Latest Developments, March 6

In the latest news and analysis…

Presidential death
The University of London’s Oscar Guardiola-Rivera argues that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whose death was announced Tuesday, made his country more inclusive during his 14 years in power:

“Chávez’s Social Missions, providing healthcare and literacy to formerly excluded people while changing their life and political outlook, have proven the extent of such a transformative view. It could be compared to the levelling spirit of a kind of new New Deal combined with a model of social change based on popular and communal organisation.
The facts speak for themselves: the percentage of households in poverty fell from 55% in 1995 to 26.4% in 2009. When Chávez was sworn into office unemployment was 15%, in June 2009 it was 7.8%. Compare that to current unemployment figures in Europe.”

Meddling allegations
The Associated Press reports that a British diplomat has been accused of “shadowy, suspicious and rather animated involvement” in Kenya’s presidential election by supporters of Uhuru Kenyatta who is currently leading as ballot counting continues:

“Kenyatta’s party also asked the high commissioner, Christian Turner, to explain what it called ‘the sudden upsurge of British military personnel’ in Kenya. British troops attend a six-week training course near Mount Kenya before deploying to Afghanistan. A new battle group arrived the week before Kenyans voted.
Britain’s Foreign Office said claims of British interference ‘are entirely false and misleading.’ It said the British soldiers in Kenya are part of a regular training program planned nine months ago ‘completely unrelated to the Kenyan elections.’ ”

New gun market
Reuters reports that the UN Security Council has voted for a British-drafted partial suspension of the longtime arms embargo on Somalia:

“The Security Council resolution would allow sales of such weapons as automatic assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, but leaves in place a ban on surface-to-air missiles, large-caliber guns, howitzers, cannons and mortars as well as anti-tank guided weapons, mines and night vision weapon sights.

Human rights group Amnesty International called one the U.N. Security Council on Monday not to lift arms embargo on Somalia, describing the idea as premature and warning that it could “expose Somali civilians to even greater risk and worsen the humanitarian situation.”

Violent mine
The Daily News reports that two more people have died in clashes at a Tanzanian mine owned by Canadian giant Barrick Gold:

“The [North Mara Gold Mine] has been experiencing frequent invasions carried out by mostly young men targeting gold sand. The intruders have often been clashing with police officers guarding the mine 24 hours. In 2011 five civilians were shot dead after hundreds of people invaded the mine and clashed with anti-riot police.
The mine is also guarded by private security guards. The Canadian miner is currently setting up a multimillion wall fence at Gokona pit in a bid to boost safety and security in one of the country’s largest gold mine located at Nyamongo area.”

Toxic fog
Etiame reports that Togolese fishermen have said they encountered a suffocating cloud at sea, near a coastal area where the World Health Organization noted reports of a “strange” outbreak of coughing and chest pains last month:

“ ‘We were on the high sea that day. It was as if someone had launched tear gas. It stung our nostrils. It was probably toxic discharge from a ship. If it had been pollution from a neighbouring country, it would have dissipated by that point,’ said a visibly perturbed Koffa.” (Translated from the French.)

Protecting assets
The Globe and Mail reports that Canada has negotiated “so-called foreign investment promotion and protection agreements” with Cameroon and Zambia, bringing to seven the number of African countries that have made such deals with Ottawa:

“The FIPAs are meant to give businesses greater confidence to invest at a time when resource nationalism has become one of the leading concerns of the global mining industry. The trend became especially pronounced in recent years as emerging nation’s sought to renegotiate terms of mining investments in the wake of booming prices for metals like gold and copper, trading several times where they were a few years ago even.

Canada has 24 FIPAs in force around the world. It has also concluded the agreements with Benin, Madagascar, Mali, Senegal and Tanzania and is pursuing FIPAs with Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Tunisia.”

Killer deal
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières has said the Trans-Pacific Partnership, currently in its 16th round of negotiations in Singapore, could become “the most harmful trade pact ever for access to medicines in developing countries”:

“The negotiations are being conducted in secret, but leaked drafts of the agreement include aggressive intellectual property (IP) rules that would restrict access to affordable, lifesaving medicines for millions of people.
Proposed by U.S. negotiators, the IP rules enhance patent and data protections for pharmaceutical companies, dismantle public health safeguards enshrined in international law, and obstruct price-lowering generic competition for medicines.”

Nothing to see here
Reuters reports that Western observers will not be welcome in Zimbabwe during this year’s constitutional and presidential votes, purportedly due to the punitive policies their countries have imposed:

“Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, from Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, told the state-controlled Herald newspaper that Harare would bar U.S. and European Union observers because of sanctions on Mugabe and his inner circle for alleged human rights abuses.
‘To be an observer, you have to be objective and once you impose sanctions on one party, your objectivity goes up in smoke,’ Mumbengegwi, who is responsible for inviting and accrediting foreign observers, was quoted as saying.
‘I do not see why they need to be invited when they have never invited us to monitor theirs.’ ”

Latest Developments, November 7

In the latest news and analysis…

Historic votes
In addition to news of Barack Obama’s re-election to a second term as US president, the Associated Press reports that Maine and Maryland voted in favour of allowing gay marriage, and Colorado and Washington voted to legalize recreational use of marijuana:

“The outcome in Maine and Maryland broke a 32-state streak, dating back to 1998, in which gay marriage had been rebuffed by every state that voted on it.

