Friday, December 15, 2006
Blood Diamonds Part 1: The Empire Strikes Back! by James S. Henry
"...(O)ne of the great dramas of Africa: extremely rich areas are reduced to theaters of misery...."
-- Rafael Marques, Angolan journalist (July 2006)
"For each $9 of rough diamonds sold abroad, our customers, after cutting them, collect something like $56..."
-- Sandra Vasconcelos, Endiama (2005)
"We found the Kalahari clean. For years and years the Bushman have lived off the land....thousands of years...We did not buy the Kalahari. God gave it to us. He did not loan it to us. He gave it to us. Forever. I do not speak in anger, because I am not angry. But I want the freedom that we once had."
-- Bushman, Last Voice of an Ancient Tongue, Ulwazi Radio, 1997
The global diamond industry, led by giants like De Beers, RTZ, BHP Bililton, and Alrosa Co Ltd., Russia's state-owned diamond company, a handful of aggressive independents like Israel's Lev Leviev, Beny Steinmetz's BSG Group, and Daniel Gertier's DGI, a hundred other key "diamantaires" in New York, Ramat-Gan, Antwerp, Dubai, Mumbai, and Hong Kong, and leading "diamond industry banks" like ABN-AMRO, is not exactly renowned for its abiding concern about the welfare of the millions of diamond miners, cutters, polishers, and their families who live in developing countries.
But the industry -- whose top five corporate members still control more than 80 percent of the 160 million carets that are produced and sold each year into the $70 billlion world-wide retail diamond jewelry market -- certainly does have an undeniable long-standing concern for its own product's image.
Indeed, for decades, observers of the diamond industry have warned that it was teetering on the brink of a price collapse, because the industry's prosperity has been based on a combination of artificial demand and equally-artificial -- but often more unstable -- control over supply.
Most of the doomsayers have always predicted that the inevitable downfall, when it came, would arrive from the supply side, in the form of some major new diamond find that produced a flood of raw diamonds onto the global market.
The precise culprits, in turn, were expected to be artificial diamonds (in the 1960s and 1970s), "an avalanche of Australian diamonds" (in the 1980s,) and Russian diamonds (in the 1990s.)
This supply-side pessimism has lately been muted, given the failure of the earlier predictions and the fact that raw diamond prices -- though not, buyers beware, retail diamond resale prices!! -- have recently increased at a hefty 10-12 percent per year. There is also some evidence that really big "kimberlite mines" are becoming harder and harder to find.
However, there are still an awful lot of raw diamonds out there waiting to found, and one does still hear warnings about the long-overpredicted Malthusian glut, now from new sources like deep mines in Angola, Namibia's offshore fields, Gabon, Zambia, and the Canadian Northwest.
THE REAL THREAT?
Meanwhile, the other key threat to the industry's artificial price structure -- where retail prices are at least 7 to 10 times the cost of raw diamonds -- comes from the demand side. This is the concern that diamonds may lose the patina of glamour, rarity and respectability that the industry has carefully cultivated since the 1940s.
It is therefore not surprising that the industry has been deeply disturbed by the December 8, 2006, release of Blood Diamond, a block-buster Hollywood film that stars Leonard DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly, and Djinmon Hounsou.
While extraordinarily violent and a bit too long, the film is entertaining, mildly informative, and far from "foolish" -- the sniff that it received from one snide NYT reviewer -- who clearly knew nothing about the subject matter, other than, perhaps, the fact that the Times' own Fortunoff- and Tiffany-laden ad department didn't care for the film.
Indeed, this film does provide the most critical big-screen view to date of the diamond industry's sordid global track record, not only in Africa, but also in Brazil, India, Russia, and, indeed, Canada and Australia, where diamonds have often been used to finance civil wars, corruption, and environmental degradation, and indigenous peoples often been pushed aside to make room for the industry's priorities.
Surely the film is a
small offset to decades of the diamond cartel's shameless exploitation of Hollywood films, leading ladies like Marilyn Monroe, Elisabeth Taylor, and Lauren Bacall, and scores of supermodels, rock stars, and impresarios.
