Just Foreign Policy News
June 23, 2009
Congress Should Require an Exit Strategy from Afghanistan
Rep. McGovern’s bill, which would require the Pentagon to submit an exit strategy to Congress, now has 90 sponsors. The Rules Committee is considering Tuesday whether the House will vote on McGovern’s bill as an amendment to the FY2010 Defense Authorization. Urge your Representative to support this effort.
Background: Congress Should Require an Exit Strategy from Afghanistan
Military commanders have suggested the U.S. military will remain in Afghanistan until 2020. If the Pentagon is planning for 11 more years of war, the American people have a right to know it.
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1) Protesters in Iran today carrying pictures of former Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadeq – deposed in a U.S.-organized coup in 1953 – are communicating two messages, writes Stephen Kinzer in the Guardian: "We want democracy" and "No foreign intervention."
2) In addition to new rules on airstrikes, Gen. McChrystal is revising ground search and seizure practices and the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan, the Los Angeles Times reports. In a departure from past practices, a summary of McChrystal’s classified directive will be released. The directive orders commanders to use multiple intelligence sources to ensure that all structures – homes, farm buildings, schools – in a target area are clear of civilians before launching airstrikes. Airstrikes accounted for 64% of the 828 civilians killed last year by U.S. or Afghan government forces, according to the UN.
3) Failure to have diplomatic relations with Iran is central to the lack of information about the situation there that the Administration is currently suffering from, the New York Times reports. "The way the U.S. collects information about countries, having an embassy is absolutely critical," said Bruce Riedel, former CIA analyst. "You need political staff that can go out on the street and talk to people, pick up the gossip."
4) Those eager for U.S. intervention in Iran’s election dispute lack an understanding of history, argues Richard Cohen in the Washington Post. The Phillipines is not a meaningful precedent, because the U.S. had tremendous influence there. Neither are the actions of France and Germany a model, because they don’t share the U.S. history of intervention in Iran.
5) President Obama condemned Iran’s aggressive response to protests that followed its contested elections, the New York Times reports. His comments followed a decision by Iran’s most powerful oversight council to rule out overturning the results of the disputed presidential election. The Guardian Council, which oversees the elections and legislation in Iran, said that there was not enough proof of fraud to overturn the election. Many leaders of the reformist camp have been detained. The Times notes that Iranians can visit any polling site they choose, which is why some districts end up with more ballots cast than eligible voters. People with summer or weekend houses often do not go home to vote.
6) Pakistan security forces say they are near the end of their offensive in the Swat, Reuters reports. Nearly 2 million people have fled the fighting. U.N. special humanitarian envoy Abdul Aziz Arrukban told Reuters only about 35 percent of the $543 million in aid the United Nations is seeking had been given.
7) Eight years after President Karzai assumed power, kidnapping is a cottage industry, bribery is routine, and a stalemated guerrilla war between international forces and insurgents grinds on, killing hundreds in the cross fire, the Boston Globe reports. At least 41 presidential candidates are contesting the election on Aug. 20. Obama has gone out of his way to make it clear that the US is not supporting any particular candidate, the Globe says. A recent IRI poll showed that 69 percent of Afghans still have a favorable opinion of Karzai, compared with 25 percent who had an unfavorable one. Thirty-one percent said they would vote for him, while his closest competitor garnered 7 percent.
8) Israel freed the Palestinian parliament speaker from nearly 3 years in custody, AP reports. After the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, Israel rounded up more than 30 Hamas lawmakers. The plan was to trade the legislators for the soldier, but talks have foundered. Palestinians and Israelis demonstrated on both sides of the Gaza-Israel border on Tuesday, demanding a prisoner swap. An Israeli group said the government has formulated plans to legalize 60 existing homes at an unauthorized settlement outpost in the West Bank and allow the construction of 240 other residences. Such a move would flout a U.S. demand for a settlement freeze, AP says. The Defense Ministry confirmed 60 housing units would be legalized retroactively but denied approval was given for the other 240.
