News & Current Affairs

September 17, 2008

Hopes ride high on Zimbabwe deal

Hopes ride high on Zimbabwe deal

Woman carries shopping in Harare

Morgan Tsvangirai may have persuaded Robert Mugabe to sign over some of his executive powers but Zimbabwe’s prime minister-designate now has a very short honeymoon period to prove himself.

The BBC is still operating under restrictions in Zimbabwe, but what reactions we have been able to gather show that large numbers of people believe Mr Tsvangarai can deliver and start the process of re-building a shattered economy.

It stands in stark contrast to the more sceptical assessment of many in the diplomatic community.

We want to see people no longer afraid to walk down the street with an MDC T-shirt – no longer afraid to look a policeman in the eye
James McGee
US ambassador to Zimbabwe

They want this deal to work, but the “vintage Mugabe” who blamed his country’s ills on former colonial powers during his post-deal speech, suggests a man locked in the past and unwilling to face up to the future.

As one diplomat said, the challenge will be to “turn what could be a trap for Morgan into an ambush for Mugabe” – a sentiment revealing deep concerns about just how committed the man who has run Zimbabwe for nearly three decades is to power-sharing.

‘We have to believe’

In a squatter camp on the edge of Harare, a man in his 20s who lost his job as a gardener when the money to pay him ran out, said they had no other choice but to have faith in this new beginning.

Hospital in Harare

Zimbabwe’s hospitals are suffering because of the economic crisis

He is pinning his hopes on the new unity government delivering food, and a stable economic environment which would improve his chances of getting a job and restoring his dignity.

And young professionals, who spoke in secret locations away from the prying eyes of intelligence operatives, said they believed Mr Tsvangirai had the capacity to hold his ground against his former political foe.

Articulate and measured, young men from Zimbabwe’s Christian Student Association said Zimbabweans need the watchful eyes of the international community to monitor events in the coming months.

One implored potential donors to “believe in a deal which we have to believe in” if there is to be any hope of rehabilitating this once prosperous nation.

Culture of intimidation

We’ve only gleaned a partial picture.

With the security situation still precarious, it has been hard to gauge reaction in rural areas where Mr Mugabe has drawn much of his support.

MDC supporters in Harare

MDC supporters believe their leader can deliver a stable economy

But there are without doubt people who are smarting. People who were in the pay of the party, whose lifestyle of political patronage is now under threat.

Intelligence and security chiefs were absent from Monday’s historic signing in ceremony.

Whether their boycott signals plans to undermine the deal is impossible to know at this early stage, but diplomats are monitoring the environment carefully.

Tangible signs that the culture of intimidation is being reversed will be one of the benchmarks they will use to determine if, and when, to deliver billions of dollars of life-saving aid.

As James McGee, the US ambassador to Zimbabwe, put it: “When we talk about respect for human rights we want to see people no longer afraid to walk down the street with an MDC T-shirt – no longer afraid to look a policeman in the eye… those are the little things that show there has been a change in attitude.”

Expectations high

Driving around the streets of Harare gives the impression of a benign capital, a place where the streets are paved and the buildings stand tall. But it is a facade.

Inside the hospitals there are shortages of medicine – many people have died from cholera recently, deprived of drugs.

Zimbabwe's capital Harare

Behind the facade of modern Harare there are acute shortages

And the banks are stuffed with worthless cash. It is not unusual to see plastic bags stuffed with notes that have no value, discarded on the street.

Expectations that this deal will begin to reverse some of this economic chaos are riding high.

Mr Tsvangirai’s first test will be his ability to secure key cabinet posts.

In particular in the finance portfolio, giving the MDC greater leverage over the economy, allowing the government to shape policies that restore property rights and market mechanisms back to Zimbabwe.

The next test will be getting food out to the desperate people who need it and clearing the red tape that prevents humanitarian agencies from distributing aid.

Food has been used by Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party as a political cattle-prod – they’ve ensured it reaches friends, but withheld it from foes.

If the new prime minister can make real headway in distributing food to a country facing the threat of starvation, then he could reap a huge moral dividend which the international community may be willing to reward.

Like the power sharing deal in Kenya, this is a huge political experiment dependent on the personalities of the key players and the political will to change.

There is the potential for the whole thing to combust, a scenario which would see the end of Morgan Tsvangirai’s political career.

But optimists believe that Zimbabwe’s landmark pact, will be the catalyst that breathes new life into a broken country.

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September 12, 2008

US sanctions Venezuela officials

US sanctions Venezuela officials

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

The US Treasury move comes a day after Mr Chavez expelled the US envoy

The US Treasury has frozen the assets of two senior Venezuelan officials it accuses of aiding Colombian rebels, in an escalating diplomatic row.

The US said Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios and Henry de Jesus Rangel Silva were “materially assisting the [Farc rebels’] narcotics trafficking”.

The move came as the US revealed plans to throw out Venezuela’s envoy, after Caracas expelled the US ambassador.

The US and Bolivia have also engaged in tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions.

