Thursday, February 26, 2009

On the Brink - By Celia Shortt

Cambodia sits at the brink of a significant financial gain that could revitalize their country and economy. Unfortunately, many hurdles in the government must be overcome before any revitalization will be possible.

In 2005, Chevron announced that they had struck oil in four of their test wells off the coast of Sihanoukville. The estimates on the amount of oil in those wells have fluctuated in recent years. With large dividends from this investment, speculations about profits and their impact on the economy are rampant. The Cambodian government has promised to manage the revenue responsibly.

“The government is committed to effectively managing the revenues from the exploitation of the minerals, oil, and gas,” said Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in December of last year. Some people are still wary of this promise due to Cambodia’s reputation for corruption within the government. One Cambodian, only identified as Khmerization, created a blog to expose the mismanagement and misrule which the present Cambodian government forces on citizens. The blogger does not believe in the assurances made by the Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The international community and the Cambodian educated class . . . are skeptic[al] about the PM’s promises, because he ha[s] promised many things in the past and they were all broken,” Khmerization said.

Cassie Baumgarner, a U.S. citizen who lives and works in Cambodia, doubts that the revenue will reach the poor people in the country due to corruption in the country, but still has hope about how it could be used. “If the financial increase would trickle down to the lower classes, it would allow them to have improved living conditions and possible job opportunities.” Oil industry experts have called upon the Cambodian government to curb corruption or risk losing their potential gas and oil revenues.

In addition to corruption, Cambodians are still recovering from terror incidents of Khmer Rouge and a civil war. Another U.S. citizen, Rachael Brugger, who resides in Cambodia, said, “There are obviously people still alive who lived through the Pol Pot Era and witness[ed] the terror of Khmer Rouge. The country is still feeling the after effects of civil war.” If revenue is brought in through this project, Rachael hopes that it will be directed into the country’s educational system.

Another concern with this oil well project is the fear of the “oil curse.” This “oil curse” is a misfortune that frequently hits underdeveloped nations that are rich in resources. The African country, Nigeria, fell victim when billions of dollars of oil revenue just disappeared. “Cambodia could be susceptible to it [the oil curse] if oil extraction does happen on a large scale,” said Brenden Brady a Phnom Pen Post reporter.

To combat corruption, local and international development groups have attempted to have the government create revenue-intake mechanisms in order to guarantee that money goes to economic or social developments. Cambodia could be developed with the oil revenue if corruption in government does not stand in the way of economic progress.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Homosexuals not recognized in Iran, sex change operations legal

In September 0f 2007 during his visit to New York, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded to a question from a Columbia University student about the execution of homosexuals in Iran by proclaiming that Iranian homosexuals simply do not exist.

In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country,” he told the questioner. “In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don’t know who’s told you that we have it.
Several people have ridiculed President Ahmadinejad for his strong remarks, noting the absurdity of the idea that homosexuals exist everywhere in the world but Iran. Evidently, the confusion around his statement stems from the fact that Iranian homosexuals do not have legal rights. In Iran, homosexuals are subjected to punishment or execution. The Islamic penal code has a specific section about the punishments for homosexual “crimes.”
The Penal Code defines sodomy as “sexual intercourse with a male.” Article 110 states that the punishment for sodomy is death; it is the judge’s responsibility to decide how to carry out the killing. In the articles that follow, it clarifies that a mature man of sound mind who partakes in sodomy is subject to killing, where as an immature person will endure 74 lashes for the action.

Following the chapter about sodomy, the Penal Code discusses lesbianism. It defines lesbianism as the “homosexuality of women by genitals.” Article 129 states that the punishment for lesbianism is 100 lashes for each party. Another article adds that if the act of lesbianism is repeated three times and punishment is enforced each time, then the death sentence will be issued the fourth time.

In 2005, two teenage boys were publicly hung in Mash’had, Iran for the “crime” of homosexuality. According to a report from the Iranian Student News Association, the boys were interrogated and severely beaten in a prison for 14 months. They eventually admitted to having sex with each other and were killed.

To avoid torture and execution like the Mash’had boys, homosexuals in Iran are forced to keep their sexual identities in the closet.

“It’s not peaceful for [homosexuals in Iran]. They are living in a hard situation and their lives are at risk. They face legal and social problems but some have found out how to live an underground life,” Arsham Parsi, a homosexual Iranian said.

Jinos Sharifrazi, an attorney in Tehran, Iran, says that although partaking in homosexual acts is a crime in Iran, people commonly ignore the law. “Having a boyfriend or girlfriend in Iran is a crime, but most people still have them. Going to a party and drinking is a crime, but tons of people do it. Likewise, it is a crime to have sex with the same sex, but some do it anyway,” she said.

Parsi, from Shiraz, Iran says he knew he was gay when he was about nine years old and had sex with his male cousin. “I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I thought maybe I was sick, and probably had to go to the doctor, but I didn’t know which one to go to,” he said.

In an attempt to feel “normal.” Parsi tried to compensate for his differences through the Islamic religion.

“I prayed more to become a good person, a normal person. Most people prayed five times a day and I would pray ten. Other people fasted for two months and I would fast for four,” Parsi said.

At the age of 18, he fully realized his sexual orientation after receiving access to the Internet and conducting research about homosexuality. Two years later, in 2001, two of Parsi’s closest gay friends committed suicide because of the challenges they faced living in Iran as homosexuals.

“After my friends died, I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it and I didn’t have any websites, references or organizations to go to. It was so awful for me. I decided to do something for the next generation of people who were born gay,” Parsi said.

He founded the Iranian Queer Railroad, an online interest group for the homosexual, bisexual transsexual populations. He operated the website, made phone calls, conducted interviews and wrote letters under a false name. One day in 2005, Parsi received a voicemail and several emails from the Iranian government, who had become aware of his activity after tracing his Internet Protocol address and phone calls. He knew he had to leave immediately before being arrested or killed. On March 4, 2004, he fled from Iran to Turkey.

Some gay Iranians, like Parsi, make the decision to openly advocate for their homosexual rights. Other homosexuals who reside in Iran choose to go about their lives, hiding their sexual identities from the public. Another portion of Iranian homosexuals prefer to have sex changes.

Sex changes have been legal in Iran ever since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution, passed a religious decree, known as a fatwa, about 25 years ago and authorized the operations to “diagnosed transsexuals.”

Iranians who wish to go through the operation must contact Iran’s Ministry of Health. They are required to meet with a panel of psychologists whose primary job is to determine whether the person is a homosexual or transsexual. Once a person is deemed to be a “true” transsexual, they can proceed with the operation.
Parsi, still the director of the IRQR and now based in Canada, explained that Iranian homosexuals who seek sex change operations may attempt to find a way to make their psychologists diagnose them as transsexual.
“I have received about 45 reports of operations in Iran where the people [who seek or have had a sex change] are not really transgender. They are gay and only want to change their sexuality for a little bit of freedom,” he said.

