Retro Film Review: Life and Debt

If you need a reminder of the failures of globalization, look no further than Jamaica. Now, when most of you think of this exotic Caribbean island nation, miles of beaches, reggae music, marijuana and a all around good time comes to mind. What most of you don't know is Jamaica is highly in debt and sinking economically due primarily to attempted repayments of loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). With the announcement today by Bob Geldof about the Live 8, a concert to coincide with the G8 summit in July to highlight global poverty and the need for debt relief in the global South, Jamaica's economy will certainly be up for more discussion in the next few weeks.

"If you come to Jamaica as a tourist, this is what you will NOT see..."

In Stephanie Black's Life and Debt, the documentary gives an excellent, balanced history of Jamaica's woes by using the stories of individual Jamaicans, weaved in with poetry by Jamaica Kincaid.

When England left Jamaica as a colonial ruler in 1962, it also left the island without any economic infrastructure. The film begins with former Jamaican prime minister Michael Manley in a post independence speech condemning the IMF, saying that "the Jamaican government will not accept anybody, anywhere in the world telling us what to do in our own country. Above all, we're not for sale." Manley was elected primarily because of his anti IMF stance. However, Manley was forced to sign Jamaica's first loan agreement with the IMF in 1977. This was due in part to lack of viable economic alternatives, which is a common pattern throughout the Third World. When the IMF was created in 1945, it was designed to cater to post World War II nations, not newly independant, post colonial countries. In the last three decades Jamaica has accrued over $5 billion in debt, most of which is interest, which is owed to the IMF, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and other lending organizations. The IMF assumes that the combination of increased interest rates and cutbacks in government spending will shift resources from domestic consumption to private investment. It is further assumed that keeping the price of labor down will be an incentive for increasing employment and production. As a result unemployment has increased, the gap between rich and poor has widen, corruption has gotten worse and gang violence has surged.

The film looks at four industries - bananas, chicken, milk and clothing - to give the audience a feel for how the current economy is really affecting Jamaicans. What was the most shocking was the fact that there are "Free Trade Zones" in Kingston where US companies come in, set up shop and barely pay workers. Previously, when the workers have spoken out and attempted to organize to improve their wages and working conditions, they have been fired and their names included on a blacklist ensuring that they never work again. Free Trade Zones are actually encouraged by the U.S. government because they are tax free and there are no international law that actually state that workers be treated fairly. Assignments financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (U.S. AID) have used over $34,960,000 in U.S. tax dollars to target, persuade and provide incentives to American companies to relocate offshore in Jamaica. Coincidentally due to NAFTA, these dismal yet precious jobs are being lost to Mexico, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.

Banana production was at one time Jamaica's number one export. Under the Lome Convention, formerly colonized countries were given preferential treatment of tax-free import quota for 105,000 tons/fruit per year to England. The US, nonetheless, felt this arrangement was wrong and sought to dismantle it, forcing Jamaica to compete with Central and South American countries with cheaper labor and better climate and soil. This has resulted in a tumultuous lost to exports.

I felt the most shocking part of the film dealt with the U.S. "dumping" of low-grade chicken parts in Jamaica . While there are many restrictions on foods and goods imported into the U.S., there are often no restrictions on food and goods exported to foreign developing countries. There is a scene is the movie when a chicken inspector explains how he found packaged chicken parts deemed to be 20 years old (?!?). When he presented the package to a US official, the man took the package into his custody and said that the meat was mistakenly sent to Jamaica instead of Haiti. Interestingly, in the next scene a rasta man explains that back during slavery the slave master gave the parts of the chicken he didn't want to his slaves.

With this said, is globalization the new slavery? When Queen Elizabeth II gave Jamaica its independence, it seems the crown was given to McDonald's and Chiquita instead of the native people.

Shame on G8!


The State of Human Rights in 2004 according to Amnesty International

Amnesty International released their annual assessment last Wednesday that scolds the world's government for not taking a more proactive role in preventing human rights abuses and that they must be held accoutable.

"Governments are betraying their promises on human rights. A new agenda is in the making with the language of freedom and justice being used to pursue policies of fear and insecurity. This includes cynical attempts to redefine and sanitise torture," said AI Secretary General Irene Khan.

The mismanagement of the situation in Darfur is criticized by the organization, blaming the international community's lack of attention to addressing the problem head on. Hundreds of thousands of Sudanese victims have suffered because everyone did too little too late.

Amnesty International also says that "in Haiti, individuals responsible for serious human rights violations were allowed to regain positions of power. In the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo there was no effective response to the systematic rape of tens of thousands of women, children and even babies. Despite the holding of elections, Afghanistan slipped into a downward spiral of lawlessness and instability. Violence was endemic in Iraq."

Even the war on terror has not hindered human rights abuses. "The televised beheading of captives in Iraq, the taking of over a thousand people hostage including hundreds of children in a school in Beslan and the massacre of hundreds of commuters in Madrid shocked the world. Yet governments are failing to confront their lack of success in addressing terrorism, persisting with failed but politically-convenient strategies. Four years after 9/11, the promise to make the world a safer place remains hollow," said Ms Khan.

The United States doesn't escape AI's scorn for its mishandling of the Abu Gharib scandal. "The USA, as the unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power, sets the tone for governmental behaviour worldwide. When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a licence to others to commit abuse with impunity," said Ms Khan.

However, the report shows that there were some positive highlights from the past year. The US Supreme Court voted in favor of Guantánamo detainees receiving legal representation and the United Kingdom Law Lords ruled that terrorist suspects can not be held indefinitely without charge or trial. Public uprisings in Spain, Georgia and Ukraine show the growing need for a new political discourse.

"Increasingly, the duplicity of governments and the brutality of armed groups are being challenged - by judicial decisions, popular resistance, public pressure and UN reform initiatives. The challenge for the human rights movement is to harness the power of civil society and push governments to deliver on their human rights promises," said Irene Khan.


Telesur:Latin America in Technocolor?

