JFP 3/22: Time Running Out for Haitian Refugees Ahead of Floods

Just Foreign Policy News
March 22, 2010

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CNN video: Flooding New Crisis in Haiti
Actor and activist Sean Penn describes to CNN's Anderson Cooper the urgency of relocating Haitians from refugee camps ahead of the coming floods.
http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/bestoftv/2010/03/19/ac.penn.haiti.camp.cnn.html

Avaaz, Americans for Peace Now: Urge Congress to Support Obama on Opposition to Israeli Settlements
As AIPAC lobbyists prepare to swarm Congress, Avaaz & Americans for Peace Now ask Americans to call Congress, urging support for President Obama's opposition to Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank.
Avaaz: http://www.avaaz.org/en/congress_for_peace/?cl=514510893&v=5672
APN: http://capwiz.com/peacenow/callalert/index.tt?alertid=14842341

JFP video: Highlights of the Afghanistan Debate
With this video, we summarize the case made by Members of Congress for a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/endthewar

Groups Write to Obama Urging U.S. to Join Mine Ban Treaty
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/node/519

Groups Write to Congress Against Iran Sanctions Bills
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/node/520

Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) Time is running out to relocate Haitians ahead of the coming floods, writes the Miami Herald in an editorial. Flimsy tents and tarps will be no match for the coming storms, which is why an all-out effort must be made to relocate as many of the displaced as possible, particularly children, before it's too late.

2) Anger is mounting in Guam over the planned US military buildup there, the Washington Post reports. The government of Guam and many residents say the buildup is being grossly underfunded, and fear the construction of a new Marine base will overwhelm Guam's inadequate water and sewage systems, its port, power grid, hospital, highways and social services. EPA and GAO have echoed some of these concerns; the EPA graded the buildup plan as "environmentally unsatisfactory" and said it "should not proceed as proposed." The Marine Corps is sensing a populist backlash on Guam, the Post says. Guam was not consulted in the decision to move 8,000 Marines to the island. "It boils down to our political status - we are occupied territory," said a professor at the University of Guam.
Video:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/video/2010/03/21/VI2010032101650.html

3) The earthquake in Haiti has shone a spotlight on how Western trade policies have destroyed local agriculture in countries like Haiti, writes Jonathan Katz for the Associated Press. Decades of imports - especially rice from the U.S. - punctuated with food aid have destroyed local agriculture and left impoverished countries such as Haiti unable to feed themselves. While those policies have been criticized for years in aid worker circles, world leaders focused on fixing Haiti are admitting for the first time that loosening trade barriers has only exacerbated hunger in Haiti and elsewhere. Former President Clinton - now U.N. special envoy to Haiti - publicly apologized this month for championing policies that destroyed Haiti's rice production. Clinton in the mid-1990s encouraged Haiti to dramatically cut tariffs on imported U.S. rice. "A combination of food aid, but also cheap imports have ... resulted in a lack of investment in Haitian farming, and that has to be reversed," U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes told AP. "That's a global phenomenon, but Haiti's a prime example. I think this is where we should start." [Katz is the same AP reporter who has been tracking the issue of low wages in Haiti's US-oriented garment industry - JFP.]

4) The US is increasingly isolated in its opposition to starting peace talks with the Afghan Taliban, writes Paul Mcgeough in the Sydney Morning Herald. As it deploys thousands more troops, the US insists on a fight-now, talk-later strategy; but Kabul, its neighbors, Britain and the UN all are readying themselves for negotiations now.

5) A delegation from Hezb-i-Islami, one of the most important insurgent groups fighting NATO forces, met for the first time with Afghan President Karzai for preliminary discussions on a possible peace plan with the government, the New York Times reports.
The Hezb-i-Islami delegation's peace proposal included a demand for a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops and sought a halt to military operations against Afghans and the establishment of an interim government as soon as foreign troops withdraw, to be followed by new elections. No one in Afghanistan expects the insurgents will give up the fight unless they get a share of political power, the Times says.

6) The source of Mexico's drug war problem is not Mexican supply, but American demand coupled with prohibition, writes Mary Anastasia O'Grady in the Wall Street Journal. Marijuana consumption in particular has become de facto legal in the U.S., while production, trafficking and distribution are organized-crime activities: this situation constitutes "a stimulus plan for Mexican gangsters." [O'Grady has *impeccable* right-wing credentials; if you are represented by a Republican in Congress, why not send O'Grady's column to your Rep. - JFP.]