Bahram Mirdjalali, one of Iran’s few gender reassignment surgeons, disagrees with Parsi. “[The high number of sex changes in Iran] has nothing to do with politics, religion or any other external factors. These people are not homosexual. They are just people who are basically trapped in the wrong body,” he said through an interpreter.

He added that he believes the people who undergo sex changes have a phobia against their own gender. “If they are technically male, they are not attracted to men. But once they have an operation and become a female, they become attracted to men,” Mirdjalali said.

Mirdjalali has performed more than 600 operations over the last 12 years. He said that in a European country like France, where he was trained, he would have carried out fewer than 80 transsexual operations over the same period. Aside from Thailand, Iran carries out more sex change operations than any other country.

Mirdjalali assisted with an Iranian study about the roots of the high number of those with gender identity disorders in Iran. The study concluded that women living near the war zone during the Iran-Iraq War with three to four month gestations had a higher rate of incidents of children being born with gender identity disorders than the average population.

He said that the entire sex change process is physically painful and emotionally draining for the patient, adding that it is crucial for the patient to have the support of his or her family and close friends. “I see people going through this very tough operation and difficult post operational procedures, but once I see them smiling, it gives me such great satisfaction,” Mirdjalali said.

The Iranian government used to make note of a person’s sex change on their birth certificate, but because of Mirdjalali’s efforts to change the policy, there is now no documented trace of the operation. The person’s new gender replaces the old on the birth certificate, making it easier for transsexuals to peacefully reemerge into society.

But even though sex changes receive legal recognition in Iran, this doesn’t always equate to social and political acceptance.

“[Transsexuals are not accepted in Iran. Everyone gossips about them. People—especially old people and traditional people—think that transsexuals are bad people or criminals,” Sharifrazi said.

Bijan, a resident in Tehran, who wished not to disclose his full name, has never seen a transsexual in Iran. He doesn’t deny their presence in the country, but instead thinks that the transsexual community avoids the public whenever possible to avoid humiliation from the generally unwelcoming Iranian crowd.

“It’s very unacceptable to be [transsexual] here. A lot of people keep hidden until they can leave the country. My friend’s son wanted a sex change, but waited until he left Iran to receive one. His father was always trying to keep him away from other people because he knew the others would make fun of him for his differences,” Bijan said.

Mirdjalali also notices a lack of tolerance towards those with gender identity disorders. “Traditional families are having a hard time accepting this concept that we are operating on their kids. I often have to talk longer hours with the father or mother of the patient. A lot of parents and family members do not want to recognize that these individuals are in need of help and have gender issues,” he said.

Parsi tries to encourage Iranian homosexuals to stop resorting to sex change operations as a means to be free. “[Gay and lesbians] who are going through this process are victims of ignorance. They usually don’t have any knowledge about their rights,” he said. “Suicide rates are very high after operations and many live in a pre-suicide type of depression.”

Through his organization, Parsi offers advice to Iranian homosexuals who consider going through the surgery. He asks them to share their particular situations and talks to them about their motive for wanting a sex change.

“[From the mind of a gay man considering a sex change,] the only way he thinks he can sleep with a man is to become a woman,” Parsi said. “But these people are not transgender. They are homosexuals. Society forces them to change their sex.”

Parsi, Mirdjalali and others may disagree about the reasons for such a high number of transsexuals in Iran, but it’s impossible to deny the existence of a homosexual population in a country of approximately 70 million people.

New Fears in Uganda's Fight against AIDS

New Fears in Uganda’s Fight against AIDS
By Ellen Schnier

The number of new HIV infections worldwide in 2007 was 2.7 million people, and of those, 1.9 million live in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the UNAIDS Outlook Report for 2009. Two thirds of all people living with HIV/AIDS are in Africa. The crisis in Uganda reaches nearly every family and orphans many children. According the World Health Organization in 2008, AIDS is the leading cause of death in Africa. After aggressive efforts to stop the spread of the disease, Ugandan officials have been very successful in reducing the infection rate in Uganda from 30% in the 1980s and ‘90s to around 6%.

Campaign to Reduce HIV Infection
Sandra Kiapi, Executive Director of the Action Group for Health, Human Rights, and HIV/AIDS (AGHA), says the Uganda government sponsored a massive campaign through the media and schools to educate people about how HIV is contracted and to promote behavioral change and abstinence. One of the reasons Uganda has been successful, she says, is because some people living with AIDS came out openly, declared their status and served as living examples. “If the public is aware about the facts, they will know how to deal with it,” says Kiapi.

According to Dr. David Serwadda, Dean of Makarere University School of Public Health in Kampala and specialist in AIDS research, political leadership has been the key to Uganda’s success. Other African countries, like Swaziland, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, have much higher rates of infection and have not been as successful in reaching all areas of Uganda.

Weary of seeing many people infected, Kiapi says, “We need to ensure that future generations are HIV free.” While HIV/AIDS is a relatively new disease, young people in Uganda have been touched by the virus their whole lives. They cannot remember a time when there wasn’t AIDS. To eradicate the deadly virus, messages of prevention target the younger generation.

Seth Kibet Kigen, a Kenyan who studies Computer Science at Makarere University, says there are several campaigns aimed only at young people. Organizations use peer counseling groups because young people are more receptive to their peers. Government-sponsored sporting events reach out to the youth to educate them about the virus, and some music and films encourage young people to practice ABC (Abstinence, Be faithful, and use a Condom).

A New Group is Affected
When HIV became an epidemic, the demographic with the highest infection rate was single adults. In the past few years, the pendulum has swung, and the prevalence of new infections of HIV is highest for married couples and people in long-term relationships. According to the Uganda AIDS Commission, approximately 43% of new infections are occurring in these groups, which were once considered “low risk.”

Dr. Serwadda says this is rooted in the cultural expectation that married couples will be unfaithful, and this demographic is not being targeted with educational messages. “The messages and the programs are not keeping pace with the changes, and in the process, a lot of people are getting infected.”

There is a stigma associated with contracting HIV, according to Florence Ntakarutimana, who is a counselor for the African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI) and works with East African women with AIDS. “Many people have fear to do the blood test because once they are known as HIV positive, they are rejected by their families, communities, and jobs. They are hated.” Even married people shy away from being tested, for fear of the implications of their results.

