Friday, 29 November 2013

EGYPT: Protest Law

Hundreds of protesters have taken to the streets in cities across Egypt and clashes erupted when police tried to break up some of the demonstrations, days after a hotly-disputed protest law was adopted. At least 70 people were arrested across the country on Friday, according to the interior ministry, which added that more arrests were expected throughout the night and that clashes were continuing in several areas.

Violence between police and protesters also broke out in the country's second largest city, Alexandria, after Muslim prayers, with security forces firing tear gas to disperse hundreds of people.
The Mediterranean city has been tense since a court handed down heavy sentences of 11 years in prison to 21 female supporters of the deposed president Mohamed Morsi, many of them juveniles, for holding a peaceful protest.

Egypt’s interim president will issue a full pardon to the group of 21 women and girls who were sentenced to 11 years in prison for a peaceful protest, the presidential office has said. "President Adly Mansour will issue a full pardon to the Alexandria females after the final judicial process is completed in accord to the constitution,” a presidential advisor said in a statement circulated to journalists on Friday. The legal process will still go through the appeal and cessation court processes, the statement added.

The new Protest law (restricting the right of peaceful demonstrations), passed last week by the government signalled the emergence of a police state. And shows the lack of cohesion and cooperation and political immaturity.

Under the Protest law, security forces must first verbally warn protesters at prohibited demonstrations to disperse before using water cannon or tear gas, and should only gradually escalate to the firing of birdshot if other means fail.

What else is it when peaceful demonstrators are attacked and shot at by armed tanks, and many are left dead or injured? It's not only people who have died in Cairo and Alexandria. So too have hopes that security forces will be willing to return Egypt to democracy. If they crack down with such brutality on the opposition, they will at best tolerate a puppet government, but not an independent one.

Analysts were puzzled by the law, especially since the revised constitution would guarantee freedom of expression. By passing such a law the government is creating opponents within its own camp.
It is alienating true young revolutionary groups such as Maher's April 6 movement and others who led the January 2011 revolution.

The military( through the interim government) is in the process of repeating the mistakes of the Muslim Brotherhood, arrogantly invoking a supposed "popular mandate" and pushing for a quick victory rather than a compromise. But the army cannot suppress the roughly 30 percent of Egyptians in the Islamist camp without limiting the freedom of all Egyptians. If it adheres to its course, the country could soon be under a military dictatorship.

It is as though the February 2011 overthrow never happened. Egypt is caught once again in a conflict that has raged for more than 60 years and has dominated the country since those eight bullets were fired on Nasser on Oct. 26, 1954, in a failed, and perhaps staged, coup attempt. At the time, Nasser banned the Brotherhood and imprisoned its leaders. In the ensuing decades, fear of the Islamists was used to justify the military's authoritarian control and the brutal tactics of the security services. In the end, however, the military created precisely what it had claimed it was preventing: even more radical Islamists.

The parallels are difficult to overlook. Once again, the army is arguing that its aim in passing the
''Protest Law'' is to protect the country from plunging into chaos. But the attacks on the Islamists are only creating more turmoil. Now all Egyptians are concerned and protested today along side Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

But a return to military dictatorship may not just mean a return to pre-2011 conditions, but in fact a return to even darker times. Under the regime of Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood was repressed, but the repression was never total. The Brotherhood, as the country's largest opposition force, was allowed room to operate, to contest elections, and to have seats in parliament.

The current military government is much more ambitious, with its aim to dismantle the Brotherhood and destroy it as a political force. To achieve this, the generals have tapped into real, popular anger against the Brotherhood. ... Continuous civil conflict, in turn, will be used to justify permanent war against an array of internal and foreign enemies, both real and imagined.

There are plenty of indications that this is indeed the case. Even before new ''Protest Law'' dozens of Muslim Brotherhood members were locked up, and former President Morsi has also been held, in an undisclosed location, for many months now.

The Egyptian armed forces have been pulling the strings of civilian politicians for decades. It initially looked as though the Arab Spring had put an end to that. But a return to old structures appears to be underway. It seems fair to say that what is currently happening in Egypt amounts to a counter-revolution.

The brute force employed by the Egyptian police and supported by the military in their attempts to quash protests seems to be a confirmation of peoples' worst fears: Interim government and the military are not to encourage a new democratic beginning for Egypt. They are actually helping the authoritarian forces of the old regime back into power.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
African Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: AFP--The convicted women and girls received 11-year prison sentences for a peaceful protest-Photo

NETHERLANDS: Standard & Poor downgraded Netherlands to AA+

The Netherlands lost its top credit rating on Friday as S&P moved to downgrade the country as a result of its weak economy. Holland had previously been a stable point in the euro crisis. Only 10 countries still retain AAA status worldwide.

The list of euro-zone countries with immaculate credit ratings took another hit this week. On Friday morning, Standard & Poor's (S&P) removed the Netherlands' top rating, downgrading the country to AA+. This leaves only three countries in the common currency area with the best grade of AAA: Finland, Luxembourg and Germany. Two years ago, six countries still had that rating.

S&P stated the downgrade resulted from weaker prospects for economic growth than previously anticipated. The agency said the atmosphere would make it more difficult for the government to reach its fiscal targets. Despite a "stable" outlook for the Netherlands, the company said the development of the country's per capita gross domestic product is "persistently lower" than nations with similarly high levels of economic development. The other two major rating agencies, Moody's and Fitch, have also threatened the Netherlands with a downgrade.

Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who is also president of the Euro Group, recently announced that his country would violate the European Commission's deficit rules despite an additional €6 billion ($8.16 billion) austerity package.

Dijsselbloem has stated that he doesn't think the move by S&P will have any substantial effect on the interest rates the country pays on its debt. In a statement released Friday in The Hague, Dijsselbloem said he was "disappointed" by the downgrade, but that he didn't expect it to have any impact on interest rates because the markets were already expecting the change.

The Netherlands had long enjoyed a solid reputation for its stability in the euro crisis -- an image that could take a hit as a result of the downgrade. France, meanwhile, lost its top rating a year ago and was further downgraded early this month by S&P.

Following the decision to downgrade the Netherlands, only 10 countries in the world still have the top AAA rating. Of these, only seven have been rated as "stable." The agencies are warning of a negative outlook for the three others.
By contrast, S&P saw more promising trends in the countries hardest hit by the euro crisis. On Friday, S&P raised its debt outlook for Spain from "negative" to "stable." The S&P analysts also believe Spain will be able to maintain its BBB- rating.

The agency attributed its decision to a general recovery of the Spanish economy as well as the country's austerity and reform efforts. On Thursday, it was announced that Spain had emerged from a more than two-year recession.

The analysts even expressed greater hope for Cyprus, raising the country's long-term sovereign debt rating from CCC+ to B-. S&P said the immediate risks to Cyprus' debt repayments appeared to have receded.

Last year, Cyprus received a €10 billion international bailout in order to prevent insolvency. The condition for the euro bailout package was a restructuring of its bloated banking sector. The International Monetary Fund recently praised the country for progress in reforms.

By Jennifer Birich
AFP Blogger

Photo-Credit: AFP-Fascinating city of Amsterdam-Netherlands, Photo

SCOTLAND-U.K.: Road to Independence

Next autumn, the people of Scotland will vote on whether the nation should become an independent country. After much teasing - Scottish First Minister and Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond named the day as Thursday, 18 September, 2014. Incidentally, next year is the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, which saw the English army defeated by the forces of King of Scots Robert the Bruce, during the wars of independence.

The campaign for Scottish home rule began in earnest almost as soon as the unification with England took place, in 1707. At the time, the view was that Scotland was desperate for cash, but opponents of the move were outraged by claims that the Scots who put their names to the Act of Union were bribed.

Fast forward many years to 1934, and the establishment of the Scottish National Party, created through the amalgamation of the Scottish Party and the National Party of Scotland. After decades of ups and downs, the nationalists won their first election in 2007, forming a minority government, before becoming the first party to win an overall majority at Holyrood in the 2011 poll - securing a mandate for an independence referendum.

The UK government agreed to give temporary powers to the Scottish Parliament to hold a legal referendum, under Section 30 of the 1998 Scotland Act - the piece of legislation which set up the Scottish Parliament. The Edinburgh Agreement also commits both governments to working together constructively in the best interests of the people of Scotland, whatever the outcome of the referendum - possibly easier said than done.

Now Alex Salmond wants to declare "Independence Day" in March 2016, with the first elections to an independent parliament in May. Before that happens though, a constitutional settlement would need to be agreed with the UK government, involving weighty issues which may take a long time to resolve, mainly defense and financial front. Even after independence is achieved there are other hurdles to clear - European Union and Nato membership to name but two.

It was the most detailed blueprint for a nation's independence ever produced anywhere in the world, Alex Salmond proudly announced on Tuesday as he launched his independence white paper in Glasgow. With the long-awaited and stylishly presented document weighing in at 670 pages, Salmond may well be right.