9) President Garcia’s approval rating fell to its lowest level since November, over his handling of protests in which at least 34 people died, Reuters reports. Police clashed with Indian groups protesting a government plan to open up Peru’s Amazon region to foreign mining and energy companies. Last week, Peru’s Congress overturned land laws that ignited the protests.
10) A government proposal to grant parliamentary immunity to Colombian Congress caused controversy as more than half of the Congressmen is being investigated for all sorts of crimes, says Colombia Reports. Under the government proposal, Congress would approve of investigations into members before the Supreme Court is allowed to start an investigation. According to Caracol Radio, 40 percent of Colombia’s senators is subject to a criminal investigation, while more than 100 of the country’s 166 Representatives are being investigated for some kind of crime.
11) Venezuelan officials plan to invalidate some pharmaceutical patents and allow domestic manufacturers to produce licensed medicines, AP reports. Commerce Minister Saman announced Venezuela would annul patents on some medicines under a reform of intellectual property laws. Saman said the measure is aimed at making the interests of drug companies secondary to the needs of Venezuelans suffering from diseases such as cancer or AIDS. "We cannot allow transnational medicine companies to impose their rights on the Venezuelan people," Saman told state television. "Patents have become a barrier to production and we cannot allow barriers to the access of medicine." Venezuela imports most of its medicines.
1) Democracy, made in Iran
By reviving memories of an ousted leader, Iran’s protesters are signalling they want to win reform without US intervention
Stephen Kinzer, The Guardian, Monday 22 June 2009 19.00 BST
Despite efforts by Iran’s leaders to keep photographers off the streets during post-election protests this month, many vivid images have emerged. The one posted here, above, is the one I found most chilling, poignant and evocative.
By now, many outsiders can identify the man whose picture is on the right-hand side of this protest sign. He is Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reported loser in this month’s presidential election. The elderly gentleman in the other picture is unfamiliar to most non-Iranians. He and his fate, however, lie at the historical root of the protests now shaking Iran.
The picture shows a pensive, sad-looking man with what one of his contemporaries called "droopy basset-hound eyes and high patrician forehead". He does not look like a man whose fate would continue to influence the world decades after his death. But this was Muhammad Mossadeq, the most fervent advocate of democracy ever to emerge in his ancient land.
Above the twinned pictures of Mossadeq and Mousavi on this protest poster are the words "We won’t let history repeat itself." Centuries of intervention, humiliation and subjugation at the hand of foreign powers have decisively shaped Iran’s collective psyche. The most famous victim of this intervention – and also the most vivid symbol of Iran’s long struggle for democracy – is Mossadeq. Whenever Iranians assert their desire to shape their own fate, his image appears.
Iranians began their painful and bloody march toward democracy with the constitutional revolution of 1906. Only after the second world war did they finally manage to consolidate a freely elected government. Mossadeq was prime minister, and became hugely popular for taking up the great cause of the day, nationalisation of Iran’s oil industry. That outraged the British, who had "bought" the exclusive right to exploit Iranian oil from a corrupt Shah, and the Americans, who feared that allowing nationalization in Iran would encourage leftists around the world.
In the summer of 1953 the CIA sent the intrepid agent Kermit Roosevelt – grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, who believed Americans should "walk softly and carry a big stick" – to Tehran with orders to overthrow Mossadeq. He accomplished it in just three weeks. It was a vivid example of how easy it is for a rich and powerful country to throw a poor and weak one into chaos.
With this covert operation, the world’s proudest democracy put an end to democratic rule in Iran. Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi returned to the Peacock Throne and ruled with increasing repression for a quarter-century. His repression produced the explosion of 1979 that brought reactionary mullahs to power. Theirs is the regime that rules Iran today.
Carrying a picture of Mossadeq today means two things: "We want democracy" and "No foreign intervention". These demands fit together in the minds of most Iranians. Desperate as they are for the political freedom their parents and grandparents enjoyed in the early 1950s, they have no illusion that foreigners can bring it to them. In fact, foreign intervention has brought them nothing but misery.
