Friday, November 30, 2007

TRADE: Blood Diamonds No Longer Congo-Brazzaville's Best Friend

TRADE: Blood Diamonds No Longer Congo-Brazzaville's Best Friend

By Michael Deibert

Inter Press Service

PARIS, Nov 30, 2007 (IPS) - The announcement that the Republic of the Congo, or Congo-Brazzaville, has been readmitted to the Kimberley Process, which aims to stem the flow of conflict diamonds, marks a breakthrough.

Congo-Brazzaville was expelled from the-then year-old process in 2004 for exporting diamonds from its war-wracked neighbour, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and falsifying certificates of origin.

''Congo-Brazzaville comes back now after a very serious domestic effort to put their house in order and to get their domestic systems to the level required,'' Karel Kovanda, chairperson of the Kimberly Process secretariat, told IPS. ''It was quite an emotional moment. We're always happy to have new people (come on board the Kimberley Process).''

Congo-Brazzaville's fate is just the latest example of the enforcement procedure which gets its name from the South African city where one of the first meetings was held on stemming the flow of diamonds used by rebel armies or other groups to fund conflict.

Read the full article here.

FRANCE: Troubled Suburbs Erupt Again

FRANCE: Troubled Suburbs Erupt Again

By Michael Deibert

Inter Press Service

VILLIERS-LE-BEL, France, Nov 29, 2007 (IPS) - The police station is a smouldering abandoned ruin, its roof gone, its walls charred black, and tiles scattered about its courtyard. From behind its locked gates the pungent stench of burned wood and plastic is carried on the wind into the street.

The commissariat of this town 10 miles north of Paris was ransacked and burned Sunday by rioters enraged by the deaths of two teenagers -- killed when the motorbike they were driving collided with a police cruiser.

Police say that they aided the two youths -- neither of whom was said to be wearing a crash helmet -- while some local residents maintain that police are at fault for leaving the scene before treating the boys. The boys have been identified as Laramy, 16, and Moushim, 15.

Pitched battles between police firing rubber bullets and tear gas, and masked and hooded rioters attacking with Molotov cocktails, bottles, and -- in a potentially lethal escalation of force -- firearms, continued Monday night.

According to police officials, by Tuesday morning over 80 officers had been injured -- some seriously -- and at least 63 vehicles in Villiers-le-Bel and neighbouring communities had been set aflame.

Residents have been left wondering whether there would be a repeat of the riots that shook the nation for weeks almost exactly two years ago.

"The commissariat was burned on the first night of the disturbances," Chanay Mahalinsnam, a Sri Lankan immigrant who runs the small Ocean Tropical supermarket just up the street from the destroyed building, told IPS.

Read the full article here.

Update on Riots in France

Update on Riots in France

The Leonard Lopate Show, WNYC

After two nights of deadly rioting in Paris’s suburbs earlier this week, the situation seems to have calmed down for now. Michael Deibert, Paris correspondent for the Inter Press Service, tells us more about what caused the riots, and whether we can expect more.

Listen to the full interview here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Riots Rage in Paris Suburb After Police Collision

Riots Rage in Paris Suburb After Police Collision

All Things Considered, November 27, 2007 · Riots in the Paris suburb of Villiers-le-Bel continue Tuesday, following the death Sunday of two teenagers in a collision with police. Robert Siegel talks with Michael Deibert, Paris correspondent for the Inter Press Service, who says there are reports that the violence now is as bad as the riots of 2005.

Listen to the interview here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The flames of Villiers-le-Bel

There are sometimes in life when you would rather be proved wrong.

In September, for the Inter Press Service, I penned an article examining the state of the banlieues, as the impoverished suburbs that ring many French cities are known, two years after the deaths of two youths, Bouna Traore and Zyed Benna, electrocuted while trying to hide from the police. Following their deaths, rioting erupted around France that resulted in the torching of 9,000 cars and dozens of buildings, injuries to 130 police and firefighters, the arrests of nearly 2,900 people and the murder of retiree Jean-Jacques Le Chenadec, beaten to death by a hooded rioter after attempting to put out a fire near his home in a suburb north of Paris.

