It's every diplomat's worst nightmare: being summoned back to the mother country after getting trounced in a supermarket slapfest. But that's exactly what happened, at least temporarily, to Rodrigo Riofrío, Ecuador's ambassador to Peru, who on April 21 in Lima was caught on a supermarket video camera swatting a number of women with a rolled-up magazine as they slapped and yanked his hair.
Riofrío appears to have fallen into an argument with the women in the checkout line, where he allegedly struck and insulted them with racist slurs. (The YouTube video below shows the ambassador getting some pretty impressive extension as he goes on the offensive.)
Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the story, however, is that Ecuador is standing behind its diplomat. Despite being temporarily recalled, Riofrío will apparently remain at his post. According to a statement issued by Ecuador's Foreign Ministry, there is no reason to replace the ambassador: "If this happened, it would set a terrible precedent that would involve punishing someone who, as in this case, is the victim of an assault." That's right, Ecuador is claiming that Riofrío was the victim of an assault (the AP is reporting that the women involved in the clash were a mother and daughter, and that the daughter slapped Riofrío's wife first in reaction to an insult before the ambassador turned on them).
Even Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, has weighed in on the fiasco, saying that the video clearly shows that the women were the aggressors. One of the women was "very young," according to Correa. "And you know, the ambassador is no longer a young man."
Peru's minister for women, Ana Jara Velásquez, isn't buying it, however: "There is no single argument that justifies violence against women," she fired back on Twitter.
No existe argumento alguno q' justifique actos de violencia y menos contra la mujer! Confío en las acciones q' adoptará nuestra Cancillería.— Ana Jara Velásquez (@anajarav) May 2, 2013
Perhaps this kerfuffle has yet to run its course.
The following is a guest post from Leon Aron, director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.
Suddenly there is a tiny bright spot on the decidedly bleak social canvass of Vladimir Putin's Russia. For the first time in history, the Russians will be able to turn right on red.
To be sure, after a year and half of discussions, it is still an "experiment," confined to only a few intersections in Moscow and the southwestern city of Belgorod. Yet amid Putinism's increasingly rigid dichotomies and the state's relentless strangulation and subversion of independent civil society institutions, first and foremost NGOs, the government ceding at least one iota of decision-making to its citizens by leaving it up to them to interpret the law and make their own choices is something to cheer.
Besides, one of the Moscow intersections at which the experiment is taking place is Andropov Prospekt, named after the Soviet Union's longest-serving KBG chief and general secretary from 1982 to 1984.
Go right on red, Russia! Go right on red!
The Egyptian government is promoting a new blog showcasing the work of the Egyptian Foreign Policy Forum, a state-sponsored think tank. But the target audience isn't just Egyptians -- the first few posts indicate that officials are looking for an audience abroad as much as at home.
That's because almost all of the articles are translated into English. They include big-picture think pieces with titles like "Egyptian Foreign Policy, a New Vision," and more specific policy outlines like "Egypt and Russia, Horizons of Cooperation." What's more: They're translated verbatim.
Maybe that shouldn't be a surprise. But over the past year, Egyptian officials have made a habit of saying one thing in English and something very different to their constituents in Arabic. There was the Twitter sparring last September, when the Muslim Brotherhood's English-language feed tweeted after the protests on Sept. 11, "We r relieved none of @USEmbassyCairo staff were hamed & hope US-Eg relations will sustain turbulence of Tuesday's events," while praising the protests, which breached the embassy compound, in Arabic. "Thanks. By the way, have you checked out your own Arabic feeds? I hope you know we read those too," the U.S. Embassy account shot back (the tweet was later deleted). More recently, there was the Brotherhood's consolatory message to the U.S. government in the wake of the Boston marathon bombing, and, in stark contrast, a bizarre, conspiracy-laden rant posted to Facebook in Arabic.
The blog's sole Arabic-only posts so far are on Egyptian-Sudanese and Egyptian-Libyan relations, and they don't delve into anything scandalous -- both are pretty bland discussions of border economic zones and, in the case of Sudan, water-sharing rights.
There are a couple interesting tidbits tucked away in the English articles. Specifically, "A New Vision" states Egypt's intention to achieve a position of "regional leadership and special international status," including "a permanent seat in the UN Security Council." (Egypt's been swinging for the fences lately -- in March, it proposed joining the BRICS as well.) In "Egypt and Russia," the Egyptian administration expresses its interest in "achieving balance, independence, and political influence in foreign relations," breaking free of "the shackles of subordination and occupation." "This can be realized through the development of relations with different countries across the globe including Russia," the policy paper states.
