It's not clear what Hillary Clinton was aiming for exactly last Friday, when she warned Latin American countries "that if people want to flirt with Iran, they should take a look at what the consequences might well be for them." If she expected South American leaders to suddenly about-face, she got it really really wrong.
Clinton carefully avoided mentioning Brazil when she listed countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia accepting Iranian overtures. Given Brazilian President Lula's recent high-profile meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it's hard to believe they weren't being alluded to. The only response has been from Lula's special advisor for international affairs, Marco Aurélio Garcia, who said "It was not a message for Brazil. If it was, it was the wrong message."
But actions speak louder than words, Clinton's assistant secretary for western hemisphere affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, is in Brazil now, and has not been granted a meeting with Lula or his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Celso Amorim. He is pictured above meeting with Garcia instead.
The ham-handed "warning," combines with regional anger at the US accepting (with weak caveats) the results of the Honduran election -- Brazil and other Latin American leaders are still saying Zelaya must be reinstated -- and ill-will towards the American bases in Colombia.
In the context of Honduras, Clinton's pedantic explanation of democracy in her speech --
we do worry about leaders who get elected and get elected fairly and freely and legitimately, but then, upon being elected, begin to undermine the constitutional and democratic order, the private sector, the rights of people to be free from harassment, depression, to be able to participate fully in their societies"
-- is offensive, and does nothing to reverse the feeling that the U.S. only notices the region as its backyard. Not a great way to woo allies.
In that vein, Valenzuela is scheduled to be similarly rebuffed when he goes to Argentina tomorrow. While as a victim of Iranian sponsored terrorism the country won't be bonding with Ahmadinejad, the administration seems annoyed at Washington's stance in the region, and officials are whispering to the press that Obama has not lived up to the change he promised.
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Ireland is cautious when it comes to defending its stance against abortion. Voters approved the Lisbon treaty on EU integration earlier this year only after stringent guarantees from other EU countries that EU law would not force Ireland to relinquish its ban on the procedure, which was backed by a 1983 referendum.
So, after all that, it's ironic that the challenge to its constitutionally enshrined "right to life of the unborn" is instead coming in the form of a human rights case before a different European body: the 47-member Council of Europe. The case could have continent-wide implications, if the European Court of Human Rights rules in favor of the three women bringing the case, establishing some protection of abortions sought on medical grounds.
As a signatory of the European Human Rights Convention, Ireland would have to change its laws if the court finds in favor of the women -- identified as A, B and C in the court documents. Abortion is currently permitted only in cases of significant risk to the mother, but the women's lawyer argued today that even in those cases abortion is effectively out of reach due to doctor's fear or unwillingness to risk falling afoul the narrow parameters allowed.
The court's ruling, expected in a few months, might have implications for other EU countries, such as Poland and Malta, which have very restrictive abortion laws. Two years ago, the same court found in favor of a Polish woman denied an abortion despite medical recognition that the pregnancy endangered her eyesight, forcing the government to pay her compensation and provide a legal framework for access to lawful, medical need abortions.
New reports of 11,000 people killed by Brazilian police over the past six years are perhaps one indication that violence in the super-star Amazon country has gotten a wee bit out of hand.
Never fear, there is a long term solution already under consideration: prohibit "offensive" video games, with the option to punish their distribution with jailtime. In all honesty, Brazilian Senator Valdir Raupp probably did not have human rights violations in mind when he proposed the bill, which was recently approved by Senate's Education Committee. It follows on the ban last year on violent computer role-playing games "Counter-Strike" and "EverQuest," and Venezuela and China's bans on warlike and mobster-glorifying games respectively.
CNET's Dave Rosenberg has lambasted Brazil's move, suggesting they deal with "larger social issues, including lack of parental oversight," instead. They praise the US system of industry self-regulation, which relies on ratings to isolate children from violent games.
