl Castro hopes that a stable relationship under a framework accord like the one sought with the 28-member European bloc will lead to increased trade, but also to the diversification of economic and trade ties given the possibility that the normalisation of relations with the United States will lead to the lifting of the half-century U.S. embargo.

Portocarero believes Cuba’s new relationship with its northern neighbour will accelerate all of the processes. “If the Cuban authorities want to maintain a balance so that not everything is monopolised through the United States, then they have to give us the attention we deserve,” he said.

Brussels is observing with concern that some of the measures announced by the United States favour its financial sector, while Europe’s remains subject to enormous fines because of the extra-territorial reach of the Helms Burton Act, which in 2006 codified Washington’s sanctions against Cuba, and can only be repealed by the U.S. Congress.

“It is an imbalance that we have to put on the table with our friends in the United States,” Portocarero said in an interview with IPS. “It is not acceptable for us to continue to be subject to sanctions and huge fines against Europe’s financial sector, while restrictions are removed in the case of the U.S.”

The EU, for its part, hopes for faster changes in Cuba. “My message has always been: move faster while you are in control, so as to better defend the good things that should be preserved,” the ambassador said. In his view, moves should also be made to make Cuba’s foreign investment law more attractive.

The EU delegation building in Havana. The Cuban government will restart talks towards a bilateral agreement on cooperation in March. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños

The EU delegation building in Havana. The Cuban government will restart talks towards a bilateral agreement on cooperation in March. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños

“Foreign investment is competitive and special zones [like Cuba’s Mariel special economic development zone] are everywhere. At this point, 30 percent of the foreign capital invested in Cuba comes from the European Union,” he said.

Cuba has indicated that to ensure the normal growth of its economy, it needs some 2.5 billion dollars a year in investment.

The Mariel special economic development zone, which covers 465 square km 45 km west of Havana, has a modern port terminal built with investment from Brazil, and areas for a broad range of productive activities open to foreign investment.

The questions of foreign trade and cooperation made up the working agenda in the first and second round of talks, although no final documents have yet been produced. Human rights, civil society and good governance are to be discussed in the third round in March, although they are also crosscutting issues that arise in other areas.

These are touchy subjects for the Cuban government, which does not accept being internationally judged regarding them, while they are concerns raised by both Brussels and Washington.

Castro has stated that he is willing to engage in respectful, reciprocal dialogue on the discrepancies, including “any issue” regarding Cuba, but also the United States.

Over 50 inmates considered political prisoners by the U.S. government were released in Cuba in the first few days of January. Spokespersons for the Obama administration clarified that human rights would continue to be a focus of discussion in the talks on migration and the normalisation of ties with Havana.

The Cuban delegation in the talks will be headed by the director general of the foreign ministry’s United States division, Josefina Vidal. On Wednesday Jan. 21 a meeting is to be held to assess the progress of the migration accords and the measures taken by both sides to tackle undocumented migration and smuggling of migrants, among other issues.

In the two-day meeting, the U.S. delegation will be led by U.S acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Edward Alex Lee. The 1994 and 1995 migration accords are reviewed every six months, in meetings that rotate between Cuba and the United States.

Steps towards opening embassies in the two countries will be discussed at the first meeting on reestablishing diplomatic ties between the two countries, on Jan. 22.

Bilateral issues will be addressed later that day, including cooperation in areas of mutual interest. The U.S. representatives in these two meetings will be led by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: Cuba and the United States – A New Era?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuba-and-the-united-states-a-new-era/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuba-and-the-united-states-a-new-era http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuba-and-the-united-states-a-new-era/#comments Fri, 16 Jan 2015 20:46:05 +0000 Ricardo Alarcon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138683 Ricardo Alarcón, former Cuban foreign minister and president of parliament. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Ricardo Alarcón, former Cuban foreign minister and president of parliament. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ricardo Alarcon
HAVANA, Jan 16 2015 (IPS)

On Dec. 17, by freeing the five Cuban anti-terrorists who spent over 16 years in U.S. prisons, President Barack Obama repaired a longstanding injustice while changing the course of history.

Admitting that the U.S. government’s anti-Cuba policy had failed, reestablishing diplomatic ties, lifting all of the restrictions within his reach, proposing the complete elimination of the embargo and launching a new era in relations with Cuba, all in one single speech, went beyond anyone’s predictions and took everyone by surprise, even the most seasoned analysts.

