Commentary

Jesse Jackson, Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte: Speed Aid to Haiti

Reverend Jesse Jackson, Danny Glover, and Harry Belafonte, together with Haiti NGOs, peace groups, and Latin America scholars, have written to Congress urging that the delivery of medical aid and other urgently needed aid to Haiti be speeded up and prioritized over the deployment of U.S. troops.

The letter is here.

An article in the Miami Herald is here.

AWOL from the SOTU: Peace, Reconciliation, and Debt

On foreign policy, while the President said some good things, he missed key opportunities to say better things. In particular, he missed opportunities to promote reconciliation as an essential way of ending our wars and promoting peace. In speaking about U.S. domestic politics, the President is eloquent in his efforts to promote reconciliation, but he seems to have lost his voice in applying these ideas to our foreign policy.

The President renewed his promise to end the war in Iraq, including his promise to have all U.S. combat troops out by August, and to bring all of our troops home from Iraq. He also said we will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and partner with Iraqis to promote peace and prosperity. But there was a key omission here: the word "reconciliation." Hundreds of candidates have been disqualified from running in the March parliamentary election; Sunni and secular candidates have been particularly targeted. If this move is allowed to stand, reconciliation in Iraq will be imperiled, the civil war could be reignited, and Iraq's relationship with its predominantly Sunni Arab neighbors would be further strained. The U.S. is working to overturn the exclusion; by refering more explicitly to those efforts, the President could have promoted Iraqi reconciliation.

Beverly Bell: "7.0 on the Horror Scale - Notes on the Haitian Earthquake"

Following is the log of Beverly Bell during the first ten days after the earthquake in Haiti.
Beverly first went to Haiti as a teenager. Since then she has dedicated most of her life to working for democracy, women's rights, and economic justice in that country. She founded or co-founded six organizations and networks dedicated exclusively to supporting the Haitian people, including the Lambi Fund of Haiti. She worked for both presidents Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Rene Preval and wrote Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Story of Survival and Resistance (Cornell University Press, 2001). Today she is associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and runs the economic justice group Other Worlds.


7.0 ON THE HORROR SCALE
NOTES ON THE HAITIAN EARTHQUAKE

BEVERLY BELL, OTHER WORLDS COLLABORATIVE, NEW ORLEANS

January 12, 2010

4:12 p.m. 7.0 EARTHQUAKE ROCKS HAITI. I read this email subject line several times. My brain can't make sense of it.
I blast the following message in Creole out to dozens of Haitian friends: How is it that the worst always goes right to Ayiti Cheri - not just human-created crises like poverty and avoidable disease, but also natural phenomenon? May as many as possible - including all of your people - be spared from death and further suffering.
Sharing anguish and love, Bev

January 13

11:05 a.m. Looking for mindless little tasks to do today since I can't manage anything big... Can't stop shaking or crying, barely slept last night, can't eat. Been fighting the urge to vomit since yesterday afternoon.

UN: Time for Direct Talks with Afghan Taliban Leaders

The top United Nations official for Afghanistan has called for direct talks with senior Taliban leaders. Is anyone in Washington listening?

The New York Times reported Sunday that Kai Eide, the United Nations special representative for Afghanistan, "called on Afghan officials to seek the removal of at least some senior Taliban leaders from the United Nations' list of terrorists, as a first step toward opening direct negotiations with the insurgent group."

Eide also called on the U.S. to speed its review of the roughly 750 detainees in its military prisons in Afghanistan - another principal grievance of Taliban leaders.

Eide said he hoped that the two steps would open the way for face-to-face talks between Afghan officials and Taliban leaders.

"If you want relevant results, then you have to talk to the relevant person in authority," Mr. Eide said. "I think the time has come to do it."

It's an unquestioned dogma in official Washington that while of course every informed person knows that the endgame in Afghanistan is a negotiated political settlement with the Afghan Taliban, the time is not ripe for negotiations; the Afghan Taliban have to be weakened first through military escalation, because their leaders are not ready to talk peace.

It's never explained how U.S. officals know that Afghan Taliban leaders are not ready to talk peace, unless the definition of "talking peace" is "acceding to U.S. demands." A reasonable inference is that these statements by U.S. officials are a dodge: U.S. officials are not ready to talk peace.

Will History Recall the Haiti Airlift?

Mainstream media are now reporting the shortage of medical supplies in Haiti, a shortage created in part by the US decision to prioritize the inflow of military flights over humanitarian aid.

Doctors without Borders (MSF) said days were lost because the main airport in Port-au-Prince, under U.S. control, had been blocked by military traffic, Reuters reports.

"We lost three days," [Francoise Saulnier, the head of MSF's legal department] told Reuters Television in an interview. "And these three days have created a massive problem with infection, with gangrene, with amputations that are needed now, while we could have really spared this to those people."

[...]

"And now everything has been mixed together and the urgent and vital attention to the people has been delayed (for) military logistics, which is useful but not on day three, not on day four, but maybe on day eight. This military logistic has really jammed the airport and led to this mismanagment."

Mark Weisbrot, writing in the Guardian, noted that

On Sunday, Jarry Emmanuel, air logistics officer for the UN's World Food Programme, said: "There are 200 flights going in and out every day, which is an incredible amount for a country like Haiti ... But most flights are for the US military."

