Monday, December 29, 2008

Thoughts on Gaza from Sydney

Earlier this year, during a March attack against Gaza in which Israeli forces have killed at least 30 civilians, I wrote the following lines:

With that caveat, though. and though I know this comment will be viewed as needlessly provocative by some, the ghastly collective punishment that Israel is currently meting out to the Gazans seems could only seem to be viewed as a sensible foreign policy when one learned military tactics at the feet of Nazi Germany. If there is one thing that I have learned in reporting on conflicts throughout the world over the last decade, it is that you can't continually bomb civilians, kill women and children, drive people off their land, illegally build settlements and an apartheid wall and not expect that those people aren't going to seek revenge some day. And I think that any reasonable person could only conclude that the course Israel has been pursuing over the last 2-3 years, from its disastrous and brutal invasion of Lebanon until now, makes the likelihood of the destruction of the Jewish state in the Middle East greater, not less.

Watching the withering Israeli air attack on Gaza taking place this week, ostensibly aimed at neutralizing the Hamas Islamist government ruling the Palestinian territory (a government committed to Israel's destruction), it is hard to feel any need to retract those words. In attacks which have killed scores of Hamas fighters, as well as many, many civilians, including children, in one of the most densely-populated coastal strips in the world, Israel appears again to be pursuing a policy which is suicidal. In the name of defending its citizens against rockets that have, during recent weeks, killed two people, Israel has killed over 300 people killed in Gaza in the last three days, and has done a good job of playing into the hands of Hamas, who have seemed during recent years only too happy to serve up Palestinian civilians on a silver platter to the Israeli war machine.

It may be naive to hope that, with the incoming Obama administration, the government of the United States will cease pretending that Israeli lives are somehow worth more than Palestinian lives, but I feel that we must continue advocating that course of action, no matter how uncomfortable a spot that puts our new president in.

Though of mixed feelings on Bolivia’s president Evo Morales, I did enjoy one very memorable turn of phrase of his in recent years: If I can’t advance, push me.

Patriotism is sometimes pushing those, even those you greatly admire, to do the right thing.

May 2009 bring the peace to the Palestinians and Israelis that they have yet been unable to forge for themselves.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

2008: A Reporter's Notebook of the Year Gone By

I was fortunate enough this past year to report from five continents, something of a personal milestone for me. The work began in Paris and continued throughout Africa, including several months in the Democratic Republic of Congo which left me distressed at the plight of the civilians there and the international community's apparent inability or unwillingness to end their suffering. It continued with a return to Central America, where I was left charmed by Nicaragua, though dismayed at its political situation, and found Guatemala, that most evocative of Latin American countries, seemingly drowning in an ocean of blood and a hail of bullets. The results of my investigation into the causes of the latter will appear in the Winter 2008 edition of the World Policy Journal, published by the World Policy Institute in New York City.

Though such events do not leave one overly optimistic for the future, there was one notable cause for celebration this year: The election of Illinois Senator Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, the first African-American to hold that post. Obama’s election resulted in scenes of jubilation in the United States and beyond, and served as a powerful "answer," in Obama's words, to "anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy." After the eight disastrous years of the administration of George W. Bush, it is my hope that Obama lives up to the slogan that he used throughout his campaign, change we can believe in. The United States and the world at large certainly needs it.

Based in Australia for the next few months, where the affects of climate change are increasingly present, I hope that my travels in the coming year will enable me to report on a more humane, more just and more responsive world, where that which unites us as humanity proves stronger than that which divides us, and we prove ever less susceptible to those who would exploit such divisions.

What follows is my entire oeuvre of reportage from the year 2008. Hopefully it will be of some interest, and the stories of those contained within will hold some resonance.

Much love,


The Cuba problem: A review of The Cuba Wars: Fidel Castro, the United States and the Next Revolution by Daniel P. Erikson for the Miami Herald (7 December 2008)

Trial of Muslims grips Australians for the Washington Times (30 November 2008)

ECONOMY: EU Involvement in DRC Mining Project Draws Protest
for the Inter Press Service (28 October 2008)

Mixed signals: What is an investor to make of Africa? for Foreign Direct Investment (7 October 2008)

Garífunas Confront Their Own Decline for Tierramérica (6 October 2008)

Nicaragua’s poisonous political brew for Folha de Sao Paulo (31 August 2008)