I visited the banlieue of Clinchy-sous-Bois, where Traore and Benna died and where the riots began, looking for evidence that the French governments of Jacques Chirac (in power at the time of the disturbances) and Nicolas Sarkozy (which took power in June) had taken any steps to address some of the stated causes of the social explosion, including dismal community-police relations and unemployment hovering around 20 percent, double the national average (the figure for 21-29-year-olds stands at more than 30 percent). I spoke to local residents, as well as to Fatima Hani and Mehdi Bigaderne of the Association Collectif Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, Ensemble (ACLEFEU), a community group formed in the wake of the 2005 unrest, and whose name is a pun on the phrase “enough fire.”

"The problems are just the same," Bigaderne told me at the time. "We see the same comportment of the police, the same discrimination, nothing has changed. The relations between the police and the citizens continue to be very, very negative. The big questions -- the question of work, the question of housing, the question of discrimination -- are still with us."

Now, following the death of two teenagers whose motorbike collided with a police car in the banlieue of Villiers-le-Bel, the days of violence appear to have returned. Last night, for the second night in a row since the accident occurred on Sunday, police battled hundreds of rioters, the sides squaring off with rubber bullets and tear gas, and petrol bombs, bottles filled with acid and baseball bats, respectively.

Nothing can excuse random and wanton violence such as the type that some of those taking to the streets in Villiers-le-Bel have engaged in, injuring over 50 police officers and burning automobiles that working people save for years to afford, buses which take them to their jobs and shops where they buy the necessities of life. But, in my travels around the world I am convinced that there is no more potentially lethal cocktail than that of large numbers of idle young men, without work or hope for the future. In Haiti and Jamaica, I have watched them be recruited as armed enforces by cynical politicians. In Guatemala and El Salvador, I have seen them seduced in the life of the maras, as the gangs in the region are known. In Brasil, I have seen them recruited from lives of dead-end poverty in the favelas into the three major drug cartels there, which provide a greater immediate financial reward but a perilously short lifespan. The conditions in France are far less desperate than in those places, but the sense of oppressive exclusion and isolation in the banlieues is a physical as well as psychological one. Cut off from the rest of France by poor transportation networks and badly served by governments that seem content to adopt an out-of-sight, out-of-mind policy, the banlieues only figure in the national discourse in times of trouble, such as the last two days.

Having previously denounced delinquents in the suburbs as racaille (rabble), and vowing to clean them out with a kärcher (a high-pressure hose), France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, came to office promising reforms that would address the joblessness and discrimination that many see as the root of the malaise, and is supposedly set to outline a plan to address this inequity next month. But so far, there has been precious little change in the lives of the people, particularly the youth, in France’s suburbs. They remain as excluded as ever from the life of wider French society and little, if any, attempt to ameliorate their situation has been evident in my visits to the neighborhoods since Sarkozy took office. Speaking to reporters on a state visit to China, Sarkozy asked that "all sides to calm down and for the judiciary to decide who bears responsibility" for the incident involving the teenagers.

Staggering from crisis to crisis, which characterized the administration of Sarkozy’s predecessor Jacques Chirac, is not a policy. As long as the underlying causes of idleness and hopelessness remain, all the mano firma rhetoric in the world will only serve as an imprecise extinguisher of scattered embers of a larger fire. If the French government and, more broadly, France’s political class as whole, is serious about addressing the problems of the banlieues, now, not tomorrow and not next year, is the time for them to put aside their solipsistic, internecine quarrels and focus squarely on bringing job opportunities to and ending the isolation of the suburbs. Otherwise France will be destined to repeat this destructive dance time and again, the stakes and the damage and the mistrust growing more grave and dire all the while.

The vast majority of people in the banlieues, the non-violent people who struggle daily to make ends meet and to find work and to support their families, deserve better than France’s politicians have given them thus far. Likewise, France’s politicians can no longer claims that they are ignorant of the need for action. I hope there is no need for any more wake up calls.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Homage to Catalunya

Having just stepped off the plane in Paris from several days spent visiting my old reporting buddy Gerry Hadden and his family in Barcelona, I was yet again impressed by the artistic brilliance, creative energy and general welcoming friendliness that infuses both the Catalan and “foreign” population of this area of Spain. The city that was passionately Republican and so opposed to Franco’s fascist forces that it did not yield to the rightist onslaught until early 1939 during Spain's Civil War, also served as fertile ground for artistic and intellectual endeavor, a tradition that counties to this day.