[…] 2) U.S. To Limit Airstrikes In Afghanistan To Help Reduce Civilian Deaths
Rules are also changing on search and seizure methods and detainee treatment. Officials hope these changes will reduce tensions between U.S. troops and Afghan citizens.
David Zucchino and Laura King, Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2009
Kabul – The new U.S. military commander in Afghanistan will limit the use of airstrikes in order to help cut down on civilian casualties, his chief spokesman said Monday.
In a "tactical directive" to be issued in coming days, Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal has ordered new operational standards, including refraining from firing on structures where insurgents may have taken refuge among civilians unless Western or allied troops are in imminent danger, said spokesman Navy Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith.
Also under revision are ground search and seizure practices and the treatment of detainees, changes officials hope will reduce tensions between U.S. forces and Afghan citizens, and build a "civilian surge" to improve reconstruction and governance.
[…] McChrystal, who took command here June 15, has briefed top commanders on the directive over the last several days. In a departure from past practices, a summary of the classified document will be released, according to a member of McChrystal’s staff.
[…] Airstrikes accounted for 64% of the 828 civilians killed last year by U.S. or Afghan government forces, according to a recent United Nations report. The Taliban and other insurgents were responsible for an additional 1,160 civilians deaths.
Asked whether the directive will encourage insurgents to take cover behind civilians, Smith replied: "They already are. Their tactic is to get us to escalate the fight inside villages. They use structures where villagers live to fire on us. The key is, we’ve got to find a way to separate the enemy from the people."
[…] The directive also orders commanders to use multiple intelligence sources to ensure that all structures – homes, farm buildings, schools – in a target area are clear of civilians before launching airstrikes.
At the same time, the staff member said, the directive does not mean that use of air power will be sharply reduced – only that the emphasis is on protecting civilians rather than killing insurgents.
3) U.S. Scrambles For Information On Iran
Mark Landler and Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, June 23, 2009
As President Obama and his advisers watch the drama unfolding in Tehran, they are having to cope with a frustrating lack of reliable information – about the clashes between the police and protesters, about the strength of the opposition movement and, most of all, about the divisions within the ranks of Iran’s powerful clerics.
With no diplomatic relations and with foreign journalists largely expelled from the country, an administration that was already struggling to make sense of Iran finds itself picking up tidbits about the crisis in the same ways private citizens do: viewing amateur videos on YouTube and combing posts on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.
Obama receives a daily intelligence briefing, and the White House receives reports from allies like Britain and France, which have embassies in Tehran. Also, the State Department has a small outpost in Dubai, the Iran Regional Presence Office, where diplomats monitor Iranian state television and talk to Iranians who travel through the Persian Gulf emirate.
[…] Still, several officials said, the paucity of information from Iran adds another layer of complexity to Obama’s challenge as he wrestles with how to respond publicly to the crackdown on demonstrators and weighs what it means for his effort to engage the Iranian government on its nuclear program. "It’s bad. You’d prefer to have the information," said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic delicacy of the matter.
Even more than the lack of information, there is a lack of understanding of the Iranian establishment. It is unclear if any senior American official has met the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. What they know of the opposition figure Mir Hussein Moussavi dates mostly from his tenure as prime minister more than two decades ago, in the early days of the Islamic republic.
This estrangement is a legacy of the rupture in diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran in 1979. "The way the U.S. collects information about countries, having an embassy is absolutely critical," said Bruce Riedel, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst. "You need political staff that can go out on the street and talk to people, pick up the gossip."
[…] The Bush administration made a push to collect more information about Iran in 2006, when it was trying to tempt Tehran back into nuclear negotiations. It set up the regional office in its consulate in Dubai, with a staff of a half-dozen diplomats, backed up by 15 more people in Washington. The office was modeled on Riga Station, an outpost set up in Latvia in the 1920s to watch the Soviet Union, according R. Nicholas Burns, a former under secretary of state who held the Iran portfolio during the Bush administration. In recent days, the office has been providing hourly reports to officials in Washington.
