Posts Tagged ‘Corruption’


Demolition in El Frío Ranch

It was seized by the government of President Hugo Chávez in March 2009 upon the grounds of environmental protection


The Páez House, the emblem and centerpiece of El Frío Ranch, before the seizure Dossier
The house that once belonged to General José Antonio Páez, a hero of the Venezuelan independence; the core of El Frío Ranch and preserved for almost 150 years, is nowadays dilapidated after its premises were seized by the government of President Hugo Chávez. The image of two times dramatically shows the mood of a revolution.


Located in western Apure state, El Frío was not only one of the major cattle raising centers in the country, with 20,000 heads of cattle, but also among the most specialized natural biodiversity reservoirs in the Western Hemisphere, as well as a research center into ecological cattle raising and a renowned conservation center both inside and outside Venezuela.


The Páez House was the main house in the ranch. It accommodated the corporate administrative and professional staff. It had two big dining rooms, two kitchens and two living rooms. The gardens of the house, nowadays unroofed and in ruins, are being used as parking lot for incoming and outgoing official vehicles. The former hustle and bustle of a productive business was replaced with military officers who guard the ranch with AK-103 slung across their backs and staff in red T-shirts attending the courses of political ideology given by Cubans.


Decree on expropriation
In March 2008, the National Lands Institute declared the exceptional recovery of the plot of land called El Frío Ranch. According to Desirée Rodríguez, the corporate legal counsel, the action started in the absence of the due administrative procedure concerning land recovery. The ranch of 64,000 hectares belonged for more than a century to the Maldonados; it was incorporated as Invega in 1948 and its ownership chain comes from colonial times.


In January 2005, the local chapter of the National Lands Institute in Apure state commenced an administrative proceeding for wastelands against El Frío. In early 2009, after a request made by folk music singer Cristóbal Jiménez in the Sunday TV and radio show Aló Presidente (Hello, President!), the government resumed the confiscatory process. On March 31, seizure was carried out.


The results
The government presently has the whole property of El Frío Ranch without having paid one single bolivar. It is known that part of the 20,000 animals that used to graze in the wetlands have been killed for provision of beef, but nobody knows about the recipient of the sale proceeds.


Rodríguez claimed that the reservation areas include Guariquito ravine, where fishing is banned, but practiced now. A river port was built there and vessels come to get fish.


In addition to cattle, the reservation is the refuge of 7,000 deers, thousand capybaras, the giant nutria, the anteater, the puma, the freshwater dolphin, anacondas and small alligators. One of the most noteworthy projects was preservation and reproduction of the endangered Orinoco caiman. The project started in 1996 and managed by the local biological station succeeded in the reproduction of 2,500 caimans that were released in Guairuito ravine. In 2008, the ranch had the third largest population of reptiles in the country, particularly in Macanillal ravine. In its wetlands cattle breeding remained low to favor the best environmental conditions.


Journalist Ramón Hernández tells in his book “Story of dispossession,” next to be released that each year, near 300 undergraduate and graduate students from all universities and colleges across the nation would visit the site to complete their studies in ecology, animal protection and environment. Also, Carolina Foundation and the Spanish government implemented a master course in Management of Biodiversity in the Tropic. Latin American students used to explore at El Frío Ranch environmentally friendly cattle breeding, reintroduction of endangered species and recovery of native horses.


Today, there is glaring abandonment of farms and biological stations. Attorney Rodríguez complained that high-ranking government officers and persons of the ruling party surreptitiously engage in illegal hunting there.


The agricultural failure
Not knowing about the issue, after the seizure of El Frío Ranch, President Chávez heralded at the seized premises that Apure state would become a rice-growing superpower. Taking issue with experts, who said that the soil is V and VI class with few nutrients and able for large-scale cattle breeding, Chinese and Vietnamese were brought there to sow rice. The crop was a total failure. The delusive estimates of Elías Jaua, then Minister of Agriculture and Lands, never accomplished. Today, Venezuela needs to import 450,000 tons of rice, accounting for 40 percent of the domestic consumption. To the contrary, until 2004, Venezuela had been self-sufficient in that item and exported 120,000 tons.