Over the years, Catalunya nurtured such talents as that of the surrealist artists Salvador Dalí (born in Figueres in 1904) and Joan Miró (born in Barcelona eleven years earlier), and the experience of fighting there alongside the Republican forces (during which he was shot in the neck and nearly killed) proved deeply influential to the British author George Orwell, whose memoir of that time, Homage to Catalonia, is among his most moving works ( I opt for the traditional Catalan here, as opposed to Spanish, spelling, no disrespect to Orwell). And even the quintessentially modern Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, whose movies often seem to run on the pulse and throb of Madrid, chose Barcelona as the setting for what I think is his greatest film, Todo sobre mi madre.

It is a vibrancy that remains, in neighborhoods such as Gràcia and Poble Sec, and in institutions such as the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Barcelona, where I went to peruse an exhibition that included among its components, screenings of Jordi Colomer’s disorienting film Les Jumelles and the Italian Pier Paolo Pasolini’s deeply strange Che cose sono le nuvole? Something of the winding, narrow streets and bright plazas of the old city reminded one of similar spaces in the Americas, including Santo Domingo, the city in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean with which I am most familiar. If one wonders through them long enough, sooner or later one arrives at a place in the Barrio Gotico bearing the name Plaza George Orwell, in tribute to the author.

It was my second visit there, and I could easily get used to it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Dispatch from Brussels

Having just returned from an enjoyable weekend of festivities in Brussels, it was interesting to see how the new Europe’s political capital is faring these days. The headquarters of both the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Belgian capital, despite its small size, fairly drips with internationalism and affluence, a far cry from the relatively provincial backwater it was only twenty years ago. Coffee shops, bars and restaurants bustle with patrons and, even on chill November days, its Grand Place and Jardin Botanique still exhibit so small charm.

But all is not well in the union of Dutch-speaking Flanders (in the north) and French-speaking Wallonia (in the south). The country has been without a government since June, with the former Minister-President of Flanders Yves Leterme, the favorite to be Belgium’s next Prime Minister, flirting with the idea of splitting up the country and an ill-advised recent editorial in The Economist suggesting the same thing. Unemployment in Wallonia is some three times higher than in Flanders though Brussels itself, somewhat schizophrenically, is a French-lingua franca enclave surrounded by Flemish areas. After being the subject of many jokes and guffawing, the political impasse has taken on something of a creepy ethnic-purity tinge, with Flemish politicians seeking to do away with the bilingual rights of some 150,000 French-speakers who live in the Brussels suburbs in what is otherwise a “Dutch” region. Yesterday, tens of thousands of (mostly French-speaking) Belgians rallied in the capital to urge a political solution and the preservation of a unified state.

Belgium, despite its sleepy reputation, is no stranger to serpentine, convoluted politics. One cannot forget the it was from Brussels that the world witnessed the creation of the Congo Free State, the corporate puppet-state that Belgium’s King Leopold II, with government support, ruled over with intense brutality (though never setting foot in it) for nearly 25 years in the late 1880s and early 1900s, setting that stage for the country’s star-crossed and tragic modern history. Today things are less bloody, but still quite complex. When a Flemish Belgian tried to explain the country’s electoral system to me, I, who report on international politics for a living, have to confess to having been totally and utterly lost and befuddled.

Meanwhile, back in Paris, we greet the new week with a sixth day of strikes by transport unions protesting French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s to reform their outlandishly lavish benefits and retirement packages. Though I have been harshly critical of Sarkozy’s policies vis-à-vis immigration, I have been unimpressed by the arguments of the striking unions, and by the naked self-interest of their position versus workers in other sectors around the country. Speaking with French people in my working-class neighborhood, it sounds like this is a showdown that the French president may very likely win.

Friday, November 16, 2007

In Ivory Coast, a Fragile Peace Is Framed by Promises Unfulfilled

In Ivory Coast, a Fragile Peace Is Framed by Promises Unfulfilled

By Michael Deibert
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, November 16, 2007; A27

BOUAKE, Ivory Coast -- Manning a rebel roadblock leading into this dusty, sunbaked city, Kone Omar spoke wearily of a life at war.

