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Tuesday:  October 27, 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 Richard Pithouse (2)

Thursday
Feb242011

Are 'European Values' Being Eroded in Dealings With Libya? (PERSPECTIVE)

By Richard Pithouse

(HN, February 24, 2011) - As the first unconfirmed reports of airborne attacks on protestors in Tripoli and Benghazi reached Al Jazeera the station crossed to a spokesperson for the European Union.Colonel Qaddafi in 2009 on “visit of reconciliation” with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The two countries have significant bilateral investments.

There was talk of the need to affirm ‘European values’. Moments later the programme cut away to the story of the two Libyan fighter pilots who had landed in Malta and sought political asylum rather than obey orders to attack protestors in Benghazi.

Those pilots are not the first people to have arrived in Malta after crossing the Mediterranean from Libya. But most people who make that journey don’t arrive in Mirage F1s. Migrants take many routes into Europe. Some people cross into Greece from Turkey, others from Algeria into Spain. For many, the way into Europe is through the Sahara into Libya, across the ocean and into Malta and Italy. The migrants come from Somalia, from Chad, from Senegal, from Nigeria and from all over North and West Africa.

The journey across the Mediterranean in small and usually over crowded boats is perilous and many have sunk. If they are intercepted by the Italian navy the migrants are forced off the boats, often with clubs and batons that dispense electric shocks, and taken to prisons in Tripoli. In crass violation of international law no attempt is made to ascertain whether or not the migrants are political refugees or to enquire into their health or where the parents of children may be.

From Tripoli they are taken to European funded migrant detention centres in places like the tiny village of Al Qatran out in the dessert near the border with Chad and Niger. Al Qatran is a thousand kilometres from Tripoli and it may take three days for captured migrants to be moved across that distance in trucks. In the detention centres there may be more than fifty people in a room. They sleep on the floor. The routine sadism that always occurs in any situation in which some people are given absolute power over others is endemic. There are beatings, rapes and extortion. Suicides are a common response as are mass jailbreaks in which many migrants have been killed by the Libyan police. But some have escaped out into the vastness of the Sahara to make what they can of sudden freedom without papers or money in a desert.

Protesters in Europe call for the ouster of GaddafiIt was in the early days of the 2003 Iraq war that Tony Blair first proposed the idea that migrants trying to enter Europe should be sent to ‘transit processing centres’ outside of Europe. There is a similar logic here to the way in which the United States has outsourced torture to countries like Egypt.

Muammar Gaddafi’s early attempts to show that he would be able to take on the policing of Europe’s borders were not a huge success. In August 2004 a plane was chartered to deport 75 captured Eritrean migrants from Tripoli but the passengers seized control of the plane in mid flight and diverted it to Khartoum where the UNHCR recognised 60 of them as legitimate political refugees.

But on the same day that the European union lifted its economic sanctions and arms embargo on Libya in October 2004 it was agreed to engage with Libya on ‘immigration matters’ and a technical team was sent to Libya the following month. The United Kingdom and France both moved quickly to sell weapons to Libya and in 2008 Italy and Libya signed The Treaty of Friendship, Partnership and Cooperation between the Italian Republic and Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in which Italy agreed to invest five billion dollars in Libya in exchange for, amongst other things, a Libyan agreement to undertake to police migration into Europe via Libya. Silvio Berlusconi declared that closer relations with Libya are about “fewer illegal immigrants and more oil.” Since then Berlusconi and Gaddafi have, through the investment arms of their respective family trusts, become co-owners of a major communications company.

This sort of personal connection between an elected politician in the West and a despot elsewhere is hardly unique. The French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie spent her Christmas holiday in Tunisia as a guest of a businessman with close ties to Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali as the protests against Ben Ali were gathering strength. The first response of the French state to the protests in Tunisia was to send arms to Ben Ali. The French Prime Minister Francois Fillon spent his Christmas holiday on the Nile as a guest of the Egyptian state.  In March 2009 US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, commented, in a discussion about severe and routine human rights violations by the Mubarak regime, that “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family.”

