Latest Developments, March 22

In the latest news and analysis…

Teetering regime
Le Figaro reports on growing international concern, particularly in former colonial ruler France, over the rapid advance of rebels toward the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui:

“The situation appeared serious enough for France, which has a contingent of about 250 troops on the ground, to ask for a UN Security Council meeting on Friday night. Paris had placed its troops based in Libreville, Gabon on standby. But most of its forces are currently waging war in Mali. ‘If we are involved in CAR,’ said French President François Hollande late last year, ‘it isn’t to protect a regime. It’s to protect our citizens and interests and in no way to intervene in the internal affairs of a country.’ ” [Translated from the French.]

RIP Chinua Achebe
To mark the passing of “the grandfather of African literature,” the Africa Report reprints a Chinua Achebe interview conducted by fellow Nigerian novelist Helon Habila in 2007:

“I for one always resisted the idea that this is ‘The Achebe School’. Personally, I didn’t want a school at all, and looking back at that generation and you not being aware what it was like to grow up in a situation in which you have no literature, in which you do not belong to the stories that are told, a period in which you went to school and passed through school, and you did not hear anything about yourself throughout that period — unless you went through that, it will be difficult to understand why there was all this to-do about writing our own stories, crafting our own style and so on.

There are many people walking around in Britain today who do not accept that the colonial period adventure was not fair to the people on whom it was unleashed.”

End of CIDA
The Center for Global Development’s Owen Barder and Addis Ababa University’s Lucas Robinson argue that the Canadian government’s decision to merge its international development agency into the ministry of foreign affairs is an opportunity “to move the debate ‘beyond aid’ ”:

“But people from developing countries are clear that development policy must mean more than giving aid. They want to benefit more from the resources and services they supply to the world. They do not want aid as compensation for unfair global trade rules; they want the rules changed. They do not want compensation for the damage done to the environment by industrialized countries; they want the destruction of our planet to stop.
We need to look beyond the management of aid, for which their organizations are designed, to a much broader agenda and new ways of working if we are to deal with the growing array of challenges that require global solutions, including climate change, macroeconomic imbalances, inadequate financial regulation, tax avoidance, inequality, environmental degradation, dislocation, insecurity and corruption.”

Mining murder
Oxfam has condemned the kidnapping of four Guatemalan men, one of whom was subsequently found dead, who opposed a mining project owned by Canada’s Tahoe Resources:

“Local groups had organized a community consultation in which citizens cast votes in favor or against the mining project known as ‘The Escobal.’ The project is located 2.5 kilometers east of the San Jose, municipal head of San Rafael Las Flores. Its operations would impact more than 3,000 people living in the area.
After the consultation, the four leaders, known for defending the rights of local citizens, were kidnapped.”

Sweetheart deal
The Guardian reports that Shell is being accused of paying a mere $20 in annual rent for each of a pair of South African filling stations built on land obtained during apartheid:

“The Shell anomaly is being investigated by South Africa’s parliamentary oversight committee on rural development and land reform. Stone Sizani, its chairman, said: ‘It’s a huge unfairness on the part of Shell to the community there. They’re making huge sums of money from those filling stations and what they’re paying is the equivalent of an indigent family for a piece of land.’
He added: ‘Nobody can explain how Shell got such a piece of land. Even if it was done during apartheid, Shell should be feeling ashamed.’
Shell obtained permission to occupy (PTO) during the apartheid era, when black people were not permitted to obtain title deeds to land.”

Bad paint
The Cameroon Tribune reports on a study suggesting that two-thirds of new paint being sold in the central African nation contains hazardous levels of lead:

“The study, in the May issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, revealed lead concentrations are as high as 50 percent by weight in household paint being sold by Cameroon’s largest paint company, Seigneurie – a subsidiary of the U.S. Company PPG. This concentration is more than 5,000 times the allowable limit in the U.S.

The new study is the first one which provides the names of paint companies and the lead concentrations for all 61 paints tested.”

Drone expansion
The Washington Post reports that Niamey, the capital of Niger, is “the newest outpost in the U.S. government’s empire of drone bases”:

“Like other U.S. drone bases, the Predator operations in Niger are shrouded in secrecy. The White House announced Feb. 22 that Obama had deployed about 100 military personnel to Niger on an “intelligence collection” mission, but it did not make any explicit reference to drones.
Since then, the Defense Department has publicly acknowledged the presence of drones here but has revealed little else. The Africa Command, which oversees U.S. military missions on the continent, denied requests from a Washington Post reporter to interview American troops in Niger or to tour the military airfield where the drones are based, near Niamey’s international airport.”

Less tolerance
Le Monde reports that a new study shows that intolerance is on the rise in France and racist acts and threats increased by 23% last year:

“In all, 55 percent of people surveyed said Muslims are ‘a group on the fringes of society’ (up four points since the 2011 report) and 69 percent believe ‘there are too many immigrants in France today,’ a 10 point increase since 2011. ‘We are seeing a dangerous desensitization to racist comments,’ according to the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights.

If ‘racism’ is ‘relatively stable’ (up two percent), anti-Muslim ‘racism’ (up 30 percent) and particularly ‘antisemitism’ (up 58 percent) have shown the biggest increases.” [Translated from the French.]

