Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cuban Doctors Unsung Heroes Of Haitian Earthquake



This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
Food and humanitarian aid are reaching Haiti in increasing quantities today. And U.S. and U.N. troops are starting to bring order to the quake-ravaged nation. But delivering health care to hundreds of thousands of Haitians remains a vexing task.
When the earthquake struck Haiti 12 days ago, the first foreign doctors -indeed in many cases the first doctors - to respond were from Cuba. A team of 380 Cuban health workers was already in Haiti when the quake hit, and shortly thereafter, dozens more arrived. Today, Cuban medical brigades are operating four clinics in Port-au-Prince and as the humanitarian crisis continues, their patient load grows.
NPR's John Burnett reports.
JOHN BURNETT: The 20 members of the Cuban Miracle Mission, as it's called, had been doing cataract surgeries at a clinic in downtown Port-au-Prince for nearly a year before the afternoon of January 12th, when the earth roared the city disintegrated.
Pharmacist Ildilisa Nunez(ph) says she and the others were on their way to their residence in the capital the moment the earthquake hit. They raced back to the clinic, which was in one of the hardest hit areas.
Dr. ILDILISA NUNEZ (Pharmacist): (Through translator) You can see that everything around here collapsed. And so the Haitians who lived in this neighborhood began coming immediately because they knew that Cuban doctors were here.
BURNETT: Six-hundred-and-five people came to the clinic for treatment in the first 12 hours after the quake. The eye surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses converted their eye clinic into a trauma field hospital - and it still is.
(Soundbite of screaming)
BURNETT: A young woman in a yellow dress is restrained by her husband while a doctor administers antiseptic to a deep, infected wound on her right ankle.
(Soundbite of screaming)
BURNETT: Nunez, the pharmacist, looks at the injured people sitting on a bench waiting their turn to have their wounds cleaned and sutured.
Dr. NUNEZ: (Through translator) All those who are seated there came in this morning on their own. Their wounds are very dirty. They're all infected and they all require powerful antibiotics.
BURNETT: Havana has been sending medical missions to impoverished countries around the world since Cuban doctors first went to Algeria in 1963. Fidel Castro uses this international doctor diplomacy to help the poor and engender good will, though critics say it's more than a humanitarian gesture, it's a sort of Trojan horse of Cuban ideology.
Cuban doctors typically serve two years overseas, which doubles their returning salaries from $25 to $50 a month. Cuban medical brigades have been coming to Haiti for 11 years. The country has substandard hospitals and a severe doctor shortage. Half of Haiti's nearly 10 million people lack access to basic health care; most of the population seeks treatment from traditional healers.
For this reason, doctors from Cuba and any other contributing nation are deeply appreciated. Pharmacist Ildilisa Nunez, a slight grandmother who exudes cheerfulness amid the misery, is happy to extol her country's mission to a U.S. journalist.
Dr. NUNEZ: (Through translator) We in Cuba have a strong culture of help and education. Wherever we're needed we must go to help humanity.
BURNETT: A thin, serious young man named Junior Enrique Lopez, wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt, is the logistics manager for the Cuban medical brigades in Haiti.
Mr. JUNIOR ENRIQUE LOPEZ (Medical Brigade Logistics Manager, Cuba): (Foreign language spoken)
BURNETT: He says the day after the earthquake, a plane arrived from Cuba with 60 doctors. Now we've receive two flights daily with food, medicine and other supplies. Mexicans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans have also sent aid to the Cuban clinics.
None of the 40 patients undergoing treatment here will stay in the hospital building. They're terrified of another earthquake. Doctors initially treated them inside the hospital, but the patients grabbed their IV bags and hobbled outside. Now everything is done under the sky. The patients camp out on the hospital grounds in yet another wretched tent city, cooking for themselves, using the far lawn for a privy, shooing flies, lying about and contemplating everything they've lost.
Ms. ANGELIE ZWAZAN(ph): (Foreign language spoken)
BURNETT: When the home of Angelie Zwazan collapsed, she says it crushed both her legs and killed three of her family members. She and her surviving daughter, Caroline, lie on a blanket next to the hospital seeking protection from the blue tarp over their heads and the image of the voodoo deity dangling from her neck.
Nearby, a man wheel's his grimacing wife in a wheelbarrow into the medical encampment. As a Cuban nurse checks her blood pressure, the woman takes her place at the end of the line.
John Burnett, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.
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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Hate and the Quake BY SIR HILARY BECKLES

THE UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES is in the process of conceiving how best to deliver a major conference on the theme Rethinking And Rebuilding Haiti .

I am very keen to provide an input into this exercise because for too long there has been a popular perception that somehow the Haitian nation-building project, launched on January 1, 1804, has failed on account of mismanagement, ineptitude, corruption.

Buried beneath the rubble of imperial propaganda, out of both Western Europe and the United States , is the evidence which shows that Haiti 's independence was defeated by an aggressive North-Atlantic alliance that could not imagine their world inhabited by a free regime of Africans as representatives of the newly emerging democracy.

The evidence is striking, especially in the context of France .

The Haitians fought for their freedom and won, as did the Americans fifty years earlier. The Americans declared their independence and crafted an extraordinary constitution that set out a clear message about the value of humanity and the right to freedom, justice, and liberty.

In the midst of this brilliant discourse, they chose to retain slavery as the basis of the new nation state. The founding fathers therefore could not see beyond race, as the free state was built on a slavery foundation.

The water was poisoned in the well; the Americans went back to the battlefield a century later to resolve the fact that slavery and freedom could not comfortably co-exist in the same place.

The French, also, declared freedom, fraternity and equality as the new philosophies of their national transformation and gave the modern world a tremendous progressive boost by so doing.