"Haiti Is Going From Catastrophe to Catastrophe": Michael Deibert interviews Chavannes Jean-Baptiste for the Inter Press Service (28 September 2008)

Congo: Between Hope and Despair for the World Policy Journal (Summer 2008)

Distilling the ties between Bacardi and Cuba: A review of Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten for the Miami Herald (14 September 2008)

TRADE-AFRICA: New Technology to Sever Timber's Link to Conflict? for the Inter Press Service (8 August 2008)

CULTURE-ETHIOPIA: Debate Swirls Around Fate of Holy Sites for the Inter Press Service (3 July 2008)

A Glittering Demon: Mining, Poverty and Politics in the Democratic Republic of Congo for CorpWatch (26 June 2008)

POLITICS: Is Democracy Dangerous in Multi-ethnic Societies? An interview with Frances Stewart, Oxford University Professor of Development Economics for the Inter Press Service (26 June 2008)

POLITICS-ETHIOPIA : A Tangled Political Landscape Raises Questions About African Ally of the U.S. for the Inter Press Service (21 June 2008)

Ethiopia's Urban Poor Cannot Afford To Eat: Interview with Abera Tola, Director of Oxfam's Horn of Africa regional office for the Inter Press Service (21 June 200*)

TRADE-AFRICA: EU Seeks to Subdue Competitive China
for the Inter Press Service (15 May 2008)

RIGHTS: In South Africa, Zimbabwean Refugees Find Sanctuary and Contempt for the Inter Press Service (4 May 2008)

"We Mustn't Think as South Africans That We Have Won the Day": An interview with Bishop Paul Verryn for the Inter Press Service (4 May 2008)

DRC: With Rebel Leader's Indictment, a Tentative Step to Accountability for the Inter Press Service (1 May 2008)

HEALTH-DRC: Water Everywhere, But Is It Safe To Drink? for the Inter Press Service (24 April 2008)

POLITICS-DRC: Cautious Calm Settles Over War-scarred Ituri Region
for the Inter Press Service (17 April 2008)

Why I am voting for Barack Obama for Michael Deibert, Writer (15 April 2008)

Extraction from chaos: Embattled by war and corruption but laden with large deposits of diamonds and copper, DR Congo is largely avoided by investors. Might that change? for Foreign Direct Investment (10 April 2008)

The Fruits of Reform: Mozambique, whose history has been blighted by a long liberation struggle and years of civil war, is starting to reap the benefits of recent macroeconomic reforms
for Foreign Direct Investment (10 April 2008)

Failure To Renew DRC Expert's Mandate Draws Criticism for the Inter Press Service (1 April 2008)

POLITICS-DRC: In a Governmental Vacuum, Yearnings for a Lost Empire for the Inter Press Service (21 March 2008)

A Review of Peter Hallward’s Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment for Michael Deibert, Writer (16 March 2008)

A Humanitarian Disaster Unfolds in Eastern DRC for the Inter Press Service (1 March 2008)

Fidel's view: A Review of Fidel Castro: My Life by Fidel Castro and Ignacio Ramonet for the Miami Herald (27 January 2008)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Notes from a southern country

We are settling into life here in Sydney, amidst temperamental weather that provides us with sunshine and blue skies in the afternoon and sweeping, chilly winds in the mornings and evenings. Lorikeets serenade us in the garden out back, we get to know the local butcher, the grocer, the coffee vendor and the like, and, from the perch of a place that I never thought I’d live, I discover the convict history of Robert Hughes, re-discover the songwriting of Paul Kelly and the music of the Warumpi Band, and become enthused with the idea of tracking my way across an immense and sparely-populated continent and elsewhere along the Pacific rim. Across a churn of water, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and beyond .

The world is throwing us some curveballas these days. The events in Mumbai, with their apparent links to Kashmir, continue to reverberate, as I read my good friend Mira Kamdar’s heartfelt and heart-rending article about the deaths of her cousin Reshma and Reshma’s husband Sunil at the Oberoi hotel in last week’s Washington Post. Back in my native land of the United States, factory workers, in a show of unity that I strongly support, are occupying the Republic Windows and Doors plant in Chicago, with president-elect Barrack Obama saying that “The workers are asking for the benefits and payments that they have earned. I think they’re absolutely right and understand that what’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.” In Miami, a city where I lived briefly, the situation has gotten so bad that the group Take Back the Land is relocating homeless people illegally into foreclosed homes. From this quiet street in Sydney, it appears that there still is much to do to make the world whole again, if it ever was.