But that sheer comprehensiveness also masks the scale of the challenge facing Scotland's first minister between now and the historic referendum next September as he battles to turn around the consistently skeptical message of the opinion polls.

Defense Issues

According to Alex Salmond's blueprint, an independent Scotland would allow submarines and warships armed with nuclear weapons from the US, Britain and other Nato countries to dock in its ports as part of what was dubbed as a "don't ask, don't tell" policy to guarantee membership of the North Atlantic alliance. The fresh approach suggests that British nuclear submarines will be allowed to join other Nato nuclear vessels operating in Scottish waters.

Amid concerns in Washington that a nuclear free Scotland would ban its warships and submarines with nuclear weapons from the vast Scottish territorial waters in the North Atlantic, the white paper commits an independent Scotland to follow the example of the Nato members Norway and Denmark.
It starts by stating: "It is our firm position that an independent Scotland should not host nuclear weapons and that we would only join Nato on that basis."

But the white paper then states that – like Norway and Denmark – an independent Scotland would allow Nato to visit Scottish ports "without confirming or denying whether they carry nuclear weapons". It added: "We intend that Scotland will adopt a similar approach as Denmark and Norway in this respect." The UK government claimed that the Scottish government had embarked on a major dilution of its pledge to create a nuclear-free Scotland.

The white paper offered further assurances on defense by saying that conventional military bases would be shared between Scottish and UK forces in an independent Scotland for a transitional period. This could even continue after the transitional period.

The white paper said: "The negotiation of shared arrangements as a transitional measure would not preclude such arrangements being carried forward into the longer term, where both the rest of the UK and Scotland considered them the most effective means of delivering defense capabilities."

Currency Issues

As part of what is being called by the UK government a "de-risking strategy" to reassure undecided voters, who account for as much almost a quarter (24%) of the electorate, the white paper confirmed that an independent Scotland would insist on forming a sterling currency union with the remainder of the UK. The SNP had previously proposed such a union as an initial step before joining the euro.

The sterling currency union was rejected as fantasy by the former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling, who heads the pro-UK Better Together campaign. This prompted Salmond to warn that David Cameron would be in breach of his undertakings to the Scottish people if he rejected a currency union.

The first minister pointed out that in last year's Edinburgh agreement, which paved the way for the referendum, the two governments agreed to respect the referendum result and to work constructively "in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom". Salmond said: "The Bank of England and sterling are as much Scotland's assets as London's assets. They are certainly not George Osborne's assets. We put forward in this paper our willingness to accept liabilities. We are also entitled to the share of assets."

The warning on the shared currency was dismissed by the UK government and by pro-UK campaigners. UK government sources said that sterling is an institution, rather than asset, which means that an independent Scotland would be in no position to link it to a negotiation on the breakdown of UK assets and liabilities.

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday dismissed the Scottish government's vision of how the country would look if it votes for independence next year, accusing nationalists of ducking the biggest policy questions. "When it comes to the economy, when it comes to jobs, when it comes to Europe, all the arguments are for staying together," David Cameron told parliament on Wednesday. "Should the people of Scotland vote to become independent, a currency union would be highly unlikely," Cameron concluded.

European Union Issues

The SNP's White Paper on Scottish independence published on Tuesday argues that Scotland will be able to negotiate a "smooth transition" to full EU membership between the referendum result in 2014 and 2016 when the break with the UK would be complete.

"The Scottish Government, supported by the overwhelming majority of Members of the Scottish Parliament, believes that membership of the EU is in the best interests of Scotland. It is our policy, therefore, that an independent Scotland will continue as a member of the EU," the document adds.

However to become the 29th member of the EU, Scotland would need to win agreement of all current 28 members. And the Spanish may be less than keen to set the precedent of giving a breakaway state an easy ride in its membership talks.

An independent Scotland would not automatically become a member of the European Union, the Spanish prime minister has warned. "I respect all the decisions taken by the British, but I know for sure that a region that would separate from a member state of the European Union would remain outside the European Union and that should be known by the Scots and the rest of the European citizens".

The comments by Mariano Rajoy are a damaging blow to Alex Salmond's claim that Scotland would be able to negotiate its long-term membership of the EU from within the bloc, should Scots vote to break-up the United Kingdom in 2014. Rajoy's comments have also been interpreted as a warning to the Catalan region of Spain, whose regional government wants to hold its own referendum on independence from Madrid.

A spokesman for Scotland's deputy first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, rejected Rajoy's assessment. “Scotland is already an integral part of the EU, and there is nothing in the entire body of EU treaties which provides for the expulsion of an existing territory or the removal of its inhabitants’ rights as EU citizens," he said.

Looming Struggles

Many of history's classic struggles for independence have come down to the inspirational allure of a single word – freedom – rather than 170,000 words of densely packed argument. But that's a tribute to the nature of the task that Scotland's nationalist government has set itself. It won't win next year's vote by Braveheart-style appeals to blood and soil. But it may win by persuading enough doubtful Scots that separation offers them a better material deal than anything that is likely to come from London in the near future.

Alex Salmon and the SNP have put an immense effort into the new document. It is full of detail on everything from economic policy to international relations, taking in the nationalists' signature pledges to banish the UK's Trident submarines from the Clyde but to keep the pound. All these issues will be tested to destruction in the months ahead. Some already have been.

But this is not a conventional white paper. Many of the document's most-important pledges are aspirational. It is not in the SNP's power to guarantee that an independent Scotland will share the pound, or be able to join the EU, or be a member state of the Nato alliance. All of them are probable outcomes, in some form, if Scots vote yes next year. But all of them are subject to negotiation. The real outcomes, if they happen, will be compromises. So this document is in many respects not a pledge but a bargaining position.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
World Affairs Analyst

Photo-Credit: AFP- First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond-presenting his blueprint for Independence in Glasgow, last Tuesday.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

U.S.: NSA-Freedom, Paranoia & Democracy

Snowden’s revelation’s turned a spotlight on the NSA and its warehousing of billions of pieces of information - emails, phone calls, photos and videos. However, in its effort to find the proverbial needle in a haystack, the NSA is scooping up millions of innocent people in its dragnet.

However, in the never-ending fight against terrorism, proponents of the NSA’s eavesdropping techniques, which have spied on everything from the offices of the United Nations, the Vatican, OPEC summit, European Union, French embassy to tapping German Chancellor cell-phone,  maintain a position of security over privacy.

Yet another top-secret NSA document - one of many whisked out of the United States by whistleblower Edward Snowden - revealed that the agency sought to discredit the “credibility, reputation and authority” of six Muslim ‘radicalizers’ through their online sexual activity and visits to pornographic websites, according to Huffington Post. None of the individuals listed in the NSA document, all of whom are believed to reside outside the United States, is accused of being involved in terror plots against US interests.

The National Security Agency has been collecting a mountain of dirt on the online sexual activity of individuals, all of them Muslims, whom the agency seeks to discredit due to their ‘radicalizing’ efforts. The expression ‘all’s fair in love and war’ just took on a whole new meaning in the ongoing debate that pits national security against personal privacy.

Although the NSA document only mentions Muslims on its list of targets, critics of the clandestine data mining system worry that such tactics could be used against ordinary Americans for any number of reasons.

Freedom and Paranoia

It is often assumed that intelligence agencies are worlds of their own, and that they sometimes act on their own authority. However, they are also an expression of the societies in which they exist, especially of their fears. In other words, it is quite possible that there are not just paranoid agents, but also paranoid democracies that act in hysterical ways out of fear. They are characterized by a strong freedom myth, which leads to paranoia. It, in turn, poses a threat to freedom. The United States is currently in a late phase of this cycle.

Freedom means that there is an endless range of possibilities, and that anything can happen, including both good and bad things. That's why freedom engenders fear. The greater the freedom, the greater the fear.

The United States is a relatively young country that began as a society of settlers. They came to America to escape oppression at the hands of European monarchies, and they developed a strong desire for freedom in the process -- a freedom they could find in the continent's vast expanses. As political individuals, they refused to accept that even though they lived on the other side of the Atlantic, they were still controlled by the British colonial power, and they fought for their independence and democracy.

Because the settlers made such great sacrifices to seize their magnificent country -- from British troops, from the Indians and from the wilderness -- their achievements became imbued with a religious exaggeration. The country was essentially declared a paradise, or, in the words of the national anthem, "the land of the free and the home of the brave." But the nation's genetic code has also retained the fear that many settlers had to endure, both on their treks and in wars.