7) Cluster bombs dropped by the US in Laos more than four decades ago killed five children on Feb. 22, writes Elaine Russell in the Sacramento Bee. Laos is too poor to clear the bombs without increased US financial assistance.

Afghanistan
8) US and NATO commanders and UN drug officials are arguing against opium eradication in Marja, the New York Times reports. Although NATO no longer carries out eradication programs itself, it supports the Afghan government's efforts to eradicate, and lends backup and protection to the provincial officials, who are responsible for carrying out the eradication program .Some US officials say that the internal USG debate over Marja is far from over within parts of the State Department and the DEA. One idea was to buy up and destroy the opium harvest, but opponents of that proposal say it might be illegal under US law.

Israel/Iran
9) The Times of London says Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will use a visit to Washington to press the U.S. to release advanced weapons needed for a possible strike on Iran's nuclear sites, Haaretz reports. Netanyahu bowed to U.S. demands and promised the US administration Israel will make several goodwill gestures toward the Palestinians, Haaretz says. Israel has agreed to ease the blockade on Gaza; Netanyahu has also agreed to discuss all core issues during the proximity talks. But according to the Times, Netanyahu will also seek returns for the concessions, asking the US to provide Israel with sophisticated 'bunker-buster' bombs needed to break through to Iran's nuclear enrichment installations. Former President Bush is believed to have refused previous Israeli requests for the bombs, Haaretz notes.

Israel/Palestine

10) Secretary of State Clinton on Monday stressed U.S. opposition to Israel's policy of expanding Jewish settlements, Reuters reports. Clinton, who had demanded that Netanyahu outline specific steps to restore confidence in the peace process, said he has done so, although neither has released specifics.

11) UN Secretary-General Ban urged Israel to end its blockade of Gaza, Reuters reports. In Khan Younis, Ban visited a building site of 150 homes funded by the UN and said Israel had recently approved the flow of construction materials need to complete the project. "This is a positive, welcome step and I believe that we need far more ... I have repeatedly made it clear to Israeli leaders that their policy of closures is not sustainable and is wrong ... It causes unacceptable suffering," Ban said.

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) Haiti's next disaster: Displaced Haitians desperately need better shelter
Editorial, Miami Herald, Sun, Mar. 21, 2010
http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/03/21/1539810/haitis-next-disaster.html

When former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush make their first joint visit to Haiti this week, they will find another major disaster in the making. More than two months after the massive earthquake that claimed at least 230,000 lives, U.N. experts say that some 1.3 million people are still living a perilous existence in makeshift camps as the season of torrential rains fast approaches.

The camps are stark evidence that despite the best efforts of disaster relief agencies and the international community, Haiti remains in a state of near-collapse and desperately in need of leadership on the ground.
[...]
The devastated capital of Port-au-Prince, where hundreds of camps are located, is ground zero for the crisis of the homeless. Refugees in overcrowded shelters live in conditions of utter squalor, surrounded by piles of trash in mosquito-infested camps where the air is thick with the odor from overflowing latrines, and drainage lines are clogged with sewage. Security is a problem. So is hygiene.

The flimsy tents and tarps in these camps will be no match for the coming storms, which is why an all-out effort must be made to relocate as many of the displaced as possible, particularly children, before it's too late.

The focus should be on the 29 of 425 sites in and around the capital, with about 200,000 homeless, that U.N. officials say are the most vulnerable to flooding and have been targeted for resettlement. The government's chief advisor on relocation, Gerard-Emile "Aby" Brun, says it will take $86 million to build relocation sites and another $40 million to secure rights to the land.

At this stage, money should not be the problem. More than $1 billion in aid has flowed into Haiti, and more is coming. Nor is there a lack of suitable land. At least five sites have been deemed potential resettlement terrain by U.N. officials and other experts, but closed-door negotiations with the landowners have been slow - too slow to avert the impending disaster.

This is where former Presidents Bush and Clinton can make a difference, by cutting through the red tape and coordinating the massive transfer of the at-risk displaced population quickly.
[...]
The Haitian government and international lending organizations must get on with the job. As of last week, not a single person had been relocated. Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bush should make this the priority. Haiti is in a desperate race against time.

2) On Guam, planned Marine base raises anger, infrastructure concerns
Blaine Harden, Washington Post, Monday, March 22, 2010; A01 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/21/AR2010032101025.html

Hagatna, Guam - This remote Pacific island is home to U.S. citizens who are fervent supporters of the military, as measured by their record of fighting and dying in America's recent wars.