"Europeans and Americans see us in black and white, and yet this is a technicolor continent," said Aram Arahonian, a Uruguayan journalist based in Venezuela for the last 18 years , to the Christisn Science Monitor about the launch of Telesur, a regional public TV network envisioned as a Latin American version of the Arab world's Al Jazeera. It was officially launched on Tuesday. Telesur, or TV of the South, is being spearheaded by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez to address a need for a more rounded, balanced, "southern exposed" news about Latin America than what is not usually seen on the US- and Euro-centric outlets such as CNN and Spain's TVE.

"After 513 years of looking at ourselves through foreign eyes, we Latin Americans are beginning to see ourselves through our own eyes," said Arahonian, who is also the director of the network, to IPS.

In recent years there has been growing pessimism in the region towards Western news outlets at the dearth of news from a Latin American perspective. This has only gotten worse since 9/11 as the Western media focuses more on Iraq and less on issues that affect the daily life of the average Latin American. Furthermore CNN Espanol and TVE have most of their reporters based in Washington or Madrid and there is presently no real alternative to these networks. It is reported that when former Ecuadorian president Lucio Gutiérrez was removed by Congress, Chávez admitted he found out about it on CNN.

Venezuela owns 51 percent of the shares in the Empresa Multiestatal Telesur, Compañía Anónima, as the Telesur broadcasting company is officially known, while Argentina owns 20 percent, Cuba 19 percent, and Uruguay 10 percent. Local bureaus have already been opened in Brasilia, Bogota, Caracas and La Paz, and will soon be followed by others in Buenos Aires, Havana, Mexico City, Montevideo and Washington, D.C. It is reported that the main news anchor will be Ati Kiwa, a Colombian indigenous women who wears traditional garb.

However, press freedom advocates are already crying foul, claiming that Telesur will only be a mouthpiece for Chavez's socialist rantings rather than a unbiased news source. On Tuesday the network aired a 10-minute promotional vehicle which featured news clips of socialist leaders Salvador Allende and Che Guevara who were killed by US operatives. The vehicle also emphasised the social struggles and progressive movements of Latin America, including statements from indigenous organizations, scenes of street protests against free-market economic policies and U.S. meddling, and footage of students attending schools in poor, working-class neighborhoods.

"We get enough of him already," says Ana Cristina Nuñez to the Monitor, a legal counsel at Globovision, a 24-hour local news station that is critical of Chávez. Globovision, like all channels in Venezuela, functions under a so-called "chain" system, which means it is obligated by law to drop everything and cover Chávez speeches whenever instructed by the government. Those speeches are often hour-long rants about the US or afternoon chats with "the people," during which he has been known to describe President Bush as a "jerk" who wants to invade Venezuela or sing praises of Cuban President Fidel Castro. New media laws in the country also punish those with 30 months imprisonment for defaming or "disrespecting" government officials, such as making jokes about Chavez. Organizations like Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists are already worried about this 'media muzzle.' Human Rights Watch insists that governments can only restrict certain content if it is believed to be "a clear relation between the speech in question and a specific criminal act."

Telesur "will indeed be biased, towards promoting Latin American integration, diversity and plurality, and against the uniform point of view imposed through the privately owned media's control of information," Aharonian told IPS.

What Telesur will become eventually with its programming and influence is still up in the air, but Richard Siklos, an adjunct professor at New York University's department of culture and communication, said it best to the Monitor:

"Ultimately, slanted or straight, Telesur's success will depend on whether it's watchable. [Chávez] will learn what every media executive in New York has learned: You can put stuff out there, but if people don't watch, you are wasting your money."


Media Fast for Mojtaba

Global Wire is on a 'media fast' today in alliance with other free speech activists around the world for Mojtaba Saminejad, an imprisoned Iranian blogger who commenced a hunger strike on May 14, 2005 to protest detention.

Mojtaba Saminejad, is being held at Tehran’s Gohar Dashat prison, which has a reputation for mistreatment of detainees. He is being held in the general population, the overwhelming majority of which are common criminals.

Mojtaba was arrested for reporting the earlier arrest of three of his fellow Iranian bloggers. (Iran has arrested over 20 bloggers over the last year.) Iranian bloggers who have been released have reported being the victims of torture.

Global Wire is asking readers today to show an expression of sympathy and take action for an innocent who has been unjustly detained. Those among us who are healthy and so inclined might consider an actual day-long fast. When asked why, tell your family, friends, neighbors and coworkers about Mojtaba.

In the meantime, write to the following people, requesting Mojtaba be given a pardon and unconditional, immediate release and that, in the meantime, he be transferred to a less violent facility.

If you are in the United States, you can contact either the Representative at the Iranian Interest Section of the Pakistani Embassy or the Ambassador to Iran’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations. (Iran has no embassy in the United States.) Here is the contact information.

Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif
Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran
622 Third Ave. New York, NY 10017
Tel: (212) 687-2020 / Fax: (212) 867-7086
Email the ambassador

Iranian Representative
Embassy of Pakistan
Interests Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran
2209 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W.Washington, D.C. 20007
Email the Interests Section
Phone: (202) 965-4990Fax: (202) 965-1073

Outside the U.S., you can contact either the Permanent Representative to the United Nations or the Iranian ambassador in your own country. Here is the page on the Interest Section website that lists some of Iran's embassies around the world.

Finally, contact directly the people responsible for Mojtaba’s detention.

Leader of the Islamic Republic His Excellency Ayatollah Sayed 'Ali Khameni
The Presidency
Palestine Avenue, Azerbaijan Intersection
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran

President, His Excellency Hojjatoleslam Sayed Mohammad Khatami
The Presidency
Palestine Avenue, Azerbaijan IntersectionTehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email the president

Head of Judiciary, His Excellency Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi
Head of the Judiciary
Ministry of Justice
Park-e Shahr
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Tehran
Fax: +98 21 879 6671 or +98 21 640 4018/4019
(Please mark "care of Director of International Affairs)
Email the Public Relations Department
Email the Public Relations Director

You can also sign a petition here calling on the head of the judicial system, Ayatollah Sharoudi, to grant Mojtaba a pardon and unconditional release.