They abolished slavery, but Napoleon Bonaparte could not imagine the republic without slavery and targeted the Haitians for a new, more intense regime of slavery. The British agreed, as did the Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese.

All were linked in communion over the 500 000 Blacks in Haiti , the most populous and prosperous Caribbean colony.

As the jewel of the Caribbean , they all wanted to get their hands on it. With a massive slave base, the English, French and Dutch salivated over owning it - and the people. The people won a ten-year war, the bloodiest in modern history, and declared their independence. Every
other country in the Americas was based on slavery.   Haiti was
freedom, and proceeded to place in its 1805 Independence Constitution that any person of African descent who arrived on its shores would be declared free, and a citizen of the republic.

For the first time since slavery had commenced, Blacks were the subjects of mass freedom and citizenship in a nation.

The French refused to recognize Haiti 's independence and declared it an illegal pariah state. The Americans, whom the Haitians looked to in solidarity as their mentor in independence, refused to recognize them, and offered solidarity instead to the French. The British, who were negotiating with the French to obtain the ownership title to Haiti , also moved in solidarity, as did every other nation-state the Western world.

Haiti was isolated at birth - ostracized and denied access to world trade, finance, and institutional development. It was the most vicious example of national strangulation recorded in modern history. The Cubans, at least, have had Russia , China , and Vietnam . The Haitians were alone from inception. The crumbling began.  Then came 1825; the moment of full truth. The republic is celebrating its 21st anniversary. There is national euphoria in the streets of Port-au-Prince .  The economy is bankrupt; the political leadership isolated. The cabinet took the decision that the state of affairs could not continue. The country had to find a way to be inserted back into the world economy. The French government was invited to a summit.

Officials arrived and told the Haitian government that they were willing to recognize the country as a sovereign nation but it would have to pay compensation and reparation in exchange. The Haitians, with backs to the wall, agreed to pay the French.

The French government sent a team of accountants and actuaries into Haiti in order to place a value on all lands, all physical assets, the 500 000 citizens were who formerly enslaved, animals, and all other commercial properties and services.

The sums amounted to 150 million gold francs. Haiti was told to pay this reparation to France in return for national recognition.

The Haitian government agreed; payments began immediately. Members of the Cabinet were also valued because they had been enslaved people before independence.  Thus began the systematic destruction of the Republic of Haiti . The French government bled the nation and rendered it a failed state. It was a merciless exploitation that was designed and guaranteed to collapse the Haitian economy and society.

Haiti was forced to pay this sum until 1922 when the last installment was made. During the long 19th century, the payment to France amounted to up to 70 per cent of the country's foreign exchange earnings.

Jamaica today pays up to 70 per cent in order to service its international and domestic debt. Haiti was crushed by this debt payment. It descended into financial and social chaos. The republic did not stand a chance. France was enriched and it took pleasure from the fact that having been defeated by Haitians on the battlefield, it had won on the field of finance. In the years when the coffee crops failed, or the sugar yield was down, the Haitian government borrowed on the French money market at double the going interest rate in order to repay the French government.  When the Americans invaded the country in the early 20th century, one of the reasons offered was to assist the French in collecting its reparations.  The collapse of the Haitian nation resides at the feet of France and America , especially.
These two nations betrayed, failed, and destroyed the dream that was Haiti; crushed to dust in an effort to destroy the flower of freedom and the seed  of justice.

Haiti did not fail. It was destroyed by two of the most powerful nations on earth, both of which continue to have a primary interest in its current condition.  The sudden quake has come in the aftermath of summers of hate. In many ways the quake has been less destructive than the hate.  Human life was snuffed out by the quake, while the hate has been a long and inhumane suffocation - a crime against humanity.

During the 2001 UN Conference on Race in Durban , South Africa , strong representation was made to the French government to repay the 150 million francs. The value of this amount was estimated by financial actuaries as US$21 billion. This sum of capital could rebuild Haiti and place it in a position to re-engage the modern world. It was illegally extracted from the Haitian people and should be repaid.

It is stolen wealth. In so doing, France could discharge its moral obligation to the Haitian people.

For a nation that prides itself in the celebration of modern diplomacy, France , in order to exist with the moral authority of this diplomacy in this post-modern world, should do the just and legal thing.

Such an act at the outset of this century would open the door for a sophisticated interface of past and present, and set the Haitian nation free at last. .

Sir Hilary Beckles is pro-vice-chancellor and Principal of the Cave Hill Campus, UWI

Friday, January 22, 2010

One quarter of US grain crops fed to cars, not people

Jan 23 2010 06:24

One-quarter of all the maize and other grain crops grown in the US now ends up as biofuel in cars rather than being used to feed people, according to new analysis which suggests that the biofuel revolution launched by former president George Bush in 2007 is impacting on world food supplies.

The 2009 figures from the US Department of Agriculture shows ethanol production rising to record levels driven by farm subsidies and laws which require vehicles to use increasing amounts of biofuels.

"The grain grown to produce fuel in the US [in 2009] was enough to feed 330-million people for one year at average world consumption levels," said Lester Brown, the director of the Earth Policy Institute, a Washington thinktank ithat conducted the analysis.

Last year 107-million tonnes of grain, mostly corn, was grown by US farmers to be blended with petrol. This was nearly twice as much as in 2007, when Bush challenged farmers to increase production by 500% by 2017 to save cut oil imports and reduce carbon emissions.

More than 80 new ethanol plants have been built since then, with more expected by 2015, by which time the US will need to produce a further five billion gallons of ethanol if it is to meet its renewable fuel standard.

