Latest Developments, April 23

In the latest news and analysis…

Operation Serval extended
Radio France Internationale reports that French politicians have voted overwhelmingly in favour of extending the military intervention in Mali beyond the initial four-month timeframe:

“All the political parties agreed on the need to continue the French intervention in Mali: 342 votes for, 0 votes against. Later in the evening, senators confirmed this vote by 326 votes for and 0 votes against.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault also made an important announcement: starting in July, the UN could contribute peacekeepers to join the French and African forces.” [Translated from the French.]

Apology questioned
The Globe and Mail reports that the Canadian government is under fire for failing to hand over documents to a commission investigating years of abuse of indigenous students at church-run residential schools:

“The Department of Aboriginal Affairs has given about a million records to the commission and has promised hundreds of thousands more. But 23 other departments have yet to follow suit.

‘We respect the fact that it’s really a huge task,’ said [Truth and Reconciliation Commission chair Justice Murray Sinclair].
‘But the reality is that we haven’t seen any additional documents,’ he said, ‘which really tells us that the government wasn’t ready, that it had done no preparation whatsoever.’

Alvin Fiddler, the deputy chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation in Northern Ontario, said Monday that failure to produce the records would cast doubt on the historic apology for the residential school system that Prime Minister Stephen Harper made in 2008 on behalf of Canadians. ‘It goes back to the question of how sincere was he and how sincere was the apology,’ Mr. Fiddler said.”

Patent loophole
Reuters reports that South Africa plans to rework its intellectual property laws in order to make cancer and HIV/AIDS medication more affordable:

“Central to the reforms is closing a loophole known as ‘ever-greening’, whereby drug companies slightly modify an existing drug whose patent is about to expire and then claim it is a new drug, thereby extending its patent protection and their profits.

As an example, [Julia Hill of Médecins Sans Frontières] said India had avoided patenting Novartis cancer medication imatinib, as opposed to South Africa, which granted an initial patent in 1993 that only expires this month.
In addition, Hill said South Africa had granted secondary patents on imatinib to extend Novartis’ monopoly until 2022, meaning it costs $34,000 a year to treat a patient – 259 times more than the cheapest Indian generic alternative”

Swing and a miss
The Associated Press reports that a US judge has blocked an attempt by the government to seize a “$38.5 million Gulfstream jet” from the son of Equatorial Guinea’s president:

“The Justice Department had alleged that Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue bought the jet with money derived from extortion, misappropriation, theft and embezzlement. But U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras ruled Friday that the government did not link the jet to any specific illicit acts and dismissed the civil forfeiture complaint.”

The worst thing
The Royal African Society’s Richard Dowden argues it would be better for G8 countries to “stop doing bad things to poor countries” than to pledge more aid:

“The worst thing we – the British – do is to maintain the world’s most iniquitous secret tax havens.

On average, between 2002 and 2006 $857 billion flowed into developing countries each year. Of that $84bn was aid, $187bn was migrant remittances, $226bn foreign direct investment and $380bn was loans. Meanwhile, on average every year over the same period, $1205bn flowed out: $130bn profits for investors, $456bn in debt repayments and a whopping $619bn in ‘illicit flows’. Some of that is corruption money – about 3%. About 30% goes through criminal networks but some 60% of the ‘outflow’ is tax avoidance schemes. Unaccountable and un-transparent tax havens – many of them British – are where these schemes operate.”

Institutionalizing torture
Foreign Policy’s James Traub writes that a recent report on US torture after 9/11 shows how a democratic country can engage in “things that are repugnant to its principles”:

“Military dictators can simply order dissidents to be pushed out of planes into the sea or thrown into prison to rot; the political leaders of a democracy need the legitimacy of law to justify otherwise despicable acts, whether it’s Jim Crow legislation or the fraudulent treaties that drove Native Americans from their land.

Americans have an apparently ineradicable view of themselves as a force for good. Republicans shamelessly play to this angelic self-conception when they accuse Obama of not subscribing to the national credo of ‘American exceptionalism.’ But what dark deeds has that credo excused! To know for a certainty that your ends are noble is to excuse yourself in advance for whatever means you choose to fight your adversaries, who by definition must be evil.”

Casual racism
Anthropologist Sarah Kendzior describes as “irresponsible” the media’s emphasis on the Chechen ethnicity of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing:

“One hundred years ago, the violent act of one Polish-American [who assassinated US President William McKinley] caused a country to treat all Polish-Americans with suspicion. Now, the Poles have become ‘white’ – which is to say they are largely safe from the accusations of treason and murderous intent that ethnic groups deemed non-white routinely face. When a Polish-American commits a crime, his ethnicity does not go on trial with him.
But this change is not a triumph for America. It is a tragedy that it happened to Poles then, and a greater tragedy that we have not learned our lesson and it happens still – to Hispanics, to Arabs, to Chechens, to any immigrant who comes here seeking refuge and finds prejudice instead.”

Bean drain
The UN News Centre reports that two UN experts have said the World Bank-led privatization of Burundi’s coffee industry is hurting farmers:

“In 2007, the Burundian President declared that coffee was owned by the growers until it was exported, an arrangement that allowed them to manage the supply chain and entitled them to 72 per cent of revenues from coffee sales on international markets.
However, in 2008-2009 the Burundian Government moved towards full privatization of the industry under alleged pressure from the World Bank, whose support for public health programmes was reportedly tied to coffee sector reforms. Since then, less than 5 per cent of Burundian coffee was processed in the country, with the higher value-added operations taking place abroad.”

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