(Thanks to the Committee to Protect Bloggers for the contact info.)


The Plight of the World's Indigenous Community.

As the Fourth Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples commenced last week at the United Nations, World Bank released a report essentially discloses that indigenous people continue to suffer from higher poverty, lower education, and a greater incidence of disease and discrimination than other groups, despite increased political influence.

Indigenous Peoples, Poverty and Human Development in Latin America: 1994-2004 considers how social conditions have evolved in the five Latin American countries with the largest indigenous populations (Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru) during the last decade, proclaimed in 1994 by the United Nations as the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

“Although indigenous people in the region have increased their political power and representation during the last decade, this has not translated into the positive results -in terms of poverty reduction- we had hoped to find when we embarked on this research,” said Gillette Hall, World Bank economist and co-author of the study.

The study found that indigenous peoples represent 10 percent of the region’s population and the largest disadvantaged group in Latin America. While the incidence of poverty in Latin America is high, it is particularly severe and deep among the indigenous population.

Specifically, few gains were made in income poverty reduction among indigenous peoples during the indigenous peoples’ decade (1994-2004). Indigenous people recover more slowly from economic crisis. The indigenous poverty gap is deeper, and shrank more slowly over the 1990s. Being indigenous increases an individual’s probability of being poor and this relationship was about the same at the beginning and at the close of the decade. Indigenous people continue to have fewer years of education, but the gap is narrowing, and education outcomes are substantially worse for indigenous peoples, which is indicative of problems in education quality. Indigenous people, especially women and children, continue to have less access to basic health services.

However, many activists are coming out and making it clear that it is the fault of the very institution that put out this report who is to blame for the miseries of the indigenous.

With this report, "the World Bank is trying to whitewash its image, but we all know it is partly to blame for many of our problems, and for numerous human rights violations," said Rafael González, spokesman for the Committee for Campesino Unity in Guatemala, a country where indigenous people make up a majority of the population, to IPS.

Critics of World Bank investments in timber, mining, and extractive industries say the projects damage the way of life of many indigenous communities.

With respect to political influence, González said in an interview with IPS that "It's true that indigenous people have gained political power, but not as much as we could or should have."

"The real power remains in the hands of the traditional politicians and the economic elites, which have exploited, killed and marginalised indigenous people," added the activist.

Guatemalan indigenous activist Rigoberta Menchú was granted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, and the United Nations declared the International Decade for the World's Indigenous Peoples (1995-2004).

But last year, Menchú told IPS that she was disappointed with what the International Decade had achieved.

While many activists are hoping the World Bank report will bring about change, they don't see this happening anytime soon.


Post-Colonial Moment: Bill Cosby and the state of black America

A year ago US comedian Cosby raised a storm at the NAACP gala dinner with a dyspeptic rant about the self-destructive failures of the black underclass: "knuckleheads" without parents who "put their clothes on backward," speak bad English and go to jail.

In his newly-released book, University of Pennsylvania professor and pop culture critic Michael Eric Dyson says the "Afristocracy" -lawyers, physicians, intellectuals, bankers, civil rights leaders, entertainers, and other professionals-looks with disdain upon the black poor who make up the "Ghettocracy" -single mothers on welfare, the married, single, and working poor, the incarcerated, and a battalion of impoverished children. Dyson explains why the black middle class has joined mainstream America to blame the poor for their troubles, rather than tackling the systemic injustices that shape their lives.

Most importantly Dyson claims blames the legacy of slavery for keeping down black America. Cosby says it is time to move on from slavery and look at the accomplishments of recently immigrated blacks from Africa and the Caribbean for inspiration and guidance.

What do you think?


African Press Freedom Under Stress: Kenya's First Lady vs. the Cameraman and the rest of Kenya

The cameraman who was slapped by Kenya's First Lady a couple weeks ago received another blow when his case against her was blocked today.

Derrick Otieno went to court after the police failed to press charges against Lucy Kibaki as she refused to apologize for her actions. According to the Nairobi magistrate a claim filed by the attorney general said that the case wasn't properly presented.

Mr Otieno had told the BBC's Swahili service that he wanted to take the first lady to court to deter others from assaulting journalists, saying he has been beaten four times during his career.

"I waited for a whole week, hoping for at least an apology from state house - in vain," he said.

The saga started when Mrs Kibaki went to the home of outgoing World Bank director Mukhtar Diop, demanding he turned down the music at a his farewell party. It is reported that she pulled out the electricity from the sound system.

News of her antics were splashed all over the local newspapers. Mrs. Kibuki was so outraged about her making the news that she stormed into the offices of the Daily Nation, Nairobi's top newspaper, and staged a standoff, on World Press Freedom day of all days. Mrs. Kibuki went into the offices to demand that the reporter who wrote the story about her be arrested. She accused the paper of dragging her good name in the mud.

In the five hours she was there, she seized reporters' notebooks, tape recorders and mobile phones, and slapped Mr Otieno when he refused to stop filming her.

Mrs. Kibuki is certainly no stranger to such outbursts. In the three years she has been first lady has left her once adoring fans appalled and wondering loud about the leadership ability of her husband, who is now seen to have failed to keep his own house in order. This latest bout couldn't have happen at a worst time; Kenya is trying to rebuild its relationship with the World Bank.

She has launched verbal complaints at journalists, diplomats and government officials she believes has treated her as less than favorable. She is reported to have shut down a bar inside state house that was a watering hole for ministers and close allies of the president. Apparently ministers and president's advisers have routinely been ordered out of the state house at her advice.

While Mrs. Kibuki is known for being a a fierce anti-AIDS campaigner and advocate against female genital mutilation, her embarassing outbursts overshadow all these good deeds.

Imprisoned blogger goes on hunger-strike

Reporters Without Borders called on bloggers Monday throughout the world to post messages in support of Iranian blogger Mojtaba Saminejad, who has been in prison since 12 February and who began a hunger-strike on 14 May.

"The life of this young blogger is in danger as he is being held in a prison where several detainees have died or have been injured in violence between inmates," the press freedom organization said.