The hostile policy first adopted by President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961), before the current president was even born, was followed with only slight variations by Republican and Democratic administrations, and codified by the Helms-Burton Act signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996.

In the first few years the policy was practiced with a high degree of success. In 1959, when the Cuban revolution triumphed, the United States was at the height of its power, exercising indisputable hegemony over a large part of the world, especially the Western Hemisphere, which enabled it to get Cuba kicked out of the Organisation of American States (OAS) and to achieve the near total isolation of this Caribbean island nation, which was left with only the support and aid of the Soviet Union and its partners in the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA), which grouped the countries of the Warsaw Pact.But normalising relations would suppose, above all, learning to live with differences and abandoning old dreams of domination.

The collapse of real socialism gave rise to hopes among many people that the end of the Cuban revolution was also at hand.

They imagined the advent of a long period of unipolar dominance. Drunk on the victory, they failed to appreciate the deeper meaning of what had happened: the end of the Cold War opened up new possibilities for social struggles and faced capitalism with challenges that were increasingly difficult to tackle.

The fall of the Berlin Wall blinded them from seeing that a social uprising known as the “Caracazo”, which shook Venezuela at the same time, in February 1989, was a sign of the start of a new age in Latin America.

Cuba managed to survive the disappearance of its long-time allies, and its ability to do so was a key factor in the profound transformation of the region. For years it had been clear that the U.S. policy aimed at isolating Cuba had been a failure, and had ended up isolating the United States, as acknowledged by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

A new relationship with Cuba was indispensable for Washington, which needed to rebuild its ties with a region that is no longer its backyard. Achieving that is fundamental now because, despite its power, the United States cannot exercise the comfortable leadership of times that will not return.

But there is still a long way to go before that new relationship can be established. First of all, it is necessary to completely eliminate the economic, trade and financial embargo, as demanded with renewed vigor by major segments of the U.S. business community.

But normalising relations would suppose, above all, learning to live with differences and abandoning old dreams of domination. It would mean respecting the sovereign equality of states, a fundamental principle of the United Nations Charter, which, as history has shown, does not always please the powerful.

With regard to the release of the five Cuban prisoners, all U.S. presidents, without exception, have broadly used the authority granted to them by article 2, section 2, clause 1 of the U.S. constitution. For over two centuries, presidents have had the unlimited power to grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States.

In the case of “the Cuban Five,” there were ample reasons for executive clemency. In 2005, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the trial as “a perfect storm of prejudice and hostility” and ordered a new trial.

In 2009 the same court threw out the sentences against three of the Cuban Five because they had neither sought nor passed on any military secrets, nor had they endangered U.S. national security.

Both verdicts were unanimous.

With respect to another major charge, “conspiracy to commit murder,” against Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, his accusers admitted that it was impossible to prove such an allegation, and even attempted to drop the charge in May 2001 in a move without precedent, made no less by public prosecutors under then-President George W. Bush (2001-2009).

Hernández had been waiting for five years for a response to one of his many petitions to the Miami court for release, a review of his case, an order for the government to produce the “proof” used to convict him, or for the government to reveal the magnitude and scope of official funding for the colossal media campaign that fed the “perfect storm.”

The court never responded. Nor did the mainstream media say anything about the judicial system’s unusual paralysis. It was obvious that it was a politically motivated case that could only be resolved by a political decision, which only the president could take.

Obama demonstrated wisdom and determination when, instead of simply using his authority to release the prisoners, he bravely confronted the underlying problem. The saga of the “Cuban Five” was the consequence of an aggressive strategy, and the wisest thing was to put an end to both at the same time.

No one can deny the importance of what was announced on Dec. 17. It would be a mistake, however, to ignore that there is still a ways to go, and that it will be necessary to follow that possibly long and tortuous path with resolution and insight.

Edited by Pablo Piacentini/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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. 

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OPINION: Islamic Reformation, the Antidote to Terrorismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-islamic-reformation-the-antidote-to-terrorism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-islamic-reformation-the-antidote-to-terrorism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-islamic-reformation-the-antidote-to-terrorism/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 15:02:55 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138639

Emile Nakhleh is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Jan 14 2015 (IPS)

The horrific terrorist attack on the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo has once again raised the question about violence and Islam. Why is it, some ask, that so much terrorism has been committed in the name of Islam, and why do violent jihadists seek justification of their actions in their religion?

