by Molly Prince
Last April I read an incredible, beautiful book: The Spell of the Sensuous. It ends with a call from the author to KNOW your local environment and its issues. Well, that sounds nice I thought but I have no idea how to go about doing that. Researching it on-line makes my eyes glaze over.
In Denver this the past week, there have been three protests/marches about environmental issues. I wish there had been no need for them, but since there was a need, I was grateful to the organizers for making them happen. Among other things, these events served as a gateway for learning more about current local and global issues Read more…
This article also appears at Foreign Policy In Focus
1. From Timbuctou to Tunis…Marabout desecration
Fueled with Saudi and Qatari money and arms as they are throughout the Middle East and North Africa, Salafist Islamic radicals on the move in Mali hijacked the Tuareg-armed insurrection giving it a decidedly Islamic fundamentalist tinge which the rebellion did not originally have. Among their main targets was the historically vital city of Timbuctou.
In early times Timbuctou was a key transit point for the trans-Sahara caravan trade. It remains a key center of African Islam with an extraordinarily rich heritage of Sufi (Islamic mystics) shrines and written documents going back a thousand years. Its manuscript collection is acknowledged as one of the richest treasure troves of human culture anywhere.
One of the goals of the Islamic radicals that temporarily seized and held Timbuctou was to destroy as much of that heritage as possible, understood by Salafists with their stone-age concepts of Islam, as heretical. Countering such destructive activity has become a pretext for big power intervention, be it the United States in Afghanistan or France in Mali (although both countries have more significant, ulterior motives).
The Salafist militias radicals sought to snuff out Timbuctou’s rich regional Islamic heritage – destroying mausoleums, called marabouts[i], purging Sufi holy men and destroying as much of the city’s precious manuscript collection as possible. In the short time that they ruled Timbuctou, the Islamic militants instituted a typical regime of Wahhabist-like Sharia law with its usual retrograde practices (the subjugation of women, outlawing singing, dancing, stoning women to death for violating Salafist versions of sexual misconduct, ie – the usual Taliban-like/Saudi-like nonsense). Read more…
This also appeared at Foreign Policy In Focus
A good place to start this review is at the end, the very end of The Gatekeepers, the Israeli documentary by Droh Moreh that was nominated for best documentary feature at the 85th Academy Awards .
Just before the film stops rolling, `they’ - the six interviewees – all come to the same conclusion: they’ve had it with the occupation, that further repression against the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories – that includes extensive torture to create and army of informers, targeted high tech assassination, daily harassment and humiliation of the Palestinian population simply won’t work. And `they’ should know, as they perpetrated much of it.
`We’ve become cruel’ one of them says, himself one of the cruelest Shin Bet chiefs of them all, as if the Occupation was ever `kind’ in its earlier days? Read more…
Such is the title of Michael T. Klare’s latest book, one which for better or worse, my students at the University of Denver have no choice but to read. They have been submitting questions to me about it these past weeks, intelligent ones. Mostly they can’t seem to `get it’ why the United States and other `core’ countries are not seriously investing in alternative energies, or why the environmental and human consequences of some of the world’s biggest mining and petro-chemical projects are not taken more seriously especially when the start up costs for these projects are enormous and that it will take a decade to build the infra-structure necessary to make such projects viable – that is, if that is even possible.
Several friends are not impressed with the book.
They think that it doesn’t cover new ground and that it overstates its case that the world is running short of, or out of petro-chemicals and strategic minerals. In some cases these friends, for various reasons, have learned about the book’s content from other sources so for them it’s not original.
Others believe that Klare overstates his case. Perhaps some experts are aware of the book’s content, but I doubt that this is true for `the general public’ for which this book is a most valuable contribution to our understanding of global processes, not just about mining in naturally or politically dangerous places or the alliances made between large scale global mining giants like Rio Tinto, Anglo-American Mining, the Chinese National Machinery and Equipment Import and Export Corporation (CMEC) and different African dictators. Read more…
Hevea = Natural Rubber
Huile de palme = Palm Oil
Platine = Platinum
Argent = Silver
Terres Rares = Rare Earth Elements
or put another way…
- more than 50% of the world’s natural rubber comes from two countries – Indonesia and Thailand
- 85% of the world’s palm oil comes from two countries - Malaysia and Indonesia
- 87% of the world’s lithium comes from three countries – Chile, China and Australia (although there are reports that Afghanistan could possibly become the `Saudi Arabia’ of lithium production). Think of what would happen to the anti-depressant industry if half of their populations turned out to be like ours: bipolar.
- 53% of the world’s reserves in copper come from three countries – Chile, Peru and Australia.
- 64% of the world’s cobalt comes from two adjoining African countries – the Congo and Zambia
- 87% of the world’s platinum comes from two countries – South Africa and Russia
- 47% of the world’s silver comes from three countries – Mexico, Peru and China
- 63% of the world’s uranium comes from three countries – Canada, Kazakhstan and Australia.
