JFP 12/8- Counterspin: US Media Bury Afghan Civil War
Just Foreign Policy News
December 8, 2009
Counterspin: US Media Bury Afghan Civil War
Janine Jackson interviews Just Foreign Policy on the US media's failure to report on the Afghan civil war (eight minutes.)
The full program, including an interview with Norman Solomon on the media's treatment of the escalation, can be downloaded here:
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1) The Pentagon on Monday announced the deployment of 16,200 troops to Afghanistan, McClatchy News reports. Approximately 1,500 Marines will deploy before the end of December 2009.
2) President Karzai said Tuesday that Afghanistan would not be able to pay for its own security until at least 2024, the New York Times reports. Some estimates say it will take up to $50 billion over five years to increase army and police rolls to 400,000, the level sought by General McChrystal. Meanwhile, as many as a dozen people were killed during a US raid in Laghman Province, prompting hundreds of villagers to march in protest. The US operation happened "without any coordination with the Afghan forces or Afghan officials," said a spokesman for the governor of Laghman. He said one woman was among the dead, which included civilians as well as insurgents.
3) UN Copenhagen climate talks were in "disarray" after developing countries reacted furiously to leaked documents that show world leaders will next week be asked to sign an agreement that hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN's role in all future climate change negotiations, the Guardian reports. Developing countries that have seen the text are understood to be furious that it is being promoted by rich countries without their knowledge and without discussion in the negotiations.
4) Japanese Foreign Minister Okada told Japanese media that talks on relocating the US air base on Okinawa have been suspended, the Washington Post reports. During his visit to Tokyo last month, President Obama and Prime Minister Hatoyama set up a "high-level working group" to resolve the dispute about the location of the Futenma Marine air station, which is located in a densely populated part of Okinawa and has become a symbol of the noise, pollution and crime that many Japanese associate with the U.S. military presence. But the group's meetings were inconclusive and have been suspended, with no resumption set, Okada said. The leader of the Social Democratic Party, whose support the government needs in the upper house of parliament, said last week her party might quit the government coalition if Hatoyama honors a deal with the US to keep the air station on Okinawa.
5) Brazil's presidential spokesman has reiterated that the country does not plan to recognize the incoming Honduran administration, AP reports. "The president's position is clear," the spokesman said. "Brazil does not intend to recognize a government elected in a process that was organized by an illegitimate government."
6) The Taliban have established an elaborate shadow government of governors, police chiefs, district administrators and judges that in many cases already has more bearing on the lives of Afghans than the US-supported Karzai government, the Washington Post reports. In many areas, Afghans have decided they prefer the severe but decisive authority of the Taliban to the corruption and inefficiency of Karzai's appointees.
7) A myopic focus on imposing new sanctions on Iran could backfire by obstructing negotiations, argue Jim Walsh, Thomas Pickering, and William Luers in Arms Control Today. The US and its allies should be clear about the strategic objective: permit Iran to operate under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty but create the inspection, monitoring, and transparency arrangements to assure the best firewall against weapons development; and need to be open about how to get there, through a negotiation that accepts Iran's legitimate activities, including enrichment under appropriate safeguards, and does the maximum to block the illegitimate ones. They should avoid all-or-nothing gambles, artificial deadlines, and a preoccupation with tactics.
8) A new Amnesty International report raises allegations of extrajudicial killings, torture and arbitrary detentions against soldiers engaged in Mexico's drug war, the New York Times reports. The report accuses soldiers of torturing 25 police officers in Tijuana to coerce them to confess to links to organized crime. It says a man arrested by soldiers in October 2008 in Ciudad Juárez was found dead of a cerebral hemorrhage. It says two brothers from Ciudad Juárez were led away from soldiers the next month and never seen again. In only one of the five cases raised by Amnesty did the army acknowledge some responsibility. In August, President Calderón said he knew of not "a single case" in which authorities did not respond to allegations against the military.
9) Bolivian President Evo Morales has lavished unprecedented social programs on the poor, including free medical care, stipends for new mothers and the elderly, and a massive program for literacy that includes payments to low-income families who make sure their children attend school, Time Magazine reports. But analysts say it wasn't just Morales' social largesse that ensured an electoral landslide. the IMF is hailing Bolivia's projected economic growth rate of almost 3%, one of the hemisphere's highest, as well as the fact that the country's economy has averaged almost 5% annual growth since Morales came to office, Bolivia's best performance in three decades. "Bolivia is the most profound example that the conventional wisdom of economic growth - that you need to attract foreign capital at all costs - is just not true," says Mark Weisbrot. Morales' decision last year to expel the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, Philip Goldberg, for allegedly meddling in Bolivian politics was supported by most Bolivians, Time says. Sources close to the Bolivian President say that as U.S.-Bolivia relations improve under Obama, Morales plans to reinstate a U.S. ambassador soon.
