FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Wednesday: April 2, 2014 

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in Israel (9)

Thursday
Feb232012

The Slide Towards War (PERSPECTIVE) 

By Conn Hallinan

Wars are fought because some people decide it is in their interests to fight them. World War I was not started over the Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination, nor was it triggered by the alliance system. An “incident” may set the stage for war, but no one keeps shooting unless they think it’s a good idea. The Great War started because the countries involved decided they would profit by it, delusional as that conclusion was.

It is useful to keep this idea in mind when trying to figure out whether the United States or Israel will go to war with Iran. In short, what are the interests of the protagonists, and are they important enough for those nations to take the fateful step into the chaos of battle?

Israel’s Political Problem

According to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran is building nuclear weapons that pose an “existential” threat to Israel. But virtually no one believes this, including the bulk of Tel Aviv’s military and intelligence communities. As former Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said recently, Iran “is not an existential” threat to Israel. There is no evidence that Iran is building a bomb, and all its facilities are currently under a 24-hour United Nations inspection regime.

So from a strictly security perspective, Israel has little reason to go to war with Iran. But Israel does have an interest in keeping the Middle East a fragmented place, driven by sectarian divisions and dominated by authoritarian governments and feudal monarchies. If there is one lesson Israel has learned from its former British overlords, it is “divide and conquer.” Among its closest allies were the former dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia. It now finds itself on the same page as the reactionary monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman.

Iran is not a military threat to Israel, but it is a political problem: Tel Aviv sees Tehran’s fierce nationalism and independence from the West as a wildcard. Iran is also allied to Israel’s major regional enemy, Syria—with which Israel is still officially at war—as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, and the Shiite-dominated government in Iraq.

In the Netanyahu government’s analysis, beating up on Iran would weaken Israel’s local enemies at little cost. Tel Aviv’s scenario features a shock-and-awe attack followed by a UN-mandated ceasefire, with a maximum of 500 Israeli casualties. The Iranians have little capacity to strike back, and if they did attack Israeli civilian centers or tried to close the Strait of Hormuz, it would bring in the Americans.

Of course, that rose-colored scenario is little more than wishful thinking. Iran is not likely to agree to a rapid ceasefire; it fought for eight long years against Iraq, and war has a habit of derailing the best-laid plans. A war between Israel and Iran would be long and bloody and might well spread to the entire region.

Iran’s leaders dispense a lot of bombast about punishing Israel if it attacks, but in the short run there is not a lot they could do, particularly given the red lines Washington has drawn. The Iranian air force is obsolete, and the Israelis have the technology to blank out most of Tehran’s radar and anti-aircraft sites. Iran could do little to stop Tel Aviv’s mixture of air attacks, submarine-fired cruise missiles, and Jericho ballistic missiles.

The United States and Its Allies

For all its talk about how “all options are on the table,” the Obama administration appears to be trying to avoid a war. But with the 2012 elections looming, could Washington remain on the sidelines? Polls indicate that Americans would not look with favor on a new Middle East war, but a united front of Republicans, neoconservatives, and the American Israeli Political Action Committee is pressing for a confrontation with Iran.

Israeli sources suggest that Netanyahu may calculate that an election-season Israeli attack might force the Obama administration to back a war and/or damage Obama’s re-election chances. It is no secret that there is no love lost between the two leaders.

But the United States also has a dog in this fight. American hostility to Iran dates back to Tehran’s seizure of its oil assets from Britain in 1951. The CIA helped overthrow the democratically elected Iranian government in 1953 and install the dictatorial Shah. The United States also backed Saddam Hussein’s war on Iran, has had a longstanding antagonistic relationship with Syria, and will not talk with Hezbollah or Hamas. Tel Aviv’s local enemies are Washington’s local enemies.

When the Gulf monarchs formed the GCC in 1981, its primary purpose was to oppose Iranian influence in the Middle East. Using religious division as a wedge, the GCC has encouraged Sunni fundamentalists to fight Shiites in Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria, and largely blocked the spread of the “Arab Spring” to its own turf. When Shiites in Bahrain began protesting over a lack of democracy and low wages, the GCC invaded and crushed the demonstrations. The GCC does not see eye-to-eye with the United States and Israel on the Palestinians—although it is careful not to annoy Washington and Tel Aviv—but the GCC is on the same page as both capitals concerning Syria, Lebanon, and Iran.

The European Union (EU) has joined the sanctions, although France andGermany have explicitly rejected the use of force. Motivations in the EU range from France’s desire to reclaim its former influence in Lebanon to Europe’s need to keep its finger on the world’s energy jugular.

Setting the Stage for Tragedy

In brief, it isn’t all about oil and gas, but a whole lot of it is — and, as CounterPunch’s Alexander Cockburn points out, oil companies would like to see production cut and prices rise. Another war in the Persian Gulf would accomplish both.

Iran will be the victim here, but elements within the regime will take advantage of any war to consolidate their power. An attack would unify the country around what is now a rather unpopular government. It would allow the Revolutionary Guard to crush its opposition and give cover to the Ahmadinejad government’s drive to cut subsidies for transportation, housing, and food. A war would cement the power of the most reactionary elements of the current regime.

There are other actors in this drama—China, Russia, India, Turkey, and Pakistan for starters, none of whom supports a war—but whether they can influence events is an open question. In the end, Israel may just decide that its interests are best served by starting a war and that the United States will go along.

Or maybe this is all sound and fury signifying nothing?

Israel, the West, and the Gulf Cooperation Council share many of the same interests. Unfortunately, they also share the belief that force is an effective way to achieve one’s goals.

On such illusions are tragedies built.

