Sunday, December 23, 2007

2007: A Reporter's Notebook of the Year Gone By

This past year was a fairly interesting one for me, from a reporting perspective and otherwise, and saw me traveling to six countries on three continents.

Beginning in the slums of Bombay and the hills and valleys of Kashmir, continuing on through electoral politics and civil unrest in France and extending to the cocoa fields and rebel roadblocks of Côte d'Ivoire, it was a period during which I felt, as acutely as ever, the importance of the role that a journalist serves as witness and recorder of the struggles of the disenfranchised and how, in our ever-more fraught and divided world, that role of illuminating our common humanity as people - despite transitory national, linguistic, religious, racial or economic differences - is as important now as it has ever been.

What follows is a review of nearly all the articles I've published this year, spanning a number of subjects across the globe.

Here's to hoping for a gentler, more humane and healthier 2008, with greater freedom married to a greater sense of local and global community for all concerned.

Much love,


Côte d'Ivoire: A Call for Solidarity in Resolving Fate of Missing Reporter for the Inter Press Service (December 14, 2007)

The Bitter Taste of Cocoa in Côte d'Ivoire for the Inter Press Service (December 3, 2007)

Interview with France Kassing on Davis, California’s KDVS radio (December 3, 2007)

Blood Diamonds No Longer Congo-Brazzaville's Best Friend
for the Inter Press Service (November 30, 2007)

France's Troubled Suburbs Erupt Again for the Inter Press Service (November 29, 2007)

Update on Riots in France
on WNYC's The Leonard Lopate Show (November 29, 2007)

Riots Rage in Paris Suburb After Police Collision, an interview with Robert Siegel on National Public Radio's All Things Considered (November 27, 2007)

In Ivory Coast, a Fragile Peace Is Framed by Promises Unfulfilled for the Washington Post (November 16, 2007)

On Lyrical Terrorists for Countercurrents (November 10, 2007)

Project May Boost Biofuels in East Africa for the Inter Press Service (October 30, 2007)

"We Don't Believe Gbagbo Will Organise Transparent Elections" An Interview with Alassane Ouattara
for the Inter Press Service (October 23, 2007)

Puma pounces
for Foreign Direct Investment magazine (October 03, 2007)

Burma: Criticism of Total Operations Grows for the Inter Press Service (October 4, 2007)

North Africa a Launch Pad For Auto Markets for the Inter Press Service (September 25, 2007)

'Silicon Ribbon' Pops Up Across the Maghreb for the Inter Press Service (September 29, 2007)

Trade-Africa: Improved Regional Integration Still Key For Success for the Inter Press Service (September 25, 2007)

France: Two Years After Riots, Little Has Changed
for the Inter Press Service (September 24, 2007)

Sarkozy Hedges Free Market With Government Control for the Inter Press Service (September 15, 2007)

France: New Employment Law Sets Stage for Showdown for the Inter Press Service (September 3, 2007)

African Countries Stand Up to EU for the Inter Press Servce (August 28, 2007)

L'Affaire Libyenne Shows a New Policy for the Inter Press Service (August 27, 2007)

France: Differences Arise Over Education Law for the Inter Press Service (August 27, 2007)

In Defense Of Taslima Nasreen for Countercurrents (August 11, 2007)

France: Sarkozy Charges Ahead
for the Inter Press Service (July 30, 2007)

Russian Roulette: A Review of Anna Politkovskaya's A Russian Diary: A Journalist's Final Account of Life, Corruption, and Death in Putin's Russia for the Miami Herald (July 29, 2007)

For Jazz Musicians, a Paris Tradition Continues
for the Inter Press Service (July 25, 2007)

Hope, Concern Greet China's Growing Prominence in Africa
for the Inter Press Service (July 23, 2007)

Following Oil Boom, Biofuel Eyed In Africa for the Inter Press Service (July 13, 2007)

France: Diaspora Trade Strengthens Communities
for the Inter Press Service (June 29, 2007)

G8: Few Concrete Steps Proposed for Darfur
for the Inter Press Service (June 27, 2007)

New Plans for Niger Basin for the Inter Press Service (Jun 26, 2007)

France: Immigrants Uneasy over Proposed Policies
for the Inter Press Service (June 19, 2007)

Haiti-Dominican Republic: Film on Plantations Spurs Backlash for the Inter Press Service (June 4, 2007)

Trade-Africa: Europe Looks to Encourage Diaspora Investment for the Inter Press Service (May 31, 2007)

West Africa: Currency Integration Still A Few Years Off for the Inter Press Service (May 30, 2007)

An Appeal to Decency on behalf of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent:
An address delivered to the Journalists & Editors Workshop on Latin America and the Caribbean delivered at the Biscayne Bay Marriott Hotel in Miami, Florida (May 12, 2007)

Underreported: An Update on Kashmir on WNYC's The Leonard Lopate Show (May 03, 2007)

The Dead and the Missing in Kashmir for The World Policy Journal (Spring 2007)

Politics-Sudan: "Do Something Now, Because People Are Dying Every Day"
for the Inter Press Service (April 30, 2007)

Haiti: A Literary Icon for "Les Damnés de la Terre" for the Inter Press Service (April 11, 2007)

Haiti/Democratic Republic: Exhibit Reveals a Bitter Harvest
for the Inter Press Service (May 13, 2007)

Kashmiri Separatist Seeks End To Armed Struggle for the Washington Times (February 25 , 2007)

Haiti : The terrible truth about Martissant for AlterPresse (February 13, 2007)

The Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM) calls for action on the Jean-Rémy Badio killing press release (January 30, 2007)

Haiti’s Mythical Man: The Novelist Madison Smartt Bell Humanizes the Person Behind the Legend of Haiti’s Independence for the Miami Herald (January 21, 2007)

Politics-US: Ailing Health System Defies Easy Fix for the Inter Press Service (January 3, 2007)

Friday, December 14, 2007

COTE D'IVOIRE: A Call for Solidarity in Resolving Fate of Missing Reporter

COTE D'IVOIRE: A Call for Solidarity in Resolving Fate of Missing Reporter

By Michael Deibert

Inter Press Service

PARIS, Dec 14, 2007 (IPS) - Early one afternoon nearly four years ago, journalist Guy-André Kieffer was thrust into a waiting car by several armed men in a supermarket parking lot in Abidjan. He has not been seen since.

Following the reporter's disappearance in Côte d'Ivoire's economic capital in April 2004, however, a tangled and murky picture has emerged of the forces in the country which Kieffer had been covering, forces that apparently had good reason to want to silence the troublesome gadfly.

Born in France, Kieffer obtained dual French-Canadian citizenship during a marriage to a Canadian. He spent the better part of two decades as a journalist for the French business publication 'La Tribune' before starting to report from Africa on a freelance basis for a variety of publications. These included the French-published 'La Lettre du Continent' (Letter From the Continent).

Despite the gradual, often deceptive cooling down of the civil wars that tore West Africa asunder during the early part of the decade, Kieffer -- 54 at the time of his disappearance -- still found plenty of corruption, nepotism and violence to write about while working in the region. These problems were notably evident in Côte d'Ivoire.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

W’s Christmas present to American children: Vetoing health insurance

As one of the nearly 50 million Americans without health insurance, my feelings about the American healthcare system - where private health insurance companies and physicians reap enormous profits by charging exorbitant premiums, denying care to the sick and artificially inflating the price of drugs - could not be more vehement. The American healthcare system is utterly, completely broken and even some of the more well-known proposals for rectifying it (such as that of U.S. presidential candidate and New York senator Hillary Clinton) strike me as woefully feeble in terms of addressing what is a terrible crisis for so many Americans. Speaking as an American who has spent much of his life living abroad, I can say with some authority that I don’t think I have ever seen a more predatory, exploitative approach to healthcare than I have seen in the United States. When taken in tandem with a consumer culture than encourages people to eat unhealthy foods packed with unnecessary sugars and hormones, the approach seems doubly cynical.

