Global Notebook 12/99

Blocking the Free Trade Express
TORONTO — On Nov. 4, a banner was hung outside the Toronto Metro Convention Center, where Latin American trade ministers were meeting to discuss the southern expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The protest, organized by the Native Forest Network, was one of hundreds of events around the world during an International Day of Education and Action expressing opposition to the World Trade Organization (WTO), expansion ofNAFTA, and a proposed Global Free Logging Agreement (GFLA).

In England, forest activists met with European Commission officials, asking the commission not to sign the GFLA. Events were held throughout Canada and the US, as well as in Africa, Nicaragua, Chile, and Japan. In Montana, Idaho, and Oregon, for example, protesters focused on Boise Cascade Corp., which plans to open the world’s largest chip mill in the heart of Chile’s endangered forests.The purpose of the Toronto session was to discuss a 34 country Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). This would further remove restrictions on the movement of capital, goods, and services. Like the attempted Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), the FTAA would eventually erase distinctions between short and long term investment, while undermining NAFTA’s environmental and labor side agreements.

Quick buck speculation, encouraged by liberalized international trade policy, was largely responsible for the 1995 peso crash and economic crisis in Southeast Asia. If the FTAA follows the trends of NAFTA and the MAI, foreign companies will be able to take advantage of low environmental and labor standards in Latin America, while providing few benefits to local economies. In North America, more jobs will be lost as companies continue to move south. For more information, call (802) 863-0571, or e-mail
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The Expose That Almost Wasn’t
SAN FRANCISCO–During the Gulf War, NBC News’ president Michael Gartner ordered his news director not to run footage of civilian carnage in Iraq that disproved US military claims of "surgical strikes." Next, he promptly fired the reporter who shot it, six-time Emmy winner Jon Alpert.

Later that year, the New York Times spiked award-winning reporter Frances Cerra’s exposé of billion-dollar cost overruns at a nuclear-power plant and took her off the story under industry pressure. In 1995, respected Atlanta Journal-Constitution executive editor Bill Kovach resigned when the paper’s parent company, media conglomerate Cox Enterprises, told him to stop covering alleged bribery schemes and racist lending practices involving Atlanta-basedCoca-Cola.

These are only a few of the stories told in the landmark documentary Fear and Favor in the Newsroom, which began airing on local public television stations in late October. But the film, which exposes how corporations have gained a controlling influence over many of America’s news rooms, almost wasn’t made,according to the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Public TV broadcasters — including San Francisco’s KQED, the most-watched public station in the country — allegedly refused to support it for fear ofoffending corporate sponsors. "Our public TV executives’ response has beenappalling," said Randy Baker, co-producer and writer of the 90-minute documentary, "and you can’t help but think that the message of the film was the reason why."



Training Underway for Colombia Attack
RIO DE JANEIRO — According to a Brazilian magazine, the CIA may be recruiting pilots and former soldiers to fight the rebels in Colombia. The magazine, IstoE claims to have interviewed one of the recruits, a professional civilian pilot who says he’s training full-time and will soon move to a Chilean military base. From there he’ll be deployed to fight in Colombia.

The pay is up to $12,000 per mission, with a waiver of any compensation in case of accidents. "The contract doesn’t include life insurance," complains the mercenary. "Families commit themselves to not asking for financial compensation in case of death, and they don’t have the right to claim the body." Many of the recruits participated in the civil war in Angola, and fought in Nicaragua and El Salvador during the 1980s, he claims.
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Gun Barrel Politics
ISTANBUL — Military rule has changed since the end of the Cold War. Regimes such as those in Pakistan and Myanmar are more rare, and coups driven by political ideology have almost disappeared. Still, the military remains the ultimate arbiter of power in many developing countries.

In Latin America, recent military challenges in Argentina, Chile, and Brazil haven’t involved overthrowing elected governments, focusing instead on immunity for crimes committed by previous regimes. Fear of civil unrest and reopening old wounds keeps many governments in line.

Most Middle Eastern regimes rely on military power rather than popular support. Syria, Iraq, and Libya are headed by former coup plotters, while nations like Egypt are led by men who worked their way up through the military. In Turkey, the military exerts considerable influence without directly running the government.

Although the West considers military intervention and elections incompatible, they’re part of the same process in many African nations. In the Congo and Sierra Leone, for example, army action was widely accepted as a swift and more effective route to change. Liberian President Charles Taylor used armed force to seize power, then arranged his civilian election. Last February, after heading a dictatorship 20 years ago, Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo won the election that finally ended military rule.