Conn Hallinan is a columnist with Foreign Policy In Focus. His work can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseries@wordpress.com

Originally published  by Institute for Policy Studies licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

Monday
Dec262011

THE HUM - HEADLINES FROM THE GEOGRAPHIC GAP - 12/26/11

Afghanistan

High Power consumption the main factor of electricity outage

Canada 

(PHOTO: The provincial government of British Columbia has created a task force team to handle the tonnes of debris from the Japanese tsunami floating in the Pacific Ocean that is expected to hit B.C. shores. US NAVY)B.C. launches task force to manage coming tsunami debris

China 

Asia to be largest corporate, investment banking market by 2015: McKinsey

Congo (DRC)

Capital markets: Burj Capital thrives against the tide

Cuba 

US 'Disappointed' Cuba Will Not Release American Prisoner

Egypt 

(PHOTO: Ismail Haniya, Gaza Strip PM. EPA)Palestinian PM in Cairo

Ethiopia

Egypt deports 93 Ethiopians using the country as a transit stop to reach Israel illegally

Haiti 

Haitian migrants found dead off Cuban coast

Iran 

Iranian diplomats review Islamic awakening in Arab states

Tehran, Tunis Able to Further Develop Relations Far from Sectarian Differences

Iran President underlines development of ties with Africa

Iraq 

Iraq blocks Jordanian trucks heading to Turkey over Syria concerns

Israel 

Israeli gas quests plagued by pirates

Libya 

We are pumping more than a million barrels of oil a day, says Libya

Nepal 

Nepal sets up diplomatic ties with Solomon Islands

Nigeria 

Africa’s Biggest Street Party Takes Centre Stage

Paraguay

Paraguay, stuck in siesta mode, awaits Lugo's exit

Somalia 

Somalia: Protesters march the streets to stop violence aimed at aid workers 

South Korea 

(PHOTO: RIA NOVOSTI)S.Korea: doctors charged over deal with pharmaceutical companies

Spain 

Spain: King Juan Carlos Says Fighting Joblessness Top Priority

Sri Lanka 

Sri Lankan female ex-rebels faces uncertain future

Sudan 

Sudan’s Ancient Civilization: Nubian Kingdoms and the Christian Era

Svalbard and Jan Mayen (Arctic Ocean)

Pack ice breaking up in Svalbard in the arctic north of Norway (PHOTO)

 

Swaziland

Marriage trouble for Mandla Mandela  

Sweden

The tallest revolving door in the world

Busy Christmas weekend for the Swedish police

Syria

Syria Faces a New, Long-Term Phase

Taiwan

Taiwanese banks will back plant restoration in Thailand

More sons in Taiwan get inheritances than daughters: report

Tajikistan

Wheat genetics in Tajikistan could help feed the world

Tanzania

Exposed: Dar lacks disaster response system

Thailand

High waves ravage S. Thailand, thousand affected, tourists marooned

Tonga

Tonga National Population Census 2011; Preliminary Count

Trinidad and Tobago

Business owners crying as shoppers watch their pockets

Tunisia

Tunisian women’s group ATFD wins Simone de Beauvoir award

Turkey

(PHOTO: Turkey's learning disabled students. SUNDAY'S ZAMAN)Learning disabilities often confused with mental retardation in Turkey

Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan to hold talks on laying international fiber-optic communication lines

Tuvalu

Anglicans tiding Tuvalu over

Uganda

Hopping mad: Uganda power cuts hit grasshopper harvest

Ukraine

Iran, Ukraine to sign oil contracts

Ukraine and Russia to hold next round of gas talks on Jan 15

Ukraine to produce 36 million tonnes of steel in 2012

United Arab Emirates

DHA: No local emergence of malaria

Most in UAE borrow to splurge, says expert

Dassanayake to embark on talent hunt

United Kingdom

Pen woman swallowed 25 years ago works

UK taxpayers face extra £250m bill for nuclear waste clean-up

The globalised underclass (Perspective)

United States

Hackers target United States security think tank

Child Homelessness on the Rise in the US 

Giant shrimp raises big concern as it invades the Gulf of Mexico

Uruguay

Uruguay to Adapt Agriculture to climate change conditions

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan’s courts launch fight against corruption

Vanuatu

Nursing School gets educational material from Rotary

Global Fund for Environment Projects Ends Year in Vanuatu

Venezuela

Chavez issues Christmas amnesty to 140 prisoners

Vietnam

(PHOTO: Thailand's `Bubble Woman'. THANH NIEN NEWS) Vietnam’s Bubble Woman to be treated in HCMC 

Vietnam still doesn’t have regulations to treat electronics waste

Methadone Maintenance Treatment Program in Vietnam, yielding positive results

More int’l brands shifting base to Vietnam from China

Yemen

Photos of Yemen’s Deepening Humanitarian Challenges

Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh heads to United States after government forces attack peaceful protesters

Zambia

Zambia’s poor still waiting for change after Sata’s 90 days

MTN Zambia launches solar green site

Women for Change launches ‘Zambia We Want Charter’

Zimbabwe

Reform efforts in Zimbabwe move slowly

Medical student wins Face of Zimbabwe pageant

Tuesday
Nov222011

'We back the people, not dictators' (BLOG/REPORT) 

By Teymoor Nabili in the Middle East 

On the day the White House announced yet another blow in its 30-year campaign against Iran, former State Department official and Middle East expert Martin Indyk was in Doha to argue that US policy in the region has undergone something of a transformation.

(On the same day, veteran CBS correspondent Bob Simon was visiting the Al Jazeera newsroom. “I’ve known Martin for 20 years “ he told me, adding with a wry smile “Ask him if he still uses the phrase “peace process.”  I did. He doesn’t.)