Along with the Bush administration’s irresponsible, negligent approach to climate change (which has lead the European Union to threaten to “boycott U.S.-led climate talks next month unless Washington accepts a range of numbers for negotiating deep reductions of global-warming emissions”), the healthcare debacle has, in the last week, thrown in the starkest relief possible to me how terribly out of synch the U.S., for so long a leader on so many issues, is becoming with the rest of the world.

This week, as the United States enters its holiday season, President Bush marked the occasion by vetoing an extension of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which attempts to provides health insurance to children from families earning too much to qualify for Medicaid (a very low threshold indeed) but unable to afford private insurance. The SCHIP proposal sought to increase federal funding for the program by $35 billion over five years, adding around 4 million people, partially funded by a 61-cent rise on a package of cigarettes. To give you an example of the context of the price tag, the cost of the war in Iraq, by end of fiscal year 2007, was at least $456 billion, to say nothing of the lives of nearly 4,000 American service personnel and those of thousands of Iraqi civilians. Bush vetoed a similar bill in October and, in July, was quoted by The New York Times as saying that the bill was a step toward “government-run health care for every American,” "

You mean like every other country in the industrialized world? As the U.S. government has taken responsibility for the post office, the police, the fire department and the national defense, so should it take responsibility for providing health care for every American. Despite the many problems I have with the French government and other aspects of society here, I think that their health system, like that of some other European countries, remains a model of a responsible state approach to taking care of its citizens well-being that the United States could learn much from.

My native country simply cannot continue being so out-of-step with the rest of the world, so easily suckered by the false piety (married to brutal cynicism) of political snake oil salesmen like Bush and company. If the Democrats had any conviction at all and took their responsibility as guardians of the constitution seriously, we would be deep in impeachment proceedings by now. But alas, they greet this, like other outrages, with the feeblest murmurs of dissent.

My fellow countrymen have been fooled and lied to for so long by their government, I wonder if they will recognize the truth when it finally comes crashing down. Starting with the ridiculous banana republic farce of the 2000 election in Florida, continuing through the illegal use of torture and detention without trials of hundreds, possibly thousands, of people, through the illegal invasion of Iraq and the naked profiteering there that the administration’s cronies engaged in, the terrible abandonment of the people of Mississippi and Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina and now continuing with the denial of basic healthcare for American citizens, in a just world Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Feith, Mr Gonzales and many more fellow travelers would at least be facing criminal and civil prosecution in the United States if not an appearance at a tribunal in the Hague.

It a strange time to be an American with an internationalist outlook on the world, proud of the open, optimistic spirit and intense creative drive of my country, but very worried about the direction that its political leaders appear intent on taking it, which seems to be straight over a cliff, ever angrier, more closed-off from the rest of the world and more authoritarian by the day. It’s still not too late to change course, but I fear that the hour is growing ever more late.

I’ll be in a better mood next post, I promise.

Monday, December 10, 2007

How different the world might have been…

...If things had turned out differently in Florida during that November seven years ago…

He referred to or quoted several major world and literary figures such as George Orwell, Ghandi, Robert Frost, and Ibsen, and gave a litany of the world's environmental problems including cities that were running out of water, wild fires and temperature extremes.

Read more about former Vice President Al Gore's acceptance of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize here.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The fields of Nandigram

I have been following with concern in recent weeks the situation in the Indian state of West Bengal. Home to the world’s longest serving democratically elected communist government - the Communist Party of India Marxist (CPIM) - the region recently saw terrible state-sponsored violence last month in the form of a raid by Communist party cadres against the village of Nandigram, which resulted in the deaths of at least six people, the raping of several women, the burning of peasant homes and the flight of thousands of villagers into exile. This appalling display came about as a direct result of the CPIM’s desire to convert the Nandigram paddy fields to a special economic zone for an Indonesian-owned petrochemical complex.

Having reported on the brutal treatment of Haiti's peasants on that country's Maribahoux plain (evicted from some of the best farmland in the nation in 2002 to make way for a free-trade zone by the ostensibly-populist government of then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide), it would seem that Nandigram would be yet another case of a self-appointed political elite professing progress on one hand while trampling on the rights of the very people - the poor- that they claim to advocate for with the other. The sympathies of thinking, democratic progressives like myself could rest nowhere else than with the villagers victimized by the CPIM government. Indeed, as my friend Dilip D'Souza pointed out in a recent blog posting, “sensible, responsible thinkers on the left are appalled by the crimes of Nandigram, exactly as sensible, responsible thinkers on the right were appalled by the crimes of Gujarat 2002.”

Such simple humanity evidently still manages to escape sector of the international left, though.

In an open letter in The Hindu portentously addressed “To Our Friends in Bengal,” a handful of Western-based “radical” intellectuals lectured, not for justice, but rather, for “reconciliation” between the victimized peasants and the CPIM government, as if victimized and victimizers were operating on a ground of moral equivalency.

“The balance of forces in the world is such that it would be impetuous to split the Left,” the letter lectured the families of the dead and the raped, and the Indian left as a whole. “We are faced with a world power that has demolished one state (Iraq) and is now threatening another (Iran). This is not the time for division when the basis of division no longer appears to exist.”

The letter’s signatories counted among their number the usual assortment of cause-du-jour affluent commentators on world affairs, all making comfortable livings for themselves adopting “radical” positions while making sure to steer well clear of the line of fire.

There was Michael Albert, the founder of the frothing internet publication ZNet. There was Tariq Ali, the lavishly wealthy political dabbler and unreadable author of bad poetry. And, of course, never one to be left out of a poorly thought-out social critique, there was Noam Chomsky, who apparently also likes to dip his toes in Indian regional politics when not waging campaigns against books he doesn’t like or lauding revisionist histories in the 1990s Balkan wars.

Again, my experience in Haiti taught me a little something about dealing with this current of thought, where “solidarity” becomes a byword for lack of transparency, lack of accountability and lack of debate about the best means to help poor people create a better life for themselves. Alas for Haiti, many of its most articulate progressive intellectuals write with proficiency only in French, thus often not being able to contribute in any expansive way to the debate of the fate of their country in the English-language media, while many genuine English-proficient progressives with knowledge of the country, through either fear of reprisal or lack of interest, remain silent. In India, however, the democratic left said “not so fast.”

Responding to Chomsky et al on the Nandigram missive, an open letter by a group of Indian progressives including Arundhati Roy, Mahashweta Devi and Sumit Sarka, patiently explained that the CPIM, in their view, “today is to stand for unbridled capitalist development, nuclear energy at the cost of both ecological concerns and mass displacement of people…and the Stalinist arrogance that the party knows what ‘the people’ need better than the people themselves.”

“Moreover” the letter went on. “The violence that has been perpetrated by CPIM cadres to browbeat the peasants into submission, including time-tested weapons like rape, demonstrate that this ‘Left’ shares little with the Left ideals that we cherish.”

The Chomsky et al signatories responded to this with another open letter, which appeared to backtrack a bit from the initial, unequivocal call for unity, but this was not quite enough for Sumit Sarkar, who, in the pages of The Guardian, took the signatories of the initial letter to task for their authors had an "ignorance of what is happening in India. They have no idea of the on-the-ground facts."

As a progressive committed to trying to create a more just, equitable, healthy and humane planet, I was heartened to see the vigorousness with which India’s progressives responded to the attempted hijacking of the dialogue on the Nandigram debate on the world stage by a powerful self-fashioned intellectual elite, epitomized by the signatories of the initial letter. With genuine solidarity with oppressed peoples, with vigorous on-the-ground investigative reporting and with a continuing engagement in bringing the voices of the disenfranchised to the attention of a world where strident currents of both the left and the right have vested economic interests in ignoring them, I believe that, in time, the peasants of Nandigram, like the peasants of Maribahoux, may at long last see justice, and a government that genuinely represents and responds to the needs of its long-suffering people.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

A good week for democracy, a bad week for democracy and the head-in-the-sand approach to climate change

Democratic progressives were alternately heartened and chastened by developments around the world in the past week.

In Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez’s referendum that would have allowed him to run for re-election indefinitely, declare states of emergency for unlimited periods and increase the state’s already-expansive control over the country’s economy there, was narrowly defeated, 51% to 49%. Abandoning the petulant tone that had marked his public statements in recent weeks (most notably in his exchange with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero at the Ibero-American summit in Santiago, Chile last month), Mr. Chávez was extremely gracious in accepting the verdict of his country’s electorate.

Were it only true that such an example of participatory democracy had been on display in Russia, where parliamentary elections that gave a sweeping majority to political parties aligned with Russian President Valdimir Putin were characterized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as “not fair” and christened as an illegitimate "merging of a (Putin’s United Russia) political party and the state…clear violation of international commitments and standards.” In Chechnya, ruled by Putin’s ally Ramzan Kadyrov, the president’s party took a Soviet-style 99.2% of the vote. Russia’s liberal democratic opposition, most eloquently represented in the West by former chess champion Garry Kasparov, alternately clapped in jail, ignored on the government-controlled airwaves, forbidden from marching and all-but-bullied off the ballot itself, was left to ponder their next move.

Where was the United States government amidst all this turbulence? Telling the world that it still wasn’t ready to commit to mandatory caps to cut global-warming gases at the United Nation’s global warming conference in Bali, of course. This continued the rather less-than-visionary Bush administration approach to global warming that has resulted in my native country being the only major industrial nation to have rejected Kyoto Protocol and its modest targets for reducing damaging greenhouse gases.

Let’s hope the coming week has more stories like the first one, and fewer like the last two.

A busy week ahead, and as it’s a rainy night in Paris, so time to turn back to watching a pirated version of The Darjeeling Limited.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Interview with KDVS

I had a fairly wide-ranging interview with France Kassing of Davis, California’s KDVS yesterday, concerning the recent Paris riots, my exposé of the cocoa industry in the Côte d'Ivoire and my view of the peace process there, some recent developments in Haiti and other topics. The interview can be listened to in its entirety here.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Bitter Taste of Cocoa in Côte d'Ivoire


The Bitter Taste of Cocoa in Côte d'Ivoire

By Michael Deibert

Inter Press Service

BINAO, Southern Côte d'Ivoire, Dec 3, 2007 (IPS) - Hacking his way through the lush forest with a machete, his rubber boots sinking into the moist earth, Lambert Kwame surveys the plot of land that his family has worked for over 30 years, harvesting cocoa.

"We know that the national price for cocoa is very high," Kwame says, as he stands under a fecund canopy about an hour north of Côte d'Ivoire's commercial capital, Abidjan. Fat orange and yellow cacao pods from which cocoa beans are extracted cling to the trees. "But the obstacles set up between the farmers and the harbour take all the profit that we could make from the crop."

Hundreds of beans from Kwame's cocoa crop lie drying in the sun on a modest wooden stand before his home, along the highway that leads to Abidjan. For this harvest he will be paid about 90 cents per kilogramme by middlemen who will sell it to international exporters in Abidjan.

Côte d'Ivoire is the world's largest producer of cocoa, a distinction that remained even during the political crisis that has engulfed this West African country over recent years (a 2002-2003 civil war sparked by political and economic instability, as well as tensions over regional discrimination and immigration, led to Côte d'Ivoire being split into government and rebel zones). The nation's crop currently accounts for nearly 40 percent of global cocoa production.

Cocoa is also Côte d'Ivoire's main export, representing some 35 percent of goods sent abroad. This translates into about 1.4 billion dollars of revenue annually in the south, controlled by the government of President Laurent Gbagbo, according to official figures. In the northern sector, overseen by the rebel New Forces (Forces Nouvelles, FN), yearly cocoa revenues are thought to hover around 30 million dollars.

In addition, up to four million of Côte d'Ivoire's 17 million inhabitants work in some aspect of the cocoa trade.

But, concern been growing for several years as to how revenues generated by the crop are used by the maze of overlapping and often opaque organisations set up by both the government and rebels to manage cocoa.

Read the full article here.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Taslima Nasreen forced into hiding

News reaches me via an article in The Guardian and via a rushed instant message conversation with the author herself, who is in hiding, that the Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen has been driven from her home in Calcutta (Kolkata), India, by the violent protests of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind group, claiming that she had insulted Islam in here new book, Dwikhondito (Split in Two).

Readers of this blog and my other writing will recall that, this past August, Ms. Nasreen - a recipient of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thoughts from the European Parliament (1994), the Hellman-Hammett Grant from Human Rights Watch (1994) and the UNESCO Prize for the promotion of tolerance and non-violence (2004) - was physically attacked at a book release event in Hyderabad, India by members of the Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) party, including Indian lawmakers.

It is a depressing development of intolerance in a region of India that has always prided itself on being on of the great intellectual bastions of that great nation, birthplace of the poet Rabindranath Tagore and the film director Satyajit Ray, In response, Narseen has consented to delete the controversial passages in her book, something that I am sure any writer is loathe to do under public pressure

The decision must be doubly bitter for an author who, in her home country of Bangladesh, saw her books banned, her passport seized, her life threatened and was eventually forced to seek exile in Europe and the United States before settling in Calcutta. Criticizing the victimization of her country's Hindu minority and of women, and calling for a more moderate, humanistic and less extremist approach to faith in South Asia in general, is evidently not a path not endorsed by all.

Though Maulana Mahmood Madani, general secretary of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, has called on protests against Nasreen to stop if she withdraws the “objectionable” passages, the Milli Ittehad Parishad, an umbrella alliance of 12 Muslim groups including Jamait Ulema-i-Hind, still intends to meet on Sunday to discuss their further plan of action.

Events such as this in India, whether coming from the camps of Hindu extremists or Muslim fundamentalists, make a mockery of the concept of free speech and minority protections, when mob rule and violence become an accepted mode of public discourse and addressing one’s grievances.

The reaction the Indian government to all of this? In a statement, India's External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the following: "We have never refused shelter to those who seek our protection, and the same applies to Nasreen...(But) those given shelter in India have always undertaken to eschew political activities in India or any actions which may harm India’s relations with friendly countries. It is also expected that the guests will refrain from activities and expressions that may hurt the sentiments of our people."

What kind of a defense of freedom of speech is that? In effect, it tells writers “Say what you want, just nothing too challenging,” when the purpose of writers, if they have any purpose, is to always challenge, push and provoke beyond merely entertaining.

“If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear,“ said the British author George Orwell said in his preface to Animal Farm, a book that got him mercilessly vilified by the British left for its scathing satire of the Stalinist Soviet Union, Those words ring as true in our polarized world today as they did in 1945.

Hopefully, despite the increasingly shrill minorities on the right and the left; among the Christians, Hindus, Muslims; Americans, Indians, French, Russians et al, the bravery of genuine free thought and the wisdom of moderation will prevail and, I hope, that writers like Taslima Nasreen will continue to challenge and provoke us through these dark and difficult times.

Friday, November 30, 2007

TRADE: Blood Diamonds No Longer Congo-Brazzaville's Best Friend

TRADE: Blood Diamonds No Longer Congo-Brazzaville's Best Friend

By Michael Deibert

Inter Press Service

PARIS, Nov 30, 2007 (IPS) - The announcement that the Republic of the Congo, or Congo-Brazzaville, has been readmitted to the Kimberley Process, which aims to stem the flow of conflict diamonds, marks a breakthrough.

Congo-Brazzaville was expelled from the-then year-old process in 2004 for exporting diamonds from its war-wracked neighbour, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and falsifying certificates of origin.

''Congo-Brazzaville comes back now after a very serious domestic effort to put their house in order and to get their domestic systems to the level required,'' Karel Kovanda, chairperson of the Kimberly Process secretariat, told IPS. ''It was quite an emotional moment. We're always happy to have new people (come on board the Kimberley Process).''

Congo-Brazzaville's fate is just the latest example of the enforcement procedure which gets its name from the South African city where one of the first meetings was held on stemming the flow of diamonds used by rebel armies or other groups to fund conflict.