Regardless of whether or not Said and Cherif Kouachi, the two brothers who attacked Charlie Hebdo, were pious or engaged in un-Islamic behavior in their personal lives, the fact remains they used Islamic idioms, such as “Allahu Akbar” or “God is Great,” to celebrate their bloody violence. Other Islamic terrorists have invoked similar idioms during previous terrorist operations.“Modern Pharaohs” and dynastic potentates continue to practice their repressive policies across the Middle East, totally oblivious to the pain and suffering of their people and the hopelessness of their youth.

Although many Muslim leaders and theologians worldwide have denounced the assault on the Paris-based magazine, many Muslim autocrats continue to exploit Islam for selfish reasons. For example, during the same week of the attacks in France, Saudi Arabia convicted one of its citizen bloggers and sentenced him to a lengthy jail term, a huge fine, and one thousand floggings. His “crime:” calling for liberal reforms of the Saudi regime.

Since Sep. 11, 2001, scholars of Islam have explored the factors that drive Islamic radicalism and the reasons why radical activists have “hijacked” or “stolen” mainstream Islam. Based on public opinion polls and expert analysis, most observers assess that two key factors have contributed to radicalisation and terrorism: a regime’s domestic and foreign policy, and the conservative, intolerant Salafi-Wahhabi Islamic ideology coming mostly out of Saudi Arabia.

For the past decade and half, reasoned analysis has suggested that Arab Islamic states, Muslim scholars, and Western countries could take specific steps in order to neutralise these factors. This analysis concedes, however, that the desired results would require time, resources, courage, and above all, vision and commitment.

What drives domestic terrorism?

In the domestic policy arena, economic, political, and social issues have framed the radical narrative and empowered extremist activists. These include: dictatorship, repression, corruption, unemployment, inadequate education, poverty, scarcity of clean water, food, and electricity, and poor sanitary conditions.

High unemployment, which ranges from 25-50 percent among the 15-29 cohort in most Arab and Muslim countries, has created a poor, alienated, angry, and inadequately educated youthful generation that does not identify with the state.  Many turn to violence and terrorism and end up serving as foot soldier “jihadists” in terrorist organisations, including the Islamic State, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and others.

Autocratic regimes in several Arab and Islamic countries have ignored these conditions and the ensuing grievances for years while maintaining their hold on power. “Modern Pharaohs” and dynastic potentates continue to practice their repressive policies across the Middle East, totally oblivious to the pain and suffering of their people and the hopelessness of their youth.

In the foreign policy arena, public opinion polls in Arab and Muslim countries have shown that specific American policies toward Arabs and Muslims have created a serious rift between the United States and the Islamic world.

These include a perceived U.S. war on Islam, the continued detention of Muslims at Guantanamo Bay, unwavering support for the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, on-going violations of Muslims’ human rights in the name of the war on terrorism, and the coddling of Arab Muslim dictators.

Islamic radicals have propagated the claim, which has resonated with many Muslims, that their rulers, or the “near enemy,” are propped up, financed, and armed by the United States and other Western powers or the “far enemy.” Therefore, “jihad” becomes a “duty” against both of these “enemies.”

Although many mainstream Muslims saw some validity in the radicals’ argument that domestic and foreign policy often underpin and justify jihad, they attribute much of the violence and terrorism to radical, intolerant ideological interpretations of Sunni Islam, mostly found in the teachings of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence adhered to by Saudi state and religious establishment.

Some contemporary Islamic thinkers have accordingly argued that Islam must undergo a process of reformation. The basic premise of such reformation is to transport Islam from 7th Century Arabia, where the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, to a globalised 21st century world that transcends Arabia and the traditional “abode of Islam.”

Calls for Islamic Reformation

Reformist Islamic thinkers—including Syrian Muhammad Shahrur, Iranians Abdul Karim Soroush and Mohsen Kadivar, Swiss-Egyptian Tariq Ramadan, Egyptian-American Khaled Abu El Fadl, Sudanese-American Abdullahi Ahmad An-Naim, Egyptian Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, and Malaysians Anwar Ibrahim and Farish Noor—have advocated taking a new look at Islam.

Although their work is based on different religious and cultural narratives, these thinkers generally agree on four key fundamental points:

1. Islam was revealed at a specific time in a specific place and in a response to specific conditions and situations. For example, certain chapters or suras were revealed to Muhammad in Medina while he was fighting several battles and struggling to create his umma-based “Islamic State.”