Christmas approaches these palm-dotted shores, and much work awaits.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Cuba problem

Posted on Sun, Dec. 07, 2008

The Cuba problem

By Michael Deibert

The Miami Herald

The Cuba Wars: Fidel Castro, the United States and the Next Revolution.

Daniel P. Erikson. Bloomsbury. 333 pages. $28.


(Read the original article here)

As a chronicle of 50 years of failed foreign policy, Daniel P. Erikson's new book should be studied by officials of the incoming Obama administration lest they repeat the folly of past U.S. governments.

The story of how the authoritarian ruler of a Caribbean island of 11 million people bested 10 U.S. presidents and managed to survive all attempts to oust him serves as an object lesson of how wishful thinking is no substitute for a policy based on facts.

For too long, Erikson argues, a coherent strategy in dealing with Cuba has been subsumed in favor of an ill-conceived ''biological solution'' (awaiting the inevitable demise of Fidel Castro) and a well-organized though numerically small bloc of Cuban-American political operators and their supporters in the U.S. Congress.

''While the death of Fidel will remain an extraordinarily significant political moment when it finally occurs, its impact will necessarily be diluted by the simple fact that he is no longer Cuba's president,'' writes Erikson, referring to Castro's February 2008 resignation.

Despite ample warnings of Castro's failing health, such as a well-publicized fainting spell in 2001, the best response U.S. politicians could muster in recent years was to further curtail trade and the travel of American citizens going to Cuba -- the sort of move the Cuban government long practiced on its own people -- and providing shelter to the likes of Luis Posada Carriles, an anti-Castro militant wanted in Venezuela for his alleged involvement in a 1976 airplane bombing that killed 73 people.

Erikson, who serves as senior associate for U.S. policy and director of Caribbean programs for the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, D.C., argues that such a response was hardly robust enough against a surprisingly resilient adversary.

Erikson does a good job of outlining the Cuban government's ability to manipulate international upheaval to its benefit, such as timing a 2003 crackdown on internal dissent, which saw 75 Cubans sentenced to a total of 1,400 years in prison, so that most of the world's attention was occupied with the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

If there is any point that Erikson's book truly brings home, though, it is that the intellectual bankruptcy of U.S. policy toward Cuba cuts across the political spectrum. The Communist regime's supporters in Congress reveal themselves to be every bit as close-minded as some of its most strident critics, and neither side is willing to commit to substantive discussions with the other. Anti-Castro Lincoln Diaz-Balart, the South Florida congressman,speaks knowingly of the situation in Cuba and advocates unyielding policies though he has not lived on the island for decades. But Castro's defenders, such as California congresswoman Maxine Waters, turn absurdly mawkish when they consider the demise of the country's one-party, totalitarian state.

''I like him and consider him a friend,'' Waters says of Castro, admitting that she is ''not psychologically prepared'' to consider the possibility of the Cuban leader shuffling off this mortal coil.

The Cuba Wars has its weaknesses. James Cason, the Bush administration's feisty chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana from 2002 until 2005, holds forth over many pages, but the insight we get about Cuba's ruling clutch of aging autocrats comes mostly from second-hand allegories and their public statements, which more often than not slide into mothballed revolutionary histrionics. There is also some regrettable sloppiness on detail: The patois dialect spoken in Jamaica is referred to as ''Creole,'' and a famous image by the photographer Robert Capa of a Loyalist fighter falling in combat during the Spanish Civil War is erroneously referred to as depicting ``a journalist.''

Still, The Cuba Wars provides a valuable glimpse inside the U.S. decision-making process with regards to one of its oldest and seemingly most intractable international disputes. When Erikson writes that his book was composed with the hope of making policymakers take ''a hard look at the reality as it is, not as we would like it to be,'' one can only hope that the incoming administration takes those as words to live by, not only for Cuba but also for foreign-policy pursuits far beyond its palm-fringed shores.