While no numbers on production and profitability are known of the ranch, now managed by the socialist company Marisela, the payroll rose by 234 versus 140 workers during the previous administration. Most of the payroll was dismissed shortly after the seizure. Workers are still waiting for collection of their severance payment. Interestingly, Hernández said: “In order to bolster self-government and people’s self-defense among workers and communities for food sovereignty and integral defense of the nation, the company (Marisela) trains 1,000 militiamen with the help of the armed forces.”
twitter:@folivares10

Translated by Conchita Delgado

Francisco Olivares
EL UNIVERSAL

Demolition in El Frío Ranch – Daily News – EL UNIVERSAL

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The Economist’s take on Venezuela’s legislative elections

The revolution checked

The opposition bounces back

AFTER five years in the wilderness, Venezuela’s opposition is back in parliament and in contention. By winning 65 seats in the 165-member, single-chamber National Assembly, in an election on September 26th, the Venezuela Unity coalition dealt a blow to the hopes of Hugo Chávez, the leftist president, of exercising indefinite hegemony. Even worse for the president and his claim to be leading a popular revolution was the fact that the overall vote of 5.4m for the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) and its communist allies, was just below that of their opponents (5.7m).

Only blatant gerrymandering of constituencies and an electoral reform that abolished proportional representation allowed Mr Chávez to keep control of the legislature. Even so, he failed to retain the two-thirds majority he had said was vital for his regime’s future. Without it, the government must negotiate appointments to key posts, such as supreme court justices and members of the electoral authority (the CNE). And it cannot pass, or amend, laws which affect constitutional rights. Particularly irksome will be the fact that it may not be able to muster the 99 deputies required to authorise Mr Chávez to rule by decree, as he has been wont to.

In his 11 years in power Mr Chávez has profited from the opposition’s mistakes, which have included an attempted coup in 2002 and an ill-judged boycott of the previous legislative election in 2005. Over that period he has won a dozen national votes (the only exception being a constitutional referendum in 2007). The opposition’s rehabilitation began with a strong showing in big cities in a regional vote two years ago. For the legislative election, its multitude of constituent groups managed to hammer out a united front. Their success increases the chance that they will unite behind a single candidate against Mr Chávez in the presidential election that is due in two years’ time.

Having campaigned as if the assembly election were a plebiscite on his rule, Mr Chavez this week said it was “not about me”. He claimed a “solid victory”, arguing that the 3.2% of the vote won by a party of moderate chavista dissidents (whom he had earlier denounced as “traitors”) should not be counted with the opposition. He promised to “end 2010 at a gallop” and to continue “building socialism”.

On paper, he has the means to press ahead. The outgoing assembly will have free rein to rewrite rules until the end of the year. Thereafter Mr Chávez will still control the courts, the armed forces, the all-important oil industry and other state bodies. If the new assembly becomes deadlocked—for example, over the appointment of new members to the CNE—he may use the supreme court to bypass it.

Will sticking to his course allow him to recover enough votes to win a third consecutive six-year term in December 2012? He will have his work cut out. He has lost ground in urban Venezuela. In some poorer districts that are traditional PSUV strongholds, it was hard to find a single chavista voter on election day. In greater Caracas, the opposition won over 860,000 votes to the PSUV’s 634,000.

Just 24 hours after the polls Mr Chávez announced a new billion-dollar fund to build houses in the capital. But the electorate has grown used to unfulfilled promises. The housing shortage has worsened every year since he took office in 1999. Crime is at record levels, the economy in recession and food prices are rising at over 40% a year. Public services such as water, electricity and health care are close to collapse in many areas.

The good news for Venezuela is that representative democracy—which Mr Chávez promised to replace with a “participatory” version—is still alive. Turnout was 66%, and there were few claims of irregularities. Although there was a delay of a few hours in announcing the results, when they came neither side challenged them. Those in the opposition who maintain that voting is a waste of time continue to mutter on the sidelines but these days fewer people are listening. Even the brazen use of government resources, voter intimidation and other dubious tactics failed to produce the result the president wanted.

Mr Chávez had called on his followers to “demolish” the opposition. Instead, it has emerged stronger than at any time in the past decade. Its next job will be to come up with a plausible presidential candidate, capable of communicating with ordinary Venezuelans. But with the country split down the middle, a pluralist parliament could promote the understanding and dialogue that Venezuela sorely needs. Whatever the president’s wishes, demolition seems to be off the agenda.