2. If Islam desires to be accepted as a global religion with universal principles, Muslim theologians should adapt Islam to the modern world where millions of Muslims live as minorities in non-Muslim countries—from India and China to the Americas and Europe. The communal theological concept of the umma that was central to Muhammad’s Islamic State in Medina is no longer valid in a complex, multicultural and multi-religious world.

3. If the millions of Muslims living outside the “heartland” of Islam aspire to become productive citizens in their adopted countries, they would need to view their religion as a personal connection between them and their God, not a communal body of belief that dictates their social interaction with non-Muslims or with their status as a minority. If they want to live in peace with fellow citizens in secular Western countries, they must abide by the principles of tolerance of the “other,” compromise, and peaceful co-existence with other religions.

4. Radical and intolerant Islamic ideology does not represent the mainstream body of Muslim theology. Whereas radicals and terrorists, from Osama Bin Ladin to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi have often quoted the war-like Medina Koranic suras, Islamic reformation should focus on the suras revealed to Muhammad in Mecca, which advocate universalist principles akin to those of Christianity and Judaism. These suras also recognise Moses and Jesus as prophets and messengers of God.

Reformist thinkers also agree that Muslim theologians and scholars all over the world should preach to radicals in particular that Islam does not condone terrorism and should not be invoked to justify violence. Although in recent years would-be terrorists invariably sought a religious justification or a fatwa from a religious cleric to justify their terrorist operation, a “reformed” Islam would ban the issuance of such fatwas.

Failed reformation attempts

Regimes have yet to address the domestic policies that have fueled radicalism and terrorism.

In terms of the Salafi-Wahhabi ideology, Saudi Arabia continues to teach the Hanbali driven doctrine in its schools and export it to other countries. It’s not therefore surprising that the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) bases its government and social “philosophy” on the Saudi religious ideology. According to media reports, some Saudi textbooks are currently being taught in schools in Iraqi and Syrian territory controlled by IS.

Semi Ghesmi, a Salafist student and elected head of the National Students Union in Tunisia, supports what he calls the "jihad" in Syria. Credit: Giuliana Sgrena/IPS

Semi Ghesmi, a Salafist student and elected head of the National Students Union in Tunisia, supports what he calls the “jihad” in Syria. Credit: Giuliana Sgrena/IPS

Calls for reformation have not taken root in the Sunni Muslim world because once the four schools jurisprudence—Hanbali, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanafi—were accepted in the 10th century as representing the complete doctrine of Sunni Islam, the door of reasoning or ijtihad was closed shut. Muslim theologians and leaders would not allow any new doctrinal thinking and would readily brand any such thought or thinkers as seditious.

An important reason why the calls for reformation have fallen on deaf ears is because in the past two decades, many of the reformist thinkers have lived outside the Muslim heartland, taught in Western universities, and wrote in foreign languages. Their academic arguments were rarely translated into Arabic and other “Islamic” languages.

Even if some of the articles advocating reformation were translated, the average Muslim in Muslim countries with a high school or college education barely understood or comprehended the reformists’ theological arguments renouncing violence and terrorism.

How to defeat Islamic terrorism

If Arab Islamic rulers are sincere in their fight against terrorism, they need to implement drastically different economic, political, and social policies. They must reform their educational systems, fund massive entrepreneurial projects that aim at job creation, institute transitions to democracy, and empower their people to become creative citizens.

Dictatorship, autocracy, and family rule without popular support or legitimacy will not survive for long in the 21st century. Arab and Muslim youth are connected to the outside world and wired into massive global networks of social media. Many of them believe that their regimes are anachronistic and ossified. To gain their rights and freedoms, these youth, men and women have come to believe their political systems must be replaced and their 7th century religion must be reformed.

Until this happens, terrorism in the name of Islam, whether in Paris or Baghdad, will remain a menace for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Day CIA Failed to Un-beard Castro in His Own Denhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/the-day-cia-failed-to-un-beard-castro-in-his-own-den/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-day-cia-failed-to-un-beard-castro-in-his-own-den http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/the-day-cia-failed-to-un-beard-castro-in-his-own-den/#comments Wed, 07 Jan 2015 22:39:26 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138554 Fidel Castro arrives at MATS Terminal, Washington, D.C., Apr. 15, 1959. Scores of attempts were later made by U.S. intelligence services to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro, including by hired Sicilian Mafia hitmen. Credit: public domain

Fidel Castro arrives at MATS Terminal, Washington, D.C., Apr. 15, 1959. Scores of attempts were later made by U.S. intelligence services to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro, including by hired Sicilian Mafia hitmen. Credit: public domain

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 7 2015 (IPS)

The controversial low-brow Hollywood comedy, ‘The Interview’, portrays the story of two U.S. talk-show journalists on assignment to interview Kim Jong-un – and midway down the road are recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to poison the North Korean leader.