The C.I.A. also elevated Iran as a spying priority by creating a special division in the agency’s clandestine service to coordinate all human espionage operations against Iran. The Bush administration used overt and covert means to build ties to dissident groups in Iran. Some of these efforts have begun to give Washington a glimpse into the workings of Iranian politics, according to current and former officials.
4) President Cool Plays It Right
Richard Cohen, Washington Post, Tuesday, June 23, 2009
The foreign policy sins of the United States fall into two categories: commission and omission. The commission ones include the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, and a one-time Latin American policy tailored to the needs of United Fruit Co. The sins of omission are less well-known. They include the failure to redeem the hollow promises to various subjugated peoples – the Hungarians of 1956, the Shiites of 1991 – that America would come to their aid. In Iran, the Obama administration is intent on not adding to this list.
The current policy, much criticized by prominent Republicans, vindicated Barack Obama’s boast in his Cairo speech that he is a "student of history." The student in him knows that the worst thing the United States could do at the moment is provide the supreme leader and the less supreme leaders with the words to paint the opposition as American stooges – or, even worse, suggest to the protesters that some sort of help is on its way from Washington.
Some of Obama’s critics have faulted him for not doing what Ronald Reagan (belatedly) did following the fraudulent election in the Philippines in 1986. After some dithering, Reagan virtually forced President Ferdinand Marcos into exile. How neat. How not a precedent for Iran. Marcos was, to exhume a dandy Cold War phrase, an "American lackey." The Philippines itself was a former American colony. We knew the country. Hell, at one time, we virtually owned it.
In contrast, not a lot is known about how Iran is actually governed. If, for instance, the White House asked the State Department to send over someone with on-the-ground experience in contemporary Iran, the car would arrive empty. The last American diplomats left Iran in 1979. The United States has to rely on foreign diplomats and journalists for its information.
But information is not experience. It cannot substitute for the feel of the country – a sense of what happens next. This sort of knowledge was precisely what the United States did not have about Iraq, and we have learned the hard way that satellites, intercepts and the like are no substitute for human intelligence. The Obama White House is showing commendable respect for what it does not know.
For instance, right now a crucial question is: What is the role of the former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani? As far as Washington is concerned, this powerful figure has dropped from sight. He presumably is in the opposition to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and, like other supposed reformers, had opposed the increasing power and influence of the military. But, as with many of the others, to call this deeply conservative and – at least in the past – virulently anti-American figure a "reformer" gives the word a whole new meaning.
Few of these nuances have made much of an impression on certain Republicans. As in the Cold War, they yearn for liberation rhetoric – strong statements with a Jeffersonian flourish. Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham are two of the more notable proponents of this line of criticism, wondering why Obama did not initially condemn the crackdown in much more forceful terms, as did Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Angela Merkel of Germany. "The president of the United States is supposed to lead the free world, not follow it," Graham said.
Good point, usually. But not this time. Neither Germany nor France has America’s history in Iran. It was America that staged the 1953 coup that ousted Mohammed Mossadegh and returned the shah to the Peacock Throne. Neither France nor Germany has been the object of Iranian vituperation since the 1979 revolution – all that Great Satan nonsense – and neither of these countries felt obliged to respond in kind: the axis of evil formulation of the Bush years. Pow! How brilliant.
5) Clerical Council in Iran Rejects Plea to Annul Vote
Michael Slackman and Sharon Otterman, New York Times, June 24, 2009
Cairo – President Obama condemned Iran’s aggressive response to the mass protests that have swept the country after its contested elections, saying that the United States and the international community "have been appalled and outraged" by the intimidation, beating and detention of peaceful demonstrators.
"I’ve made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty" of Iran, he said. "But we must also bear witness to the courage and the dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore the violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place."
[…] His comments, the toughest he has issued on Iran’s post-election turmoil, followed a decision by Iran’s most powerful oversight council to rule out overturning the results of the disputed presidential election, Iranian state television said Tuesday.