"You must talk about him on the Web and in the media in order to put pressure on the Iranian authorities," the organization said, adding, "all bloggers must feel concerned about his fate and that of his two colleagues who are also imprisoned."

According to his family, Mojtaba initially tried to file a complaint about mistreatment but his interrogators replied they were going to put him in a detention centre where he would "regret having complained." He is currently held in Gohar Dashat prison (in a Tehran suburb), which has a reputation for mistreatment of detainees. He shares his cell with non-political prisoners.

Mojtaba's father, Sfar Saminejad, told the student news agency ISNA, "I wrote several letters to the authorities to complain about the unacceptable conditions in which my son is being detained, but no one replied."

Mojtaba's hands and feet were in chains when he appeared in court on 11 May.

A few days ago, Iranian bloggers launched a petition calling on the head of the judicial system, Ayatollah Sharoudi, to grant Mojtaba a pardon and unconditional release
(http://alpr.30morgh.org/guest/archives/002216.php). An earlier petition was initiated shortly after his arrest (http://www.petitiononline.com/mojsn/petition.html).

Two other bloggers and cyber-journalists have been detained since February. They are Mohamad Reza Nasab Abdolahi and Mojtaba Lotfi.


Forced Labor in the Global Economy

When the average Westerner thinks about forced labor today, they possibly first think of young Nepalese women trafficked into brothels in India or child slavery in Sudan. What they don't know is that this human rights atrocity is going on in their own backyard - literally.

The International Labour Organization released a report that says there are over 12 million persons on all six continents who are involved in some form of forced labor. This is no longer just a problem in the developing world. Nearly 360,000 of those 12 million have been trafficked through Western Europe and the United States, which in turn brings in $15 billions of profit to the industrialized world.

Many would conclude that globalization in the ever-competitive global economy is partially to blame for creating a need for high supply and demand at whatever cost. At the 2005 International Symposium on Forced Labor and the Global Economy at MIT last Saturday, panelists discussed that it is up to the world's governments and consumers to make private enterprise responsible for setting strict guidelines for worker's rights.

Roger Plant, Head of the Special Action Program to Combat Forced Labor at the International Labour Organization, said that people living in the poorest countries are deceived into believing that better opportunities are available in Western countries. When they move to these countries they realized that things are not the way they were advertised. The migrant is not able to go home because of all the debt incurred with getting a visa, housing and travel expenses. The forced laborer also can not leave the situation until the debt or 'paper bondage' is paid off, which can take many years. "What we are seeing here is terrible deception," said Plant. It is not always physical violence. It is deception of condition; it is deception of contracts. These are the face of modern day slavery."

Recent revelations that 300 black African boys went missing in London is a good example of the level of this crisis today. Many of the boyes are believed to have been forced into horrible working conditions.

In the southern part of the United States there is a cycle of agricultural forced labor with thousands of Mexicans who come across the border to pick grapes or tomatoes. Terry Collingsworth of the International Labor Rights Fund said that these migrant workers feel trapped because they know they are illegal and have no rights. "You see this cycle of imprisonment,' said Collingsworth. "Often you see that the workers could run away, but they won't because they are worried about what will happen to their brother or sisiter who is still working at the factory. These are subtle ways to keep them imprisoned, but once you move them they are less likely to assert their rights."

Harvard Business School professor Regina Abrami said that this fear is seen everywhere, from the worker to the manager to even the CEO. "There is almost a climate of fear that reaches across the entire supply chain," said Abrami. "It includes the workers themselves who are afraid to say anything. It includes corporations who are afraid that if they do anything that it will affect the market. It includes suppliers who meet all the demands they will be less competitive. And quite frankly it also includes governments who particularly under more globalized conditions are terrified that if they try to be this haven for worker's rights that is active against forced labor, they will suffer and be less competitive in the market. And as the developing world becomes more dependent on foreign and direct investment, they particularly feel more vulnurable."

Corporate giants Walmart and Nike have been struggling with this fear issue. However, now is the time to put people first, not money. Consumers can only make a difference by demanding their politicians to create international laws that makes forced labor illegal and business fair and ethical for companies. Thomas Kochan, professor of management at MIT's Sloan School of Management, also says that consumers need to get educated about the issues and start asking questions about who is making the products, forcing companies to put labels on products certifiying that they weren't make under forced labor conditions. "Lets provide leadership in the developed world so that the consumer side takes responsibility for making sure that these conditions are eradicated."


Isolated in America

Recently Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka was honored at Harvard University's W.E.B Dubois Institute for his contribution to world literature. At the ceremony he reaffirmed statements he made in his recent book, Climate of Fear, that takes a critical look at why Americans are ignorant of what's going on outside US borders both politically and socially. He said that despite the unlimited access Americans have to new technologies such as the internet, they remain the least educated about the world.

In a recent op-ed piece written by Boston Globe's Derrick Jackson, Soyinka said that people still ask him "whether Africa is still colonized by the British, and conflate world events to where ''they think the Yugoslav war was taking place in Asia against Chinese Communists."

''It doesn't matter whether it's blacks, it doesn't matter the class, it doesn't matter the level of education," Soyinka said in the article. ''Some of the most brilliant of my colleagues in universities here are so insular that it hurts. I find it very difficult.

He further says that Americans need a basic understanding of geography before anything. ''For me, geography is the summit of human existence," said Soyinka. "It dictates the culture, it contains the history of how human beings actually recreated existence depending on the environment." In the United States, he continued, ''geography is 'What is the capital of California?' and once they say that, they think they know the world.

''The way we were taught geography, it is what made us so confident in the critical assessment of other nations. We know them, I mean, you don't know them all the way, but we know them in a way that is fundamental to the relationship of humanity to the natural environment.

''Once people understand that, you understand why Eskimos live in igloos, and you don't see that as backwards but as an intelligent use of resources. You understand why certain peoples eat horrible looking grubs and you recognize them as superior to hamburgers. Curiosity precedes critical thinking. If you're not curious, you can't think."