Indyk says he plays no real part in policymaking these days, or even advising anyone in the Obama administration, but the thesis he confidently expounded at the Brookings Doha HQ was that the entire calculation of US interests and values has been fundamentally recalibrated as a consequence of the uprisings across the Middle East.

An Obama administration was always likely to step away from President Bush’s focus on democracy promotion to a certain extent, he said, but it was the Arab awakening that really made the difference.

 “It’s very clear the US is on the side of the people now, and not the dictators.”

It was an interesting proposition, and one that was tested by members of the audience.

One mentioned Saudi Arabia. That, it seems, is an exception. The strategic interests are paramount in the case of Saudi, but the US is applying pressure for "values" reform behind the scenes.

What about Bahrain? Well, the problem there was that President Obama was so diverted by the events of Libya that he momentarily took his eye off Bahrain, and so he missed the narrow window of opportunity to make a difference.

And yes, perhaps the response to events in Tunisia was a little behind the curve; but certainly we can expect the new policy to be demonstrated soon with regards to Egypt, and President Obama will surely stand behind the latest uprising against the military coup leaders that are now once again killing people on the streets. America had been naive in thinking the military would be custodians of a transition to real democracy.

And the reason why the Israel/Palestine issue is now off the Obama agenda is because of the polls in Israel.

Bibi eats poll numbers for breakfast, Indyk said, and as soon as he realised that Obama was polling badly in Israel, he knew he could challenge the US president with impunity.

It was all interesting stuff, delivered in the moderate and calming tones of the seasoned diplomat; but I’m not sure the audience went home believing that there has indeed been a fundamental change in the way Washington conducts its relationship with the Middle East.

A short while before his presentation, I sat down with Indyk in the Al Jazeera studio to talk about how this new approach might translate into action now, in Syria, Egypt and Iran.

He told me he thinks military action in Syria is a strong possibility, with Turkey best   placed to intervene. Obama, he says, is in “constant contact” with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and that’s the best way the US can “exercise leadership” over Syria.

As for Iran, well, there’s no doubt in his mind that the IAEA report is a “smoking gun”. Obama’s done what he can, Iran has been utterly intransigent, and it was even Tehran that scuppered the Turkey/Brazil swap deal, not Washington.

Here’s the full thing.

Originally published by Al Jazeera under Creative Commons Licensing

Friday
Sep232011

Obama at the UN: What a difference one year makes (BLOG/ REPORT)

By Gregg Carlstrom in the Middle East

Palestinians marching in Ramallah on Wednesday in support of the PLO's statehood bid. [Gregg Carlstrom/Al Jazeera]

The reaction in the West Bank to US President Barack Obama's speech at the United Nations has been, as you might expect, frustrated. Frustrated - but not surprised.

The frustration was mostly with the tone of the speech, rather than its substance. The most offensive line to many, at least in interviews this morning, was Obama's declaration that "there are no shortcuts"; as several Ramallah residents reminded me, the Palestinian people have been dispossessed for 63 years already.

But the speech did not surprise anyone; it has been clear for months, after all, that Obama planned to veto the Palestine Liberation Organisation's bid for full membership at the UN. Mustafa Barghouti, the Palestinian politician and activist, called Obama's position "disappointing" in an interview before the president's speech.

I think it is very strange that Obama will veto a bid for Palestinian statehood, when a year ago at the UN General Assembly he supported the idea," Barghouti said. "The US talks about freedom and democracy, but Palestine is excluded."

Interestingly, many people I've spoken with in Ramallah believe Obama wants to support Palestinian membership at the UN, and that his promise to veto the bid is simply election-year politics.

Obama wants the Jewish vote, because he is going to elections," said Jamal Mansour, an employee at the ministry of youth and sports. "If it was at another time, we would get more, but right now, the Israelis will press Obama.

"He's not doing what he promised, because he has the Israeli lobby in the United States, and because an election is coming up," said Jacob Awad, a student holding a sign with a rather coarse message for the American president.

I can't guess at Obama's core convictions, of course. Many US commentators have argued that Obama needs to veto the bid to help his electoral odds. Then again, if Obama did support the PLO's bid, would he lose the Jewish vote to, say, Rick Perry?

It's worth noting that George W Bush, a vocally "pro-Israel" president, never won more than 24 per cent of the Jewish vote; American Jews are not the one-issue voters they're often made out to be. (Obamacontinues to poll better among Jewish voters than any other group.)

In any event, the reaction from Israel - or the Israeli press, at least - has been mostly enthusiastic. Ma'arivdescribed it as an "American embrace". Eitan Haber, a columnist for the popular daily Yediot Aharonot, quipped that the only thing missing from Obama's speech was "a nice photograph of Theodor Herzl", the father of modern-day Zionism.

It was as if he lifted words and entire sections out of [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu's planned address," Haber wrote.

There were a few dissenting views, the most pointed from Ha'aretz's Akiva Eldar, who criticised Obama for his "graceless courting of the Israeli government".

We'll see if Haber's assessment was true on Friday, when Netanyahu is scheduled to address the General Assembly. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas will also speak, and then submit the PLO's formal request for full membership.

Originally published by Al Jazeera under Creative Commons Licensing 

Monday
Aug292011

New Travel Guide Re-Brands Cuba as 'Seductive,' Stirs Controversy (REPORT)

(HN, August 29, 2011) - My Seductive Cuba, published by Vancouver-based Chen Lizra, hits book stores tomorrow.