New Fears
Awareness campaigns have been extremely successful in reducing the infection rate of HIV in Uganda. There are new fears that the virus could become more widespread. With the development of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), people who contract HIV today live longer and more comfortably than those living with the disease in previous years. The drugs are now widely available in Uganda and other African countries, meanwhile decreasing some of the fear associated with getting AIDS.

“[Fear] was one of the factors that contributed to the reduction of the infection rate because people were frightened by the effects of the disease,” says Kigen. Without that fear, many Ugandans have relaxed their practices of prevention.

“There are people who say HIV is no longer a problem since there are the ARVs. They say to have HIV is a way of being rich,” comments Ntakarutimana. The health care system in Uganda is insufficient, and many people cannot afford to get treatment. People with HIV receive basic care (along with AIDS treatment) from aid associations.

In addition to the increased use of ARVs, the message of prevention has been replaced by information about getting tested and treated. Dr. Serwadda says, “As more financial resources have become available [from the United States and other nations] to treat HIV, less is available for HIV prevention.” The focus of the message has shifted, which leaves many fearful there will be a new surge of infections. Without the knowledge of how HIV is contracted and effective measures of prevention, Ugandans are at greater risk of infection.

Many scholars, including Dr. Serwadda, point to political intervention as an explanation for this shift in focus. For example, PEPFAR, The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief, was established in 2003 and is the largest monetary commitment by any nation to combat a single disease. This money has been used successfully to treat people living with HIV/AIDS, including access to ARVs. Funds are specifically allocated to the Uganda government to promote abstinence, and some fear the message of prevention has suffered. In response to this controversy, many non-governmental organizations, religious organizations, and researchers have focused on treating the disease instead of prevention to avoid political interference.
HIV/AIDS is still a very serious health risk in Uganda, and most people who research or treat patients believe the government has weakened their message of prevention.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


The Institute for International Journalism in conjunction with The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting has organized a campus visit by independent roving journalist, Jason Motlagh. Jason will be here from Monday March 2 until Wednesday March 4, 2009.
He will share his experiences in reporting international conflicts and provide tips about freelance journalism. He will give lectures on Tuesday and provide students interested in international journalism/affairs with fresh information on global issues such as conflicts and the current social and political situations in a number of countries. He will also hold one-on-one talks with a few students. Please email Professor Kalyango if you are interested in having an exclusive visit with Jason on Tuesday between 9:30am and 10:30am or between 2pm and 3:15pm.
Jason Motlagh is an international roving journalist currently based in Washington, D.C. He has covered conflicts in South Asia and West Africa, including recent assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jason was desk editor at United Press International, has reported for the Washington Times, Christian Science Monitor, San Francisco Chronicle, and some major United Kingdom newspapers such as The Economist, The Scotsman, The Globe and Mail. Jason is a regular contributor to Asia Times Online and other international magazines and publications. He has also produced several television special reports for PBS on separatist movements within India.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The GLOBETROTTER (1st Issue - 2009) - Student Newsletter

THE GLOBETROTTER is a news and current affairs newsletter. The news items and other feature stories are originally investigated, reported, written, edited, and published by students of the Foreign Correspondence class, in conjuction with the Institute for International Journalism at Ohio University. Click here or on the link below to access the newsletter.

International Correspondents & datelines
(Class of 2009)
Jeff Bennett - BRAZIL
Carolin Biebrach - TURKEY
Natalie Cammarata - ITALY
Yilei Cheng - INDIA
Sally Cruikshank - QATAR
Aerin Curtis - ZIMBABWE
Kristin Eckert - BANGLADESH
Cristina Mutchler - COLOMBIA
Ellen Schnier - UGANDA
Celia Shortt - CAMBODIA
Lu Tang - PERU
Michael Barajas - LEBANON
Jacqueline Best - FRANCE
Maria Fisher - KENYA
David Flores - REP. OF GEORGIA
Michael Hess - JORDAN
Natalie Jovonovich - SERBIA-MONTENEGRO
Meghan McNamara - CHILE
Taylor Mirfendereski - IRAN
Emily Mullin - SIERRA LEONE
Veronica Norton - D. R. CONGO
Gregory Stephens - RUSSIA
Halle Tansing - VENEZUELA

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Playing Watchdog

by Jeff Bennett
edited by Cristina Mutchler

My editorial in response to President Mugabe’s allegations against Bush would not sugarcoat or sweep the topic of torture under the rug. With the aid of supporting evidence and facts, I would bring attention to this topic in a scathing article against Bush, Obama or any leader that practices heinous acts of ‘enhanced interrogation.’ Nonetheless, I would not support Mugabe and ignore his less than perfect human rights record either. As a journalist, it is our duty to keep politicians in check by shedding light on their detestable acts; we cannot act as patsies and turn a blind eye to injustice.

I believe Bush or Obama should not criticize other nations of human rights violations unless they abstain from those acts themselves. Of course instances of torture occurred at Guantanamo Bay under former-President Bush, making him appear hypocritical for lecturing other leaders for the same violations. With the closing of Guantanamo Bay, I fear occurrences of extraordinary rendition may unfortunately become more common place to cruelly extract information from people considered terrorists. As for wiretapping, the Patriot Act and many subsequent laws took many American liberties, but we are still a very free and privileged society. I am just thankful I don’t live in a nation where an average of 14 surveillance cameras exists for each citizen (i.e. England).

I would not factor in information regarding human rights abuses from the Bush administration if unwarranted in the story. For example, if I were writing a story about Israeli ethnic cleansing against Hamas, I would not discuss Bush and his blemished record because it is not pertinent. However, in Parsons’ ‘Mugabe Slams Bush over Human Rights’ article, it is appropriate to address Bush’s tarnished career as president.

See the Context - Human Rights

by Carolin Biebrach
edited by Cristina Mutchler

First think about your own mistake, before you start judging others. This would be the core theme of my editorial. Countries should be treated equally. It doesn’t matter who is not respecting the human rights. The United States, Germany, Zimbabwe – if any of these countries are violating rights, they all deserve the same treatment and international punishment. It is the media’s responsibility to bring those violations to the surface. They have to inform the public, so that the public can make their own judgments. Whether it is Guantanamo bay or a conflict in Zimbabwe, both incidents deserve the same media attention, to guarantee the same standards of judgment.

First, you have to define whether you really have double standards or whether you have those different actions for different reasons. London is taped with cameras. Of course people are complaining that this is intimidating their private sphere. But this cameras improve public security, so one has to decide, what is more important. This is not supposed to be an excuse for things, the U.S. is doing, and that they can be treated differently from others. But you have to explore the purpose of those actions. If the U.S. violates human rights, like they did in Iraq or Guantanamo Bay, they deserve the same the same international criticism. If I were a foreign correspondence, and there would be a case where my home country is violating human rights, then it is my responsibility as a journalist to judge those actions the same way, like I would judge them in other countries.