To understand the United States, it's worth taking a look at other paranoid democracies. In southern Africa, Boer settlers battled the local population for land. To this day, the Boers still have a glorified view of their history, as suggested by Boer expressions like "Eie land, vrye volk," or "One land, free people." A strict apartheid system was implemented in South Africa starting in 1948. The system enabled the Boers to isolate themselves from the black majority and create a democracy, but only for whites, making it entirely undemocratic. Fear was the basis of that state. It built nuclear bombs, even though it had no enemies.

Israel is the promised land of the Jews. It was created primarily to give Holocaust survivors a place where they could feel free and safe. That freedom and safety was fought for and preserved in wars against the Palestinians and neighboring powers, wars that claimed many casualties. To this day, Israel retains elements of a settler society, as the country continues to expand into the West Bank.
In Israel, too, politics are shaped by fear -- and a justified one. The country is surrounded by enemies, some of which have made the renewed extermination of the Jews their objective.

The United States differs in many respects from South Africa during apartheid and Israel today. But the three countries are similar in terms of the triad of freedom myth, paradise and fear. This has led to the development of a tremendous ability to put up a fight, but also a heightened sensitivity.

Political paranoia requires an enemy, or at least the concept of an enemy. For a long time after the society of white settlers had destroyed or banished the Indian tribes, there was no enemy to threaten the Americans in their paradise. It was only the Soviet Union's bombers armed with nuclear missiles that made the United States vulnerable again and fanned new fears. At the same time, the rival in the East served as the alternative model to the freedom myth, because it was a society of compulsion and limited opportunity. It also offered an austere alternative model to the American paradise, which by then had become primarily a paradise of consumerism.

America felt threatened to its very core. A defeat against the Soviet Union would have turned the United States into either a nuclear desert or a Socialist satellite with cheap goods and no more than two available car models -- two nightmares for Americans that generated considerable fear. Soon a paranoia developed that was reflected in one of its early excesses, the McCarthyism of the 1950s. Those suspected of harboring sympathy for communism were persecuted. Throughout the Cold War, anti-communism remained a hysterical and fundamental element of American policy.

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the United States experienced a relatively relaxed decade, until hijacked jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center and destroyed parts of the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. The men at the controls were belligerent Islamists, whose ideas also formed an antithesis to American society.

They were foes of a liberal and individualistic way of life, and they yearned for a paradise where credit cards would be worthless. They were also the first to severely wound the United States in its own "homeland." They were the ideal enemy for the next wave of paranoia.

While far from all democracies are paranoid, virtually all dictatorships are. For dictators, paranoia helps shape and preserve their autocratic systems. Autocrats need an enemy -- always an internal enemy and sometimes an external one, too -- to legitimize violence and coercion, and to generate allegiance.

The Nazis are unparalleled in this art of hysterical governance. Their declared internal enemies were Jews, Communists, Social Democrats, the Sinti and the Roma, homosexuals and anyone who told jokes about Adolf Hitler. The external enemies were all the countries that Germany attacked, which was a large number, as well as the overseas democracies, especially the United States. For the Chinese party dictatorship, dissidents are the internal enemies, often people who express their criticism with a paintbrush, pen or laptop. Although China lacks an external enemy, it does have an aversion to Japan.

The United States cannot be compared with Nazi Germany or with China. Unfortunately, however, a paranoid democracy tends to use tools that are beneath a democracy, the tools of a dictatorship, and they include as much surveillance as possible.

US No Longer a Model of Democracy

Information is the most valuable thing in a paranoid world. Those who feel threatened want to know as much as possible about potential threats, so as to be able to control their fears and prepare preventive attacks. Even in the days of covered wagons, alertness was an important protection against attack. Before Sept. 11, the intelligence agencies were asleep at the wheel and overlooked many of the clues the attackers left behind during their preparations.

Now the intelligence services have developed a giant information procurement machine, which is also useful in industrial espionage. To ensure that nothing escapes their notice, they violate the privacy of millions and millions of people and alienate allied nations and their politicians.

Another form of paranoid information procurement is torture, used by American intelligence agencies to gain information about terrorists. Torture is the negation of democracy, freedom and human rights. If a democratic country allows itself to sink to the level of torture, it must already be extremely hysterical and anxious.

It isn't as if nuclear bombs were at issue. The aim of some of today's intelligence methods is to prevent attacks that could be very painful for America, but in truth do not threaten the American founding myths and are not capable of extinguishing the American paradise. Only the Americans themselves can do that. The fear aspect of freedom is destructive to freedom, because it allows the need for security to get out of hand.

While paranoia legitimizes a dictatorship, it can achieve the opposite effect in a democracy. The United States is no longer a model of liberal democracy. That much has been made clear in light of mass surveillance, torture, the extralegal detention camp at Guantanamo and an isolationist ideology that leads to author Ilija Trojanow being denied entry to the country, presumably because of his criticism of American policy. Other nations also have their fears, but they lack the power to turn the world upside down. Power and paranoia are a dangerous mix.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: US Government Photo-NSA's Headquarter-Photo

THAILAND: Bangkok Protests

Thousands of anti-government protesters have rallied in the Thai capital Bangkok, at first turning out against a bill that would have offered amnesty to deposed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, but continuing to protest after the bill was defeated. As the government he influences from overseas fights for survival, Thailand's latest political crisis threatens longer-term damage to Thaksin's support base.

Portrayed by the Shinawatras as an attempt to draw a line under nearly a decade of bruising political encounters, the amnesty bill would have cleared Thaksin of a two-year prison term for graft in absentia after his ouster by coup in 2006. Murder charges against Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the opposition Democrat Party, over his role in crushing Bangkok street protests by Thaksin supporters, known as "Red Shirts," when he was prime minister in 2010 would also have been quashed.

The Pheu Thai-dominated lower house unanimously passed the bill amid an opposition walkout. By the time it reached the upper house on Nov. 12, however, the bill had become so toxic that senators had little choice but to reject it 141-0.  As it reached the Senate, almost every corner of Thai society was livid. Office workers in the central Silom district of Bangkok left their desks and poured into the street blowing whistles; university staff and students marched together on campuses, and opposition supporters set up tents around the capital's Democracy Monument near the seat of government. 

Following a coup in September 2006, Thailand's political divide has widened in a cyclical series of political crises typified by protests and clashes involving the "Yellow Shirts," self-proclaimed defenders of the monarchy, and the Red Shirts, opponents of the coup. As a result, chaos has become a regular feature of life in the Thai capital.

In November 2008, Yellow Shirts seized both Bangkok airports to protest a new government deemed a proxy of Thaksin; less than two years later, parts of Bangkok were turned into free-fire zones as the army clashed with encamped Red Shirts. Amid the battles, the Reds have aimed to overturn the constitutional legacy of the coup in the name of greater democratic reform. For the Yellows, the goal remains the end of Thaksin's influence, a man deemed a threat to the monarchy, an enduring symbol of graft and greed.

It is not clear that the Yingluck government has much of a “policy agenda.” Granting amnesty reflected attempts to firm up the support base of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, working in the interests of people ranging from Yingluck’s self-exiled brother Thaksin Shinawatra, to rank-and-file government supporters who faced various politically motivated charges in the period following the 2006 military coup. Nevertheless, the amnesty legislation backfired, provoking anger on all sides—though for different reasons. It has now been dropped, and current protests are aimed at toppling the government rather than blocking the amnesty bill.

Thailand has a long tradition of political rallies and protests; street demonstrations by anti-government groups in Bangkok are nothing new. To date, the number of people taking part has been relatively small, and there is no obvious threat yet to the stability of the elected government, which commands a strong parliamentary majority.

Protests typically cannot bring down governments unless they have the backing of key figures linked to the military or royalist elite. While many in the conservative establishment are not delighted with the current government, they are also well aware that suspending electoral politics—as happened for more than a year after the 2006 military coup—could easily create far more problems than it would solve. For this reason, the anti-government demonstrators remain marginalized: They have no real answers to the country’s political problems.

The latest protests are also a reminder that Thailand remains a deeply divided country. For decades, the upper and middle classes in Bangkok have enjoyed considerable economic and political privileges. But the growing importance of elections means that Bangkokians are now consistently outvoted by people from the northern and northeastern regions of Thailand, who make up the majority of voters. Many are so-called urbanized villagers—people who are registered to vote in the provinces, but often spend most of the year working in urban areas; since 2001, they have been voting largely en bloc for pro-Thaksin parties.

Many of those who are protesting against the Yingluck government are discontented Bangkokians with increasingly anti-democratic sentiments. But in the long term, the Bangkok elite will have to concede ground in the face of a socio-economic tide that is pushing against them. Thaksin and his sister are not the real agents of change; rather, they are capitalizing on the aspirations of the wider population, which include growing resentment toward the capital city and a desire to take more control over their own destinies.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP-Thailand Protest-Photo

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

UKRAINE-EU: Putin's Gambit & Yanukovych's calculations

The inability of European bureaucrats to keep up with the Kremlin's manipulations -- or Kiev's political calculations -- has cost the EU a trade deal with Ukraine. Going back over the many rounds of negotiations, talks, incentives, and cajoling, it is patently clear that the Ukraine has never committed to conclude a deal with the EU but was rather playing a clever game to raise the bids from both of its suitors, one to the East and one to the West.