Part travel guide, part personal journey, Lizra's intense passion for the island country - and her valiant and creative attempts to resist seduction from a Cuban dance instructor - bursts forth. "I don't think that you have ever seen a travel guide like this before," says Lizra.

The author started traveling to Cuba in 2005 in order to train with the island’s best professional dancers.  On subsequent visits, she turned to discovering the culture from within, and hanging out with her close friends. 

Lizra grew up in Israel and later moved to Canada. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in marketing, which allowed her to turn her passion — Cuban dance and music — into an inspiring lifestyle for others through her company, Latidos Productions®

In 2009, Lizra was nominated as one of the “Women of Distinction in Vancouver,” and in 2010, she was named “Woman of the Month” by Modern Working Woman Magazine. She’s also been featured in numerous newspaper articles and TV shows. 

In this exclusive interview with Lizra, HUMNEWS discovers what sets the book apart from other travel guides, the motivation behind the project, and what type of reaction it might generate in certain circles.

What inspired you to write this book?

Traveling back and forth to Cuba and experiencing every year how much we take things for granted. Every year I'd come back and notice how material things didn't matter and how much Cubans seemed a lot happier with a lot less, because of the deep human connection they have. Something that is very typical in places where there are a lot of struggles and people have to lean on each other more. Also, seeing and hearing the experiences of tourists in Cuba. I've felt like many times things passed them by and they were not able to enter the culture and understand it, or get to what they really wanted. I just had to tell these great adventures. I have a feeling that people will be fascinated by them and drawn even more to Cuba. 

What do you think sets this travel guide apart from most other travel books, such as Lonely Planet?

My Seductive Cuba is a new way of doing travel guides. It's a hybrid book. It's not just a guide that tells you what to see and where things are, but it tells personal and engaging stories, like Eat, Pray, Love, that draw you in. On top of that the book teaches you how Cubans think, showing you their mentality so that if things change, you can figure them out on your own. It has QR codes for smartphons which enhances the whole lifestyle experience. It involves more senses directing you to sites, videos and photos. It's full colour and very high quality, and it uses different styles of fonts to separate between personal stories and travel guide parts. Bottom line, I have never sat down to read a travel guide, I'd always use it as a source of information through the index. This travel guide you'd want to read from start till end, and by the end of it you'd want to visit Cuba!

Was it difficult to self publish this book?

Extremely difficult. I had to do it all myself. Barely any publishers today touch the book of an unknown first time author, and if they do, they will release it in two years. The book will be old news by then. So I had to build the whole distribution system, plan the marketing and PR, and figure out what the top three percent of most successful authors do. Then follow their steps but do it my way. Self publishing the way I did it, doing every step by myself, is not for everyone. I am an entrepreneur and I thrive on these kind of challenges. Most people would have given up considering the amount of challenges that came up, and also from the amount of risk involved. 

Many people regard Cuban food as uninspiring, with little variety. Are they wrong?

Yes, ask anyone that had ever gone on a tour with me and see what they say. They are still licking their fingers. You have to understand why things are the way they are and then understand how to work the system. I explain many of these things in My Seductive Cuba. When I organize tours, I take people to great restaurants, to eat in houses where the grandmother cooks - best food in Cuba!, or off the beaten track. Sometimes I'll ask the driver, who knows me by now, to tell villagers to fish for us and we stop on the way back the next day. Delicious! The thing in Cuba is that things are not organized like in other cities - you can't go to online guides and find a local city paper that tells you what is hot and what is not. So it's hard for people to find what they are looking for, and there is a lot of trial and error. But in any city you won't just enter a restaurant and expect the food to be great for sure. You'd ask for recommendations from people you trust. 

Are there any similarities between Cuba and Israel?

Yes, so many. People don't know this but Israel was founded based on socialist values, you see this for example in the Kibbutzim - communal living. And as such I grew up with many socialist values, but in a democratic country. Therefore I found in Cuba a feeling that is so similar to Israel, yet different in some ways. Israel has many financial challenges and because of it people stick together as a community. Cuba has a very strong sense of solidarity as well. But the interesting thing is that Cuba reminds me more of Israel when I was a kid rather than today. It's almost like a longing for what was so special that changed in the world as we lost our simplicity. Cuba stayed behind and didn't advance with the world, and with it there is a certain magical charm of being in the moment and enjoying human connections more. There are so many similarities between the two countries, it's unreal. An iconic American car in Cuba. CREDIT: Cuban Tourism Board, Canada

Once the American tourists come flooding into Cuba might its charm be eroded?

I think that you have to separate the American tourists from the American companies. Americans will not change the culture by visiting as tourists. On the contrary. They will be exposed to a complete different system and way of being than what they know. It's an eye opener. Being in a place where there is no advertising on the streets, where you pretty much shut your phone and enjoy the moment, is very different than saying that Starbucks will be on every corner. I think that Americans coming to Cuba is a great thing for the Cuban people who need the opportunities to survive. A tour guide who will get more tips because he is doing more tours, will be able to take care of his family better. When there are no tourists, there are no opportunities. 

What do you anticipate the reaction of the Cuban Diaspora to be to your book?

I expect a mixed reaction. Cuba is controversial place and it comes down to whether people look at Cuba in a fun way or a political way. The ones who love the country and miss it, will probably get home sick reading My Seductive Cuba, because it highlights the things they love about their country. Those who see it in a political way might get upset that I am focusing on one part - which by the way for me is the half that is full.

What are some of the post-book plans? Custom tours?