Venezuela’s legislative election: The revolution checked | The Economist

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H.P.’s Foreign Entanglement

September 13, 2010, 11:30 am


hewlett

Peter J. Henning follows issues involving securities law and white-collar crime for DealBook’s White Collar Watch.
The last month or so has not been very pleasant for Hewlett-Packard.
The company’s recent 10-Q disclosed that the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission have expanded an investigation of possible bribe payments in connection with contracts the company obtained in Russia. Such payments may violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (F.C.P.A.), an area where the federal government has investigated more aggressively over the last few years.
This disclosure comes on top of other recent legal problems at H.P. Joe Nocera’s recent column in The New York Times described H.P.’s directors as “the most inept board in America” for its lawsuit against its former chief executive, Mark V. Hurd. On Aug. 30, the Justice Department announced a $55 million settlement of a civil fraud claim against H.P. for paying “influencer fees” — in other words, kickbacks — in return for favorable recommendations to the federal government to buy the company’s products.

About White Collar Watch
Peter J. Henning, writing for DealBook’s White Collar Watch, is a commentator on white-collar crime and litigation. A former lawyer at the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement division and then a prosecutor at the Justice Department, he is a professor at the Wayne State University Law School. He is currently working on a book, “The Prosecution and Defense of Public Corruption: The Law & Legal Strategies,” to be published by Oxford University Press.

As Mr. Nocera pointed out, H.P. is unlikely to succeed in its legal battle with Mr. Hurd, but that is more of a distraction than anything else. A widening F.C.P.A. investigation, on the other hand, may end up costing the company millions of dollars in legal fees as it deals with demands for documents while conducting its own internal inquiry. And any settlement with the government would likely involve both criminal fines and civil monetary penalties, along with other remedial measures, ratcheting the price up further.
The bribery investigation began in Russia in connection with a contract with a former German subsidiary of H.P. that involved the installation of a computer network in, of all places, Russia’s chief prosecutor’s office. Russian and German prosecutors are looking into the transaction, which took place from 2002 to 2006, and have requested documents from the company.
In its 10-Q, H.P. notes for the first time that the investigation is not limited to that one contract in Russia: “The U.S. enforcement authorities have recently requested information from H.P. relating to certain governmental and quasi-governmental transactions in Russia and in the Commonwealth of Independent States subregion dating back to 2000.”
It is not clear how many contracts or transactions may be involved, but the expanded time frame and geographic scope probably means the inquiry will be an extended one, rather than something H.P. can wrap up quickly. As sometimes happens, once one part of a multinational company is scrutinized for bribery, problems in other areas can pop to the surface.
The recent settlement by Siemens of overseas bribery charges shows how corruption can spread throughout a company. Subsidiaries operating in France, Argentina, Turkey and the Middle East were found to have paid bribes to obtain contracts, and Siemens paid $800 million in criminal fines to the Justice Department and disgorgement to the S.E.C. as part of the settlement.
The F.C.P.A. is part of the federal securities laws, and most cases involve the S.E.C. along with the Justice Department because one part of the act requires corporations to maintain proper books and records, something that is rarely done when a bribe is paid. The Justice Department has become much more aggressive in pursuing foreign bribery cases, including conducting an undercover sting operation that resulted in more than 20 people being arrested on charges of offering bribes to participate in a fictitious security contract with an African nation.
The recent addition of enhanced whistle-blower rewards in the Dodd-Frank Act authorizes the S.E.C. to pay 10 percent of any recovery realized, up to a maximum of 30 percent, to those who provide valuable information related to any type of securities fraud. F.C.P.A. cases are very likely to be among the most common instances for whistle-blowing by corporate employees.
F.C.P.A. charges are also very difficult to defend once the government obtains evidence that payments were made to foreign officials “in obtaining or retaining business” in that country. The act recognizes two defenses to a charge, first the payment was lawful under the laws of the country where it was made, and second the expenses were reasonable for the promoting the product or implementing the contract.
Neither defense has been successfully offered in court to this point. Even worse, according to an article by Kyle Sheahen that will be published shortly in the Wisconsin International Law Journal, “the defenses are virtually useless in practice.”
Even if H.P. is found to have violated the F.C.P.A., that does not mean the company’s ability to win government contracts would be at risk. Professor Mike Koehler, who analyzes these issues on the FCPA Professor blog, noted that the Siemens settlement did not seem to have any real effect on the company’s relationship with the federal government. “One of the unfortunate beauties of engaging in bribery the U.S. government terms ‘unprecedented in scale and geographic scope’ is no slowdown in U.S. government contracts in the immediate aftermath of the enforcement action,” he noted.
The impact from any F.C.P.A. violation may change, however, under a bill under consideration in Congress. The legislation, called the Overseas Contractor Reform Act and passed by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in July, requires debarment from future government contracts for any person or company found in violation of the F.C.P.A. The bill states the policy that “no Government contracts or grants should be awarded to individuals or companies who violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”
Whether the House and Senate will pass the legislation remains to be seen, but corporate integrity is, like mom and apple pie, not easily opposed. While the current aversion to corporate America may be abating, this is the type of reform that may well take hold to put some more bite into the F.C.P.A.
For H.P., a burgeoning foreign bribery investigation is not good news because of the costs and uncertainly it engenders. If the Overseas Contractor Reform Act becomes law, it will make it even more imperative that the company try to avoid any finding of a violation of the F.C.P.A., perhaps through a deferred or non-prosecution agreement that can let it avoid a finding of a violation.
Peter J. Henning
The Overseas Contractor Reform Act
H.P.’s Foreign Entanglement – NYTimes.com