The plot, which has enraged North Korea, accused of retaliating by hacking into the computers of Sony Pictures distributing the movie, is patently fictitious and involves a ricin-laced strip meant to poison Kim while shaking hands with the journalists."It's fine to make comedies about assassinations of the leaders of small countries the U.S. has demonised. But imagine if Russia or China made a film about assassinating the U.S. president." -- Michael Ratner

But, as art imitates life from a bygone era, the plan to kill the North Korean leader harkens back to the days in the late 1960s and 1970s when scores of attempts were made by U.S. intelligence services to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro, including by hired Sicilian Mafia hitmen.

The hilarious plots included an attempt to smuggle poisoned cigars into Castro’s household and also plant soluble thallium sulphate inside Castro’s shoes so that his beard will fall off and make him “the laughing stock of the socialist world.”

Some of the unsuccessful attempts were detailed in a scathing 1975 report by an 11-member investigative body appointed by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee chaired by Senator Frank Church, a Democrat from the state of Idaho.

The failed assassination plots are likely to be the subject of renewed discussion, particularly in the context of last month’s announcement of the resumption of full diplomatic relations between the two longstanding sworn enemies: the United States and Cuba.

Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, told IPS, “Sadly, and especially to the North Koreans and Kim Jong-un, the movie was not a comedy they could ignore.”

The CIA has a long history of often successful plots to assassinate leaders of countries who choose to act independently of U.S. wishes, he pointed out.

Numerous such plots were exposed in the 1975 U.S. Senate Church Committee report, including attempts against Fidel Castro of Cuba, Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, Ngo Dinh Diem, the first president of South Vietnam, and others, said Ratner, president of the Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights.

The supposed ban on such assassination since those revelations is meaningless; the U.S. now calls it targeted killing, he added.

“Think about Colonel Qaddafi [of Libya] and others killed by drones or Joint Special Operations Command.”

Seen in this context, said Ratner, a North Korean reaction would be expected – even though there has not been substantiated evidence that it was behind the Sony hack.

“Think about this another way: it’s fine to make comedies about assassinations of the leaders of small countries the U.S. has demonised. But imagine if Russia or China made a film about assassinating the U.S. president,” he said.

The United States would not simply laugh it off as a comedy.

“There is no problem as long as the target is small country that can be kicked around; let another country make such a comedy about our president, and I assure you, it will pay dearly,” Ratner added.

Dr. James E. Jennings, president, Conscience International and executive director at U.S. Academics for Peace, told IPS new information from cyber security firms calls into question the doctrinaire assertion by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was behind the Sony hack attack.

“The FBI’s rush to judgment – from which the agency may be forced to retreat – has raised protests from internet security experts and suspicions by conspiracy theorists of possible U.S. involvement in a bizarre plot to further isolate the Korean regime.”

They point out, said Dr. Jennings, that stranger things have happened before.

It would not be the first time that the CIA has used dirty tricks to cripple a foreign regime or try to assassinate a foreign leader.

He said folks are therefore entitled to be sceptical about FBI claims and to raise questions about possible CIA involvement in the fuss over the film “The Interview.”

“We only have to remember Iran in 1953, when the elected leader [Mohamed] Mosaddegh was overthrown; Chile in 1973 when President Salvador Allende was assassinated, and the Keystone Cops hi-jinks that the CIA pulled in trying to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro between 1960-75.”

The CIA’s own Inspector General as well as the 1975-76 Church Committee reported that a large number of crazy tricks were attempted in trying to get rid of Castro, including poisoned cigars and exploding seashells.

“One wonders what the top CIA officers were drinking when they came up with such silly notions–more like Kabuki theater than responsible policies of a great nation,” said Jennings. “And we all know by now about Abu Ghraib, torture, rendition, and the black sites.

