Filed under: February Volume I- 2009, Latino/Caribe | Tags: Bolivia referendum
By Safiya A. Khafidh
Islamic Post Staff Writer
The new constitution presented by the government of Bolivian President Evo Morales passed late last month by a vote of 60%, signifying the great number of people who approve the new constitution.
“Here the colonial state ends and external and internal colonialism end,” said the leftist president. The vote allows him to run for re-election and remain in power till 2014.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent congratulations to the people of Bolivia for taking part in the national referendum –that approved the amendment of the country’s Constitution– in a peaceful manner, after the violence that has plagued the country from reactionary provinces.
In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Mr. Ban said he was following with great interest the political developments in the Andean country, where the referendum included the constitutional expansion of indigenous people’s rights, as well as an extension of presidential term limits.
The key constitutional changes include presidents being allowed two consecutive five-year terms; recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples, and setting aside congressional seats for them: state control of all gas, oil and mineral reserves: appointment of high court judges rather than election of the same; the prohibition of sexual discrimination; the guaranteed freedom of religion; and self-rule for the indigenous tribes who live on traditional lands.
However, the richer provinces in eastern Bolivia: Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni and Pondo –areas considered violent hotbeds of opposition led by the state governors of those areas– prefer their own increased autonomy, along with more authority over the natural resources mentioned above.
Nevertheless, Mr. Ban Ki-moon applauded the calm atmosphere while the polls were open, and the high level of participation, as a demonstration of civic responsibility.
“The Secretary-General exhorts all political leaders in Bolivia to work together henceforth to build a prosperous and inclusive future for their country,” the statement read, adding that the UN will continue to assist the Government and the people of Bolivia face future challenges.
He also recognized the work of the National Electoral Court of Bolivia in the organization of, what he called, “this important exercise in democracy.”
-Sources: United Nations, News Agencies
Filed under: February Volume I- 2009, Latino/Caribe | Tags: Drug Trafficking
By Khalida Khaleel
Islamic Post Staff Writer
Robert Fannin was given full ceremony on his departure last month from his post as U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, under the Bush Administration, in favor of a yet unnamed replacement to be posted by incoming U.S. President Barack Obama to the Spanish-speaking Caribbean island.
Although in the country a mere 13 months, Mr. Fannin vocally opposed controversial legislation in the country which would have allowed the Dominican Air Force to shoot down suspected drug planes in flight over the country.
The Dominican Republic is a key entry and exit point for illicit material traveling from South America to Miami. Rogelio E. Guevara, Chief of Operations of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration told the House of Representatives Committee on International Relations in 2002 that the Dominican Republic is being used as a “command, control, and communications” centre for drug operations in the Caribbean, and is also used to store drugs, before onward shipment to Puerto Rico or the United States.
The U.S. State Department made its stance known via Ambassador Fannin, as well as in an official statement, that the Dominican Republic should not authorize the shooting down of aircraft suspected of carrying drugs, but should instead improve its internal policies against drug running by confiscating drug traffickers’ property at the least, (Dominican Today, reported late last year.) “ [It’s true,] we must clean up the National Police and the Armed Forces, because those things are unacceptable,” said President Fernandez earlier this month when being interviewed on El Dia.
However, problems with closing down the Dominican drug route do not stop inside the country. “Once a shipment of cocaine, whether smuggled from Haiti or the Dominican Republic by maritime, air, or commercial cargo, reaches Puerto Rico, it is unlikely to be subjected to further United States Customs inspections en route to the continental U.S.,” said U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agent Michael Vigil in testimony before Congress in 2000.
Hence, the dramatic step proposed in the Dominican Congress to stop drug traffickers’ invasion of Dominican air space. If the illicit product fails to reach Puerto Rico through the Dominican Republic, the traffickers might assume a different route. Other Latin American countries, such as Brazil and Peru, found a measure of success enforcing laws which allow authorities to down any plane violating territorial airspace and waters.
However, in the latter country, a plane of American missionaries, while in communication with one federal air tower, was shot down after not responding to the requests of another, in April of 2001. A seven-month old baby and her mother were killed, and three other Americans injured. Undoubtedly, this reinforces the argument of the State Department.
