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JFP 2/22: Fight on Afghanistan Deployment Brings Down Dutch Government
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 22 February 2010 - 9:15pm
Just Foreign Policy News
February 22, 2010
NYT "Mystery" Op-Ed calls for more deaths of innocents in Afghanistan
The New York Times op-ed page gave a platform to a "mystery op-ed" of dubious provenance that slammed the Obama Administration for having *too low a tolerance* for civilian deaths in Afghanistan.
Ask the New York Times Public Editor to investigate why this op-ed was published without informing readers who the author is - and what the author's connection might be to those who profit from US use of airstrikes, heedless of civilian casualties.
Democracy Now: Peter Hallward on "Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment"
Author Peter Hallward argues that if President Aristide were allowed to return to Haiti, he could be a spokesperson for popular empowerment, and could contribute to the popular mobilization necessary to overcome the crisis; and that Aristide could return if people in the U.S. spoke up.
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1) Dutch Prime Minister Balkenende said he expected Dutch troops to come home from Afghanistan before the end of the year, after efforts to keep them there longer caused the government to collapse, the New York Times reports. The war in Afghanistan has been increasingly unpopular among voters in in many parts of Europe, creating strains between governments trying to please the US and their own people.
2) Afghan officials said at least 27 civilians were killed in a NATO airstrike in Uruzgan province, the Los Angeles Times reports. The Afghan Cabinet condemned the strike, calling it "unjustifiable." Military officials said the airstrike was not connected to the assault on Marja. NATO says at least 16 civilians have been killed by Western troops in the course of the offensive in Marja.
3) Scenes from the battlefield in Marja suggest that the day when the Afghan Army will be able to perform complex operations independently remains far off, the New York Times reports. In every engagement between the Taliban and one front-line Marine unit, the operation has been led in almost every significant sense by US officers and troops. That fact raises questions about President Obama's goal of beginning to withdraw US forces in July 2011, the Times says.
4) In a remarkable reversal of the IMF's past opposition to capital controls, IMF economists urged developing nations to consider using taxes and regulation to moderate vast inflows of capital so they don't produce asset bubbles and other financial calamities, the Wall Street Journal reports. They said said emerging markets with controls in place - like Brazil and Chile - had fared better than others in the global downturn. In another reversal, the IMF recently suggested the world might be better off with a higher level of inflation than central bankers now are targeting, the Journal notes.
5) A South African scientist says the widespread use of anti-retroviral drugs could eradicate the AIDS epidemic by slashing transmission rates, the Independent reports. A study published in 2008 showed that it is theoretically possible to cut new HIV cases by 95 per cent within 10 years of implementing a program of universal testing and prescription of ART drugs. Dr. Brian Williams said the the cost of treating a growing number of AIDS patients and the economic cost of young adults dying off would be higher than giving out free ART drugs to everyone who needs them.
6) The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against USAID for refusing to comply with FOIA requests for documents related to USAID-funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs abroad, RH Reality Check reports. An audit by the Office of Inspector General surveyed faith-based organizations using USAID funds and found USAID funds were being used for religious activities, in violation of U.S. law. The US "cannot be in the business of exporting religiously infused abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that we know fail to give young people the information they need to stay healthy," the ACLU said.
7) Just 20 percent of Gaza fishermen are still able to make a living from fishing due to Israeli restrictions, writes Pam Rasmussen for Truthout. Agreements between Israel and the PLO stipulate that Gaza fishermen have the right to fish up to 20 nautical miles from the Gaza coastline, but Israel never honored the agreement. Israeli gun boats have attacked Gaza fishermen just one or two miles from the shore; in 2009, one fisherman was killed, 20 fishermen and civilians were wounded.
8) Clashes erupted in the West Bank city of Hebron between Palestinian youths and Israeli soldiers after after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu enraged Palestinian residents by adding a disputed Hebron shrine to Israel's list of national heritage sites, AP reports. The UN's Mideast envoy criticized the Israeli decision.
9) The international community is dusting off a plan to expand Haiti's low-wage garment assembly industry to increase exports to the US, AP reports. Garment workers earn $3.09 a day to produce suits that sell in the U.S. for $550. Under the HOPE II Act, Haiti exports textiles duty-free to the U.S. for a decade. Factory profit margins average about 22 percent. Haitian lawmakers raised the country's minimum from $1.72 a day to almost $5 in response to protests. But owners complained, and President Preval refused to enact the law; a compromise allowed non-garment workers to get $5/day and workers producing garments for the US market to get $3.09/day. Even factory owners acknowledge that garment-industry wages are too low to feed, clothe and house workers and their families.