All in all, it's not that provocative (though maybe a bit grandiose). But is it sincere? There's no reason to think these bland policy pronouncements aren't expressed in good faith -- but they're just a few more data points amid Egypt's many mixed messages.
ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images
As Barack Obama arrives in Mexico for the first visit of his second term in office, talk has inevitably turned to the United States' floundering war on drugs in Latin America. And as efforts are made to scrutinize what the United States and Mexico are doing wrong, it's worth looking at where things are going right. In recent years, one unlikely victor has emerged in the global war on drugs: Iran.
It's a favorite topic for Iran's state-run news outlets. The Islamic Republic has been lauded by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime for having "one of the world's strongest counter-narcotics responses." While the country continues to have one of the highest rates of opium addiction, Iranian security forces seize a larger volume of heroine and opiates than any other country, according to a 2012 U.N. report.
In October, Italy's U.N. representative Antonino de Leo said the praise is warranted. He even drew a direct comparison to Latin America's war on drugs when he told the New York Times that Iran's success is all the more impressive because "[t]hese men are fighting their version of the Colombian war on drugs, but they are not funded with billions of U.S. dollars and are battling against drugs coming from another country."
Iran has also cooperated with the U.N., dispatching thousands of police officers to tightly patrol the border with Afghanistan and devoting vast resources to the problem of addiction inside the country. In an April article for Foreign Affairs entitled "How Iran Won the War on Drugs," Amir A. Afkhami discussed how a recent turn to preventative methods has vastly improved Iran's drug addiction problem, noting that by the year 2002, "over 50 percent of the country's drug-control budget was dedicated to preventive public health campaigns, such as advertisement and education."
Iran's latest effort to curtail drug trafficking came as recently as Wednesday, when the government signed a memorandum of understanding with Armenia on a counternarcotics campaign. "Iran, located at the crossroad of international drug smuggling from Afghanistan to Europe leads international efforts in fighting drug networks and narcotic traffickers," the country's Fars News Agency boasted in its report on the bilateral agreement.
But Iran's victory has come at a steep price. According to Human Rights Watch, the past few years have seen a dramatic increase in drug-related executions in the Islamic Republic. In 2011 alone, 81 percent of the country's over 600 executions were due to drug-related offenses, including the use of narcotics.
For this reason, Faraz Sanei of Human Rights Watch warned in a 2011 Guardian op-ed that we should be careful about crowning Iran a victor in the global effort to combat trafficking:
In praising Iran's "strong" anti-narcotics response, [U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime Executive Director Yuri] Fedotov focused on Iran's seemingly effective supply-and-demand reduction programmes, including innovative treatment and rehabilitation measures for more than 150,000 people in communities and prisons.
Yet he said nothing, publicly at least, about the other human tragedy that is unfolding – the dozens of prisoners Iran has hanged and unceremoniously buried following flawed trials, or the hundreds of others who await a similar fate. The silence is especially puzzling since the UN agency opposes the death penalty for drug-related offences.
If this is what victory in the war on drugs looks like, it makes you wonder whether it's a battle that can ever be truly won.
On Thursday, North Korea sentenced U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae to 15 years of hard labor for committing "hostile acts" against the government. The severe punishment raises a pertinent question: What's it like to do "hard labor" in one of the world's most repressive countries?
The answer, based on testimonies of former captives, ranges from slight discomfort to nightmarish torture, so it's unclear what may become of the North's latest detainee. Bae, who ran a China-based tourism business, was apprehended in northeastern North Korea after taking a group of businessmen to the region from China in November. When considering how he may be treated, let's start with the best-case scenario.
About four years ago, two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, found themselves in a similar predicament. They had slipped across the North Korean border from China and were sentenced to 12 years hard labor for committing "hostile acts."
Despite the punishment, they never spent a second in a labor camp for the five months of their captivity and were treated fairly gently despite a violent confrontation that occurred when they were first apprehended. "I was never sent to one of the notorious labor camps," Current TV reporter Laura Ling told CBS News. "I was in a room that had a bed and a bathroom and an adjoining room that had two female guards."