You cannot fit your own nation's past in every article, you are writing about other nations. If you are reporting on a war, you are not explaining the war history of the U.S. either. Therefore I would not include the human rights violations of the U.S. in every human rights article about other countries. But in this specific case, Bush was judging others for mistakes, he made on his own. Again, it is the journalist’s responsibility to draw those comparisons, if necessary. This is crucial for the public, and their forming of opinions.

Realistic Expectations of Idealism

by Aerin Curtis

edited by Cristina Mutchler

If I were to write an editorial responding to President Mugabe’s assertions of former President Bush’s “rank hypocrisy” concerning human rights violations by the US I would try to keep it in perspective. I would present the allegations and discuss them, because I don’t think that either side can be catered to exclusively. However, in writing such an article, it would be impossible not to mention that President Mugabe does not stand on the moral high-ground. I would have to include the reported violations practiced in his country. Also, I would reference the results of these two affairs – the trials of those involved in Abu Ghraib and the closing of Guantanamo Bay – as examples of how the US is trying to move past these issues and toward a more thorough expression of human rights.

In response to those countries/people who criticize the US of violating international human rights on the issues of extraordinary renditions and wiretapping I would begin by explicating that these are issues of two separate degrees. First, wire tapping, though reprehensible, is done to differing degrees by many countries - legally or illegally. The US does grant its citizens the right to privacy, but we allowed, for several, equally unconvincing, reasons many of our personal privacies to be invaded when the Patriot Act passed. Now, we have to deal with the consequences. I hate that this happened, but I am also aware that the kind of personal freedoms we take for granted don’t exist in many other countries. I am especially aware of this after having lived in England - where your picture is taken routinely by the security cameras that are on many, if not all, street corners – and knowing that many companies reserve the right to go through the computers, and email of their employees. Ultimately, wire tapping is an invasion of privacy, regardless of how it is presented, the US is not the only country that violates it, but it may be one that will eventually cease doing so. That said, the US being involved in extraordinary rendition is more problematic. I think this is most likely a case where my response would be to point out that governments sometimes are hypocritical in their desire for security. The US has an anti-torture policy because it professes to uphold international codes of human rights. The country provides asylum for people whose rights have been violated in other countries. That the US fails to live up to its own standards at times, is tragic, but it doesn’t negate the positive things the country has done. If for no other reason, then that no country has a perfect record on these issues.

The US’s violations of international human rights would have to be considered when writing about other nations that have similar violations. However, in writing about other countries the base line would be in the international codes of human rights, not the actions of the US. Just because the country tries to play the world’s watchdog does not mean that they succeed or that the US’s successes or failures should be taken as representative of achievable human rights practices. Any country can be fallible, but the point is to look beyond that and strive toward something better.

The U.S.Double Standards Over Human Rights

( Source:

Many criticize the United States of playing double standards on the question of international rights when on issues such as extraordinary renditions and wiretapping. It is difficult for the U.S. to have credibility when accusing other countries of not being fair to its people, if the United States is guilty of the same thing.

According to Emily Mullin, the U.S. has had a long history of enforcing certain norms in the international community and an equally long history of not obeying by some of those same norms it advocates.

“It is ironic that the U.S. government has been an advocate for human rights around the world; while at the same time it was committing atrocities in its own detention camps,” said Michael Barajas.

“As a reaction to people who criticize President Bush for playing double standards on human rights, I would say I have to agree,” said Jacqueline Best. “President Bush cannot expect to have people take him seriously when he is talking about human rights if he too is not always acting to promote human rights in his own country.”

But every nation in the world plays double standard. “The double-standard criticism is somewhat unfair because every country at one time or another has stooped to a level that may not always be appropriate,” argued Natalie Jovonovich.

In agreement with this perspective, Taylor Mirfendereski said that although he didn’t usually agree with the decisions made by President Bush, the violations of human rights must be determined on a case-by-case basis. “I believe that the severity of his violations are less than those of which he often criticizes.”

“I think the U.S. is in somewhat of a catch-22; as a super power, the U.S. is expected to lend help and aid to struggling countries (Vietnam, South Korea, the Iraqi people), but then is widely criticized for any involvement and for the effects of war,” said Veronica Norton.

Edit by Jung Lee

Mugabe’s Rant over Human Rights

Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, accused U.S. President George W. Bush of "rank hypocrisy" for lecturing him on human rights and likened the U.S. Guantanamo Bay prison to a concentration camp. Mugabe accused Bush of imprisoning and torturing people at Guantanamo Naval Base and at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. "He (Bush)kills in Iraq. He kills in Afghanistan. And this is supposed to be our master on human rights?"

Here are some brainstorming ideas for responding Mugabe’s allegation.

President Bush believed he was doing what was best for the nation and hurting people who might or might not be guilty, while some other countries are hurting people for their own gain and in a widespread manner. Comparing both of these figures in certain ways is like comparing apples to oranges, because it is a completely separate situation.
By Jacqueline Best

killing or torturing a person because of something that they cannot control has a higher degree of a human rights violation than torturing someone in a prison for a crime. We do not condone the torture of people in prisons and believe that no human rights violation should be occurring, but when examining Bush’s human rights violations compared to the human rights violations of numerous country leaders, the two types of violations cannot be exactly parallel.”
By Taylor Mirfendereski

We are fighting with an antiquated set of rules called the Geneva Convention. These rules were made for armies – not insurgencies, not for pissed-off citizens of a nation. In some cases, torture is necessary.
By Michael Hess

What Mugabe points out is the paradox of American criticism on human rights issues – that the U.S. government advocates for human rights elsewhere while completely disregarding them in its own policies. The U.S. does have a history of not practicing what it preaches. Though Mugabe has little room to lecture on issue of human rights, his message to Bush administration has resonates throughout most of the international community – the administration ignored the human rights of its detainees for a long time – and that will continue to hurt the U.S.’s reputation in the world for some time.”
By Michael Barajas

Edit By Jung Lee

Teach a Man to Fish...

by Aerin Curtis

As world leaders put forward bailout plans for their countries, Zimbabwean nationals propose an alternate track of reforming their agricultural system to ease the economic crisis in their country.

Before the economic downturn in Zimbabwe, the farming system was already delicate. The country’s agricultural program began producing less when President Robert Mugabe of the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front, reenergized his party’s land redistribution movement in 1999. At that time roughly 11 million hectares were taken by the government and about 4,000 predominately white farmers were displaced.

According to Trevor Gifford, President of the Commercial Farmers Union in Zimbabwe, who started farming there in 1990, the exact number of displaced commercial farmers is unknown, but a large proportion have remained in Zimbabwe doing other occupations. He said, “Many of the younger [farmers] would [return] if they were given long-term land tenure guarantees.”

