Latest Developments, August 24

In today’s news and analysis…

Libya’s rebels are calling for $5 billion in emergency funds to be unfrozen from Gadhafi regime assets. The US is working in the UN on getting $1.5 billion. Of course, as the Globe and Mail’s Eric Reguly writes, it is no secret that Libya has something everybody wants: “By Wednesday it was amply clear that NATO’s mission creep was lubricated by oil.” The question, he says, is “who will get the prizes.” Earlier in the week, a rebel spokesman said they had good relations with an eager bunch of NATO countries but “may have some political issues with Russia, China and Brazil” who were less keen on providing military support against Gadhafi. And although the rebels have pledged to honour all legal contracts, Reguly writes that “Libya is looking suspiciously like an oil war and the countries that delivered the bombs want their rewards.” But human rights NGO Global Witness is calling first for measures “to guard against a Libyan “oil grab” and ensure the Libyan people benefit fully from the exploitation of Libya’s natural resources.” It wants no new oil deals before democratic elections are held, extensive and “concrete” transparency measures, recovery of Gadhafi-regime money stashed abroad and sanctions against banks that sheltered such funds.

Anticipating a possible European oil embargo against Syria, international petroleum companies are not signing any new deals with the increasingly isolated country, which announced the discovery of a new gas field just last week. But for the time being, company executives said they “still had outstanding contracts that were signed months ago, to either supply refined products or buy crude,” according to the Financial Times. Former US Vice-President Dick Cheney took a much harder line with Damascus in his day, as he reveals in his upcoming autobiography that he wanted to bomb Syria in 2007. The New York Times reports he also defends the use of waterboarding in interrogations and is “happy to note” that current US President Barack Obama has not shut down the prison at Guantánamo Bay as promised.

Meanwhile, there is still a famine going on in Somalia and the African Union is holding a “pledge summit” to address the Horn of Africa food crisis. International Foundation for Agricultural Development President Kanayo Nwanze welcomed the intiative, saying Africa cannot wait for other countries to solve its problems: “No nation, no people ever had sustainable growth that sprang solely from external support. Africa’s development must be made in Africa, by Africans, for Africans.”

The UK and Switzerland have agreed on a new deal that would require taxes be paid in Britain on money held in by British citizens in Swiss bank accounts but would preserve the anonymity of the account holders. Drawing a parallel with the tough-on-crime frenzy that has taken hold in Britain since the riots, the Tax Justice Network’s Richard Murphy is livid: “So at a time when the government is demanding respect for the law, high moral standards and responsibility by all in society one group of criminals – those who have deliberately and knowingly broken the law by tax evading in Switzerland – are going to be let off without paying anything like what they owe even in tax, let alone in penalties and interest. What is more, instead of these people being brought before an all night court sitting to make sure justice is done with names and addresses being published for all to see anonymity is instead being guaranteed to those criminals so they can still held (sic) their heads up high in polite society.”

The Canadian Medical Association has denounced the federal government for blocking the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos on a UN treaty’s list of hazardous substances. “This is an important health care issue and a product that causes significant illness and even death,” according to the organization’s outgoing president Jeff Turnbull. “Canada should not be in the business of exporting such a dangerous product.”

The Guardian’s John Vidal says “plans for a US-based investment company to lease up to 1m hectares of South Sudan for only $25,000 a year appears to have stalled following protests by local communities over the potential “land grab“.” But Indian agribusiness investors are showing major interest in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda, where they say there is as much arable land as in their home country. As in South Sudan, however, local populations are expressing misgivings: “No one should believe that these investors are there to feed starving Africans, create jobs or improve food security,” according Solidarity Movement for New Ethiopia’s Obang Metho.

Also writing in the Guardian, Rick Rowden argues that the UK’s Department for International Development’s new emphasis on promoting private sector growth in poor countries fails to distinguish “between the needs and interests of domestic private sector firms and those of foreign investors” and “perpetuates the foggy notion that the needs and interests of the two parties are somehow exactly the same. They are not.” He argues that, in countries where the private sector has taken off over the past decades, domestic companies got help from their own governments, whether in the form of temporary trade protection, cheap credit or R&D investment. But far from encouraging such measures today, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the proliferating bilateral trade agreements between rich and poor countries proscribe them as “bad government intervention.”

Richard Falk, a retired Princeton law professor, argues “the Afghanistan war is being fought against the nationalist Taliban and on behalf of a corrupted and incompetent Kabul regime for political control of the country” and as such is hurting America’s image and giving “extremism a good name” in the region. “Such an analysis yields a single moral, legal and prudential imperative: when foreign intervention is losing out to determined national resistance, leave the country quickly, stop the killing immediately, and declare victory with pomp and circumstance.”


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