I am not suprise by this because I see this on a regular basis. For example, when the Asian tsunami occurred last December, a college-educated acquintance of mine (who will remain nameless) asked me as we were eating dinner one night "Who is Sri Lanka?" This person actually believe that Sri Lanka was a person, rather than a island nation in South Asia.

In contrast, I know a nice gentleman from the Sudan named Jacob, who is almost an expert on world issues. He came to the US five years to escape the war in his country and went to trade school here to become a plumber. I sit next to him sometimes on the train to work and talk to him what is going in Sudan and other issues relating to African and even American politics. I asked him one day how did he become so educated on these issues. He said that he listened to the BBC radio back in the Sudan when he was still learning how to read. When he goes home at night his listens to the BBC news late at night on the local NPR station.

I blame the media for contributing to the nation's lack of intelligence. Pop culture has saturated the way news is delivered in the US. When Americans are more interested in hearing in the top news about Desperate Housewives, Michael Jackson and the runaway bride, rather than the crisis in Darfur and the new report from the International Labor Organization (which I will write about in another post in the near future), there is something seriously wrong.

When you compared US media outlets to those outside this country, it is quite embarassing. Lets look at the websites for CNN and BBC News. The BBC website is filled with rich news, analytical and feature items about issues going on all over the world. CNN.com, on the other hand seems to mainly covers national stories which includes celebrities news. The only international news that gets top coverage are stories that have a US connection to them, such as a US soldier's death in Iraq. When British elections and the Pope's death occured, I had to turn to BBC America's news coverage because it did a better job at analysing the issues. I am especially suprised by the lack of coverage for the British elections in the US because Tony Blair's election was ultimately decided by how angry Brits were about him takings sides with the Bush Administration on the Iraq invasion.

Speaking of Bush, Soyinka was not lacking in his criticism of the President. ''I believe it is impossible for him not to realize by now, even though he may not admit it, that he has committed a very grave blunder, said Soyinka. " It seems to me just impossible for somebody in that position, with the kinds of pronouncements he's made, not to realize that he's been living in a fool's paradise he has created.

''The world is far more complex for a nation, however strong, however big, to say that he doesn't care what the rest of the world thinks as long as he's doing what God intends. That kind of language, that kind of belief is what makes any leader, any human being dangerous. . . . Many Americans are in a mental bunker. Any information that tries to penetrate that bunker is rejected as enemy intellectual action."

He is right; in post 9/11 America Bush has created this shroud of fear in our country that is contributing to Americans not wanting to know the "Outsider." From Al Qaeda in the Islamic world to AIDS in Africa, the president and the media are really doing serious damage to our country.


Post-Colonial Moment: Unity Convention in Boston

Boston is a finalist to host the 2008 Unity, a convention for journalists of color. But an obscure state law might hinder the city's chances. Recently a law written in 1675 that says Native Americans are to be arrested upon entering the city was revealed. Although the outdated law is no longer enforced, representatives from Unity would like the city to repeal the state law, stating that it contributes to Boston's reputation as being racist. In an effort to promote the "New Boston," Boston Mayor Menino and the Massachusetts Convention Authority leaders met with the Executive Director of Unity to look into getting rid of the law. The convention could potentially bring in over 8,000 African American, Asian, Hispanic and Native American media professionals and millions of dollars to the city.

This bring light to the fact that there are many obscure laws on the books all around the country that are simply out of touch with modern realities. Like the above mentioned law, some of these them had prejudicial intentions when they were originally written.

However, this move inadvertantly enters the Unity Convention into the gay marriage debate in Massachusetts.

When I first heard about this news, at first I thought it was absurd from Unity to dig out an old law that is no longer used to make a point. But I thought about it a little longer and came to an abrupt change of heart when I thought about the actions of the current occupants in the Massachusetts state house. State attorney general Tom Reily dusted off another obscure law from the books. The law brought forth is one created in 1913 to bar interracial couple not from Massachusetts from marrying in this state if it is not legal for them to do so in their home state. The Commonwealth has now brought it back to life and has replaced interracial couples for gay couples. Reily says that the law is keeping with the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which 38 states have on the books. Anyone can pull out some aged law to push their own personal agenda without regards to others. Gay rights activists would like to see the 1913 law abolished.

With this said, are the Unity organizers going to take on the 1913 law too? I don't have a legal background, but from what I have read about the two laws, they both seem to be similar in regards to their racist intentions. I find it hard to believe that the organizers of a convention for journalists who are looking at Massachusetts to be a host state didn't think this question would be asked. This especially because the gay community and communities of color have been clashing on this divisive issue of marriage in this state for the last year or so.


Third World Gays Organize and Take on the World!

Third World Gays Organize and Take on the World!
By Talia Whyte

Copyright 2005, Talia Whyte, All Rights Reserved.

While US gay rights activists celebrate the first anniversary of legalized same sex marriage in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, another landmark in gay rights history is being commemorated this month on the other side of the world. On the evening of May 11, 2001, over 60 Egyptian men were arrested in Cairo for perceived or actual homosexuality in various locations. More than half of these men were detained on a popular gay boat cruise called the Queen Boat. In June 2001, 52 of them were referred by the Egyptian presidential decree to the Emergency State Security Court for Misdemeanors in Cairo, an exceptional court established under emergency legislation.

Human rights activists and the Cairo 52, as the men would later be referred to, accused the Egyptian police of violating the UN Convention against Torture. While these men were imprisoned, they accused Egyptian officials of daily beatings. They also accused the media of exposing family members of the men to the risk of harassment and threats to their physical being.

The following November the court sentenced 23 men to prison terms of between one and five years. Twenty-one were convicted of 'habitual debauchery', one of 'contempt of religion' and another on both charges. There is no law against homosexuality in Egypt so the Egyptian government officially accused the men of committing crimes of debauchery.

Following international outrage Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak ordered a new trial. In June 2003 an appeals court in Egypt either reduced the sentences or released some of the men.

The right to freedom from discrimination on the basis of sex, which includes sexual orientation, is recognized in international treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Egypt is a state party.

Ironically, progressive activists claim that Egypt and the rest of the Middle East used to be more tolerant of homosexuality. It was said that it was an open secret that gay men congregated freely in designated areas in Cairo for many years until more religious conservatives came to power under Hosni Mubarak.