Land reform is a popular topic in Zimbabwe. The Movement for Democratic Change, the party of the new Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, ran with this as part of their platform. “Currently, the agricultural sector’s performance has been a cause for concern. Last season the country was not able to meet even 50 percent of its grain requirements. As a result, almost 60 percent of the population currently requires food aid,” said Dr. Ruvimbo Mabeza-Chimedza, former professor of Agricultural Economics at the University of Zimbabwe. Over 200 aid organizations bring food and medical care to the country.

While aid organizations bring food and health care into the country, Zimbabweans see a different need. “Many of the economic woes we have been experiencing for several years stem from the virtual collapse of commercial agriculture on which much of Zimbabwe’s economic activity is dependent,” said Gifford. “It follows that setting agriculture back onto a growth path that regains what has been lost will do much to rectify the present invidious situation that we are in.”

Along with food, Anna Schaaf of the International Committee of the Red Cross said “there is a great need for education [in the farming communities] on hygiene and water issues.” A thorough restructuring of the agricultural system might not only ease the food shortage, but it could offer an increase in jobs to reduce the unemployment that affects almost 80 percent of the population. When the agricultural system collapsed it hurt the tourist and manufacturing industries as well.

"The agricultural policy environment and the institutional framework need to be overhauled,” said Mabeza-Chimedza. “The government’s role should be limited to creating a favorable policy environment. The government should not be a key player on the market.”

Keeping government’s intervention and control from the agricultural system is a major theme among those who proposed ways to fix the system. When President Mugabe seized the land he claimed it would be distributed to land-less Zimbabweans, but instead he offered it to political allies. Many of these people did not having the farming skills necessary to keep the developed land running.

“As long as there is no discipline in the government system we will continue to see farmers abusing input facilities… and land will remain underutilized,” said blogger Tapiwa Zivira who is also the information officer for the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ).

“Farm production is continuing but at a very low capacity, as there is a critical input shortage. … Many farms are operating at less than 10 percent capacity. Some farms have failed to cultivate any crops,” he said. He estimates that over 50 percent of the land under-produces.

Some people see the need for change within the agricultural system and have ideas for what can be done. “What I would most like to change is to liberalize the agricultural sector by reducing government’s involvement in agricultural markets,” said Mabeza-Chimedza. “The most important area for change, which I believe will revive the agricultural sector, is the institutional reform in the government system where farms are owned by those who are well connected and [who] have no capacity to run the farms as commercial entities,” said Zivira.

Such beliefs speak to the hope in the country. By proposing a reworking of the agricultural system, Zimbabweans say that their country’s economic problems can be rectified. “I believe that since our country thrives on agriculture, the first and most important step towards the revival is the agriculture sector. Whatever government gets into place should carry out a serious, independent audit that will expose those who are not producing and then the land will be reallocated to those with the capacity,” said Zivira.

If the new government power-sharing deal makes any effective structural changes to the agricultural system, then the repossession could start quickly. Though there has been drought in some parts of the country, which has damaged the crop yields, enough workable land remains that progress can be made.

Even with the economic crisis and rampant inflation, sources tell The Globetrotter that, with reform, the situation could be stabilized and rectified. Gifford believes that “for a few agricultural commodities that have very short production cycles full recovery could be within months… thus, the rehabilitation process could start fairly quickly.” He hopes to see a “vibrant agricultural sector providing food security for Zimbabwe and [the ability] to compete in world markets.”

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mafiosi rally fans, even from jail

by Natalie Cammarata

In December, Italian officials conducted a massive sweep on the Sicilian Mafia. Authorities termed the operation the “decapitation” of one of Italy’s most powerful organized crime rings. The captured men’s legacies—and their business—live on through the hands of some of Italy’s youth.

Just days after the arrests, fan groups dedicated to Sicily’s Cosa Nostra mafia bosses appeared on the social networking Web site Facebook. The groups are dedicated to two former Godfathers of Cosa Nostra: Salvatore “Toto” Riina and Bernardo Provenzano who are both currently serving multiple life sentences. Riina was arrested in 1993 and Provenzano in 2006. The current Facebook groups include “Salvatore Riina,” which has 861 members and “Santificazione di Provenzano,” which has 417 members. Other groups were taken down after receiving press attention including, “Toto Riina, the Real Boss of Bosses” and another that called for the beatification of Provenzano.

The two Mafiosi also have their own Facebook profiles, with pictures and descriptions of themselves. Young Italians are joining fan groups and befriending the Mafiosi for various reasons. One young Italian from Sicily, Veronica Fiorelli, 21, is friends with Bernardo Provenzano on Facebook, but said she does not necessarily support the mafia.

“I am fascinated by (the mafia’s) organization, in the sense that the politicians’ positions should give them the power to bring mafia activity to an end, and yet the Mafiosi, although fugitives, continue to succeed and gain their respect,” Fiorelli said.

Another young Italian, Francesco Carnali, 21, is not friends with or in any fan groups of Italian Mafiosi on Facebook. Carnali is from central North Italy, and his view of the mafia stems from a lack of work ethic in Southern Italy.

“People in Northern and central Italy want to work and they don’t want to make money from the jobs of other people through extortion and violence,” Carnali said. He also points out that the victims of extortion don’t want to fight back because it’s too dangerous. Carnali says that they prefer to keep their mouths shut and live day to day.

The development of a positive sentiment toward the mafia can be partially attributed to media glamorization of the mafia lifestyle through television and film. American creations such as The Godfather trilogy and The Sopranos emphasize the attractive elements of organized crimes. This portrayal of the Mafia has seeped into the Italian media as well, particularly by way of the television miniseries, “Il Capo Dei Capi,” or Boss of all Bosses, based on the life of Toto Riina. According to the International Herald Tribune, Provenzano was arrested while watching an episode at his girlfriend’s home in Palermo.

Young Italians like Francesco Carnali can only hope that the media spotlight on the mafia is showing young people what not to get into.

“These kinds of movies and shows like Il Capo dei Capi are, I hope, just to let people know how dangerous and unlawful the mafia is. Maybe the only reason is just to tell everyone the story and hope that no one will do anything like it,” Carnali said.

Some Facebook users are reacting to the positive attention the mafia has received with dismay. In response to mafia fan groups on Facebook, other users created anti-mafia groups that call for the removal of the fan groups, and one of them, “Abolizione del gruppo fan di Bernardo Provenzano,” has nearly 9,500 members.

A significant number of sympathizers still exist despite large numbers of young Italians joining anti-mafia groups on and off Facebook. One young man from Palermo, Sicily, the heart of Cosa Nostra, put it this way, “In the end, the mafia will win.”