INDUSTRY WHITE WASH
Dismayed at the potential negative impact of the film ever since the industry first learned about Blood Diamond in late 2005, it is reportedly spending at least an extra $15 million on a PR campaign that responds to the film -- in addition to the $200 million per year that the World Diamond Council already spends on regular marketing.
For example, if you Google "blood diamonds," for example, you'll see that the industry has purchased top billing for its own version of the "facts" regarding this film. Always eager for a new marketing angle, some diamond merchants have also seized the opportunity to pitch their own product lines as "conflict diamond - free."
DEF JAM'S BLACK WASH
This shameless PR campaign has also included a "black wash" effort by the multimillionaire hip hop impresario Russell Simmons, who launched his own diamond jewelry line by way of the Simmons Jewelry Co. in 2004, in partnershp with long-time New York diamond dealer M. Fabrikant & Sons.
Simmons, who admits to "making a lot of money by selling diamonds," rushed back to New York on December 6 from a whirlwind nine-day private jet tour of diamond mines in South Africa and Botswana -- but, admittedly, not in conflict-ridden Sierre Leone, Angola, the Congo, the Ivory Coast or Chad.
Simmons was originally scheduled to travel with one of his latest flames, the 27-year old Czech supermodel and Fortunoff promoter, Petra Nemcova. But Petra reportedly preferred to stay home and accept a huge diamond engagement ring of her own from British singer/soldier James Blunt, whose 2005 pop hit "You're Beautiful" was recently nominated the "fourth most annoying thing in Britain," next to cold-callers, queue-jumpers, and caravans.
The timing of Simmons' trip, which he filmed for UUtube, just happened to coincide with the December 8 release of the Warner Brothers feature.
Upon his return, Simmons held a press conference, accompanied by his estranged wife Kimora Lee Simmons and Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Mohammed, a former civil rights activitist and fellow investor in the jewelry company who is perhaps best remembered for being fired as NAACP Director in 1994 after settling a costly sexual harassment suit, and for joining the Rev. Louis Farrakhan's Nation of islam. Simmons' astounding conclusion from his wonder-tour: "Bling isn't so bad."
Whatever the credibility of Simmons and his fellow instant experts, it was evidently not enough to save M. Fabricant & Sons, which filed for Chapter 11 in November.
THE GODS MUST (STILL) BE CRAZY
Simmons managed to tour a few major diamond mines on his African safari, but apparently he lacked time to examine the contentious land dispute between the Kalahari San Bushmen,
the members of one of Africa's oldest indigenous groups, and the Botswana
Government -- with the diamond industry's influence lurking right offstage.
In the 1990s, after diamond deposits were reportedly discovered on the Bushmen's traditional lands, the Botwana Government -- which owns 15 percent of De Beers, is a 50-50 partner with De Beers in the Debswana diamond venture, the largest diamond producer in Africa, and derives half its revenue from diamond mining -- has pressured the Bushmen to leave their tribal lands.
The methods used were not subtle. To force the Bushmen into resettlement camps outside the Reserve, the Botswana Government closed schools and clinics, cut off water supplies, and subjected members of the group to threats, beatings, and other forms of intimidation for hunting on their own land -- all of it ordained by F.G. Mogae, Botswana's President, who declared in February 2005 that he 'could not allow the Bushmen to return to the Kalahari." Those who have been resettled have been living in destitution, without jobs and little to do except drink. (See a recent BBC video on the subject.)
Thankfully, on December 13, 2006, Botswana's High Court ruled that in 2002, more than 1000 Bushmen had been illegally evicted by the Botswana Government from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, where they'd lived for 30,000 years.
The Botswana Attorney General has already attempted to attached strict conditions to the ruling, so this struggle is far from over. But at least the first prolonged legal battle has been won -- thanks to the determination of the Bushmen, public-spirited lawyers like Gordon Bennett, their legal counsel, courageous crusaders like Professor Kenneth Good, and NGOs like Survival International, which has supported the legal battle.
In the wake of this decision, as usual, the global diamond industry, led by De Beers, has denied that any responsibility whatsoever for the displacement of the Bushmen.