The marijuana measures in Colorado and Washington set up a showdown with the federal government, which outlaws the drug.

The Washington measure was notable for its sponsors and supporters, who ranged from public health experts and wealthy high-tech executives to two of the Justice Department’s top former officials in Seattle, U.S. Attorneys John McKay and Kate Pflaumer.”

Observers threatened
KPBS reports that international election observers were told by state government officials to “stay away from polling sites” in Texas and Arizona:

“Texas election officials are threatening the observers with arrest if they show up at the polls.
For the last decade the United Nations-affiliated Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has directly observed elections in the United States — but not this Election Day in Texas or Arizona.”

Agence France-Presse reports that non-African troops may take part in attempts to recapture northern Mali from armed groups:

“ ‘If African heads of state agree, there will be non-African troops on the ground to help Mali win back its territory,’ an African official taking part in the meeting of international experts told AFP on the last day of the conference.

He said that the number of troops sent into Mali by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ‘could reach 4,000 instead of the planned 3,000’ and would be spread throughout the country.

The Bamako conference was attended by experts from ECOWAS, the European Union, African Union, United Nations and Algeria, who are helping Mali draw up a plan to be presented to the UN on November 26.
Another delegate told AFP that the UN is expected to finance the bulk of the military operation.”

Internationalized minds
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie makes the case for “global public spending” to replace the current model of international aid:

“As important as any inevitably fraught architectural decisions is the communications value of this concept – the general public in all countries, rich, middle-income and poor, should quickly grasp and appreciate the idea of global public spending reversing the antagonism to ‘aid’. National public spending is widely accepted – only the most die-hard anti-statists oppose social safety nets for the poorest people, investment in research for new technologies, conservation, policing and so on. In a globalising world, it is only logical that we take that theory one step further.
Just as individual contributions are the price of living in a civilised society, so national contributions to the global pot could be the price of living in a prosperous and sustainable world.
The very reason that this vision is hard to achieve is what makes it so progressive and exciting. This way of thinking will only work insofar as human beings are able to internationalise their minds and think on a truly global, horizontal level, the project of progressives for centuries. This is a truly radical perspective, implying a kind of internationalism that is still only developing.”

Protection racket
The Guardian’s Seumas Milne questions the sincerity of UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s professed support for Arab democracy, given his current “trip to sell weapons to Gulf dictators”:

“Cameron went to the Gulf as a salesman for BAE Systems – the private arms corporation that makes Typhoon jets – drumming up business from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Oman, as well as smoothing ruffled feathers over British and European parliamentary criticism of their human rights records on behalf of BP and other companies.

This is effectively a mafia-style protection racket, in which Gulf regimes use oil wealth their families have commandeered to buy equipment from western firms they will never use. The companies pay huge kickbacks to the relevant princelings, while a revolving door of political corruption provides lucrative employment for former defence ministers, officials and generals with the arms corporations they secured contracts for in office.”

Planeloads of cash
Reuters reports that Guinea’s government is accusing mining firm BSG Resources of “flying in cash” in order to gain access to a major iron ore deposit:

“Guinea’s government has asked BSG Resources and its partners to respond to the accusations in the report, put together by a government technical committee. If the responses are not satisfactory, it could put their permits at risk, a source at Guinea’s mines ministry said.

‘During the period of the military regime in Guinea from 2009 to 2010, BSGR was engaged in a strategy to improve its relations with decision-makers by making regular payments to high military figures,’ the report said.
‘These payments were often distributed in cash, carried into the country in BSGR’s private jet,’ it said.”

Environment Conflict Day
The UN marked its annual International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict:

“Though mankind has always counted its war casualties in terms of dead and wounded soldiers and civilians, destroyed cities and livelihoods, the environment has often remained the unpublicized victim of war. Water wells have been polluted, crops torched, forests cut down, soils poisoned, and animals killed to gain military advantage.”

Ultimate control
ECONorthwest’s Ann Hollingshead argues that the best way rich countries can help poor ones achieve the Millennium Development Goals in tough economic times is to promote “domestic resource mobilization” by cracking down on illicit financial flows:

“Most people would likely agree that the optimal, most sustainable way to lift developing countries out of poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals is to help them help themselves. When it comes to the transparency initiatives I outlined above, while they are the ones most hurt by harmful financial practices, it is not the developing countries that have the ultimate control over their implementation. Participation from developed countries will make or break the effort.”