Thursday, 21 January 2010

The Americas round up relaunched!

Wow, it has been so long since I proverbially put pen to paper that I do not know where to begin, so naturally I start where I left off and with something I'm familiar with! Looking at the date I last posted a blog it is evident that I last logged in one year ago, so forgive me if this first blog in twelve months seems somewhat 'rusty'! I'm sure I will in due course I will manage to ease myself back into the process.

Too much has happened in the Americas for me to offer thought since I last contributed my two and a half cents, so I'll start with what is happening in the hempishphere now. Haiti naturally is dominating international news stories. It saddens me that it has taken a tragic event of the magnitude Haiti suffered last week for the impoverished nation that occupies the western portion of the island of Hispaniola to occupy western media time. The story of Haiti is one that deserves considerable time itself. Now the poorest nation in the American hemisphere and rated number 149 out of 182 in the United Nations' human index league, Haiti, as Saint Domingue, was once the French empire's richest colony and indeed was for a period the richest colony in the colonial Americas in proportion to land space. In the late eighteenth century as France underwent revolution, the slaves of Haiti rose up and threw off the yoke of colonial rule and founded the world's first black republic against insurmountable odds. The newly-independent United States' chose not to support the revolution and the immature revolutionaries of Spanish South America (which Haiti would later help liberate by sheltering and arming the proclaimed liberator of that region, Simon Bolivar) were not in a position to do so and probably would not have even if they were. The colony of Saint Domingue was renamed Haiti in honour of the virtually-extinct Taino indigenous peoples who once lived in the land and had called the island of Hispaniola 'Ay-ti' or 'land of mountains'. Haiti started its post-colonial independent life in literal ruins and in debt with France to sum of 150 million Francs (popularly expressed to be the equivalent to $22 billion in modern-day currency). Little has changed since then. The country has been contiously ravaged, suffered civil wars and dictatorship after dictatorship, and more recently foreign intervention in its internal affairs when President Aristide was, he claims, kidnapped by U.S. forces and removed to Southern Africa. The current death toll in Haiti in 102,000. The vast majority of these are of course Haitian nationals but a number of internation and particularly Brazilian UN peacekeepers (Brazil provies the largest number of UN peacekeepers in Haiti) and international aid workers and volunteers are also reported dead or missing. Ironically, when Haiti is most in need of international occupation to help rebuild its destoryed fragile-at-the-best-of-times infrastructure, it is distinctly unoccupied.

West from Haiti across the Caribbean sea and president-elect Profirio Lobo has reportedly secured safe passage for ousted president Manuel Zeleya from Honduras to the eastern portion of Hispaniola, the Domican Republic. The Honduran political crisis, it seems, is coming to an end. Brazil along with the U.S. has been actively involved in the process and will both be looking to reintergrate restabilised Honduras.

Meanwhile north in Mexico President Felipe Calderon's federal government is beginning to demonstrate results in its 'war' against organised crime and drug trafficking. Mexican authorities last month killed cartel kingpin Arturo Beltran Leyva and followed up by capturing his brother and acting-boss Carlos Beltran Levya. Since President Calderon started his war against the traffickers some 15,000 people have reportedly been killed in Mexico as a direct result of organised crime.

On the northern side of the U.S.-Mexican border the Democratic Party has suffered defeat in the election in Massachusettes to fill the federal senate seat vacated by the death of veteran Democrat and Kennedy brother Ted Kennedy. The election of a Republican represents a symbolic and substantive vote against the Obama administration.

South across the Panama canal in Venzuela President Chavez has devalued the Venezuelan currency in an effort to stave-off deeper recession there.

Way down south in the southern cone Jose Mujica's election secured a second consecutive presidential term for the Frente Amplio coalition. The Frente also won a majority in both the lower chamber and the senate allowing it to enjoy an absolute majority in both chambers.

Back aross the riograndenese pampa in Brazil, where heavy rain recently caused several deadly flash floods in the state of Rio de Janeiro, the world's first ethanol-fueled power plant has this week been opened in the state of Minas Gerais.

Remember America is a continenet not a single nation-state!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

"I love Jesus!"

It was real moment seeing Vitor Belfort, an excellent Brazilian Jui Jitsu practioner, fighting once again in the UFC recently. So memories of young Vitor throwing his ferouciously-fast fists in the caged octagan flooded back. I'm pleased to see that Vitor has evidently matured and calmed with age. Following his resounding victory over prized former middleweight champion Rich Franklin, Vitor shouted into the microphone held by interviewer Joe Rogan that he "loves Jesus!". It is a treat having Vitor back in mainstream MMA looking as good as ever. I suspect a fight with one of the Silva's (Wanderlei or Anderson) is in the works. Let's hope we get to see some Brazilian Jui Jitsu in all its glory!

