President Bush likes to say that when the oppressed peoples of the world stand up for their inalienable rights, America will stand with them.
We are the nation that saved liberty in Europe, and liberated death camps, and helped raise up democracies, and faced down an evil empire. Once again, we accept the call of history to deliver the oppressed and move this world toward peace." -- State of the Union Address, 2006
Tell Wenyi Wang that. She's the medical doctor and woman who stood up to China's Communist leader, Hu Jintao, on the South Lawn of the White House yesterday. But rather than stand with her, Mr. Bush's first order of business was to beg Hu's forgiveness.
Andrei Illarionov is a man on a mission. Since resigning his post as Putin's top economic advisor last December, citing his belief that Russia is "no longer a free country," Illarionov has been working hard to get the international community to isolate Putin. And now he's calling on the leaders of the G8 (or in this case, the G7) to boycott their July meeting in St. Petersburg.
In an op-ed in today's Financial Times (subscription required), Illarionov argues that Russia fails to qualify for G8 membership on a number of counts: high inflation, low incomes, endemic corruption, and political repression. But it isn't just economic trends or measures of freedom. It's Russia's whole approach to the rest of the world that sets them apart, according to Illarionov.
Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to place nearly as high a premium on, say, the cultivation of a free and feisty press in these countries, holding politicians to account, or protecting journalists who attempt to do so. The network has even been rubber-stamped by the information ministers of most of the member states, which include Iran, Syria, and Cuba.
In fact, one of the prominently featured stories on the new Web site is a short article titled "Cubans Live Longest in Latin America." That's great news! And that's probably even taking into account those Cubans whose lives are cut short trying to escape.
There hasn't been much written about this endeavor, save for a short blurb in the IHT and a few wire items. It would be great to see a solid force for press freedom and free speech in some of these countries. Western media outlets certainly don't devote enough time to the delicate problems of the developing world. But this isn't it.
In Al Kamen's column yesterday and in an editorial today, the Washington Post has done it's part to correct the staggering lack of coverage of Condi's meeting with repressive dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea last week, which I posted about on Saturday. Kamen notes that ahead of the meeting with Obiang last week, "reporters were told there would be no remarks -- thus no reason to stake out -- [the] meeting..." Today's editorial proceeded with:
The meeting with Mr. Obiang was presumably a reward for his hospitable treatment of U.S. oil firms, though we cannot be sure since the State Department declined our invitation to comment. But Ms. Rice herself argues that U.S. foreign policy spent too long coddling corruption and autocracy in Arab oil states. Surely she doesn't have a different standard for Africa?
I'm not naive enough to think that the administration rhetoric on freedom applies to all countries. But still, look who Secretary Rice hosted this week.
SECRETARY RICE: Good morning. Welcome. I'm very pleased to welcome the President of Equatorial Guinea, President Obiang.[...]
PRESIDENT OBIANG: (Via interpreter) I thank you so much. We have extremely good relations with the United States. Our country has had good relations with the United States for a very long time and my visit here is simply in order to consolidate and also to establish further ties of cooperation with your country.[...]
Equatorial Guinea's country's state-run radio called Obiang "God" in 2003. The 2005 State Department report on the country says: "The government's human rights record remained poor, and the government continued to commit or condone serious abuses." Obiang came in at number 10 on this year's Parade list of the world's 10 worst dictators:
According to a United Nations inspector, torture “is the normal means of investigation” in Equatorial Guinea. There is no freedom of speech, and there are no bookstores or newsstands. The one private radio station is owned by Obiang’s son. Since major oil reserves were discovered in Equatorial Guinea in 1995, Obiang has deposited more than $700 million into special accounts in U.S. banks.
But then again, the State Department's background note on Equatorial Guinea probably explains why we're not bothering to fuss about Obiang's human rights record:
Equatorial Guinea is now the third largest producer of crude oil in sub-Saharan Africa, after Nigeria and Angola. Equatorial Guinea's oil reserves are located mainly in the hydrocarbon-rich Gulf of Guinea, containing estimated probable reserves as high as 10% of the world total. As a result, large amounts of foreign investment primarily by U.S. companies have poured into the country's oil sector in recent years.
Hey, we've gotta fill our tanks with gas from somewhere.
My best news Googling effort has produced only one mention of this obvious dissonance this week -- by David Koehler of the PhillyBurbs.com Blogs. Mother Jones has two pieces to provide more background: this profile by Peter Maass and a piece by Dave Gilson on Obiang's role in the Riggs Bank scandal.
DOHA, QATAR—At a meeting of several democracy experts here in the Middle East, one might expect a degree of optimism around recent events. After all, the past few years have seen Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon following massive public protests, as well as limited elections in the Palestinian Territories, Egypt, and Iraq. Even if the results haven’t always pleased Western governments, most NGOs that rate elections as free or not, including Freedom House, have found marked recent improvements in democratic measures.
Not so fast. At a session here at the Doha Forum on Development, Democracy, and Free Trade, democracy experts painted a gloomier picture of democratic advances in the Middle East.
Despite public statements after the Abu Ghraib scandal indicating that the United States would reduce the Iraqi prison population, the Brookings Iraq Index released this week shows it has more than doubled since June 2004 (pdf report, see p. 17). There are now around 15,000 Iraqi prisoners held by U.S. and Allied forces, in addition to those held by the local authorities. Compare that to the estimated size of the insurgency, between 15,000 and 20,000, and that gives an indication of how wide the net has been cast.
ASEAN's special envoy got back from Burma this week. It was basically a pointless excercise -- the junta didn't let him see Aung San Suu Kyi. Today, the French section of Doctors Without Borders decided to leave Burma: "MSF has left because of unacceptable conditions imposed by the authorities on how to provide relief to people living in war-affected areas." By dissident accounts, things are bad.
So things are not looking up for Burma. Not exactly a newsflash, but bear with me here, I have a point: It's now clear that Burma's future depends on India and China, not Washington.
China is Burma's patron. It's big brother if you will. India -- which supported the democracy movement there for a long time -- has embraced the regime in the hope that it can wean it off of Beijing's funding and get some fossil fuels out of it too. Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam just had a dandy time in Burma's new capital earlier this month and signed a natural gas deal while he was there. China signed one with Burma last year.
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