According to Brown, the growing demand for US ethanol derived from grains helped to push world grain prices to record highs between late 2006 and 2008. In 2008, the
Guardian revealed a secret World Bank report that concluded that the drive for biofuels by American and European governments had pushed up food prices by 75%, in stark contrast to US claims that prices had risen only 2-3% as a result.

Since then, the number of hungry people in the world has increased to over one billion people, according to the UN's World Food programme.

"Continuing to divert more food to fuel, as is now mandated by the US federal government in its renewable fuel standard, will likely only reinforce the disturbing rise in world hunger. By subsidising the production of ethanol to the tune of some $6-billion each year, US taxpayers are in effect subsidising rising food bills at home and around the world," said Brown.

"The worst economic crisis since the great depression has recently brought food prices down from their peak, but they still remain well above their long-term average levels."

The US is by far the world's leading grain exporter, exporting more than Argentina, Australia, Canada, and Russia combined. In 2008, the UN called for a comprehensive review of biofuel production from food crops.

"There is a direct link between biofuels and food prices. The needs of the hungry must come before the needs of cars," said Meredith Alexander, biofuels campaigner at ActionAid in London. As well as the effect on food, campaigners also argue that many scientists question whether biofuels made from food crops actually save any greenhouse gas emissions.

But ethanol producers deny that their record production means less food. "Continued innovation in ethanol production and agricultural technology means that we don't have to make a false choice between food and fuel. We can more than meet the demand for food and livestock feed while reducing our dependence on foreign oil through the production of homegrown renewable ethanol," said Tom Buis, the chief executive of industry group Growth Energy. - © Guardian News and Media 2010

Source: Mail & Guardian Online
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Ethiopian dam spells death for Lake Turkana by Gideon Lepalo

Ethiopian dam spells death for Lake Turkana
Updated 19 hr(s) 28 min(s) ago

In the wake of the ongoing rains, the vast expanse around Lake Turkana is a beautiful landscape, sprouting with colour from wild flowers in fulbloom and tall, green elephant grass.By Lepalo Gideon
After a long, three-day journey by hardy vehicles, under endless open skies across some of Kenya’s most expansive rangelands, the journey finally winds into the turquoise lake that looks like a glittering extension of the land.
In 1964, British travel writer John Hillaby, who travelled by camel caravan for 1,000 km to the lake, was so enthralled by the sight, which he described as ‘an oasis in the middle of nowhere’, in his book, Journey To The Jade Sea.
However, this beauty that has for many years drawn tourists and travellers to behold its enthralling presence has been in the news of late, as an environmental gem threatened with extinction. A huge hydro-electric power dam, under construction on the Ethiopian side of the border, will divert the river Omo, the main vein that empties into Lake Turkana.
Environmental experts have warned repeatedly that the project will kill the lake. The section of the river, from the dam to Lake Turkana, will dry up completely as the eleven billion cubic metre reservoir is filled up.
The Gibe III Dam is already at an advanced stage of construction, a private partnership planned as part of a 25 year national energy master plan in Ethiopia. Its walls will be 240 metres high, with a reservoir stretching 151 km, making it the second largest dam in Africa after the Aswan High Dam in Egypt.

Boys carry home a fish left behind in a fishing boat. [PHOTOS: PETER OCHIENG/STANDARD]

Massive construction will lead to massive environmental and social catastrophes both on the Ethiopian and Kenyan sides, environmental experts have warned.
Local and international impact reports have indicated the Turkana could start drying up once the huge dam, owned by Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCO), cuts off the river.
Negative effects
An accurate Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) done on the lower Omo Basin indicates the completion of Gibe III Dam would produce a broad range of negative effects which will be catastrophic within the sub region of Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya.
"The massive reduction of inflow to Lake Turkana will be the immediate impact, given that the Omo River provides over 80 per cent of the total water flow into the lake," stated the EIA report.
The other rivers, Turkwel and Kerio, are seasonal and can barely sustain the lake’s water level.
The report indicates that inevitably the shorelines of the saline lake will recede, leaving vast tracts bare as it ebbs to its death.
Already, due to long dry spells, the vicinity of the lake has been turning into another Sahara Desert that has already eaten into the neighboring forested Mt Kulal or Gatab
"Total destruction of the environment and elimination of forest, woodland and total mutilation of biodiversity and all riverine economic activities — including human activities and settlement will likely follow," stated the report.
The lake is the source of livelihood for more than 3,000,000 indigenous pastoralist people.
Inference with its ecosystem will make it too saline for any marine life to survive. All communities living around the lake depend on fishing.
In a region is famous for all the wrong reasons, littered with small fire-arms and prone to ethnic clashes, the decimation of a common source of livelihood for a large population is equated by several other reports as a humanitarian catastrophe in the making.
"Cutting off the main source of livelihood can only heighten the intense conflicts emanating from inadequate supply of resources for their mutual survival," says the EIA report.
Irked by government indifference to the looming danger, residents, led by an NGO, Friends of Lake Turkana (FLT), recently demonstrated at Kalokol in Turkana North to drive their point home.
Ms Ikal Angelei, FLT chairperson, explained the realities of the endangered lake, saying it would never be the same again once the dam closes off its main water source.
Go to war
"Nobody can touch the Nile from Alexandria (Egypt) down to its source at Jinja (Uganda). Egypt can even go to war if the river is interrupted. Why is our Government allowing this violation to our right," Angelei said.
Turkana politicians led by Mr Christopher Nakuleu, an East African Legislative Assembly MP, said in a joint statement that the Turkana, Rendile, Dassanch, Elmolo and Gabbra, who depend on the lake for food and water, would be affected.
"It is recognised that any interference with the Lake Turkana ecosystem could be catastrophic, but no effort has been made to avert disaster," says Pius Ewoton, the Executive Director of Arid Lands Integrated Programme.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

On Constitutional Review, Beware of Politicians by Tom Kagwe

Changing faces, changing spaces and changing allegiances but permanent interests define the Kenyan politicians in the search for a new constitution. We have been here before. Similar to 2005, the same group of political cabals has once again resurrected. As we expected, daggers have been drawn; not with the object of ensuring we have a new order in the next 3 months, but to once again scuttle the review process. Political brinkmanship is in full gear and glare. Kenyans of good will must wake up and seize the moment. Politicians have no intellectual, moral, legal, or legitimate authority to lead the search for a democratic constitution. Katiba ni Sasa!