A day after announcing that the number of votes in 50 cities exceeded the number of eligible voters there by three million, the Guardian Council, which oversees the elections and legislation in Iran, said that there was not enough proof of fraud to overturn the election, which official results gave to incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad in a landslide.
"Fortunately, in the recent presidential election we found no witness of major fraud or breach in the election," Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei, the spokesman for the Guardian Council, declared, according to the Web site of Press TV, Iran’s English-language state television satellite broadcaster. "Therefore, there is no possibility of an annulment taking place."
The developments came as new details emerged about the scale of the government’s crackdown against its opponents.
Authorities have been steadily arresting a top tier of leadership in the moderate camp associated with Mir Hossein Moussavi, who placed a distant second in the June 12 presidential elections and has since emerged as the head of the mass protest movement that has taken to Iran’s streets over the past 10 days.
A large group of clerics and politicians supports Moussavi, among them the reformist former president, Mohammad Khatami. But since June 13, many of Khatami’s leading associates have been detained, according to a Web site run by expatriate Iranians tracking the arrests.
The detained include Dr. Mohsen Aminzadeh, deputy foreign minister in the Khatami administration and director of Moussavi’s campaign; Dr. Saeed Hajjarian, a leading reformist strategist; Mostafa Tajzadeh, deputy interior minister in the first Khatami administration; and Mohammad Ali Abtahi, vice president to Khatami for parliamentary affairs and a principal advisor to Mahdi Karroubi, the reformist candidate declared to have come in third in the 2009 presidential election.
[…] While there were no reports that Moussavi himself had been detained, his Web site appears to have been shut down, and no new announcements emerged from him Tuesday. Alleging widespread fraud, he has repeatedly called for the election to be annulled and has exhorted supporters to continue peaceful forms of protest. On Saturday, he called for a general strike if he were to be arrested.
[…] To vote, all citizens must show their shenasnameh, a wallet-sized folder holding all important documents, including birth certificates and proofs of marriage and divorce. Iranians can visit any polling site they choose to with their shenasnameh, which is why some districts end up with more ballots cast than eligible voters. People with summer or weekend houses, for example, often do not go home to vote.
6) Pakistan army says in final phase of Swat offensive
Zeeshan Haider, Reuters, Monday, June 22, 2009 11:53 AM
Islamabad – Pakistan security forces are near the end of their offensive in the Swat valley, the army said on Monday, with more than 40,000 people on the move before the next phase starts against the Pakistani Taliban’s headquarters.
The offensive in Swat, 120 km (80 miles) northwest of Islamabad, came after Taliban gains raised fears for the future of nuclear-armed Pakistan, a vital ally for the United States as it strives to defeat al Qaeda and stabilize Afghanistan.
Nearly 2 million people have fled fighting in the northwest, most since the army pushed into the former tourist valley of Swat in early May, and the United Nations is appealing for $543 million in aid to avert a long-term humanitarian crisis.
[…] More than 40,000 civilians are moving out of South Waziristan even before any offensive begins, threatening to compound the humanitarian crisis. A total of at least 60,000 civilians are expected to flee, said Colonel Waseem Ahmed, spokesman for the government unit overseeing relief efforts.
U.N. special humanitarian envoy Abdul Aziz Arrukban told Reuters only about 35 percent of the $543 million in aid the United Nations is seeking had been given. U.N. aid operations in Pakistan cost about $2 million a day, he said.
7) Amid Security Concerns, Foes Of Karzai See Electoral Opening
Farah Stockman, Boston Globe, June 23, 2009
[…] Now, Kabul is also blanketed in signs featuring the faces of presidential candidates hoping to be elected on Aug. 20. In one, President Hamid Karzai, who has ruled since the Taliban were toppled in 2001, stands with outstretched arms next to a balanced scale of justice, his campaign logo.