This tug-of-war began four years ago, when the EU proposed an "eastern partnership" with Ukraine as well as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Belarus. The EU offered cooperation, free trade and financial contributions in exchange for democratic reforms. The planned partnership agreements were intended to facilitate visa-free travel, reduce tariffs and introduce European norms. The only thing that was not offered was EU membership.

The EU's other goal, even though it was not as openly expressed, was to limit Russia's influence and define how far Europe extends into the east. For Russia, the struggle to win over Ukraine is not only about maintaining its geopolitical influence, but about having control over a region that was the nucleus of the Russian empire a millennium ago. The word Ukraine translates as "border country," and many feel the capital Kiev is the mother of all Russian cities.

This helped create Cold War-style grappling between Moscow and Brussels. The Russian president, hardened by his fights in the Kremlin, is more adept than EU bureaucrats at manipulating people with venality and affections.

The official reason for the agreement's failure is Yulia Tymoshenko, the opposition politician who has been in prison for the last two years. The EU had made her release a condition of the agreement. Yanukovych was unwilling to release his former rival, and last week the parliament in Kiev failed to approve a bill that would have secured her release.

But then there are the financial incentives. In the end, the Russian president seems to have promised his Ukrainian counterpart several billion euros in the form of subsidies, debt forgiveness and duty-free imports. The EU, for its part, had offered Ukraine loans worth €610 million ($827 million), which it had increased at the last moment, along with the vague prospect of a €1 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Yanukovych chose Putin's billions instead.

The EU had been banking on its radiant appeal, and on its great promise of prosperity, freedom and democracy, but now Brussels must confront the fact that, for the first time, an attempt at rapprochement was rebuffed because the price was wrong.

It leaves the Europeans, rather red-faced and empty-handed after six years of engaging in the process of the Eastern Partnership, once celebrated by the starry-eyed as almost the European equivalent of the Manifest Destiny. Conversely, and symptomatically, it provides ample reasons for the man in the Kremlin to feel rather smug and satisfied.

So how are we to interpret the decision by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, to turn his back on an Association Agreement with the European Union?

The underdevelopment of Ukraine’s economy will now be accelerated, as the country becomes even more isolated from that of the world; its population will become significantly poorer. The opposition will become more implacable, more radical, and more intransigent, and its popular support will grow. The polarization within Ukraine between Europhiles and Russophiles will intensify and major civil disturbances are now quite possible, especially in the run-up to the 2015 presidential elections, which Yanukovych cannot possibly win fairly, freely, or even quasi-fairly and freely.

Yanukovych’s decision to abort the EU agreement makes perfect sense—for him, that is. Integrating with Europe would mean that he would have to try to meet Western electoral standards and get reelected cleanly in 2015—which would never work—or make himself attractive enough to Europhile voters to get their votes—which would mean talking and acting like a liberal.

Rejecting the Association Agreement makes Yanukovych unelectable on any legitimate basis, but leaves the door open to fraud and coercion, which appeals to his authoritarian impulse. Integrating with Europe would also mean living up to Western judicial standards and releasing Tymoshenko from prison. That was a deal-breaker both because rule of law is anathema to him and because it would have meant losing face by caving in to a woman.

Given the principles that underlie Yanukovych’s behavior, the country’s immiseration, underdevelopment, and instability are actually good things for him. After all, the weaker and more isolated the country is from the Western world’s inconvenient standards, the easier it is to control politically and exploit economically.

The only silver lining in this cloud is that these same principles will also militate against Yanukovych’s joining Vladimir Putin’s neo-imperialist pet project, the Customs Union made up of such, er, thriving market economies as Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. Joining the CU would bring Yanukovych and his corrupt operations within the Kremlin’s sphere of influence and undermine his power and wealth.

Fortunately, all is not lost. Like all tin-pot authoritarians, Yanukovych thought he could pull a fast one on the people. He was wrong. On Sunday, November 24th, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets in protest against the regime’s anti-European moves. The opposition called for the government’s resignation and Yanukovych’s impeachment. They may or may not succeed this time, but one thing is clear, and Yanukovych must know it. Sooner or later, his regime will come crashing down.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP- Russia's President V. Putin & Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych

FRANCE: François Hollande’s Falling from Grace

Like many countries in Europe, France is facing a serious economic and social crisis. The situation in France is compounded by the highly personalised French political system, which keeps the President of the Republic continually in the spotlight. François Hollande has failed to project a clear and effective public persona and that his presidency is now on the verge of unravelling.

Political commentators are beginning to tire of saying that things can’t get any worse for French Socialist president François Hollande and his government. And yet, catastrophe after catastrophe, things do just keep getting worse. We have now reached the point at which Hollande’s very legitimacy as president is beginning to cave in. And that threatens the whole republic. Protests in Brittany against the proposed “ecotaxe” have united just about everyone against the government, and there is now a real prospect that the conflagration will spread throughout the country.

Hollande is half way through the second year of a five-year term. The first year saw his popularity sliding in inverse proportion to the rise in unemployment, which has climbed as high as 10 per cent. A series of mishaps, from a barrage of tax rises to a very public falling out between his ex-partner, Ségolène Royal, and his current partner, Valérie Trierweiler, heaped ridicule on the president, and by the end of that first year, Hollande had become, in record time, the most unpopular leader France has ever known.

He and his advisers made every effort to start year two on a sounder footing. He told his ministers to stop arguing and to clear press interviews with his office. They were to take only very short holidays and preferably in France. His prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and he would take their short breaks in turn so the state didn’t close down for the summer as it has a tendency to do. The government team was seen to be making every effort to put France back on its feet again.

None of it worked. Even the apparently successful military action in Mali in January 2013 allowed Hollande but a brief moment of respite in the polls. Today France is on the brink of dramatic social protest and upheaval from various groups right across French society. An almost palpable mood of national gloom and exasperation is in the air.

The problem is not just the economy, the rocketing taxes, the cuts, the unemployment and the social divisions. It is about the nature of the Fifth Republic and Hollande’s failure to grasp the exigencies of presidential office. There is a general sense that not only does he not know what to do in terms of governmental policy, but doesn’t know how a president is supposed to behave, what he is supposed to be. And it was on this “question of character” that he was elected president in May 2012.

During the presidential campaign of 2012, Hollande was right to attack Sarkozy’s brash, bling, in-your-face style; but in the hyper-personalised presidential system of French politics, you cannot be a president without a character and a perceived relationship to the French, because that character is on show and in action all the time, and in a permanently evolving relationship to public opinion.

In the run up to his election and for a while after, Hollande revelled in his reputation as “Mr Normal” but normal does not actually mean anything; and he has gone zigzagging between ordinary – catching trains instead of planes (that didn’t last long), to trying belatedly to sound “presidential” and just seeming in turns bombastic and banal, such as when he threatened Syria with imminent punishment and then ultimately did nothing. The irony is that Hollande is as much in the spotlight as Sarkozy ever was, but without a defined personality or purpose or sense of direction.

The rather jolly optimistic personality he does have (and it is his real one) is utterly out of touch with the mood of the time right now, and simply infuriates people. It is as if he is in a kind of psychological denial, unable to see the realities of the crisis.

The result has been a public reaction that runs from indifference to anger. Every intervention he makes sees his opinion poll ratings fall even further and he now finds himself on the edge of the abyss.

This is partly because the Fifth Republic is personalised to the point of being dysfunctional. Each new president enters into a highly complex relationship with French public opinion. Unlike in many other countries, the president makes grand pronouncements on everything; from threatening to attack Syria to deciding whether a Roma girl can stay in the country. It is a relationship that can be calm and reassuring, but can also be highly volatile. It manifests the range of emotions that we find in real personal relationships, from admiration and respect to the exasperation and fury Hollande is now experiencing.

And because the regime is so personalised, all political competition in the regime is too. In its ten years in opposition after 2002, the Socialist Party spent so much time squabbling amongst itself, it forgot to develop any policies. When it regained power in 2012, its members had no idea how to govern, hence the current chaos in every government department.

Now in power, little of the government’s legislation – apart from the tax rises – seems to have had any effect apart from irritating people, whether it is in education, housing, pension reform, health, the civil service or justice. No bold decisions have been taken on anything, so fearful are the Socialists of upsetting their disintegrating electoral base, and none of the structural reforms that other European countries are putting through have been replicated. Even the gay marriage bill brought the country to the verge of civil strife. In the UK, the same bill took an afternoon to pass.