However, the fact is that De Beers and other companies has been prospecting actively in the Kalahari Reserve, especially around the Bushman community of Gope (see this video), where De Beers has falsely claimed that no Bushmen were living when it started mining. It has actively opposed recognizing the rights of indigeneous peoples in Africa. In 2002, at the time of the eviction, Debswana's Managing Director -- appointed by De Beers -- commented that "The government was justified in removing the Basarwa (Bushmen)….’.
De Beers' behavior in Botswana has so outraged activists that they have joined together with prominent actors like Julie Christie and several Nemcova-like supermodels who used to appear in De Beers ads, in an appeal for people to boycott the now-UK-based giant -- which has lately been trying to move downstream into retail diamonds.
However, De Beers is far from alone in this effort. Indeed, as has often been the case with "conflict diamonds," less well-known foreign companies have been permitted to do much of the nastier pioneering.
In Botswana's case, these have included Vancouver-based Motapa Diamonds and Isle of Jersey-based Petra Diamonds Ltd. both of which have have obtained licenses to explore and develop milliions of acres, including CKGR lands. Petra is not unfamiliar with "conflict diamonds;" it is perhaps best known for a failed 2000 attempt to invest in a $1 billion diamond project in the war-torn DR Congo, in which Zimbabwe's corrupt dicator, Robert Mugabe, reportedly held a 40 percent interest.
In the case of Botswana, in September 2005 Petra acquired the
country's largest single prospecting license -- covering 30,000 square
miles, nearly the size of Austria -- by purchasing Kalahari Diamonds Ltd, a company that was 20 percent owned by BHP Billiton and 10 percent by the World Bank/IFC
-- which apparently saw the sponsorship of CKGR mining as somehow
consistent with its own financial imperatives, if not its developmental
mission. (!!!). Petra has also licensed proprietary explorations
technology from BHP Billiton, and offered it development rights, a
front-runner for the Australian giant.
Meanwhile, at least 29 of the 239 Bushmen who filed the lawsuit have perished while living in settlement camps, waiting for the case to be decided, and many others are impoverished.
Perhaps the diamond industry's $15 million might be better spent simply helping these Bushmen return to their homes -- and also settling up with the Nama people in South Africa, the Intuit and Kree peoples in Canada, and the aborigines in Australia.
Meanwhile, as we'll examine in Part II, despite the "Kimberly Process" that was adopted by many -- but not all -- key diamond producers in 2003, the fact is that diamonds continue to pour out of conflict zones like the Congo, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast, providing the revenues that finance continuing bloodshed.
The industry's vaunted estimate that they account for just "1
percent" of total production is based on thin air -- there are so many loopholes
in the current transnational supply chain that there is just no way of
knowing. Of course, given the scale of the global industry, and the poverty of the countries involved, even a tiny percent of the global market can make a huge difference on the ground.
Furthermore, in cases like Angola, the Kimberly Process has provided an excuse for corrupt governments to team up with private security firms and diamond traders to crack down on independent alluvial miners.
Finally, the diamond industry still has much work to do on other fronts -- pollution, deforestation, and, most important, the task of creating a fairer division of the spoils, in an industry where the overwhelming share of value-added is still captured by just a handful of First World countries.
The objective here is not to kill the golden goose. In principal, the diamond industry should be able to reduce world inequality and poverty, since almost all retail buyers are relatively-affluent people in rich countries, while more than 80 percent of all retail diamonds come from poor countries.
But beyond eliminating traffic in "blood diamonds," however, we should also demand that this industry starts to redress its even more fundamental misbehaviors.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
ASSASSINATION POLITICS Learning the Lessons from Decades of "Conspiracies" James S. Henry
In the last few months we've had new evidence surfacing about old cases like RFK and JFK that have been unresolved for decades.
We also have many exciting new cases emerging from places like London, Beirut, Moscow, and Gaza -- cases that promise to be unresolved for decades to come.