We hear that they prefer either a ‘presidential’ or ‘parliamentary’ system of government. Please do not be fooled! They are only hiding behind big concepts of political science, which many have no idea what they mean. They have no idea how many variations of either system exist in the world. They are also not ready to propose which model fits this country.

Throwing words around
These politicians have no intellectual authority to speak. Germany is parliamentary, but ministers are drawn outside the Bundestag. United Kingdom is parliamentary, but ministers are drawn form the House of Commons. United States is a presidential system, but the president is elected by an Electoral College. This College determines who becomes president: not the popular vote. The US Secretaries of State are drawn from outside the Congress. South Africa can be said to be also a semi-presidential system, but the president is elected by the Electoral College: the Parliament of South Africa. Have you heard this political class talking this way? They cannot. They just say no one should be elected through a ‘back door’. Others are saying that anyone exercising power must be elected directly by the people! Where are the examples? They are simply throwing words around, to confuse Kenyans as usual. Therefore, let us stand tall and say Katiba ni Sasa!

We also hear that they want a ‘yes-yes’ referendum. The National Civil Society Congress is bewildered beyond reason. In July 2008 we met some of these politicians and we urged them to write a law that can support this type of referendum. We predicted that the system of government would bring disagreements, but they ignored us. Today, they are the ‘merchants’ of an idea that they do not fully comprehend and whose time, honestly, has passed. To have such a referendum, we need to amend the Constitution of Kenya Review Act (2008). Can they? We should really doubt their intentions. Be very wary of anyone who wants to change the law at this juncture. Mark you: they may also want to amend other things like the deadlines, which can then jeopardize the review process by bringing it closer to the electioneering period. Do not be fooled!

No moral authority
Exactly two years ago, Kenyans were butchering each other. And the ‘politicians are behaving as if nothing happened’ to paraphrase Dr. Kofi Annan. What actually is their moral standing when blood was spilled in their name; Internally Displaced Persons are still languishing in plastic tents; and, the victims of post-election violence are still waiting for justice? The search for a new constitutional order is not to help Kenyans go to heaven, but to help us avoid hell: hell facing us today and perhaps of the future. Having read the Revised Harmonized Draft Constitution, it is not perfect. But we should not expect a perfect document. But that Draft is capable of being the law of the land, and to give a sense of new ethos, rules, principles and values as a society. Why do these politicians concentrate on just one Chapter on executive power? Simply because they never pursue national values, goals and morals, but only raw power! Katiba ni Sasa!

Looking at the Review Act, and read together with the Constitution of Kenya (as amended to accommodate the review process), politicians do not have the legal authority to dictate what should or should not be in the draft. The Review Act gives them such power, but the Constitution does not. Since the Constitution is superior to any other law, then let us wake up and seize this moment! Yes, they have a stake in the process, but their stake is not longer, bigger, or more important than all of us. That is why even they do not have legitimate authority. The coalition was formed as a ‘ceasefire government’. Not an ‘elected government’. No one can purport to state they represent the interest of the Kenyan people per se. We urge them to step down from their high horses. Kenyans of goodwill: wake up and state Katiba ni Sasa!
Tom Kagwe, J. P.
Ag. Programmes Coordinator / Dep. Ex. Director
Opposite Valley Arcade, Gitanga Road,
P.O Box 41079, 00100 GPO, Nairobi, Kenya.
Tel. +254-020-3874998/9 3876065/6
Fax. +254-020-3874997


Say, Repeat and Teach: This is All of Palestine by Zaid Allan

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Walls of War against Doves of Peace - The Middle East Situation