All these humiliations and missteps came to head on November 11, when Hollande was booed at the national Remembrance Day ceremony and branded a “socialist dictator” by the crowd. The nation itself and the soldiers who died for it are also insulted. No one is taking the Republic seriously.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: Wikipedia- French President François Hollande-Photo-Portrait

Monday, 25 November 2013

EUROPE: Arms Exports & Normative Power

The issue of arms exports has caused significant controversy in a number of European countries. EU foreign policy relies on member state implementation, existing national priorities or individual material interests may prevail over EU norms. This has the potential to undermine the normative power of the European Union.

The issue of arms exports is a continued source of controversy in the EU. In recent years, the EU and its members have been strong supporters of multilateral humanitarian arms export initiatives, including the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports and the UN Arms Trade Treaty. However, arms sales still generate intense debates over how best to implement EU arms trade norms, while at the same time protecting valuable export markets.

The outcome of these debates has important consequences for the development of global humanitarian arms trade standards, as well as the credibility of the Union’s “normative power.” Arms export licensing competence rests with member states. As a result, the EU must depend on its members to translate EU principles into practice. However, in cases where normative power and material interests collide, norma­tive power may struggle to influence member state behaviour.

The promotion of EU values related to peace, human rights, and democracy has long been at the heart of EU external policy. But understanding to what extent the EU is a normative power is a challenging task. By analysing policies alone, we risk confirming a view of the EU as it wants to be seen, but may or may not actually be.

Although EU members broadly agree on their collective values, it should not be surprising to find a gap between EU policy and practice. As with any foreign policy actor, actions may not always live up to words. Beyond this, the EU is a highly complex institution composed of diverse states and often depends on consensus among those states to act. Members may also implement, interpret, or ignore EU foreign policy decisions according to their own national interests. As a result, the consistency and strength of EU normative power may be constrained by member state interests.

EU member states account for approximately 34 per cent of major conventional arms transfers worldwide. During the Cold War, European arms producers were known for “sell to anyone” policies, seeking to protect production lines and employment. After the end of the Cold War, shrinking domestic defense budgets intensified pressures to export in an increasingly competitive global marketplace saturated with cheap weapons from the former Eastern Bloc.

Nevertheless, EU members began to lay out shared arms export standards in the early 1990s. This effort was partly prompted by damaging revelations that some governments had secretly armed Iraq during its war with Iran. In 1998, the EU passed a formal Code of Conduct outlining eight criteria for export licensing, which include respect for human rights and the preservation of peace.

Since the early 2000s, EU member states have also been strong supporters of humanitarian arms export initiatives at the international level. All 28 members have signed the 2013 UN Arms Trade Treaty prohibiting small and major conventional arms transfers that risk being used in conflicts or human rights violations.

On paper, EU arms export policy is fully consistent with EU normative power. The reality, however, is more complex. Small arms and light weapons, which are commonly used tools of internal conflict and repression, were indeed transferred to the best human rights performers more often than to the worst human rights performers for a brief period in the early 2000s. More recently, however, ‘bad’ and ‘very bad’ human rights performers receive small arms more often. That is, as human rights worsen, arms transfers are more frequent.

In the case of major conventional arms transfers, which are seen as lucrative weapons with more symbolic foreign policy power, ‘bad’ human rights performers are consistently rewarded with more weapons than the best human rights performers. ‘Very bad’ human rights performers are neither punished nor rewarded significantly.

The 2003-2005 debate over lifting the EU arms embargo to China put differences in members’ approaches to arms transfers and human rights promotion on prominent display. Some members, mainly in Scandinavia, opposed lifting the embargo without tangible improvements in China’s human rights record. The UK and some Eastern European members opposed lifting it without US approval. Other member states argued that the embargo had outgrown its purpose of punishing China after the events of Tiananmen Square and hindered commercial opportunities.

France, Italy, and Germany in particular have interpreted the arms embargo to China to enable arms transfers to China and have sought to use its lifting as a means to deepen economic ties. After China passed its Anti-Secession Law in March 2005, momentum to lift the embargo began to dissipate. Yet, the EU as a whole has continued to shy away from overt criticism of China’s human rights record, in part to avoid losing commercial benefits from its most important trading partner.

In the end, the embargo remains because EU rules require consensus to lift it, not because of agreement on the exercise of EU normative power. Such divisions were evident again this year after “acrimonious” negotiations in which the UK and France – who wanted the option to supply rebel groups – blocked the consensus needed to renew the EU arms embargo to Syria. Yet consensus was strong among the remaining 25 members about preserving the embargo, even as decision-rules once again dictated the outcome.

EU arms trade norms still appear to be evolving, but they are clearly much weaker in practice than EU policy would suggest. Where EU foreign policy relies on member state implementation, existing national priorities or material interests may influence states’ choices. Amidst EU members’ budget tightening, these tensions are likely to continue and complicate the development of EU normative power.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
World Affairs Analyst

Photo-Credit: AFP- Anti- Arms Export Protest in Sweden-Photo

CLIMATE-CHANGE: UN Conference's Deal in Warsaw

It was a conference characterized by outbursts of anger, an atmosphere of mistrust, global divisions and a dramatic ending, but the delegates at the UN climate conference managed to reach an agreement over the weekend.
 
There was again -- the mistrust that marred the climate conference in Warsaw. The mistrust between two blocs -- the old industrialized nations of the West on the one side and newly industrialized nations like China, India and Brazil as well as developing economies who want the West to take care of the climate problem on its own and to compensate them for their existing problems. 
 
The wording hindered the most important demand made by developing nations: that poor countries would be given greater aid if they are struck by natural disasters linked to climate change. Scientists believe climate change could make extreme weather events more dangerous. The developing nations demanded a new institution for managing such aid, but the industrialized nations wanted the issue to be placed under an existing framework for countries for adaptation to the effects of climate change. They feared they would be held liable if it were placed in its own category.
 
Representatives of the United States, the European Union and the poorer countries then gathered in the middle of the room and began intense discussions. They finally found a compromise. "Loss and Damage," as the issue is referred to in UN jargon, would be addressed under the existing adjustment provision. But they also agreed that the status of the new Warsaw Mechanism for Loss and Damage would be renegotiated at the 22nd climate conference in 2016. The treaty also states that the losses and damage caused by weather catastrophes go beyond the scope of adaptation. Ultimately, the agreement delays any real decision.
 
Here's an overview of the other important results of the UN climate conference in Warsaw:
 
In 2015 in Paris, a new universal climate agreement is intended to be agreed on that will include concrete goals for curbing CO2 emissions and will also seek to limit the rise of global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius.
 
Starting in 2020, the industrialized countries will provide $100 billion (€74 billion) per year to developing nations to help mitigate the effects of climate change. A working group has been established at the Warsaw conference that is now expected to develop a finance plan.
 
Even before that, six UN funds will support poor countries in tackling climate change. Western states promised in Warsaw to provide larger contributions to the funds, with Germany serving as one of the leading donors. Most of the funds are set to be operational soon.
 
Industrial states want to finance reforestation projects worldwide. In Warsaw it was decided to explore in more detail research on the extent to which planting trees benefits the climate.

In many important questions, however, global divisions prevented agreement. Right up to the end, representatives of developing nations had asked the West to make larger payments even before 2020, calling for $70 billion per year starting in 2016. Industrial nations had already provided $10 billion a year from 2010 to 2012, but there are no clear commitments for the period betwen 2013 and 2019.

The EU representative retorted that it was European money that had enabled several global climate change initiatives such as the green climate fund and the adaptation fund to be established at the Warsaw conference. In addition, Europe had contributed significantly to the so-called "Fund for the Poorest Countries," so far to the tune of $600 million.
These funds were Europe's decisive trick in persuading the poorest countries to leave the bloc of developing nations and come over to its side. The world's 48 poorest countries gave up their opposition to the deal on the table at Warsaw and suddenly voted for the climate compromise. For a short time, the world's division had been overcome.

With the Warsaw deal, the EU and US managed to get developing and emerging countries to also set targets by 2015 for limiting their greenhouse gas emissions. Still, the ambitions have been scaled down: Whereas earlier drafts mention "commitments," now it is only "contributions." China and India strongly opposed more binding wording that had been promoted by France.

By Jennifer Birich
AFP's Blogger

Photo-Credit: AFP-Governments at the UN Climate Change Conference in Warsaw reached deal ...

U.S.-IRAN: Geneva Deal & Obama's Presidency

The historic nuclear deal Iran signed with the United States and five other world powers early Sunday morning represents the biggest gamble of President Barack Obama's presidency, and the success or failure of that bet will have serious repercussions for the administration's standing on Capitol Hill and Washington's relationships with Israel.

The deal painstakingly assembled during four days of marathon negotiations calls for Iran to halt most of its uranium enrichment efforts, eliminate its stockpiles of uranium already purified to near weapons grade quality, open its facilities to daily monitoring by international inspectors and significantly slow the construction of the Arak plutonium reactor. Nuclear weapons can be assembled using either enriched uranium or plutonium, and the new pact is designed to make it difficult, if not impossible, for Iran to gain enough of either material for a bomb.