“If it does turn out that the CIA is implicated in any way in this newest Sony vs. North Korea farce, as some are alleging, it’s high time for a new congressional investigation like that of the Church Committee to whack the agency hard and send some of its current leaders back to the basement of horrors where they belong,” said Dr. Jennings.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Political Islam and U.S. Policy in 2015http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-political-islam-and-u-s-policy-in-2015/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-political-islam-and-u-s-policy-in-2015 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-political-islam-and-u-s-policy-in-2015/#comments Tue, 06 Jan 2015 18:16:46 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138538 President Barack Obama speaks at Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Jun. 4, 2009. In his speech, President Obama called for a 'new beginning between the United States and Muslims', declaring that 'this cycle of suspicion and discord must end'. Credit: White House photo

President Barack Obama speaks at Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Jun. 4, 2009. In his speech, President Obama called for a 'new beginning between the United States and Muslims', declaring that 'this cycle of suspicion and discord must end'. Credit: White House photo

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Jan 6 2015 (IPS)

This year, Arab political Islam will be greatly influenced by U.S. regional policy, as it has been since the Obama administration came into office six years ago. Indeed, as the U.S. standing in the region rose with Obama’s presidency beginning in January 2009, so did the fortunes of Arab political Islam.

But when Arab autocrats perceived U.S. regional policy to have floundered and Washington’s leverage to have diminished, they proceeded to repress domestic Islamic political parties with impunity, American protestations notwithstanding.Coddling autocrats is a short-term strategy that will not succeed in the long run. The longer the cozy relationship lasts, the more Muslims will revert to the earlier belief that America’s war on terrorism is a war on Islam.

This policy linkage, expected to prevail in the coming year, will not bode well for political Islam. Like last year, the U.S. will in 2015 pay more attention to securing Arab autocrats’ support in the fight against Islamic State forces than to the mistreatment of mainstream Islamic political parties and movements, which will have severe consequences in the long run.

Since the middle of 2013, the Obama administration’s focus on the tactical need to woo dictators in the fight against terrorist groups has trumped its commitment to the engagement objective. America’s growing support for Arab dictators meant that Arab political Islam would be sacrificed.

For example, Washington seems oblivious to the thousands of mainstream Islamists and other opposition activists languishing in Egyptian jails.

What is political Islam?

Several assumptions underpin this judgment. First, “political Islam” applies to mainstream Islamic political parties and movements, which have rejected violence and made a strategic shift toward participatory and coalition politics through free elections.

Arab political Islam generally includes the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan, Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, al-Nahda in Tunisia, and al-Wefaq in Bahrain.

The term “political Islam” does not include radical and terrorist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL or IS), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, Iraq, and Syria, or armed opposition groups in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya. Nor does it apply to terrorist groups in Africa such as Boko Haram, al-Shabab, and others.

Unfortunately, in the past three years, many policy makers in the West, and curiously in several Arab countries, have equated mainstream political Islam with radical and terrorist groups. This erroneous and self-serving linkage has provided Washington with a fig leaf to justify its cozy relations with Arab autocrats and tolerance of their bloody repression of their citizens.

Repression breeds radicalism

It has also given these autocrats an excuse to suppress their Islamic parties and exclude them from the political process. In a press interview late last month, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi forcefully denounced the Muslim Brotherhood and pledged the movement would not enter the Egyptian parliament.

Egypt’s recent terrorism laws, which Sisi and other Arab autocrats have approved, provide them with a pseudo-legal cover to silence the opposition, including mainstream political Islam.

They have used the expansive and vague definitions of terrorism included in these decrees to incarcerate any person or group that is “harmful to national unity.” Any criticism of the regime or the ruler is now viewed as a “terrorist” act, punishable by lengthy imprisonment.

The Dec. 28 arrest of the Bahraini Sheikh Ali Salman, Secretary General of al-Wefaq, is yet another example of draconian measures against peaceful mainstream opposition leaders and parties in the region. Regime repression of these groups is expected to prevail in 2015.

Second, whereas terrorist organisations are a threat to the region and to Western countries, including mainstream political Islam in the governance of their countries in the long run is good for domestic stability and regional security. It also serves the interests of Western powers in the region.

Recent history tells U.S. that exclusion and repression often lead to radicalisation.  Some youth in these parties have given up on participatory politics in favour of confrontational politics and violence. This phenomenon is expected to increase in 2015, as suppression of political Islam becomes more pervasive and institutionalised.