Fidel Castro: The lesson of Haiti

By Fidel Castro Ruz
January 15, 2010 -- Two days ago, at almost six o’clock in the evening Cuban time and when, given its geographical location, night had already fallen in Haiti, television stations began to broadcast the news that a violent earthquake -– measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale -– had severely struck Port-au-Prince. The seismic phenomenon originated from a tectonic fault located in the sea just 15 kilometres from the Haitian capital, a city where 80% of the population inhabit fragile homes built of adobe and mud.
The news continued almost without interruption for hours. There was no footage, but it was confirmed that many public buildings, hospitals, schools and more solidly constructed facilities were reported collapsed. I have read that an earthquake of the magnitude of 7.3 is equivalent to the energy released by an explosion of 400,000 tons of TNT.
Tragic descriptions were transmitted. Wounded people in the streets were crying out for medical help, surrounded by ruins under which their relatives were buried. No one, however, was able to broadcast a single image for several hours.
The news took all of us by surprise. Many of us have frequently heard about hurricanes and severe flooding in Haiti, but were not aware of the fact that this neighbouring country ran the risk of a massive earthquake. It has come to light on this occasion that 200 years ago, a massive earthquake similarly affected this city, which would have been the home of just a few thousand inhabitants at that time.
At midnight, there was still no mention of an approximate figure in terms of victims. High-ranking United Nations officials and several heads of government discussed the moving events and announced that they would send emergency brigades to help. Given that MINUSTAH (United Stabilization Mission in Haiti) troops are deployed there -– UN forces from various countries –- some defence ministers were talking about possible casualties among their personnel.
It was only yesterday morning when the sad news began to arrive of enormous human losses among the population, and even institutions such as the United Nations mentioned that some of their buildings in that country had collapsed, a word that does not say anything in itself but could mean a lot.
For hours, increasingly more traumatic news continued to arrive about the situation in this sister nation. Figures related to the number of fatal victims were discussed, which fluctuated, according to various versions, between 30,000 and 100,000. The images are devastating; it is evident that the catastrophic event has been given widespread coverage around the world, and many governments, sincerely moved by the disaster, are making efforts to cooperate according to their resources.
Why is Haiti so poor?
The tragedy has genuinely moved a significant number of people, particularly those in which that quality is innate. But perhaps very few of them have stopped to consider why Haiti is such a poor country. Why does almost 50% of its population depend on family remittances sent from abroad? Why not analyse the realities that led Haiti to its current situation and this enormous suffering as well?
The most curious aspect of this story is that no one has said a single word to recall the fact that Haiti was the first country in which 400,000 Africans, enslaved and trafficked by Europeans, rose up against 30,000 white slave masters on the sugar and coffee plantations, thus undertaking the first great social revolution in our hemisphere. Pages of insurmountable glory were written there. Napoleon's most eminent general was defeated there. Haiti is the net product of colonialism and imperialism, of more than one century of the employment of its human resources in the toughest forms of work, of military interventions and the extraction of its natural resources.
This historic oversight would not be so serious if it were not for the real fact that Haiti constitutes the disgrace of our era, in a world where the exploitation and pillage of the vast majority of the planet's inhabitants prevails.
Billions of people in Latin American, Africa and Asia are suffering similar shortages although perhaps not to such a degree as in the case of Haiti.
Situations like that of that country should not exist in any part of the planet, where tens of thousands of cities and towns abound in similar or worse conditions, by virtue of an unjust international economic and political order imposed on the world. The world population is not only threatened by natural disasters such as that of Haiti, which is a just a pallid shadow of what could take place in the planet as a result of climate change, which really was the object of ridicule, derision and deception in Copenhagen.
Real and lasting solutions needed
It is only just to say to all the countries and institutions that have lost citizens or personnel because of the natural disaster in Haiti: we do not doubt that in this case, the greatest effort will be made to save human lives and alleviate the pain of this long-suffering people. We cannot blame them for the natural phenomenon that has taken place there, even if we do not agree with the policy adopted with Haiti.
But I have to express the opinion that it is now time to look for real and lasting solutions for that sister nation.
In the field of healthcare and other areas, Cuba –- despite being a poor and blockaded country -– has been cooperating with the Haitian people for many years. Around 400 doctors and healthcare experts are offering their services free of charge to the Haitian people. Our doctors are working every day in 227 of the country’s 337 communes. On the other hand, at least 400 young Haitians have trained as doctors in our homeland. They will now work with the reinforcement brigade which traveled there yesterday to save lives in this critical situation. Thus, without any special effort being made, up to 1000 doctors and healthcare experts can be mobilised, almost all of whom are already there willing to cooperate with any other state that wishes to save the lives of the Haitian people and rehabilitate the injured.
Another significant number of young Haitians are currently studying medicine in Cuba.
We are also cooperating with the Haitian people in other areas within our reach. However, there can be no other form of cooperation worthy of being described as such than fighting in the field of ideas and political action in order to put an end to the limitless tragedy suffered by a large number of nations such as Haiti.
The head of our medical brigade reported: "The situation is difficult, but we have already started saving lives." He made that statement in a succinct message hours after his arrival yesterday in Port-au-Prince with additional medical reinforcements.
Later that night, he reported that Cuban doctors and ELAM’s Haitian graduates were being deployed throughout the country. They had already seen more than 1000 patients in Port-au-Prince, immediately establishing and putting into operation a hospital that had not collapsed and using field hospitals where necessary. They were preparing to swiftly set up other centers for emergency care.
We feel a wholesome pride for the cooperation that, in these tragic instances, Cuba doctors and young Haitian doctors who trained in Cuba are offering our brothers and sisters in Haiti!
[Fidel Castro Ruz is the former president of Cuba.]