In exchange, Iran would gain some relief from the punishing economic sanctions that had been leveled by Washington and its allies in recent years, freeing up roughly $7 billion. Tehran also won a commitment that the so-called P5+1 nations - the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain - wouldn't impose any new sanctions for the next six months. That was an important win for the Iranians since the existing measures have cut its oil exports in half and driven the price of its currency down to a historic low.

President Obama, speaking from the White House, said the deal "halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program" and "cut off Iran's most likely paths to a bomb." He also stressed that the agreement was an interim measure designed to give negotiators from both sides six months to work towards a broader, permanent nuclear agreement. If a deal couldn't be reached - or if the United States found evidence that Iran was trying to secretly continue work on its nuclear weapons program - Obama promised to restore the sanctions that had been lifted and impose harsh new ones.

The details of the agreement are troublesome. Even while Iran gets a significant cash gift in terms of billions of dollars of unfrozen funds, its centrifuges will not be dismantled and it will be allowed to go on enriching uranium ( only to 5 per cent, a far cry from the 90 per cent needed for the construction of an atomic bomb). Its nuclear facilities will stay open, including the plutonium plant under construction. Its stockpile of enriched uranium will be diluted or converted into oxide, but that is nothing more than a storage option since the administration knows very well it could quickly be restored to its former state. Iran will have inspections, but they will be limited and there is little doubt that the IAEA, which has met every possible obstacle and obstruction to its work in Iran, will go on being stiffed.

Far more important than even these points, Iran has effectively won its diplomatic objective of getting the US/West to recognize its “right” to enrich uranium. Though the U.S. is saying the two sides have agreed to disagree on this point, by signing a deal that allows Iran to go on enriching the question is now off the table in perpetuity. Iran’s nuclear program is effectively rendered legal by this deal.

''The agreement means that “we agree with the necessity to recognize Iran’s right to the peaceful atom, including the right to enrichment, with the understanding that all questions we currently have for the program will be [settled] and the whole program will be put under the IAEA’s strict control,” he said. “It’s the final aim, but it’s already fixed in today’s document.” The agreement was based on the “concept promoted by the Russian president and fixed in Russia’s foreign policy,” Russia's foreign Minister Lavrov said.  

In contrast Washington said that while it accepted Tehran’s right to a “peaceful nuclear program,” its right to enrichment had not been acknowledged.

With the agreement in place, the administration is now gambling that it can overcome three distinct challenges: First, the White House has to persuade skeptical lawmakers to hold off on imposing new sanctions on Iran during the next six months. That may be a hard sell given the number of lawmakers from both parties who want to increase the sanctions on Iran rather than softening or relieving any of the existing measures.

The European Union will ease sanctions imposed on Tehran “in December,” the French foreign minister told radio Europe 1 on Monday. Fabius added that a meeting between EU foreign ministers had been scheduled for the coming weeks to discuss the lightening of the sanctions.  

Second, the administration faces the tough task of convincing Israel that the deal does enough to constrain Iran's nuclear program that Israel should give the administration more time to work out a permanent pact with Tehran rather than resorting to unilateral military strikes. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was harshly critical of earlier iterations of the nuclear deal and has promised to do whatever is necessary to protect his country.

If President Obama can follow up the nuclear deal with Iran that he announced last night with another one in the next year that will dramatically roll back the Islamist regime’s nuclear progress achieved on his watch, then this event will be remembered as a diplomatic triumph that made the world safer.

In order for this to happen he will have to hope that Iran does not follow up this negotiation with more stalling tactics and settle for more limited agreements that do not do anything more than add a few weeks at most to the amount of time needed for them to “break out” and convert their nuclear stockpile into weapons-grade material. He will have to count on the Iranians not following the North Korean model of making nuclear deals only to break them once they are ready to put a nuclear site online. He will also have to hope that there are no secret underground sites in Iran that are not covered by the agreement though.

It must be conceded that the chances that this agreement will make it less likely that Iran will eventually reach its nuclear goal are not zero. It may be that Iran has truly abandoned its goal of a weapon, that it will negotiate in good faith and won’t cheat, and that there are no secret nuclear facilities in the country even though just about everyone in the intelligence world assumes there are. If so the world is safer, and many years from now, the president will go down in history as a great peacemaker worthy of a Nobel Prize.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
World Affairs Analyst

Photo-Credit: AFP--(L to R) EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle , Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reacts after a statement on early November 24, 2013 in Geneva.

Friday, 22 November 2013

HONDURAS: Presidential Election & Challenges

Hondurans will vote Sunday, Nov. 24, in a presidential election that polls suggest is too close to call. U.S. interests are plainly at stake, but this has less to do with the individual who may end up being elected than with the legitimacy of the election itself and how the new president, once in office, chooses to govern.

In what should be a clarifying and unifying election, the electorate instead is polarized, and at least three of the leading candidates are each convinced they will win. Official results may not be known for a week or more after the election; irregularities cannot be discounted. Whoever wins will likely receive less than a majority of votes and may face an opposition-held legislature, perhaps hindering the new president’s ability to address pressing concerns, including crime, corruption and a looming potential fiscal crisis.

Even before the forced removal in 2009 of President Manuel Zelaya—the husband of current populist candidate Xiomara Castro—and the democratic elections later that year that brought outgoing President Porfirio Lobo to power, Honduras faced significant difficulties.

The country is one of the poorest in the Americas. The illegal drug trade, Honduras’ long, under-populated and largely ungoverned coastline and the lack of effective policing capabilities have made the country a magnet for cartels. The country is now among the most violent on earth. Job growth is insufficient to absorb the thousands of new job-seekers that enter the workforce each year. Corruption is rampant. The devastating effects of Hurricane Mitch are still felt 15 years on.

That’s why most in Washington would simply prefer to ignore Honduras’ troubles. U.S. interests in Honduras, however, remain significant. It has been estimated that more than 80 percent of the cocaine that enters the United States travels at some point through Honduras. The United States is Honduras’ top trade partner and aid donor; legitimate bilateral trade is more than $10 billion per year. Top Honduran exports include textiles, electronics, bananas and coffee, the last of which is under attack from coffee blight and competition from Vietnam. An estimated 700,000 Hondurans in the United States send almost $3 billion home each year in remittances.

In addition, though the Cold War is long gone, the legacy of the 1980s-era Central American wars continues to be felt throughout the region. Billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars have been spent since the end of those conflicts to support democracy and economic opportunity and to aid recovery from natural disasters. The Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) has expanded trade and investment as it was designed to do, but Central America itself has not taken full advantage of the agreement. Democratic institutions are fragile and governance must be improved. And, complicating matters significantly, Venezuelan assistance has been plentiful in support of presidential candidates, parties and governments willing to promote the anti-Washington vision of the late Hugo Chavez.

These are not easy issues, and they have no easy solutions. Nonetheless, a number of steps can be taken to bring the United States alongside the Honduran people with a vision for mutual engagement and support over the longer term.

In the first instance, as U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel told the Council of the Americas recently, the burden is on Washington to persuade Central Americans, by means of both words and deeds, that the U.S. does not have a finger on the electoral scale and that it will work with whoever is elected, whether Xiomara Castro of the new LIBRE party, Juan Orlando Hernandez of the ruling Nationalist Party, Mauricio Villeda of the traditional Liberal Party or someone else.

The corollary is that electoral irregularities from either side—and meddling from others on the outside—must be rejected. And the victor should be expected to govern according to the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which Honduras signed in 2001.

Still, the election itself will not solve the country’s deep difficulties, which Hondurans themselves must meaningfully address. The United States, working with allies including Mexico and Colombia, should be prepared to assist. In the first instance, the U.S. must look for new ways to extend region-wide efforts to improve personal security and reduce the corrosive impact of the narcotics trade, including by imposing restrictions on the U.S. export of small arms and ammunition. Comprehensive immigration reform by the U.S. would directly assist Hondurans, and other countries in the region.

The proactive export of abundant natural gas from the United States should be explored as a means of reducing production costs and improving the region’s clean energy profile. Trade policy should seek to shield Central America from any potential damage resulting from other initiatives, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which may disadvantage the region despite CAFTA. There will be a need for the international community to assist Honduras in addressing looming fiscal problems. And a strong stand for democratic institutions and the rule of law will offer the best hope for long-term growth and stability, while re-emphasizing the historical U.S. commitment to the region.