"We hope things improve and the peace settles all over the country," the 26-year-old combatant said, referring to an eight-month-old power-sharing agreement between the Forces Nouvelles, or New Forces, rebel army and the government of Ivory Coast. "I didn't join this army to fight forever."

Bouake, the country's second-largest city, sprawled northward behind him, a collection of low-slung buildings, cacophonous traffic and spit-and-polish rebel soldiers who patrol the streets.

About 200 miles south, the country's economic capital, Abidjan, stands in glossy contrast, with its high-rise buildings and crisscrossing modern highways. On the busy streets there, pro-government militias periodically violently harass opponents of President Laurent Gbagbo.

Five years ago, Ivory Coast was split in half when rebels seized the northern part of the country in a brief but bloody civil war.

Both sides touted the March agreement as the best chance for peace in a conflict littered with broken covenants and mutual distrust.

But the presence of combatants in both cities underscores the fact that men with guns in this resource-rich country wield the power. And despite the power-sharing deal, Ivorians say they have seen precious few improvements in their lives.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Dead and the Missing in Kashmir

My article The Dead and the Missing in Kashmir: The Struggle for Kashmir, was originally printed in the Spring 2007 editor of the World Policy Journal. Based on my February 2007 visit to Kashmir and interviews conducted both there and in India's financial capital of Bombay (Mumbai), I believe it remains an important examination of some of the significant factors in the conflict there. As the World Policy Journal website is available to subscribers only, I wanted to reprint the article, in its entirety, on a special blog so as to give the general public a chance to have access to the information contained therein. Thoughts and comments are welcome.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

How independent journalism can have an effect

As many progressive, principled journalists will tell you, dear reader, the road trod by reporters genuinely trying to make this world a better place is not an easy one. Dangerous locales, long hours, little pay and no security (I myself have had health insurance for about one year out of the last seven) are par for the course of the journalist's life in this sense. But, despite all that, once in a while, an important message breaks through.

When some inspired soul from Connecticut wrote to Senator Christopher J. Dodd and Representative Christopher Murphy “to demand the sugar cane workers in the Dominican Republic (i.e. the Haitian immigrants and those of Haitian descent) be guaranteed full civil and labor rights in exchange for the Dominican Republic's right to sell sugar in the USA,” and in doing so quoted my March 13th article for Inter Press Service, Exhibit Reveals a Bitter Harvest, which chronicled the Esclaves au Paradis: L'esclavage contemporain en République Dominicaine (Slaves in Paradise: Contemporary Slavery in the Dominican Republic) exhibition in Paris, it was just such a moment.

The article, which also referred to the cases of Dilcia Yean and Violeta Bosico Cofi, the struggle of Dominican activist Sonia Pierre and the work of Father Christopher Hartley, was one of two I wrote on the subject of Haitians in the Dominican Republic, and, taken in tandem with the Appeal to Decency on behalf of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent that I delivered at the Journalists & Editors Workshop on Latin America and the Caribbean in Miami, Florida in May of this year, represent my attempt to present an honest picture of some of the issues involved in the largest immigration question confronting the island of Hispaniola at present.

It is good to know that the word is getting out.

The rain is falling here in Paris and the strike is about to begin.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bravo, Zapatero!

It is very rare in my experience as an international correspondent that one can speak with unhesitating praise about the actions of the world’s political leaders. However, the performance of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero at the Ibero-American summit in Santiago, Chile yesterday deserves such positive words.

Faced with the ranting invective of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who looked every bit the self-aggrandizing, despotic egomaniac that his most vituperative critics accuse him of being, Zapatero displayed a rare trait in today’s political firmament: Class

The trouble began when Chávez, who seems rather inordinately fond of the sound of his own voice, began excoriating Zapatero’s conservative predecessor, Jose Maria Aznar, as a "fascist” who was “not human.” Zapatero, a Socialist who made one of his first acts as Prime Minister bringing home Spain’s troops from Iraq , legalized same-sex marriage in his country and has been locked in a fierce political struggle with Aznar’s Partido Popular opposition party back in Spain, felt the need to respond.