This irony is also said about most countries in the Global South. Many postcolonial scholars chronicle that homosexuality used to be an acceptable lifestyle in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean before Europeans imported homophobia through Western religious indoctrination and colonization.

The documentary Dangerous Living: Coming Out in the Developing World, which will be released on DVD May 24, relives the events that occurred during the "Queen Boat" trial. Ashraf Zanati, one of the Cairo 52 who later sought asylum in Vancouver, tells his story.

"My sexuality is my own sexuality," says Zanati in the film, " It doesn’t belong to anybody. Not to my government, not to my brother, my sister, my family. No one."

While the film focuses mainly on the Cairo 52, it also takes a in-depth look at LGBT repression in the rest of the Global South and the growing international movement fighting for equality and tolerance. Most importantly the film points out how little the Western media covers the atrocities gays in the Global South have to deal with on a regular basis. Even the ‘Queen Boat’ trial received limited coverage, despite massive protests from international human rights advocates such as Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank.

The film interviews some of the fiercest gay activists you probably have never heard of in your local newspaper. Dilcia Molina, a Honduran lesbian mother who had the courage to participate in her city’s pride march without her face covered, had her family attacked by military police.

"One of the men grabbed my son and cut his face with a knife," says Molina in the film, "Those men were looking for me. They were going to rape me to take the lesbian out of me."

The ever-festering homophobia in Jamaica is also up for some discussion in the film. Coincidentally since the film was completed, international gay and human rights organizations have shifted the spotlight from Egypt to Jamaica. This has not gone unnoticed by traditionalist Jamaicans. Many Jamaicans feel that the efforts of organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to point out alleged abuses against Jamaican gays and lesbians is another way of enforcing Western values and 'sovereignty' on a predominately black country.

The violent tension on the Caribbean island between gay activists and Jamaican conservatives culminated last June when Brian Williamson, founder of gay rights group Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), was brutally murdered in his Kingston home. The murderer has never been found. While many Jamaicans maintain that Williamson was either murdered by a jealous ex-lover or a thieve, Williamson's friends and colleagues think the murderer had anti-gay intentions and is receiving protection by others in the community.

Larry Chang, a gay Jamaican and friend of Williamson who is also featured in the film, received asylum in the US last year and still is working for equal rights from his home in New York.

"I have the distinction of being the first Jamaican to come out, but I think it was purely accidental," cried Chang at a Amnesty International protest at the Jamaican Consulate in New York last month, "The homophobia in this country [Jamaica] is affecting everyone - gay, straight, man, woman and child - because of this AIDS issue."

He is referring to the recent Human Rights Watch report, Hated to Death: Homophobia, Violence, and Jamaica’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic, which concludes that the country's sodomy laws, combined with the island's macho-masculine mentality and homophobic lyrics by top reggae stars, are creating a major public health crisis by stigmatizing HIV victims and the medical professionals who treat them. Many Jamaicans equate AIDS to homosexuality and this makes it difficult to deal with those who have any association with the disease.

The Jamaican government rejects the claims in the report. The government strongly supports it sodomy laws, which were maintained from Britain after the country's independence in 1962. At a recent panel discussion in New York Dr Gordon Shirley, Jamaica's Ambassador to the US, reaffirmed the government's position stating, "The government finds it necessary to respond to this report, which provides misleading information with inflammatory and sweeping statements, which undermine the efforts of local persons in the fight against HIV/AIDS." The ambassador further argued that the report has "failed to realize the complexity of dealing with the religious and cultural traditions in a society such as ours."

But Julius Powell, a gay Jamaican who works for the New York AIDS Coalition, sees it differently.

"The Ambassador admits 'pockets of stigma and discrimination exist,' and that the government recognized that acts of discrimination will be severely penalized," said Powell, "But he failed to admit that some 50 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) persons have been brutally murdered in Jamaica since 1980 as a result of their perceived sexual orientation. What the government of Jamaica fails to realize is that Jamaica's sodomy laws supports a victimless 'crime,' that the law is used disproportionately against homosexual men, and that it is seen by gay rights advocates and groups which support targeted prevention efforts among men who have sex with men as being exceptional, arbitrary and prejudicial. The maintenance of Jamaica’s sodomy laws is a violation of international human rights law in that it violates the right to privacy."

While these human rights abuses portray a very grime picture of the state of gay rights outside of the West, Dangerous Living gives a glimmer of hope for what is to come from these brave advocates. From Manila to Harare, from Sao Paulo to Tehran, and all points in between, the LGBT community in the Global South is a force not to be reckon with no more. Rodney Lutalo, a gay activist in Kenya, was imprisoned and beaten for his efforts in diversity education. "We can only go through this world by educating, not by hating," says Lutalo in the film, "The best will of revenge is forgiveness. For those who hated me, I forgive them."


Post-Colonial Moment: VE-Day and the legacy of World War II

This weekend commemorations for Victory in Europe Day (VE-Day), the day Germany surrendered to the Soviet Union the Allied nations of France, UK and the United States, are occurring all over Europe. Heads of state are saluting veterans who risked their lives for the efforts. Soldiers from many of the former colonized nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America played a large role in World War II as well, but not much is being said about them. Although many of these soldiers fought with pride for their respective colonial rulers, but returned to their homelands to deal with racial hostility and discrimination.

Effectively on this day, the Cold War began and the Non-Alignment Movements was sprung.

Did the hostility of the returned colonized soldiers have any effect on the need for countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia to hasten independence from ther European rulers?


Women and the Tsunami: Challenging Cultural Norms

Since the tragic Asian tsunami, NGOs around the world have had a serious concern about the female victims who were affected. Most notably Oxfam International recently put out a briefing, noting the devastating effects were impacted by cultural mores. The reports sums up that if the gender roles were maybe distributed differently, there probably wouldn't have been as many women that perished. In the hardest hit countries of Indonesia, Thailand, India and Sri Lanka, as many as 80% of the female population in many villages was lost.