Read the full article here.

FRANCE: Troubled Suburbs Erupt Again

FRANCE: Troubled Suburbs Erupt Again

By Michael Deibert

Inter Press Service

VILLIERS-LE-BEL, France, Nov 29, 2007 (IPS) - The police station is a smouldering abandoned ruin, its roof gone, its walls charred black, and tiles scattered about its courtyard. From behind its locked gates the pungent stench of burned wood and plastic is carried on the wind into the street.

The commissariat of this town 10 miles north of Paris was ransacked and burned Sunday by rioters enraged by the deaths of two teenagers -- killed when the motorbike they were driving collided with a police cruiser.

Police say that they aided the two youths -- neither of whom was said to be wearing a crash helmet -- while some local residents maintain that police are at fault for leaving the scene before treating the boys. The boys have been identified as Laramy, 16, and Moushim, 15.

Pitched battles between police firing rubber bullets and tear gas, and masked and hooded rioters attacking with Molotov cocktails, bottles, and -- in a potentially lethal escalation of force -- firearms, continued Monday night.

According to police officials, by Tuesday morning over 80 officers had been injured -- some seriously -- and at least 63 vehicles in Villiers-le-Bel and neighbouring communities had been set aflame.

Residents have been left wondering whether there would be a repeat of the riots that shook the nation for weeks almost exactly two years ago.

"The commissariat was burned on the first night of the disturbances," Chanay Mahalinsnam, a Sri Lankan immigrant who runs the small Ocean Tropical supermarket just up the street from the destroyed building, told IPS.

Read the full article here.

Update on Riots in France

Update on Riots in France

The Leonard Lopate Show, WNYC

After two nights of deadly rioting in Paris’s suburbs earlier this week, the situation seems to have calmed down for now. Michael Deibert, Paris correspondent for the Inter Press Service, tells us more about what caused the riots, and whether we can expect more.

Listen to the full interview here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Riots Rage in Paris Suburb After Police Collision

Riots Rage in Paris Suburb After Police Collision

All Things Considered, November 27, 2007 · Riots in the Paris suburb of Villiers-le-Bel continue Tuesday, following the death Sunday of two teenagers in a collision with police. Robert Siegel talks with Michael Deibert, Paris correspondent for the Inter Press Service, who says there are reports that the violence now is as bad as the riots of 2005.

Listen to the interview here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The flames of Villiers-le-Bel

There are sometimes in life when you would rather be proved wrong.

In September, for the Inter Press Service, I penned an article examining the state of the banlieues, as the impoverished suburbs that ring many French cities are known, two years after the deaths of two youths, Bouna Traore and Zyed Benna, electrocuted while trying to hide from the police. Following their deaths, rioting erupted around France that resulted in the torching of 9,000 cars and dozens of buildings, injuries to 130 police and firefighters, the arrests of nearly 2,900 people and the murder of retiree Jean-Jacques Le Chenadec, beaten to death by a hooded rioter after attempting to put out a fire near his home in a suburb north of Paris.

I visited the banlieue of Clinchy-sous-Bois, where Traore and Benna died and where the riots began, looking for evidence that the French governments of Jacques Chirac (in power at the time of the disturbances) and Nicolas Sarkozy (which took power in June) had taken any steps to address some of the stated causes of the social explosion, including dismal community-police relations and unemployment hovering around 20 percent, double the national average (the figure for 21-29-year-olds stands at more than 30 percent). I spoke to local residents, as well as to Fatima Hani and Mehdi Bigaderne of the Association Collectif Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, Ensemble (ACLEFEU), a community group formed in the wake of the 2005 unrest, and whose name is a pun on the phrase “enough fire.”

"The problems are just the same," Bigaderne told me at the time. "We see the same comportment of the police, the same discrimination, nothing has changed. The relations between the police and the citizens continue to be very, very negative. The big questions -- the question of work, the question of housing, the question of discrimination -- are still with us."

Now, following the death of two teenagers whose motorbike collided with a police car in the banlieue of Villiers-le-Bel, the days of violence appear to have returned. Last night, for the second night in a row since the accident occurred on Sunday, police battled hundreds of rioters, the sides squaring off with rubber bullets and tear gas, and petrol bombs, bottles filled with acid and baseball bats, respectively.

Nothing can excuse random and wanton violence such as the type that some of those taking to the streets in Villiers-le-Bel have engaged in, injuring over 50 police officers and burning automobiles that working people save for years to afford, buses which take them to their jobs and shops where they buy the necessities of life. But, in my travels around the world I am convinced that there is no more potentially lethal cocktail than that of large numbers of idle young men, without work or hope for the future. In Haiti and Jamaica, I have watched them be recruited as armed enforces by cynical politicians. In Guatemala and El Salvador, I have seen them seduced in the life of the maras, as the gangs in the region are known. In Brasil, I have seen them recruited from lives of dead-end poverty in the favelas into the three major drug cartels there, which provide a greater immediate financial reward but a perilously short lifespan. The conditions in France are far less desperate than in those places, but the sense of oppressive exclusion and isolation in the banlieues is a physical as well as psychological one. Cut off from the rest of France by poor transportation networks and badly served by governments that seem content to adopt an out-of-sight, out-of-mind policy, the banlieues only figure in the national discourse in times of trouble, such as the last two days.

Having previously denounced delinquents in the suburbs as racaille (rabble), and vowing to clean them out with a kärcher (a high-pressure hose), France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, came to office promising reforms that would address the joblessness and discrimination that many see as the root of the malaise, and is supposedly set to outline a plan to address this inequity next month. But so far, there has been precious little change in the lives of the people, particularly the youth, in France’s suburbs. They remain as excluded as ever from the life of wider French society and little, if any, attempt to ameliorate their situation has been evident in my visits to the neighborhoods since Sarkozy took office. Speaking to reporters on a state visit to China, Sarkozy asked that "all sides to calm down and for the judiciary to decide who bears responsibility" for the incident involving the teenagers.

Staggering from crisis to crisis, which characterized the administration of Sarkozy’s predecessor Jacques Chirac, is not a policy. As long as the underlying causes of idleness and hopelessness remain, all the mano firma rhetoric in the world will only serve as an imprecise extinguisher of scattered embers of a larger fire. If the French government and, more broadly, France’s political class as whole, is serious about addressing the problems of the banlieues, now, not tomorrow and not next year, is the time for them to put aside their solipsistic, internecine quarrels and focus squarely on bringing job opportunities to and ending the isolation of the suburbs. Otherwise France will be destined to repeat this destructive dance time and again, the stakes and the damage and the mistrust growing more grave and dire all the while.

The vast majority of people in the banlieues, the non-violent people who struggle daily to make ends meet and to find work and to support their families, deserve better than France’s politicians have given them thus far. Likewise, France’s politicians can no longer claims that they are ignorant of the need for action. I hope there is no need for any more wake up calls.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Homage to Catalunya

Having just stepped off the plane in Paris from several days spent visiting my old reporting buddy Gerry Hadden and his family in Barcelona, I was yet again impressed by the artistic brilliance, creative energy and general welcoming friendliness that infuses both the Catalan and “foreign” population of this area of Spain. The city that was passionately Republican and so opposed to Franco’s fascist forces that it did not yield to the rightist onslaught until early 1939 during Spain's Civil War, also served as fertile ground for artistic and intellectual endeavor, a tradition that counties to this day.

Over the years, Catalunya nurtured such talents as that of the surrealist artists Salvador Dalí (born in Figueres in 1904) and Joan Miró (born in Barcelona eleven years earlier), and the experience of fighting there alongside the Republican forces (during which he was shot in the neck and nearly killed) proved deeply influential to the British author George Orwell, whose memoir of that time, Homage to Catalonia, is among his most moving works ( I opt for the traditional Catalan here, as opposed to Spanish, spelling, no disrespect to Orwell). And even the quintessentially modern Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, whose movies often seem to run on the pulse and throb of Madrid, chose Barcelona as the setting for what I think is his greatest film, Todo sobre mi madre.