The recent Pakistan coup differs somewhat from the recent pattern. It was conducted by the military as an institution, rather than as the power base of a strong individual. The underlying reason was an ongoing power struggle, intensified by the ousted president’s decision to withdraw Pakistani troops from Kashmir (TF, Nov. 99). In this case, the coup may be the easy part.
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Gay Wedding Spurs Kenya Clampdown
NAIROBI — When news leaked out about a proposed gay wedding at a popular tourist destination in Kenya, President Daniel arap Moi declared that gays would no longer be tolerated. "Homosexuality has no place in Kenya," he swore.

Actually, homosexuality has long been tolerated in Kenya’s cities. Within gay  circles, unofficial marriages are held, complete with rings and dowry. Sexual relations between men is a criminal act, with a penalty of up to five years in prison, and gay men risk ridicule, harassment, and even lynching. Still, society generally turns a blind eye — unless the issue captures headlines.

Now that the president, whose words are considered law, had weighed in on gay marriage, local police vow to bring couples to court. Muslim leaders in coastal areas threaten to stop gay weddings by force. Meanwhile, one Christian leader calls homosexuals "sex-crazed maniacs," perverts, and "destroyers of civilization" who should be hanged if they wed.

Some do openly oppose criminalizing gay relationships. "Let a referendum be held for Kenyans to decide whether to declare homosexuality legal or illegal," suggests a lawyer who specializes in health issues. Others say the state shouldn’t be allowed to interfere in private behavior. But as longas President Moi stirs the pot, accusing gays of "advocating indecency" and "misleading youth," the clamp down is likely to escalate.
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From Drug War to Harm Reduction
WASHINGTON — The US War on Drugs is a $150 billion failure, says a report by the National Association of Public Health Policy (NAPHP). It hasn’t reduced the supply of illicit drugs, while resulting in negative health consequences. Instead, drug war money should be spent on prevention, treatment, and

research, the NAPHP concludes. Studies indicate that 31 percent of US citizens have used an illicit drug, but only six percent are drug abusers or addicts.

"The typical drug user is scarcely distinguishable from the typical citizen, and most were introduced to illicit drugs by a close friend, not a pusher," notes the report. "This government advocates a policy (the war on drugs) which treats all illicit use as abuse. This is a major cause for the failure of the drug war and prohibitionist policies in general."

In California, the number of drug prisoners has reached a new high. According to the mid-1999 statistics from the Department of Corrections, drug offendersrepresent 28 percent of the prison population. A record 12 percent of prisoners are held for simple possession.

Europe is meanwhile moving in the opposite direction. While the US relies on interdiction, domestic suppression, anti-marijuana propaganda, and severe penalties, Europe looks at a "harm reduction" model, which considers responsible marijuana use by adults beyond the government’s purview. "In effect, most, though not all, European countries view America’s ‘war on drugs’, criminal justice-oriented approach as being both ineffective and counterproductive," says Allen St. Pierre, NORML Foundation Executive Director. "America is becoming an island unto itself regarding its wasteful and excessive drug war."
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Blood Flows in the Black Garden
BAKU — A long-running territorial dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan turned deadly on October 27 when Armenian Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and seven other officials were assassinated, apparently by Armenian ultra-nationalists. The murders came shortly after a visit by US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, who was trying to resolve the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh (Plateau of the Black Garden), an Armenian enclave surrounded by Azerbaijan.

Talbott made the trip on the instructions of President Clinton. Thanks to rapidly rising quantities of Azeri oil being pumped from the Caspian sea, the area’s US standing has recently improved. Apparently, Armenia made some concessions during the talks, which angered the gang that carried out the attack.

Armenian nationalists regard Azeris as ethnic Turks and mortal enemies. In 1915, the Ottoman empire killed almost a million Armenians in massacres. They want the Turks to pay reparations, and see any compromise on Nagorno-Karabakh as a betrayal. Hatred is also fueled by Turkey’s partial blockade of Armenia,launched to protest its occupation of Azerbaijani territory.Speculation about the motives behind the attack persists, and President Robert Kocharian is reluctant to precipitate a crisis by pursuing peace talks on the disputed region. Nagorno-Karabakh was captured by Russia in 1805, and became an autonomous region inside Azerjaijan in 1923. In the late 1980s, demands that the region be handed over to Armenia led to demonstrations and violence. Following the break up of the USSR, fighting erupted again, and nearly a million Azeris were displaced. A truce was signed in 1994, but by this time Armenians had seized Nagorno and six surrounding districts.
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Clown Conversion
MONTREAL — A former Ronald McDonald of Canada recent quite his job, saying he wasn’t "McDonaldized" enough to continue. Geoffrey Guiliano publicly apologized for participating in the campaign to hook young people on food that he now feels is contrary to the purpose of life. Guiliano left his job after turning to Hindu religion and vegetarianism, he says. Now he hopes to create a new non-profit character that promotes nonviolence and vegetarianism, and wants to write a book on his life with McDonald’s called Confessions of a Corporate Clown.