“I am not close to Aznar’s ideas, but former President Aznar was democratically elected by the Spanish people and I demand that respect for only that one reason,” Zapatero said calmly.

Chávez’s continued to rant and interrupt until his microphone was finally cut as would happen to a local crackpot at a town hall meeting. Though Spanish King Juan Carlos’ angry demand that Chávez “shut up” has received far more attention, I believe it was Zapatero’s calm and respectful demeanor in the face of an ugly and unprovoked attack against his countrymen and women and their democratic choice that deserved the most praise.

To fully appreciate Zapatero’s gesture, one must also think back to March of this year. At that time Zapatero’s decision to allow the hunger striker José Ignacio de Juana Chaos (aka Iñaki de Juana Chaos), a leader of the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) Basque separatist group convicted of killing 25 people, to serve out the remainder of his sentence under house arrest lead to a huge political uproar in Span, which Aznar’s Partido Popular effectively and a trace cynically exploited to their political advantage, calling hundreds of thousands of demonstrators into the streets of Madrid.

I did not support Zapatero’s action at the time, given ETA’s more than 800 victims and its attack against the Madrid airport last year that killing a pair of Ecuadorian immigrants (despite supposedly having initiated a permanent ceasefire, which has since been rescinded), but ultimately, it was within his rights as Spain’s Prime Minister to commute De Juana Chaos’s sentence if he saw fit, and within the rights of the Spanish people to deliver their verdict on the wisdom of that action in the country’s next general election.

The difference between a political leader like Zapatero and a political leader like Chávez can be summed up in one concept, I believe: The belief that a country’s institutions are always more fundamental to the health of democracies than the egos and grand designs of individual politicians. Unlike Mr. Chávez, who in my reading has sought to politicize every element of Venezuelan government and civic life to his own ends with little regard for such precepts as the separation of powers or the autonomy that grants bodies such as courts and educational systems their authority, Mr. Zapatero has been scrupulously faithful to the concept that a country’s institutions are at least as important as its politicians and also to the idea that inclusion and persuasion, rather the confrontation and vilification, are the true paths to progressive political change.

For that, and for his eloquent defense of that concept in Santiago, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero deserves our respect and, in my view, a round of applause.

Friday, November 09, 2007

On lyrical terrorists

Is it possible that Gordon Brown’s United Kingdom has joined George W. Bush’s United States in the questionable practice of locking up its own citizens for things that the government believes they might do sometime in the future as opposed to things they have actually done? It certainly seems like it.

Today in London, a 23 year-old Heathrow airport employee named Samina Malik, born and raised in England, was declared guilty of possessing material likely to be useful in terrorism.

Malik was charged and tried under the United Kingdom’s rather outlandish Terrorism Act 2000, Section 58 of which permits the charging of an offense and imprisonment of up to 10 years against anyone collecting or in possession of "information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism,” a definition that would seem improbably broad. It is hard for a writer such as myself to forget, for example, that the Argentine revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara was known to have studied Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls and its meticulous descriptions of the Spanish Civil War while camped out with Fidel Castro's rebel army in Cuba's Sierra Maestra, or that William Butler Yeats wondered aloud, after learning that some of the Irish rebels of 1916 quoted his play Cathleen ni Houlihan as they faced the executioner: "Did that play of mine send out/Certain men the English shot?"

From everything I have read about the case, Malik indeed sounds like a somewhat, well, strange young lady. According to the Guardian, hardly a font of pro-government apologia, Malik, who authored poems with titles such as “How To Behead” and “The Living Martyrs,” apparently enjoyed collecting extremist Islamist propaganda in her spare time, including such tomes as The Al-Qaeda Manual and The Mujahideen Poisons Handbook. Malik was also apparently an aficionado of Abu Hamza al-Masri, the frothing Egyptian cleric convicted of terrorism-related offenses in Britain last year, and used the social networking site called Hi-5 to describe her favorite television shows being "watching videos by my Muslim brothers in Iraq, yep the beheading ones.”

Not exactly the kind of person you would want to be sitting across the table from on a blind date.

