Cuban embargo

Thursday, September 25, 2008

For almost 50 years the United States has continued its trade embargo against Cuba, stepping up to even more strict regulations within the past 10 years, like increased financial sanctions that isolate Cuba from the international trading community. With the devastation of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, many in Cuba and around the world are again raising their voices in protest to the persistence of the blockade. After the natural disaster, the U.S. offered direct aid to the island, but still refuses to lift the embargo that Cuban Foreign Minister Felips PĂ©rez Roque estimated has cost Cuba at least $222 billion (“Near-unanimous vote at UN”). Calls to end the blockade may be heard louder as the Cuban Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura participates in the 63rd convention of the United Nations General Assembly this week in New York (though it is unlikely to make headlines in the U.S. while the Presidential campaign and the current financial crisis blanket news pages across the country).

Looking beyond the protestations of Cuba herself, more than 180 members of the United Nations voted to condemn the embargo in 2007. This issue has been raised religiously for the past 16 years, and every vote ends with a majority decision against the blockade. So what is the U.S. still holding on for? Are politicians trying not to lose face in the international community for giving in to such a small nation?

Having formed the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba in 2003, it would seem the U.S. government has held tight to this embargo for so many years because it wishes to see the administration in Cuba change to a democracy. But is this an efficient way to do so? When an embargo is placed on a country, who is hurt? And who do they blame for their suffering?


Partlow, Joshua. “Hurricanes Shift Debate on Embargo Against Cuba.” Washington Post Foreign Service, 24 September 2008, .

Van Auken, Bill. “Near-Unanimous vote at UN to repudiate US blockade of Cuba” World Socialist Web Site, 1 November 2007


Crossing Pakistani Borders

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Recently the U.S. military began sending Special Operations ground troops into Pakistani borders without permission from Islamabad. The first of such attacks happened when they landed by helicopter within the borders of Afghanistan on September 3rd, crossed into Pakistan and attacked Taliban and al-Qaeda targets. In these tribal areas there are hideouts and safe-houses where members of either terrorist organization could be planning attacks, either within that region or outside. This would seem to fall directly under the mission of the U.S. military in the War on Terror. However, attacking without permission—from the Pakistani military, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency or the new President Asif Ali Zardari—may end up being counter-productive. Here are some issues to think about and discuss:

1) The people of Pakistan, like those in most every other country, have a great enthusiasm for keeping their territorial integrity, and are understandably upset by U.S. incursions into their borders. Up until now they have been called an ally in the war on terror, albeit an unstable and ineffective ally. Through the years of fighting since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, terrorists have been able to cross the borders into Pakistan to find safe-havens and supplies, which has been detrimental to U.S. efforts in the region. It seems logical that the U.S. military should now follow them across the border to target known terrorist areas specifically. But crossing that border complicates the matter greatly. What authority does the U.S. have to do this? In a New York Times article by Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti, it was stated that an American official said “the Pakistani government had privately assented to the general concept of limited ground assaults by Special Operations forces against significant militant targets, but that it did not approve each mission" (“Bush Said to Give Orders Allowing Raids in Pakistan”). Is this enough?

2) With the new president, and his apparent good relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a window of opportunity was opened for improved diplomatic relations among the two presidents and the U.S. But that window could quickly close if the U.S. goes too far in outraging the Pakistani population (they already aren’t too fond of us). Both Karzai and Zardari have to walk a fine line between good relations with the U.S. and seeming like a puppet for Western powers to their own people. I’m sure hearing news that U.S. soldiers killed civilians in their area is making it difficult for them to keep good relations with Washington.

3) It is extremely difficult for U.S. soldiers to fight in civilian areas while then enemy hides out in their villages and in their homes, wearing similar clothes. This has been a big issue in Iraq as well. So who is morally at fault when civilians die in these attacks? The terrorists who hide behind these women and children, or the soldiers who are trying to do their jobs while also protecting themselves and the lives of their fellow soldiers? And if it is wrong to attack in tribal areas where civilians may be in danger, what do we do instead? The U.S. military knows where the enemy is. One New York Times article stated that U.S. special Operations forces killed “about two dozen suspected Qaeda fighters” (“Bush Said to Give Orders Allowing Raids in Pakistan”). So how can we expect our military men and women to stand back and wait for permission that may come too late, while they know the location of an enemy most of them joined the military to fight?

