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Ebola – The Epidemic Is Far From Over

December 16, 2014
Kono Province, Sierre Leone, where the Ebola virus epidemic has intensified. Home of diamond mining the region was heavily fought over and looted in that country's ten year Civil War which went on for 11 years (1991-2002) and left more than 50,000 dead

Kono Province, Sierra Leone, where the ebola virus epidemic has intensified. Home of diamond mining the region was heavily fought over and looted in that country’s ten-year Civil War which went on for 11 years (1991-2002) and left more than 50,000 dead. Kenema Province where the ebola virus exploded early on in the epidemic’s most recent outbreak was the site of a U.S. government biological weapons laboratory run by researchers from Tulane University and the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (AMRIID) at Ft. Detrick, Maryland. The Sierra Leone government ordered the lab closed and moved, in large measure in response to local suspicions that the lab might have been in some way responsible for the Ebola outbreak

1. It ain’t over by a long shot. Far from it.

Now that the election season in the United States is over, and conservative Republicans and their right-wing talk show hosts on FOX news and the like can no longer stoke up fear on the issue, the West Africa ebola epidemic, which is getting worse,  has essentially all but disappeared from the news here in the United States.

It ain’t over by a long shot. Far from it. The most recent news remains troubling. As an NPR news story noted, “New cases continue to rise exponentially.”

According to the latest reports, the ebola virus death toll in West Africa is now approaching 6,600 with an estimated 18,000 people reported cases. After claiming that the virus had been brought under control at least in Liberia and Guinea, now it appears to be gaining strength again in Sierra Leone where the government is reporting more than 100 new cases a day. The latest known outbreak has taken place in the rural areas of Kono, the country’s most eastern province just on the border with Guinea. In the past few days (December 13, 2014) “at least 87 people had died and been hastily buried, often without the precautions needed to stop the corpses from infecting the living”.

World Health Organization (WHO) spokeswoman, Winnie Romeril, indicated the situation was getting worse with the sick and dying flooding the district’s one small health facility, its staff exhausted from overwork. If not contained, early dire estimates suggested that the current outbreak could affect as many as 1.4 million West Africans before it runs its course.  The economic costs both already suffered and those forecast are on a very large-scale. According to the Financial Times (Dec 12, 2014), the virus has already cost these three affected countries some $3-4 billion. That is just the beginning. An earlier World Bank estimate concluded that the total negative financial impact could hit has high as $32.6 billion.

Home to some 365,000 people, in part because it is rich in diamonds, Kono Province was among the regions hardest hit by Sierra Leone’s recently ended civil war during which time it was heavily fought over and looted. Although the home of many ethnic groups, “Kono” is both the name of the district and of a major ethnic group that resides in the region. The Kono, who have their own language, are mainly diamond miners and farmers. Besides mining alluvial diamonds, they grow rice, cassava, corn, beans, groundnuts, sweet potato, peppers, cassava leaf, greens, potato leaf etc as their main crops, along with banana, pineapple and plantain, and cash crops such as cocoa, coffee and kola nut.Its population dropped to its present figure from more than 600,000 prior to the outbreak of fighting.

Ebola: one of many diseases of poverty

Ebola is a classic example of where International Monetary Fund structural adjustment programs emphasizing cuts in government spending, including health care converges with greater outbreaks of all kinds of infectious disease, especially in poor countries. Repeatedly, medical experts have explained, that while a potentially deadly virus, that ebola can and should be easily contained by quarantine and isolation, if proper medical care facilities and procedures are in place. Early detection, isolation and some form of anti-body build up program have all been cited as important factors in limiting the seriousness of the outbreaks. Unfortunately the conditions for defeating the disease do not exist in the West African countries so far most affected: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leon.

Interviewed by Tariq Ali on the British television program “The World Today” , British Public Health scientist Allyson Pollock noted:

“The big problem where it’s (ebola) most prevalent, Sierra, Liberia and Guinea is that these are very poor countries where the infrastructure has been increasingly ripped out especially in terms of health systems and the virus is now in urban areas where there is close human contact. This makes it very difficult to control and contain especially when this is happening in areas where there is a lot of overcrowding, poverty and poor sanitation.”