But how did the British constabulary apprise themselves of this? Try as I might, I could find no record of how the bobbies learned of Ms. Malik’s decidedly odd proclivities beyond a line in the Daily Telegraph that “police were alerted after finding an email from her on another person’s computer.

It would seem that, their own internment policies in Northern Ireland aside, the Brits in this instance would be borrowing a page from the rather rancid, extra-judicial “enemy combatant” status that the Bush administration has seen fit to employ. Remember the case of José Padilla, who was arrested in May 2002 and held as a material witness in relation to the September 11th attacks, then held under the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF) as an “enemy combatant” and then finally, in 2005, on charges he "conspired to murder, kidnap and maim people overseas." There may well have been rather more convincing reasoning as Padilla was alleged to have in fact met with top Al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, but the legal sleight of hand that kept him from his day in court cannot help but disturb all of us who value America’s constitution more than the current occupant of that White House at any given time.

One thing struck me about the British case, though.

Malik was also apparently a hip-hop fan, whose first creative forays were into love poetry while attending Villiers High School in Southall, and then branching out into harder, more aggressive creations modeled on Tupac Shakur and 50 Cent, using the sobriquet Lyrical Babe. That in turn, when her interests...shifted, became Lyrical Terrorist, a moniker the British press made much of.

As someone who was in Manhattan on September 11th, I seek to make no light of the ghastly potential impact of terrorism on a mass scale. But I do wonder if Judge Peter Beaumont, and Prosecutor Jonathan Sharp had bothered to familiarize themselves with the oeuvre of the Philadelphia hip-hop band The Roots, whose song Clones, from their 1996 album Illadelph Halflife (which played as one of my soundtracks for a good part of that year), featured the following couplet from MC Dice Raw:

Dice Raw the juvenile lyricist, corner store terrorist.
Block trooper, connoisseur of fine cannabis.

Focus never weak, blow up the spot like plastique.

Leave a nigga shook, to the point, he won't speak.

While I’m not suggesting that Ms. Malik’s rhyme style had reached quite the level of Dice Raw’s, it still gives one pause that one person’s poetry is another person terrorist threat, much as the rapper Ice T once pointed out his confusion as to why people harangued him but didn’t get upset when Johnny Cash would sing the line “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.” I may be wrong, but something about this case makes me wonder if 30 years ago, Ms. Malik wouldn’t have been sporting a Mohawk and a safety-pin through her nose and 15 years ago taking ecstasy and dancing to the Happy Mondays. But maybe not.

It just seems to me to be a slippery slope once you start arresting people for things that you think they might do in the future. And our current crop of political leaders - who have already managed to cause death and destruction on a mass scale - would seem to be the last people in a position to judge who will and who will not be a danger to society.

Put under house arrest for the time being, Malik must return for sentencing on 6 December.

We indeed live in strange times.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Democracy returns, but media continues to be under threat in Haiti

Despite having an elected government in place for over a year now whose commitment to a free and independent press would appear to be genuine, recent events in Haiti have shown that alas that still does not guarantee an open environment in which the country’s journalists may operate.

On Tuesday evening, unidentified gunmen fired upon the premises of privately-owned de Radio-Tele Ginen in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince. A street vendor was injured by flying glass sent shattering from a vehicle that was hit during the attack. No arrests have been made and no motive has yet been divulged for the shooting, but an attack of such a brazen nature against a media house cannot go without condemnation.

Also this week, Joseph Guyler “Guy” Delva, my successor as the Haiti correspondent for Reuters, said in an email message that he had been the subject of repeated threats and intimidation in recent weeks, including being followed while in his car by unknown persons. Displaying far more responsiveness than many of his predecessors, Police Nationale d'Haïti (PNH) chief Mario Andrésol promptly dispatched a police contingent to escort Delva -who also currently heads up the Commission indépendante d'appui aux enquêtes relatives aux assassinats des journalistes haïtiens (CIAPEAJ) - from the Petionville police station to his home.