Nevertheless, Air force colonels, a local religious figure, numerous fiery editorials of journalists and ordinary honest Dominican businessmen, sanction the shooting down of planes. “It’s a disgrace,” said one cattle rancher. “Drugs are being brought into the country to destroy the people. Another country should not be able to speak regarding our own airspace.”
Top military and political officials face extradition to the United States on drug trafficking charges, compounding political tensions in what is being termed the country’s largest drug case. While Dominican President, Leonel Fernandez, says he will approve all the extraditions, he laments what is perceived as a lack of aid, on America’s, part, to reduce drug trafficking coming out of the country, specifically his own unheeded requests to the U.S. embassy to assist in the purchasing of a radar, to detect drug-laden flights. “I’ve never understood that part… this should be a mutual cooperation,” he said. “The radar is not just to protect us, it will also protect you because you are also being affected by this,” the Dominican president concluded, when speaking to Diario Libre.
Filed under: February Volume I- 2009, Latino/Caribe | Tags: Human Trafficking
Special Task Force Fighting Big Business Cartels to Free Victims of Debt Bondage
By Raheemah Atif
Islamic Post Staff Writer
Thousands of human beings are entrenched in the deplorable business of virtual “slave labor” worldwide. In the South American nation of Brazil, the United Nations International Labor Organization estimated that in 2003 ( the most recent year in which statistics were complied), between 25,000 and 40,000 Brazilians were being held under this criminally oppressive system.
In an interview with CNN, Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based policy center commented, “Slavery is the tail end of a lot of abuse of poor people and workers in Brazil; bad treatment reaches over to abusive treatment, to treatment that becomes virtual slavery.”
Various human rights organizations, in conjunction with the Brazilian government, have built a special task force that has freed 5,223 “ slave laborers” who were discovered virtually marooned on large farms, plantations, and businesses located deep in rural and deforested areas. Escape from these forced labor camps is practically impossible. Anti-slavery International (AI), a human rights group based in the U.K., explains the sordid scenario wherein unsuspecting individuals are lured into the deceptive “employment” agreement.
Unscrupulous recruiters scour the slums and economically depressed areas of Brazil – which is roughly the size of the United States – looking for willing individuals who agree to travel to a distant site to work for inflated wages. Once separated from any support or contact with family or friends, the workers are told they owe money for transportation, food, housing, etc. “This is known as debt bondage, which also fits official definitions of slavery,” says Anti-slavery International, “A person is in debt bondage when their labor is demanded as the means of repayment for a loan or an advance. Once in debt, they lose all control over their conditions of work and what, if anything they are paid … often making it impossible to repay and trapping them in a cycle of debt.”
Regulation of the industries that perpetrate the criminal conditions under which these victims suffer has been difficult, in part due to the vastness of Brazil itself. Anti-slavery International reports that the greatest number of slave labor camps are run by the cattle ranching industry and sugar cane plantations (43%), followed by deforestation operations (28%), and agriculture (24%). The charcoal production and logging industries also run slave labor camps within the deep interior of the country. Brazil is being applauded on its successful efforts to curtail and eliminate slave labor in their country, while AI has estimated that there are more than 12 million people worldwide being held captive in forced labor situations with a much more dismal outlook for rescue. “Forced labor exists in Sudan, Nepal, India, Mauritania as well as many wealthier countries (including the UK), where vulnerable people are trafficked into forced labor or sexual slavery,” the group says. “A similar situation to the use of forced labor on estates in Brazil can be found in the Chaco region of both Paraguay and Bolivia”
The Brazilian Special Mobile Inspection Group is comprised of attorneys from the federal labor prosecution department, labor inspectors, and federal police, who often conduct worksite raids at remote labor camps searching for abuses and workers being held against their will. In 2007, nearly 6,000 people were freed by the task force. Labor Minister Carlos Lupi commented to the Brazilian-run state news agency that his country will be stepping up its antislavery operations in 2009. Part and parcel of the campaign is the elimination of a primary factor in the vulnerability of forced labor victims – the conditions of abject poverty so prevalent in Brazil, and other countries who are combating the same criminal oppression of its people. A recent survey conducted by the Getulio Vargas Foundation’s Center for Social Policy Studies found that one of every four Brazilians live in dire poverty. The Web-based Index Mundi, which says it obtains its figures from the CIA World Factbook, estimates the poverty rate could be as high as one of every three Brazilians; with a population approaching 200 million people, that means at least 49 million Brazilians live under squalid economic conditions. For the most part, the administration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has done much to reduce poverty and fight slave labor, with one governmental sanction requiring that lands on which slave labor camps are operated are subject to confiscation. The politically powerful natural resource cartels are fighting hard against the pressure of the Brazilian government and other agencies who are determined to continue waging the protracted battle against the crime of forced labor. Vigilance and legal action are the primary weapons being utilized to protect and maintain the right of the people to be free from oppression and coercion – and the struggle continues. “Brazil is a big, huge country and there are lots of poor people,” said Hakim of the Inter-American Dialogue. “The farther you get away from the populated, industrialized areas, you’ll find large populations of people who do whatever they can to make a living.”