1) Pentagon Names Units That'll Deploy First In Afghan 'Surge'
Nancy A. Youssef , McClatchy Newspapers, Mon, Dec. 07, 2009, 07:22:33 PM http://www.mcclatchydc.com/afghanistan-pakistan/story/80199.html
Washington - The Pentagon on Monday announced which troops would be among the first of the 30,000-35,000 additional troops to head to Afghanistan.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates began working on the orders last week on the flight back from the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., where he'd watched President Obama announce the new strategy.
In all, the Pentagon announced Monday the deployment of 16,200 troops.
From the Marines, the deployment groups were: - Task Force 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., with approximately 1,500 Marines, deploying before the end of December 2009 - Regimental Combat Team-2, headquartered at Camp Lejeune, N.C., with approximately 6,200 Marines, deploying early spring 2010. - I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) headquarters from Camp Pendleton, Calif., with approximately 800 Marines, deploying spring 2010. These units will bring the total number of Marines deployed to Afghanistan to approximately 19,500.
From the Army:
- lst Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y., with approximately 3,500 soldiers, deploying spring 2010. They are tasked with training Afghan security forces
- In addition, another 4,200 Army Combat support troops, including military police will be deploying spring 2010.
2) Karzai Says Afghan Army Will Need Help Until 2024
Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times, December 9, 2009
Kabul - President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday that Afghanistan would not be able to pay for its own security until at least 2024, underscoring his government's long-term financial dependence on the United States and NATO even as President Obama has pledged to begin withdrawing American troops in 2011.
Mr. Karzai spoke at a news conference here with the American secretary of defense, Robert M. Gates, who did not put a timetable on the American and allied financial commitment but acknowledged that there was a "realism on our part that it will be some time before Afghanistan is able to sustain its security forces entirely on its own."
The news conference came just hours after as many as a dozen people were killed during an American raid in Laghman Province, Afghan officials said, prompting hundreds of villagers to march in protest.
The early morning operation outside the provincial capital of Mehtar Lam, east of Kabul, happened "without any coordination with the Afghan forces or Afghan officials," said Sayed Ahmed Safi, a spokesman for the governor of Laghman.
He said one woman was among the dead, which included civilians as well as insurgents, all killed by small-arms fire. He said the troops also detained four other men.
After Afghan security forces blocked marchers from entering Mehtar Lam, gunfire broke out, killing one protester and wounding two others, he said.
But while civilian casualties continue to anger Afghan officials, Mr. Karzai's comments on Tuesday highlighted just how much the government could be forced to rely on the United States and NATO countries for decades to come.
"For another 15 to 20 years, Afghanistan will not be able to sustain a force of that nature and capability with its own resources," Mr. Karzai said, referring to the force required to secure the entire country.
The subject was one of the main reasons Mr. Gates arrived here Tuesday on an unannounced visit, where he said a major topic of discussion with Mr. Karzai would be how fast the Afghans could recruit, train and retain their own security forces, the key to the planned American withdrawal that is supposed to begin in July 2011.
The price of building up Afghan forces to take over significant security duties could be enormous. Some estimates say it will take up to $50 billion over five years to increase army and police rolls to 400,000, the level sought by General McChrystal.
3) Copenhagen climate summit in disarray after 'Danish text' leak
Developing countries react furiously to leaked draft agreement that would hand more power to rich nations, sideline the UN's negotiating role and abandon the Kyoto protocol
John Vidal, Guardian, Tuesday 8 December 2009 14.09 GMT
Copenhagen - The UN Copenhagen climate talks are in disarray today after developing countries reacted furiously to leaked documents that show world leaders will next week be asked to sign an agreement that hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN's role in all future climate change negotiations.
The document is also being interpreted by developing countries as setting unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050; meaning that people in rich countries would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much under the proposals.
The so-called Danish text, a secret draft agreement worked on by a group of individuals known as "the circle of commitment" - but understood to include the UK, US and Denmark - has only been shown to a handful of countries since it was finalised this week.