In another interview, Dr. Pollock notes that people in Europe and North America bombarded with scare tactics emanating from the outset from right-wing talk radio and like sources  are hardly at risk and should not be worried. She notes that ebola is one of  many diseases of poverty:

“We should be worried for the people of Africa and their desperate plight, but not for ourselves – we are more likely to die of influenza or a stroke or of a road traffic injury. People in Africa are dying from the many diseases of poverty, and ebola is just another one to add to the list. Like all diseases of poverty, ebola accelerates poverty and economic hardship, because the women and breadwinners die and because of its impact on economic activity. West Africa is facing a humanitarian crisis of extraordinary proportions: one in ten children die before the age of ten, almost half of all children are malnourished and stunted, and one in seven women are dying in child-birth. The problem is absolute poverty, and fragile states hollowed out by civil wars and displaced populations and decades of exploitation by the west of their natural resources. ”

“People in Africa are dying from the many diseases of poverty, and ebola is just another one to add to the list. Like all diseases of poverty, ebola accelerates poverty and economic hardship, because the women and breadwinners die and because of its impact on economic activity. West Africa is facing a humanitarian crisis of extraordinary proportions: one in ten children die before the age of ten, almost half of all children are malnourished and stunted, and one in seven women are dying in child-birth. The problem is absolute poverty, and fragile states hollowed out by civil wars and displaced populations and decades of exploitation by the west of their natural resources.”

Pollock gives a vivid sketch of Liberia’s “health care system”, which is hardly that. “Health care facilities have been degraded. In Liberia, with a population of 4.7 million, there are fewer than 100 doctors and 1,000 nurses (compared with the tens of thousands in western countries of similar size). There are almost no beds, and supplies such as re-hydration, barrier nursing equipment, and protective clothing are almost non-existent.” Referring to ebola as not a natural disaster but as a result of “the terrorism of poverty,” Paul Farmer elaborates on the same theme, noting “That’s one physician per 100,000 population, compared to 240 per 100,000 in the United States or 670 in Cuba.” notes that Sierra Leone there are 136 doctors for a population of six million. The situation in Sierra Leone is about the same, with 136 doctors serving a population of about 6 million.

The economies of all three effected countries are quite similar.

Although possessing considerable economic potential and natural resources in demand, they are all – to use the American expression – dirt poor, peripheral provides of raw materials and basic food stuffs to the global economy’s more prosperous core nations. Regardless of what index for world poverty one applies, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone around found at the bottom of the heap.   All have a history of colonial and  neo-colonial extreme exploitation that continues through today. For example according to the United Nations Development Index, (UNDP) out of 187 nations compared, Guinea ranks 179(down from 178 year ago), Liberia 175, and Sierra Leone trails even these two neighbors with a 183 rating (up from 184 a year ago). The only four other countries that come in lower than Sierra Leone are Chad, the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo and at the very bottom Niger. This UNDP index is a cocktail of life expectancy, years of schooling, and gross national income.

World - Diseases - HIV, TB, Malaria

Global patterns – AIDS, Malaria, Tuberculosis – note the concentration of all three in sub-Saharan Africa. Figures are from 2009. Source: Le Monde Diplomatique

World Bank, IMF, Bill Gates Foundation, Doing Their Bit To Privatize Healthcare Worldwide

The three West African countries where ebola continues along its deadly path are caught in what is a global offensive to privatize healthcare parallel to the efforts to do likewise in education. The marriage of the general global thrust of neo-liberal economic policies with World Bank – IMF structural adjustment programs have hit Africa’s poorer countries – needless to say some of the world’s neediest, especially hard. The partial privatization of healthcare in many European countries that had extensive, free state funded healthcare is more than matched by its near total collapse among the world’s poorest countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

The erosion of public sector support in African countries is nothing new, it has been proceeding apace since the early 1980s as harsh structural adjustment programs insisting on the cutting of public funds in exchange for desperately needed loans began apace. As African healthcare systems collapsed, their health infra-structure decimated by the cuts combined with poor nutritional diet to erode resistance to disease among affected populations. This has been the fate of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone. Add to this social cocktail, political instability, rampant corruption, repression and civil war – much of it in the service of foreign economic interests one way or another, and hidden dimensions of the health care crisis in these countries becomes clearer – as does the path for addressing the crisis.