Fortunately for Ling, her sister Lisa Ling was a quasi-famous U.S. journalist, and her employer, Current TV, was partially owned by former Vice President Al Gore, who was able to get his old boss Bill Clinton to fly to the country and free them.
Others have been less fortunate. According to a Newsweek story by New York Times reporter Ravi Somaiya, an American named Aijalon Mahli Gomes was imprisoned in a "brutal labor camp" in 2010 and "tried to commit suicide" due to the poor conditions. "Swedish diplomats, acting on behalf of the U.S.-which has no diplomatic relations with North Korea-are aware of his condition," reported Somaiya. Aijalon's release was eventually secured by former President Jimmy Carter. Another American, Robert Park of Los Angeles, saw the inside of a labor camp that same year after he crossed the Chinese-North Korean border via the frozen Tumen River. He was only held for six weeks, but when he returned to the United States he was institutionalized "resulting from severe sexual abuse he was subjected to in jail," according to Somaiya.
We know more about the treatment of Korean political prisoners. A 2009 Korean Bar Association report based on testimony from survivors and former guards detailed the daily misery of the 200,000-some political prisoners estimated to be inside the country's labor camps.
"Eating a diet of mostly corn and salt, they lose their teeth, their gums turn black, their bones weaken and, as they age, they hunch over at the waist," read the report, according to the Washington Post. "Most work 12- to 15-hour days until they die of malnutrition-related illnesses, usually around the age of 50. Allowed just one set of clothes, they live and die in rags, without soap, socks, underclothes or sanitary napkins."
In its 2012 annual report, Amnesty International gives a similarly horrific depiction. "The combination of hazardous forced labor, inadequate food, beatings, totally inadequate medical care and unhygienic living conditions, resulted in prisoners falling ill, and a large number died in custody or soon after release," said the group. "We received 120 grams of rotten corn for daily food," said one former prisoner. "So many people with the same year and a half sentence as me didn't survive their term and died of hunger."
Needless to say, let's hope Bae's treatment is similar to Ling's, not your everyday North Korean political prisoner's.
As Barack Obama heads to Mexico, U.S. involvement in Mexico's battle against drug cartels is getting a lot of press. But it's worth noting that Mexico's notorious narcotics trade isn't just Mexico's problem anymore. And Obama should be well aware of that, considering that this past February Chicago declared Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán its first "Public Enemy No. 1" since Al Capone. "While Chicago is 1,500 miles from Mexico, the Sinaloa drug cartel is so deeply embedded in the city that local and federal law enforcement are forced to operate as if they are on the border," Jack Riley, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Chicago office, told CNN.
The infiltration of the Windy City shows the extent to which Mexican drug syndicates have made inroads in the United States -- the Associated Press and others have reported that cartel cells are operating in Atlanta, Ga., Louisville, Ky., Columbus, Ohio, and rural North Carolina. In fact, according to an excellent National Post infographic based on data from a U.S. Justice Department report and other sources, it's much easier to list states that don't have a drug trade tied to Mexican gangs. There are only twelve that haven't reported the presence of one of four Mexican cartels since 2008: Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The Mexican drug trade is everywhere else.
Detected cartel operations range from traditional drug-running to using a horse ranch as a front for laundering drug money, as one group did in Oklahoma. The Sinaloa cartel, which has emerged as Mexico's dominant syndicate, has carved out new territory in the United States by controlling 80 percent of its meth trade (Mexican cartels have come to dominate the U.S. market by aggressively bumping up the purity of their meth while dropping the price per gram).
All told, Mexican cartels reside in 1,200 American communities as of 2011, up from 230 in 2008, according to the Associated Press. Below is a map that shows just how many states have been penetrated, according to the National Post's special report on the topic.
View Cartel Penetration in the US in a larger map
First the United Nations, now Google. On Thursday, the Palestine News Network noticed that the Internet giant had changed the tagline for the Palestinian edition of its search engine, Google.ps, from the "Palestinian Territories" to "Palestine." The decision comes after a November vote by the U.N. General Assembly to recognize Palestine as a non-member state over the objections of Israel and the United States.
Here's how Google.ps looked earlier this year, according to the Wayback Machine Internet archive. The gray words in Arabic below the word "Google" say, "Palestinian Territories."
And here's how the same page looks today, with the word "Palestine" instead:
The change is obviously a minor one, but within the context of the fraught politics of the Middle East, Google's decision could be interpreted as a victory for advocates of Palestinian statehood who supported Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's recent decision to circumvent the long-stalled, U.S.-supported peace process with Israel.