The West’s role in Haiti's Plight

By Peter Hallward
[An earlier version of this article first appeared in the British Guardian. This slightly updated version appears in Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with Peter Hallward's permission.]
January 14, 2010 -- If we are serious about assisting this devastated land we must stop trying to control and exploit it.
Any large city in the world would have suffered extensive damage from an earthquake on the scale of the one that ravaged Haiti's capital city on the afternoon of January 13, but it's no accident that so much of Port-au-Prince now looks like a war zone. Much of the devastation wreaked by this latest and most calamitous disaster to befall Haiti is best understood as another thoroughly manmade outcome of a long and ugly historical sequence.
The country has faced more than its fair share of catastrophes. Hundreds died in Port-au-Prince in an earthquake back in June 1770, and the huge earthquake of May 7, 1842, may have killed 10,000 in the northern city of Cap ­Haitien alone. Hurricanes batter the island on a regular basis, most recently in 2004 and again in 2008; the storms of September 2008 flooded the town of Gonaïves and swept away much of its flimsy infrastructure, killing more than a thousand people and destroying many thousands of homes. The full scale of the destruction resulting from this earthquake may not become clear for several weeks. Even minimal repairs will take years to complete, and the long-term impact is incalculable.
Colonial exploitation
What is already all too clear, ­however, is the fact that this impact will be the result of an even longer-term history of deliberate impoverishment and disempowerment. Haiti is routinely described as the "poorest country in the western hemisphere". This poverty is the direct legacy of perhaps the most brutal system of colonial exploitation in world history, compounded by decades of systematic postcolonial oppression. The noble "international community" which is currently scrambling to send its "humanitarian aid" to Haiti is largely responsible for the extent of the suffering it now aims to reduce. Ever since the US invaded and occupied the country in 1915, every serious political attempt to allow Haiti's people to move (in former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's phrase) "from absolute misery to a dignified poverty" has been violently and deliberately blocked by the US government and some of its allies.
Aristide's own government (elected by some 75% of the electorate) was the latest victim of such interference, when it was overthrown by an internationally sponsored coup in 2004 that killed several thousand people and left much of the population smouldering in resentment. The UN has subsequently maintained a large and enormously expensive stabilisation and pacification force in the country.
Haiti is now a country where, according to the best available study, around 75% of the population "lives on less than [US]$2 per day, and 56% – four and a half million people – live on less than $1 per day". Decades of neoliberal "adjustment" and neo-imperial intervention have robbed its government of any significant capacity to invest in its people or to regulate its economy. Punitive international trade and financial arrangements ensure that such destitution and impotence will remain a structural fact of Haitian life for the foreseeable future.
It is this poverty and powerlessness that account for the full scale of the horror in Port-au-Prince today. Since the late 1970s, relentless neoliberal assault on Haiti's agrarian economy has forced tens of thousands of small farmers into overcrowded urban slums. Although there are no reliable statistics, hundreds of thousands of Port-au-Prince residents now live in desperately substandard informal housing, often perched precariously on the side of deforested ravines. The selection of the people living in such places and conditions is itself no more "natural" or accidental than the extent of the injuries they have suffered.
As Brian Concannon, the director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, points out: "Those people got there because they or their parents were intentionally pushed out of the countryside by aid and trade policies specifically designed to create a large captive and therefore exploitable labour force in the cities; by definition they are people who would not be able to afford to build earthquake resistant houses." A small minority of these migrants are lucky enough to land a job in sweatshops that pay the lowest wages in the hemisphere, around US$1.75 a day. Meanwhile the city's basic infrastructure – running water, electricity, roads, etc. – remains woefully inadequate, often non-existent. The government's ability to mobilise any sort of disaster relief is next to nil.
The international community has been effectively ruling Haiti since the 2004 coup. The same countries scrambling to send emergency help to Haiti now, however, have during the last five years consistently voted against any extension of the UN mission's mandate beyond its immediate military purpose. Proposals to divert some of this "investment" towards poverty reduction or agrarian development have been blocked, in keeping with the long-term patterns that continue to shape the ­distribution of international "aid".
The same storms that killed so many in 2008 hit Cuba just as hard but killed only four people. Cuba has escaped the worst effects of neoliberal "reform", and its government retains a capacity to defend its people from disaster. If we are serious about helping Haiti through this latest crisis then we should take this comparative point on board. Along with sending emergency relief, we should ask what we can do to facilitate the self-empowerment of Haiti's people and public institutions. If we are serious about helping we need to stop ­trying to control Haiti's government, to pacify its citizens, and to exploit its economy. And then we need to start paying for at least some of the damage we've already done.
[Peter Hallward is professor of modern European philosophy at Middlesex University, member of the Radical Philosophy editorial collective and author of Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment. London: Verso, 2007.]

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Anti-imperialism in 3-D - AVATAR


Anti-imperialism in 3-D

There is much more to Avatar than the spectacular special effects, says Nagesh Rao.

