Category Archives: Foreign Policy

Resource Rich Does Not Mean Economic Prosperity

Last week, The New York Times “discovered” Afghanistan is not a barren war-torn wasteland without natural resources that American public opinion suggests, but rather poised to become “the Saudi Arabia of lithium.”

Lithium is a scarce metal used to produce electronics.  It has value to many growing nations, especially China and the United States.

The details surrounding the “discovery” do more than make a reader raise an eyebrow.  In the Times article, an adviser to the minister of mines proudly proclaims “This will become the backbone of the Afghan economy.” One should be hesitant to trust declarations made by this branch of the Afghan government; as the Wall Street Journal notes, “the Mines Ministry has long been considered among Afghanistan’s most corrupt government departments.”   This is not to question the likelihood of minerals in Afghan hills.  Rather, it is fairly well-known that the country is abundant in natural resources. In 2007 the Bush Administration concluded “that Afghanistan was potentially sitting on a goldmine of mineral resources and that this fact ought to become a central point of U.S. policy in bolstering the government.” The potential to exploit the natural resources of the country were also widely known to the Soviets decades earlier.

There is a widely held belief that countries with abundant natural resources have greater chances to succeed economically.  This belief was made famous by Jared Diamond in Guns, Germ and Steel. But as Dambisa Moyo explains in Dead Aid:

Africa’s broad economic experience shows that the abundance of land and natural resources does not guarantee economic success however.  In the second half of the twentieth century, natural resource dependence has proved to be a developmental curse rather than a blessing.

Last week’s Planet Money on the issue, goes in to greater detail about the curse and is well worth a listen.  Hopefully, the world will watch as Afghanistan decides how to spend the valuable resource and the money will be given fairly to the country.  But as Bolivia and Nigeria have recently proven that is not the case.

Having resources without the political integrity and ability to properly manage the country will do little for the development of Afghanistan.  This is especially the case for a country with very powerful vested foreign interests.

Perhaps, the announcement is meant to play more to the American public perception that investing in Afghanistan is a worthy endeavor than economic revitalization of an opium dependent economy.  Whatever the case, Afghanistan’s leaders must approach this valued commodity with caution and learn from the resource cursed nations that have proceeded it.

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Oil Extraction Threatens Communities in Peruvian Amazon

Amazon oil town of Trompederos

Peruvian indigenous leader Alberto Pizango made headlines today after being arrested on charges of sedition, conspiracy and leading a rebellion. Last summer, Pizango led months of protests which prompted Peruvian President Álan Garcia order police to “use force” to remove a road bock near Bagua Grande. About 50 people were killed, according to Amnesty International.

Official blame for the incident has fallen on Pizango, though indigenous groups refer to the incident as “Peru’s Tiananmen Square.” But behind the conflict which has pitted the Peruvian government against much of its indigenous population is a well-known adversary – the oil industry.

The Peruvian government has sold off vast amounts of previously protected land, and now leases 70 percent of the nation’s rainforest for oil and gas exploration, according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Since then, a broad coalition of indigenous groups and human rights activists has continuously fought to see that this number is not expanded.

“For thousands of years, we’ve run the Amazon forests,” said Servando Puerta, one of the protest leaders. “This is genocide. They’re killing us for defending our lives, our sovereignty, human dignity.”

A pattern of conflict now threatens the stability of a fiercely divided nation. Answering to pressure from multinational corporations, the Peruvian government continues to scale back its protected territories. Each time legislation is proposed, opposition forces organize on a huge scale. Protests begin peacefully and almost always end in bloodshed.

Despite this environmental and human toll, the government continues to sell off protected lands. Petroperu, the state oil and gas company, recently announced their intention to open 10 million hectares for oil and gas exploration, almost all in the Amazon. The company also announced it would “start auctioning the remaining Amazon oil blocks, adding to the 82 foreign companies who already hold concessions here.”

Many activists are looking to the United States government for a solution, citing the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement as a catalyst for the rapidly expanding encroachment on indigenous territory.

“Whether or not the U.S. intended it, the reality is that the U.S.-Peru Trade Agreement gave license to the [Alan] Garcia administration to roll back indigenous rights and has contributed to increasing social conflict and human rights abuses in Peru,” said Andrew Miller of Amazon Watch.