But this sign, too, seems out of step with reality. Eight years after Karzai assumed power amid high hopes for a new Afghanistan, kidnapping is a cottage industry, bribery is routine, and a stalemated guerrilla war between international forces and insurgents grinds on, killing hundreds in the cross fire.
This has made fertile ground for a field of new political opponents. At least 41 candidates are jockeying to be head of state, even as an advancing insurgency shrinks the portion of the country the winner will control.
And now, in the eyes of the United States, the faltering condition of Karzai’s government is becoming a US national security issue.
Last week, in his last trip to Kabul, outgoing NATO supreme allied commander John Craddock called good governance "the key factor" for defeating the insurgency. "If people don’t believe that government is a positive factor in their life, then this will be very difficult, regardless of how good we are at delivering security," Craddock said.
While the Bush administration steadfastly backed Karzai, President Obama has gone out of his way to make it clear that the United States is not supporting any particular candidate, even as the United States prepares to send 22,000 additional US troops to the country.
Over the weekend, US ambassador Karl Eikenberry, a former general, attended press conferences with two leading presidential candidates – former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani. Yesterday, he did the same for Mirwais Yasini, a member of Parliament who is considered the third viable challenger. At each event, Eikenberry explained that he was trying to get to know the potential future leader of Afghanistan, and seemed to scold Karzai between the lines.
"We would like to know what their views are on poor governance, because we know that poor governance leads to insecurity," Eikenberry said at the event with Abdullah. "This is a chance for the people of Afghanistan to give the government a report card for its performance over the last five years."
A recent International Republican Institute poll of 3,200 Afghans showed that 69 percent of Afghans still have a favorable opinion of Karzai, compared with 25 percent who had an unfavorable one. Thirty-one percent said they would vote for him, while his closest competitor, Abdullah, garnered 7 percent.
But nearly half of all respondents said they or their relatives have paid bribes to local officials for services and licenses. Only 30 percent of respondents felt the country was moving in the right direction, compared with 79 percent in 2004.
[…] Across town, Abdullah kicked off his campaign with a speech at a wedding hall packed with Tajiks, Afghanistan’s second-largest ethnic group.
As the audience cheered him on with chants of "God is great" and shouted poetry praising him, Abdullah promised everything from army posts for former warlords, to free land for carpet weavers, to negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban. But he got his biggest applause when he talked about the eventual withdrawal of foreign troops.
"For eight years, this government was not able to have their own Afghan forces; still they need foreign forces in the country," he said. "I will try to have Afghan forces, so that in a few coming years, there won’t be a need for foreign troops."
[…] Karzai’s support is flagging in the Pashtun heartland, in part because of anger over the insurgency that has gripped much of the south and east. Analysts say that if Karzai fails to win 50 percent of the vote in the first round, another candidate might defeat him. Some view Ashraf Ghani, a Pashtun and former World Bank official, as a potential dark horse.
As finance minister, Ghani was at loggerheads with the US government, fighting to get more aid funneled through Afghan institutions rather than expensive US contractors. When the US government hired defense contractor BearingPoint to supply him with an adviser to rein him in, the first task Ghani asked the young American to do was draw up a memo kicking BearingPoint out of the country. But now Americans seem eager for any leader capable of managing the chaos.
8) Israel releases Palestinian parliament speaker
Mark Lavie, Associated Press, Tuesday, June 23, 2009 1:59 PM
Israel on Tuesday freed the most senior of dozens of Hamas politicians in custody, prompting speculation it was a prelude to a deal for the release of an Israeli soldier held by Palestinians for three years.
However, Israeli officials insisted the Palestinian parliament speaker, Abdel Aziz Duaik, was let go because his three-year sentence was nearly at an end and that his release was not related to a swap involving the Israeli soldier, Sgt. Gilad Schalit. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because no steps had been taken.
Since Hamas-allied militants in Gaza captured Schalit in June 2006, Egypt has been trying to arrange an Israel-Hamas swap that would bring his release. The negotiations have been accompanied by frequent reports that a deal was close, only to be followed by new setbacks.