AVATAR IS a visually stunning marvel of film technology, as many reviewers will tell you, but what really stands out in James Cameron's newest film is its unabashed critique of corporate greed and its inspiring tale of solidarity and resistance against occupation.
Set on a distant planet called Pandora, Avatar re-enacts the genocide of indigenous populations by colonial capitalism, and links this history to the rapacious resource wars of our own times. The film is not a moralistic wringing of hands that relies on "white-guilt fantasies" as some commentators have claimed; rather, it is an uncompromising defense of the principle of self-determination and the right to resist exploitation and plunder.
Listing some of Cameron's blockbuster films--The Abyss, Aliens, the Terminator films and The Titanic--is enough to remind us that we are dealing with a master of visual effects technology. Fans of his earlier work won't be disappointed with Avatar's special effects--the 3-D version in particular is a breathtaking experience. As the New York Times reviewer Manohla Dargis writes:
This isn't the 3-D of the 1950s or even contemporary films, those flicks that try to give you a virtual poke in the eye with flying spears. Rather, Mr. Cameron uses 3-D to amplify the immersive experience of spectacle cinema...After a few minutes the novelty of people and objects hovering above the row in front of you wears off, and you tend not to notice the 3-D, which speaks to the subtlety of its use...
Similarly, we find ourselves dazzled by the brilliantly rendered planet of Pandora, replete with bioluminescent flora and fauna, ethereal floating mountains and touch-me-nots that look like giant seashells. All of this, no doubt, represents advances in special effects not seen since the Wachowski brothers invented "Bullet Time" for The Matrix, and Peter Jackson brought Gollum to life in The Lord of the Rings. Only the most jaded and cynical of moviegoers would deny Cameron's accomplishments in this area.
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HOWEVER, FOR all the gushing praise that Cameron has received from critics for the film's technological accomplishments, reviewers have been less enthusiastic about Avatar's political message. Some of them seem to be so dazzled by the spectacle that they don't even notice its ideological significance.
In the New York Times, Ross Douthat dismisses it as a "long apologia for pantheism--a faith that equates God with Nature." Similarly, while Dargis' review acknowledges the film's "anti-corporate message," she seems unmoved by its uncompromising anti-imperialist message.
On the other hand, left-wing critics have panned the film's politics for its director's "banal and conformist outlook" (David Walsh's review at and as "a fantasy about race told from the point of view of white people" (Annalee Newitz's much-circulated post for the sci-fi Web site
Let's concede a couple of points at the outset. James Cameron isn't Gillo Pontecorvo, and Avatar is no Battle of Algiers. It's a popular science fiction thriller, and a damn good one at that. It thus conforms to some of the conventions of the genre, employing stock characters like the mercenary Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), and predictable plotlines such as the romance that ensures a happy ending.
No doubt the dialogue is, at times, contrived and clichéd, and the film could have used a better script. Nevertheless, its narrative arc is compelling, and the transformation of its central character, disabled marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), is convincing.
Jake is your archetypal warrior hero, except for his disability (he is paralyzed from the waist down), which draws sneers from the other marines (one refers to him as "meals on wheels"). When we first encounter him, he is awakened from a state of hibernation in the gravity-free environment of a spaceship. Here, as the characters hover and float around, we fail to notice Jake's paralysis.
When we see him in his wheelchair for the first time, his comrades taunt him, and we see, through his eyes and from his perspective, the mammoth scale of the war machines and armaments being deployed by the mercenary forces on Pandora.
His disability, in other words, isn't incidental. It's central to his character, because his disability marks him out as an underdog among the top dogs, so to speak. His disability sets him apart as someone who might not necessarily conform to all that he sees around him. Moreover, as the plot unfolds, we learn that his colonel is trying to hold him hostage to his disability, promising him the use of his legs in return for acting as the colonel's stooge.
Early in the film, we learn that Jake cannot afford the medical care he needs to be able to walk again, and that although he isn't looking forward to the mission on Pandora, he can do little else, given the state of the economy.
White man though he is, Jake Sully is nevertheless himself a victim of oppression. And crucially, Jake's liberation is contingent upon his identification with the natives of Pandora, the Na'vi, a tribe of 12-feet tall, blue-skinned humanoids with prehensile tails.
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IN THIS sense, Avatar can't simply be dismissed as a "white man's guilt" narrative, as Annalee Newitz does in her post on the sci-fi Web site Newitz rightly points out that the trope of the white man who "goes native" is an old one, which has its origins in European colonial ideology.
Sure enough, as Newitz points out, in contemporary Western culture in general and Hollywood in particular, the fantasy of "going native" often ends with the white man not only assimilating into the "native" culture, but emerging as their leader in their quest for salvation or liberation from some oppressive force or circumstance. Think here of films as diverse as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Last Samurai and City of God.
Certainly, Jake feels conflicted and guilty about what his comrades are about to do to the Na'vi and to Pandora. And certainly, this is at least partially a result of his falling in love with Nyteri (Zoe Saldana), the female Na'vi warrior. And yes, Jake's avatar emerges as the leader of the Na'vi in their struggle against the human plunderers. But surely this in itself is insufficient grounds to condemn the film as just so much unreconstructed Orientalism.
By plugging into the avatar, Jake's consciousness is quite literally embodied in the "other"; in this sense, he comes closer to genuine empathy with the Na'vi than can be realistically conceived (hence the term "science fiction"). If we grant this central premise of the film, then it seems to me somewhat churlish to suggest that Jake Sully is nothing but a 21st century T.E. Lawrence or Indiana Jones.
Furthermore, Jake's Na'vi self initially rebels against the human incursion into Pandora as an act of self-preservation. He attacks the giant bulldozers that arrive on the scene while he is asleep (and back in his human incarnation) with a desperation that the audience can identify with, as they seem intent on mowing down everything in their path, including Jake and Nyteri.
It's not too much of a stretch to suggest that the bulldozers destroying the Na'vi forests are like the Israeli bulldozers in occupied Palestine, and that Jake's defiance of them is like the courageous stance of activists like Rachel Corrie.
By slow degrees, Jake comes to identify with the "other" and their way of life. Once he becomes fully aware of the mercenary calculations of the corporation that will stop at nothing in its bid to extract the precious "unobtanium," Jake switches sides, as do the team of scientists led by the strong-willed Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver). To suggest that this act is little more than a demonstration of "white man's guilt" is, I think, to render meaningless the idea of solidarity.
Jake's speech rallying the Na'vi, and calling on them to reach out to the other tribes reminded me of Tecumseh and of later anti-colonial revolutionaries who rallied diverse colonized peoples against their common oppressors. The conclusion of the film, which shows the chastened humans being escorted back to their waiting spaceship, just as surely harkens back to the images of the withdrawal of the defeated American forces from Vietnam.
In the context of the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, this is cultural dynamite. And in the context of Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize lecture on "just war," Jake Sully's wry admission is timely: "I was a soldier who tried to bring peace, but sooner or later everyone has to wake up."
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ANOTHER ELEMENT of the film's anti-imperialism that critics seem to have missed is its subtle criticism of the negative historical role played by anthropologists and other social scientists working for colonial powers. Grace and her team of scientists are employed by the same corporate entity that has hired Col. Quaritch and his trigger-happy mercenaries.
In this respect, the scientists in the film are like those employed by the U.S. Army's "Human Terrain System," whose stated purpose is to "improve the military's ability to understand the highly complex local socio-cultural environment in the areas where they are deployed."
But Grace is no military lackey, and her team's meticulous attention to the scientific project, as well as their moral and ethical sensibilities drive them to oppose Col. Quaritch and their corporate sponsor, in the form of Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi). The film's insistence that the aims of social science can't be reconciled with those of imperialism stands in stark contrast to the complicity of academics currently involved in the Human Terrain System program.
Like most sci-fi films, Avatar offers a withering critique of the world that we live in. But unlike most recent sci-fi films, it is filled with a utopianism that we haven't seen in a while. Is this a nostalgic longing for lost innocence? By presenting the Na'vi and their way of life as akin to indigenous cultures destroyed by colonialism, does the film run the risk of grasping at an irrecoverable past?
Perhaps here too Avatar offers more than at first meets the eye. There is something undeniably futuristic about Pandora itself, where flora and fauna alike are interconnected as if part of one gigantic neural network. The network of energy that binds everything on Pandora is ultimately responsible for Jake's resurrection as his Na'vi avatar.
The process that transfers his consciousness from his human body to his Na'vi body seems to involve millions of tendrils that resemble tiny optical fibers. Interestingly enough, this postmodern, high-tech aesthetic stands in stark contrast to the decidedly modernist, industrial design of the humans' arms and armaments, which recalls the gritty and clunky aesthetic of Battlestar Galactica.
Such utopianism in our time might seem unjustified, if not incongruous, but it is certainly a breath of fresh air. There are those who will squirm at the film's obvious references to our contemporary reality (as when the campaign against the Na'vi is referred to as "shock and awe"), and those who will wince at its sometimes clumsy dialogue.
But there's no denying that millions of moviegoers around the world are flocking to a film that unflinchingly indicts imperialism and corporate greed, defends the right of the oppressed to fight back, and holds open the potential for solidarity between people on opposite sides of a conflict not of their choosing.
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Review: Movies
Avatar [1], written and directed by James Cameron, starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Lang.
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  2. [2]