Filed under: February Volume I- 2009, Latino/Caribe | Tags: Gaza, Venezuela
A strong message of condemnation for Israel’s military aggression came as Israel’s ambassador to Venezuela was expelled along with some embassy staff. In a statement issued by Venezuela’s foreign ministry, Israel was accused of violating international law and of having planned to use state terrorism against the Palestinian population. Miami Herald reported from Adrian Bonilla, director of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Ecuador, “There is a tradition in Latin America of rejecting violence to solve any international conflict.”
Ambassador Schlomo Cohen left the country on Friday, January 9th after having called the expulsion “the most difficult moment in the more than 50-year history of relations between Venezuela and Israel.” President Chavez, contrastingly, called it a “gesture of dignity”, thereby sending a message to the world that military actions which resulted in hundreds of Palestinian civilian deaths were unacceptable. On state television, Chavez asked “How far will the barbarism go?”
Also unacceptable, as stated by UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, were Israeli attacks on UN schools which killed 46 civilians and injured at least 150, at the time of this report. In a public statement, he said, “These attacks by Israeli military forces which endanger facilities acting as places of refuge are totally unacceptable and must not be repeated” and that “a substantial number of civilians have been killed.” The statement also pointed out that “The locations of all UN facilities have been communicated to the Israeli authorities and are known to the Israeli army.” The clearly marked UN facilities were serving as safe havens for civilians seeking refuge from the violence in Gaza, according to United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) director, John Ging. The shelling was reported in The Jerusalem Post to be in response to Hamas Gunmen who used the complex to fire on Israeli targets. Although, the UN agency insisted that there were no Hamas gunmen on the school grounds, only civilians seeking refuge.
Despite this, Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Captain Ishai David denied that the incident was caused by erroneous Israeli shelling. David said, “We are still sticking by our official position that according to our initial inquiry, the whole thing started when terrorists fired mortar shells from the school compound”.
UN spokesman Christopher Gunness asserted that the Israeli army admitted in private briefings that militant fire came, not from the school, but from somewhere outside of the school compound. This and other incidents caused civilian deaths and gruesome injuries including, numerous amputations. These have been the cause of international outrage echoed throughout Latin America.
Protests have taken place throughout the world, in Argentina, Bolivia, and El Salvador. In Chile, President Michelle Bachelet called for a stop of actions from both sides, while the Chilean foreign ministry strongly condemned Israeli raids on Gaza. The governments of Guatemala and Colombia also called on Israel to end fighting. Brazil’s foreign policy advisor, Marco Aurelio Garcia, described the attacks as “state terrorism”, while Foreign Minister Celso Amorim called Israeli military action a “disproportional” answer to Hamas rocket attacks. At the time of the statements’ publishing, Ten Israelis were reported to have died compared to over 1000 Palestinians killed and over 3000 injured. Brazil subsequently sent 14 tons of food and medical aid, its Foreign ministry said.