However, there are some very important implications to be drawn from examining these political assassination cases side-by-side -- especially for
the bloodless abstractions put forth by the tiny, vocal group of unabashed neoimperialists at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Harvard Law School, the National Review, and the American Enterprise Institute who have been trying to rehabilitate assassination as an acceptable tool of US foreign policy.
In recent weeks we've been treated to a flurry of assassination news, including the dramatic polonium -210 poisoning of former KGB agent and Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London; the gangland-style slayings of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya and Andrei Kozlov, Deputy Governor of the Russian Central Bank, in Moscow; the fatal ambush of the Lebanese Christian Falangist leader Pierre Gemayel in Beirut; and UN approval for an international tribunal to pursue another Lebanese case, the February 2005 slaying of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
While players like the Russian mafia and other "private enemies" cannot be completely ruled out in these cases, it is suspected that most of them were "political assassinations," in the sense that the perpetrators were sponsored by hostile states or key factions within them, which were motivated by the desire to eliminate politically-influentlal enemies -- often across international borders.
In principle such political assassinations are to be distinguished from purely-terrorist attacks, as well as from attempts to eliminate "military" leaders -- for example, the June 2006 US Predator attack on Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the July 2006 explosion that killed the Chechnyan rebel Shamil Basayev, and Israel's innumerable targeted assassinations in the West Bank and Gaza.
In practice these distinctions often break down, given the fact that assassinations also terrorize, and that leaders like Basayev, Sheik Yassin, and Al-Zarqawi have also played important political roles in insurgent organizations.
But part of the price of being an insurgent from a state-less organization, rather than a conventional politician, journalist, agent of the state, or crusading bishop (Romero) is that one's enemies find it much more legally and socially acceptable, as well as more useful, to kill quite openly, and to take credit for the achievement.
This kind of official credit-taking rarely occurs for the type of cases cited earlier. Even if the targets happen to be corrupt politicians or blood-stained former KGB agents, they are deemed to be more "respectable" than the typical insurgent; indeed, conspiring to eliminate them is usually against the law. So responsibility must be hidden -- in many cases, for decades.
This brings us to the other recent events that have brought this subject back to the surface. These include the 43rd anniversary of the (by now faintly-observed) assassination of JFK on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, and the recent release of "Bobby," a feature film about events at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on RFK's last day, June 5, 1968.
They also include a striking news report that aired on BBC 2 on November 20, highlighting the new findings of filmmaker Shane O'Sullivan about the RFK assassination. According to O'Sullivan, a careful reexamination of photos taken of the crowd that fateful night at the Ambassador has disclosed the presence, in proximity, of at least three long-time CIA covert operatives who had already become notorious among JFK "assassination buffs" (we wear that label proudly) for other reasons. The men in question were not random associates -- they had all held senior positions in 1962-64 at JM/WAVE, the huge Miami CIA station that was heavily involved in anti-Castro plots and the recruitment of allies among Cuban exiles, US veterans, and the Mafia.
According to O'Sullivan, these were Gordon Campbell, the former Deputy Director of JM/WAVE; George Joannides, the former Director of Psychology Warfare at JM/WAVE; and most interesting of all, David Sanchez Morales, a senior assassinations and sabotage expert who also worked for the CIA in Venezuela, Uruguay, Laos, and Vietnam, and also reportedly developed a close relationship with Chicago mob boss John Rosseli. Roselli's body ended up in an oil drum off the coast of Miami, a week before he was supposed to testify before the House Select Committee on Assassination that was reinvestigating the JFK case.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
"SO MUCH FOR THE WALL...." Israel's Strategic Blunders, Round Two James S. Henry
Almost everyone except the bovine US President -- who also believes that US-backed forces are winning in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the "GWOT," despite mounting evidence to the contrary -- now acknowledges that Israel has suffered an important strategic setback at the hands of Hezbollah.
Indeed, the "soul-searchers" reportedly include a majority of Israelis, many members of the IDF, leading US and Israeli security analysts, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert himself. As one leading Israeli journalist put it today, "This is not merely a military defeat. This is a strategic failure whose far-reaching consequences are still not clear."
☮ Lessons (Re-) Learned?