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Venezuelan Plane With 51 Aboard Crashes Near Airport; 15 Dead, 36 Injured

http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4151/4987209710_64f6537511.jpg  

Fifteen people were killed and dozens of passengers were taken to hospitals after a plane crash landed and burst into flames in eastern Venezuela. 

“There are exactly 36 people who are, thanks to God, still among us and 15 people who died,” Bolivar state Governor Francisco Rangel Gomez said on state television this evening.
The accident occurred at 9:50 a.m. as the ATR-42 turboprop operated by state airline Conviasa was nearing its destination of Ciudad Guayana, 330 miles southeast of Caracas, after having taken off from Margarita Island. The pilot reported he was having problems controlling the turboprop before the crash, according to the regional disaster response chief, Jose Garcia.
A photograph published online by Globovison showed the charred remnants of the plane after it crashed near a steel mill owned by Siderurgica del Orinoco. The aircraft broke into pieces after coming down in an empty lot 6 miles from the airport.
Representatives of the French airplane manufacturer Avions de Transport Regional will visit the site to investigate the cause of the accident, Transport Minister Francisco Garces said. ATR is a joint venture of European Aeronautic, Defense & Space Co. and Finmeccanica SpA.
Rangel Gomez said one worker from the steel mill climbed into the plane shortly after it crashed and pulled out survivors. The worker was being treated for smoke inhalation, Rangel Gomez said.
Government officials had originally said that the airplane from flying to Margarita Island from Ciudad Guayana.
Venezuela’s last major aviation disaster was in February 2008, when an airplane belonging to Santa Barbara Airlines crashed in the Andes mountains near the city of Merida, killing all 46 people on board.
To contact the reporter on this story: Charlie Devereux in Caracas at cdevereux3@bloomberg.net; Corina Pons in Caracas at crpons@bloomberg.net

Venezuelan Plane With 51 Aboard Crashes After Takeoff; 14 Dead, 23 Injured – Bloomberg

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Fidel: ‘Cuban Model Doesn’t Even Work For Us Anymore’

By Jeffrey Goldberg
There were many odd things about my recent Havana stopover (apart from the dolphin show, which I’ll get to shortly), but one of the most unusual was Fidel Castro’s level of self-reflection. I only have limited experience with Communist autocrats (I have more experience with non-Communist autocrats) but it seemed truly striking that Castro was willing to admit that he misplayed his hand at a crucial moment in the Cuban Missile Crisis (you can read about what he said toward the end of my previous post – but he said, in so many words, that he regrets asking Khruschev to nuke the U.S.).

Even more striking was something he said at lunch on the day of our first meeting. We were seated around a smallish table; Castro, his wife, Dalia, his son; Antonio; Randy Alonso, a major figure in the government-run media; and Julia Sweig, the friend I brought with me to make sure, among other things, that I didn’t say anything too stupid (Julia is a leading Latin American scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations). I initially was mainly interested in watching Fidel eat – it was a combination of digestive problems that conspired to nearly kill him, and so I thought I would do a bit of gastrointestinal Kremlinology and keep a careful eye on what he took in (for the record, he ingested small amounts of fish and salad, and quite a bit of bread dipped in olive oil, as well as a glass of red wine). But during the generally lighthearted conversation (we had just spent three hours talking about Iran and the Middle East), I asked him if he believed the Cuban model was still something worth exporting.