Activists contest that the United States could revise existing agreements to include stronger safeguards for indigenous peoples and the environment. But such cooperation is unlikely, considering the the amount of sway held by the oil and gas lobby in Washington.

As residents of the Gulf grapple with a massive oil spill, it is important to remember that the oil industry impacts people across the globe. With the livelihoods of entire communities at risk, the importance of developing alternate energy sources has never been more clear.

By Mary Tharin

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California Climate Change Initiative Under Attack

Why are a number of Texas-based oil companies pouring money into a nascent ballot initiative in California? Becasue they don’t want to clean up their act.

In a desperate attempt to undermine the state’s ground-breaking environmental policies, these companies are funding a campaign to stall – or cancel completely – California’s comprehensive plan for climate change mitigation. Assembly Bill 32, approved in 2006, would place a cap on the state’s emissions, bringing them down 30 percent by 2020.

Companies like Valero and World Oil Corp. have contributed almost $1 million to support a ballot initiative that would delay implementation of AB 32 until California’s unemployment rates hold at or below 5.5 percent for a year. Realistically, this equates to an indefinite postponement – a quick look at unemployment data over the past two decades shows that rates rarely stay that low for an entire year.

Republican gubernatorial candidates Meg Whitman and Steve Poisner have jumped on the initiative, claiming that curbs on carbon emissions will destroy jobs and increase the burden on consumers. The campaign continues to cite statistics from a CSU Sacramento report which has since been thoroughly discredited.

In response, the California Environmental Procession Agency released document entitled “Setting the Record Straight on AB 32.” They point out:

  • Small businesses are not regulated by AB 32, and costs to them will be negligible. Many of California’s largest employers support the bill (Google, Ebay, etc.)
  • AB 32 is likely to save households money by supporting energy efficiency; such measures have already saved Californians $56 billion.
  • Capping emissions would further boost California’s robust clean energy sector. California’s energy efficiency policies have already created 1.5 million jobs

Considering the amount of money being spent, he initiative it likely to be on the ballot in November. The nation will be watching to see where Californians stand on an issue that their state has pioneered for decades. It will be a huge blow to the environmental movement if oil money manages to reverse the progress of the US leader in clean energy and emissions regulation.

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South Africa: World Cup Ready

This June, South Africa will host the world in the largest international games, the World Cup.  This is an event has been a point of pride for the country and the continent since it was chosen as the site of the World Cup in 2004.  It will be the first time an African nation will play host to these games.

But South Africa has had a problem with violence for the better part of its history and violent crime has risen dramatically in Johannesburg in recent years.  The country continues to rank second to Colombia in terms of murder rate.

Most troubling is the recent call by the South African white supremacist “Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging” movement called the recent killing of their leader a “declaration of war” by blacks against whites.  In their statements, the group is using the World Cup as leverage for its threats rather than what many would hope would be a time to call a truce.

The country has made multi-billion dollar investments in advanced technology to track and respond to crime.  There was talk several years ago of Rudy Giuliani’s group assisting the city with efforts, but according to a South African publication, the Daily Maverick, the fault of the failed partnership lies with the city’s mayor, Amos Masondo.  “In reality, no one from Masondo’s office bothered to return Giuliani’s phone calls.” But the politics and those making decisions have changed.

The US has seen its fair share of unexplained violent crime.  The recent mass shooting in Southeast Washington, DC or plans by the militia group in Clayton, Michigan are examples of our own problems, not to mention the countless crimes that go unreported in the national media. While there is no question the crime rate in South Africa country is much higher than the U.S. tourists should remember that crime can happen anywhere.

There is little evidence of positive movement for the country.  The cameras have improved response time dramatically, however it has not reduced the incidence of crime in the same dramatic fashion.  But what there is evidence of is a willingness and desire by the local officials to take the problem seriously and protect the expected inflow of tourists.  The country has prioritized this event even speeding in the judicial system.  The country aims to please tourists, in more ways than one.  The collective will may not stop all crime, but I am hopeful and confident it will alleviate a good deal of the fear.

Editor’s note:  For full disclosure, I wrote this post after the purchase of my tickets to the country, therefore my hope may be interpreted as slightly selfish.

Written by Emma Sandoe

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Immigration: Arizona Debates Anti-Immigrant Bill

Thousands marched on Washington this past weekend to demand that the administration turn its attention to immigration reform, in order to ensure that the basic human rights of immigrant workers and their families in the United States are upheld. But, meanwhile, legislation is quietly making its way through the Arizona State Legislature which would make the status of immigrants in the state far worse than under current law.