In hindsight, both Israel and the US should now (re)-learn some very costly lessons about the risks of taking on a highly-motivated, well-trained and adequately-armed guerilla army on its own turf. They also have now an opportunity to remember some important lessons about the limitations of purely-military solutions to such conflicts.
▣ As in the case of the US strategic bombing campaign in Vietnam, Nato's air war in Kosovo (1999), and, indeed, the Allied air war against the Nazis during World War II, Israel's month-long air war against Hezbollah has largely failed to accomplish its strategic objectives. In particular, Hezbollah's ability launch dozens of missiles into northern Israel went utterly unscathed, with the largest single number of missles launched on August 12, the day before the ceasefire.
▣ Given the elaborate ground defenses, arsenal, and trained force that Hezbollah was able to pre-position in South Lebanon, its ground forces also avoided the knock-out blow that Israel and Washington had hoped for.
▣ By far the most effective "weapons" on the ground were not Iranian-supplied long-range missiles, drones, cruise missiles, or even Katushyas, but a combination of disciplined ccombat training and tactics, heavy investments in combat engineering, remote sensing, and other defensive equipment, and sophisticated anti-tank missiles, many of which appear to have been supplied by Russia, by way of Iran and Syria.
▣ On the other hand, proponents of anti-missile defense systems, "smart bombs," 60-ton Merkava tanks, border walls/electronic fences, and "infowar" clearly have some work to do. None of these systems performed very well for Israel during this conflict.
▣ The widespread bombing campaign exacted a horrific price from Lebanon's civilian population, uniting most political factions within Lebanon against Israel rather than against Hezbollah, at least temporarily.
▣ Only part of this campaign's horrific civilian toll in Lebanon can be explained by Hezbollah's propensity to "swim" in the civilian sea -- part was simply due to targeting mistakes on made by the Israeli Air Force and its intelligence sources, and part was due to deliberate choices made to go after "dual use" targets, including oil refineries, bridges, power plants, and transportation vehicles.
▣ The Summer War has also greatly boosted political support for Hezbollah on the "Arab street" throughout the Middle East, converting initial criticisms by the Saudis, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and other conservative regimes into widespread expressions of support. We suspect that much of this official support is insincere, but it probably reflects a genuine fear that these regimes have of their own people.
▣ Syria, which had been under strong political pressure to continue its detachment from Lebanon, has been "reaccredited" by Israel's excesses during the conflict -- able to assume the self-righteous role of Lebanon's protector against foreign aggression. On the other hand, the Baathist regime may also now be in a stronger negotiating position with respect to the West.
Iran's hardcore anti-reformers
have so far only been strengthened by Hezbollah's performance to date
in this conflict, and by Israel's costly tactics. Nor were they
discouraged from pursuing their nuclear development program. Their only real challenge now will be to replenish Hezbollah's sorely-depleted missile arsenal, and to find ways around the "ceasefire's" prohibition on Hezbollah repositioning.
▣ Most important, Hezbollah's ability to define victory as "not losing" against one of the world's most powerful armies has certainly not encouraged other radical groups around the planet to lay down their arms and pursue peaceful alternatives.
▣ For every Hezbollah fighter that was killed by the Israelis in the last month, the heavy bombing campaign probably generated several new recruits -- not only in Lebanon, but also in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kashmir, and the West Bank.
- In short, as a result of this strategic setback, Condi Rice's Panglossian "birth pangs of democracy" are likely to prove more prolonged and painful than ever.
WAS THERE ANY ALTERNATIVE?
▣ At a tactical level, clearly Israel and the US both need to do much work to do regarding the failures of their intelligence operations
with respect to Hezbollah's arsenal and military preparations. We can
add this to the lengthy list of their other intelligence failures in
the last decade alone.
▣ The preference for high-altitude offensive bombing, naval shelling, and open-field tank/ heavy vehicle warfare over hard-slog ground offensives also needs to be reexamined. To the extent that this reflects a preference for arms-length "hi-tech warfare," and a reluctance to sacrifice infantry for the sake of defeating dedicated militants like Hezbollah, this may indeed rise to the level of the same "morale/ will to die" handicap that has crippled other many colonial armies, in places like Vietnam, Algeria, China, and (long ago) the US itself.