The three West African countries where ebola continues along its deadly path are caught in what is a global offensive to privatize healthcare parallel to the efforts to do likewise in education. The marriage of the general global thrust of neo-liberal economic policies with World Bank – IMF structural adjustment programs have hit Africa’s poorer countries – needless to say some of the world’s neediest, especially hard. The partial privatization of healthcare in many European countries that had extensive, free state funded healthcare is more than matched by its near total collapse among the world’s poorest countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa

What is needed is precisely opposite to what is actually happening. Rather than strengthening the state’s ability to address the healthcare system through increased funding targeting education, developing long-term health infra-structure, the state’s role and funding base is increasingly weakened. The results should not be surprising (and aren’t). Having contributed, through their policies,  to create the conditions of crisis in the first place, the “global community” – World Bank, IMF, Bill Gates Foundation and other NGO’s. governments of the world’s richest countries, respond to current ebola epidemic in a classic and self-serving fashion with emergency aid – band-aid solutions with a goal of keeping African health care privatized and thus crippled.

Plans to build public healthcare systems, which cannot be constructed overnight are hardly even considered, or if they are, are not funded. Instead, dramatic and highly publicized “emergency aid” is promised and usually provided in much smaller doses than promised. The contrast in approaches is vividly expressed in the activities of different countries. Cuba, the unsung hero of the day, sends hundreds of healthcare workers of all types, doctors, nurses, healthcare specialists. As Michael McNeal, colleague at the University of Denver notes, “the Obama Administration, declares ebola a security emergency and sends 3000 troops (to do what?) with little to no training in dealing with such crises. Furthermore, Washington has quietly scaled back its plan to build the seventeen 100-bed clinics around Liberia (only two are nearing completion now), and noises about a victory have been made following what appears to be a decrease in cases there. However, some experts have suggested that the epidemic is still raging in isolated parts of the country (Liberia) where the ill cannot get to clinics to be assisted and counted.”

Accompanying that, is the mad race to find the magic vaccine bullet, both a profitable venture for the companies that succeed and good public relations at a time when these companies are increasingly coming under attack for what amounts to rapacious behavior. The failure to begin laying the ground work for improved health care infrastructure insures that overall health care and nutrition will remain poor, the populations susceptible to further outbreaks.

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Links:

Ebola: Poor Black Man’s Epidemic

Ebola: International Medical Aid: Cuba Leads The Way

The Ebola Drone

Tunisia’s Mosques

December 12, 2014
Tunisian Mosques

in white: number of small mosques: in orange the larger ones called “grand mosques”

This is the French original of the text accompanying this article on the mosques of Tunisia. The article “Outcry Concerning The Mosques: the state crisis of confronting religious approaches” appeared at Nawaat.org, back on September 27, 2014. Nawaat.org is an informative Tunisian website in Arabic and French, occasionally in English as well.

À noter que -et contrairement à ce que l’on aurait pu croire- ce n’est pas Kairouan (391), la ville sainte, qui détient le record de la concentration de mosquées, mais la ville de Sfax (524). Au lendemain du 14 janvier 2011, plus de 1000 seraient tombées entre les mains des fondamentalistes, selon le porte-parole du ministère de l’Intérieur, Mohamed Ali Aroui. Parmi ces mosquées, 90 ont été construites dans l’anarchie, selon le ministère des Affaires religieuses. En juillet dernier, 149 mosquées étaient déclarées sous influence salafiste, dont 25 toujours hors de contrôle. Imprenable, la grande mosquée Ezzitouna est demeurée aux mains de l’imam virulent Houcine Laabidi, qui y a réinstauré «l’enseignement zeitounien original»

The rough – but essentially accurate translation – goes something like this: Read more…

The-Dream-of-the-Celt-by-Mario-Vargas-Llosa: A Critical Review in Three Parts: Part Three

December 7, 2014
Malaysian Rubber Tapper. Today, nearly 50% of all natural rubber comes from plantations in Southeast Asia, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Vietnam

Malaysian Rubber Tapper. Today, nearly 50% of all natural rubber comes from plantations in Southeast Asia, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Vietnam