10) Israel's air force introduced a fleet of drones that would put Iran in range, AP reports. But drones have been much less successful in conflicts where the opponents possessed better anti-aircraft weapons like Iran does, AP notes. During NATO's onslaught against Serbia, Serbian forces quickly forces shot down 42 U.S. drones.
11) An Iranian diplomat said Iran hopes to double trade with Iraq to $8 billion this year, Reuters reports. Iran is the main trading partner of Iraq; the main areas of trade are the construction, food and industrial sectors.
12) A leading Sunni party, the Iraqi National Dialogue Front, announced it will boycott Iraq's upcoming elections because its leader was barred from participating, the Los Angeles Times reports. Party leader Saleh Mutlak said the decision to boycott was triggered by comments made by US Army Gen. Ray Odierno, alleging Iranian influence. But the secular coalition to which Mutlak's party belongs announced it will contest the election and resume campaigning.
13) The U.S. has lifted an advisory warning US travelers of security concerns in Syria, as the US tries to improve relations, AP reports. [A welcome development, but it is remarkable how transparently political the State Department determination is; because the US is trying to improve relations with Syria, it is now safe for Americans to travel there - something Americans and US institutions that take the State Department's travel advisories as an indicator of actual safety would do well to keep in mind - JFP.]
14) A truce between Darfur's most powerful rebel group and the government of Sudan could pave the way for finally bringing peace to Darfur, AP reports. The truce set to be signed Tuesday was bolstered by the dramatic improvement in relations between Sudan and Chad, which sponsored the truce only days after declaring the end to its long proxy war with Sudan.
15) President Correa charged that Ecuador's inclusion on an international list of nations accused of lagging in the fight against money laundering is a hypocritical punishment for its relations with Iran, Mercopress reports. Ecuador's private bank association also said it thought Ecuador's relations with Iran were behind Ecuador's inclusion on the list.
1) Dutch Pull-Out From War Expected After Government Collapse
Nicholas Kulish, New York Times, February 22, 2010
Berlin - A day after his government collapsed, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said Sunday that he expected Dutch troops to come home from Afghanistan before the end of the year. A last-ditch effort by Mr. Balkenende to keep Dutch soldiers in the dangerous southern Afghan province of Oruzgan instead saw the Labor Party quit the government in the Netherlands early Saturday, immediately raising fears that the Western military coalition fighting the war was increasingly at risk.
Even as the allied offensive in the Taliban stronghold of Marja continued, it appeared almost certain that most of the 2,000 Dutch troops would be gone from Afghanistan by the end of the year. The question plaguing military planners was whether a Dutch departure would embolden the war's critics in other allied countries, where debate over deployment is continuing, and hasten the withdrawal of their troops as well.
Dutch leaders had promised voters to bring most of the country's troops home this year. But after entreaties from the United States, Mr. Balkenende tried to find a compromise to extend the Dutch presence, at least on a scaled-back basis. Instead, the Labor Party pulled out of the government after an acrimonious 16-hour cabinet meeting that ran into the early hours of Saturday.
Mr. Balkenende told Dutch television on Sunday that he now expected Dutch troops to leave Afghanistan as planned. "If nothing else will take its place, then it ends," he said, according to Reuters. The Dutch troops have been important to the war effort, despite their small numbers, because about 1,500 of them were posted in Oruzgan. Analysts said that new elections in the Netherlands, as well as the departure of the Dutch troops, now appeared inevitable.
The war in Afghanistan has been increasingly unpopular among voters in the Netherlands, as in many other parts of Europe, creating strains between governments trying to please the United States and their own people.
2) NATO airstrike kills 27 Afghan civilians
The target was a convoy believed to be carrying insurgents in a province bordering Helmand, where a U.S.-led offensive on Marja is in its 10th day. Gen. McChrystal has conveyed regret to President Karzai.
Laura King, Los Angeles Times, 4:51 AM PST, February 22, 2010
Kabul - Afghan officials said Monday that at least 27 civilians were killed in a NATO airstrike in a southern province that borders Helmand, where thousands of coalition troops are taking part in an offensive in and around the town of Marja.