A proposal being debated in the Arizona House today (HB 2632) contains many of the same provisions that sparked widespread protests in 2008. Undocumented immigrants would be charged with trespassing, and law enforcement officials would be required to determine the immigration status of anyone they come in contact with during an investigation.

A number of pro-immigrant groups have launched opposition campaigns to HB 2632, among them the Tucson-based Border Action Network, which deemed the legislation “the most far-reaching anti-immigrant bill ever introduced in the Arizona Legislature.” The Bishops of the Arizona Catholic Conference pointed out in a statement:

“We are concerned that the present language of these bills does not clearly state that undocumented persons who become victims of crime can come forward without fear of deportation. Anything that may deter crimes from being reported or prosecuted will only keep dangerous criminals on the streets, making our communities less safe.”

If signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer, “the bill also would make Arizona the only state to criminalize the presence of an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants through an expansion of its trespassing law.” An identical bill (SB 1070) has already passed through the Arizona Senate, and a House vote is expected this week.

This would undoubtedly act as a foil to any kind of sweeping immigration reform that the administration may attempt to address in the coming months. The nation must now turn its eyes to Arizona; the battle for a more just immigration policy will need to be fought on a more localized level before it can be tackled by the Obama administration.

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Turkish PM Counters Armenian Genocide with Threats of Expulsion

Turkish Prime minister Erdogan’s proposed course of action regarding the Armenian genocide is painfully ironic. The logic goes something like this: “Our nation did not systematically round up and murder over one million Armenians during World War I. And to prove it, I will now systematically round up and expel hundreds of thousands of Armenians living on Turkish soil.” Try arguing with that.

In response to recent resolutions passed in the US Congress and Swedish Parliament characterizing the war-time massacres of Armenians as genocide, the Turkish government has recalled its ambassadors from both countries. Then, the Prime Minister suggested in an interview with the BBC that such international recognition of the genocide would prompt an expulsion of Armenian immigrants living in Turkey.

“There are currently 170,000 Armenians living in our country. Only 70,000 of them are Turkish citizens, but we are tolerating the remaining 100,000. If necessary, I may have to tell these 100,000 to go back to their country because they are not my citizens. I don’t have to keep them in my country.”

The undocumented workers to which the PM refers are mostly women from Armenia’s impoverished countryside who have migrated to Istanbul where they work in the service sector. While a number of politicians have described Erdogan’s comments as empty threats, they are a troubling reminder that Armenians are still unwelcome in Turkey.

To date, over twenty countries have officially recognized the Armenian genocide, as well as international organizations including the European Parliament and MERCOSUR.

Posted By Mary Tharin

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Obama on Climate: We Need a Carbon Cap

In a meeting with key Senators and administration officials yesterday, President Obama made one point abundantly clear: the U.S. needs to put a cap on our carbon emissions. Politico reports:

In opening remarks, according to Senators in attendance, President Obama took the idea of an energy-only bill – the preferred approach of moderate Democrats – off the table, saying he wanted a “comprehensive” bill that includes a cap on greenhouse gas emissions.

The President is up against a a strong contingent of Senators who have been trying to sideline a carbon cap with alternate proposals such as the one being drafted by Richard Lugar (R-IN), which would promote ever-dubious “clean coal” initiatives and nuclear power. Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Lisa Mirkowski (R-AK) have also expressed their opposition to any proposal that would put a price on carbon emissions.

But the reality is that we must cap our emissions, and to do it soon. What our constituent-minded members of Congress fail to recognize is that we are the ONLY developed country that has yet to make a solid commitment to cut our carbon levels in the next few decades.

International climate negotiations are at a standstill largely because everyone is waiting for the United States to step up to the plate. Comments made by China’s top climate negotiator today, urging our Congress not to “shift the responsibility for taking more active action to other countries,” reflects a prevalent mood in the global community.

UN Climate talks, which are set to re-commence in December in Mexico, will get nowhere if the U.S. has not yet passed a comprehensive bill that includes a carbon cap.

It seems time to listen to Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is urging the GOP to support a comprehensive climate and energy plan. He told the press yesterday: “I’m not going to support some half-assed reform.”

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