Israel has expressed willingness to free hundreds of Hamas prisoners, but has balked at releasing several senior Hamas militants serving lengthy terms for attacks that killed and wounded Israelis.
Earlier this week, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, as a new Israeli negotiating team was being put together.
[…] Palestinians and Israelis demonstrated on both sides of the Gaza-Israel border on Tuesday, demanding a prisoner swap.
After Schalit was captured, Israel rounded up more than 30 Hamas lawmakers, including the speaker, Duaik. The plan at the time was to trade the legislators for the soldier, but indirect talks have foundered. In the meantime, Duaik’s 36-month sentence is near an end, and a military judge ordered his release.
[…] Meanwhile, an Israeli group said the government has formulated plans to legalize 60 existing homes at an unauthorized settlement outpost in the West Bank and allow the construction of 240 other residences.
Such a move would flout a U.S. demand for a settlement freeze.
The plans were approved by Barak and filed with authorities in April, according to Bimkom, a private Israeli group that specializes in planning issues. The Defense Ministry confirmed that 60 housing units already completed would be legalized retroactively but denied that approval was given for the other 240.
9) Peru leader’s popularity drops after Amazon clashes
Reuters, Sunday, June 21, 2009 4:43 PM
Lima – Peruvian President Alan Garcia’s approval rating fell to its lowest level since November, hit by criticism over his handling of protests in which at least 34 people died, according to a poll published on Sunday. About 21 percent of Peruvians surveyed said they had a favorable impression of Garcia, down 9 percent from May, according to a nationwide poll by Ipsos Apoyo.
Garcia is struggling to calm political tensions after police clashed with Indian groups protesting a government plan to open up Peru’s Amazon region to foreign mining and energy companies. The violence triggered Garcia’s worst political crisis since he took office in 2006.
Indian groups – who say the development will lead to the destruction of their land in the rainforest – insist dozens of protesters were killed and others are missing.
Last week, Peru’s Congress overturned two controversial land laws that ignited the protests.
10) Controversy over proposed parliamentary immunity in Colombia
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, Monday, 22 June 2009 14:40
A government proposal to grant parliamentary immunity to Colombian Congress caused controversy as more than half of the Congressmen is being investigated for all sorts of crimes.
According to the government proposal, Congress should approve of investigations into members before the Supreme Court is allowed to formerly start an investigation and suspend the lawmaker.
Opponents of the proposal say the government is trying to hide criminal behavior by members of Congress and is stimulating impunity for those suspected of having found their way to Congress through paramilitary intimidation of voters. "All you have to do is change the M to a P and immunity becomes impunity," presidential candidate Sergio Fajardo said.
According to Caracol Radio, 40 percent of Colombia’s senators is subject to a criminal investigation, while more than 100 of the country’s 166 Representatives are being investigated for some kind of crime.
11) Pharmaceutical patents targeted in Venezuela
Associated Press, Sunday, 06.21.09u
Caracas – Venezuelan officials plan to invalidate some pharmaceutical patents and allow domestic manufacturers to produce licensed medicines, an action that could cause shortages and scare off foreign investment, industry leaders said Sunday.
Edgar Salas, president of Venezuela’s pharmaceutical business chamber, warned that abolishing patents could prompt the world’s largest drug manufacturers to stop exporting medicines to Venezuela. "This could create obstacles to importing the newest medicines," Salas said.
Commerce Minister Eduardo Saman – a close confidant of President Hugo Chavez – announced on Saturday that Venezuela’s government would annul patents on some medicines under a reform of existing intellectual property laws.
Saman said the measure is aimed at making the interests of powerful drug companies secondary to the needs of Venezuelans suffering from diseases such as cancer or AIDS. "We cannot allow transnational medicine companies to impose their rights on the Venezuelan people," Saman told state television. "Patents have become a barrier to production and we cannot allow barriers to the access of medicine."
Saman did not specify which patents would be annulled. Venezuela imports most of its medicines.
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