But they are angry about a major military buildup here, which the government of Guam and many residents say is being grossly underfunded. They fear that the construction of a new Marine Corps base will overwhelm the island's already inadequate water and sewage systems, as well as its port, power grid, hospital, highways and social services.

"Our nation knows how to find us when it comes to war and fighting for war," said Michael W. Cruz, lieutenant governor of Guam and an Army National Guard colonel who recently returned from a four-month tour as a surgeon in Afghanistan. "But when it comes to war preparations - which is what the military buildup essentially is - nobody seems to know where Guam is."

The federal government has given powerful reasons to worry to the 180,000 residents of Guam, a balmy tropical island whose military importance derives from its location as by far the closest U.S. territory to China and North Korea.

The Environmental Protection Agency said last month that the military buildup, as described in Pentagon documents, could trigger island-wide water shortages that would "fall disproportionately on a low income medically underserved population." It also said the buildup would overload sewage-treatment systems in a way that "may result in significant adverse public health impacts."

A report by the Government Accountability Office last year came to similar conclusions, saying the buildup would "substantially" tax Guam's infrastructure.

President Obama had planned to visit Guam on Monday as the brief first stop of an Asia trip, but he delayed his travel because of Sunday's health-care vote in the House. Obama is aware of the problems here and had planned to promise some federal help, White House officials said.

"We're trying to identify and understand the current conditions on Guam and the potential impact of the relocation," said Nancy Sutley, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, who on Tuesday will lead a delegation to the island. "There's no question that the environmental conditions on Guam are not ideal."

Besides a new Marine base and airfield, the buildup includes port dredging for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, a project that would cause what the EPA describes as an "unacceptable" impact on 71 acres of a vibrant coral reef. The military, which owns 27 percent of the island, also wants to build a Marine firing range on land that includes one of the last undeveloped beachfront forests on Guam.

In a highly unusual move, the EPA graded the buildup plan as "environmentally unsatisfactory" and said it "should not proceed as proposed."

"The government of Guam and the Guam Waterworks cannot by themselves accommodate the military expansion," said Nancy Woo, associate director of the EPA's western regional water division. She said Guam would need about $550 million to upgrade its water and sewage systems. White House officials said the EPA findings are preliminary.

Guam government officials put the total direct and indirect costs of coping with the buildup at about $3 billion, including $1.7 billion to improve roads and $100 million to expand the already overburdened public hospital. On this island - where a third of the population receives food stamps and about 25 percent lives below the U.S. poverty level - that price tag cannot be paid with local tax revenue. "It is not possible and it is not fair that the island bear the cost," Woo said.
[...]
The Marine Corps is sensing a populist backlash on Guam, which is three times the size of the District of Columbia and more than 6,000 miles west of Los Angeles. "I see a rising level of concern about how we are going to manage this," Lt. Gen. Keith J. Stalder, the Hawaii-based commander of Marine forces in the Pacific, said in a telephone interview. "I think it is becoming clearer every day that they need outside assistance."
[...]
Guam was not consulted in the decision to move 8,000 Marines - about half those based in Okinawa - to the island. The $13 billion move was negotiated in 2006 between the Bush administration and a previous Japanese government, with Japan paying about $6 billion of the non-civilian cost, as a way of reducing the large U.S. military footprint in Okinawa.
[...]
The governor of Guam, Felix Camacho, asked the military last month to slow down the deployment of Marines until sufficient federal money arrives. But as a territory, and without a vote in Congress, the island has negligible lobbying power and no legal means of halting the buildup.

Many residents have hoped that Obama - a fellow Pacific islander, who was born in Hawaii and lived in Indonesia - might understand their anxieties and unlock federal resources. The White House said Obama will visit Guam when his Asia trip is rescheduled, perhaps in June.

"I just want to remind President Obama that his story is our story," said Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero, an English instructor at the University of Guam and a leader of a group opposing the buildup. She said her students read Obama's autobiography, "Dreams From My Father," focusing on a coming-of-age passage from his years in Hawaii, in which he describes his realization that he was "utterly alone."

"That's how we feel here," she said. "We feel like we are not being listened to, like we are not being respected."

The federal government's push to further militarize this island - combined with its heel-dragging in paying for the impact on civilians - has led many Guam residents to doubt the value of their relationship with the United States. "This is old-school colonialism all over again," said LisaLinda Natividad, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Guam and an activist opposing the buildup. "It boils down to our political status - we are occupied territory."