Western military officials said the incident in Uruzgan province, which occurred Sunday, was under investigation. It said U.S. Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of all Western forces in Afghanistan, had already conveyed "sorrow and regret" to President Hamid Karzai, a highly vocal critic of civilian casualties.
Military officials said the airstrike was not connected to the assault on Marja, which is the largest coalition offensive since the start of the war in 2001. But it is certain to inflame sensitivities over the issue of civilian deaths and injuries in fighting between Western forces and the Taliban.
The incident apparently revolved around a trio of civilian minibuses being mistaken for an insurgent convoy as they traveled along a major highway. A statement from NATO's International Security Assistance Force confirmed that "airborne weapons" were used against the vehicles, which at the time were believed to be carrying militants on their way to stage an attack. But arriving ground forces found women and children at the scene, the military said. It did not say whether any suspected fighters were present as well.
NATO did not give an estimate of the number of dead, but Afghanistan's Cabinet said at least 27 had died in the strike. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Zemari Bashary, said more than a dozen other people were hurt, and NATO said the military had provided emergency treatment and transported them to medical facilities. The Cabinet condemned the strike, calling it "unjustifiable."
In advance of the Marja campaign, Western commanders promised to take all possible measures to safeguard civilian lives. Marines had been fighting under stringent new rules of engagement laid down last summer by McChrystal. Troops are not supposed to fire on insurgents unless they are wielding a weapon, or unless they are seen throwing one aside. Even so, NATO says at least 16 civilians have been accidentally killed by Western troops in the course of the offensive.
3) Marines Do Heavy Lifting As Afghan Army Lags In Battle
C. J. Chivers, New York Times, February 21, 2010
Marja, Afghanistan - As American Marines and Afghan soldiers have fought their way into this Taliban stronghold, the performance of the Afghan troops has tested a core premise of the American military effort here: in the not-too-distant future, the security of this country can be turned over to indigenous forces created at the cost of American money and blood.
Scenes from this corner of the battlefield, observed over eight days by two New York Times journalists, suggest that the day when the Afghan Army will be well led and able to perform complex operations independently, rather than merely assist American missions, remains far off.
The effort to train the Afghan Army has long been troubled, with soldiers and officers repeatedly falling short. And yet after nearly a decade of American and European mentorship and many billions of dollars of American taxpayer investment, American and Afghan officials have portrayed the Afghan Army as the force out front in this important offensive against the Taliban.
Statements from Kabul have said the Afghan military is planning the missions and leading both the fight and the effort to engage with Afghan civilians caught between the Taliban and the newly arrived troops.
But that assertion conflicts with what is visible in the field. In every engagement between the Taliban and one front-line American Marine unit, the operation has been led in almost every significant sense by American officers and troops. They organized the forces for battle, transported them in American vehicles and helicopters from Western-run bases into Taliban-held ground, and have been the primary fighting force each day.
The Afghan National Army, or A.N.A., has participated. At the squad level it has been a source of effective, if modestly skilled, manpower. Its soldiers have shown courage and a willingness to fight. Afghan soldiers have also proved, as they have for years, to be more proficient than Americans at searching Afghan homes and identifying potential Taliban members - two tasks difficult for outsiders to perform.
By all other important measures, though - from transporting troops, directing them in battle and coordinating fire support to arranging modern communications, logistics, aviation and medical support - the mission in Marja has been a Marine operation conducted in the presence of fledgling Afghan Army units, whose officers and soldiers follow behind the Americans and do what they are told.
That fact raises questions about President Obama's declared goal of beginning to withdraw American forces in July 2011 and turning over security to the Afghan military and the even more troubled police forces.
4) IMF Suggests Capital Controls for Emerging Markets
Bob Davis, Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2010
Washington - International Monetary Fund economists, reversing the fund's past opposition to capital controls, urged developing nations to consider using taxes and regulation to moderate vast inflows of capital so they don't produce asset bubbles and other financial calamities. It said emerging markets with controls in place had fared better than others in the global downturn.
The recommendation is the IMF's firmest embrace of capital controls and a reversal of advice it gave developing nations just three years ago. The IMF has long championed the free flow of capital, as a corollary to the free flow of trade, to help developing countries prosper. But the global financial crisis has prompted the fund to rethink long-held beliefs. It recently suggested the world might be better off with a higher level of inflation than central bankers now are targeting. "We have tried to look at the evidence and tried to learn something from the current crisis," said Jonathan Ostry, the IMF's deputy director of research, who wrote "Capital Inflows: The Role of Controls" with five other IMF economists.
