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Nelson Mandela is no saint

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I know it's the man's 89th birthday, and he did lead the fight against the crimes of apartheid, but I can't resist pointing out that the halo around former South African President Nelson Mandela ignores his shoddy record on many aspects of governance, and especially HIV/AIDS.

A recent article (free registration required) in the Lancet by Dr. Paul Zeitz, head of the Global AIDS Alliance, lays out the damning history. Although then-Vice President Thabo Mbeki (for years, an AIDS denialist) deserves most of the direct blame for South Africa's 1990s AIDS disaster, it was Mandela who was ultimately in charge at the time. In 1996, his government spent 20 percent of its annual AIDS budget on "a contract for a theatre company to produce a show with questionable public-health messages," according to Zeitz. Following that error in judgment, Mbeki pushed Virodene, an AIDS medicine produced in Africa, through the government's approval process. Virodene was later deemed to be "unfit for human consumption."

When Mandela turned over the reigns to Mbeki in 1999, 11.7 percent of South Africa's adults had HIV/AIDS. Mandela has since expressed his regret over his government's failure to grapple with this problem, and that's welcome. His own son even died of AIDS in 2005, and the elder Mandela has become a fervent advocate for AIDS causes. So what's the issue? Well, as noted in this morning's Brief, Mandela is setting himself up, along with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, as one of the world's wise men. Backed by Richard Branson's millions, Mandela's "Elders" will rain down rhetorical thunderbolts from their Olympean heights in order to highlight the world's ignored causes. But let's not forget that when he had real power to do something, it was Mandela himself who did the ignoring.

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Morning Brief, Wednesday, July 18

Americas

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The consensus of U.S. intelligence agencies, as expressed in the unclassified summary of a carefully worded National Intelligence Estimate (pdf) released Tuesday, is that the threat of terrorism against the U.S. homeland is growing and al Qaeda is using Iraq as a recruiting tool. The NIE singles out Pakistan for not doing enough to crack down on the terrorist organization. But as FP contributor Daniel Byman observes to the New York Times, the NIE might as well have been called "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." after the alarming but ultimately unhelpful August 6, 2001 presidential brief.

The Washington Post has more details about the energy executives who met with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's famously secretive energy task force.

Nearly 200 people have likely died in a fiery plane crash in Brazil.

Middle East 

Libya's High Judicial Council commuted the death sentences of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor, but their ordeal is not yet over.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he will call for new elections soon. 

Meanwhile, the violence continues in Iraq. 

Europe

Ségolène Royal's campaign spokesman is defecting to team Sarkozy, one of several top Socialists to join the French president's camp. And France escalated its showdown with the European Central Bank over interest rates.

A British parliamentary commission is recommending the suspension of George Galloway, a prominent opponent of the Iraq War who may well have taken oil-for-food payments under the table. 

Liberal Turks will likely vote for religious politicians in large numbers during Sunday's parliamentary elections

Asia

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf says there is no need to declare a state of emergency in response to a recent spate of terrorist bombings. 

India's first female president won't be welcomed with open arms. 

China's air pollution will cause some 20 million people to develop respiratory diseases each year, the OECD estimates. 

Elsewhere 

The subprime mortgage crisis is spreading, and it's affecting the dollar and the U.S. stock market. 

This huge, underground lake just might save Darfur.

Do we need a space colony on Mars?

Today's Agenda

  • Nelson Mandela turns 89, and he's celebrating by launching a group of geriatric world leaders bankrolled by Richard Branson.
  • Russia is hosting four nations for military exercises near the Kazakhstan border.

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