News Article:

Schmitt, Eric and Mark Mazzetti. “Bush Said to Give Orders Allowing Raids in Pakistan.” New York Times Online, 11 September 2008:


Georgia and the 'new Cold War'

Thursday, September 4, 2008

When Russian forces moved across Georgian borders August 7th of this year, it was easy for many in the West to jump to the conclusion that Russia was the “bad” guy and Georgia was the “good” guy. Zip, bang, boom, put it in the headline. But in the weeks since, the lines between the aggressor and the victim have been blurred.

Moscow accused Tbilisi of “genocide”. Tbilisi accused Moscow of “ethnic cleansing.” And since Russia’s acknowledgement of the independent status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the borders that Russia crossed and their motivations for taking these actions have been muddled into a gray area. The international community joins Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili in renouncing Russia’s action, but it was reported that the power structures of the already semi-autonomous regions actually thanked Russian President Dmitri Medvedev for his help and recognition. It could be said that Saakashvili moved his troops into the region first, and in his attempt to take them back under full control of his administration, he provoked Russia into a defensive response to protect the large number of Russian citizens that reside in the regions. But then Russia’s response has been called a “disproportionate reaction” by European leaders who met earlier this week to discuss possible sanctions (BBC News article, “EU suspends talks on Russia Pact”). The European Union ultimately decided against sanctions but threatened to delay talks on a new partnership agreement if Moscow doesn’t remove its troops from Georgian territory. This lack of sanctions has given Russia one reason to be happy, but they are still alone in their recognition of the break-away regions as independent entities and have furthered their international isolation with provocative comments like Medvedev’s recent description of Saakashvili as a “political corpse” (BBC News article, “Saakashvili a ‘political corpse’”).

Now, I won’t debate here whether the sovereignty of a country, or its right to an independent existence, is reliant on the recognition of one other nation alone, or whether an agreement needs to be reached among a majority of UN members, or whether de facto control over a territory is enough. The entire issue of the human right to self-determination is complex and would require much more space for debate. But I would like to discuss one issue I find interesting in the political discussion of the crisis as it is portrayed in the media.

In a September 2nd article from the BBC, Medvedev brought to light U.S. involvement in the crisis. Though the U.S. has sent no troops, nor imposed any sanctions, President Bush’s support of Saakashvili would seem enough for Russia to accuse Washington of provoking the crisis. Medvedev may be just flexing his muscles now in an attempt to prove that his strength matches that of his predecessor, Vladimir Putin. But with such direct jabs at the West that have become fairly regular, especially since the U.S. finally locked the agreement with Poland to place anti-missile defense systems in their borders, many have considered the idea of a “new Cold War.” But what does that mean, really? What would a new Cold War entail? And shouldn’t we give it a new name? Granted, Prime Minister Putin is ex-KGB, but Russia is not the Soviet Union. Medvedev hasn’t proved himself to be Stalin. He doesn’t seem to be Mahatma Gandhi either, but it must difficult to be the successor of a man like Putin, a leader who is revered in Russia as the one who brought the country back from the dead and into her own.

Looking specifically at the conflict in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, I can understand why so many would question the reemergence of the Cold War. If we defined that time by the actions of two major powers who prodded each other politically by using other, perhaps smaller or lesser developed nations for their battlefields, then this example might be perfect. The possibility is open that Russia’s actions in Georgia was partially backlash from the Western recognition of the Serbian break-away region of Kosovo in February, making Kosovo and Georgia the proxy wars of the new millennium.

I’m sure it also doesn’t help that Saakashvili seems to be egging on this Cold War mentality with inflammatory remarks, broadening the situation to frame it as a war between the West and Russia. Between good and evil. Between freedom and tyranny. But what I want to know is, in the very specific case of the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, minus all the Cold War rhetoric, which government really represents good and which government really represents evil? The government that sent troops to keep control over the regions? Or the government that sent troops to keeps those troops from keeping control over the regions? Do they have a right to independence, as Georgia did from the Soviet Union? Maybe. But does Russia have a right to decide? Or the Georgian government? The UN?