The IMF examined capital restrictions tried by Brazil, Chile, Malaysia and other countries, such as explicit taxes on capital inflows, requirements that a portion of foreign capital be held interest-free at the central bank, and various regulations to reduce foreign lending. The fund recommends that countries first look at whether traditional policies, such as allowing currencies to appreciate, will work to moderate capital inflows. Countries whose currencies are appropriately valued and that are wary of lowering interest rates to ward off inflows should look at "unconventional" measures, Mr. Ostry said.
5) Aids: is the end in sight?
Mass prescription of anti-retroviral drugs could eradicate the disease within 40 years, scientist says
Steve Connor, The Independent, Monday, 22 February 2010
San Diego - Testing everyone at risk of HIV and treating them with anti-retroviral drugs could eradicate the global epidemic within 40 years, according to the scientist at the centre of a radical new approach to fighting Aids.
An aggressive programme of prescribing anti-retroviral treatment (ART) to every person infected with HIV could stop all new infections in five years and eventually wipe out the epidemic, said Brian Williams of the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis.
Dr Williams is part of a growing body of experts who believe that anti-HIV drugs are probably the best hope of preventing and even eliminating the spread of Aids, rather than waiting for the development of an effective vaccine or relying solely on people changing their sexual lifestyle.
Dr Williams and his supporters believe that if enough infected people are treated, it would lower the rate of infection to such an extent that the epidemic would die out within the lifetime of those undergoing the treatment. Aids could effectively be wiped out by the middle of this century, he said.
"The problem is that we are using the drugs to save lives, but we are not using them to stop transmission," Dr Williams said. Blocking transmission can only be done with an extensive testing regime followed by rapid treatment with anti-retroviral drugs to everyone found to be HIV positive, he said. "The concentration of the virus drops 10,000 times [with ART] ... This probably translates into a 25-fold reduction in infectiousness. But if you did this it would be enough essentially to stop transmission," he said.
A study published in 2008 showed that it is theoretically possible to cut new HIV cases by 95 per cent, from a prevalence of 20 per 1,000 to 1 per 1,000, within 10 years of implementing a programme of universal testing and prescription of ART drugs.
ART drugs have to be taken on a daily basis for life, and the cost for South Africa alone would be about $4bn per year. However, Dr Williams said that the cost of having to treat a growing number of Aids patients, as well as the economic cost of young adults dying off, would be higher than giving out free ART drugs to everyone who needs them.
"The key issue of cost is that if you don't do anything it costs you a lot of money. In South Africa we spend a lot of money on people who are hospitalised with infections related to HIV," Dr Williams said. "More importantly, we are killing young adults in the prime of their life just when they should be contributing to society. The cost to society of that is enormous.
"If you factor all of the costs into the equation then, in my opinion, doing this is a cost saving from day one because the cost of the drugs will be more than outweighed by the costs of treating all of these people with other diseases," he said. "A friend of mine said that the only thing that is more expensive than doing this is not doing this."
6) ACLU Sues USAID: Are We Exporting US Taxpayer-Funded Religion?
Amie Newman, Reproductive Health Reality Check, February 19, 2010 - 8:30am http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2010/02/18/aclu-sues-usaid-are-we-exporting-us-taxpayer-funded-religion
The ACLU has waited long enough. On Thursday, February 18th, they filed a lawsuit against USAID for refusing to comply with their Freedom of Information Act requests from July and September 2009, for documents related to USAID-funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs abroad. The ACLU has patiently awaited documents that may help shed light on an audit completed last year suggesting USAID is dispersing money, unconstitutionally, for religiously-based HIV prevention programs.
The report, filed by the Office of Inspector General, surveyed 9 out of the 10 faith-based organizations using USAID funds and stated clearly that USAID-awarded funds were being used for religious activities.
While it is important to recognize cultural mores when crafting curricula, these messages do more harm than good. Rates of HIV and AIDS throughout Africa vary greatly but sub-Saharan Africa is more heavily affected by AIDS than anywhere else in the world. Religious messages that reinforce harmful cultural and social constructs are far from useful - if God has a plan for sex, how does this help young people protect themselves against HIV and AIDS - especially young women who more often than not are not, in developing nations, the final arbiters when it comes to protecting themselves against HIV or pregnancy.