(Part OnePart Two)

The Political Economy of Late 19th, early 20th Century Rubber Production

Casement’s investigations of human rights abuses in rubber collection in both the Congo and Putumayo region of the upper Amazon Basin of Peru took place at a particular moment in time when the global demand for rubber had exploded and the supply of wild rubber, the only source, was increasing unable to keep up with it. This structural situation combined with the great profits the result of limited supply was the global engine that shaped the abuses Casement revealed in his studies. In those same years (1903-1913), Britain was following a two-track strategy, on the one hand investing heavily in creating domesticated varieties of rubber on incipient rubber plant plantations in Malaysia and elsewhere in SE Asia, creating alternatives to their dependence upon equatorial rubber from Africa and South America.

On the other hand, as those alternatives were coming on-line and the viable Asian alternatives were being put in place, at first slowly and then more quickly after 1900, Britain was not particularly adverse to exposing the seamy side of rubber production controlled by other countries. In the Congo, it was Belgium that benefited most from rubber, in the Amazon, a number of local rubber barons from Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. While in both cases foreign capital, always on the hunt for high rates of return was involved, in the main it was domestic elements that controlled production and, as long as their was a rubber boom, the breathtaking profits that resulted. When the first rubber boom ended sometime between 1910 – 1913, and end it did abruptly when Congolese and Amazonian production collapsed overnight, control of global rubber production shifted decidedly to Britain with its Malaysian plantations that left its competitors in the dust.

When the first rubber boom ended sometime between 1910 – 1913, and end it did abruptly when Congolese and Amazonian production collapsed overnight, control of global rubber production shifted decidedly to Britain with its Malaysian plantations that left its competitors in the dust.

Read more…

Wallerstein: U.S. Standing in the Middle East

December 5, 2014
One of the Egyptian mas demonstrations that brought down the Mubarek government

One of the early 2011 Egyptian mass demonstrations that brought down the Mubarek government

(note: this entry is lifted in its entirety from Immanuel Wallerstein’s Commentaries, with permission. These commentaries, appearing every two weeks, are almost always worth reading. Kazerooni and I have argued that U.S. Middle East policy is in shambles, and has been for a long time. This article supports that view and explains why.)

Commentary No. 390, Dec. 1, 2014

“U.S. Standing in the Middle East”

On November 27, The New York Times headlined an article “Conflicting Policies on Syria and Islamic State Erode U.S. Standing in Mideast.” But this is not new. U.S. standing in the Middle East (and elsewhere) has been eroding for almost 50 years. The reality is far larger than the immediate dispute between anti-Assad forces in Syria and their supporters elsewhere on the one hand and the Obama regime in the United States on the other.
The fact is that the United States has become in the expression derived from onetime nautical practice a “loose cannon,” that is, a power whose actions are unpredictable, uncontrollable, and dangerous to itself and to others. As a result, it is trusted by almost no-one, even when many countries and political groups call upon it for assistance in specific ways in the short run.

Read more…

The Dream of the Celt by Mario Vargas Llosa: A Critical Review in Three Parts: Part Two

December 3, 2014
Stamps Commemorating The Easter Rising when Irish nationalists rose in armed revolt against 800 years of British rule.  Roger Casement, a man born of privilege, gave his life in support of this cause

Stamps Commemorating The Easter Rising when Irish nationalists rose in armed revolt against 800 years of British rule. Roger Casement, a man born of privilege, gave his life in support of this cause

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Now give me that old-time religion 

Give me that old-time religion
Give me that old-time religion
And it’s good enough for me

It will do when I am dying,…

It was good for the prophet Daniel,…

It was tried in the fiery furnace,…

It will take us all to heaven,..

- a traditional American gospel dating from 1873 -

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1. Did Roger Casement find God?