Michael Deibert is the author of Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Seven years after radio journalist’s murder, convicted killers still at large

(Note: Two years ago I wrote this regarding the Brignol Lindor case in Haiti. In early 2007, correcting a poorly-worded Amnesty International release, I wrote this regarding the case. At this time next year, will we still sit wondering when justice will be served for the murder of this journalist in Haiti? MD)


Seven years after radio journalist’s murder, convicted killers still at large

Reporters sans frontières

(Read the original article here)

Justice has still not been fully rendered in the case of Brignol Lindor, a young radio journalist who was murdered in a particularly barbaric manner in the southwestern town of Petit-Goâve exactly seven years ago today, although two individuals implicated in his murder were given life sentences in December 2007, Reporters Without Borders said.

Seven other people who were convicted in absentia of his murder in January of this year (see 25 January press release) are still on the run, Reporters Without Borders pointed out, adding that it hoped the appointment of Lindor family lawyer Jean Joseph Exumé as justice minister on 7 November will bring complete closure to a case that has dragged on too long.

"The political will demonstrated by President René Préval's government helped to put an end to the scandal of a case in which there was complete impunity for six years, and at the same time there has been an overall improvement in press freedom in Haiti," Reporters Without Borders said.

"But the political and judicial authorities cannot content themselves with the trials of the past year, which left the fate of seven convicted killers in limbo and failed to shed light on the then municipal government's apparent implication," the press freedom organisation added.

A journalist with local Radio Echo 2000, Lindor was stoned and hacked to death on 3 December 2001 in Petit-Goâve by members of Domi Nan Bwa ("Sleep in the Woods"), a locally-based armed group linked to Fanmi Lavalas, the party led by then President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Four days before the murder, a press conference was held in Petit-Goâve by several local figures linked to Fanmi Lavalas, including Petit-Goâve mayor Emmanuel Antoine and his deputy, Bony Dumay, who launched into a violent verbal attack on the opposition Democratic Convergence coalition and Lindor, considered to be one of its allies. Another meeting was held three days later, the eve of his murder, this time between municipal officials and members of Domi Nan Bwa.

One of Domi Nan Bwa's chiefs, Joseph Céus Duverger, was attacked the next morning by presumed Democratic Convergence supporters. This incident was used as a pretext for the targeted reprisal against Lindor later in the day. Evidence of this comes from the fact that around 10 Domi Nan Bwa members were on the point of executing Democratic Convergence member Love Augustin at his home but, when Lindor arrived on the scene, they let him go and seized Lindor.

Despite all the evidence, the indictment issued by judge Fritzner Duclair on 16 September 2002 failed to bring charges against any of the presumed instigators of Lindor's murder.

After five years of inaction, the case was revived in 2007 when arrests warrants were issued for the persons named in the indictment. Four were arrested but only two of them were convicted and given life sentences - Joubert Saint-Juste and Jean-Rémy Démosthène. One of the other two, Simon Cétoute, 57, was acquitted because it turned out he had been arrested instead of his son, who had the same first name and who had recently died in the nearby town of Léogane.

And it emerged that the fourth defendant, Fritzner Doudoute, was mistaken at the time of his arrest for Fritznel Doudoute, and had not been named in either the 2002 indictment or in the arrest warrant issued last year. Nonetheless, witnesses identified him in court as one of the people who participated in Lindor's murder. He therefore remained in detention and is to be the subject of a new judicial investigation that could also target Dumay, the former deputy mayor, who was summoned to testify at the trial.

Fritznel Doudoute, also known as Lionel and Nènèl, was one the seven indicted Domi Nan Bwa members who were convicted in absentia on 23 January of this year by Petit-Goâve chief judge Emmanuel Tataye, who also ordered the seizure of all their possessions and assets and the suspension of their civil and political rights. The other six were Maxi Zéphyr, Bernard Désamour, Tyrésias also known as Téré, Fritznel Duvergé, Mackenzi and Belony Colin.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Trial of Muslims grips Australians

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Trial of Muslims grips Australians

By Michael Deibert

The Washington Times

(Read the original article here)

SYDNEY, Australia | Australians are closely following the trial of five Muslims charged with plotting a terrorist attack on Australian soil.

While few details have been released about the target of the plot, the prosecution says the men tried to obtain sulfuric acid, acetone and other chemicals that could be used in explosives and that they buried weapons and ammunition in the Blue Mountains near Sydney. Police raids on the homes of the five, who were arrested in 2005 and face life in prison if convicted, are said to have turned up a trove of extremist literature and videos.

The trial, which started on Nov. 11 and could last up to a year, is the latest high-profile event to focus attention on the area's Muslim community -- a small minority of Australia's population.