▣ At a strategic level, the notion that the "enemy" simply consists of a finite stock of "fanatical terrorists," motivated primarily by "Islamo-fascist" dogma, or -- as Benjamin Netanyahu put it last week -- "12th century religious doctrines," is simple-minded and unhelpful. Among other things, they were clearly very professional, highly-trained soldiers. Unless military planners come to appreciate the political implications of what they do, and the real nature of their enemies, they may lose the war both on and off the battlefield.
▣ Another key point here is that the "Islamofascist" categorization, and the tendency to lump all "Islamic radicals" and "terrorists" together, has blinded both the US and Israel crucial schisms -- for example, the Alawite-Sunni rivalries that have been so important in Syria, Shiite-Sunni rivalries in Iraq, Bahrain, and Lebanon, and secular - religious rivalries in Palestinine.
▣ True, it is now very late in the day, and the long-term failure of Israel and its enemies in the region to make any progress at the bargaining table may indeed mean that this overall story is headed for a terrible climax.
From this angle, however, perhaps the one good thing about this strategic disaster is that it may remind Israel and the US that, whatever the final outcome of any attempt to solve the problems of the Middle East by military means, it will not be cheap, easy, or devoid of surprises.
- (c) JSH, SubmergingMarkets, 2006
Friday, June 24, 2005
GREEN-'HOUSING' GAZANS James S. Henry and Andrew Hellman
The US government, the Palestinians, and indeed most Israelis are delighted that the Sharon Government has finally stood up to some settler extremists, and is still on track to pull out of the Gaza Strip by mid-August.
However, we should all pay closer attention to the precise way that the Israelis are leaving. There appear to be several missed opportunities to leave a much healthier economic base for Gaza's 1.4 million Palestinians when the Israelis leave-- a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for eventual peace.
In particular, Israel is now on a path to dismantle or destroy over 1500 homes and 1000 acres of greenhouses, which already provide thousands of jobs for Palestinians, and might provide thousands more....
At current course and speed, Israel may be missing a huge opportunity to help Gaza become something more than – in the words of Muhammad Dahlan, the Palestinian disengagement coordinator – "a giant prison camp," with 35 percent unemployment, 77 percent poverty, a youthful population whose median age is 16, no seaport, a unusable airport, and few visible means of support other than foreign aid, rock-throwing, and amateur rocket-building.
No wonder that Hamas has been able to recruit a huge base of
supporters there. It won seven out of ten local council seats in Gaza's municipal elections last December, and would likely have soundly defeated Mahmoud
Abbas' Fatah Party in the Palestinian parliamentary elections that were
originally scheduled for July 17th, but were postponed by Abbas indefinitely in
One missed opportunity is housing. At a recent press conference, Secretary of State Rice stated that 1,600 Israeli settler’s houses will be destroyed. The official rationale is that such single-family homes are not economically viable for the Palestinians in Gaza.
In reality, however, that rationale was just for public consumption, insisted upon by the Sharon Government for PR purposes. With more than 1 million Gazans to consider, surely there are of course quite a few elderly couples, young couples, and smaller families who might have used the houses. They also have other potential uses -- business and government offices, clinics, even guest houses for visiting tourists, if the area ever stabilized.
The truth is that the houses will be destroyed for much less defensible reasons. First, it is widely viewed as one of the easiest ways to insure that the 8,500 Israeli settlers actually leave once and for all.
Only 284 families had signed up for compensation under the Evacuation Compensation Law, and officials are expecting more violence between Israelis and Palestinians as the August 15th disengagement approaches.
From Israeli's standpoint, the destruction also prevents the politically dangerous image of victorious Palestinians waving Hamas flags on the roofs of former settler's homes, celebrating another Lebanon-like eviction.
Greenhouses could be an even more important missed opportunity. Currently, there are about 1000 acres of Israeli-owned state-of-the-art greenhouses in Gaza. They are worth up to $80 million and employ about 3,500 Palestinians. The fruits and vegetables that they produce account for 15% of Israel’s agricultural exports, mainly to Europe. According to agricultural experts, they might potentially provide as many as 7,000 regular jobs, supporting, in turn, up to 30,000, and perhaps stimulating the growth of related industries.