Turkey and the EU: A never-ending story

Turkish people in favor of joining the union, but don’t think it could become reality

by Carolin Biebrach

Almost 50 years ago, Turkey started its first effort to join the European Economic Community. As of 2009 the republic has its first full-time negotiator in the European Parliament; but a membership still seems far away. The political advantages of this membership are clear: more stability, economic strength, increased trade, and institutionalized rights for individuals.

“I think most Turks see themselves as European,” says Andrew Vorkink, former director of the World Bank in Ankara, Turkey. “One has to keep in mind that Turkey has not had a close relationship other than religion with the Middle East, which is seen by many Turks as Arabic and thus less ‘Westernized’ than Turkey,” he says. Vorkink graduated from Harvard Law School majoring in Turkish history and is now a professor for International Law at Bogazici University, Istanbul. Hakan Yilmaz, a professor for political science in Istanbul supports this public support with a 2004 nationwide survey from in which 75% of the respondents favor joining the European Union. Turkey is a highly secularized country, and so are the people’s opinions on the EU. “There are sharp differences between the North (Black Sea region) and the Southeastern Anatolia (Kurdish region) […] in terms of anti-Western attitudes and Turkish nationalism,” says Alsen Bilgen, also a political science professor at Bogazici University. Based on the survey, 86% of voters of the CHP, a center-left party, favor joining the EU. Only 58% of the SP party, a radical right Islamist party, would like to be a part of the EU.

According to Andrew Vorkink, “Western Turkey is substantially more prosperous than most parts of the East, but within each area there are exceptions.” Istanbul is an especially prosperous city. The large poor areas tend to support a nationalistic, and therefore anti-European, attitude. Many Istanbul residents have higher incomes and are involved in business or academia. These parts of society are very likely to support the European Union, states Andrew Vorkink.

European leaders have explanations for not allowing Turkey to join the European Union. One of them is the issue of differing values. “When some European leaders say Turkey is not a part of Europe – which is a ridiculous statement, because Istanbul is Europe’s largest city – they are actually saying ‘Do we want 70 Million Muslims inside the EU when we have difficulty assimilating the several million Muslims who are already here?’”, Vorkink says. Aysen Bilgen says the EU is often considered as a club of rich and Christian nations. Bilgen does not argue the fact that the young republic has some problems. Some cultures in Turkey “are not yet compatible with human rights and individual rights”. “Whoever shapes social policy will shape where Turkey will go,” says Bilgen. Regarding culture, Mohammad Baker says that the major differences come from their differing pasts. He notes that the cultural roots for the Arab nations come from cultural and religious traditions. Baker is from Jordan, but has close relatives in Turkey. “This is totally different in Europe, where the religion has nothing to do in the people’s lives or their habits. In Europe, the culture has been formed over hundreds of years through different kind of revolutions against the old cultures themselves,” says Baker, who traveled a lot in Europe in recent years to work at a telecommunication company. He says the EU should not focus on cultural differences. Rather they should concentrate on the economic aspects of allowing Turkey to join their union. The cultural side of things will develop automatically through the years, as Turkey becomes a member. This is especially true because none of the European countries would be willing to give up their cultures. Despite the fact that countries like Italy, France, or Germany are all members of the European Union, every country has its own specific culture and values. “Turkey really could be an example of change,” Baker emphasizes the prosperity Turkey could add to the European Union. “I also know and see that Europeans refuse to see the complexity and heterogeneity of Turkey and its citizens. It is easier to exoticize and treat it as an oriental tourist attraction, take photos of religious looking people and conveniently look to the other side when one meets cosmopolitan, agnostic, atheist, postreligious natives as if they do not exist,” says Aysen Bilgen.

History shows that the ongoing efforts Turkey has undertaken to become a full member of the EU have always been accompanied by difficulties, according to Hakan Yilmaz. On July 31st, 1959, the Turkish government applied to the European Economic Community for membership. “Turkey had already been a member of such critical Western and European organizations as the Council of Europe, OECD, and NATO, and seeking membership in yet another newly founded European organization, the EEC, was nothing but the normal thing to do,” Yilmaz explains. The Ankara-Agreement was reached to allow less developed economies to reach the European standards. As soon as those standards were achieved, Turkey would be allowed full membership. That deal came to an end with the military takeover of Turkey in 1980. “On 17 April 1987, the Özal government [Turgut Özal was the leader of the Motherland Party that was elected in 1983] handed in Turkey’s formal application for membership in the EEC,” Yilmaz knows. Two years later, the country finally received an answer from the European Commission stating that Turkey was not ready to take on the obligations of membership due to its existing level of economic and political underdevelopment.

The United States is one of the biggest supporters of an EU-membership for Turkey. As a member, Turkey would be a more attractive target for American investors and would also make it more stable in a critical region. Only 18% of Turkish people think that a membership could become reality within the next five years. Another 18% predict that the EU will never accept Turkey as a member. No matter where the path of the EU and Turkey leads – it seems like a never-ending story.

Human Rights

by Sally Ann Cruikshank

edited by Cristina Mutchler

I personally believe torture, whether done by an individual or government, is morally reprehensible. The way I would approach such an editorial is to explain that anyone, suspected of torture, whether it be a U.S. official or a leader in another country, should be investigated. I would also add that foreign correspondents and other journalists wield tremendous power in their ability to bring such issues to the attention of the public. In such an editorial, I would appeal to journalists in both the U.S. and Zimbabwe to investigate the claims of human rights violations against Bush and Mugabe.

When it comes to extraordinary renditions and wiretapping, I agree with Aerin that these are two very different issues. While no one wants to have their personal conversations spied upon, the U.S. is certainly not the only country that employs such measures of security. In the case of extraordinary rendition, proof of such practices would mean the U.S. was playing a double standard. If the U.S. is in fact sending people to other countries to be tortured, I personally believe that is the same as doing the torture itself.

As a foreign correspondent, I believe I would only factor in the developments of Bush's accused human rights violations if the accusations were pertinent to the story. For example, if it was the U.S. criticizing a country for human rights violations, I would include the own charges leveled at the Bush administration. However, if I was just writing about the human rights violations in that particular country, not in the context of criticism from the U.S., I would probably not mention the U.S. at all.

Transparency and Multiple Perspectives

by Stine Eckert
edited by Cristina Mutchler

For writing an editorial about torture it would be helpful to pull up and cite the definitions of torture from the Geneva convention and the declarations of human rights as well as other necessary documents to give the reader more context. Which countries have ratified which documents? What standards have they used in the past? The editorial should use quotations from all sides of a situation as well as more neutral experts on the issue to present as many perspectives as possible. If a country claims something different than the practices it is using, coverage of such discrepancy between theory and practice need to be highlighted in an editorial so that the reader can draw from the comparisons a conclusion as to how (un)trustworthy and (un)truthful an administration is. Studies have shown that public opinion in matters of international policy can change foreign policy and thus contribute to betterment of a situation.