These issues require time and resources, and success is not guaranteed. So it was in helping to birth Central American democracy in the first place. But Washington has a long and favored relationship with Honduras, and the voice of the United States carries particularly far with Tegucigalpa if projected from senior-level officials. As Hondurans head to the polls, this legacy and the reality of Honduras’ pressing post-election agenda are too important to ignore.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP--Honduras President Porfirio Lobo -Photo

AFRICA-ICC: African Union & UNSC lost romance over Kenyata-Ruto's case

The African Union came to the U.N. Security Council last week in search of a showdown. But its representatives left with little to show for their effort, having failed to persuade the United States and other Western powers to suspend the International Criminal Court's (ICC) prosecution of two African leaders, Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, who stand accused of orchestrating a frenzy of mass murder during the country's post-election violence in 2007 and 2008.

Securing a delay in the trial, however, was hardly the point of the exercise. The African sponsors of the resolution, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, and the five members of the African Union's ICC contact group -- Burundi, Mauritania, Namibia, Senegal and Uganda -- knew going in that they lacked the votes to prevail in the Security Council. Opposition from the Britain, France, and the United States all but ensured that the initiative was doomed from the start.

The real aim of the AU's offensive was twofold: to register Africa's dismay over the council's refusal to defer to the region's leaders on a highly sensitive issue and to reinforce Kenya's bargaining position on the eve of negotiations at the Hague over possible amendments to the ICC treaty that would prevent Kenyatta and Ruto from having to sit in the Netherlands for a lengthy trial. The Kenyan government is proposing that its leaders be permitted to sit out their trials entirely, leaving their lawyers to represent them instead.

Rwanda, which drafted the Security Council resolution requesting at least a one-year delay in Kenyatta's trial, has been among the most vociferous critics of the court, characterizing it as a modern form of Western imperialism. The latest African gambit was portrayed by some critics as a destructive bout of grandstanding that masked the goal of several African countries, particularly Kenya and Rwanda, to protect their leaders.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame, a former rebel general who ousted the government responsible for the country's genocide in 1994, also faces accusations that his forces have engaged in massive war crimes. One wonders whether the governments which pushed the resolution did so in a bid to ward off the possibility of their own officials being prosecuted for crimes in the future.

The blow up in the Security Council was not merely symbolic; it highlighted the erosion of trust between Africa and the West, putting on display the raw emotional feelings that continue to dog Africa's relations with its former European colonial masters and the United States.

In a series of statements, representatives from Rwanda, Kenya, and Ethiopia -- the current chair of the African Union -- complained that the council's rebuff had humiliated African leaders, sending the message that they are "not to be trusted" to manage the region's affairs. The Security Council's actions, the representatives warned, would have long-term repercussions for one of the body's most important relationships.  If only to drive home their point, African envoys roundly applauded China and Russia for having backed their request.

African representatives have argued that it is reckless to send Kenya's leaders to the Hague while the continent in the midst of an existential battle against terrorism. They see the refusal of the council's key Western powers to approve their request to postpone the trial as patronizing and hypocritical, a clear single that the Africans cannot be trusted to manage their own problems.

Kenyatta and Ruto, who have cooperated with the ICC's investigation so far, stand accused of orchestrating a massive campaign of post electoral violence in Kenya in 2008. The Kenyan politicians -- who had not yet been elected to high office at the time of the alleged crimes -- have since requested that the Security Council invoke a provision of the ICC treaty, known as Article 16, suspending the trial for an initial 12 months, so that they can carry out their constitutional duties, including the prosecution of the war on terror in the region.

But the West blocked the Rwandan resolution that would have triggered the one year deferral. Australia, Britain, France, Guatemala, Luxembourg, South Korea and the United States all abstained on the vote, denying Rwanda and its backers the nine votes they needed for approval in the 15-nation council.

"The families of the victims of the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya have already waited more than five years for a judicial weighing of the evidence to commence,"  said Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who cast the Obama administration first abstention in the Security Council. "We believe that justice for the victims of that violence is critical to the country's long term peace and security."

In highly emotional language that occasionally invoked Europe's colonial legacy, Rwanda's U.N. ambassador, Eugene Gasana, said that Kenya and other African nations are shedding their blood in the fight against terrorism in Somalia and the Horn of Africa on behalf of the Security Council. In return, the West should "be grateful," he said. "President Kenyatta and deputy president William Ruto should be respected, supported, empowered." They should not, he added, be "undermined."

"Let it be written today in history that the Security Council failed Kenya and Africa on this issue," said Gasana. He recalled that Western powers, particularly France, had initially proposed that the Security Council be granted the right to defer prosecution: "Article 16 was never meant to be used by an African state or any other developing country. It was conceived as an additional tool for the big power to protect themselves and to protect their own."

The Rwandan envoy also took an indirect swipe at the United States, comparing the request for a deferral to actions by an unnamed country that had passed laws sanctioning or threatening military action against states that cooperated with ICC, an apparent reference to the United States, where the U.S. Congress passed the American Servicemember's Protection Act, which authorizes U.S. presidents to use all means necessary to secure the release of American soldiers held by the court.

The Rwandan initiative infuriated some Western diplomats, who maintain that African leaders are playing on European guilt over colonialism to ram through an initiative that would undermine the global quest to hold accountable perpetrators of the worst crimes imaginable. They noted that it was African governments that initially insisted that the Rome Statue, which established the international tribunal, include language ensuring that heads of state not be granted immunity from prosecution.

France's U.N. envoy, Gerard Araud, said Rwanda's decision to force the council, with "unnecessary haste," into a vote on a resolution that was destined to fail risked setting the stage for an "artificial and dangerous confrontation between the African Union and the Security Council." "France is a partner of the African Union," he said, noting that French diplomats and troops have worked closely with African states to restore stability in Mali, Somalia, and now the Central African Republic. "France has lost soldiers in the defense of these populations."

Britain's ambassador to the United Nations, Mark Lyall Grant, said today's clash over the ICC was unnecessary, given the fact that the Hague court's judges had already shown willingness to address African concerns by permitting several delays in the opening of Kenyatta's trial, which was originally scheduled to begin in October.

On Nov. 20, a gathering of ICC member states is scheduled to consider a series of proposals aimed at accommodating Kenyatta's need to govern while the trial proceeds. But Lyall Grant said his government had tabled a proposal to allow the Kenyan politicians to testify by a video link: "Nobody, least of all the United Kingdom, underestimates the gravity of the security challenges in the Horn of Africa," he said. "But the question before the council today is whether or not continuing with the ICC's proceeding constitutes in itself a threat to international peace and security. In our view, it does not." 

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP-Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta-Photo

Thursday, 21 November 2013

DR-CONGO: What's Next After Defeating M23...

The Congolese Army defeated the rebel group, M23, with the help of United Nations forces and Tanzanian, Malawi and South Africa. The M23 officially disbanded, and its leaders fled to neighboring Uganda and Rwanda.

It is hard to overstate how historic a development that is. For the first time since 1997, Rwanda has no military footprint in eastern Congo and the Congolese government has been able to defeat a serious armed rebellion.

The biggest reason for the sudden turn in events is that Rwanda pulled the plug. The Rwandan government has long deemed it necessary to have an armed ally across the border to protect its interests in the Congolese highlands. The Rwandan army backed the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo from 1996 to 1998, the Congolese Rally for Democracy from 1998 to 2003, the National Congress for the Defense of the People from 2004 to 2009, and the M23 for the past 19 months.

But as the Rwandan government faced heightened criticism for helping the rebels, especially on the part of the U.S. government, it changed course. This shift in outsiders’ attitudes has been critical.
Foreign allies have always viewed Rwanda’s meddling in eastern Congo critically, but Kigali justified the intervention by pointing to the threat posed by the anti-Rwandan rebel group based there, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FLDR), some members of which had participated in the genocide.

By October, that justification had begun to look flimsier than ever: those rebels have seen their numbers fall by over 60 percent over the past four years, reducing the threat to Rwanda. If anything, the M23 breathed new life into the FDLR, as Congolese government operations against them ceased and opportunities for new alliances arose. These changing circumstances prompted Washington to adopt a stern tone with Rwanda. Hours after the last round of fighting between the Congolese army and the M23 kicked off, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry phoned Rwandan President Paul Kagame, telling him to stay out of the conflict.

The M23 suffered a defeat not only because it lost the support of the Rwandan government but also because the UN peacekeeping mission  provided key support for the recent offensive. Congolese soldiers benefited from UN military rations and water, UN troops protected the rear and flanks of the Congolese army so it could focus on hitting the M23, and UN officials ensured that the Congolese army had food, water, and sufficient logistical support for its operations.

Also playing a crucial role was the Force Intervention Brigade -- a UN unit, formed in March 2013, composed of Tanzanian, South African, and Malawian soldiers who were authorized to take more aggressive measures than most peacekeepers. The South Africans in the brigade deployed their deadly Rooivalk attack helicopters, which helped the Congolese government retake the steep hills that the M23 controlled.