In short, figuring out a way to keep the greenhouses going could provide stable jobs and incomes for tens of thousands of Gazans, continued good business for Israel, and also offer an opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to show a little badly-needed cooperative spirit.
However, while the fate of these greenhouses is still being negotiated, and the idea of preserving them has some advocates, the outlook for them at this late date is grim.
According to two Israeli sources in a position to know, the most likely scenario is for the greenhouses to be dismantled and relocated elsewhere, or just demolished and replaced with new greenhouses at new settlements in Nitzanim, just 12 miles from Gaza.
These sources mentioned several key obstacles to a Gaza greenhouse idea.
First, with no seaport and Israel unwilling to permit Gaza to have air rights, and no highway to the West Bank, the perishable goods produced in these greenhouses could not reach the international market unless other transport arrangements are made.
Second, Israel's settler certainly have no good will toward the Gazans, and Israel's agro-businesses don't want to, in effect, put the Palestinians into business to compete with them. A deal would have to be worked out for joint marketing and profit sharing, as well as compensation for the value of the greenhouses. Presumably the World Bank or USAID might be willing to finance such a solution, as they've indicated. Indeed, James Wolfensohn, former World Bank President and Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement, has evidently been trying to work out such a solution. The Dutch Government has also offered to buy them for the Palestinians.
More generally, there is no question that Israelis and Palestinians have little love lost for each other. Right now the Israeli Government is focused on leaving as quickly and safely as possible, and the Palestinians are focused on just having them go. Left to their own devices, there will be no "win-win" solution.
Thursday, September 16, 2004
Democracy in America and Elsewhere: Part II: Recent Global Trends Toward Democracy
Of course we are also very proud of our free markets, our relative affluence, and our occasional ambitions -- at the moment perhaps a bit muted -- to provide equal opportunities for all our citizens.
However, when we try to market our country’s best features to the rest of the world, or teach our children to be proud of their country, it is not the economy that we brag about.
Even self-styled “conservatives” usually lead, not with glowing descriptions of perfect markets and opportunities for unlimited private gain, but with our supposedly distinctive commitment to defending and expanding political democracy and human rights at home and abroad.
Indeed, one of the most important official justifications for recent US forays into the Middle East, as well as our many other foreign interventions, has been to help bring “democracy” to supposedly backward, undemocratic societies like Iraq and Afghanistan (…and before that, Haiti, Colombia, Panama, Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Guyana, Guatemala, Iran, Laos, Vietnam, the Philippines, etc. etc. etc.)
Even though, time and again, this noble commitment has turned out to be pure rhetoric, it provides such an elastic cover story for all our many transgressions that it keeps on being recycled, over and over and over again.
Whatever the truth about US motives for such interventions, it may come as a surprise to learn that in the last two decades, the United States itself has actually fallen behind the rest of the democratic world in terms of “best democratic practices” and the overall representativeness of our own domestic political institutions.
Meanwhile, many developing countries have recently been making very strong progress toward representative democracy, without much help from us.
Indeed, in some cases, like South Africa, this progress was made in the face of opposition from many of the very same neoimperialists who have lately voiced so much concern about transplanting democracy to the Middle East.
While we have been resting on our democratic laurels, or even slipping backwards, the fact is that emerging democracies like Brazil, India, and South Africa, as well as many of our First World peers, have been adopting procedures for electing governments that are much more democratic at almost every stage of the electoral process than those found in the US.
The institutions they have been developing include such bedrock elements of electoral democracy as the rules for:
Of course effective democracy has many other crucial elements beside electoral processes alone. These include (1) the relative influence of legislative, executive, and judicial branches; (2) the concrete opportunities that ordinary citizens have -- as compared with highly-organized special interests and professional lobbyists -- to influence government decisions between elections; (3) the respective influence of private interests, religious groups, and the state; (4) the degree to which the rule of law prevails over corruption and "insider" interests; and (5) the overall degree of political consciousness and know-how.