For the criticism of U.S. policies on wiretapping and extraordinary renditions it would be helpful in the debate to list specific incidents, explain the laws concerned, and match them with public statements of U.S. officials to better illustrate double standards. What is supposed to be done, what was said, and what is done? It is very important to cover these issues consistently, critically and to bring as much transparency to the audience as possible. An issue such as this can be hard to research and complicated to explain, but it is part of the watchdog function of the press to expose such politics so that the responsible persons can be held accountable.

Human rights violations should be covered no matter which country is concerned. Human rights concern every human in every country. Violations need to be widely publicized by as many domestic and international media as possible. Investigations into these transgressions need to be undertaken by independent, international bodies to collect more facts and shed light into what is happening. Only by public awareness (international) pressure on the administration can be build to change the situation for the better.

You Can't hold Bush Responsible for Things he Doesn't Understand

by Natalie Cammarata
edited by Cristina Mutchler

My editorial would be about the fact that people around the world need to understand that Bush is the puppet of his own administration. He doesn't know anything about foreign policy, human rights, proper ways to communicate, or anything related to his position. Bush is the face of an administration that has pushed the country to a far-right wing approach on foreign policy, defense, and human rights--but he is only the face. Behind him lie the brains of the operation, for one Dick Cheney, who thought it would be a good idea to go into Iraq "to find" the terrorists from 9/11 when they weren't even in Iraq in the first place, and then eventually set up a torture prison. Mugabe is entirely right to charge the U.S. with being hypocritical, but world leaders can't blame America as much as they can blame this administration that happened to America. Defying human rights is not what any U.S. administration intended until now.

As far as wiretapping goes, the Bush administration is being hypocritical as well. You can't go around advocating for international human rights and then invade people's privacy by tapping international--and domestic-- calls for the supposed sake of the nation's security. It's pretty blatant hypocrisy and an unnecessary abuse of power.

I think that there are certainly nations that have done worse things to violate human rights by way of tyranny and violence, including Zimbabwe, Mexico, and Iraq. But the U.S. has never been a nation to violate human rights, which is why these charges against the Bush administration are so shocking to the world. We are the nation that fought against Britain's colonial rule and fought for our independence, and we have that image to maintain. After maintaining such a solid reputation for upholding human rights, for a country to regress and go backward by violating rights, it's more surprising than what other long-time dangerous and corrupt nations are doing.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Energy Independence, the Brazilian Example

By Jeff Bennett

Ethanol is transforming Brazil from an iconic nation with alluring beaches and a glamorous nightlife to a trend setting pioneer in its pursuit for energy independence. Currently various nations hungry for their own sovereign energy sources, like the United States, look toward Brazil in hopes of replicating its success in creation of a future less-reliant on oil-based energies.

It helps Brazil is the world’s top-grower of sugar cane, a crop grown naturally in coastal wet-dry climates and used to produce ethanol from its sucrose. Because of this, the industry liberates drivers from only relying on gasoline at the pumps, displacing nearly half of its national gas consumption.

More than 33,000 filling stations offer drivers the option of filling up on ethanol, a fuel source cheaper than gasoline, said Adehamr Altieri, communication director in Sao Paulo for UNICA, The Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association.

“Many citizens … choose ethanol over gasoline because it saves them money,” Altieri said.

In Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, Pastor Daniel Lima drives a gasoline powered car the filling station and is sometimes envious of the price disparity between ethanol and gas. “Ethanol prices are roughly 60 percent of gas prices,” Lima said. Or, according to the National Petroleum Agency, a liter of ethanol costs about 63 cents, in U.S. dollars, while a liter of gasoline is around 1.07 USD.

Lima is unable to capitalize on ethanol’s price break. He does not drive one of the innovative cars made by the Brazilian automobile industry, which is tailored to the driver’s preference between the two fuel sources.

“Here, we had the car that ran completely from ethanol and the one … that drives on gasoline,” said Ramon Antunes, a student at Uni business college in Belo Horizonte within the state of Minas Gerais – one of the nation’s top-three ethanol producing states.

Interestingly, Antunes said the ethanol car is no longer in production and was replaced by the flex-fuel car, a vehicle that can run on either ethanol, gasoline or a mixture of both, but typically ethanol since it is always cheaper.

“Flex-fuel cars are O.K.,” he said. “My friends like them because if they don’t have much money in the pockets, they can fill up on the cheaper ethanol or a mixture. They are made by Fiat, Volkswagen, Honda, Ford and are just like any other car but a little more expensive.”

Brazilian industry experts are optimistic the reliable flex-fuel automobile will boost ethanol sales in promotion of their energy independence. To facilitate this cause, Altieri says the Brazilian motorists drove 4.5 million flex-fuel vehicles on the roadways, which was roughly 20 percent of all light automobiles in 2007. He also expects these numbers to grow to around 10 million in 2010.

The option to select between ethanol and gasoline in Brazil has stirred envy in some U.S. motorists who clamor for alternative fuels other than gasoline. However, previous Brazilian examples show that ethanol is far from a perfect solution.

“In the first few years cars that ran on ethanol became famous for some problems, especially starting in cold mornings,” Lima said. “I know that this has changed as the technology was further developed, but there is an image that still lingers that an ethanol car is not as reliable as a gas car.”

Since ethanol burns at a higher temperature than gasoline, it makes cars that run entirely on the fuel hard to start during cool weather mornings particularly in states like Rio Grande do Sol. The defect became apparent in the early 1980s when the car was quickly subsidized by the government in promotion of its sales. The subsidy helped create a high demand for the vehicle, which in turn boosted ethanol sales, said Sarah Faria, another student at Uni business college.

“There was an ethanol shortage in the 1980s” when ethanol producers could not meet domestic demand for the fuel source, said Faria. Since then “Brazilians are not as comfortable relying only on ethanol.”

The vehicle was also less fuel efficient.

“Ethanol cars tend to get roughly 10 percent less mileage than a gasoline car,” said Lima. This is a caveat to why he believes the ethanol car never reached a market share of 50 percent in Brazil and today is seldom seen on the roadways.

According to Antunes, the Brazilian automakers discontinued production of the ethanol cars and began production of the trendy and popular flex-fuel automobile around 2002.

Like Brazil, U.S. car makers are incorporating the flex-fuel vehicle into their market to utilize America’s version of ethanol, E85, a corn-based mixture composed of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Similar to the Brazilian eagerness to decrease gasoline consumption, U.S. consumers are zealously purchasing flex-fuel automobiles.