The Brazilian law is probably overkill, but lets not get all starry eyed about the glories of free-market entertainment violence. Did nobody notice a few years back when U.S. generals begged Hollywood producers to stop showing torture in a favorable light, since troops were getting inspiration on prisoner treatment from 24?
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Research published in the British Medical Journal says there is no public evidence that Tamiflu reduces complications associated with influenza. Researchers attempting to review data about the Roche produced drug -- dubbed "our best line of defence" against swine flu by the British health secretary -- found the Swiss laboratory wouldn't permit public access to the studies on the drugs.
Tamiflu might shorten influenza suffering by a day or so they said, based on information in the public domain, but it's not clear that chances of serious complications, like pneumonia, would be affected by Tamiflu. Such meager results mean it might not be worth confronting the side-effects, which include: "insomnia, nausea, bad dreams, abdominal pain, headache and a rare neuropsychiatric disease that caused some users to attempt to harm themselves."
This is understandably a problem for the governments around the world who have stockpiled huge quantities of the drug to prescribe for H1N1, contributing to Roche's estimated $2.65 billion in revenues this year from Tamiflu. In a very entertaining, but not too enlightening analogy, a Brit scientist tried to explain the situation policy makers now find themselves in when deciding to use the drug:
But I suppose that once you've gone and bought lots of doses, then it's a bit like the situation with gun control in the US. If you have a gun in the house, it is much easier to use it. But it does not mean it's the right thing to do."
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The brunt of yesterday's hearing in the House committee about lifting the U.S. travel ban on Cuba came down the following: will allowing American visitors spread word of democracy, or will tourist dollars will just prop up the Castro regime? That is the wrong question according to a a Human Rights Watch report out this week, which documents how the Cuban government uses Orwellian laws to silence dissent and has become more abusive in recent years.
Other governments must also revise their stance towards Cuba with the aim of fomenting human rights, said the report.
Not only have all of these policies -- US, European, Canadian, and Latin American -- failed individually to improve human rights in Cuba, but their divided and even contradictory nature has allowed the Cuban government to evade effective pressure and deflect criticism of its practices."
The report lambasts the United States for allowing Cuba to play David to its Goliath, but it also critiques the ineffective Candian and European policies, and the pedestal/blind eye attitude of Latin American countries, whose silence:
[C]ondones Cuba's abusive behavior, and perpetuates a climate of impunity that allows repression to continue. This is particularly troubling coming from a region in which many countries have learned firsthand the high cost of international indifference to state-sponsored repression."
The ambivalence and outright support for Castro coming from Latin America speaks to the curious distinction people in the region often make between undemocratic regimes of the right and those of the left: those who support the coup in Honduras are the same ones who scream about Castro, whereas those who tolerate Castro are apoplectic about Honduras.
The idea then, as a European Union official said earlier this month, should not be regime change, but rather human rights. Jorge Castañeda, former Mexican foreign minister, urges a similar policy, calling on the U.S., Europe and Canada to work together. In short: the United States must back down and lift the embargo not only to help Cubans directly, but also to uncouple support of human rights from regime change, thus enabling the strong multilateral approach called for by Human Rights Watch.
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I just participated in a telephone conference call held by the Council on Foreign Relations, explaining why the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, suspected Sept. 11 mastermind, in a federal court is a good plan in terms of national security and public relations.
John B. Bellinger III, a Council on Foreign Relations fellow and former Bush administration advisor, downplayed security concerns, and instead emphasized the importance of a fair trial, best served by a civilian setting.
Bellinger also stressed that he does not think the debate between using federal courts versus military commissions is one that can be answered -- and that the government should go on a case-by-case basis. "As with everything in the detainee debate, people tend to make it look like it is black or white," he said.
For K.S.M., against whom there is plenty of evidence (as with Timothy McVeigh and Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman), Bellinger supports the use of the federal justice system. On the other hand, he said it is difficult to imagine anything but military commissions in the case of certain crimes committed abroad and by actors captured by soldiers also off U.S. soil, such as alleged militants "pulled out of caves in Tora Bora."