In an email sent to Charles Arthur of the Haiti Support Group (reprinted here from the Association of Caribbean Media), Delva had the following to say:

I´ve been receiving anonymous (sic) phone calls and messages from indirect persons threatening my life over the past few days, particularly after I reported information about Senator Rudolph Boulos, a member of the country s wealthiest and most powerful families, having U.S. citizenship, which is against the constitution...I have documents that prove Mr Boulos was born in Manhattan and is still a U.S. citizen, even though he had managed to obtained a Haitian passport which he has no right to according to the Haitian constitution now in force. I understand the threats might be also fueled by the fact that I condemned last week the attitude of Senator Boulos who refused to answer questions from the investigative judge appointed on the case the murdered journalist Jean Dominique.

A dispatch filed by Delva for the Caribbean News Agency (CANA) last month, wrote that “in a document signed by Boulos before immigration authorities, he admitted that the Haitian passport he has obtained in August 31, 2005, was his very first Haitian passport. But Boulos – who was born in Manhattan ( New York ) on April 28, 1951 – had been living in Washington for years and has gone on numerous trips during the past years.”

I wrote to Delva asking the exact nature of this document but as of yet have received no response.

Later in his letter to Arthur, Delva also asserts that “Boulos is one of those people who had open conflicts with Jean Dominique. Dominique was in the forefront of the battle to make sure justice was made in the case of the children killed as a result of the consumption of poisoned drugs fabricated by the laboratory of Mr. Boulos.”

Rarely has one event gone through so many transformations of governance and continually remained as a dagger pointed at the heart of state commitment to press freedom and human right as the case of the murder of Radio Haiti-Inter director Jean Dominique and the station’s caretaker, Jean-Claude Louissaint, in April 2000. Occurring at the end of the first Préval government, the investigation was then thwarted at every turn by the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide from 2001 until 2004, essentially swept under the carpet and ignored by the Boniface Alexandre/Gerard Latortue interim government of 2004-2006 and is once again presenting the thorniest of problems for Préval during his second mandate.

As Delva points out, in June 1996, René Préval’s then-Minister of Health, Dr. Rodolphe Mallebranche, revealed that, since April of that year, at least sixty-four children had been poisoned by two fever-reducing syrups made by the Pharval laboratories, a company under Boulos family control. The Valodon and Afebrile medicines the children were taking apparently contained a toxic component, diethylene glycol, which caused kidney failure. The Boulos family, for its part, denied having ever used the chemical in the manufacture of the medicine and said that the product the children had ingested was in fact a pirated version of their brand, which it had asked the government to remove from the marketplace without success. Jean Dominique, at the time, indeed, was particularly scathing in his criticism of the family and their business practices.

If, as Delva, charges, Boulos has refused to appear for the judges involved in investigating the Dominique/Louissaint murder before, and is currently refusing questions from Judge Fritzner Fils-Aimé (the current investigating judge in the case), it is time for Sentaor Boulos to set an example to his colleagues in the senate, who often seem content to hide behind immunity (itself a repugnant concept) to escape accountability for even the most trivial matters and submit to questioning in the investigation. If one has nothing to hide, one ought have nothing to fear. The families of Dominique and Louissaint, as well as the Haitian people, deserve all the facts in this case. They have waited long enough. No one can be above the law.

Previously, in a 33-page indicted sent by Judge Bernard Saint-Vil to State Prosecutor Josué Pierre-Louis in March 2003, Saint-Vil accused Philippe Markington (a member of the Aristide Foundation for Democracy who sometimes worked as an informant for the U.S. Embassy), Dymsley Millien, Jeudi-Jean Daniel, Ralph Léger, Ralph Joseph and Freud Junior Demarat of having taken part in Dominique’s killing . Persons with intimate knowledge of the investigation and the indictment have told me that the name of Harold Sevère, a former assistant mayor of Port-au-Prince and member of Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s personal cabinet thought by many to be the key link in the crime, had originally appeared in the indictment. Sevère’s name was removed following a meeting between Saint-Vil and then-Minister of Justice Calixte Delatour, allegedly on Aristide’s orders.

To the best of my knowledge, no link has ever been established between the above persons and the Boulos family.

A year after that indictment, speaking on Radio Vision 2000 (partially owned by the Boulos family), the Cité Soleil gang leader Robinson “Labanye” Thomas, reiterated that charge that Harold Sevère had been the one responsible for formulating and carrying out the Jean Dominique murder. Labanye also charged the involvement of Annette “So Anne” Auguste and the notorious Camille brothers, Ronald and Franco, employing the services of Guy “Ti Ponyet” Benson, a downtown gang leader who was also later murdered, to silence his knowledge of the crime.