3) With cheap food imports, Haiti can't feed itself
Jonathan M. Katz, Associated Press, Saturday, March 20, 2010 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/20/AR2010032001329.html

Port-au-Prince, Haiti - The earthquake not only smashed markets, collapsed warehouses and left more than 2.5 million people without enough to eat. It may also have shaken up the way the developing world gets food.

Decades of inexpensive imports - especially rice from the U.S. - punctuated with abundant aid in various crises have destroyed local agriculture and left impoverished countries such as Haiti unable to feed themselves.

While those policies have been criticized for years in aid worker circles, world leaders focused on fixing Haiti are admitting for the first time that loosening trade barriers has only exacerbated hunger in Haiti and elsewhere.

They're led by former U.S. President Bill Clinton - now U.N. special envoy to Haiti - who publicly apologized this month for championing policies that destroyed Haiti's rice production. Clinton in the mid-1990s encouraged the impoverished country to dramatically cut tariffs on imported U.S. rice.

"It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake," Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 10. "I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else."

Clinton and former President George W. Bush, who are spearheading U.S. fundraising for Haiti, arrive Monday in Port-au-Prince. Then comes a key Haiti donors' conference on March 31 at the United Nations in New York.

Those opportunities present the country with its best chance in decades to build long-term food production, and could provide a model for other developing countries struggling to feed themselves. "A combination of food aid, but also cheap imports have ... resulted in a lack of investment in Haitian farming, and that has to be reversed," U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes told The Associated Press. "That's a global phenomenon, but Haiti's a prime example. I think this is where we should start."

Haiti's government is asking for $722 million for agriculture, part of an overall request of $11.5 billion. That includes money to fix the estimated $31 million of quake damage to agriculture, but much more for future projects restoring Haiti's dangerous and damaged watersheds, improving irrigation and infrastructure, and training farmers and providing them with better support.

Haitian President Rene Preval, an agronomist from the rice-growing Artibonite Valley, is also calling for food aid to be stopped in favor of agricultural investment.

Today Haiti depends on the outside world for nearly all of its sustenance. The most current government needs assessment - based on numbers from 2005 - is that 51 percent of the food consumed in the country is imported, including 80 percent of all rice eaten.

The free-food distributions that filled the shattered capital's plazas with swarming hungry survivors of the Jan. 12 earthquake have ended, but the U.N. World Food Program is continuing targeted handouts expected to reach 2.5 million people this month. All that food has been imported - though the agency recently put out a tender to buy locally grown rice.

Street markets have reopened, filled with honking trucks, drink sellers clinking bottles and women vendors crouched behind rolled-down sacks of dry goods. People buy what's cheapest, and that's American-grown rice.

The best-seller comes from Riceland Foods in Stuttgart, Arkansas, which sold six pounds for $3.80 last month, according to Haiti's National Food Security Coordination Unit. The same amount of Haitian rice cost $5.12. "National rice isn't the same, it's better quality. It tastes better. But it's too expensive for people to buy," said Leonne Fedelone, a 50-year-old vendor.

Riceland defends its market share in Haiti, now the fifth-biggest export market in the world for American rice.

But for Haitians, near-total dependence on imported food has been a disaster. Cheap foreign products drove farmers off their land and into overcrowded cities. Rice, a grain with limited nutrition once reserved for special occasions in the Haitian diet, is now a staple.

Imports also put the country at the mercy of international prices: When they spiked in 2008, rioters unable to afford rice smashed and burned buildings. Parliament ousted the prime minister.

Now it could be happening again. Imported rice prices are up 25 percent since the quake - and would likely be even higher if it weren't for the flood of food aid, said WFP market analyst Ceren Gurkan.

Three decades ago things were different. Haiti imported only 19 percent of its food and produced enough rice to export, thanks in part to protective tariffs of 50 percent set by the father-son dictators, Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier.

When their reign ended in 1986, free-market advocates in Washington and Europe pushed Haiti to tear those market barriers down. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, freshly reinstalled to power by Clinton in 1994, cut the rice tariff to 3 percent.

Impoverished farmers unable to compete with the billions of dollars in subsidies paid by the U.S. to its growers abandoned their farms. Others turned to more environmentally destructive crops, such as beans, that are harvested quickly but hasten soil erosion and deadly floods.
[...]
President Barack Obama's administration has pledged to support agriculture in developing nations. U.S. Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana has sponsored legislation to create a White House Global Food Security coordinator to improve long-term agriculture worldwide, with a budget of $8.5 billion through 2014.

Even Haiti's most powerful food importers have joined the push for locally produced food. "I would prefer to buy everything locally and have nothing to import," said businessman Reginald Boulos, who is also president of Haiti's chamber of commerce.
[...]