Third, the serious mistakes the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Nahda made in their first time ever as governing parties should not be surprising since they lacked the experience of governance. Such poor performance, however, is not unique to them.  Nor should it be used as an excuse to depose them illegally and to void the democratic process, as the Sisi-led military coup did in Egypt in 2013.

Although Islamic political parties tend to win the first election after the toppling of dictators, the litmus test of their popular support lies in succeeding elections. The recent post-Arab Spring election in Tunisia is a case in point.

When Arab citizens are provided with the opportunity to participate in fair and free elections, they are capable of electing the party that best serves their interests, regardless of whether the party is Islamic or secular.

Had Field Marshall Sisi in 2013 allowed the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohammed Morsi to stay in power until the following election, they would have been voted out, according to public opinion polls at the time.

But Sisi and his military junta were not truly committed to a genuine democratic transition in Egypt. Now, according to Human Rights Watch reports, the current state of human rights in Egypt is much worse than it was under former President Hosni Mubarak.

The U.S. and Political Islam

Upon taking office, President Obama understood that disagreements between the United States and the Muslim world, especially political Islam, were driven by specific policies, not values of good governance. A key factor driving these disagreements was the widely held Muslim perception that America’s war on terror was a war on Islam.

The Obama administration also realised that while a very small percentage of Muslims engaged in violence and terrorism, the United States must find ways to engage the other 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. That drove President Obama early on in his administration to grant media interviews to Arab broadcasters and give his historic Cairo speech in June 2009.

However, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dragged on, and as drone strikes caused more civilian casualties in Yemen, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, many Muslims became more sceptical of Washington’s commitment to sincere engagement with the Muslim world.

The Arab uprisings beginning in 2011 known as the Arab Spring and the toppling of dictators prompted the United States to support calls for freedom, political reform, dignity, and democracy.

Washington announced it would work with Islamic political parties, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Nahda, as long as these parties were committed to peaceful change and to the principles of pluralism, elections, and democracy.

That unprecedented opening boosted the fortunes of Arab political Islam and inclusive politics in the Arab world. American rapprochement with political Islam, however, did not last beyond two years.

The way forward

Much as one might disagree with Islamic political ideology, it’s the height of folly to think that long-term domestic stability and economic security in Egypt, Bahrain, Palestine, or Lebanon could be achieved without including the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Wefaq, Hamas, and Hezbollah in governance.

Coddling autocrats is a short-term strategy that will not succeed in the long run. The longer the cozy relationship lasts, the more Muslims will revert to the earlier belief that America’s war on terrorism is a war on Islam.

The Arab countries that witnessed the fall of dictators, especially Egypt, will with Washington’s acquiescence revert back to repression and autocracy, as if the Arab Spring never happened.

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.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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From the American Dream to the Nightmare of Deportationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/from-the-american-dream-to-the-nightmare-of-deportation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-the-american-dream-to-the-nightmare-of-deportation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/from-the-american-dream-to-the-nightmare-of-deportation/#comments Tue, 06 Jan 2015 17:41:50 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138536 People deported from the United States arriving at the Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport in the capital of El Salvador. Their country receives them with very few initiatives for labour and social reinsertion. Credit: Courtesy DGME

People deported from the United States arriving at the Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport in the capital of El Salvador. Their country receives them with very few initiatives for labour and social reinsertion. Credit: Courtesy DGME

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Jan 6 2015 (IPS)

Julio César Cordero’s American dream didn’t last long. He was trying to reach Houston, Texas as an undocumented immigrant but was detained in Acayucán in southeastern Mexico. And like thousands of other deported Salvadorans, he doesn’t know what the future will hold.

Cordero’s head hangs low as he climbs off the bus that brought him back to the capital of El Salvador. He carries only a plastic bag with a few items of clothing – and broken dreams.

“I want to offer my son a better future, so I’ll probably try again next year,” Cordero tells IPS as he reaches the immigration office, on the east side of San Salvador, the dropping-off point for migrants detained in Mexico on their way to the United States.

An estimated 2.5 million Salvadorans live in the United States, the great majority of them without papers. Initially many went there fleeing the 1980-1992 civil war that left 80,000 dead and disappeared in their country.“The mistaken reasoning of bankers is that if they lend a deportee 10,000, tomorrow morning he’ll be in New York because he’ll use the money to pay for a new trip.” -- César Ríos

“On the other hand, it’s a relief to be back in my country again,” Cordero adds.