The Congolese army’s victory over the rebels is only a first step in addressing the broader ills afflicting Congo. It will take decades to reform the weak and corrupt Congolese state, and there are still dozens of other armed groups operating in eastern Congo, many of which have deep ties to Congolese politicians, (including the current president, Joseph Kabila,) and military commanders.

Congo’s neighbors will continue to pose plenty of problems. Current President Joseph Kabila and three of his counterparts -- the presidents of Rwanda, Burundi, and the Republic of the Congo -- face constitutional term limits that should have them handing over power between 2015 and 2017. These deadlines could create turbulence as the incumbents try to change their constitutions or find other ways to prolong their tenures. Instability in one country could easily spill into another.

Defeating M23 might provide the Congolese government with a temporary reprieve from its most formidable opponent. But a viable solution won’t come from outside actors. It will have to come because incentives force elites in Kinshasa to build a more effective state that can defend the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The state in Congo is mostly absent. Since he has been in power, Joseph Kabila weakened, destroyed everything good about the Republic Democratic of Congo. Critics say that he is a part of the problem not the solution . That as long as he remains president of Republic Democratic of Congo, there would be no lasting peace at all.

But also, there will be no peace in Congo as long as ruthless interests can make immense profits from the extraction of minerals and other resources, with the connivance of regional governments. Corrupt Congolese President, Joseph Kabila, and officials have no interest in justice or army reform because they reap windfalls from mafia-like smuggling and land grabbing. It will take an effort to change market incentives similar to the one that ended the blood diamonds wars elsewhere in Africa.

Rwanda’s post-genocide economic miracle has benefited from huge exports of smuggled Congolese tin and tantalum with the blessing of the Congolese President, Joseph Kabila. Influential Ugandans enrich themselves through major illicit Congolese gold exports. This ensures that eastern Congo remains at the mercy of armed groups and their criminal business partners allied with Kinshasa, Kigali or Kampala. As with all mafias, sometimes these competing groups fight, sometimes they cooperate.

The best way to avoid a new rebellion in the future would be to establish a very nationalist government in Kinshasa with a nationalist and patriotic President. But also to reform the political system and reform the army, what Joseph Kabila failed to do for more than 15 years in power. At the same time, the international community must hold M23 figures involved in human rights abuses and smuggling operation in the Eastern Congo accountable.

Otherwise, the M23 cadres might simply drift back to their villages and wait for a chance to launch a new rebellion. It has happened before. M23 grew out of a previous rebellion – the CNDP. After disarming in 2009, it went underground sowing the seeds of the M23 rebellion in 2012. M23 also claims to have developed cells in neighboring countries and within the Congolese Diaspora abroad.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
African Affairs Expert

ARGENTINA: A Time for Reform

The midterm legislative elections in Argentina on October 27th left no doubt that a majority of voters have tired of President Cristina Kirchner’s confrontational style of government and want a change. Opposition party candidates for both houses of the National Congress soundly defeated Kirchner’s left-wing Peronist lists in Argentina’s major cities and most important provinces, all but dashing the president’s hopes for reelection in October 2015.

What the voters will want then remains to be defined, but there is clearly an opportunity for a basic political reorganization that could replace decades of dysfunctional relations between Argentina’s political parties with a new politics of cooperation in place of mutual destruction. This depends on a spirit of national unity gaining strength among Argentina’s political parties over the next two years.

The Kirchner era, which stretches back to the election of Kirchner’s late husband more than a decade ago, has been enormously divisive and the results of the midterm election indicate the voters want a pact between pragmatic dissident Peronists and opposition parties. This is crucial for the future of democratic government in this key Latin American country, where the current government has been flirting with the same kind of socialist, authoritarian, and anti-American policies championed by Venezuela’s leftist regime.

The election reflected the dismay of Argentina’s 20 million voters with the results of Kirchner’s second term, which began in December 2011. The populist government’s constant conflicts with Argentina’s private business sector, its attempts to stifle the criticisms of a lively independent media by withholding government advertising, and its diplomatic rows with neighbors, like Uruguay and Brazil, produced a flight of foreign investors from Argentina and a loss of international credit for an economy wracked by inflation, debt, crime, corruption, and growing poverty. President Kirchner and the left-wing Peronists who control her government paid a heavy price at the polls.

Cristina Kirchner reached the presidency in 2007, succeeding her late husband, Néstor, a Peronist who had been elected president in 2002 with only 28 percent of the popular vote. Yet he consolidated his control over the Peronist movement with populist social programs and nationalist expropriations of airlines, oil companies, and railroads.

The dynasty continued when his widow easily won reelection two years ago, with 54 percent of the vote—quite a contrast to the 33 percent overall national showing of her lists in this recent poll. In Buenos Aires Province, which contains 38 percent of Argentina’s electorate, dissident Peronist and popular mayor Sergio Massa won his campaign for a seat in the lower house of Congress by 44 percent, beating the official Kirchner candidate, who ran on a separate list, by 12 percent.

The resounding victory in Buenos Aires propelled Massa, a Peronist moderate, into the ranks of possible presidential candidates for 2015. At 41, he’s the leader of a new generation of Peronists who see the need for the party to form coalitions so that Argentina will have stable governance. This approach is revolutionary in Argentina, where the conflict between Peronists and their opponents has been a national fixture since the Argentine military deposed and exiled Juan Domingo Perón, founder of the movement, in 1955, and banned the Justicialist Party that was the political arm of the Peronists.

The Radical Civic Union party, historically representing the middle class, benefited from the ban and won two successive presidential elections from which the Peronists were barred. But when these Radical governments showed signs of making peace with the Peronists, they were toppled by the military. Finally, after 18 years in exile, Perón was allowed to return and when he ran for president, the Peronists swept to victory. That showed they were clearly Argentina’s majority party. But Perón died in office in 1974, and his wife Isabel succeeded him. The government was pathetically weak, with the Peronists divided into warring factions.

Amid growing armed violence, the military intervened again in 1976, jailing then President Isabel Perón and holding power until a democratic system was restored in 1984. Two Radical governments then tried to govern and were discredited by severe economic mismanagement. Only then, in 1989, did Carlos Saúl Menem, a new Peronist president, win election, and Argentina briefly enjoyed an economic recovery with orthodox policies that attracted investment. That success collapsed in 2001 because Domingo Cavallo, the minister of finance, could not contain the reckless deficit spending of major provinces where Peronist governors were in control.

Given this chaotic record, and the failures of the Kirchner dynasty to get Argentina on track, many students of Argentine politics are skeptical of any initiative based on inter-party cooperation. But that is the new politics that Massa, now a member of Congress, and his dissident Peronist group are proposing, and the response depends on accommodation by other opposition forces. These are led by provincial leaders whose personal presidential ambitions have thus far prevented the opposition from unifying behind a single national candidate. The most prominent of these regional leaders is Mauricio Macri, the elected chief executive of the federal capital district of Buenos Aires, who is a wealthy businessman.

In Santa Fe Province, at the center of Argentina’s dynamic agricultural sector, there is Hermes Binner, a former governor, whose Socialist Party leads a center-left coalition. Another essential party is the Radical Civic Union, which recovered votes and came in second in the October midterm legislative election, equaling the dissident Peronists with 25 percent of the vote. The Radicals have a strong provincial base that includes the wealthy Andean province of Mendoza, where Julio Cobos, a former governor and later vice president under Néstor Kirchner, is now strongly anti-Kirchner.

Some preliminary steps toward forming a united opposition front have begun. Massa has entered into talks with fellow Peronist dissidents throughout Argentina, and this could lead to a formal split with the left-wing faction that supports President Kirchner. Massa also held an important pre-election meeting in Santa Fe with Carlos Reutemann, a former Peronist governor of Santa Fe and popular Formula One racing champion, joined by Roberto Lavagna, a former finance minister who earned the respect of international financiers when he salvaged the Argentine economy from the debacle of 2002. Lavagna later broke with Néstor Kirchner when his administration began to adopt policies attacking foreign investments, increasing taxes on Argentina’s agricultural exports, and imposing expropriations in energy sectors.

These straws in the wind will only lead to the formation of an opposition union if the dissident Peronists put aside their historic conflicts with other parties, and if these other parties, in turn, choose to work within a Peronists unity government. In the absence of a strongman government, which is not in the cards, this unification of democratic political forces is clearly the only practical way to provide the coherent governance Argentina has lacked. The midterm election results have created an opportunity to modernize Argentina’s politics in a way that could dramatically enhance the country’s prospects for restored prosperity.

With a constructive and reformist leadership, for example, Argentina could open up Mercosur, the common market of South America, to international trade with the European Union and the United States. Under the Kirchners, these ties have been systematically stymied by protectionist policies and petty conflicts with Mercosur partners, like Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay. All of South America is waiting for Argentina to assume the leadership role for which it is qualified by its wealth and history.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP-Argentina's President Cristina Kirchner