Latest Developments, March 14

In the latest news and analysis…

Measuring inequality
The UN Development Programme has released its 2013 Human Development Report, which argues that the vast majority of countries have made progress in recent years but “national averages hide large variations” within countries:

“[Human Development Index] comparisons are typically made between countries in the North and the South, and on this basis the world is becoming less unequal. Nevertheless, national averages hide large variations in human experience, and wide disparities remain within countries of both the North and the South. The United States, for example, had an HDI value of 0.94 in 2012, ranking it third globally. The HDI value for residents of Latin American origin was close to 0.75, while the HDI value for African-Americans was close to 0.70 in 2010–2011. But the average HDI value for an African-American in Louisiana was 0.47. Similar ethnic disparities in HDI achievement in very high HDI countries can be seen in the Roma populations of southern Europe.”

Arming rebels
Time reports that France is pushing hard to lift a European embargo that is preventing the provision of arms to rebels fighting to topple Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad:

“In the most emphatic sign yet that Paris intends to get weapons and ammunition flowing to anti-Assad fighters, French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius said March 14 that if the E.U. and other international partners fail to heed that call, France may act on its own to bolster rebel fighting capacity.
‘The position we’ve taken, with [President] François Hollande, is to demand a lifting the arms embargo… [as] one of the only ways to get the situation moving politically,’ Fabius told France Info radio Thursday morning. Asked what France would do if its partners refused that request, Fabius indicated Paris would act unilaterally, reminding listeners that ‘France is a sovereign nation’.”

Outsourced borders
Jeune Afrique reports that Médecins Sans Frontières has alleged the European Union bears much of the responsibility for the grim conditions migrants endure in Morocco, where it is shutting its operations:

“ ‘In the last 10 years, Brussels has toughened its border controls and externalized its migration policy more and more. From a transit country, Morocco has also become a destination country by default,’ [the MSF report said]. As a result, a large number of undocumented migrants from south of the Sahara, 20,000 to 25,000 according to local organizations, are now waiting in Morocco for a hypothetical journey to European soil via Spain. According to MSF, their vulnerability increases with the length of their stay.” [Translated from the French.]

Chemical contamination
Reuters reports that oil giant Shell and chemical manufacturer BASF have agreed to pay hundreds of millions in compensation to former workers in Brazil for exposure to toxic substances:

“Brazil’s public labor prosecution service said 60 people were killed from prolonged exposure to chemicals used to make pesticides at the plant. The factory began operating in the 1970s in Paulinia in Sao Paulo state until government authorities ordered it to shut down in 2002.

Gislaine Rossetti, a spokeswoman at BASF, told Reuters the companies would not disclose the proportion of the total compensation each would pay. Shell would be solely responsible for reparations linked to soil pollution, she said.”

Gold on hold
Reuters also reports that a shipment from a mine owned by Canada’s two biggest gold mining companies is being detained in the Dominican Republic whose president recently demanded a renegotiation of the mine’s operating contract:

“Fernando Fernandez, director of customs in the Dominican Republic, said the shipment was halted because of a problem with documentation.
‘When it is resolved, the shipment will go out,’ he told reporters.
Pueblo Viejo, one of world’s largest new gold projects, is jointly owned by Barrick and Canada’s second largest gold miner, Goldcorp Inc.
On Feb. 27, in a speech marking the 169th anniversary of the Dominican Republic’s independence, Mr. Medina said the terms of the contract with the two Canadian miners were unacceptable and demanded more benefits from the mine. The contract was negotiated before Mr. Medina took office last August.”

Silent torture
A UN torture expert has called for an investigation into the use of solitary confinement in the Americas:

“ ‘Despite the fact that many examples show that the region of the Americas is not an exception to the global trend of abuses in the use of solitary confinement, I am concerned about the general lack of official information and statistics on the use of solitary confinement,’ Mr. Méndez said, recalling the harmful effects of this widespread practice he comprehensively documented in his 2011 global report to the UN General Assembly (see below).
‘The use of solitary confinement can only be accepted under exceptional circumstances, and should only be applied as a last resort measure in which its length must be as short as possible, it should be duly communicated and it should offer minimum due process guarantees when it is used as a disciplinary sanction,’ the Special Rapporteur said.

He called for the absolute prohibition of solitary confinement on juveniles and persons with mental disabilities and for an equally absolute prohibition on indefinite or prolonged solitary confinement. For purposes of defining what constitutes prolonged solitary confinement, he suggested the benchmark of any term exceeding 15 days.”

Global pillage
Oxfam’s Ben Phillips is happy to report that the issue of land grabs – or “pillage” (on a “truly staggering” scale) as he calls it – has arrived on the agenda of the upcoming G8 meeting:

“Every six days land the size of London is bought and sold – often by people who have never even visited it, sometimes in an online click-and-buy. Some of those who take over the land will grow crops – often for biofuels rather than for food and, when for food, often for export rather than for locals. Others just put up a fence and wait for the price of the land to go up while around them people go hungry.”

Diplomatic anachronism
A Los Angeles Times editorial argues that the US should stop maintaining Cuba on its list of terrorist-sponsoring countries simply because “it disagrees with the United States’ approach to fighting international terrorism, not because it supports terrorism”:

“None of the reasons that landed Cuba on the list in 1982 still exist. A 2012 report by the State Department found that Havana no longer provides weapons or paramilitary training to Marxist rebels in Latin America or Africa. In fact, Cuba is currently hosting peace talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and President Juan Manuel Santos’ government. And Cuban officials condemned the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

Clinging to that designation when the evidence for it has passed fails to recognize Cuba’s progress and reinforces doubts about America’s willingness to play fair in the region.”