The ACLU, in its complaint, calls these USAID funded programs "an unconstitutional expenditure of federal tax dollars" through PEPFAR (the program President Bush created to fight the global HIV/AIDS pandemic - President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) and notes that, by definition, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs withhold life-saving information on contraception and condoms.
U.S. taxpayers need to know how our money is being spent. The ACLU is doing its part to push for transparency: "The United States government cannot be in the business of exporting religiously infused abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that we know fail to give young people the information they need to stay healthy," said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "It is essential that the government provide all of the information it has about these programs so that the public has a full accounting of how taxpayer dollars are being spent."
7) Gaza Fishermen Fight to Keep a Way of Life Alive
Pam Rasmussen, Truthout, Sunday 21 February 2010
Ten years ago, Gaza's approximately 3,600 fishermen were hauling out approximately 3,000 tons of fresh fish a year, supporting an even larger 30,000 people in Gaza. Since then, violent clashes with - and ever-tightening restrictions by - the Israeli army have virtually destroyed the once-booming business. Today, just 20 percent of Gaza fishermen are still able to make a living in the industry most of them grew up with, and their total catch is three to five percent of what it used to be. And those who stick it out are putting their lives on the line.
The "Interim Arrangements" signed between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel in 1994/1995, after the Oslo Accords were approved, stipulate that Gazan fishermen have the legal right to fish up to 20 nautical miles from the Gaza coastline. However, Israel never honored the Interim Agreements. According to Mohammed Hessey, general secretary of Gaza's Fishing Workers Trade Union, established in 1998, Israel waited just four years before unilaterally reducing the officially allowed fishing zone to 10 miles from shore. Then, when resistance fighters kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006, the approved fishing zone was ratcheted down to six miles. Following Israel's latest attack on Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009, it was reduced once again to three miles. But even that zone isn't always honored. Israeli gun boats have been known to attack Gaza fishermen just one or two miles from the shore. Their weapons of choice are live ammunition and water cannons - which soldiers use to specifically target boats' structural components, particularly breakables like glass and machinery, or to hit passengers with a foul, sewage-smelling liquid.
In 2009, one fisherman was killed by the Israeli navy, 20 fishermen and civilians were wounded while on the water or shore, 68 were abducted and 29 boats were confiscated. Each boat confiscated represents a financial loss of $50,000-$200,000. For a while, it helped to have international volunteers on board the boats, from organizations like the Free Gaza Movement and the International Solidarity Movement. The presence of non-Palestinians, says Hessey, deterred the Israelis enough to allow them to fish up to six miles out from the coast. The last international volunteers to officially do so went out to sea on November 18, 2008, when three trawlers were confiscated and 15 fishermen and three ISM activists (Andrew Muncie, 34, from Scotland; Darlene Wallach, 57, from the United States, and Vittorio [Victor] Arrigoni, 33, from Italy) were abducted while fishing at about seven miles offshore. The 15 fishermen were later released and the three ISM volunteers were deported. The three trawlers were only returned after three human rights organizations - the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) and the ISM - filed a legal appeal against Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the commander of the Israeli Navy.
Since then, the fishermen have considered it too dangerous to go out with internationals - both for the volunteers and for themselves. (The soldiers who seized the 18 fishermen and internationals in November threatened: "You think that you have protection because you have internationals on your boat? Let's see what these internationals can do for you now.")
8) Israeli soldiers clash with Palestinian protesters
Nasser Shiyoukhi, AP, Mon Feb 22, 12:44 pm ET
Hebron, West Bank - A crowd of Palestinian youths pelted Israeli soldiers with stones and empty bottles on Monday, drawing tear gas and stun grenades in the most serious violence to rock this volatile West Bank city in months. The clashes erupted a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enraged Palestinian residents by adding a disputed Hebron shrine to Israel's list of national heritage sites. The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank as part of a future state, and saw the Israeli move - a largely symbolic gesture - as a provocation.
Hebron merchants shuttered their stores to protest the decision, and some 100 youths burned tires and threw stones and bottles at Israeli forces in the city. The Israeli military said one soldier was lightly wounded, while Palestinians said three protesters suffered from tear gas inhalation.