“The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore,” he said.

This struck me as the mother of all Emily Litella moments. Did the leader of the Revolution just say, in essence, “Never mind”?

I asked Julia to interpret this stunning statement for me. She said, “He wasn’t rejecting the ideas of the Revolution. I took it to be an acknowledgment that under ‘the Cuban model’ the state has much too big a role in the economic life of the country.”

Julia pointed out that one effect of such a sentiment might be to create space for his brother, Raul, who is now president, to enact the necessary reforms in the face of what will surely be push-back from orthodox communists within the Party and the bureaucracy. Raul Castro is already loosening the state’s hold on the economy. He recently announced, in fact, that small businesses can now operate and that foreign investors could now buy Cuban real estate. (The joke of this new announcement, of course, is that Americans are not allowed to invest in Cuba, not because of Cuban policy, but because of American policy. In other words, Cuba is beginning to adopt the sort of economic ideas that America has long-demanded it adopt, but Americans are not allowed to participate in this free-market experiment because of our government’s hypocritical and stupidly self-defeating embargo policy. We’ll regret this, of course, when Cubans partner with Europeans and Brazilians to buy up all the best hotels).

But I digress. Toward the end of this long, relaxed lunch, Fidel proved to us that he was truly semi-retired. The next day was Monday, when maximum leaders are expected to be busy single-handedly managing their economies, throwing dissidents into prison, and the like. But Fidel’s calendar was open. He asked us, “Would you like to go the aquarium with me to see the dolphin show?”

I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly. (This happened a number of times during my visit). “The dolphin show?”

“The dolphins are very intelligent animals,” Castro said.

I noted that we had a meeting scheduled for the next morning, with Adela Dworin, the president of Cuba’s Jewish community.

“Bring her,” Fidel said.

Someone at the table mentioned that the aquarium was closed on Mondays. Fidel said, “It will be open tomorrow.”

And so it was.

Late the next morning, after collecting Adela at the synagogue, we met Fidel on the steps of the dolphin house. He kissed Dworin, not incidentally in front of the cameras (another message for Ahmadinejad, perhaps). We went together into a large, blue-lit room that faces a massive, glass-enclosed dolphin tank. Fidel explained, at length, that the Havana Aquarium’s dolphin show was the best dolphin show in the world, “completely unique,” in fact, because it is an underwater show. Three human divers enter the water, without breathing equipment, and perform intricate acrobatics with the dolphins. “Do you like dolphins?” Fidel asked me.

“I like dolphins a lot,” I said.

Fidel called over Guillermo Garcia, the director of the aquarium (every employee of the aquarium, of course, showed up for work — “voluntarily,” I was told) and told him to sit with us.

“Goldberg,” Fidel said, “ask him questions about dolphins.”

“What kind of questions?” I asked.

“You’re a journalist, ask good questions,” he said, and then interrupted himself. “He doesn’t know much about dolphins anyway,” he said, pointing to Garcia. He’s actually a nuclear physicist.”

“You are?” I asked.

“Yes,” Garcia said, somewhat apologetically.

“Why are you running the aquarium?” I asked.

“We put him here to keep him from building nuclear bombs!” Fidel said, and then cracked-up laughing.

“In Cuba, we would only use nuclear power for peaceful means,” Garcia said, earnestly.

“I didn’t think I was in Iran,” I answered.

Fidel pointed to the small rug under the special swivel chair his bodyguards bring along for him.

“It’s Persian!” he said, and laughed again. Then he said, “Goldberg, ask your questions about dolphins.”

Now on the spot, I turned to Garcia and asked, “How much do the dolphins weigh?”

They weigh between 100 and 150 kilograms, he said.

“How do you train the dolphins to do what they do?” I asked.

“That’s a good question,” Fidel said.

Garcia called over one of the aquarium’s veterinarians to help answer the question. Her name was Celia. A few minutes later, Antonio Castro told me her last name: Guevara.

“You’re Che’s daughter?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“And you’re a dolphin veterinarian?”

“I take care of all the inhabitants of the aquarium,” she said.

“Che liked animals very much,” Antonio Castro said.

It was time for the show to start. The lights dimmed, and the divers entered the water. Without describing it overly much, I will say that once again, and to my surprise, I found myself agreeing with Fidel: The aquarium in Havana puts on a fantastic dolphin show, the best I’ve ever seen, and as the father of three children, I’ve seen a lot of dolphin shows. I will also say this: I’ve never seen someone enjoy a dolphin show as much as Fidel Castro enjoyed the dolphin show.