By Safiya A. Khafidh
Islamic Post Staff Writer
Quechua indigenous Indian women in poor, rural communities throughout Betanzos municipality in Bolivia are assisting health workers in combating the staggering rates of malnutrition. They are known as “Madres Vigilantes” or “Mindful Mothers” because they teach other women about child nutrition. According to Julia Velasco Parisaca and Wendy Medina of Inter Press Service News Agency, one of every two children in Betanzos suffers from malnutrition. The mindful mothers receive training that is sponsored by the UK humanitarian organization, Plan International, under the auspices of Community Integrated Management of Childhood Illness. The health program coordinator of Plan International in Bolivia, Aurora Gutierrez, explained that “Madres Vigilantes are trained about children’s growth, development and nutrition, and at the same time, they pass on this training to other mothers in their communities, while monitoring the growth and development of their children.”
Eva Juchani, a mindful mother from the community of Buey Tambo in Betanzos said, “Our task is to weigh and measure children from the time they are newborns until they are five, to see whether or not they are malnourished and whether or not they are gaining weight and growing. As madres vigilantes, we train other women how to feed their kids so that one day malnutrition will disappear.” They also teach how to improve eating and cooking habits”.
However, due to the extreme poverty in this region of Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, the high protein foods that are grown there, such as fava beans, corn and wheat are sold to generate income and the people resort to processed foods such as pasta.
In July 2007, the government initiated, a Zero Malnutrition National Program aimed at improving the nutrition of pregnant and nursing mothers and children under five. Prior to this, the government operated a program called the National Programme for the Care of Children under Six (PAN), that focused on health, protection and childhood education as well as nutrition. The PAN centers provide children with four meals a day and two snacks. Unfortunately, the PAN program, operating in only 17 out of the 100 communities in the Betanzos municipality, only manages to serve about 20% of those most needy since it does not reach the children in the isolated areas, The government intends to remedy this situation by dispatching health care personnel, including Cuban doctors, to those lonely and neglected neighborhoods.
Filed under: February Volume I- 2009, Latino/Caribe | Tags: Detainees, Drug Trafficking
With the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Manuel Noriega may no longer be exempt from extradition to France for prosecution.
By Mubeen Khaleel
Islamic Post Staff Writer
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not issue an immediate ruling this month in the case of Panamanian General Manuel Noriega –the only person with prisoner of war (POW) status being held on United States’ soil– who is fighting extradition to France for a 10 year additional sentence related to money laundering charges.
Mr. Noriega will remain imprisoned in the United States, until the appeals process is exhausted, although the final decision in the case rests with the U.S. State Department. Noriega’s attorneys hope the hearings will, nevertheless, reach the Supreme Court.
Appeals court judges drew the likely parallel between General Noriega and the men being held in Bagram Air Base, in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Congress “eliminated the legal underpinnings of Noriega’s argument when it passed the 2006 Military Commissions Act,” wrote AP Legal Affairs Writer, Curt Anderson about the judge’s statement. “The law created judicial procedures for enemy combatants held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but also could be applied to POWs and anyone else.” In effect, when Noriega first presented his case in September 2007, it was too late for him to take advantage of the POW status previously awarded him.
It is the fourth time the general has sought to halt the extradition proceedings since he completed his sentence for drug racketeering in September 2007. His attorneys insists that, according to the Geneva Convention, Noriega should be repatriated to Panama. Like France, Panama is also seeking his extradition after convicting him (in absentia) of murder, embezzlement, and corruption. His sentence of 60 years imprisonment may, however, be served in his native country under house arrest.
Conditions in the United States are reported to also have a home-like environment for those classified as POWs, unlike those being held at Guantanamo Bay as enemy combatants. “General Manuel Antonio Noriega frequently sees his wife and children, who make the trip to his private bungalow at a federal prison near Miami, from their home in Panama,” reported the Associated Press earlier this month. “The onetime CIA operative is a news junkie, reads voraciously about history and politics, and is working on a memoir.”
After being on the payroll of the Central Intelligence Agency for the better part of thirty years, Manuel Noriega was arrested after the U.S. military invasion of Panama in 1989 by George H.W. Bush, Sr., on the premise that, according to Anderson, “Noriega had become increasingly belligerent toward the U.S., ignored democratic election results and essentially turned Panama into a way station and banker for Colombia’s powerful Medellin cocaine cartel… Noriega [however], who declined repeated interview requests, has said he believes his ouster was rooted in his refusal to help the U.S. support the Contras attempting to overthrow Nicaragua’s leftist government in the 1980s.”