According to Oxfam, "some causes of these patterns are similar: Women across the region died because they
stayed behind to look for their children and other relatives; men more often than women can swim, men more often than women can climb trees. But differences are important: Women in Aceh have a high level of participation in the labor force, but the wave struck on a Sunday when they were at home and the men were out running errands away from the seashore. Many women in India were waiting on the shore for fishermen to bring in their catch, which the women would then process and sell in the local market. In Sri Lanka’s Batticaloa District, the tsunami hit during the time when women usually took their baths in the sea."

"Even more important for the purpose of relief and long-term reconstruction is to understand the consequences of such demographic changes. How safe are women in crowded camps and settlements when they are so outnumbered by men? Will widows in India have access to land once owned by their husbands? Are younger women going to enter into marriages with much older men, as they are starting to do in some
locations? And will this trend compromise their education and reproductive health? In the fishing communities of South India, what rights will surviving women enjoy under new arrangements and programs? In whose names will the newly built houses be registered? Will men taking on new domestic roles or will women’s workloads

Men and their status have also been affected. Men lose self-esteem as a consequence of not being able to support their families in the aftermath of disaster. Valli, from Pudukuppam village in Cuddalore, now looks after the two young daughters of her brother, Palaniappan. Palaniappan, 26, committed suicide after saying
he could not cope with the children and a jobless life after his wife was washed away
by the tsunami: 'Palani was extremely distressed after the loss of his wife and would often sit alone
wondering what he would do without a job and with two small girls to feed and marry
off. But we never thought he would go to such extremes.'"says Valli in the report.

But in most cases, the most disadvantaged people will still be women.

The most immediate issue is the short term survival of women in the temporary camps. Many of these shelters are not equipped with the most basic needs to protect the dignity of a woman, such as a privacy in the camps for clothes change and medical examinations. There has also been reports of sexual abuses by their male counterparts in the latrine areas because of the lack of security.

Another big problem is the issue of widowed women not being able to collect insurance money for their deceased husbands. Many women are losing their homes because the deed is in the deceased husband's name. This problem is exacerbated by women not receiving the equal pay their male counterparts make at their jobs. In these case many women might become vulnable to sex exploitation, as the pay would be seen as attractive for many who are suddenly the breadwinners in their households. In other cases young women are forced by their surviving family members to marry older men to maintain a financial status.

While the problems of these women are not going to be solved overnight because of larger cultural issues, not even by this author, there are somethings being done to help the women in the long term and breakdown some of the taboos.

A group of women in Sri Lanka are learning how to swim. The culture in Sri Lanka prevents mixed bathing in the few public swimming pools which do exist - most of which are in the capital Colombo - so opportunities for women have been almost non-existent. If more of these women knew how to swim, many more of their lives could have been saved.

"We could never go into the sea in our swimming costumes anyway, we have to go fully clothed, so it's impossible to swim," explains Pushpa Kodippila, 43, a mother of two, in a BBC report.

The only problem here is the lack of female swim teachers. The program is being run by Christine Fonfe, a British swimming teacher, who felt after the tsunami, that this was the chance to change cultural attitudes. So, she is bringing some Sri Lankan women to England to get certified in swimming so they will come back home to give swimming lessons to the native women. Eventually, Ms Fonfe says that their Sri Lankan government wants to run this program, but is very skeptical of this.

"There's been talk of it in the papers, but they want to charge parents for the privilege. It's something of a paradox that so many people live by the sea, but never have the chance to learn to swim," said Ms. Fonfre in the report.


British Elections '05: Race, Immigration and the War on Terror

Immigration policy and the War on Terror are the top issues in the first British general elections in the post 9/11 era. Many recent immigrants who are ethnic minorities and especially Muslims believe that all the political parties are vying for the 'bigot vote' by using seemingly prejudice advertising tactics. In today's UK being called an immigrant has racist connotations.

Most notably the British National Party (BNP) has been the main culprit for creating huge (and non-existant) fear and hysteria around the country's new citizens.

"That is my bugbear," said east London resident and BNP supporter Jill Jones in a recent Guardian report, jabbing her finger at a picture of a woman in a full burka. 'I'm not a rabid racist but I feel isolated from those people when they wear their veils." The picture had a tagline: 'Ladies in Barking [east London] today, thanks to Labour and Conservative immigration policy.'

"The only reason I am voting for the BNP is because the Afro-Caribbean people are given grants to come here," said Paul Houlihan in the same interview. "It is nothing personal against other races but we do not have the resources for these extra people."

He is talking about the BNP claim that London boroughs - including Tower Hamlets - have given 'Africans' up to £50,000 ($80,000) to move to Barking and Dagenham. When the newspaper contacted Tower Hamlets council it said the 'cash incentive scheme' , which helps people in council housing to buy homes, was taken up by 54 households in 2003/2004. Of those just five moved to east London, of whom three were white British, one mixed race and one unknown. On average they received £19,000 or just over $30,000.

Nonetheless, because of the party's extremist views it is highly unlikely any BNP officials will be elected based on news reports. BNP has become the butt of jokes by many politicians, including Conservative party leader, Michael Howard, who said BNP was "a bunch of thugs dressed up as a political party."

But the Conservative party's views immigration strongly parallels those of BNP. Michael Howard has said that his party favors a quota on refugees and asylum seekers and implementing ID cards. Activists have openly opposed the party's proposed policies. Herman Ouseley, former chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, belives the conservatives are only trying to make inroads in BNP voters.

"While it may not be racist to talk about immigration, it certainly is to do so with the intention of capturing every bigot's vote, said Ousely, "Michael Howard knows that he cannot win the election without capturing those votes that were destined for the BNP, Ukip and Veritas. That is why he cannot let go of the anti-asylum/immigration agenda."

The Labour party, with a more 'comfortable' position on the immigration question by opposing quotas, doesn't escape Ouseley's scorn. "...And the New Labour government has not countered any misinformation [from the Conservative party] with facts over the past eight years," said Ouseley in the same editorial, "Instead, they have claimed for themselves the tough guys' role, bringing in more and more legislation to keep "undesirables" out. Even though they have a rampant deportation machine that removed nearly 15,000 people in the past year, and have clamped down on deficiencies in the shambolic management inherited from Howard's days in charge of the Home Office, they want people to be thinking that they're "tough on asylum and tough on immigrants."