However, fair and open electoral processes are clearly a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for effective democracy -- all these other elements simply cannot make up for their absence.
We hope that increasing the recognition of this “electoral democracy gap” between the US and the rest of the democratic world will be helpful in several ways:
This used to be much easier than it is now. As of the early 1970s, there were only about 40 countries that qualified as “representative democracies,” and most were First World countries.
Since then, however, there has been a real flowering of democratic institutions in the developing world. This was partly due to the collapse of the Soviet Empire in the late 1980s. But many more people were in fact “liberated” by the Third World debt crisis, which undermined corrupt, dictatorial regimes all over the globe, from Argentina, Brazil, and Chile to Indonesia, the Philippines, South Africa, and Zaire.
Voting in the Philippines, 2004
Assessments of the degree of “freedom” of individual regimes by organizations like Freedom House or the UN Development Program’s Human Development Indicators, are notoriously subjective. However, while there is plenty of room for disagreement about specific countries, there is little disagreement on the overall trend. (See Table 3.)
By 2004, about 60 percent, or 119, of the nearly 200 countries on the planet could be described as “electoral democracies,” compared with less than one-third in the early 1970s. Another 25-30 percent have made significant progress toward political freedom.
Voting in South Africa, 1994
Indeed, notwithstanding our present challenges in Iraq and Afghanistan, from the standpoint of global democracy, this has been a banner year. As of September 2004, 32 countries had already held nationwide elections or referenda, with 886 million people voting. (See Table 4.) By the end of 2004, another 33 countries will join the US in doing so – nearly three times as many national elections as were held each year, on average, in the 1970s.
All told, this year, more than 1.7 billion adults – 42 percent of the world’s voter-age population -- will be eligible to vote in national elections, and more than 1.1 billion will probably vote. That that will make American voters less than 10 percent of the global electorate.
Of course, some of these elections will be held in countries where democratic institutions and civil liberties are still highly imperfect. And some developing countries like Russia and Venezuela have recently been struggling to find a balance between democracy and national leadership, partly to undo the effects of neoliberal policies in the 1990s, or in response to terrorist threats.
But the good news is that democracy is clearly not a “luxury good.” The demand for it is very strong even in low-income countries like Bolivia, Bangladesh, Mozambique, Guatemala, and Botswana. And while self-anointed dictators, military rulers, and one-party elites or theocracies are still clinging to power in 50-60 countries that have more than 2.4 billion residents, such regimes are more and more anachronistic. (See Table 5.)
Interestingly, Asian dictatorships, especially China and Vietnam, now account for more than three-fifths of the portion of the world’s population that still lives under authoritarian rule. While several Islamic countries appear on the list of authoritarian countries, they account for just one fifth of the total. Furthermore, by far the most important ones happen to be close US “allies” like Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.
Evidently the simple-minded neoconservative “clash of cultures” model, which pits supposedly democratic, pluralist societies against an imaginary Islamic bloc, doesn’t have much explanatory power.
Furthermore, the US also clearly faces some very tough choices, if it is really serious about promoting non-discriminatory, secular democratic states that honor the separation between church and state among its Islamic allies, as well as in Palestine, and, for that matter, Israel.
Voting in East Timor. 2001
A more encouraging point is that many developing countries are already providing useful lessons in democratization. Indeed, as we will see in Part III of this series, there is much to learn from the experiences of new democracies like Brazil and South Africa.
These countries are undertaking bold experiments with measures like free air time for candidates, “registration-free” voting, direct Presidential elections, electronic voting, proportional representation, and the public finance of campaigns. While not all these experiments have worked out perfectly, the fact these countries have already demonstrated a capacity to innovate in “democratic design” is very encouraging.
Of course there is a long-standing tension between the US dedication to Third World democracy and its tolerance for the independence that democratic nationalism often brings. By renewing and deepening our own commitment to democracy at home, we will also protect it abroad -- even though (as in Venezuela, Russia, Iran, and perhaps eventually also Iraq) it does not always produce governments that we agree with.