The agreement, leaked to the Guardian, is a departure from the Kyoto protocol's principle that rich nations, which have emitted the bulk of the CO2, should take on firm and binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gases, while poorer nations were not compelled to act. The draft hands effective control of climate change finance to the World Bank; would abandon the Kyoto protocol - the only legally binding treaty that the world has on emissions reductions; and would make any money to help poor countries adapt to climate change dependent on them taking a range of actions.
The document was described last night by one senior diplomat as "a very dangerous document for developing countries. It is a fundamental reworking of the UN balance of obligations. It is to be superimposed without discussion on the talks".
A confidential analysis of the text by developing countries also seen by the Guardian shows deep unease over details of the text. In particular, it is understood to:
- Force developing countries to agree to specific emission cuts and measures that were not part of the original UN agreement;
- Divide poor countries further by creating a new category of developing countries called "the most vulnerable";
- Weaken the UN's role in handling climate finance;
- Not allow poor countries to emit more than 1.44 tonnes of carbon per person by 2050, while allowing rich countries to emit 2.67 tonnes.
Developing countries that have seen the text are understood to be furious that it is being promoted by rich countries without their knowledge and without discussion in the negotiations. "It is being done in secret. Clearly the intention is to get [Barack] Obama and the leaders of other rich countries to muscle it through when they arrive next week. It effectively is the end of the UN process," said one diplomat, who asked to remain nameless.
Antonio Hill, climate policy adviser for Oxfam International, said: "This is only a draft but it highlights the risk that when the big countries come together, the small ones get hurting. On every count the emission cuts need to be scaled up. It allows too many loopholes and does not suggest anything like the 40% cuts that science is saying is needed."
Hill continued: "It proposes a green fund to be run by a board but the big risk is that it will run by the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility [a partnership of 10 agencies including the World Bank and the UN Environment Programme] and not the UN. That would be a step backwards, and it tries to put constraints on developing countries when none were negotiated in earlier UN climate talks."
4) Report: Japan suspends talks on future of U.S. base on Okinawa
Blaine Harden, Washington Post, Tuesday, December 8, 2009 9:07 AM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/08/AR2009120801050.html
Seoul - A rift between the United States and Japan over the future of a military air station on Okinawa widened Tuesday, as Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada told Japanese media that talks on relocating the base have been suspended.
The report offers additional evidence that the newly elected government of Japan is uncomfortable with the military footprint of the United States. Most of the 36,000 U.S. forces in Japan are based on the southern island of Okinawa.
Japan may ask the United States to mitigate the military's impact on the daily life of Okinawans before reaching a conclusion on what to do about the disputed air station, chief cabinet secretary Hirofumi Hirano said Tuesday.
"The biggest priority for the Japanese side is to reduce burdens on the people of Okinawa," he said at a news conference.
During his visit to Tokyo last month, President Obama and Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama set up a "high-level working group" to resolve the dispute about the location of the Futenma Marine air station, which is located in a densely populated part of Okinawa and has become a symbol of the noise, pollution and crime that many Japanese associate with the U.S. military presence.
But the group's meetings were inconclusive and have been suspended, with no resumption set, Okada said at a press conference, according to the Kyodo news agency.
Hatoyama is facing a possible revolt by a coalition partner whose votes he needs to pass legislation in the upper house of parliament. The leader of the Social Democratic Party, Mizuho Fukushima, said last week her party might quit the coalition if Hatoyama honors the deal to keep the air station on Okinawa.
Hatoyama's approval ratings dipped below 60 percent in a newspaper poll released Monday, as many of those polled criticized the prime minister for indecision on the base issue.
5) Brazil: No Recognition for New Honduras Government
Associated Press, December 8, 2009, 8:43 a.m. ET http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/12/08/world/AP-LT-Brazil-Honduras.html
Brasilia, Brazil - Brazil's presidential spokesman has reiterated that the country does not plan to recognize the incoming Honduran administration and denied that Brazil's president and chief of staff have made contradictory statements about the Central American nation's elections.
Marcelo Baumbach said Monday that President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has made it clear he does not intend to recognize the outcome of Honduran elections that gave Porfirio Lobo the presidency after Manuel Zelaya was ousted and ended up holed up in the Brazilian Embassy there.
Baumbach made the comments three days after Brazilian presidential chief of staff Dilma Rousseff said Honduras' Nov. 29 elections "will have to be considered."
"One thing is dealing with the fact that there were elections and another is recognizing the legitimacy of the elections," Baumbach told reporters. "And for now, Brazil does not recognize that legitimacy."