Hebron has been a flashpoint for decades. Several hundred ultranationalist Jewish settlers live in heavily guarded enclaves in the midst of some 170,000 Palestinians. Under accords signed in the 1990s, the Palestinians control 80 percent of the city and the Israeli military controls 20 percent.
Netanyahu's move heightened long-standing tensions around the shrine. Jews revere the site as the Cave of the Patriarchs, where the Bible says the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were buried along with three of their wives. Muslims call it the al-Ibrahimi mosque, reflecting the fact that Abraham is considered the father of both Judaism and Islam.
At a special Cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu added the cave and a second West Bank shrine, the traditional tomb of the biblical matriarch Rachel in Bethlehem, to the list of some 150 heritage sites. The addition of the two West Bank sites reflected pressure from Jewish settlers and other nationalists to expand the number of heritage sites in the West Bank.
His decision drew criticism from the United Nations Mideast envoy, Robert Serry, who noted that the sites are holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. "I urge Israel not to take any steps on the ground which undermine trust or could prejudice negotiations, the resumption of which should be the highest shared priority of all who seek peace," Serry said. The Palestinian government in the West Bank, Israel's would-be negotiating partner, and the rival Hamas government that controls the Gaza Strip have also condemned the Israeli move.
9) Can low-paying garment industry save Haiti?
Jonathan M. Katz, Associated Press, Sun Feb 21, 5:24 pm ET http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100221/ap_on_re_la_am_ca/cb_haiti_earthquake
Port-au-Prince, Haiti - Jordanie Pinquie Rebeca leans forward and guides a piece of suit-jacket wool and its silky lining into a sewing machine, where - bat! bat! bat! - they're bound together to be hemmed. If she does this for eight hours, she will earn $3.09. Her boss will ship the pinstriped suit she helped make to the United States, tariff-free. There a shopper will buy it from JoS. A. Bank Clothiers for $550.
In the quest to rebuild Haiti, the international community and business leaders are dusting off a pre-quake plan to expand its low-wage garment assembly industry as a linchpin of recovery. President Barack Obama's administration is on board, encouraging U.S. retailers to obtain from Haiti at least 1 percent of the clothes they sell.
Garments are central to the economic growth plan commissioned by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last year, a 19-page report written by Oxford University economics professor Paul Collier and promoted by former President Bill Clinton as special envoy to the impoverished nation. They say the sector could quickly produce hundreds of thousands of jobs thanks chiefly to two things: an existing preferential trade deal with the nearby United States, and cheap Haitian labor.
The deal is the Haiti Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act, or "HOPE II." Passed by the U.S. Congress in 2008, it lets Haiti export textiles duty-free to the U.S. for a decade. Last year, $513 million worth of Haitian-made apparel, the bulk of exports, was shipped with labels including Hanes and New Balance. Factory profit margins average about 22 percent, according to Washington-based Nathan Associates Inc.
It was HOPE II that persuaded the bosses to move their Dominican plant and rename it DKDR Haiti SA. Nearly all the 1,200 people still working there after the quake make the new "outsourcing" minimum wage of 125 gourdes a day, about $3.09 - approximately the same as the minimum wage in 1984 and worth less than half its previous purchasing power.
Pay was even lower last year when lawmakers raised the country's minimum from $1.72 a day to almost $5 in response to protests. But owners complained, and President Rene Preval refused to enact the law. A compromise allowed non-garment workers to receive the higher minimum, but stuck factory workers with the "outsourcing" wage.
DKDR complied but cut production-based incentives, according to general manager Chun Ho Lee. Producing 600 pieces in a day used to yield a worker a bonus of $2.47. Now it's worth $1.23.
Rebeca, though stylish in her paperboy hat and spaghetti-strap dress, sleeps on the street and barely eats. With a day's pay she can buy a cupful of rice and transport via group taxi, and pay down debt on her now-destroyed apartment. Anything left over goes to cell phone minutes to call her boyfriend, who was evacuated to the Dominican Republic with a leg fracture sustained in the quake, or her 4-year-old son, Mike, whom she sent to live with relatives in the countryside.
All sides agree that garment-industry wages are too low to feed, clothe and house workers and their families. Even factory owners acknowledge that reality - though they deny running sweatshops and say the businesses have an important role.
Others said relying too much on clothing assembly is risky. "The garment sector is creating trouble for the economy because of social tensions and the low wages," said prominent Haitian economist Kesner Pharel.
Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, himself an economist, said that while the garment industry shouldn't be ignored, increased investment should be sought in more enduring sectors such as agriculture and tourism. Still others fear a return to darker times: Under the brutal Duvalier dictatorships that ended in the mid-1980s, a small elite reaped the profits from facilities that assembled garments, baseballs and toys for sale in the U.S.
10) Israel unveils new drone fleet that can reach Iran
Tia Goldenberg, Associated Press, Sunday, February 21, 2010; 3:54 PM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/21/AR2010022101401.html
Tel Nof Air Force Base, Israel - Israel's air force on Sunday introduced a fleet of huge pilotless planes that can remain in the air for a full day and could fly as far as the Persian Gulf, putting rival Iran within its range. The Heron TP drones have a wingspan of 86 feet (26 meters), making them the size of Boeing 737 passenger jets and the largest unmanned aircraft in Israel's military. The planes can fly at least 20 consecutive hours and are primarily used for surveillance and carrying diverse payloads.
Israel's military refused to say how large the new fleet is or whether the planes were designed for use against Iran, but stressed it was versatile and could adapt to new missions. The plane's maker, state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries, has said it is capable of reaching the Persian Gulf, which would put Iran within its range. Israeli defense officials said the Heron TP could be a useful tool against Iran. It could provide surveillance, jam enemy communications and connect ground control and manned air force planes.
In past conflicts, various types and sizes of unmanned planes have been used in missions like long-range surveillance and attacking enemy targets with guided missiles in conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan, where anti-aircraft systems are rudimentary.
They have proven much less successful in conflicts where the opponents possessed better anti-aircraft weapons. During NATO's aerial onslaught against Serbia in 1999, for example, Serbian quickly forces shot down 42 U.S. drones, drastically reducing the effectiveness of the bombing campaign.
11) Iran Eyes Doubling Iraq Trade To $8 Billion In 2010
Aref Mohammed, Reuters, Sunday, February 21, 2010; 12:46 PM
Basra, Iraq - Iran hopes to double trade with Iraq to $8 billion this year, an Iranian diplomat said on Sunday, shrugging off Western-backed sanctions aimed at curbing business with the Islamic Republic. Shi'ite Muslim Iran is the main trading partner of Shi'ite-led Iraq and has been one of the largest investors in Iraq since the fall of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein. A series of agreements between Baghdad and Tehran could boost bilateral trade between the two countries to $8 billion in 2010, up from $4 billion last year, Iran's consul in the southern oil hub of Basra Mohammed Reza Baghban said.
The main areas of trade between the two countries are the construction, food and industrial sectors.
12) Sunni party vows to boycott Iraqi elections
The Iraqi National Dialogue Front, whose leader was barred from running for parliament, cites 'Iranian interference' for its decision.
Liz Sly, Los Angeles Times, February 21, 2010
Baghdad - A leading Sunni party announced Saturday that it will boycott Iraq's upcoming elections because its leader was barred from participating, casting into doubt the inclusiveness of a vote that the U.S. military hopes will finally stabilize the country enough for its troops to go home.
The Iraqi National Dialogue Front, whose leader, Saleh Mutlak, has been forbidden to run because of his alleged expressions of sympathy for Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, cited what it called "Iranian interference" for its decision not to participate in the March 7 parliamentary elections.
Mutlak, a member of parliament, has emerged over the last five years as a forceful spokesman for Sunni Arabs disgruntled over the political process. His party won 11 seats in the last elections, enough to make a difference when it comes to choosing who will form the next government.
One of the U.S. military's biggest fears is that Sunni Arabs who feel disenfranchised by the ban on candidates will refuse to accept the election results or recognize another Shiite-led government, plunging Iraq into renewed political turmoil and perhaps new violence.
Mutlak said the decision to boycott was triggered by comments made earlier in the week in Washington by the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. Ray Odierno, alleging Iranian influence with the powerful Accountability and Justice Commission, which barred hundreds of candidates from the elections. "This means the whole electoral process is now being conducted according to the Iranian style, which means they choose who they want to win and ban who they want," Mutlak said in a telephone interview from the Jordanian capital, Amman. "So it's a fixed election, and if the result is clear from the beginning, why should we give legitimacy to it?"