Former deputy mayor of Port-au-Prince Jean Michard Mercier, also interviewed on Radio Vision 2000, claimed that Sevère had actually been present at the scene of the crime on that fateful morning.

During Mr. Aristide‘s term in office, Mario Andrésol (then Directeur de la Police Judiciaire), investigating judge Claudy Gassant (now Port-au-Prince’s chief prosecutor) and Dominique’s widow, Michele Montas (currently spokesperson for United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon) all accused the Aristide government of personally and intentionally blocking the investigation.

Under the 2004-2006 interim government, there was barely any need for any active blocking, because virtually no progress at all appeared to be made by those charged with investigating the case.

Now, under the new Préval mandate, will justice be done?

The Haitian people deserve better. They deserve to know by whose hand and for what reasons Jean Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint had to die, just as they deserve to know who orchestrated the killings of individuals such as Mireille Durocher Bertin, Marc-Andre Durogène, Marie Christine Jeune, Claude Bernard “Billy” Lauture, Brignol Lindor, Jean “Pere Ti Jean” Pierre-Louis, Danielle Lustin, Jacques Roche, Yvon Toussaint and so many others, regardless of the political affiliations of the victims.

Is it too much to ask that one standard of justice be applied to all in Haiti, that the law be responsive to all? I think not.

Rather than proposing constitutional changes designed to propagate their own longevity and engaging in internecine power struggles, the Préval government and Haiti’s parliament should set about the people’s business, and set about delivering the justice that has been too long denied to so many. It is time for them to prove with actions, not words, that they respect and are willing to defend human rights and freedom of the press in Haiti.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A few words about Alisher Saipov

From time to time on this blog, I have addressed the risks run by journalists in countries where the powerful and the corrupt are willing to do whatever it takes to protect their privileges.

Journalists such as Haiti’s Jacques Roche and Russia’s Anna Politkovskaya (whose stunning final book, A Russian Diary, I reviewed for the Miami Herald) provide an example of steely dedication to the profession that all other reporters can learn much from, especially in these days of ever-reduced foreign coverage in the United States and Europe, and half-baked “activist” journalism that seeks to obfuscate and protect the powerful rather than inform.

I never met Alisher Saipov, but when a friend of mine from New York forwarded along BBC correspondent Natalia Antelava’s poignant remembrance of the Uzbek journalist, it sounds that Saipov certainly belonged among that well-respected company. A reporter practicing in his trait in a country - Uzbekistan - whose president, Islam Karimov, has been named a "predator of press freedom" by the Paris-based journalists’ advocacy group Reporters sans frontières and where “critical journalists simply disappear, are sent in mental hospitals or arbitrarily thrown in prison,” Saipov wrote about government violence, corruption and incompetence in a way that was sure to put him in the sights of those he was demanding be held accountable for their actions.

Antelava writes about how Saipov’s commitment to journalism went beyond simply acting as a reporter. Two weeks ago he had begun printing an Uzbek-language newspaper titled Siyosat (Politics) that was published in Kyrgyzstan and smuggled across the border into Uzbekistan. The Karimov regime responded by portraying Saipov on state-controlled media a terrorist.

Two weeks ago, on October 24th, Alisher Saipov was gunned down by a lone assailant as he left his office in Osh. Kyrgyzstan’s second city. A husband and new father, Saipov, also worked for Voice of America, Radio Free Europe the website, and the Moscow-based news agency. He was 26 years old.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Project May Boost Biofuels in East Africa

Project May Boost Biofuels in East Africa

By Michael Deibert

Inter Press Service

PARIS, October 30 (IPS) - A new project to develop an integrated sugarcane facility in Kenya could be a boost for biofuels production in east Africa.

The Ngima Project at Homa Bay on the shores of Lake Victoria (‘‘ngima’’ is the word for ‘‘life’’ in the local Luo language) is looking to foster a dual export and domestic system of sugarcane production, concentrating on both white sugar and biofuel production.

Read the full article here.