Archive for January, 2012

The recent violence (in South Sudan) serves as a test for the United States and the United Nations, both of which have worked hard to build the governing capacity of the world’s newest country. Washington was the key broker behind the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that led to the eventual independence of the south; its credibility is on the line if South Sudan falls into chaos. A stable South Sudan, by contrast, could boost the UN and its peacekeeping efforts at a time when many in Washington and on the U.S. campaign trail are griping about the alleged ineffectiveness of the UN.

Read the full article here:


In case you haven’t noticed, it’s an election year and even though we are roughly 11 months removed from “Decision 2012” the current circus that is the Republican Primaries ensures that we will pay absolutely no attention to anything other than personal attacks and meaningless debates for the next year. As if the United States isn’t insular enough, we will now turn our attention to a bunch of half-baked tax reform schemes, climate change denial, accusations over past business and governance records, and sensationalized television ads.  We see this charade every four years, but still haven’t wised up.

At least this time around there isn’t a veteran running for office so we can be spared the debate over whether said candidate was an actual war hero or not(remember 2004).

So here is a little run-down of what we will increasingly not pay attention too:

Our unsettling conflict with Iran

That we were preparing for a third war during the Bush administration was really no surprise, but that rhetoric during our current administration is beginning to mirror its predecessor is truly unsettling. Being on the brink of war requires indefatigable attention from civil society, the press, and the public in order to make sure our elected leaders make the right decisions.

Now is not the time for sideshows.

Violence in Africa (we never really paid attention to this anyway)

The world’s newest independent nation of South Sudan has plunged into a “vortex of violence” due to tribal tensions that were kept under wraps during the country’s fight for independence, but have now boiled to the surface.

As human beings, we have a moral responsibility to help the lowest and the least, but since it seems as if decreasing numbers of Americans share this belief, the civilians in South Sudan will probably be left to their own devices.

The Purchasing of Congress (This obviously occurred long ago, but the fact that it continues should still upset us)

According to the Guardian:

“New analysis of oil industry contributions to members of Congress has revealed the level of the oil lobby’s financial firepower that Barack Obama can expect to face in the November elections if he refuses to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.”

Do you ever feel like a crazy person because no one else seems to be bothered by something you find so alarming? Please see exhibit A above.

Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir recently traveled to neighboring Libya to offer some sagely advice to the National Transitional Council (NTC), the apparent “only legitimate body representing the people of Libya.”  According to Bashir, Libya needs to be on the watch for remaining elements of the Qaddafi regime and should establish executive and legislative institutions. Bashir also offered assistance in merging former rebels into the country’s national army, saying “we have an experience in integrating rebels in a national army.”

Did we wake up in an episode of the Twilight Zone?

Is this some kind of sick joke?

Bashir, who seized power in a coup in 1989, certainly has experience with militias; unfortunately it’s with arming them.

For decades, the Sudanese government, under Bashir’s leadership, has armed and supported militias to fight in its bloody southern civil war. Now that that war has ended, allegations persist over alleged Sudanese support of rebels in the newly independent republic of South Sudan. Sudan also permitted the training of thousands of Osama Bin Laden’s mujahidin in the mid-1990s. Earlier, the Bashir government supported rebellions in Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. Most regrettable is Sudan’s support for the deplorable Lord’s Resistance Army still plaguing Uganda to this day.

Maybe Libya’s new leadership just missed all of this.

Could they possibly have missed what happened in Darfur?

In case anyone else did, in 2002 Khartoum started arming militias in a local struggle between Arab pastoralists and African agriculturalists in the country’s Darfur region. When rebels started fighting against the government much in the way southern rebels had done in the past, the government armed and supported the infamous Janjaweed militia. The Janjaweed subsequently murdered, raped, and pillaged at will.

The new Libyan leadership must learn proper governance and faces challenges unique to those faced by almost every other country in the world. To seek advice from a neighbor that has shared challenges and a shared history is understandable, but this is not the administration that the NTC should be emulating. The international community must overshadow Bashir’s offers of help by offering substitute assistance and by pointing out that taking advice from one of the world’s most notorious war criminals will not teach them how to build a stable democracy.

Hopefully this episode of the Twilight Zone will end shortly.

Latin America seems to be the region of the world most neglected by American mainstream news media and at times by American foreign policy. Without the seeming perpetual state of crisis of Africa, or the economic importance of Asia or Europe (though Latin America is catching up and increasing in its economic importance) it appears like both talking heads and policy makers have forgotten this part of the world exists at all. As if North America is the only America.

Why should we pay attention?

Generally, it’s worth paying attention to events in all parts of the world so that we can speak out intelligently when something is going wrong. If we pay attention all the time, we have a more enlightened view than if we pay attention only when a crisis is occurring.

Specifically, governments in Latin America, particularly those in the Amazon, are on the front lines in the debate between economic development and environmental conservation. Seeing how governments and societies reconcile these two interests may give us an idea of how other countries will face similar problems. Who knows, we may even get some good (or bad) ideas ourselves. Given the current domestic debate in the U.S. over the construction of the Keystone XL Tar Sands Oil Pipeline, we may even see some parallel conflicts.

Many parts of Latin America are rapidly breaking the chains of poverty. Brazil for example has seen over 40 million people move out of extreme poverty over the last 20 years.  While the rest of the world still seems to be playing economic freeze-tag, projections show that growth will continue for our southern neighbors in 2012.

This is undisputable good news.

However it has also been said that the Amazon rainforest loses an area of land equivalent to the size of New Jersey each year. Not only does this result in the loss of unique species and ecosystems, but it also threatens marginalized indigenous communities. Also, as trees take in Carbon Dioxide, the Amazon is one of the earth’s last remaining defenses against the scourge of climate change. Latin American leaders are often also the ones leading the charge against developed nations in the struggle to limit the impact of climate change. They often charge that they should not have to constrain their own economic growth because of damage done mostly by developed countries.

The cause of this destruction is in part the area’s economic growth. Increased infrastructure and the logging industry are two key variables in the negative relationship between economic growth and environmental conservation.

Bolivia is quickly becoming a key flash point in the debate between environmental conservation and economic development.  This South American country made a news splash this spring with the passage of the Law of Mother Earth, which enumerates the rights of the earth as well as the responsibilities of individuals and the government to protect it. Though the legislation is vague and appears to be more of a message than an act of governance, it is a first step towards establishing rights something people around the world claim is continuously under attack.

Bolivian leaders, aside from attempting to protect their country from climate change, also face the challenge of lifting their society out of poverty. The tension between these two national interests was apparent in a recent debate over a proposed road through the Amazon, where police violently suppressed protests. Bolivian President Evo Morales also recently announced hopes to construct a railway that would run from Puerto Suarez, on Bolivia’s border with Brazil, to the Pacific port of Ilo in Peru. While protests have yet to erupt around the rail line, this is one more habitually neglected story that we should be paying attention to.

Reconciling economic development and environmental conservation is a global dilemma, one that the Obama administration is currently dealing with on the Keystone XL issue and it would behoove us to pay attention to other countries’ similar struggles.