In recent years all sorts of European institutions beyond oil companies and security agencies made their own deals with the dictatorship in Tripoli. The London School of Economics accepted a £1.5m grant from the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation for a ‘virtual democracy centre’. The Foundation is headed by the same Saif al-Islam Gaddafi who recently went on to Libyan television to tell protestors that his father’s government would ‘fight to the last minute, until the last bullet’.

The Europe of colonialism, slavery and genocide has no claim to moral leadership in this world. The Europe that backed the Mubarak dictatorship for thirty years and the Ben Ali dictatorship for twenty-three years has no claim to moral leadership in this world. The Europe that helped to smash Iraq in the invasion of 2003 has no claim to moral leadership in this world. The Europe that refused to allow the Haitian people to elect a leadership of its choosing by supporting a coup against that leadership in 2004 has no claim to moral leadership in this world. The Europe that has been directly responsible for the documented deaths of almost 14,000 migrants since 1993 has no claim to moral leadership in this world.

It is true enough that the modern form of democracy began in Europe with the French Revolution of 1789. But when African slaves in Haiti took the ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity seriously and won their own revolution in 1804 it immediately became clear that the French did not intend democracy to be for everyone. That has been the European position ever since.A woman and her family cross from Libya to Tunisia at the Ras Jdir border crossing today. They were among thousands of people fleeing the violence in Libya. Credit: UNHCR

To choose democracy is not to choose Europe and it is certainly not to choose the United States of America, which has overthrown democratically elected governments around the world when electorates have had the temerity to elect the ‘wrong’ leaders. In fact, any serious commitment to democracy has to reject the moral and political authority of Europe and the United States of America. Any commitment to democracy has to assert, very clearly, that all people everywhere have the right to govern themselves according to their own will.

We cannot know the trajectories of the uprisings that have swept North Africa and the Middle East. But one thing is for sure. Whatever pompous claims to the contrary come out of Washington and Brussels, these are not revolts for American or European values. On the contrary they are a direct challenge to those values. They are revolts against a global power structure that is formed by an international alliance of elites with one of its key principles being the idea, the racist idea, that Arabs are ‘not yet ready’ for democracy. This, of course, is an echo of one of the common justifications for apartheid. But the plain fact of the matter is that anyone who says that anyone else isn’t yet ready for democracy is no democrat.

Ben Ali and Mubarak were little more than co-opted Bantustan leaders in a system of global apartheid. Gadaffi’s oil funded cruelty, megalomania and opportunism has taken him in many directions in his 42-year reign but have, in recent years, been leading him in the same direction. Democratising a Bantustan is progress. But democratising a Bantustan is not enough. The whole global system needs to be democratised.

Pithouse teaches politics at Rhodes University. This article first appeared on the website of the South Africa Civil Society Information Service (SACSIS).

Tuesday
Feb152011

Revolution Comes Like a Thief in the Night (Perspective)

By Richard Pithouse

(HN, February 15, 2011) - Life, ordinary life, is meant to follow certain rhythms. We grow, seasons change and we assume new positions in the world. When you have finished being a child you put away childish things and move on to the next stage of life.A protester in Cairo walks by an ad for Business Class seats. Pithouse says the widening gulf between rich and poor is a powder keg waiting to explode. Credit: M Bociurkiw/HUMNEWS

But there is a multitude of people in this world who cannot build a home, marry and care for their children and aging parents. There is a multitude of people who are growing older as they remain stuck in an exhausting limbo, perhaps just managing to scrape together the rent for a backyard shack by selling tomatoes or cell phone chargers on some street.

Mohamed Bouazizi was one person amongst that multitude. He was born in 1984 in the Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid. His father died on a Libyan construction site when Mohamed was three. He went to a one roomed village school but had to start working from the age of ten and abandoned school altogether in his late teens.