"The president's position is clear," Baumbach said. "Brazil does not intend to recognize a government elected in a process that was organized by an illegitimate government."
6) Taliban Shadow Officials Offer Concrete Alternative
Many Afghans prefer decisive rule to disarray of Karzai government
Griff Witte, Washington Post, Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Laghman, Afghanistan - Like nearly all provinces in Afghanistan, this one has two governors.
The first was appointed by President Hamid Karzai and is backed by thousands of U.S. troops. He governs this mountainous eastern Afghan province by day, cutting the ribbons on new development projects and, according to fellow officials with knowledge of his dealings, taking a generous personal cut of the province's foreign assistance budget.
The second governor was chosen by Taliban leader Mohammad Omar and, hunted by American soldiers, sneaks in only at night. He issues edicts on "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" stationery, plots attacks against government forces and fires any lower-ranking Taliban official tainted by even the whiff of corruption.
As the United States prepares to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to bolster Karzai's beleaguered government, Taliban leaders are quietly pushing ahead with preparations for a moment they believe is inevitable: their return to power. The Taliban has done so by establishing an elaborate shadow government of governors, police chiefs, district administrators and judges that in many cases already has more bearing on the lives of Afghans than the real government.
"These people in the shadow government are running the country now," said Khalid Pashtoon, a legislator from the southern province of Kandahar who has close ties to Karzai. "They're an important part of the chaos."
U.S. military officials say that dislodging the Taliban's shadow government and establishing the authority of the Karzai administration over the next 18 months will be critical to the success of President Obama's surge strategy. But the task has been complicated by the fact that in many areas, Afghans have decided they prefer the severe but decisive authority of the Taliban to the corruption and inefficiency of Karzai's appointees.
The Karzai-appointed governor of Laghman, Lutfullah Mashal, has developed what some fellow officials and residents here say is a well-earned reputation for corruption.
The governor, they say, has pocketed money from the sale of state lands, earned profits on the local timber trade and stalled international development work until the contractors pay him bribes.
While Mashal is viewed with contempt by many residents, the shadow governor, Maulvi Shaheed Khail, is regarded as fearsome but clean. A former minister in the Taliban government, he became the shadow governor here last year after being released from government custody. Residents said he spends most of his time in exile in Pakistan but occasionally crosses the border to discuss strategy with his lieutenants.
This year, Taliban forces took full control of several Laghman villages, forcing 1,700 families linked to a pro-government tribe to flee. The families now live in a squalid camp on the edge of Mehtar Lam.
The tribe's leader, Malik Hazratullah, said that back in his home village, "there is no stealing, there is no corruption. The Taliban has implemented Islamic law."
By contrast, he said, provincial officials regularly steal wheat, oil and flour intended for the refugees in the camp and sell it on the black market. "When I see what this government is doing, it makes me want to join the Taliban," said Hazratullah, a massive, one-eyed man whose beard extends to his chest.
But Hazratullah has already cast his lot with the United States and Karzai, and he said it would be nearly impossible for him to switch back now. If the Taliban government ever returns to power across Afghanistan, Hazratullah said, he has no doubt what will happen: "They will cut off my head."
7) Iran and the Problem of Tactical Myopia
Jim Walsh, Thomas Pickering, and William Luers, Arms Control Today, December 2009
It seems that every conversation about Iran is a conversation about sanctions. Even in the midst of negotiations, the talk is as likely to be about the sanctions that might follow as it is about the negotiation itself. This is an odd and unfortunate state of affairs.
Although sanctions can be an effective policy instrument, they are only that: an instrument or tactic for achieving a goal. Given their track record, new sanctions are hardly the tactic one would rush to as a promising choice. More importantly, by narrowly focusing on a tactic rather than the strategic objective, there is the risk that policymakers will produce the very thing they seek to prevent: an Iran with nuclear weapons.
The use of sanctions, whether in general or against Iran, is not new. By one count, economic sanctions have been used 174 times since World War I. Iran has been subject to a variety of sanctions since its 1979 revolution. Scholarship on the effect of sanctions presents a challenge because of the difficulty of coding "successes" and "failures" and because of the numerous variables involved (size of country, duration and scope of sanctions, etc.) Still, it is clear from the research that, in general, sanctions are more likely to fail than succeed.