Friday, 30 January 2009

Helio Gracie, co-founder of Brazilian Jui Jitsu, passes away

I'm saddened to write that I have just learned that Helio Grace, who co-developed Brazilian Jui Jitsu with his brother Carlos, has passed away in Rio de Janeiro aged 95.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Democracy is alive in Iraq, now ethnic and religious polarisation need to be seriously reconsidered

Six years ago Iraq was ruled by a dictator. There were no elections, no organised opposition parties and no internal dissent or criticism of the autocratic regime. The country is now about to undergo historic elections, in which approximately 15,000 candidates representing a cross section of rival ethnic and religious groups are standing for just 440 seats. The country, which featured just one political party under the Saddam Hussein dictatorship, now has over 400 political parties that appear to publish a seemlessly unending amount of propaganda and campaign leaflets. Participatory representative democracy is indeed alive in Iraq, but the problem remains that "Iraq" is just lines on a map to many of its inhabitants.

What people don't seem to realise or at least don't want to accept is that in addition to the inter-islamic polarisation that exists between Shia muslims and Shitte muslims, the nation is also ruptured by ethnic diversion. These divisions are deep and long-established. They cannot be eroded overnight or conveniently swept under a pile of progressive-sounding propaganda. In may senses Iraq suffers from similar aliements as a number of African "nations" which were carved onto maps by European colonisers. This is just as eveident in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and recently Kenya. This isn't a post about how nation-states are made and what constitututes a nation, but they are fundamental questions to bear in mind as we watch the Iraqi elections.

Democracy is indeed present in Iraq, but until the religious and ethnic divisions that polarise and indeed haunt the nation, it is flimsy and open to corrution of the most severe and horrific sort. If Iraq is to progress, no, survive, there needs to be an overhaul of the nation's governance. Perhaps unitary devolution with a fully representative but weak central authority would just do it.

Statistical sources:

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Americas round-up

Barack Obama has dominated sufficient media time in recent month so I won't spend time writing about his presidential inauguration and concurrent events in the United States, other than saying that we have lived through an historic moment and a promising one too.

Further south, in the tiny haven of democracy and stability in the Central American isthamus called Costa Rica, earthquakes have caused devastation. Over 20 people have been killed and almost 500 homes have been ruined by the natural disasters. The Costa Rican government is rightly concerned about the effects on the nation's tourist industry, an integral part of the nation's economy and a significant source of foreign exchange.

South of the Panama Canal things are quite busy. President Jagdeo of Guyana has had his dirty laundry aired publically and Bolivan President Evo Morales is attempting to modify the Bolivian Constitution in a controversial move which will likely further polarise that land-locked South American republic. Morales, not unlike his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez, is revered by many and scorned by an equity. But unlike Chavez, Morales' core support is, and will remain unflinching due to the fact that he is the first indigenous president of a nation first which is primarily indigenous in composition. Bolovia has threatened to split into two nations in the past and has teetered on the edge of civil war. That isn't improbable if unrest continues and is exaserbated by the pro and anti Morales groups. The struggle of course is about more that a single man, rather it is about what he represents and what he is attempting to do. In my estimation, the biggest mistake Evo can make is allowing himself to become too influenced by Chavez's blinding anti-Americanism and increasing despotism. It pays to remember that constitutions and dictatorships are not mutually exclusive. Indeed Chavez's revered predecessor "The Libarator" Simon Bolivar wrote constitutions like they were notes, but was ultimately a dictator. Such activity has a long and storied history in Hispanic American history. Morales' proposals will invariably add fuel to the flames that burn in Bolivia.

Eastward across the Parecis mountains into Brazil 5 South American presidents (Morales, Chavez, Rafael Correra of Ecuador, Fernando Lugo of Paraguay and were joined by Brazil's Lula da Silva) were cheered by over 100,000 activists who had descended on the Amazonian city of Belem for the annual World Social Forum. South across the pantanal wetlands and over the Rio Plata into Argentina and skeletons of livestock are piling up in the scorching sun of the Southern Hemisphere’s summer as the worst drought in a generation turns much of Argentina’s breadbasket into a dust bowl.The nation faces losing billions of dollars in agricultural exports as a result. Argentines may receive some relief followinf President Cristina Fernandez's renogotiation of foreign debt repayments.

The Americas

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

The European media finally recognises that events continue elsewhere in the world

It has taken some time, but the Euro media has finally began reporting news about other international regions other than Gaza. Even Al Jazeera English has limited its Gazacentric news schedule and has resumed reporting on events in Congo, Somalia and elsewhere. France 24 too has cut back on its Gaza reporting. Events elsewhere in the world evidently stopped sometime in late December and just resumed sometime in late January. It is refreshing, and I must say, reassuring.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Finally the BBC does something I agree with

It's a rare occassion when I find cause to defend the British Broadcasting Corp (BBC), but today is such an instance.

The corporation has received considerable criticism in the UK and is under intense, and unwarranted, pressure from British politicians (MPs) for following its own code of conduct and deciding against broadcasting a Gaza humanitarian appeal. The publically-funded corporation, who's principle purpose is to provide impartial news, is absolutley correct to refuse airing the appeal. Other (rival) broadcasters have jumped at the opportunity to criticise the UK's principle broadcaster in an attempt to boost their own credibility, but, thus far, the BBC has maintained its position. It now appears that the Sky network will follow the BBCs example.

It would be entirley improper for the BBC to broadcast the appeal and would certainly compromise its apparent impartiality. Likewise, it is entirley improper for MPs to exert parliamentary pressure on the organisation to change its position.