I am designing new tours which will simply blow your mind away because they will immerse people inside the culture in a way that no other tour does, and looking to get approval for Americans as well. People will travel personally with the author of My Seductive Cuba for a once in a lifetime adventure. I want to run three tours a year - January, April, and July for 7-10 people, and later on design a few different types of tours. The tours will be launched around end of September together with a new site which will become a portal with so much excitement. The site will be the continuation of the book. We will have contests, videos, photos, book tour updates, calendar of international event. you name it! Then I want to spread the word about the book worldwide and form partnerships with companies that are doing business in Cuba. Then the plan is for two more books and the TV show that I have developed. It's an intriguing concept and I want to find a way to make it happen. 

Finally, in the book you speak of your valiant and creative attempts to resist seduction by your Cuban dance instructors, Giordano. Have you ever succumbed to seduction in Cuba?

Well, I guess everyone will have to wait for my next book to find out.. :-)

Click here to visit the website of My Seductive Cuba.


Sunday
May292011

Palestinian Territory: A Spring Forgotten (PERSPECTIVE)

By Ronit Avi

Responding to the rising tide across the Arab world in his speech on May 19, President Obama aptly directed his focus away from politicians and toward the people, from the "raw power of the dictator" to the "dignity of the street vendor." It was a convincing argument, driving home the President's message that the United States has "a stake not just in the stability of nations, but in the self-determination of individuals."Waiting for their Arab Spring: feelings of hopelessness and isolation among young people in the Palestinian Territory are well documented. CREDIT: M Bociurkiw

Yet when it came to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, President Obama curiously fell back on language about governments and treaties rather than individual freedom and human dignity. While he acknowledged that in an increasingly democratic Middle East peace cannot be made by leaders alone, Obama failed to grant the same recognition that he gave to demonstrators standing up for freedom across the Arab world to the thousands of Palestinians and scores of Israelis who are doing the same on a daily basis in places like Nabi Saleh, Al-Walajeh, Bil'in, Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan.

It was a striking omission in light of Obama's call in his Cairo Speech in 2009 for Palestinians to adopt nonviolence, and was particularly disheartening given the urgency of the moment.

Only a few weeks ago, Bassem and Naji Tamimi, two leaders of the nonviolent movement in the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, were arrested on dubious charges aimed at crushing the resolve of a village that has been struggling without arms to prevent the encroachment of nearby Israeli settlements upon its land and water supply. These arrests come as part of a broader crackdown that the Israeli army has been implementing against nonviolent Palestinian, Israeli and international protesters. Faced with the prospect of a broadening unarmed movement against occupation, the Israeli military has apparently decided to hunker down and deter protestors through a process of intimidation, repression and attrition.

This is bad news for any of us who value the universal rights Obama laid out in his speech, and it is especially alarming given the highly charged atmosphere on the ground. As we've seen across the region, where nonviolence fails, bloodshed follows. Those of us who wish for a peaceful end to the conflict and to the occupation, and who oppose a return to the violence of recent years, cannot afford to ignore the voices of those in places like Budrus and Bil'in who assert that the most effective and courageous response to oppression is not suicide attacks or rockets, but rather unarmed protest and collective organizing.

In recognizing the bravery and resolve of these Palestinians and Israelis, President Obama would have sent an important message of support to those who believe that a nonviolent path is the most constructive way forward -- even in the absence of real negotiations. Instead, a fragile and increasingly threatened movement is met with silence from an American President who is willing to press Arab allies into uncomfortable corners. The same Obama who tells the leadership of Bahrain that "you can't have real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail" is seemingly looking the other way when unarmed Palestinian and Israeli protestors are routinely met with violence and face arrest, often without credible charges.

What's more, those protests taking place in the West Bank and East Jerusalem often bring Israelis and Palestinians together, creating powerful bonds around a common cause of justice, peace and dignity. The President was right to reference Israelis like Yitzhak Frankenthal of the Parents Circle-Bereaved Families Forum, profiled in our first film Encounter Point, and Palestinians like Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, who despite unimaginably painful losses actively pursue reconciliation rather than revenge. Yet equally important, and especially crucial at this volatile time are the Israelis and Palestinians who join forces and take direct nonviolent action against injustices on the ground. Whether they succeed, as they did in the village of Budrus, or fail, the common struggle has an unmistakably humanizing impact. In places like the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, which we focus on in our upcoming documentary film, Israelis from increasingly diverse political, social and religious backgrounds are joining Palestinian residents in a common struggle for justice. 

These are the kind of grassroots partnerships that will give real meaning to agreements signed on paper, and that will develop the trust necessary for any peace accord to endure. Rather than ignoring them, the President should be placing them front and center in his vision for the region. As he so eloquently stated, "we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just." This is true for all those across the region who employ nonviolence to bring about a better future, and Palestinians and Israelis certainly deserve no less. 

Ronit Avni is the Founder & Executive Director of Just Vision, which researches and documents Palestinian and Israeli nonviolence and peacebuilding efforts. She recently produced the award-winning film, Budrus. Her opinion piece is reproduced here with permission.

Monday
May232011

Change in a New World (PERSPECTIVE)

By Alina Vrejoiu

Many people have criticized Barack Obama for putting his reputation on the line by being the first U.S president to boldly declare that the Israeli border should go back to the 1967 lines and insisting that a Jewish state "cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation" of Palestinian lands.

The dramatic remarks were made only a week after Obama successfully caught one of the biggest terrorist masterminds.President Obama delivers the historic Middle East speech. CREDIT: White House

It is by no accident that Obama is carefully strategizing his move in terms of the juxtaposition events from the past - comparing the upheaval in the Middle East and Africa to the American Revolution and the Civil Rights movement - and present in order to make his next move in the Middle East. He knows that there is a thirst by the public for dignity and freedom and he is willing to move out ahead into the torrent of change. Israel, on the other hand, is not ready for this sudden change to happen even though a democratic approach would work in its favor.