For many reasons, the Iranian nuclear case presents a particularly tough challenge for sanctions. Iran is a regional power and an oil supplier-not an ideal target. With a declining global supply of oil, countries such as China will not agree to do the one thing that would most affect Iran's economy: refuse to buy its oil. More importantly, Iran's government has made a very public commitment to the nuclear program, and the track record of the past several years indicates that it can build centrifuges faster than others can impose sanctions. Iran is a proud country with a cultivated abhorrence of outside interference, especially when the interference is perceived as having imperial overtones. New U.S. and other sanctions can impose costs on Iran, but the loud and accusing character of the sanctions makes them as likely to induce resistance as compliance.
The real danger is that a myopic focus on new sanctions will backfire. Sanctions can be a complement to negotiation when they give a country an incentive to bargain. Unfortunately, they can also be a roadblock to negotiations. It would be tragic indeed if, in the rush to pile on more sanctions, an opportunity to achieve the strategic objective, an Iran without nuclear weapons, was lost.
If the policy focus is not tactics but the endgame, then the first question should be, "What is the most likely path under which Iran remains without nuclear weapons?" The historical record suggests that the most probable scenario is one in which Iran agrees to a negotiated settlement, one in which it receives at least partial satisfaction on its concerns (e.g., recognition and respect as a regional power, an end to foreign activities aimed at fomenting domestic unrest, greater access to foreign investment in its oil and gas sectors) in return for enhanced transparency and new arrangements for some fuel cycle activities. Indeed, an agreement is most likely to be effective if Iran feels that it has a stake in its success. By contrast, Iran's leaders are unlikely to agree to one-sided concessions or abject capitulation.
Today, few commentators are willing to object to negotiations for fear of seeming unreasonable. Instead, the doubters emphasize the dangers of negotiation, urge the "P5+1" (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council-China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States-plus Germany) to set strict deadlines, and argue that the United States and its partners should be prepared to walk away at the first sign of difficulty.
The most common complaint about negotiations is that they will allow Tehran to "play for time." Typically, a country uses negotiations to play for time when it takes advantage of the period of negotiation to engage in activities that it would otherwise be unable to do (e.g., stockpiling armaments or securing territory prior to a ceasefire). These conditions do not apply in the Iranian case. The central concern with Iran is uranium enrichment. Iran was enriching prior to the negotiations and would be doing so absent any negotiations. Negotiations do not make it easier for Iran to enrich. Indeed, it may be that negotiations, as a process, induce Iran to be more transparent and cooperative than it would be if it were outside the process throwing stones. Negotiations may ultimately prove unsuccessful in addressing the problems raised by Iran's fuel cycle program, but they do not exacerbate those problems.
In short, both the opportunities and the stakes with Iran may have increased. Given the challenges that can be expected in any negotiations, the P5+1 needs to be clear about the strategic objective: permit Iran to operate under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty but create the inspection, monitoring, and transparency arrangements to assure the best firewall against weapons development. The six countries also need to be open about how to get there, through a negotiation that accepts Iran's legitimate activities, including enrichment under appropriate safeguards, and does the maximum to block the illegitimate ones. They should avoid all-or-nothing gambles, artificial deadlines, and a preoccupation with tactics. If they do, it may be possible to avoid new sanctions, proliferation, containment, or even war.
8) Rights Group Report Faults Mexican Army's Conduct in Drug War
Marc Lacey, New York Times, December 8, 2009
Culiacán, Mexico - The steady drumbeat of complaints against Mexico's army is expected to continue Tuesday, when Amnesty International is scheduled to release a report raising allegations of extrajudicial killings, torture and arbitrary detentions against soldiers engaged in the nation's drug war.
The report, which meshes with earlier examinations by Human Rights Watch and Mexican human rights groups, accuses soldiers of torturing 25 police officers in Tijuana in March to coerce them to confess to links to organized crime. It says a man arrested by soldiers in October 2008 in Ciudad Juárez was found dead of a cerebral hemorrhage. It says two brothers from Ciudad Juárez were led away from soldiers the next month and never seen again.
In only one of the five cases raised by Amnesty did the army acknowledge some responsibility. It involved the deaths of three men detained by the army in Nuevo Laredo in March. The Ministry of Defense has detained 12 soldiers and charged them in connection with the men's disappearance and deaths.
The State Department in August issued a report saying that accusations of army abuses had risen sixfold in the two years since President Felipe Calderón's offensive against drug cartels began in 2006. The report, however, concluded that Mexico was taking measures to address the problem and that American counternarcotics assistance should not be held back as a result of the allegations.