At least two flights from the United States and three buses from Mexico bring back around 150 deportees every day. The authorities are alarmed by the sheer numbers. In the first 11 months of 2014, a total of 47,943 deportees reached the immigration office – 43 percent more than in the same period in 2013.

The migration authorities project a total of 50,000 deportees for 2014 – a heavy burden for this impoverished Central American country of 6.2 million people, where unemployment stands at six percent and 65 percent of those who work do so in the informal sector of the economy.

The army of returning migrants does not have government support programmes to help with their reinsertion in the labour market, deportees and representatives of civil society organisations told IPS.

Many of them have put down roots in the United States, and they return to this country with no support network and with the stigma of having been deported, because the impression here is that most of those sent home are gang members or criminals.

“We just want a hand to help us find jobs, open a business or get a loan,” says Antonio, who preferred not to give his last name.

Antonio lived in San Francisco, California from 2005 to 2010, where he worked caring for the elderly, and as a cook in restaurants. But he came back because his mother fell ill. He tried to return in 2012, but was caught after crossing the Mexico-U.S. border.

“The return is hard,” he says. “I came back without a cent, and with a huge pile of debt.”

Antonio wants the government to help returning migrants gain access to bank loans. He says that when they try to start over again in El Salvador, setting up a microenterprise, they run up against the impossibility of getting credit.

“The mistaken reasoning of bankers is that if they lend a deportee 10,000, tomorrow morning he’ll be in New York because he’ll use the money to pay for a new trip,” César Ríos, the director of the Salvadoran Institute for Migrants (INSAMI), tells IPS.

INSAMI is promoting a project to provide support for deportees in their reinsertion into the productive life of the country, in terms of job opportunities as well as access to credit.

One of the biggest problems faced by the deported migrants is that they have no documents to prove the work experience they gained in the United States.

One of the measures included in the project is for the Salvadoran government to issue certificates recognising the work experience they obtained in the United States, to help them find jobs in El Salvador.

“We’re not criminals; we deserve a chance,” Antonio repeats several times.

In El Salvador there is a widespread but erroneous idea that the majority of those who are deported from the United States belonged to gangs or were involved in other kinds of criminal activities.

Because of the stigma surrounding deportation, some of them covered their faces when they got off the buses that brought them home, the day IPS visited the migration office.

The ones who are flown back from the United States actually wear handcuffs on the plane, and when they land in the Monseñor Óscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport, they are met by a heavily armed police cordon.

“The reception they are given is not a welcome; they are treated as criminals,” Karla Salas, a researcher at the José Simeón Cañas Central American University’s (IDHUCA) Human Rights Institute, told IPS.

This procedure reinforces the stigma and the impression that they are criminals, added Salas, who in 2013 participated in an IDHUCA study carried out between January and March 2013, which is about to be published under the title “Deported Dreams”, on the social impacts of deportation on returned migrants and their families.

Preliminary data from the study show that 70 percent of those deported have never been accused of a crime.

And of the remaining 30 percent, the crimes they were accused of in the United States included assault, drunk driving and drug possession, according to the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería (DGME), the migration office.

The migration authorities recognise that the reception given the returnees is not appropriate, and say they are working to improve it.

“The idea is to make the reception given our fellow countrymen more humane,” DGME spokesman Mauricio Silva told IPS.

Silva said the government is working to bring together public and private institutions and agencies to create programmes to help deported migrants rejoin the labour market.

For example, financing is needed to restart a pilot project that benefited 20 people with financial support for setting up microenterprises in late 2012. It was implemented with funds from the Canadian government and coordinated by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Antonio was one of the beneficiaries of that programme. He was given 1,400 dollars and opened a pizza parlor. Things were going well until his business was robbed and went under. Now he is trying to get a loan to start over again.

For now, the only thing offered by the government is training in trades for mechanics or electricians, for example, as well as legal aid for migrants. It also provides letters of recommendation, to help deportees find work.

INSAMI’s Ríos said the deportations will move ahead at the same pace, despite the Nov. 20 announcement by U.S. President Barack Obama that a priority would be put on deporting felons rather than families.

The president issued an executive action that will provide temporary residency permits and jobs to some five million undocumented immigrants, including parents of young people who are legal residents or U.S. citizens, as long as the parents entered the country before January 2010.

It also covers young people who went to the United States before January 2010, as children.

But Obama clarified that deportations were not about to stop.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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