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Germany In Black And White By Jayati Ghosh

10 December, 2009
Deccan Chronicle
A recent documentary film made by one of Germany’s most renowned investigative reporters, Gunter Wallraff, has once again created a public debate about racism in Germany. Wallraff — known for his undercover exposes of social and political problems in Europe for the past four decades — disguised himself as a black person by painting his skin dark and donning a curly black wig. He then secretly filmed the responses of ordinary Germans to what should be straightforward actions like renting accommodation, purchasing things in shops and attending football games.
The responses, recorded in this riveting documentary, Black on White, ranged from patronising and mildly insulting to absolutely violent. He was almost beaten up by neo-Nazis after a football match in eastern Germany. Outside a small-town nightclub he was told by a skinhead: “Europe for whites, Africa for apes”. Perhaps even more disturbing are the quotidian acts of discrimination that he recorded: being told by a landlady that she could not possibly rent out her flat to a black person, or not being allowed to try on an expensive watch by a shop owner who willingly handed over the same watch to the next (white) customer.
Many non-white residents who live in Germany point out that such incidents are part of normal life for them. Last year in Berlin alone, the police registered 140 violent race attacks, and these are seen as only the tip of the iceberg. Many foreign students, especially but not exclusively in eastern parts of the country, have suffered violent attacks, while a much larger number have experienced subtle or open racial discrimination in different ways.
Of course, this is not a German problem alone, as Europe in general and western Europe in particular struggle to come to terms with becoming multi-racial societies. Past historical and economic trends as well as current demographic patterns have contributed to a process that is unlikely to be reversed, but it has been associated with social tensions that are also increasingly reflected in the greater popularity of very right-wing political forces.
The current economic downswing, with its attendant effects on employment and wages, has of course exacerbated such unfortunate tendencies across the region, as actual or perceived “outsiders” get targeted. This notion of the alien as scapegoat is a very old social tendency. We can find examples of it in India as well, in reprehensible and divisive forces like the ones displayed in demands for reservations of jobs for Marathi-speakers in Maharashtra, or attacks on other linguistic or ethnic groups in Northeast India, and so on.
But Germany is perhaps a unique and even extreme case, because of its complicated recent history of integration as well as its Nazi past. The issue of racism has been politically sensitive for some time: just two years ago, the Social Democratic former minister Uwe-Karsten Heye, who now leads an anti-racism organisation called “Show Your Colour”, was widely pilloried for suggesting that there were parts of the country where black people were not physically safe, even though many black supported his claim. The German government refused to attend the Durban Review UN Conference against Racism held in Geneva in April 2009, citing concerns that it would be used “as a platform for other interests”. In general the government’s response has been denial rather than proactive intervention to stop the problem.
What explains the apparent spread and occasionally virulent form of racism in Germany? A book by Sudeshna Chakravarti (German Racism: An old or new disease, K.P. Bagchi & Company, Kolkata 1998) provides a fascinating insight into this question. Chakravarti visited post-unification East Germany over extended periods in 1991 and 1992, and again in 1994, and had extended discussions with refugees, journalists, writers, members of political parties, film directors and common people. Her short book provides a thoughtful and illuminating account of the different forces that have contributed to the problem.
As she notes, Germany has a rich thread of racism in its history, from the colonial period to the Nazi images of Aryan racial supremacy. But even so the renewed wave of racism in Germany cannot be attributed to a single reason. “There are many complex and interwoven factors — the old colonial heritage; the memories of occupation by coloured troops (during the World War II); the racism of the Nazi era, which was even more virulent and deadly but whose targets and methods were somewhat different; the imperfect de-Nazification, under the cover of a socialist state in the German Democratic Republic; the all enveloping crisis following re-unification; the present recession, which has affected even the prosperous West Germany; the need to find scapegoats for the general misery; the psychological urge to unite the ‘natives’ of the two Germanies, at the expense of the aliens; the general rise of racism and fascism all over Europe”.
The analysis remains remarkably contemporary, pointing to the depressing conclusion that in this respect very little has changed 20 years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Indeed, Chakravarti notes that “the fall of the Berlin Wall opened Hitler’s grave”, unleashing neo-Nazi tendencies that had been suppressed rather than eliminated in the years of Communism. Controlling this will require more active intervention from the non-racist mainstream of German society as well as the state.