It is a vibrancy that remains, in neighborhoods such as Gràcia and Poble Sec, and in institutions such as the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Barcelona, where I went to peruse an exhibition that included among its components, screenings of Jordi Colomer’s disorienting film Les Jumelles and the Italian Pier Paolo Pasolini’s deeply strange Che cose sono le nuvole? Something of the winding, narrow streets and bright plazas of the old city reminded one of similar spaces in the Americas, including Santo Domingo, the city in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean with which I am most familiar. If one wonders through them long enough, sooner or later one arrives at a place in the Barrio Gotico bearing the name Plaza George Orwell, in tribute to the author.

It was my second visit there, and I could easily get used to it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Dispatch from Brussels

Having just returned from an enjoyable weekend of festivities in Brussels, it was interesting to see how the new Europe’s political capital is faring these days. The headquarters of both the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Belgian capital, despite its small size, fairly drips with internationalism and affluence, a far cry from the relatively provincial backwater it was only twenty years ago. Coffee shops, bars and restaurants bustle with patrons and, even on chill November days, its Grand Place and Jardin Botanique still exhibit so small charm.

But all is not well in the union of Dutch-speaking Flanders (in the north) and French-speaking Wallonia (in the south). The country has been without a government since June, with the former Minister-President of Flanders Yves Leterme, the favorite to be Belgium’s next Prime Minister, flirting with the idea of splitting up the country and an ill-advised recent editorial in The Economist suggesting the same thing. Unemployment in Wallonia is some three times higher than in Flanders though Brussels itself, somewhat schizophrenically, is a French-lingua franca enclave surrounded by Flemish areas. After being the subject of many jokes and guffawing, the political impasse has taken on something of a creepy ethnic-purity tinge, with Flemish politicians seeking to do away with the bilingual rights of some 150,000 French-speakers who live in the Brussels suburbs in what is otherwise a “Dutch” region. Yesterday, tens of thousands of (mostly French-speaking) Belgians rallied in the capital to urge a political solution and the preservation of a unified state.

Belgium, despite its sleepy reputation, is no stranger to serpentine, convoluted politics. One cannot forget the it was from Brussels that the world witnessed the creation of the Congo Free State, the corporate puppet-state that Belgium’s King Leopold II, with government support, ruled over with intense brutality (though never setting foot in it) for nearly 25 years in the late 1880s and early 1900s, setting that stage for the country’s star-crossed and tragic modern history. Today things are less bloody, but still quite complex. When a Flemish Belgian tried to explain the country’s electoral system to me, I, who report on international politics for a living, have to confess to having been totally and utterly lost and befuddled.

Meanwhile, back in Paris, we greet the new week with a sixth day of strikes by transport unions protesting French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s to reform their outlandishly lavish benefits and retirement packages. Though I have been harshly critical of Sarkozy’s policies vis-à-vis immigration, I have been unimpressed by the arguments of the striking unions, and by the naked self-interest of their position versus workers in other sectors around the country. Speaking with French people in my working-class neighborhood, it sounds like this is a showdown that the French president may very likely win.

Friday, November 16, 2007

In Ivory Coast, a Fragile Peace Is Framed by Promises Unfulfilled

In Ivory Coast, a Fragile Peace Is Framed by Promises Unfulfilled

By Michael Deibert
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, November 16, 2007; A27

BOUAKE, Ivory Coast -- Manning a rebel roadblock leading into this dusty, sunbaked city, Kone Omar spoke wearily of a life at war.

"We hope things improve and the peace settles all over the country," the 26-year-old combatant said, referring to an eight-month-old power-sharing agreement between the Forces Nouvelles, or New Forces, rebel army and the government of Ivory Coast. "I didn't join this army to fight forever."

Bouake, the country's second-largest city, sprawled northward behind him, a collection of low-slung buildings, cacophonous traffic and spit-and-polish rebel soldiers who patrol the streets.

About 200 miles south, the country's economic capital, Abidjan, stands in glossy contrast, with its high-rise buildings and crisscrossing modern highways. On the busy streets there, pro-government militias periodically violently harass opponents of President Laurent Gbagbo.

Five years ago, Ivory Coast was split in half when rebels seized the northern part of the country in a brief but bloody civil war.

Both sides touted the March agreement as the best chance for peace in a conflict littered with broken covenants and mutual distrust.

But the presence of combatants in both cities underscores the fact that men with guns in this resource-rich country wield the power. And despite the power-sharing deal, Ivorians say they have seen precious few improvements in their lives.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Dead and the Missing in Kashmir

My article The Dead and the Missing in Kashmir: The Struggle for Kashmir, was originally printed in the Spring 2007 editor of the World Policy Journal. Based on my February 2007 visit to Kashmir and interviews conducted both there and in India's financial capital of Bombay (Mumbai), I believe it remains an important examination of some of the significant factors in the conflict there. As the World Policy Journal website is available to subscribers only, I wanted to reprint the article, in its entirety, on a special blog so as to give the general public a chance to have access to the information contained therein. Thoughts and comments are welcome.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

How independent journalism can have an effect

As many progressive, principled journalists will tell you, dear reader, the road trod by reporters genuinely trying to make this world a better place is not an easy one. Dangerous locales, long hours, little pay and no security (I myself have had health insurance for about one year out of the last seven) are par for the course of the journalist's life in this sense. But, despite all that, once in a while, an important message breaks through.

When some inspired soul from Connecticut wrote to Senator Christopher J. Dodd and Representative Christopher Murphy “to demand the sugar cane workers in the Dominican Republic (i.e. the Haitian immigrants and those of Haitian descent) be guaranteed full civil and labor rights in exchange for the Dominican Republic's right to sell sugar in the USA,” and in doing so quoted my March 13th article for Inter Press Service, Exhibit Reveals a Bitter Harvest, which chronicled the Esclaves au Paradis: L'esclavage contemporain en République Dominicaine (Slaves in Paradise: Contemporary Slavery in the Dominican Republic) exhibition in Paris, it was just such a moment.

The article, which also referred to the cases of Dilcia Yean and Violeta Bosico Cofi, the struggle of Dominican activist Sonia Pierre and the work of Father Christopher Hartley, was one of two I wrote on the subject of Haitians in the Dominican Republic, and, taken in tandem with the Appeal to Decency on behalf of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent that I delivered at the Journalists & Editors Workshop on Latin America and the Caribbean in Miami, Florida in May of this year, represent my attempt to present an honest picture of some of the issues involved in the largest immigration question confronting the island of Hispaniola at present.

It is good to know that the word is getting out.

The rain is falling here in Paris and the strike is about to begin.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bravo, Zapatero!

It is very rare in my experience as an international correspondent that one can speak with unhesitating praise about the actions of the world’s political leaders. However, the performance of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero at the Ibero-American summit in Santiago, Chile yesterday deserves such positive words.

Faced with the ranting invective of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who looked every bit the self-aggrandizing, despotic egomaniac that his most vituperative critics accuse him of being, Zapatero displayed a rare trait in today’s political firmament: Class

The trouble began when Chávez, who seems rather inordinately fond of the sound of his own voice, began excoriating Zapatero’s conservative predecessor, Jose Maria Aznar, as a "fascist” who was “not human.” Zapatero, a Socialist who made one of his first acts as Prime Minister bringing home Spain’s troops from Iraq , legalized same-sex marriage in his country and has been locked in a fierce political struggle with Aznar’s Partido Popular opposition party back in Spain, felt the need to respond.

“I am not close to Aznar’s ideas, but former President Aznar was democratically elected by the Spanish people and I demand that respect for only that one reason,” Zapatero said calmly.

Chávez’s continued to rant and interrupt until his microphone was finally cut as would happen to a local crackpot at a town hall meeting. Though Spanish King Juan Carlos’ angry demand that Chávez “shut up” has received far more attention, I believe it was Zapatero’s calm and respectful demeanor in the face of an ugly and unprovoked attack against his countrymen and women and their democratic choice that deserved the most praise.

