Thursday, May 16, 2013

Assata Shakur and Cuba – U.S. Relations
May 16, 2013

It has been 40 years since Assata Shakur was convicted of gunning down New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973. During the trial, Shakur was found guilty and sentenced to 26-33 years in prison. However, in November 1979, she escaped from the Clinton County Correctional Facility, spending several years underground—eventually receiving political asylum in Cuba in 1984. One would have thought, given the 21st century’s perpetual war on terror, that Shakur’s killing of a police officer had been largely forgotten, but on May 2 it was announced that forty years after her shootout on a New Jersey turnpike, Shakur had been added to the top of the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list. It begs to be asked why her—and why now?

Granted, at the time Shakur sought asylum in Cuba, there was no such thing as the Most Wanted Terrorists list; it was created after the events of 9/11. However, the current head of Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, remains on the list but is curiously ranked 17. Luis Posada Carilles—convicted in absentia in Panama for terrorist attacks throughout the Americas, including bombing an airliner and killing 76 people, is walking around free in the United States. Regarded as a real “Cold Warrior” in many U.S. circles, he is universally considered to be a terrorist in the rest of the hemisphere. The only legal battles Posada has had to face were regarding perjury and remaining in the country without authorization.

Regarding the legitimacy of Shakur’s place on the list, the Christian Science Monitor reported that “Nor is there any evidence that Shakur actually fired the shots that took the life of New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster, said Rutgers University criminal justice professor Lennox Hinds.” It has been well documented via COINTELPRO that during the 1970s the U.S. government undertook violent action against black nationalist groups such as the Black Panther Party in order to "neutralize" them.

Professor Hinds went on to state to Democracy Now that “I think that with the massacre that occurred there, the FBI and the state police are attempting to inflame the public opinion to characterize her as a terrorist, because the acts that she was convicted of have nothing to do with terrorism.” If the meaning of terrorism can be stretched in such a way by the U.S. government to include Shakur but dismiss Posada Carilles—what is one to make of its legitimacy to categorize offenders? One would be hard pressed to find a better double standard defining who counts as a terrorist when it comes to Posada Carilles and Shakur.
It has been speculated that the move was an attempt to pressure Cuba to release Alan Gross, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for delivering communications equipment to opposition groups via USAID’s pro-democracy programs. Cuba has outlawed such “pro-democracy programs” stating that they are subversive and intend to topple the government.

Little else has been said about the meaning behind the FBI moving Shakur to number one on their list. It can be easily assumed that it was done to intimidate and bully Cuba and try to somehow get the world to believe that Cuba is a threat to the United States. It would appear that the world has a strong track record on this issue and will not fall for the bait, as 2012 was the 21st straight year in which an overwhelming majority at the United Nations has called for an end to the embargo. In the minds of the U.S. government, embargos and sanctions are a useful tool to topple dictators and enemies of Washington. The reality is that these policies only end up hurting the civilian populations; it is a flawed idea which seeks to bring about respect for human rights by denying them through the use of an embargo. Yet this message has not sunk in.

On May 1, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell remarked that Washington "has no current plans to remove Cuba" from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. The fact that Cuba is even on the list to begin with is evidence of outdated and irrational Cold War minds. Cuba sits on the list with countries such as Iran, Syria, and Sudan. Is the U.S. posturing trying to suggest that they will resort to another Bay of Pigs invasion in order to get Shakur? Indeed the U.S. went to greater lengths to get long time number one terrorist Osama Bin Laden. Is this an act of militarism or confusion on behalf of the United States?

Whatever the case may be, such posturing reveals how problematic the ongoing U.S. embargo with Cuba is and the ignorance of the U.S. administration for refusing to jump into the 21st century. The United States has normalized relations with the countries of the former Soviet Union, China, Japan—and even treats North Korea and their ongoing nuclear antics in a more respectable manner than it does Cuba. Since the Cuban missile crisis, Cuba has never threatened the United States, but the reverse cannot be said. Those arguing that the U.S. government is pursuing the embargo on Cuba in the name of freedom need a reality check. It has never been about freedom, it has always been about exercising regional power and punishing the threat of revolution. There are plenty of Latin American countries such as Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Chile which saw their respective struggles for freedom cut down in a hail of U.S. sponsored bullets. Former U.S. ally and Guatemalan leader Rios Montt was just convicted of genocide—and he never appeared on the list of most wanted terrorists. If a nation is to stand against terrorism, it should strongly condemn terrorism all forms—not just the ones it finds convenient to oppose.