Relations between Washington and Caracas are not thought to have been helped by this week’s arrival in Venezuela of two Russian bomber planes taking part in a military exercise.

The latest row began when Bolivia threw out the US ambassador in La Paz, Philip Goldberg, accusing him of meddling in the country’s internal affairs.

President Evo Morales said the American envoy had been openly siding with an increasingly violent opposition movement in the east of the country.

US officials said the allegations were baseless, but nonetheless expelled the Bolivian ambassador to Washington in retaliation.

This prompted the Venezuelan leader, a Bolivian ally, to step into the fray.

On Thursday, President Hugo Chavez gave US ambassador Patrick Duddy 72 hours to leave Caracas, telling him: “Go to hell 100 times.”

The spat between oil-exporting Venezuela and the US is in neither side’s interest.

The US is a leading trade partner and a major aid donor to Latin America, so few in the region will be happy relations have plummeted to this new low, says our correspondent.

Washington expels Bolivian envoy

Washington expels Bolivian envoy

Bolivian President Evo Morales (10 September)

Mr Morales wants to carry out land reforms to bring wealth to poor areas

The US is to expel Bolivia’s envoy in Washington, one day after the US ambassador was told to leave Bolivia.

Bolivian ambassador Gustavo Guzman was declared “persona non grata”, the US state department said.

On Wednesday Bolivian President Evo Morales blamed US envoy Philip Goldberg for “conspiring against democracy” and encouraging the break-up of Bolivia.

Elsewhere, at least eight people have been killed in clashes between pro- and anti-government groups, reports say.

The fighting between rival supporters took place in the northern Pando province. Some 20 people were reported injured.

Bolivia has seen large protests in recent weeks by opponents of President Morales’s economic and social policies.

Reacting to the decision to expel Mr Goldberg, whom Mr Morales accused of inciting protesters, a US state department spokesman said it was a “grave error” and described the accusations as “baseless”.

Military protection

The eight deaths in Pando happened as pro- and anti-government protesters fought each other with clubs, machetes and firearms, officials say.

Protesters have also been blocking roads and occupying buildings in eastern regions, which are home to Bolivia’s important natural gas reserves.

Violence has flared in eastern Bolivia

Opposition groups want greater autonomy as well as more control over revenues of natural gas in their areas.

They object to Mr Morales’s plans to give more power to the country’s indigenous and poor communities, by carrying out land reform and redistributing gas revenues.

On Monday, the government announced it was sending the military to protect gas fields and infrastructure from demonstrators and guarantee exports to neighbouring countries.

On Wednesday, officials said saboteurs had caused a blast on a pipeline, forcing them to cut natural gas exports to neighboring Brazil by 10%.

The Brazilian foreign ministry said in a statement that the government was taking the necessary measures to guarantee gas supplies in the country.

The statement also expressed Brazil’s “grave concern” at the events in Bolivia, and deplored the outbreak of violence and attacks on state institutions and public order.

September 4, 2008

Pakistan fury over ‘US assault’

Pakistan fury over ‘US assault’

Pakistani soldier in South Waziristan

Tension in Pakistan’s north-west has increased in recent months

Pakistan has summoned the US ambassador to protest at an alleged cross-border raid which officials say killed at least 15 villagers in the north-west.

A number of civilians were reported killed in the raid, which Pakistan says was a violation of its sovereignty.

Correspondents say the raid appears to have been the first ever ground assault by foreign forces based in Afghanistan.

US-led and Nato forces said they had no reports of any such incursion. Border tensions have risen in recent weeks.

US aircraft have carried out air strikes in the region, but a ground assault would be unprecedented.

It is not clear who the target of any attack might have been.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Pakistan would not allow any foreign power to carry out attacks on its territory.

He was speaking hours after his motorcade was hit by sniper fire near the capital, Islamabad. Senior government officials say he was not in the car at the time.

‘Act of aggression’

Pakistani military and political officials say ground troops brought in by US-led coalition helicopters launched the attack in the South Waziristan tribal area near the Afghan border early on Wednesday morning.

Map

Locals say soldiers attacked with gunfire and bombs. Women and children were among those reported killed.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said a “very strong protest” had been delivered to the ambassador, Anne Paterson.

“The ambassador said that she would convey it to her government,” he said.

The army called the attack an act of aggression which undermined the fight against militancy.

North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani, who is in administrative charge of the tribal areas, called the attack “cowardly”.

“At least 20 innocent citizens of Pakistan, including women and children, were martyred,” he said in a statement.

There is mounting US pressure on Pakistan – a key ally in the “war on terror” – to crack down on militants, who use the border region to launch raids into Afghanistan.

The Afghan government and Nato say the border region is a haven for al-Qaeda and the Taleban. Pakistan says it is doing all it can to curb militancy.

On Monday, Pakistan’s military suspended its operations against Taleban militants in the neighboring Bajaur tribal area.

The government said this suspension of fighting was to respect the fasting month of Ramadan.

Taleban spokesman Maulvi Omar welcomed the announcement, but he said militants would not lay down their arms.

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