According to an annual International Religious Freedom report released by the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, 67 percent of Australia´s citizens considered themselves to be Christian and 1.5 percent identify themselves as Muslim -- slightly more than 280,000 out of a population of 20.5 million.

Sydney, this vast and sparsely-populated country’s most populous city, has long been the disembarkation point for new arrivals to Australia since the first landing by British captain James Cook at nearby Botany Bay in 1770. In recent years, as typified by the Sydney terror trial, it has also become ground zero for the often tense relationships between Anglo-Australians and the country’s Muslim population, who often are of Middle Eastern or Asian descent.

In recent years, as typified by the terrorism trial, it has also become the site of tensions between Anglo-Australians and Muslim immigrants of Middle Eastern and Asian origin. The disputes have sometimes spilled over into violence, particularly among the young.

Three years ago, the seafront Sydney suburb of Cronulla was shaken by mob violence that saw more than 30 people injured and a similar number arrested over a contested strip of beach. Encouraged by some Sydney talk-radio hosts, a crowd of 5,000 Anglo-Australians gathered to "reclaim" the beach at Cronulla, besieging people of Middle Eastern appearance and fighting with the authorities after several off-duty lifeguards were said to have been beaten by a gang of Middle Eastern youths.

Though some fences have been mended since the upheaval, which came on the heels of a gang rape spree by a group of Lebanese-Australian youths in Sydney, and statements by Taj Din al-Hilali. an Egyptian-born, self-proclaimed spokesman for Australia’s Muslim community, that the September 11th attacks in the United States were “God’s work against oppressors,” many fear that a signifiant social fracture remains.

Though relations improved since then, many fear that a significant social fracture remains.

"For a lot of Anglo-Australians, the riots are over and done with, but for Muslim Australians it still has an impact on where they choose to go and spend their weekends," said Amanda Wise, a senior fellow at the Center for Research on Social Inclusion at Sydney's Macquarie University.

"In a sense, the tensions are not as hot as they were, but that's because the groups are not mixing as much as they were. It's more a low-level distrust and disengagement," she said.

This year, on Sept. 11, an online game designed by an Australian programmer titled "Muslim Massacre" was provided free over the Internet. The stated aim of the game is to "wipe out the Muslim race with an arsenal of the world's most destructive weapons."

Australian police promised to investigate whether the game violated counterterrorism legislation or statutes forbidding incitement of ethnic violence, but so far no action has been taken.

The election late last year of Australia's first Labor government since 1996, headed by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and the withdrawal of Australia's combat forces from Iraq in 2008 have failed to reduce levels of distrust significantly.

"In some circles, things have gotten better, and in other areas, the level of apprehension and dislike for Muslims has grown tremendously," said Keysar Trad, a former spokesman for Mr. al-Hilali, who in 2003 formed the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia.

International terrorism has had a strong impact on Australia even though no attacks have yet taken place on its shores. The October 2002 attack on a tourist district on the Indonesian island of Bali killed 202 people, 88 of whom were Australian, while a second attack there in 2005 killed four Australians.

The three men convicted of the 2002 bombing were executed by firing squad in Indonesia this month.

Australia's most prominent contribution to the annals of international terrorism came not from the country's Middle Eastern or South Asian communities, but in the unlikely person of David Hicks, a hapless former kangaroo skinner swept up amidst the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Imprisoned for six years in Guantanamo Bay, Hicks pled guilty to the charge of supporting terrorism and training with al Qaeda in exchange for being permitted to serve out the remainder of his sentence in Australia. Released late last year, Hicks is under a court-mandated control order that enforces a midnight-to-dawn curfew and restricts his travel and communications.

Still, many Australian Muslims see their community as unfairly depicted as one of outsiders or agitators.

At a mosque in Sydney's downtown Surry Hills district one recent Friday, hundreds of worshippers were preparing to disperse after afternoon prayers.

"It's all to do with perception. People fear what they don't understand," said Bill Chahine, a 25 year-old Australian of Lebanese descent who works as a project manager for a Sydney real estate firm.

Mr. Chahine, who enjoys cricket and Australian-rules football, said he is comfortable with his dual identity as an Australian and a Muslim.

"I was born here, raised here and educated here," he said. "There's no clash of cultures or values with the Anglo-Saxon community as far as I'm concerned.