Friday, May 10, 2013

New Report Gives UN Failing Grade on Cholera
May 10, 2013

1765On May 3, the Boston based organization Physicians for Haiti released a report card titled Protecting Peacekeepers and their Public which evaluates the status of the United Nations' efforts to eradicate cholera in Haiti. It has been nearly three years since cholera first appeared in Haiti, taking the lives of 8,289 people and infecting over 670,000. However, through effective management, cholera does not pose a deadly threat if the proper precautions are made. This is where the recently released Physicians for Haiti report card gives the UN a failing grade in regard to their inability to implement practical, attainable, and cost effective reforms. What makes the matter worse is that the new report does not critique the UN for failing to implement idealistic projects, but rather for failing to implement their own recommendations.

Two years ago in May 2011, at the behest of Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, the UN put together an independent group of international experts who released a report on the cholera epidemic, the Final Report of the Independent Panel of Experts on the Cholera Outbreak in Haiti. The report highlights that “the evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that the source of the Haiti cholera outbreak was due to contamination of the Meye Tributary of the Artibonite River with a pathogenic strain of current South Asian type Vibrio cholera as a result of human activity.”

While sounding promising that the UN would trace the source of cholera back to their Nepalese staffed UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) base located on the Artibonite, this was not the case. Instead the report sought to divert attention from any discussion of accountability, stating that “The Independent Panel concludes that the Haiti cholera outbreak was caused by the confluence of circumstances as described above, and was not the fault of, or deliberate action of, a group or individual. The source of cholera in Haiti is no longer relevant to controlling the outbreak. What are needed at this time are measures to prevent the disease from becoming endemic.” It would later be confirmed by the International Vaccine Institute that the cholera strain found in Haiti was an “exact match” to the Nepalese epidemic earlier in the summer.

As the Physicians for Haiti report card reiterates, the 2011 UN report also included seven recommendations to ensure that an outbreak would not be repeated in Haiti or anywhere else in the world. Two years after the publication of the report, the majority of the recommendations have not been fully implemented.
It would be reasonable to expect that a lack of financial resources would be the primary obstacle to the implementation of the recommendations; however, this is not the case. As highlighted in the report, the UN has not changed the medical screening protocol for potential peacekeepers, mandated an immunization policy, or even attempted to eliminate cholera pathogens by placing waste water in barrels and treating them with bleach. These recommendations come at either no cost to the UN or can be implemented at an extremely low cost.

While there have been important actions taken to attempt to address the systemic issues of water security and sanitation infrastructure, they remain severely underfunded, scattered, and largely non-operational. For example, in December 2012, Ban Ki Moon announced a $2.27 billion cholera eradication plan, but it has failed to get off the ground due to lack of funding.

Troublingly, there have been no meaningful procedural reforms taken to ensure that an outbreak like this will never happen again. Furthermore, the UN has yet to release a statement of accountability, choosing to travel down the path of impunity.

While the Physicians for Haiti report card provides a detailed account of the action taken related to each recommendation, it does not directly provide a final grade for the UN when it comes to the handling of cholera in Haiti. Yet it only takes a quick read to infer that the UN has indeed failed Haiti when it comes to cholera. Whether this is due to a lack of political will or inept leadership—the outcome is that cholera still remains a threat to the Haitian people.

When reading the report card, it becomes apparent that the disconnect between policy creation and implementation is a major problem for the UN in Haiti. The fact that three of the most achievable and cost effective recommendations have not been undertaken remains extremely problematic. If MINUSTAH bases cannot store and treat waste water in a simple manner it speaks volumes about the political will of the mission to ensure the immediate and long term safety of the Haitian people. After all, on paper this is what they are supposed to be there for.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Looming Canada-CARICOM Free Trade Agreement
May 3, 2013

On April 23, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago visited Canada to deliver her pitch to make the Canada-CARICOM free trade agreement a reality. The current Canada-CARICOM trade deal, known as CARIBCAN, is set to expire this year because the World Trade Organization stands in firm opposition to its renewal. Persad-Bissessar—who is set to become the head of CARICOM in July—remarked that “Trinidad and Tobago is very open, and we would welcome a free trade agreement, but because of the structure of CARICOM, it isn’t a decision we can take,” she said. “It has to be done in collaboration with CARICOM.”