Obama has reassured the Israelis in his recent meeting on May 19th with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that, “Our commitment to Israel's security is unshakable. And we will stand against attempt to single it out for criticism in international forums.”

Obama was, unfortunately, criticized for siding with the Israelis instead of understanding that we are not going to take sides. Yes, the United States sees Israel as an ally because we are supposed to share the same values and because it is the only country in the Middle East that embraces democracy and freedom.

However, in Obama's landmark Cairo speech of June 2009 he strongly recognized the suffering of Palestinian people through dispossession, occupation, and refugee status.

Said Obama: "...It is also undeniable that the Palestinian people - Muslims and Christians - have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations - large and small - that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own."

With the Palestinian population steadily growing and technology and social networking playing a big role in revolution and change, there is an urgency like never before to establish peace between these two parties. The existing state of affairs is no longer sustainable; there must be agreement to conform to a peace process and Israel should take the lead in these negotiations.

Obama has made it clear that neither he nor the United Nations can force an agreement if face-to-face discussions don’t happen and there is no real determination for peace to occur. After all, the 1967 line settlement was supposed to be for Israeli defense purposes and we have seen Jewish family settlements put in place instead.

Transparency and open dialogues with a fair redrawing of state lines is the only way a peace process can begin to flourish. I hope we will not allow misconceptions to contaminate history once again.

Establishing a new government and a new state for Palestinians that will allow for freedom of speech, thought and free elections is better than one that imposes its ideology by force.  Israel needs to step up to the plate and recognize a Palestinian state in order to move forward into the new world.  Waiting for a peace accord is no longer an option in the Middle East.

Alina Vrejoiu is a faculty member of Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York and has taught international students for the last four years.
Thursday
Jan202011

IOC Nudges Palestinians and Israelis Closer - in Lausanne (Report)

(HN, January 21, 2011) -- Snow-covered Lausanne was the setting Thursday for top officials from the Palestinian and Israeli Olympic committees to try to bridge differences and seek common ground for cooperation.

Nader Al Masri - the only athlete from the Gaza Strip in Beijing, one of the four-strong Palestinian team.

According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the two sides conducted cordial and productive discussions - to the point of the Israelis offering Palestinian athletes training facilities for the 2012 London Olympics.

"The representatives of the Olympic Committee of Israel said that they were ready to offer training opportunities to Palestinian athletes." the IOC said in a statement sent to HUMNEWS.

The IOC also confirmed that it would provide experts to work on a long-term sports development strategy in Palestine in order to continue to assist not only the athletes but also coaches and sports administrators, and to identify ways to better promote sport and its values at grassroots level, the statement said.

The two sides agreed to meet in Lausanne following IOC President Jacques Rogge’s visit to the Middle East last October. During that visit he must have seen the dilapidated state of sports and training facilities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. A second meeting will be scheduled in two months’ time to review the progress made, the IOC said.

There was also an indication that the Israelis agreed to ease access for Palestinian athletes, coaches, officials and sports material, as well as foreign visiting athletes.

Athletes from the Palestinian Territory were first represented at the Olympic Games at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

- HUMNEWS staff, IOC

Tuesday
Oct122010

(REPORT) HAITI – When talking becomes doing – building back better 

(PHOTO: USGS, Red shows 1/12/10 earthquake epicenter) (HN, Oct. 12, 2010) – Nine months ago, on January 12, 2010, the island nation of Haiti experienced a massive earthquake, killing almost 225,000 people and leaving more than a million people homeless. 

Days after the quake struck, just outside of Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince, a journalist covering the devastation was quoted as saying: Haiti will need to be completely rebuilt from the ground up, as even in good times, Haiti is an economic wreck, balancing precariously on the razor's edge of calamity."

And on a recent June 2010 return to the island nation, CNN journalists described Port au Prince as: “It looks like the earthquake happened yesterday.”

HURRY UP AND WAIT:

Within days of the calamity, several international appeals were launched and many countries responded to calls for humanitarian aid help; pledging funds and dispatching rescue and medical teams, engineers and support personnel to the devastated island nation. 

(PHOTO: Relief supplies being unloaded after the 1/12/10 earthquake. Wikipedia) The US, Iceland, China, Qatar, Israel, South Korea, Jordan and many others were among the global neighbors who supplied communication systems, air, land, and sea transport facilities, hospitals, and electrical networks that had been damaged by the earthquake, which hampered rescue and aid efforts. Confusion over who was in charge, air traffic congestion, and problems with cargo transportation further complicated relief work in the early days.

Mass graves containing tens of thousands of bodies were centered outside of cities as morgues and hospitals were quickly overwhelmed with the dead. Getting enough supplies, medical care and sanitation became urgent needs; and a lack of aid distribution led to angry protests from humanitarian workers and survivors with looting and sporadic violence breaking out. 

(PHOTO: Wikipedia, BelAir neighborhood, Port-Au-Prince, Haiti) Just ten days after the 7.2 quake struck, on January 22 the United Nations stated that the emergency phase of the relief operation was subsiding, and the next day the Haitian government called off the search for quake survivors. 

One aspect that made the disaster response unique was the deployment of new technology: the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters provided satellite images of Haiti to be shared with rescue groups along with help from GeoEye; the curation site Ushahidi coordinated texts, messages and reports from multiple sources; social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter aggregated members asking for help; the Red Cross and other organizations set records for text message donations.