In August, Mr. Calderón said that the government was engaged in a "scrupulous effort to protect human rights" and that he knew of not "a single case" in which authorities did not respond to allegations against the military.
The American government has complained that the opaque nature of Mexico's military justice system makes it difficult to know whether the Ministry of Defense is taking accusations against soldiers seriously.
9) Morales' Big Win: Voters Ratify His Remaking of Bolivia
Jean Friedman-Rudovsky, Time Magazine, Monday, Dec. 07, 2009
La Paz - Bolivian President Evo Morales isn't South America's first indigenous head of state - that honor belongs to Alejandro Toledo, a Quechua Indian who was President of Peru from 2001 to 2006 - but he's certainly the first to capture the imagination of the world outside South America. Morales, first elected in 2005, was the continent's Barack Obama before there was Obama. He is an Aymara Indian and former coca-growers union leader who won the presidential palace while still in his 40s, just decades after a time when Bolivians of his class and skin color weren't even allowed to vote. Morales hit the global stage with retro, Che Guevara-inspired leftist politics and colorful Aymara fashions. But the real question was whether he could actually govern and even improve South America's poorest and most volatile nation.
Bolivian voters, at least, issued a resounding yes in Sunday's presidential election: the initial tally shows Morales, now 50, winning re-election with 63% of the vote, almost 10 points better than his 54% showing four years ago. He defeated his closest opposition candidate by 40 points. His party, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), won two-thirds of the seats in Bolivia's Congress. As a result, said Morales, "I am obligated to accelerate the pace of change." The statement was sure to buoy the indigenous majority that makes up his base while vexing the more conservative white minority he has sometimes violently butted heads with.
Morales sailed to victory thanks largely to that indigenous cohort, which is concentrated in Bolivia's Western highlands and makes up about two-thirds of the country's population. Like Hugo Chávez, his left-wing counterpart in Venezuela, Morales has lavished unprecedented social programs on the poor, including free medical care, stipends for new mothers and the elderly, and a massive program for literacy that includes payments to low-income families who make sure their children attend school. "Evo knows what it's like to be like us," said Ilda Condori, an indigenous voter waiting outside a polling station in the impoverished city of El Alto that adjoins the capital, La Paz, 12,000 ft. high in the Andes. Looking down at her 8-year-old daughter, Condori added, "Because of Evo, I can afford to buy this one schoolbooks and some clothes every year."
But analysts say it wasn't just Morales' social largesse that ensured a larger landslide this time. Critics foresaw macroeconomic disaster three years ago when Morales, fulfilling a campaign promise, nationalized Bolivia's vast natural-gas reserves. Among the doubters was the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington. Today the IMF is hailing Bolivia's projected economic growth rate of almost 3%, one of the hemisphere's highest, as well as the fact that the country's economy has averaged almost 5% annual growth since Morales came to office, Bolivia's best performance in three decades. "Bolivia is the most profound example that the conventional wisdom of economic growth - that you need to attract foreign capital at all costs - is just not true," says Mark Weisbrot, director of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.
Despite the energy nationalization and Morales' strident anticapitalist rhetoric, Weisbrot adds, foreign investment is higher now than it was under many of Morales' predecessors. Much of that success was driven by the decade's abnormally high prices for commodities like natural gas, and it was hardly expected from a man who, like Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, did not attend college and concedes he didn't know what inflation meant before he became President. "When Morales admitted [during a visit to the U.S.] that it wasn't until after his election that the concept was explained to him, eyes grew wide," says Martin Sivak, author of a Morales biography, Evo Morales, due out soon in English. "He barely finished high school, but he's honest about his lack of knowledge, and he makes up for that by surrounding himself with experts."
Sivak acknowledges Morales' sometimes autocratic bent. "He inherited this from his years as a union leader," he says. "He has trouble trusting others, and so it means he's involved in 50 decisions every day, which is not always a good thing." But the process earlier this year to rewrite Bolivia's constitution, which increased indigenous rights and let Morales run for President one more time, satisfied democratic criteria; and even Morales' decision last year to expel the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, Philip Goldberg, for allegedly meddling in Bolivian politics was supported by most Bolivians, who feel Washington's insistence on drug-war and free-market cooperation hurt the country in the 1980s and '90s.
Sources close to the Bolivian President tell TIME that as U.S.-Bolivia relations improve under Obama, Morales plans to reinstate a U.S. ambassador soon.
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