Given Canada’s role as the global leader in mining—home to 75% of the world’s mining companies—and the leading producer of tar sands oil, it should come as no surprise that Canada is seeking to make deeper inroads into the resource rich countries of the Caribbean. However, in contrast to the CARICOM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement, so far there has been little analysis of the potential impact this trade deal will have on the economically vulnerable Caribbean.

The primary focus of this lopsided free trade deal is to make it easier for Canadian investment to go into resource-rich countries such as Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname and Haiti—and to protect the rights of Canadian investors. Secondly, the liberalization of trade and investment between Canada and the Caribbean will make it much easier for Canadian firms to takeover the already fragile Caribbean manufacturing and service industries. Currently CARICOM accounts for less than 1% of Canada’s foreign trade, yet Canada is the third most important market for CARICOM-based goods, after the United States and the European Union (primarily the United Kingdom).

According to Canada’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade “A bilateral trade agreement with CARICOM could deliver commercial benefits across many sectors of the Canadian economy, including industrial goods (e.g. pharmaceuticals, products of base metals such as iron, steel, and copper, electrical equipment), agriculture (e.g. french fries, pork cuts, pulses), and fish and seafood. In some of these sectors, CARICOM tariffs range from 5%-60%. A trade agreement with CARICOM would also provide a more secure and predictable business environment for Canadian investment and enhance market access for Canadian service providers.”

In 2010, Canada’s largest imports from CARICOM included gold from Guyana, oil and petroleum products from Trinidad, and aluminum oxides from Jamaica and Suriname. With the recent discovery of rare earth metals in Jamaica, the Jamaica Gleaner reported that Canada will be seeking to join Japan in mining this resource which is used for key components in smartphones and other high technology items.

The fact that Trinidad is pushing for the talks is due to the fact that they hold a significant amount of tar sands—similar in composition to that found in Alberta. Trinidad is hoping that Canadian investment and technology would help to maintain the island’s oil revenues. In 2009, Trinidad and Tobago Newsday reported that “The extraction of oil from tar-sands involves a greater financial cost and does more harm to the environment than pumping out traditional crude oil, with some reports saying that separating the oil out of the sand generates three times as much of the greenhouse gas, carbon-dioxide, than pumping out conventional oil.” It is estimated that Trinidad holds between 900 million to 2 billion barrels of the tar sand crude oil.

Remaining on the issue of natural resources, investigative reports have revealed that currently one-third of Haiti’s Northern Region (approximately 2,500 square kilometers) has been granted as illegal concessions to mining firms based in Canada and the United States. In response to this, the Haitian Senate has called for a halt on all mining activities in the Northern Region. It is important to note that if or when a Canada-CARICOM free trade deal is signed into law, the ability of the Haitian government to halt controversial, exploitative, and destructive mining activities will be severely curtailed.

In regard to services, according to the Royal Bank of Canada, Barbados was the third largest destination for Canadian direct investment after the United States and United Kingdom. Over the past decade, Canadians have invested a staggering $390 billion in Barbados. However, this is not an investment in productive capital—but rather Barbados is a leading offshore tax haven for Canada’s largest banks and the extremely wealthy. In addition, Canadian banks (Royal Bank, Scotia Bank, and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce) already dominate the Caribbean banking industry.

While the Canadian government has stated that “Canada is committed to negotiating a modern trade agreement with CARICOM that will take into account differing levels of development, vulnerabilities associated with island states, and trade-related capacity challenges”—given the very real power imbalances between the Caribbean and Canada, CARICOM would be wise to look toward Mexico to see how such free trade deals play out.

Mexico’s experience implementing free trade stands as a sharp reminder that trade agreements are structured in such a way to benefit the powerful, both between and within nations. Since the introduction of NAFTA in 1994, Mexico has experienced a sharp increase in illegal migration, food insecurity, and informal employment. While foreign capital flooded Mexico, the majority of it did not lead to job creation—but rather to foreign acquisitions of existing Mexican firms.

It is telling that the primary service exports of the Caribbean—such as tourism and financial services—do not need a free trade agreement. As such, the CARICOM-Canada free trade deal must receive greater scrutiny within the Caribbean in order to determine whether or not any real gains for the region will emerge from the deal. Given that the majority of Canadian investment is based in resource extraction and financial services, it will predominately serve the interests of Canadian business interests, doing little to alter the dependent nature of the region’s economies. The signing of productive and mutually beneficial trade agreements is one thing— but signing onto a lopsided agreement which will only benefit the owners of resource enclaves is another thing entirely and should be reconsidered.