Also in the immediate aftermath of the quake US President Barack Obama asked former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to lead a major fundraising effort to help the Haitian people. Together they established the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund (CBHF) - which has raised over $50 million from over 230,000 individuals and organizations, and has disbursed more than $4 million in grants to organizations on the ground in Haiti providing near-term relief and recovery assistance, designed to help the people of Haiti rebuild - and build back better. 

Since the initial round of donations were pledged, on January 25th there was a one-day conference held in Montreal, Canada to assess the relief effort and make further plans.  Haitian Prime Minister Jean Bellerive told the audience from 20 countries that Haiti would “need massive support for its recovery from the international community”.

Another donors' conference, delayed by almost 3 months, took place at UN headquarters in New York in March. The 26-member international Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission, headed by Bill Clinton and the Haitian Prime Minister didn't get together until last June 2010. That committee is set to oversee the $5.3 billion pledged internationally for the first two years of Haiti's reconstruction; but only ten percent of it has been delivered, mostly as forgiven debt to Haiti. The rest is stalled in more than 60 countries and organizations that pledged help.

Still, nine months later, international officials are looking at the long term planning needs of reconstruction while also continuing to deal with the daily task of managing the emergency situation. 

Here’s where things stand at the moment:

(PHOTO: St. Felix Eves refugee camp, Haiti. Readyforanything.org) -   As of October 1, there were over 1 million refugees living in 1300 tent cities throughout the country in what’s been called `treacherous’ humanitarian situation;

-    As much as 98% of the rubble from the quake remains uncleared. An estimated 26 million cubic yards (20 million cubic meters) remain, making most of the capital impassable, and thousands of bodies remained in the rubble.

-   The number of people living in relief camps of tents and tarps since the quake was 1.6 million, with almost no transitional housing had been built. Most of the camps have no electricity, running water, or sewage disposal, and the tents were beginning to fall apart. Crime in the camps was widespread, especially against women and girls.

-   From 23 major charities, $1.1 billion has been collected for Haiti for relief efforts, but only two percent of the money has been released. According to a CBS report, $3.1 billion had been pledged for humanitarian aid and was used to pay for field hospitals, plastic tarps, bandages, and food, plus salaries, transportation and upkeep of relief workers. Incredibly, by May 2010, enough aid had been raised internationally to give each displaced family a check for $37,000.

(PHOTO: Wikipedia, Damaged buildings in Port-Au-Prince) The Haitian government said it was unable to tackle debris clean-up or the resettlement of homeless because it must prepare for hurricane season. Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive has been quoted as saying, "The real priority of the government is to protect the population from the next hurricane season, and most of our effort right now is going right now in that direction."

And if natural disasters weren’t enough to slay the spirit of the Haitian people, a new UN Report out this week states that “Wars, natural disasters and poor government institutions have contributed to a continuous state of undernourishment” in some 22 nations, including Haiti.

The hearty island nation is no stranger to turmoil and chaos: anyone reading its history from the time of the colonial powers would conclude this. Haiti is the world's oldest black republic and the second-oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere, after the United States and did not receive U.S. diplomatic recognition until 1862.  What should also come as no surprise to many is that before the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the nation needed help to survive, and now after the earthquake, the country is even more in need of help. 

But what kind of help does Haiti need?

Refugees International, a U.S.-based non-governmental organization, made some startling claims in its latest field report, called "Haiti: Still Trapped in the Emergency Phase," just one day after former president Bill Clinton toured a Port-au-Prince camp. It says Haitians living in refugee camps set up after a devastating January earthquake are at risk of hunger, gang intimidation and rape.

“People are being threatened by gangs, and women are getting raped," said Refugees International President Michel Gabaudan in a release.  "Practically no one is available to communicate with the people living in these squalid camps and find better ways to protect them."  Refugees International says there are still 1,300 camps in Haiti, mostly run by the International Organization of Migration (IOM).  Melanie Teff said Haitians still living in camps often have "no one to turn to for help."

"Young men come with weapons and rape the women. They haven't reported it, because the hospitals, the police — everything was destroyed in the earthquake," reports Hannah, a nurse who sleeps in a makeshift tent in a volatile camp outside of Port-au-Prince.

Bill Clinton, the co-chair of the commission overseeing Haiti's reconstruction, expressed frustration with the slow delivery of promised funds by donors who have delivered about $732 million of a promised $5.3 billion in funds for 2010-11, along with debt relief.

What’s needed according to Haitian officials, citizens and other experts are communication systems, project management, security, food, jobs, housing, mediation, regulatory easing to doing business, and political stability.  According to Transparency International, an NGO which studies corruption levels worldwide in their annual Corruption Perceptions Index, Haiti has a particularly high level of corruption making the rebuilding job even harder.   

INCREASINGLY, PRIVATE EFFORTS ABOUND: 

As the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation struggles to rise up from one of the most destructive natural catastrophes in recent history, Haiti and the huge international aid operation assisting it are looking to private enterprise and investment to be the powerhouse of reconstruction.

Despite $11 billion pledged by donors, the aid commitments work out at $110 a year for each of Haiti's 10 million people, a per capita sum which paled in comparison with huge needs in housing, infrastructure, health and education, on top of daunting humanitarian costs.

In the 2010 Doing Business report prepared by the World Bank, which ranks business conditions around the world, Haiti already lagged at 151 out of 183 economies.

To help Haiti, companies such as The Timberland Co. says it plans to plant 5 million trees in the next five years in Haiti and in China’s Horqin Desert, two regions “that have long suffered severe and widespread impacts from deforestation.”   And to increase its efforts, the shoe marketer is also launching the Timberland Earthkeepers Virtual Forest Facebook application. Consumers can help Timberland plant additional trees in Haiti (above and beyond the five in five commitments) by creating a virtual forest on Facebook.  The larger the virtual forest, the more real trees planted.  