4) US Isolated As Afghanistan Players Plot Moves
The capture of the Taliban's No.2 raises the stakes in the expected reconciliation talks
Paul Mcgeough, Sydney Morning Herald, March 20, 2010
http://www.smh.com.au/world/us-isolated-as-afghanistan-players-plot-moves-20100319-qm5o.html

Even before the cheering had faded, awkward questions surfaced about the capture of Mullah Baradar. Few beyond the Afghanistan cognoscenti had heard of him when he was snatched back in January in a joint operation by the CIA and its Islamabad equivalent, the ISI, in the Pakistani port city of Karachi.
[...]
There has been a series of important Taliban captures in Pakistan in recent months. But Abdul Ghani Baradar, to give him his full name, is the trophy prisoner. Also, he is an odd-man-out because his arrest needs to be seen in the context of a bold bid by the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, to engage the Taliban in reconciliation talks; and because of the special relationship that Baradar enjoys with the Afghan leader.

Mr Karzai and Baradar, both members of the southern Popolzai tribe, have worked in tandem since 2001, says the Dutch author Bette Dam, who has done years of research in Afghanistan.

When Mr Karzai, a returned exile, needed to build a tribal power base after the fall of the Taliban regime, Baradar was among the elders who helped in Oruzgan province, which today is the operational area of Dutch and Australian forces. Baradar then fled to Pakistan with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, in whose government he had served as a senior defence figure.

The bond between Mr Karzai and Baradar was forged in battle. And according to Dam, who interviewed members of Baradar's clan in Oruzgan earlier this year, it is Mr Karzai who owes Baradar because the latter had saved the life of the would-be president.

The rationale in all the questioning is that someone gave up Baradar at a time when he appeared to be playing the crucial role of go-between, delivering messages between elements of the Kabul government and the Taliban leadership, which hunkers down in the Pakistani city of Quetta.
[...]
Concluding that the US will pull out next year, not simply begin to draw down its troop numbers in Afghanistan, some in the region are determined that the talking needs to start now. Local forces must position themselves in the context of the loya jirga, or peace talks, to which Mr Karzai has invited unspecified elements of the Taliban leadership late next month.

"Events are reminiscent of the 1990s, when the bloody Afghan civil war was fuelled by an alignment of India, Iran and Russia, which backed the Northern Alliance against the Taliban regime supported by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia," Afghanistan scholar Ahmed Rashid wrote this week. "Today, however, the stakes are much higher."

The divergence in agendas, regionally and globally, reveals the extent to which Washington is becoming isolated. As it deploys thousands more troops, the US insists on a fight-now, talk-later strategy; but Kabul, its neighbours, Britain and the United Nations all are readying themselves for negotiations now.
[...]

5) Afghan President Meets with Insurgents
Alissa J. Rubin and Sangar Rahimi, New York Times, March 22, 2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/23/world/asia/23afghan.html

Kabul, Afghanistan - A delegation from one of the most important insurgent groups fighting Afghan and NATO forces met for the first time with President Hamid Karzai on Monday for preliminary discussions on a possible peace plan with the government. Spokesmen for Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the insurgent group Hezb-i-Islami, and President Karzai both confirmed the meeting, saying the delegation was also meeting with members of the government and leaders of other political movements.

President Karzai is planning a peace jirga, or assembly, for the end of April and he is inviting a number of insurgent groups, as well as various factions in Parliament and Afghan civil society. While the peace jirga is nominally about ending the fighting between the government and anti-government forces, which include a variety of different insurgent groups, it is equally about how power would be shared. No one here expects that the insurgents will give up the fight unless they get a measure of political control.

Not all senior officials in Mr. Karzai's government have fully endorsed negotiations with such prominent enemies as Mr. Hekmatyar. The first vice president, Marshall Muhammad Qasim Fahim, was cautious in an interview on Monday, saying, "We believe in peace and reconciliation, but step by step." Mr. Fahim, an ethnic Tajik, fought against Mr. Hekmatyar, an ethnic Pushtun, in the period after Soviet rule collapsed. For him and many others both in the Afghan government and outside of it, the peace discussions are shadowed by past enmities and battles, which will make it difficult to reach agreements that everyone can live with.

Mr. Fahim said that he had not yet seen the Hezb-i-Islami delegation's peace proposal, but others who were familiar with it said it included a demand for a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Abdul Jabar Sholgari, a member of Parliament representing a moderate offshoot of Hezb-i-Islami, said the proposal also sought a halt to military operations against Afghans and the establishment of an interim government as soon as foreign troops withdraw, to be followed by new elections.