In the next installment, I will deal with such issues as the American embargo, the status of religion in Cuba, the plight of political dissidents, and economic reform. For now, I leave you with this image from our day at the aquarium (I’m in the low chair; Che’s daughter is behind me, with the short, blondish hair; Fidel is the guy who looks like Fidel if Fidel shopped at L.L. Bean):

fidel and goldberg.jpg

This article available online at:
http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/09/fidel-cuban-model-doesnt-even-work-for-us-anymore/62602/

Fidel: ‘Cuban Model Doesn’t Even Work For Us Anymore’ – International – The Atlantic

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Why Africa won’t be the next Bric

August 27, 2010 5:26pm

Prompted by this week’s application from South Africa for Bric “membership”, the man who coined the acronym – Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs – asks in today’s FT whether Africa as a whole could become the next Bric.
On several measures he says the continent has a reasonably strong case, but he notes that its biggest economies would still need to raise their games on many fronts – and he misses some more profound weaknesses in the Africa-as-a-Bric idea.
O’Neill created the Bric acronym in 2001 as a neat way of grouping together four countries that shared the potential for generating rapid growth, attracting foreign investment, and reshaping the global economy.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, managing director at the World Bank, latched onto the idea of Africa joining the group in a speech earlier this year in which she sold it as a “trillion dollar economy”.

It’s high time Africa saw and presented itself as the fifth Bric, an attractive destination for investment, not just aid. This is realistic and within reach. As Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done”.

But before you can decide where to squeeze an “a” into the acronym, old Africa hands will jump in to say that it’s nonsense to compare it to a single country: not only is Africa a continent, it’s arguably the most diverse on the planet in terms of economics, politics, culture and the environment.
What’s more, 20 African countries have populations of less than 5m people. O’Neill is alive to that and focuses his discussion on the biggest African economies.

If you … look at the potential of the 11 largest African economies for the next 40 years (by studying their likely demographics, the resulting changes in their working population and their productivity) their combined GDP by 2050 would reach more than $13,000bn, making them bigger than either Brazil or Russia, although not China or India.

But even those 11 are highly diverse – including two of the biggest, Egypt and Nigeria. And due to Africa’s lamentable roads and railways, as well as its internal border restrictions, many of them function as isolated economic islands.
Afro-optimists would say regional trading blocs are changing that, but the reality is that only about 10 to 12 per cent of African trade takes place with other African countries, according to a study from the UN Economic Commission for Africa and others.
For those reasons, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to suppose that Africa’s biggest economies will follow the same development trajectories over the next few years, let alone the next few decades.
Yet it’s worth remembering that the Bric grouping initially attracted flak for not having any coherence either, but its runaway popularity with western businesses and investors has given the four countries more in common than they had before.
Funnily enough, one thing they share is a growing hunger for mineral resources from Africa (notably Nigeria, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan).
But it’s doubtful whether any country other than South Africa has the right mix of factors to make it an attractive destination for serious western investment, across a broader range of sectors, which could rival that going to the Brics.
Earlier this year Shanta Devarajan, the World Bank’s chief economist for Africa, responded with a dose of scepticism to Okonjo-Iweala’s call:

The distinguishing feature of the Brics is that they are both middle-income and large. So it’s not clear how any individual African country can aspire to being a Bric. Countries such as Malaysia or Chile may be more appropriate models for most African countries.

To achieve their “2050 potential”, O’Neill says African countries need more macroeconomic stability, less external debt, a stronger rule of law, better education, (even) more mobile telephones, and a purge of corruption.
But it’s worth paying more attention to the parallel trends of population growth (seen as a good thing by many investors in India and Brazil) and job creation (a difficult task that most African governments are failing to manage).
Each of the Bric countries have their own pockets of poverty, and in some parts of Africa poverty is actually falling. But too many countries are producing more people than they can employ. And not only does that limit their potential as new consumer markets. It has ugly consequences in terms of crime, conflict and social unrest that can strangle economic growth.
Related reading:
Building Brics, FT
Is Russia the best Bric after all? beyondbrics
Why Africa won’t be the next Bric | beyondbrics | FT.com

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Fidel to Ahmadinejad: ‘Stop Slandering the Jews’