By Noora Ahmad
Islamic Post Staff Writer
“Venezuela has enough savings to face any crisis,” said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, according to the Venezuelan daily, El Universal. In an effort to dispel global misconceptions regarding the Venezuelan economy, President Hugo Chavez has recently insisted, repeatedly, in the annual address to his national assembly, on January 13, that the country is not in economic crisis, even with last year’s landslide in oil prices.
Mark Weisbrot, co-director and economist at the Center for Economic Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. (CEPR), concurs: “It is clear that Venezuela can be expected to run current account surpluses for the foreseeable future, even at oil prices far below the levels that are currently forecasted, by any experts, in the field,” wrote Mr. Weisbrot late last year, in a report entitled “Oil Prices and Venezuela’s Economy.” “However, even if the economy were to somehow fall into a current account deficit, the government has $40 billion in reserves, at the Central Bank and another $37 billion, in other hard currency assets. These reserves amount to 23 percent of GDP, thus providing an enormous cushion for any unanticipated events.”
And unanticipated it has been. Before oil prices began to climb earlier this month, speculations ran rampant over the causes and effects of the skyrocket in oil prices and their subsequent plummet, which occurred at the same rapid pace. In answer to the current low oil prices, which have been perceived as the effect, of a decrease, in global demand, Venezuela is tempering its output, like other OPEC countries, with a cut of 189,000 barrels per day.
Yet, according to a 60 Minutes segment which aired January 8, a decrease in the demand for oil may not be what caused gas prices to fall. CBS Correspondent Steve Kroft reported during the segment that unheeded experts are saying rapid rise and fall in prices “was a speculative bubble, not unlike the one that caused the housing crisis, and that it had more to do with traders and speculators on Wall Street” than with how much gas consumers were, or were not, putting into their sports utility vehicles.
Steve Kroft claimed: “A recent report out of MIT, analyzing world oil production and consumption, also concluded that the basic fundamentals of supply and demand could not have been responsible for last year’s run-up in oil prices. And Michael Masters [who testified before the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the United States Senate last April on the same matter] says the U.S. Department of Energy’s own statistics show that if the markets had been working properly, the price of oil should have been going down, not up.”
With regards to speculation Mr. Kroft asserts: “Over time, the big Wall Street banks were allowed to buy and sell as many oil contracts as they wanted for their clients, circumventing regulations intended to limit speculation. And in 2000, Congress effectively deregulated the futures market, granting exemptions for complicated derivative investments called oil swaps, as well as electronic trading on private exchanges.”
He also claimed there was no way of knowing who did the circumvention, as the deals were done secretly. These secret deals could, as oil prices swing back up, render production cuts, a potentially perilous move for producers and consumers alike, according to Michael T. Klare, author of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Oil. “As long as prices remain low,” said Mr. Klare, “Oil companies have no incentive to invest in costly new production ventures, which means no new capacity is being added to global inventories, while available capacity continues to be drained. Simply put, what this means is that, when demand begins to surge again, global output is likely to prove inadequate,” driving the price back up.
In addition, the price may not come back down so easily next time as “most ‘easy oil’ reservoirs have now been exhausted,” according to Klare, “Which means that virtually all remaining global reserves are going to be of the ‘tough oil’ variety. These require extraction technology far too costly to be profitable, at a moment when the per barrel price remains under $50,” concluded Michael Klare. This signifies that if OPEC countries like Venezuela do not continue to explore new oil drilling avenues, the oil shortage could become a very real crisis.
Even given this assessment, Venezuela is going ahead with its charitable CITGO heating oil program in the United States, despite reports to the contrary which, like those commenting on the country’s prospective economic losses, claimed the country could no longer afford such excesses. CITGO CEO Alejandro Granado and Citizens Energy Chairman, Joseph P. Kennedy II, gave a press conference earlier this month confirming that income-eligible households may apply to receive up to 100 free gallons of heating oil. Mr. Kennedy pointed out that he is “personally aware of President Chavez’s genuine concern for the most vulnerable, regardless of where they may live.”