Vargas Llosa constructs his narrative, interspersing scenes of Roger Casement’s life with his final days before his execution. The main episodes of Casement’s life, his early life, time in the Congo, Brazil, the Putumayo investigations, his embracing of Irish nationalism, his homosexual affairs in Africa and Latin America are all covered and with feeling and considerable detail. But it is those final days and hours that are given much greater attention, where Casement appears to embrace Catholicism and a belief in God which in many ways is more central to the narrative that even his human rights work. In fact, it comes through as  perhaps Vargas Llosa’s main purpose in writing the book – a case study of a non-religious man who happens to “find God” at the end of his life. Casement’s life itself filled with drama and turmoil is just incidental. Roger Casement’s biography, even in the format of a historical novel, deserves better. Read more…

The Dream of the Celt by Mario Vargas Llosa: A Critical Review in Three Parts: Part One

December 2, 2014
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Enslaved Amazonian Rubber Workers, Putumayo District of Peru – early 1900s. W. Hardenburg, who snapped this photo, was one of the American journalists who uncovered the inhumane conditions of Amazonian rubber collectors. It nearly cost him his life

Mario Vargas Llosa – Dream of the Celt

Rummaging through a pile of books at home I came across one I had not read, the title of which meant as little to me as did the author – The Dream of the Celt - by Nobel Prize winning Peruvian author, Mario Vargas Llosa.  While I have learned some about Vargas Llosa since, at the time I rediscovered the book, I knew little about him other than he had won “the prize.” Wondering why it was I had bought it in the first place I was about to put it in my “give away” pile when I noticed the portrait on the dust jacket which caused me to pause. Wasn’t that Roger Casement’s photo, which by now I have become familiar with? Yes it was! If I couldn’t remember where or when I had purchased the book, I certainly knew why. Casement is the author of the 1904 Report on the Congo, which played large, along with the work of E. D. Morel in the discrediting and ultimate downfall of Leopold II of Belgium’s Congo Free State a few years afterwards.

Neither free nor a state, the Congo Free State was little more than a horrific economic system of slave labor organized for the collection and extraction of Congolese rubber and ivory. It made Leopold II, a cunning bastard, one of the wealthiest men in Europe and probably the world at the time. It reduced the population of the Congo from an estimated twenty million in the early 1880s, when the help of Henry Morton Stanley he was able to gain control of the region, to less than ten million people a quarter of century later. Driven by unabashed greed hiding for a short time behind a veil of humanitarian interventionalism, the white man’s burden to help the people of the Third World Leopold’s Congo organization committed unspeakable crimes against humanity, in an unending orgy of economic exploitation, rape, and murder. Read more…

Tunisia’s Presidential Elections: Washington Wins Either Way

November 25, 2014
Amilcar, Tunisia - Ennahdha  stronghold

Amilcar, Tunisia – 2011

(Note: Also published at Foreign Policy In Focus  and Blog Africa)

(Washington needs the support of both Ennahdha and Nidaa Tounes to push through its structural adjustment policies pressed on Tunisia in exchange for IMF loans these past few yearsThe main goals, the legal basis for which was apparently achieved in the last days of the country’s constituent assembly, have been to open up Tunisia’s soon to be developed energy sector to foreign investment, as usual on terms unfavorable to Tunisia, and to lift the subsidies on gasoline and electricity. As long as the two parties, that will dominate Tunisian politics in the coming period, cooperate on this, it is not important to Washington which one wins the presidency or dominates the Tunisian political landscape.)

First Round Results: Tunisia’s Presidential Elections

The first round of the Tunisian elections took place this past Sunday. Two of the candidates, Beji Caid Essebsi, leading figure of the Nidaa Tounes Party, won a plurality 39.46% percent of the vote. Not far behind him the incumbent president of Tunisia’s transitional government, Moncef Marzouki, came in second with a strong showing as well – drawing 33.4% of the vote. Hamma Hammami, the leader of Tunisia’s Popular Front, came in third with 7.82%. Businessman Hechmi Hamdi secured 5.75 percent; and the tycoon Slim Riahi received 5.55 percent.

Although “a secular” candidate, Marzouki, the incumbent president, owes his political prominence to his relationship with the Ennahdha Party, the Islamic political party that has dominated the Tunisian political scene since the 2011 overthrow of the Ben Ali dictatorship and who has managed to mismanage the country’s economic and political affairs to an impressive and factional degree. Although Ennadha, recognizing is current unpopularity, and most probably with a little help from friends in Washington DC, decided not to field a candidate for the presidency, it is not a very radical supposition that they stand behind Marzouki, whose own political base has been close to non-existent. Read more…

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