By Jeffrey Goldberg
The Atlantic
(This is Part I of a report on my recent visit to Havana. I hope to post Part II tomorrow. And I also hope to be publishing a more comprehensive article about this subject in a forthcoming print edition of The Atlantic.)
A couple of weeks ago, while I was on vacation, my cell phone rang; it was Jorge Bolanos, the head of the Cuban Interest Section (we of course don’t have diplomatic relations with Cuba) in Washington. “I have a message for you from Fidel,” he said. This made me sit up straight. “He has read your Atlantic article about Iran and Israel. He invites you to Havana on Sunday to discuss the article.” I am always eager, of course, to interact with readers of The Atlantic, so I called a friend at the Council on Foreign Relations, Julia Sweig, who is a preeminent expert on Cuba and Latin America: “Road trip,” I said.

I quickly departed the People’s Republic of Martha’s Vineyard for Fidel’s more tropical socialist island paradise. Despite the self-defeating American ban on travel to Cuba, both Julia and I, as journalists and researchers, qualified for a State Department exemption. The charter flight from Miami was bursting with Cuban-Americans carrying flat-screen televisions and computers for their technologically-bereft families. Fifty minutes after take-off, we arrived at the mostly-empty Jose Marti International Airport. Fidel’s people met us on the tarmac (despite giving up his formal role as commandante en jefe after falling ill several years ago, Fidel still has many people). We were soon deposited at a “protocol house” in a government compound whose architecture reminded me of the gated communities of Boca Raton. The only other guest in this vast enclosure was the president of Guinea-Bissau.

I was aware that Castro had become preoccupied with the threat of a military confrontation in the Middle East between Iran and the U.S. (and Israel, the country he calls its Middle East “gendarme”). Since emerging from his medically induced, four-year purdah early this summer (various gastrointestinal maladies had combined to nearly kill him), the 84-year-old Castro has spoken mainly about the catastrophic threat of what he sees as an inevitable war.

I was curious to know why he saw conflict as unavoidable, and I wondered, of course, if personal experience – the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 that nearly caused the annihilation of most of humanity – informed his belief that a conflict between America and Iran would escalate into nuclear war.  I was even more curious, however, to get a glimpse of the great man. Few people had seen him since he fell ill in 2006, and the state of his health has been a subject of much speculation. There were questions, too, about the role he plays now in governing Cuba; he formally handed off power to his younger brother, Raul, two years ago, but it was not clear how many strings Fidel still pulled.

The morning after our arrival in Havana, Julia and I were driven to a nearby convention center, and escorted upstairs, to a large and spare office. A frail and aged Fidel stood to greet us. He was wearing a red shirt, sweatpants, and black New Balance sneakers. The room was crowded with officials and family: His wife, Dalia, and son Antonio, as well as an Interior Ministry general, a translator, a doctor and several bodyguards, all of whom appeared to have been recruited from the Cuban national wrestling team. Two of these bodyguards held Castro at the elbow.

We shook hands, and he greeted Julia warmly; they have known each other for more than twenty years. Fidel lowered himself gently into his seat, and we began a conversation that would continue, in fits and starts, for three days. His body may be frail, but his mind is acute, his energy level is high, and not only that: the late-stage Fidel Castro turns out to possess something of a self-deprecating sense of humor. When I asked him, over lunch, to answer what I’ve come to think of as the Christopher Hitchens question – has your illness caused you to change your mind about the existence of God? – he answered, “Sorry, I’m still a dialectical materialist.” (This is funnier if you are, like me, an ex-self-defined socialist.) At another point, he showed us a series of recent photographs taken of him, one of which portrayed him with a fierce expression. “This was how my face looked when I was angry with Khruschev,” he said. 

Castro opened our initial meeting by telling me that he read the recent Atlantic article carefully, and that it confirmed his view that Israel and America were moving precipitously and gratuitously toward confrontation with Iran. This interpretation was not surprising, of course: Castro is the grandfather of global anti-Americanism, and he has been a severe critic of Israel. His message to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, he said, was simple: Israel will only have security if it gives up its nuclear arsenal, and the rest of the world’s nuclear powers will only have security if they, too, give up their weapons. Global and simultaneous nuclear disarmament is, of course, a worthy goal, but it is not, in the short term, realistic. 

Castro’s message to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, was not so abstract, however. Over the course of this first, five-hour discussion, Castro repeatedly returned to his excoriation of anti-Semitism. He criticized Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and explained why the Iranian government would better serve the cause of peace by acknowledging the “unique” history of anti-Semitism and trying to understand why Israelis fear for their existence.