But Sunnis and many secularists in the Shiite community are so eager to overturn the dominance of the Shiite religious parties that have controlled Iraq's government for five years that it is unclear whether Mutlak's boycott call will have weight with many people. The secular coalition to which Mutlak's party belongs announced Saturday that it will contest the election and resume campaigning. The coalition, Iraqiya, had suspended its campaign a week earlier to protest the banning of the candidates.
13) US State Department lifts travel warning for Syria
Albert Aji, Associated Press, Saturday, February 20, 2010; 11:56 AM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/20/AR2010022001075.html
Damascus, Syria - The U.S. has lifted an advisory warning American travelers of security concerns in Syria, officials said Saturday, as Washington tries to boost ties with a country seen as key to peace in the region.
Syria's foreign minister welcomed the U.S. decision and said "both sides will start taking practical steps" to improve bilateral relations. "We are willing to see a real development in these relations and from our side we will do what we have to," al-Moallem said.
14) Darfur truce could pave way for peace
Sarah El Deeb, Associated Press, Monday, February 22, 2010; 3:09 PM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/22/AR2010022202996.html
Cairo - A truce between Darfur's most powerful rebel group and the government of Sudan could pave the way for finally bringing peace to the war-ravaged region weeks ahead of the first national elections in decades.
Numerous cease-fires and peace deals in this seven-year-old conflict have been short-lived, but this time around increased international pressure and impending elections give this latest initiative a better chance for survival.
Despite the ebbing of violence in the last year, the U.N. estimates that some 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million been displaced since ethnic African tribesman in the vast arid western Darfur region took up arms against the Arab-dominated central government.
The truce set to be signed Tuesday in Doha, Qatar between the government and the rebel Justice and Equality Movement, was bolstered by the dramatic improvement in relations between Sudan and Chad - who once exchanged bitter accusations of supporting each other's rebels.
The end of the long-running animosity between Sudan and Chad - which sponsored the truce only days after declaring the end to its long proxy war with Sudan - could be the deciding factor in this agreement's longevity. "I can't deny that normal relations between the two countries will help," Tahir al-Faki, a senior rebel member of JEM, said in a telephone interview before heading to Doha for the signing.
The deal to be signed Tuesday provides for a temporary cease-fire which, if it holds, will lead to detailed political negotiations by March 15 on wealth sharing, compensation and political representation.
While the most powerful group, JEM is not the only rebel movement. A solution to the conflict has been continually dogged by the splintering of the rebels into dozens of factions, which although not as militarily powerful, can act as spoilers to any peace on the ground. The dozens of rebel factions have coalesced into two main groups to unify their demands and negotiating position in the year-old negotations in Doha. They were irked by the separate cease-fire with JEM. The Sudanese government, however, was quick to assure the rebels of its continuing commitment to a comprehensive agreement.
15) Ecuador strongly defends relations with Iran, in spite of black list
Mercopress, Monday, February 22nd 2010 - 01:01 UTC
Ecuador's inclusion on an international list of nations accused of lagging in the fight against money laundering is a hypocritical punishment for its relations with Iran, Ecuador's president said during his weekly television address. Under Correa, Ecuador has strengthened diplomatic and commercial ties with Iran, which has opened an embassy in Quito and is forging wider relations across Latin America despite the concerns of Washington.
"What arrogance! And why? Because we have relations with Iran, that's it; this has nothing to do with the struggle against money laundering", said Correa during a political rally.
The Paris-based Financial Action Task Force, or FATF, comprising governments and regional organizations, named Ecuador this week among Iran and others as nations failing to comply with international regulations against money laundering and financing terrorism.
"We have been blacklisted along with Iran, Ethiopia, Angola and North Korea. We are the financiers of terrorism in the world!" Correa said indignantly. He added "it's a stick so you don't misbehave, naughty boy. You didn't do what I said, don't get involved with Iran. So because you went ahead, we'll put you on the blacklist, that's all."
Correa said Ecuador's two dozen banks had perfectly adequate legislation to protect against laundering and terrorism financing and dismissed the report as "a huge lie."
Drawing cheers from his audience, Correa asked why nobody had mentioned Brazil, which also has growing ties with Iran and hosted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad late last year. He said international authorities should put pressure instead on rich nations like the United States and Switzerland over money laundering in their financial systems.
Ecuador's private bank association also said on Friday it thought the Iran factor was behind the nation's inclusion on the FATF list. It noted a 2009 agreement between Ecuador's Central Bank and some Iranian financial institutions.
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