To fully appreciate Zapatero’s gesture, one must also think back to March of this year. At that time Zapatero’s decision to allow the hunger striker José Ignacio de Juana Chaos (aka Iñaki de Juana Chaos), a leader of the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) Basque separatist group convicted of killing 25 people, to serve out the remainder of his sentence under house arrest lead to a huge political uproar in Span, which Aznar’s Partido Popular effectively and a trace cynically exploited to their political advantage, calling hundreds of thousands of demonstrators into the streets of Madrid.

I did not support Zapatero’s action at the time, given ETA’s more than 800 victims and its attack against the Madrid airport last year that killing a pair of Ecuadorian immigrants (despite supposedly having initiated a permanent ceasefire, which has since been rescinded), but ultimately, it was within his rights as Spain’s Prime Minister to commute De Juana Chaos’s sentence if he saw fit, and within the rights of the Spanish people to deliver their verdict on the wisdom of that action in the country’s next general election.

The difference between a political leader like Zapatero and a political leader like Chávez can be summed up in one concept, I believe: The belief that a country’s institutions are always more fundamental to the health of democracies than the egos and grand designs of individual politicians. Unlike Mr. Chávez, who in my reading has sought to politicize every element of Venezuelan government and civic life to his own ends with little regard for such precepts as the separation of powers or the autonomy that grants bodies such as courts and educational systems their authority, Mr. Zapatero has been scrupulously faithful to the concept that a country’s institutions are at least as important as its politicians and also to the idea that inclusion and persuasion, rather the confrontation and vilification, are the true paths to progressive political change.

For that, and for his eloquent defense of that concept in Santiago, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero deserves our respect and, in my view, a round of applause.

Friday, November 09, 2007

On lyrical terrorists

Is it possible that Gordon Brown’s United Kingdom has joined George W. Bush’s United States in the questionable practice of locking up its own citizens for things that the government believes they might do sometime in the future as opposed to things they have actually done? It certainly seems like it.

Today in London, a 23 year-old Heathrow airport employee named Samina Malik, born and raised in England, was declared guilty of possessing material likely to be useful in terrorism.

Malik was charged and tried under the United Kingdom’s rather outlandish Terrorism Act 2000, Section 58 of which permits the charging of an offense and imprisonment of up to 10 years against anyone collecting or in possession of "information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism,” a definition that would seem improbably broad. It is hard for a writer such as myself to forget, for example, that the Argentine revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara was known to have studied Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls and its meticulous descriptions of the Spanish Civil War while camped out with Fidel Castro's rebel army in Cuba's Sierra Maestra, or that William Butler Yeats wondered aloud, after learning that some of the Irish rebels of 1916 quoted his play Cathleen ni Houlihan as they faced the executioner: "Did that play of mine send out/Certain men the English shot?"

From everything I have read about the case, Malik indeed sounds like a somewhat, well, strange young lady. According to the Guardian, hardly a font of pro-government apologia, Malik, who authored poems with titles such as “How To Behead” and “The Living Martyrs,” apparently enjoyed collecting extremist Islamist propaganda in her spare time, including such tomes as The Al-Qaeda Manual and The Mujahideen Poisons Handbook. Malik was also apparently an aficionado of Abu Hamza al-Masri, the frothing Egyptian cleric convicted of terrorism-related offenses in Britain last year, and used the social networking site called Hi-5 to describe her favorite television shows being "watching videos by my Muslim brothers in Iraq, yep the beheading ones.”

Not exactly the kind of person you would want to be sitting across the table from on a blind date.

But how did the British constabulary apprise themselves of this? Try as I might, I could find no record of how the bobbies learned of Ms. Malik’s decidedly odd proclivities beyond a line in the Daily Telegraph that “police were alerted after finding an email from her on another person’s computer.

It would seem that, their own internment policies in Northern Ireland aside, the Brits in this instance would be borrowing a page from the rather rancid, extra-judicial “enemy combatant” status that the Bush administration has seen fit to employ. Remember the case of José Padilla, who was arrested in May 2002 and held as a material witness in relation to the September 11th attacks, then held under the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF) as an “enemy combatant” and then finally, in 2005, on charges he "conspired to murder, kidnap and maim people overseas." There may well have been rather more convincing reasoning as Padilla was alleged to have in fact met with top Al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, but the legal sleight of hand that kept him from his day in court cannot help but disturb all of us who value America’s constitution more than the current occupant of that White House at any given time.

One thing struck me about the British case, though.

Malik was also apparently a hip-hop fan, whose first creative forays were into love poetry while attending Villiers High School in Southall, and then branching out into harder, more aggressive creations modeled on Tupac Shakur and 50 Cent, using the sobriquet Lyrical Babe. That in turn, when her interests...shifted, became Lyrical Terrorist, a moniker the British press made much of.

As someone who was in Manhattan on September 11th, I seek to make no light of the ghastly potential impact of terrorism on a mass scale. But I do wonder if Judge Peter Beaumont, and Prosecutor Jonathan Sharp had bothered to familiarize themselves with the oeuvre of the Philadelphia hip-hop band The Roots, whose song Clones, from their 1996 album Illadelph Halflife (which played as one of my soundtracks for a good part of that year), featured the following couplet from MC Dice Raw:

Dice Raw the juvenile lyricist, corner store terrorist.
Block trooper, connoisseur of fine cannabis.

Focus never weak, blow up the spot like plastique.

Leave a nigga shook, to the point, he won't speak.

While I’m not suggesting that Ms. Malik’s rhyme style had reached quite the level of Dice Raw’s, it still gives one pause that one person’s poetry is another person terrorist threat, much as the rapper Ice T once pointed out his confusion as to why people harangued him but didn’t get upset when Johnny Cash would sing the line “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.” I may be wrong, but something about this case makes me wonder if 30 years ago, Ms. Malik wouldn’t have been sporting a Mohawk and a safety-pin through her nose and 15 years ago taking ecstasy and dancing to the Happy Mondays. But maybe not.

It just seems to me to be a slippery slope once you start arresting people for things that you think they might do in the future. And our current crop of political leaders - who have already managed to cause death and destruction on a mass scale - would seem to be the last people in a position to judge who will and who will not be a danger to society.

Put under house arrest for the time being, Malik must return for sentencing on 6 December.

We indeed live in strange times.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Democracy returns, but media continues to be under threat in Haiti

Despite having an elected government in place for over a year now whose commitment to a free and independent press would appear to be genuine, recent events in Haiti have shown that alas that still does not guarantee an open environment in which the country’s journalists may operate.

On Tuesday evening, unidentified gunmen fired upon the premises of privately-owned de Radio-Tele Ginen in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince. A street vendor was injured by flying glass sent shattering from a vehicle that was hit during the attack. No arrests have been made and no motive has yet been divulged for the shooting, but an attack of such a brazen nature against a media house cannot go without condemnation.

Also this week, Joseph Guyler “Guy” Delva, my successor as the Haiti correspondent for Reuters, said in an email message that he had been the subject of repeated threats and intimidation in recent weeks, including being followed while in his car by unknown persons. Displaying far more responsiveness than many of his predecessors, Police Nationale d'Haïti (PNH) chief Mario Andrésol promptly dispatched a police contingent to escort Delva -who also currently heads up the Commission indépendante d'appui aux enquêtes relatives aux assassinats des journalistes haïtiens (CIAPEAJ) - from the Petionville police station to his home.

In an email sent to Charles Arthur of the Haiti Support Group (reprinted here from the Association of Caribbean Media), Delva had the following to say:

I´ve been receiving anonymous (sic) phone calls and messages from indirect persons threatening my life over the past few days, particularly after I reported information about Senator Rudolph Boulos, a member of the country s wealthiest and most powerful families, having U.S. citizenship, which is against the constitution...I have documents that prove Mr Boulos was born in Manhattan and is still a U.S. citizen, even though he had managed to obtained a Haitian passport which he has no right to according to the Haitian constitution now in force. I understand the threats might be also fueled by the fact that I condemned last week the attitude of Senator Boulos who refused to answer questions from the investigative judge appointed on the case the murdered journalist Jean Dominique.