 
He began this discussion by describing his own, first encounters with anti-Semitism, as a small boy. “I remember when I was a boy – a long time ago – when I was five or six years old and I lived in the countryside,” he said, “and I remember Good Friday. What was the atmosphere a child breathed? `Be quiet, God is dead.’ God died every year between Thursday and Saturday of Holy Week, and it made a profound impression on everyone. What happened? They would say, `The Jews killed God.’ They blamed the Jews for killing God! Do you realize this?”

He went on, “Well, I didn’t know what a Jew was. I knew of a bird that was a called a ‘Jew,’ and so for me the Jews were those birds.  These birds had big noses. I don’t even know why they were called that. That’s what I remember. This is how ignorant the entire population was.”

He said the Iranian government should understand the consequences of theological anti-Semitism. “This went on for maybe two thousand years,” he said. “I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims. They have been slandered much more than the Muslims because they are blamed and slandered for everything. No one blames the Muslims for anything.” The Iranian government should understand that the Jews “were expelled from their land, persecuted and mistreated all over the world, as the ones who killed God. In my judgment here’s what happened to them: Reverse selection. What’s reverse selection? Over 2,000 years they were subjected to terrible persecution and then to the pogroms. One might have assumed that they would have disappeared; I think their culture and religion kept them together as a nation.” He continued: “The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.” I asked him if he would tell Ahmadinejad what he was telling me. “I am saying this so you can communicate it,” he answered.

Castro went on to analyze the conflict between Israel and Iran. He said he understood Iranian fears of Israeli-American aggression and he added that, in his view, American sanctions and Israeli threats will not dissuade the Iranian leadership from pursuing nuclear weapons. “This problem is not going to get resolved, because the Iranians are not going to back down in the face of threats. That’s my opinion,” he said. He then noted that, unlike Cuba, Iran is a “profoundly religious country,” and he said that religious leaders are less apt to compromise. He noted that even secular Cuba has resisted various American demands over the past 50 years.

We returned repeatedly in this first conversation to Castro’s fear that a confrontation between the West and Iran could escalate into a nuclear conflict. “The Iranian capacity to inflict damage is not appreciated,” he said. “Men think they can control themselves but Obama could overreact and a gradual escalation could become a nuclear war.” I asked him if this fear was informed by his own experiences during the 1962 missile crisis, when the Soviet Union and the U.S. nearly went to war other over the presence of nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba (missiles installed at the invitation, of course, of Fidel Castro). I mentioned to Castro the letter he wrote to Khruschev, the Soviet premier, at the height of the crisis, in which he recommended that the Soviets consider launching a nuclear strike against the U.S. if the Americans attack Cuba. “That would be the time to think about liquidating such a danger forever through a legal right of self-defense,” Castro wrote at the time.

I asked him, “At a certain point it seemed logical for you to recommend that the Soviets bomb the U.S. Does what you recommended still seem logical now?” He answered: “After I’ve seen what I’ve seen, and knowing what I know now, it wasn’t worth it all.”

I was surprised to hear Castro express such doubts about his own behavior in the missile crisis – and I was, I admit, also surprised to hear him express such sympathy for Jews, and for Israel’s right to exist (which he endorsed unequivocally). 

After this first meeting, I asked Julia to explain the meaning of Castro’s invitation to me, and of his message to Ahmadinejad. “Fidel is at an early stage of reinventing himself as a senior statesman, not as head of state, on the domestic stage, but primarily on the international stage, which has always been a priority for him,” she said. “Matters of war, peace and international security are a central focus: Nuclear proliferation climate change, these are the major issues for him, and he’s really just getting started, using any potential media platform to communicate his views. He has time on his hands now that he didn’t expect to have. And he’s revisiting history, and revisiting his own history.”

There is a great deal more to report from this conversation, and from subsequent conversations, which I will do in posts to follow. But I will begin the next post on this subject by describing one of the stranger days I have experienced, a day which began with a simple question from Fidel: “Would you like to go to the aquarium with me to see the dolphin show?”

This article available online at:
http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/09/fidel-to-ahmadinejad-stop-slandering-the-jews/62566/

Copyright © 2010 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All Rights Reserved
Fidel to Ahmadinejad: ‘Stop Slandering the Jews’ – International – The Atlantic





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