Although Labour wants to be seen as tough on immigration to appease most voters, they also want the ethnic minority vote at the same time. But even the vote of people of color, especially among Asian Muslims, seems to be up for grabs - somewhat. Tony Blair's blatant support for the invasion of Iraq has alarmed many British followers of Islam and has made them feel resentful.

Derwala Takdir, who works for the Active Women's Group, agrees: "Islam and terrorism, Islam and terrorism, the words always appear together in the media. It has become very difficult to be a Muslim in Britain. We feel isolated."

Tony Blair is not the only Labour politician trying to hold on to their seat. Oona King, the infamous Bethnal Green & Bow MP, is running for re-election. She is a stong supporter of the war in Iraq and has been called by opponents 'Tony Blair's lap dog." Her position may cost her in her constituency because it is a Labour stronghold. King being black and Jewish doesn't help in Brick Lane which is predominately populated by Bangladeshi Muslims. King was giving a speech recently in Brick Lane to a group of Muslim women and and she was interrupted by a passionate outburst from a young woman: 'We believed in you so much ... we were shocked by what you did on the war ... it was like you had been bringing up a child, feeding it and pampering it, and then when it had grown up you just shot it! I'm sorry, but this is how we felt you treated us.' The young woman's attack raises a murmur of approval from the other women in the room. King is taken aback, but defends herself by pointing out that well before the invasion of Iraq she had called for Saddam Hussein to be ousted because of his 'genocide' of 500,000 Iraqi children.

"Moral Values" have also seem to cross the Pond into this particular election. Many of King's Muslim constituents are opposed to her support on such issues as gay rights. George Galloway, King's main opposition in the race who left the Labour party because of Blair's stance on Iraq, is using this opportunity to his own advantage. "I have religious beliefs and try to live by them,' Galloway said, "I have all my life been against abortion and against euthanasia - in fact, on Question Time two weeks ago I was the only panellist to inveigh against the creeping euthanasia in our society. I am not surprised if my position on these issues strikes a chord."

As of today, Labour has a slight edge in the race, despite steep competition and new revelations about Blair's knowledge about the Iraq war. But Herman Ouseley summed up his reaction:

"Seeking power irrespective of the morality that should unambiguously underpin the arguments for election is now a part of the corrupt promises made by political parties and their leaders. The result is the current high level of cynicism and mistrust of political parties, politicians and the electoral process. "


World Press Freedom Day 2005

The more things change, the more things remain the same...

Every year on May 3 media activists and politicians take the time this day to analyse the current state of press freedom and commemorate those journalists who are harassed, injured or, in many countries, killed trying to tell the story. If the behavior of Kenya's First Lady gives any indication, the world's press corp is seriously in trouble.

The latest antics by Lucy Kibaki took on a whole new dimension Friday evening when she stormed into the offices of Nairobi's Daily Nation.

She was angry over reports of how she had interrupted a farewell party for outgoing World Bank Kenya director, saying the music was too loud. It is reported that she slapped a cameraman and took away reporters' notebooks.

The BBC's Adam Mynott in Nairobi says the drama began on Friday night when the first lady went round to the house of Senegalese outgoing World Bank Kenya director Mukhtar Diop and three times demanded that he turn the music down.

It is reported she is said to have tried to disconnect the electricity from the sound system.
Surrounded by armed guards, she called on a local police station, demanding that Mr Diop be arrested.

The antics of the charismatic first lady, who has a reputation as a woman not to be trifled with, was splashed all over the front pages of Kenya's newspapers. This is this what prompted her to walk into the Daily Nation's offices.

In this same report, the camaraman Clifford Derrick said he was "terrified at the way she was behaving" when she slapped him "hard" for refused to give her his camera.

Mrs Kibaki said reports about her and her family were "unkind."

"If you think Kenyans are blind, and not intelligent, you cheat yourselves," she said. "They know who are the people you support in this country.

Could you imagine if Laura Bush did this? Maybe she gave herself cover from an pending scandals by entertaining the scribes at the White House Correspondents' Dinner last Saturday.

But I digress...

In Nepal King Gyananedra has banned the media from covering scuffles between the army and the Maoist rebels.

Unfortunately Mrs Kibaki and King Gyananedra are not the only people in power who try to suppress freedom of the press. According to a report released today by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Philippines, Iraq, Russia, Colombia and Bangladesh were among the most dangerous countries for journalists to work in last year.

Human rights activists believed that the internet was going to be the new frontier for oppressed media workers around the world to be beat totalitarian government officials. But many regimes are finding ways to even censor cyberspace.

The Thai news website, Prachatai, has been getting a lot of steam from Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra for disseminating photos and video showing that the death of 78 Muslims in southern Thailand was at the hands of the government's militia and banned any visuals of Maoist rebels.

On Nov. 15, 'Prachatai' posted an account on its webpage that criticized the explanation of the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of the manner in which the 78 Muslims died. The premier told the press that the deaths happened because the detainees were weak and exhausted since the incident took place during the Islamic month of Ramadan.

In Iran the conservative government tried to ban internet bloggers that objected to press censorship. A lively culture of news blogging captivated young readers, as evidenced by a 2004 survey suggesting that many Iranians trust the Internet more than other media, the Iranian Students News Agency reported. In an online protest during several days in September, bloggers renamed their sites after government-shuttered newspapers and ran outlawed articles

Amir Mojiri, Babak Ghafori Azad, Hanif Mazrui, Omid Memarian, Shahram Rafizadeh, and Fereshteh Ghazi were among a number of Internet journalists and technicians arrested. All were eventually released, most on bail while their cases remained pending. Several other bloggers and Web technicians were questioned and briefly detained. In October, judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad said that individuals operating unauthorized Web sites would be prosecuted for "acting against national security, disturbing the public mind, and insulting sanctities."

From where to where have we come...