Steven Simon, also a CFR fellow, argued that while justice might be equally served by both systems, the U.S. will be fostering vital public relations by holding the trial in a federal court. He said trying K.S.M. in New York might have a similar impact as the Nuremburg Trials against the Nazis. "Whether this will have an effect and how big the effect will be remains to be seen. We know that the election of Barack Obama was greeted with some enthusiasm as a sign of change and a break with the past," he said. "The trial of K.S.M. could draw a similar bright line."Janet Hamlin-Pool/Getty Images
Peru is starting to remind me of a character in a Latin American soap opera. A wife who has grown to hate her husband, Chile, after a near divorce (the 19th century war) followed by decades of perceived slights. She sits at home, stewing and seeing infidelities everywhere (accusations that Chile and Bolivia are making a secret deal, that Chile is preparing for war, that Chile is taking parts of the coastline). She frequently confronts him hysterically, and then they fight. This, of course, doesn't mean he isn't cheating.
If it were really a soap, Chile would obviously have planted spies in the Peruvian military, as the latter's government is alleging. The spy was apparently sending information south about an ongoing border dispute case in the International Court of Justice. As of last count, Peruvian officials were talking about six supposed spies, some of whom are already on the lam; Peruvian president Alan Garcia called Chile a tinpot republic; Chilean President Michelle Bachelet responded to these "offensive" and "pompous" statements with cool denials; in the meantime her minister of foreign relations assured Chile that "derogatory accusations" do not affect them.
As if all this weren't enough, as in any soap opera, there are ambiguous minor characters in both countries: the legislators in Chile who accuse Peru of orchestrating a hostile communication strategy, and the original alleged spy, Víctor Ariza, whose mother cries and threatens to cut off her hands.
The madness doesn't go as far as war, the Peruvian authorities are attempting to avoid accusing Bachelet herself of involvement, and most analysts agree trade relations should continue uninterrupted. It's part of what diplomats there call a two strands approach: political relations on one side, trade on the other.
As interesting as it is, the analysis is thin on what is really going on. There are many serious stakes in all this, after all. Can it really be chalked up to the long-standing rivalry between the two countries dating back to the 1883 War of the Pacific?
One article in an Argentine paper questions the timing of the story -- which broke when Garcia and Bachelet were at a summit together -- and points out that it serves as a distracting and unifying issue for Garcia, at a time when he faces unrest and unpopularity at home. His approval ratings are at 26 percent, dropping to 14 percent in many areas of the country.
In the next nail-biting episode: If Peru presents Chile with proof, how will Chile respond?
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It seems the very adorable Asiatic black bears of Kashmir are one group that is pleased by all the conflict there. Authorities estimate that their population has gone from 800 in 1990 to 3,000 now. They (and other endangered species in the area, presumably) are benefiting it seems from lingering fear of violence, which stops poachers and hunters, as well as the dearth of hunting rifles after the Indian authorities confiscated them as an attempt to quell the separatist revolt that started twenty years ago.
So where humans die (47,000 in this case) animals win? Not precisely. It was only a few months ago that press reports worried about the impact the army and paramilitary troops deployed in the area has on endangered species such as the Snow Leopard. And others are talking about a "man-animal conflict" across the region, with some articles talking about 5 deaths and 80 humans injured this year. One bear even joined the human conflict and killed a couple of militants earlier this month. Not that the humans are staying above the fray, as one bear found out when he was burnt to death by a frenzied Kashmir mob in 2006.
It looks like conflict itself is terrible for wildlife, and happens disproportionately in biodiversity hotspots. One study found that 80 percent of the armed conflicts between 1950-2000 took place in these areas important to maintaining plant and animal diversity. Detrimental effects on population and habitat, such as those suffered by the DRC's gorilla population are well known.
The bright side, looking at the Kashmir bear evidence and the Korean DMZ, seems to be that when conflict pauses, the animals benefit as well as the humans.
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