News articles:

BBC News, "EU suspends talks on Russia Pact” 1 Sept 2008

BBC News, "Saakashvili a ‘political corpse'” 2 Sept 2008


Updates from Nagaland

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

You may have already seen the two-part interview with Grace Collins in the “CSI Productions” tab of the website (if not, then I encourage you to watch it). I spoke with Ms. Collins recently and it sounds like she has been busy since that interview was filmed.

One “soft multi-track diplomacy” campaign she is working on is modeled after none other than her pet cat Malcolm. A strange suggestion to be an ambassador of Nagaland for sure, but her reasoning is sound. As a cultural diplomat, it is Ms. Collins’ job to share the culture of the Naga people with the seemingly apathetic American public. One medium she has chosen to spread news of the plight of the Nagas is YouTube.

Videos have previously been posted on YouTube about Nagaland, but unfortunately it seems the nation is a victim of its own obscurity—searching YouTube for “Nagalim” yields only 90 videos. Searching “Nagaland” brings in a bit more: 304. Searching “cat,” however, has very different results. This was why Collins’ decided to use her pure-bred Blue cat Malcolm to star in a three-part drama that will expose the problems the Nagas face at the hands of Indian officials enforcing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. “I can’t afford a celebrity,” she said. “But on YouTube you can make anyone a celebrity.” The Malcolm Project will also attempt to tap into the multi-billion dollar pet fashion industry to raise money for orphans of Nagalim.

“Food, culture and art is the best way to create awareness, then comes interest, then comes action.” And it seems to be working. The first video of the Malcolm Project has been viewed more than 370,000 times, whereas the first video that comes up when searching “Nagaland” has only been viewed around 3,800 times.

In addition to the pet industry, Ms. Collins’ work has brought her to the culinary industry, making a Naga cookbook that will also tell a compelling story of the people of Nagalim. It makes sense considering how important food is to the identity of any given culture. It also makes perfect sense given the controversy of the Naga Jolokia pepper. Native to the Naga territory, it is the hottest chili in the world. Ms. Collins has even had the unfortunate opportunity of tasting it first hand. “I didn’t realize how horrible it would be until I tried it,” she said. “I took this big bite of it and my lips turned so bright red it looked like I had lipstick on. The next morning my whole hands broke out.” The main controversy of this chili is two-fold—on one hand are the alleged reports of Indians using the pepper as a torture device by making victims eat massive amounts of them or having their skin burned by forced exposure to the chili that normally requires gloves to handle. On the second hand is the controversy over whether the chili pepper belongs to the Nagas or the Indians. This is directly tied to the human right to self-determination of the Naga people: whether their land and their culture are their own, or whether they are just a part of the Indian territory.

“If you look at the UN definition of a nation, the Nagas meet all of the categories,” Collins said. So why are they still being denied independence?

Click for more information on the Malcolm Project


White South African Farmers

Monday, September 1, 2008

Though there have not yet been many submissions on the CSI website, there is one that caught my eye, as I’m sure it captured the eyes of anyone who chose to open it. The powerpoint presentation on the murders of white South African farmers is graphic and emotional. There are not many facts, but plenty of passion. This makes me wonder how much of it is actually publicized. Even the quintessential source of information—Google—is relatively mum on the situation. So this presentation may be much needed, given the lack of media coverage on the issue. I had certainly never heard much of it and this prompted me to seek out more information on the subject. More information that, let me reiterate, was very difficult to find.

In the presentation it was stated that 1,600 died, but in what time period? Within any particular area? I read that the murders may have totaled 40,000 in South Africa, with around 1,200 between 1994 and 2002 (09 June 2002 WorldNetDaily Article ). I also found information tying the killings to an organization called the Azanian People’s Organization (AZAPO)—a group from South Africa that boasts its dedication to the Black Consciousness Movement on their website On this website it is also stated that “although our ancestors fought the [white] settlers bravely, they were defeated by superior weapons. But Azania, the land of the Black People, is still ours and that is why we reclaim it by force.”

Having found these tidbits of information I would like to know more, especially after having read an April 2008 article in the "Toronto Star" (Canada) describing similar, though not quite as violent, circumstances in Zimbabwe—“White farms seized as Mugabe backers stage 'land grab'.” Not as violent yet anyway.



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