The New York Times reported Thursday that

Blocking Doctors? Let the Aid to Haiti Go Through

Blocking Doctors? Let the Aid to Haiti Go Through

The TV story seems to be that aid from America is pouring in to Haiti. But on the ground the US military is blocking doctors and American aid workers with longstanding relationships in Haiti from bringing in desperately needed aid, and the US is also being slow to expand airdrops of water, water purification tablets, and food. Where is the United States Congress? Because the US military is involved, does that mean no-one can say anything?

Yesterday, Doctors Without Borders reported that

A Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) cargo plane carrying 12 tons of medical equipment, including drugs, surgical supplies and two dialysis machines, was turned away three times from Port-au-Prince airport since Sunday night despite repeated assurances of its ability to land there…Since January 14, MSF has had five planes diverted from the original destination of Port-au-Prince to the Dominican Republic. These planes carried a total of 85 tons of medical and relief supplies.

One of their staff members said,

"We have had five patients in Martissant health center die for lack of the medical supplies that this plane was carrying…. Today, there are 12 people who need lifesaving amputations at Choscal Hospital. We were forced to buy a saw in the market to continue amputations."

Groups ready to deliver aid to Jacmel - the fourth-largest city in Haiti - were told they would receive no clearance to land there from the U.S. military, even though they already had both aid supplies and the means for distributing them. This aid is only now being delivered - thanks to assistance from the Dominican Republic, not the U.S.

Help Haiti? Let Haitians Stay and Cancel Haiti's Debt

President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have pledged that the US will do all it can to help Haiti following the devastating earthquake. But while getting assistance into Haiti right now is extremely difficult, there are two things the Obama Administration could do immediately to help Haiti that are entirely within its control. It could grant "Temporary Protected Status" to undocumented Haitians in the U.S. - so they can stay here instead of adding to Haiti's burden, work legally, and send home money to help their relatives - and it could support the cancellation of Haiti's debts to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, where the U.S. Treasury department has decisive influence. So far the Administration has refused to move on either issue. Why the delay?

Even the Washington Post editorial board - on foreign policy, not usually known for singing Kumbaya - calls the Administration to account on both issues.

On Temporary Protected Status for Haiti, the Post says:

Can Cheryle Jackson End the War in Afghanistan?

Add Illinois to Pennsylvania as states where there is a contested Senate primary in which the war in Afghanistan has become an issue. The Chicago Tribune reports that the two leading contenders for the Democratic nomination for Barack Obama's former seat in the Senate have staked out diametrically opposed positions.

A Tribune poll last month reported that Alexi Giannoulias and Cheryle Jackson were the leading contenders for the Democratic nomination.

On Afghanistan, the Tribune reports that Cheryle Jackson wants to end the war, while Giannoulias supports it:

"It is time to take care of America again and time to bring our troops home," said Democratic Senate contender Cheryle Jackson, a former president of the Chicago Urban League. "Until we stop spending hundreds of billions on wars, we will not have the focus or money to solve the challenges we face at home."

[...]

But first-term state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, a Democrat, said he fully supported Obama's strategy for Afghanistan and indicated that those who oppose it are engaging in wishful thinking.

Indeed, Cheryle Jackson's first TV ad takes direct aim at the wars - "It's time to leave Afghanistan and Iraq":

Gaza Freedom March: What We Accomplished

Cairo - Some of us reached Gaza and participated in the Gaza Freedom March as planned. Some of us traveled via Israel to the Israeli border with Gaza and protested the blockade on Gaza alongside Israelis. All of us significantly raised the profile of dissent - particularly, American dissent - against the blockade of the people of Gaza imposed by Israel and Egypt, with the backing of the United States and the acquiescence of Europe. The groundwork is being laid for future campaigning in the U.S. for "citizen sanctions" against the Israeli government that could help change the balance of forces influencing U.S. policy, so that U.S. policy becomes a force for peace, rather than continuing to perpetuate the Israel/Palestine conflict as the U.S. is doing today.

The New York Times (yes, the New York Times had two articles on the march) reported:

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered on both sides of the Israeli-Gazan border on Thursday to mark a year since Israel's three-week war in Gaza, and to call for an end to the blockade of the area imposed by Israel and Egypt. About 85 of the several hundred demonstrators inside Gaza were foreigners, part of a group of more than 1,000 who arrived in Cairo in hopes of entering the territory but who were stopped by the Egyptian authorities. After days of negotiation, Egypt permitted a small delegation to cross the normally closed border at the southern Gazan city of Rafah.

Hundreds of us - confined to Cairo - protested against the Israeli/Egyptian blockade where we were. Our protests in Cairo were front-page news in the Egyptian press - and were reported in the U.S. as well.

The Christian Science Monitor reported:

Under International Pressure, Egypt Yields Ground to Gaza Freedom March

Cairo - Twelve hours before this writing, it appeared that 50,000 Palestinians in Gaza planning to march to the Erez border crossing with Israel on Thursday in protest of the continuing blockade on Gaza might not be accompanied by any of the 1400 internationals who had come to Egypt planning to join the Gaza Freedom March.

But on Tuesday Egypt agreed to let 100 of the 1400 marchers depart for Gaza Wednesday morning. This came as just the story of the Egyptian government crackdown on largely Western peace activists was starting to spill from the Arab media and European media into the US press.

Egypt's partial concession means that 50,000 Palestinian marchers will have 100 companions representing some 40 countries to act as a deterrent against Israeli government violence - and to help get the story out about Gazans nonviolently protesting the blockade.

Egypt's concession leaves 1300 of us here in Cairo to continue to press the case on the Egyptian government - together with many sympathetic Egyptians - that Egypt should cease supporting the U.S.-Israeli blockade on Gaza.