American officials have not indicated to what extent they would support talks with high-ranking members of the Taliban or with Mr. Hekmatyar, although in the 1980s, he was a staunch anti-Soviet fighter and received American backing.
[...]

6) The War on Drugs Is Doomed
Mary Anastasia O'Grady, Wall Street Journal, March 22, 2010
Strong demand and the high profits that are the result of prohibition make illegal trafficking unstoppable.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703580904575132153106546066.html

They say that the first step in dealing with a problem is acknowledging that you have one. It is therefore good news that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will lead a delegation to Mexico tomorrow to talk with officials there about efforts to fight the mob violence that is being generated in Mexico by the war on drugs. U.S. recognition of this shared problem is healthy. But that's where the good news is likely to end.

Violence along the border has skyrocketed ever since Mexican President Felipe Calderón decided to confront the illegal drug cartels that operate there. Some 7,000 troops now patrol Juárez, a city of roughly one million. Yet even militarization has not delivered the peace. The reason is simple enough: The source of the problem is not Mexican supply. It is American demand coupled with prohibition.

It is doubtful that this will be acknowledged at tomorrow's meeting. The drug-warrior industry, which includes both the private-sector and a massive government bureaucracy devoted to "enforcement," has an enormous economic incentive to keep the war raging. In Washington politics both groups have substantial influence. So it is likely that we are going to get further plans to turn Juárez into a police state with the promise that more guns, tanks, helicopters and informants can stop Mexican gangsters from shoving drugs up American noses.

Last week's gangland-style slaying of an unborn baby and three adults who had ties to the U.S. Consulate in Juárez has drawn attention to Mrs. Clinton's trip. The incident stunned Americans. Yet tragic as they were, statistically those four deaths don't create even a blip on the body-count chart. The running tally of drug-trafficking linked deaths in Juárez since December 2006 is more than 5,350. There has also been a high cost to the city's economy as investors and tourists have turned away.
[...]
Mexico hasn't always been an important playing field for drug cartels. For many years cocaine traffickers used the Caribbean to get their product to their customers in the largest and richest market in the hemisphere. But when the U.S. redoubled its efforts to block shipments traveling by sea, the entrepreneurs shifted to land routes through Central America and Mexico.

Mexican traffickers now handle cocaine but traditional marijuana smuggling is their cash cow, despite competition from stateside growers. In a February 2009 interview, then-Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora told me that half of the cartel's annual income was derived from marijuana.

This is especially troubling for Mexican law enforcement because marijuana use, through medical marijuana outlets and general social acceptance, has become de facto legal in the U.S., and demand is robust. The upshot is that consumption is cool while production, trafficking and distribution are organized-crime activities. This is what I called in a previous column, "a stimulus plan for Mexican gangsters."

In much of the world, where institutions are weak and folks are poor, the high value that prohibition puts into drugs means that the thugs rule. Mr. Medina Mora told me in the same 2009 interview that Mexico estimated the annual cash flow from U.S. drug consumers to Mexico at around $10 billion, which of course explains why the cartels are so well armed and also able to grease the system. It also explains why Juárez is today a killing field.

Supply warriors might have a better argument if the billions of dollars spent defoliating the Colombian jungle, chasing fast boats and shooting down airplanes for the past four decades had reduced drug use. Yet despite passing victories like taking out 1980s kingpin Pablo Escobar and countless other drug lords since then, narcotics are still widely available in the U.S. and some segment of American society remains enthusiastic about using them. In some places terrorist organizations like Colombia's FARC rebels and al Qaeda have replaced traditional cartels.

There is one ray of hope for innocent victims of the war on drugs. Last week the Journal reported that Drug Enforcement Administration agents were questioning members of an El Paso gang about their possible involvement in the recent killings in Juárez. If the escalation is now spilling over into the U.S., Americans may finally have to face their role in the mess. Mrs. Clinton's mission will only add value if it reflects awareness of that reality.

7) U.S. must clean up leftover bombs in Laos
Elaine Russell, Sacramento Bee, Sunday, Mar. 21, 2010
http://www.sacbee.com/2010/03/21/2620614/viewpoints-us-must-clean-up-leftover.html

I received an e-mail a few weeks ago from a colleague in Laos regarding yet another deadly accident. On Feb. 22 a cluster bomb that the U.S. dropped on Laos more than four decades ago killed five children and severely injured another. The children, ages 10 to 14, were feeding their water buffalo in a rice field when they found the bomb. They were the latest victims among the more than 300 new casualties that occur every year - one-third of them children, according to Lao government figures.