This isn't the first time Google has found itself at the center of a geopolitical dispute. In 2010, for instance, a Nicaraguan commander cited a border demarcation on Google Maps to justify a raid on a disputed area along his country's border with Costa Rica. And in China, Google has been locked in a long-running dispute with the government over censorship and what materials to make available on its search engine.
As for the company's latest foray into international relations, something tells me it won't be enough to jumpstart the moribund peace process.
The documentary promising to set the record straight on the mission to kill Osama bin Laden finally aired on Wednesday night, but the identity of the fabled female CIA officer at the center of the manhunt remains elusive.
The documentary Manhunt, which debuted on HBO, makes the oft-cited argument that the "Maya" character, played by Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty, is merely an amalgamation of multiple real-life CIA officers. While most insiders agree that Maya is a composite character, they also contend that one woman in particular most embodies Maya's identity as depicted in the movie.
To refute this position is to ignore the preponderance of first-person accounts and deeply reported articles on the subject since the May 2011 raid. For example, the Navy SEALs who've spoken out about their experience during the raid all describe a singular headstrong female CIA agent. In Matt Bissonette's No Easy Day, the CIA analyst depicted fits the exact mold of Maya, who loudly proclaimed in Zero Dark Thirty that she was "100 percent" certain of bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad and worked intimately with SEAL Team 6.
"The CIA analyst who was the main force behind tracking the target to Abbottabad said she was one hundred percent certain he was there," wrote Bissonnette. "She had been our go-to analyst on all intelligence questions regarding the target."
Bissonnette's fellow SEAL Team 6 member, the so-called "Shooter," also corroborated Zero Dark Thirty's account of Maya in his 2013 interview with Esquire. While quibbling about a number of innaccuracies in the movie, he praised the depiction of Maya.
The portrayal of the chief CIA human bloodhound, "Maya," based on a real woman whose iron-willed assurance about the compound and its residents moved a government to action, was "awesome" says the Shooter. "They made her a tough woman, which she is."
And then there's the Washington Post's Greg Miller, one of the best-sourced CIA reporters in Washington, who didn't hedge at all regarding the singularity of the Maya character, reporting in December that Maya is a 30-something CIA agent with a distinctive dose of moxie:
The female officer, who is in her 30s, is the model for the main character in "Zero Dark Thirty,"a film that chronicles the decade-long hunt for the al-Qaeda chief....
Colleagues said the on-screen depiction captures the woman's dedication and combative temperament.
"She's not Miss Congeniality, but that's not going to find Osama bin Laden," said a former CIA associate, who added that the attention from filmmakers sent waves of envy through the agency's ranks.
Miller's reporting even delved into the CIA officer's post-bin Laden work life:
She has sparred with CIA colleagues over credit for the bin Laden mission. After being given a prestigious award for her work, she sent an e-mail to dozens of other recipients saying they didn't deserve to share her accolades, current and former officials said.
The woman has also come under scrutiny for her contacts with filmmakers and others about the bin Laden mission, part of a broader internal inquiry into the agency's cooperation on the new movie and other projects, former officials said.
The CIA agent's continued anonymity is not for lack of trying on the part of the media. Just this week, reporter Marc Ambinder speculated that Maya is a cross between former CIA analyst Nada Bakos (right) and a "second-generation American" who was assigned to the manhunt after 2004. "Bakos looks strikingly like Jessica Chastain's ‘Maya,'" wrote Ambinder. "And Bakos was responsible ... for ferreting out several promising leads."
But when contacted by Foreign Policy, Bakos rejected Ambinder's speculation. "I have never met Bigelow or Boal," she said, referencing reports that Maya met with Zero Dark Thirty director Mark Boal. "I also left the Agency before the Abbottabad raid."
In all likelihood, the composite of Maya is probably split up into two phases. The first phase involved multiple female officers who pursued bin Laden in the aftermath of 9/11. Cindy Storer, a CIA officer, suggested this to the Daily Beast in January. "The fact of the matter is that one person is not around that long, doing that much," she noted. The second phase may have involved just one CIA officer during a much more recent stretch of time prior to the 2011 raid. That would do much to explain why the SEAL Team 6 members and Greg Miller all have one particular female agent in mind. Of course, we'll never know for sure -- until "Maya" tells her story once and for all.
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