In a city with an unemployment rate of 30% he couldn’t find work and began, like so many others, selling fruit and vegetables in the street. With the thousand rand that he made each month he looked after his mother, his uncle and his younger siblings. He was, incredibly, managing to pay for his sister, Samia, to study at university.

Since he was a child he had been harassed by the police who regularly confiscated his wheelbarrow and his wares. On the 17th of December last year he had just laid out one thousand and five hundred Rand to buy stock when a municipal official asked him for a bribe to keep his place on the street. He couldn’t pay it and so they turned his cart over, confiscated his scales, spat at him and slapped him. He went to the municipal offices to complain but no one would see him.  He went outside, bought some petrol, poured it all over his body and set himself alight outside the municipal offices. Mohammed’s mother told a journalist that he didn’t kill himself because he was poor but because he had been humiliated. "It got to him deep inside, it hurt his pride."

In 1961 Frantz Fanon wrote, from Tunisia, “The colonial world is a world cut into two....The town belonging to the colonized people, or at least the native town, the Negro village, the medina, the reservation, is a place of ill fame, peopled by men of evil repute. They are born there, it matters little where or how; they die there, it matters not how or where.”

Fifty years later cities are still divided into separate zones for those who count and those who don't count. These days what distinguishes those who count from those who don’t is usually the possession of wealth. But the people spurned by society continue to be taken as a threat to society. Jacques Depelchin, the Congolese historian, writes, “the poor in Africa have replaced the Dark Continent as the symbolic conceptual definition of the obstacle to civilization.”

But of course Mohamed Bouzazi didn’t die the invisible death of the average poor person. When he set his own body alight he ignited the uprising that drove Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power in Tunisia, toppled Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and then spread like a prairie fire to Algeria, Yemen, Iran and beyond. Revolt is leaping across the borders that are supposed to contain people while money is moved, dissidents rendered and intelligence exchanged.

These revolts may, like the European Revolutions of 1848 or the revolts against Stalinism in 1989, remake the world order in ways that we cannot yet predict.

Popular anger can be mobilised against innocent scapegoats like gay people in Uganda, Muslims in parts of India or migrants in South Africa. Revolutions are often rolled back, co-opted or even used to strengthen oppression by modernising it.  The future of Tunisia, Egypt and all the other countries where people are now taking to the streets against the police and party thugs has yet to be written. Local elites and imperialism will certainly aim to do more of that writing than the ordinary people that have already brought down two dictatorships.

But whatever the eventual fate of the struggles in North Africa and the Middle East something has been done that cannot be undone. That something is the fact that the refusal of a street vendor to continue to tolerate indignity and the sheer sadism of so much bureaucratic power was heard and acted on in a way that eventually brought down a brutal dictator and ally of imperialism and, for a moment at least, seized the initiative from the dictators, the officials, the experts, the police and the NGOs and put it, firmly and gloriously, in the hands of the people.

This is not the first time that the agency of people that don’t count has, like the proverbial thief in the night, suddenly appeared at the centre of the world stage without warning.

The Christian story is just one of many in which a poor man from some village in the provinces assumes a tremendous historical consequence that far outweighs that of his tormentors. And from the Haitian Revolution of 1804 to the Paris Commune of 1871 to the anti-colonial movements of the 50s and 60s that ignited a global rebellion in 1968 the modern world has periodically been remade by the intelligence and courage of the women and men it has most denigrated.

There are many lessons to be drawn from the drama unfolding in North Africa and the Middle East. One of them is that we should not assume that South Africans will continue to trudge through life without work, without homes and without dignity forever.

If we carry on as we are, the day will come when a fire will be lit in Grahamstown or Harrismith or Ermelo, or on some farm or in some school or shack settlement whose name we don’t yet know, and neither the rubber bullets, party thugs, offers of jobs and money to leaders or senior politicians arriving in helicopters with smiles and big promises will put it out.

Pithouse teaches politics at Rhodes University. This first appeared on the website of The South African Civil Society Information Service - SACSIS