The e-mail went on to say that if this happened in the U.S., it would be a national outrage. Here, it is happening with sickening regularity, as it has for 40 years. Is anyone outraged? I am outraged, as all Americans should be, by this senseless and preventable killing. It is morally unconscionable that the U.S. has allowed this suffering to go on for four decades.

My first visit to Laos was in 2006. Standing on the Plain of Jars in Xieng Khouang province, I heard explosions. My guide explained an unexploded ordnance clearance team was detonating cluster bombs found by local villagers. At least he hoped it was the clearance team and not an unsuspecting farmer who had hit a cluster bomb with his hoe.

Like most Americans, I did not know about the massive bombing campaign the U.S. waged over Laos from 1964 to 1973 during the Vietnam War. Or the estimated 8 million to 24 million unexploded cluster bomblets and vast quantities of other unexploded ordnance we left behind in a country about half the size of California. Or the Lao government's estimate of 34,000 civilian casualties caused by unexploded munitions since the war ended in 1973.

On returning home, I began working with the U.S.-based organization Legacies of War to educate the public on this issue and advocate for increased U.S. funding for clearing unexploded ordnance (UXO) from Laos.

As one of the poorest nations in the world, Laos has been dependent on the United Nations, the United States and other countries to fund their UXO clearance programs in place since 1994. While the U.S. has been the largest contributor, funding remains woefully inadequate.

The United States has contributed an average of nearly $3 million a year for 16 years. In contrast, we spent $2 million a day (about $10 million in today's dollars) for nine years bombing Laos. As a consequence, less than 1 percent of the contaminated lands have been cleared. And the casualties continue.
[...]
It will take substantial increases in U.S. funding if Laos is ever going to make meaningful progress. As the rest of the world watches, the U.S. cannot continue to ignore its obligation to clean up the mess it left behind 40 years ago. Legacies of War and partner organizations are asking Congress to approve $7 million in fiscal year 2011, with additional increases in subsequent years. (Congress approved $5 million for 2010.) We must make the land safe once more for the people of Laos.
[...]

Afghanistan
8) NYT: U.S. Turns a Blind Eye to Opium in Afghan Town
Rod Nordland, New York Times, March 20, 2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/21/world/asia/21marja.html

Kabul, Afghanistan - The effort to win over Afghans on former Taliban turf in Marja has put American and NATO commanders in the unusual position of arguing against opium eradication, pitting them against some Afghan officials who are pushing to destroy the harvest.

From Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal on down, the military's position is clear: "U.S. forces no longer eradicate," as one NATO official put it. Opium is the main livelihood of 60 to 70 percent of the farmers in Marja, which was seized from Taliban rebels in a major offensive last month. American Marines occupying the area are under orders to leave the farmers' fields alone. "Marja is a special case right now," said Cmdr. Jeffrey Eggers, a member of the general's Strategic Advisory Group, his top advisory body. "We don't trample the livelihood of those we're trying to win over."

United Nations drug officials agree with the Americans, though they acknowledge the conundrum. Pictures of NATO and other allied soldiers "walking next to the opium fields won't go well with domestic audiences, but the approach of postponing eradicating in this particular case is a sensible one," said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, who is in charge of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime here.

Afghan officials, however, are divided. Though some support the American position, others, citing a constitutional ban on opium cultivation, want to plow the fields under before the harvest, which has already begun in parts of Helmand Province.
[...]
The argument may strike some as a jarring reversal; in the years right after the 2001 invasion, tensions rose as some Afghan officials vehemently resisted all-out American pressure to stop opium production.

Though the United States government's official position is still to support opium crop eradication in general, some American civilian officials say that the internal debate over Marja is far from over within parts of the State Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
[...]
Although the International Security Assistance Force, the NATO force that General McChrystal commands, no longer carries out eradication programs itself, its official position is that it supports the Afghan government's efforts to eradicate, and lends backup and protection to the provincial officials, who are responsible for carrying out the eradication program.
[...]
The problem of Marja's opium harvest is being discussed intensely by General McChrystal's advisers, but none of the proposed solutions have proved satisfactory. One idea was to buy up and destroy the opium harvest, but opponents of that proposal feared that it would only encourage more opium cultivation - and might be illegal under United States law, turning American troops into de facto drug financiers.