A dispatch filed by Delva for the Caribbean News Agency (CANA) last month, wrote that “in a document signed by Boulos before immigration authorities, he admitted that the Haitian passport he has obtained in August 31, 2005, was his very first Haitian passport. But Boulos – who was born in Manhattan ( New York ) on April 28, 1951 – had been living in Washington for years and has gone on numerous trips during the past years.”

I wrote to Delva asking the exact nature of this document but as of yet have received no response.

Later in his letter to Arthur, Delva also asserts that “Boulos is one of those people who had open conflicts with Jean Dominique. Dominique was in the forefront of the battle to make sure justice was made in the case of the children killed as a result of the consumption of poisoned drugs fabricated by the laboratory of Mr. Boulos.”

Rarely has one event gone through so many transformations of governance and continually remained as a dagger pointed at the heart of state commitment to press freedom and human right as the case of the murder of Radio Haiti-Inter director Jean Dominique and the station’s caretaker, Jean-Claude Louissaint, in April 2000. Occurring at the end of the first Préval government, the investigation was then thwarted at every turn by the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide from 2001 until 2004, essentially swept under the carpet and ignored by the Boniface Alexandre/Gerard Latortue interim government of 2004-2006 and is once again presenting the thorniest of problems for Préval during his second mandate.

As Delva points out, in June 1996, René Préval’s then-Minister of Health, Dr. Rodolphe Mallebranche, revealed that, since April of that year, at least sixty-four children had been poisoned by two fever-reducing syrups made by the Pharval laboratories, a company under Boulos family control. The Valodon and Afebrile medicines the children were taking apparently contained a toxic component, diethylene glycol, which caused kidney failure. The Boulos family, for its part, denied having ever used the chemical in the manufacture of the medicine and said that the product the children had ingested was in fact a pirated version of their brand, which it had asked the government to remove from the marketplace without success. Jean Dominique, at the time, indeed, was particularly scathing in his criticism of the family and their business practices.

If, as Delva, charges, Boulos has refused to appear for the judges involved in investigating the Dominique/Louissaint murder before, and is currently refusing questions from Judge Fritzner Fils-Aimé (the current investigating judge in the case), it is time for Sentaor Boulos to set an example to his colleagues in the senate, who often seem content to hide behind immunity (itself a repugnant concept) to escape accountability for even the most trivial matters and submit to questioning in the investigation. If one has nothing to hide, one ought have nothing to fear. The families of Dominique and Louissaint, as well as the Haitian people, deserve all the facts in this case. They have waited long enough. No one can be above the law.

Previously, in a 33-page indicted sent by Judge Bernard Saint-Vil to State Prosecutor Josué Pierre-Louis in March 2003, Saint-Vil accused Philippe Markington (a member of the Aristide Foundation for Democracy who sometimes worked as an informant for the U.S. Embassy), Dymsley Millien, Jeudi-Jean Daniel, Ralph Léger, Ralph Joseph and Freud Junior Demarat of having taken part in Dominique’s killing . Persons with intimate knowledge of the investigation and the indictment have told me that the name of Harold Sevère, a former assistant mayor of Port-au-Prince and member of Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s personal cabinet thought by many to be the key link in the crime, had originally appeared in the indictment. Sevère’s name was removed following a meeting between Saint-Vil and then-Minister of Justice Calixte Delatour, allegedly on Aristide’s orders.

To the best of my knowledge, no link has ever been established between the above persons and the Boulos family.

A year after that indictment, speaking on Radio Vision 2000 (partially owned by the Boulos family), the Cité Soleil gang leader Robinson “Labanye” Thomas, reiterated that charge that Harold Sevère had been the one responsible for formulating and carrying out the Jean Dominique murder. Labanye also charged the involvement of Annette “So Anne” Auguste and the notorious Camille brothers, Ronald and Franco, employing the services of Guy “Ti Ponyet” Benson, a downtown gang leader who was also later murdered, to silence his knowledge of the crime.

Former deputy mayor of Port-au-Prince Jean Michard Mercier, also interviewed on Radio Vision 2000, claimed that Sevère had actually been present at the scene of the crime on that fateful morning.

During Mr. Aristide‘s term in office, Mario Andrésol (then Directeur de la Police Judiciaire), investigating judge Claudy Gassant (now Port-au-Prince’s chief prosecutor) and Dominique’s widow, Michele Montas (currently spokesperson for United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon) all accused the Aristide government of personally and intentionally blocking the investigation.

Under the 2004-2006 interim government, there was barely any need for any active blocking, because virtually no progress at all appeared to be made by those charged with investigating the case.

Now, under the new Préval mandate, will justice be done?

The Haitian people deserve better. They deserve to know by whose hand and for what reasons Jean Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint had to die, just as they deserve to know who orchestrated the killings of individuals such as Mireille Durocher Bertin, Marc-Andre Durogène, Marie Christine Jeune, Claude Bernard “Billy” Lauture, Brignol Lindor, Jean “Pere Ti Jean” Pierre-Louis, Danielle Lustin, Jacques Roche, Yvon Toussaint and so many others, regardless of the political affiliations of the victims.

Is it too much to ask that one standard of justice be applied to all in Haiti, that the law be responsive to all? I think not.

Rather than proposing constitutional changes designed to propagate their own longevity and engaging in internecine power struggles, the Préval government and Haiti’s parliament should set about the people’s business, and set about delivering the justice that has been too long denied to so many. It is time for them to prove with actions, not words, that they respect and are willing to defend human rights and freedom of the press in Haiti.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A few words about Alisher Saipov

From time to time on this blog, I have addressed the risks run by journalists in countries where the powerful and the corrupt are willing to do whatever it takes to protect their privileges.

Journalists such as Haiti’s Jacques Roche and Russia’s Anna Politkovskaya (whose stunning final book, A Russian Diary, I reviewed for the Miami Herald) provide an example of steely dedication to the profession that all other reporters can learn much from, especially in these days of ever-reduced foreign coverage in the United States and Europe, and half-baked “activist” journalism that seeks to obfuscate and protect the powerful rather than inform.

I never met Alisher Saipov, but when a friend of mine from New York forwarded along BBC correspondent Natalia Antelava’s poignant remembrance of the Uzbek journalist, it sounds that Saipov certainly belonged among that well-respected company. A reporter practicing in his trait in a country - Uzbekistan - whose president, Islam Karimov, has been named a "predator of press freedom" by the Paris-based journalists’ advocacy group Reporters sans frontières and where “critical journalists simply disappear, are sent in mental hospitals or arbitrarily thrown in prison,” Saipov wrote about government violence, corruption and incompetence in a way that was sure to put him in the sights of those he was demanding be held accountable for their actions.

Antelava writes about how Saipov’s commitment to journalism went beyond simply acting as a reporter. Two weeks ago he had begun printing an Uzbek-language newspaper titled Siyosat (Politics) that was published in Kyrgyzstan and smuggled across the border into Uzbekistan. The Karimov regime responded by portraying Saipov on state-controlled media a terrorist.

Two weeks ago, on October 24th, Alisher Saipov was gunned down by a lone assailant as he left his office in Osh. Kyrgyzstan’s second city. A husband and new father, Saipov, also worked for Voice of America, Radio Free Europe the website, and the Moscow-based news agency. He was 26 years old.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Project May Boost Biofuels in East Africa

Project May Boost Biofuels in East Africa

By Michael Deibert

Inter Press Service

PARIS, October 30 (IPS) - A new project to develop an integrated sugarcane facility in Kenya could be a boost for biofuels production in east Africa.