According to the Center for American Progress, more than 4.4 million flex-fuel vehicles traversed U.S. roads, almost equaling Brazilian totals. Yet, still in its ethanol infancy, the U.S. has not duplicated Brazil’s achievements to make ethanol readily available for driver consumption.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, around 1,600 out of more than 170,000 gas stations offered E85 to American drivers in 2008. Nonetheless, as Brazilian drivers save hundreds of dollars filling their tanks with ethanol, they are thankful for its abundant presence in their nation.

“I think right now in Brazil it’s a big thing to have a flex-fuel car and the choice to use ethanol with the changing oil barrel prices,” Antunes said.


Colombian Sentiment toward a Possible U.S./Colombia Free Trade Agreement

by Cristina Mutchler

A new year, a new president committed to re-engaging the international community, and a new trade deal with Colombia? Not so fast. The Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) which was introduced during the Bush Administration awaits Congressional approval. Yet, it hasn’t been the most popular trade deal around.

President Barack Obama opposed the ratification of a U.S./Colombia trade agreement when he was a Democratic Senator from Illinois. He was concerned about Colombia’s human rights record and violence against union leaders. Colombia Reports journalist Garry Leech, who works in some of the most dangerous regions of the country and was previously held captive by the FARC revolutionaries, says the recent reduction in Colombian violence pushed President Obama to change his mind. He says the pact will most likely be approved by the U.S. Congress this year, after human rights and environmental “safeguards” are inserted into the agreement text.
Former President George W. Bush said that one of the biggest disappointments of his second term was not winning approval of trade agreements. Despite past set-backs, Colombia Reports Editor Adriaan Alsema says, “The approval bill came at the wrong time when former President Bush had very little support. My guess is in the end (the president) will think the trade pact or keeping Colombia as an ally serves the U.S.”

On the brink of the economic crisis this past November, some were pushed for the trade pact, emphasizing that it would be positive for both the U.S. economy and its workers. Furthermore, the agreement may enhance U.S. foreign relations and competitive markets, says El Colombiano journalist Diego Gómez. Leech says the principle benefits would be for U.S. companies that want to export manufactured goods and agricultural products. Leech also thinks that the United States may experience some economic growth as a result of the trade agreement, but says, “These gains could be offset by companies that take advantage of that country’s cheaper labor and resources, similar to what has occurred under NAFTA with manufacturing jobs moving to Mexico. In this case, Americans would lose decent-paying manufacturing jobs and Colombians would not benefit as the transplanted jobs would pay poverty-level wages in Colombia.”

According to a recent Reuters report, the FTA can expand market opportunities for small and medium-sized firms and boost the local economy. Ricardo Romero of the Bogotá Cambridge University Press doubts that the pact will help his country as it will the United States. “The free trade pact will mainly benefit the United States, as the infrastructure, competitiveness, and quality assurance in Colombia is not ‘there’ yet,” says Romero. “The agreement could prove economically devastating for rural Colombians as the importation of heavily subsidized U.S. food crops would ruin the livelihoods of many Colombian farmers. The consequences of this will not only be increased poverty levels in Colombia, but also higher numbers of farmers turning to the cultivation of illegal drug crops in order to survive,” Leech says. Union leader Francisco Gómez Cuellar says the impact on his country will be large: “The import of goods to the U.S. will result in a Collapse of the Colombian agricultural industry.”

Cuellar says that the impact on people of both countries will include more unemployment, economic decline, and the loss of industries. Alsema is unsure that the benefits will be plentiful for either of the two countries, and says there may just be benefits for private parties. Romero says that the FTA will impact the pharmaceutical and agricultural sectors, and that Colombia has the possibility to sell generic medicine, something that has been restricted in the past. He suggests that Colombia should set its sights further than just the U.S. “In my opinion, Colombia should go more for the constant seek of multinational agreements rather than restricting it to the U.S. This would provide us with the possibility to have more and interesting choices for products and services,” Romero says.

Public opinion regarding the pact seems to vary in Colombia, but Romero predicts that the popular vote will be in support of the agreement. He predicts that around 25 % of the population sees the FTA as a threat to Colombia’s autonomy and the general wellbeing of peasants and workers at large. Alsema also finds that some are skeptical of the agreement, and says, “The majority of people I spoke to about it find it difficult to believe that the U.S. as such an economic monster would be giving presents to a developing country like Colombia. It never has in the past, so why would it do so now?” As a Colombian poll last year showed, more citizens were opposed to the free trade agreement than supported it. Another factor to consider is the underrepresentation of the rural population in public opinion polls, a sector that is overwhelmingly opposed to the FTA.

Alsema elaborates on these underrepresented groups, saying that some who are opposed believe the FTA will threaten Colombia’s small farmers and make the cost of health insurance unaffordable for many. “It ignores the rights of indigenous and minorities and threatens Colombia’s wildlife,” he says. Cuellar also says that the gains of the FTA are at the cost of detrimental conditions for the majority of the poor population, and forces the displacement from the farm lands to the city.

Gomez’s own model of thought shows that an increase in income, employment, and social development would all be positive impacts on the people and economies of the United States and Colombia. Activist Cuellar counters this and says that accepting the pact would be “suicide” for the Colombian economy and prolong the U.S. economic recession. The costs and benefits for the people of each country must be weighed by not just those who will be subject to the FTA, but by those who have the power to enforce it, as well.

Facts -- The Geneva Convention and the Military Commission Act

President George W. Bush signs into law S. 3930, the Military Commissions Act of 2006, during a ceremony Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2006, in the East Room of the White House.
(Source: Paul Morse,

by Richard Jung Lee

edited by Stine Eckert

I believe that any country that violates human rights should be criticized. The United States, Zimbabwe, or any other government in the world should be punished if they violate the Geneva Convention. What happened in Guantanamo Bay can not justify Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s wrongdoings. Mugabe is responsible for murder of thousands, torture of dissidents, forced displacement, food shortages, and currency collapse in Zimbabwe. Those are facts!

Is there a human rights double standard in the United States? Yes, there is. Since 9/11, the United States introduced some security measures that violate human rights. The “Military Commission Act” passed in 2006 legalized torture as a means to fight terrorism; secret wiretap warrants doubled since terrorists attacked the World Trade Center. I think Americans should defend human rights as hard in their own country as they defend human rights in other countries. National security is not an excuse.

Any country that violates human rights should be covered by the media and judged by the public. However, I do not think it is possible or necessary to include the U.S. human rights incidents in every single article about the human rights violations of other countries. I would only mention those incidents if it is relevant to the story I am working on.