Another idea was to give incentives to farmers to change to legal crops next year, while this year concentrating on interdiction of smugglers and the laboratories they use to make opium or heroin from the poppy paste. That would institute a sort of "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward the cultivators and would present a thorny question: where would troops interdict the opium - just outside the farm gate, on the lane leading from the farm, on the road to town?
[...]

Israel/Iran/Palestine
9) Report: Netanyahu to ask Obama for weapons to strike Iran
Haaretz, 21/03/2010
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArtVty.jhtml?itemNo=1157844

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will use a visit to Washington this week to press the U.S. to release advanced weapons needed for a possible strike on Iran's nuclear sites, the Sunday Times reported.

Ahead of his departure Sunday night, Netanyahu bowed to U.S. demands and promised the administration of U.S President Barack Obama that Israel will make several goodwill gestures toward the Palestinians. For the first time since Operation Cast Lead, Israel has agreed to ease the blockade on the Gaza Strip. Netanyahu has also agreed to discuss all core issues during the proximity talks, with the condition of reaching final conclusions only in direct talks with the PA.

But according to the London weekly, Netanyahu will also seek returns for the concessions, asking Israel's closest ally to provide the IAF with sophisticated 'bunker-buster' bombs needed to break through to Iran's nuclear enrichment installations, many of which are buried underground.
[...]
Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, is believed to have refused previous Israeli requests for the GBU-28 bombs, as well as for upgraded refuelling tanker aircraft that would enable a long-range airstrike on Iran. But Netanyahu may have a tough task before him in persuading Obama to arm Israel for a strike and current U.S. strategy appears to favor a diplomatic, rather than a military, solution to the Iran's dispute with the West.
[...]
Reports on Saturday that United States was transporting 387 of the high-tech bunker-busting bombs to its air base on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean appeared to indicate that despite his diplomatic efforts, Obama has not ruled out an American strike in Iran.

Israel/Palestine
10) U.S. holds firm against Israel settlement policy
Andrew Quinn and Jeffrey Heller, Reuters, Monday, March 22, 2010; 2:44 PM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/22/AR2010032201415.html

Washington - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday stressed U.S. opposition to Israel's policy of expanding Jewish settlements as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived seeking a way forward for Mideast peace.
[...]
The United States and Israel have been at loggerheads after Netanyahu's government announced a new expansion of a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, embarrassing visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and spurring Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to threaten to pull out of indirect peace talks that had only just been launched.

Clinton called the announcement "insulting" and demanded that Netanyahu outline specific steps to restore confidence in the peace process - something both sides say he has now done, although neither has released specifics.

Clinton, in a speech to the influential pro-Israel AIPAC lobby group on Washington on Monday, said Israel faced "difficult but necessary choices" on Mideast peace and called Israel's settlement policy a problem.

"New construction in East Jerusalem or the West Bank undermines mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides want and need," Clinton said. "It exposes daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region could hope to exploit. And it undermines America's unique ability to play a role - an essential role, I might add - in the peace process."

A senior Republican member of the House of Representatives, Eric Cantor, criticized the Obama administration's firm line on Israeli settlements, highlighting what could become an emotive issue in this year's U.S. congressional elections. "Now is not the time to be picking fights with Israel in what seems to be an attempt to curry favor with the Arab world," Cantor, the No. 2 House Republican, said in a speech [to] AIPAC.
[...]

11) U.N.'s Ban in Gaza, calls on Israel to end closures
Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters, Sunday, March 21, 2010; 10:11 AM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/21/AR2010032100781.html

Khan Younis, Gaza - United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Sunday urged Israel to end a three year-long blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip and called on Palestinians to heal their political rifts.

Ban's visit to the blockaded territory follows a trip made by the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who entered the coastal enclave last week. "The Palestinian people are living under very difficult circumstances where normal lives are restricted by closures security checks and road blocks," Ban said.

The U.N. chief was visiting the Gaza Strip for the second time since Israel ended its three-week offensive against Islamist militants in January 2009 and toured areas where hundreds of houses and factories had been destroyed.

In the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis Ban visited a building site of 150 homes funded by the United Nations and said Israel had recently approved the flow of construction materials need to complete the project. "This is a positive, welcome step and I believe that we need far more ... I have repeatedly made it clear to Israeli leaders that their policy of closures is not sustainable and is wrong ... It causes unacceptable suffering," Ban said.
[...]
The Gaza blockade has fueled unemployment which now stands at more than 50 percent among the 1.5 million population.
[...]

-
Robert Naiman
Just Foreign Policy
www.justforeignpolicy.org

Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans.

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