The Ngima Project at Homa Bay on the shores of Lake Victoria (‘‘ngima’’ is the word for ‘‘life’’ in the local Luo language) is looking to foster a dual export and domestic system of sugarcane production, concentrating on both white sugar and biofuel production.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Mamuwalde: "Make it a Bloody Mary"

To all fans of Mamuwalde, the African prince "sired and imprisoned in a sealed coffin by Count Dracula" and portrayed with such gusto by William H. Marshall in the deathless 1972 film Blacula, I wish you a Happy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A hint of Africa in the 6e arrondissement

Ascending from the Odéon metro yesterday and taking a leisurely stroll down the Rue des écoles in the ever-more-wintry Paris weather, I was pleased, given what it appears sometimes to be the French aversion to work, to find one of my favorite bookstores still open in the early afternoon.

L'Harmattan, an official outlet of the Editions Harmattan imprint, has perhaps the most impressive repository of books of Africa, Africana and Latin America-related subjects that I have yet found. Shelf after shelf of book in various languages on all aspects of political and economic history on Africa, written by both Africans and non-Africans, and a section on the Democratic Republic of Congo alone that goes on for a dozen shelves, more than many bookstores entire Africa sections. If the Haiti section veers a bit towards the obvious. a friend a mine, the Cuban-American translator Pedro Rodríguez, declared the store to have the best Cuba section that he had ever seen outside of Miami and it's hard to argue that point.

After some enjoyable browsing, I opted to purchase a copy of Côte d'Ivoire: L'année terrible 1999-2000, edited by Marc Le Pape and Claudine Vidal, which I have breezed halfway through and which thus far provides a very interesting and thorough examination of the Robert Guéï coup in that West African country and the rise of Laurent Gbagbo, Côte d'Ivoire’s current president. With bookstores under increasing pressure due to ever-climbing rents in cities in both North America and Europe, it is good to see a store such as L'Harmattan, despite their occasionally steep prices, still going strong, providing the resources for the deep study of a region that for too long has been ignored by the media at large.

Now, if only I could find that discount copy of the The Rise and Decline of the Zairian State that I’ve been looking for…

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Interview with Alassane Ouattara: "We Don't Believe Gbagbo Will Organise Transparent Elections"

Q&A: "We Don't Believe Gbagbo Will Organise Transparent Elections"

Interview with Alassane Ouattara

ABIDJAN, Oct 23, 2007 (IPS) - Will it be third time lucky for Ivorian opposition leader Alassane Ouattara during presidential elections which many hope will take place in Cote d'Ivoire next year?

To date, this high-profile politician -- a former prime minister and deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) -- has twice been barred from contesting the presidency.

In 1995 and 2000 he was kept off the ballot by a law excluding candidates with a parent of foreign nationality, or who had lived outside of Côte d'Ivoire for the preceding five years. It was insinuated that Ouattara's mother was Burkinabé, a claim he has always denied.

This occurred amidst politically-fuelled resentment towards migrants from neighbouring countries and their descendants who had helped Côte d'Ivoire take advantage of brisk economic growth in the 1960s and 1970s, but who became unwelcome guests when the economy declined along with commodity prices. A contentious debate was ignited on what constituted Ivorian nationality.

Issues of nationality also underpinned the failed coup of 2002 and subsequent civil war that saw the rebel Forces Nouvelles (New Forces) seize control of northern Côte d'Ivoire, while the government of President Laurent Gbagbo retained control over the south. The administration was further charged by the rebels with human rights abuses, corruption and victimisation of ethnic minorities.

Ouattara and members of his Rally of the Republicans (Rassemblement des Républicains, RDR) were the subject of reprisal attacks by government partisans in the financial capital of Abidjan and elsewhere after the September 2002 coup attempt.

The rebellion remained in a tense stalemate until March of this year, when the two sides signed a power sharing agreement in Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou. They pledged disarmament, the creation of an integrated national army and provision of citizenship documents (a process known as "identification") to those who can prove their Ivorian nationality, to enable participation in the proposed poll. New Forces leader Guillaume Soro has also been appointed prime minister.

IPS correspondent Michael Deibert sat down with Ouattara at the RDR's headquarters in Abidjan earlier this month to get his opinions on the current state of the peace process.

Read the full interview here.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Puma pounces

Puma pounces

Foreign Direct Investment magazine

With regional conflict relatively absent, west Africa is enjoying an FDI renaissance, with sportswear maker Puma leading the way, writes Michael Deibert.

The announcement that the Germany-based sportswear multinational Puma intends to expand its historic association with African football culture by opening retail outlets in the west African nations of Ghana and Senegal has been seen by some as indicative of the mini-renaissance the region is undergoing in terms of attracting foreign investment.

Read the full article here.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Back in Paris, and on the passing of Lucky Dube

After nearly two weeks in Côte d’Ivoire that gave me the opportunity to interview presidential candidates, women’s advocates, cocoa workers, business executives and Force Nouvelles rebels (and go to one of the best reggae clubs I‘ve ever been to), I am now back in Paris and back online on a regular basis.

The much-heralded transit strike of recent days proved to be no more than a minor annoyance as my friend Gerry Hadden and I strolled around the city, checking out the Confédération générale du travail (CGT) march and interviewing protesters.

Some sad news reached me from South Africa today that the reggae star Lucky Dube was killed in an apparent carjacking attempt in Johannesburg last evening. Dube’s music was very popular among the young in some of the poorest quarters of Port-au-Prince, Haiti when I was living there for several years, and I often heard in pumping out of the boom box that my friend James Petit-Frere had during my visits to his home in Cité Soleil.

I had the opportunity to tell Dube this when I met him briefly at the Hotel Montana a few years back, when he was in Haiti to play a concert as the same time I was in the country reporting. He was very gracious in his response, as one could only expect from such a thoughtful advocate of conscious reggae, a genre that sometimes seems to be threatened with extinction by the onslaught of slackness and bling and the always hard road trod by the genuinely righteous.

“We've got to come together as one,” Dube sang in one of his most famous song. “The cats and the dogs have forgiven each other/What is wrong with us?”

Adieu, Lucky Dube. You were a shining star and you will be missed.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Les nuits de Paris: Black, blanc, beur

It is the evening of the Nuits Blanches here in Paris, the “white nights” of all-night cultural events that were inaugurated by Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë's in 2002.

As I prepare to go see a pair of African bands set to play a free concert at the Centre Wallonie-Bruxelles, the fierce debate regarding immigration in France continues. In recent months, as I alluded to in an article some time ago, France has witnessed the creation of the (often justly) maligned Ministère de l'immigration, de l'intégration, de l'identité nationale et du codéveloppement and the implementation of policies that have chased middle-aged Chinese workers and schoolboys out of windows in nighttime immigration raids and bundled screaming Malians onto planes taking them "home" to Bamako. As a resident of an immigrant community and, indeed, an immigrant myself, I can only say that I hope some kind of humanity to one’s fellow man prevails in this discussion. As I would similarly criticize the current government in the United States, one can control one’s borders without victimizing the most defenseless in society.

Also note that this blog may be silent for a bit as I depart tomorrow for a two week reporting trip to Côte d'Ivoire, which promises many, many interesting things but among them perhaps not regular internet access.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

BURMA: Criticism of Total Operations Grows

BURMA: Criticism of Total Operations Grows

By Michael Deibert

Inter Press Service

PARIS, Oct 4, 2007 (IPS) - The Yadana natural gas pipeline runs from gas fields in the warm waters of the Andaman Sea through a sliver of southern Burma and into Thailand. It also runs through the heart of the debate on corporate responsibility as to how foreign businesses should operate in a country ruled by a military dictatorship accused of widespread human rights abuses and violent suppression of dissent within its borders.

Following two weeks of protests lead by Buddhist monks against the military junta lead by General Than Shwe, the Burmese government's ferocious subsequent clampdown has shone a particularly bright spotlight on the activities of Total S.A., the French oil company that served as the driving force behind the Yadana pipeline and which continues to be deeply involved in Burma.

"Total is involved in what is essentially the single largest foreign investment project in Burma, the single largest source of hard currency for the regime," says Marco Simons, the U.S. legal director for EarthRights International, an organisation working on documenting human rights and environmental abuses. "They have entered into a direct business relationship with the Burmese military."

Read the full article here.