(PHOTO: NASA, deforestation on Haiti/Dominican Republic border)The environment is one of the most significant factors most experts point to as both a past problem and a future solution for the beleaguered country.   In 1925, Haiti was lush, with 60% of its original forest covering the lands and mountainous regions. Since then, the population has cut down an estimated 98% of its original forest cover for use as fuel for cook stoves, and in the process has destroyed fertile farmland soils, contributing to desertification.

In addition to soil erosion, deforestation has caused periodic flooding, as seen with Hurricane Jeanne in September, 2004. While Jeanne was only a tropical storm at the time with weak winds, the rains caused large mudslides and coastal flooding which killed more than 1,500 people and left 200,000 starving and homeless. The UN and other nations dispatched several hundred troops in addition to those already stationed in Haiti to provide disaster relief assistance. Looting and desperation caused by hunger resulted in turmoil at food distribution centers.

Earlier that year in May, floods killed more than 3,000 people on Haiti's southern border with the Dominican Republic.

Haiti was again pummeled by tropical storms in late August and early September 2008. The storms – Tropical Storm Fay, Hurricane Gustav, Hurricane Hanna and Hurricane Ike – all produced heavy winds and rain in Haiti. Due to weak soil conditions, the country’s mountainous terrain, and the devastating coincidence of four storms within less than four weeks, valley and lowland areas throughout the country experienced massive flooding. A September 10, 2008 source listed 331 dead and 800,000 in need of humanitarian aid in light of the flood. 

And, this, many experts agree, is just where Haiti’s reconstruction effort should begin – and could, in fact become a model for the rest of the world if done well.

(PHOTO: the Haiti Huddle 2010, Douglas Cohen) Last week’s Haiti Huddle 2010 an effort of Helping Hands for a Sustainable Haiti, an organization founded by Lisa McFadin and Thera N. Kalmijn at San Francisco’s Fort Mason, brought together development, humanitarian and investment experts from both the US, Haiti and from other countries tackled several crucial issues.

The groups’ main mission was to work on breaking the logjam of red tape which has seemingly kept 1.3 million people living in refugee camps for the past nine months by focusing on culturally-appropriate solutions for and by Haitians; and working on practical sustainable solution to recreate an environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable Haiti.  

According to John Engle, of Haiti Partners, “Education and community infrastructure are the foundation to get to a meaningful development plan.  The country must recognize what got us here. A lack of investment in education and lack of cultural sensitivity and in fact connectivity and communication is why little to no progress has been made in the emergency of what many Haitians are still dealing with.“ 

Sam Bloch, Country Coordinator in Haiti of Grass Roots United says, "There were literally hundreds of NGO's on the ground before the earthquake focusing on community empowerment, collaboration and providing basic resources. But even before the earthquake the fabric of this community was torn and broken. Starting now it must be re-woven.  The Haitian community in country and in the larger Diaspora must re-unite and mobilize, in collaboration with all the organizations that pushed us aside after the disaster. We need to reconnect the service providers for such services as counseling, education, water, structures, food systems with community leaders.”

In fact one of the most important efforts that must be made according to Douglas Cohen, Founder of the Sustainable Haiti Coalition is, “Massive investments in education for longer term solutions, jobs, building schools, and revamping curriculum that includes wireless transmission for the whole country and which provides educational materials, and increases teachers’ salaries; paving the way to inter-active curricula; films, and video highlighting Haitian success stories, with Haitians implementing their own solutions.”

Other private efforts include electricity generators from E-Power, a $56.7 million Haitian-South Korean private investment that has forged ahead despite the January 12th earthquake; as well as an industrial park and garment manufacturing operation involving Sae-A Trading Company Limited, one of South Korea’s leading textile manufacturers, in a potential investment of between $10 million and $25 million being backed by the IFC and the U.S. State Department.

Last month, an Argentine entrepreneur announced a project with the Haiti-based WIN business group to build a $33 million, 240-room airport hotel in Port-au-Prince and there are government plans to create several special economic zones across the country. These would concentrate private businesses and investments in manufacturing, tourism and services, creating essential jobs and housing and driving development.

ELECTIONS COMING UP IN HAITI:

(PHOTO: Singer, activist Wyclef Jean, VIA Treehugger) In Haiti, campaigning for next month's November 28 presidential elections is well under way. Nineteen candidates are vying to lead the earthquake-ravaged nation; and with Haitian-American musician Wyclef Jean out of the race there's no clear front-runner. It could be a contentious battle for one of the toughest political jobs in the world.

The next president will have to oversee the reconstruction and try to redirect what was already one of the most dysfunctional nations on earth.  Before the quake, roughly 80 percent of the population lived in poverty. Roads, electrical lines, sewers and other infrastructure were in desperate need of repair. Now, they need to be completely rebuilt, along with most of the capital city.

Allegations of fraud in Haitian elections are practically inevitable, but this year's balloting faces additional challenges. The quake destroyed 40 percent of the polling stations in the country, killed tens of thousands of voters and displaced hundreds of thousands of others; and  numerous people lost all their documents and no longer have voting cards.

(PHOTO: Haiti's Presidential Palace, Wikipedia) But whatever happens in Haiti’s elections, and whoever wins the crumbling Presidential palace, will have their hands full, eleven months later with the still critical priority of getting the lives of Haiti’s citizens along with the entire infrastructure of a long and storied nation, back on its feet again.  And this, will certainly take a global village effort – private, NGO, corporate, government, and otherwise. 

--- Written by HUMNEWS staff.

"WE ARE THE WORLD: FOR HAITI"