- 97.3% of all rare earth elements come from one country, China.
Debtocracy - a YouTube program produced in Greece with subtitles in English. Runs an hour and fifteen minutes. Is quite good.
(Note: This is an open letter to the current head of the Algerian security apparatus, the DRS – Departement de Renseignement et Securite – who has been the behind the scenes master of Algerian politics for more than two decades. Malti, a former SONATRACH employee, is the author of L’Histoire Secrete du Petrole Algerien published by Decouverte Publications, Paris, 2012. For those trying to follow the cruel reality of Algerian politics, this is a key document. Keep in mind, that over the past decade the United States has entered into a growing security relationship with Algeria and is currently pressing the Algerian government to send its troops to Mali. This an English translation of the `open letter’ which was previously published on this blog in its original French. Thanks to anonymous translator for invaluable, professional quality translation.)
General Toufik: Algeria’s God
An Open Letter to Mohamed “Toufik” Mediène
Hocine Malti, Algeria-Watch, 16 february 2013
This time it is not your staff investigators I’m addressing myself to but you, Rab Dzayer, “God of Algeria”, head of the almighty DRS (Department of Intelligence and Security) since 1990. Wasn’t this the way you presented yourself one day in 1999, under circumstances you well know? As the popular saying goes, ”It’s better to speak to God than to his saints” – which is what I’m doing today. Given that you are in a position to decide and impose what you deem fit to all of Algeria, to every man and woman and, most particularly, to every civil, military, political and legal authority, I am convinced that you will provide positive answers and follow-up to the questions and requests that I herein submit.
We have just learned that on February 10, 2013, the Prosecutor of Algiers decided to launch a new investigation concerning corruption within the national oil & gas conglomerate, a dossier that he has designated “Sonatrach 2[i]“. In order to give the impression that they are tuned in to public opinion — without acknowledging that they are in fact following on the heels of their Italian colleagues — the Algerian judges indicated in their official statement that they had launched this investigation following information reported in the national press, which, as you know, merely reported the decisions of the Milan Prosecutor as diffused by Italian media. But we Algerians know the truth: our judges were in fact waiting for your instructions before deciding whether to act or to ignore the media uproar of these past days. If they have instigated this new investigation it is because you, Rab Dzayer, have given the green light.
Is the green light that you have conferred clear, definite and permanent or is it furtive and blinking? Will the judges in charge of the case be able to carry out all the necessary investigations, pursue them until truth be determined, carry out all appropriate perquisitions, bring before investigators and the Court every person implicated in any way whatsoever in this matter? Simply put, will they be able to act solely according to the dictates of their conscience or will they be obliged to obtain your green light at every step along the way? Are we going to see Chakib Khelil, Farid Bedjaoui, Mohamed Bedjaoui, Reda Hemche, Pierre Falcone, Samyr Ouraied and tutti quanti auditioned one after the other in the judge’s chambers before possibly being indicted and then, who knows, perhaps even condemned? As you are aware, some of the aforementioned have acted as intermediaries on behalf of silent partners invisible to the eyes of common mortals, but which you, God of Algeria, know only too well. Is it then too naive to imagine that a certain number of your colleagues, Generals or Major-Generals, Ministers, shady businessmen, other personalities who make up the pyramid of which you are the apex as well as members of a certain clan[ii] will also be brought to justice?
Will we also see the Italian, Chinese, French or Canadian corruptors — the list is far from being exhaustive — testify before the Court or answer to their acts before a rogatory commission? Or, as usual, will only the “small fry” be the targets of this new procedure? The Italians have not hesitated to shine a light into the darkest corners: what they’ve discovered and revealed is however merely the visible part of the iceberg. They have gone after the highest level managers at ENI, who in their country are powerful political figures – as opposed to Algeria, where Sonatrach executives, including the CEO, are but technocrats fronting for those who really exercise power, such as you. So will you do as the Italians are doing? Or will it be necessary to listen in on the happenings at the Milan Prosecutor’s office to find out the sad reality of our country and discover how certain personalities whom you know perfectly well, persons you have often frequented during your long professional career, have stuffed their pockets with millions of dollars and Euros plundered from Algeria’s oil revenues? And all this with your tacit agreement, if not your blessing. Do you know the three terms that business and financial circles worldwide use to qualify Algeria? Corruption, incompetence and criminality.
Corruption, indeed, since Algeria was classed in 2012 105th out of 176 countries in Transparency International’s ranking, corruption that has become widespread over the past thirty years. Since 1999, with the complicity of your president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, — and I say your president because it is you and your General friends who chose and imposed him upon the Algerian people – you have transformed Algeria into a land of plenty for a certain caste whose dealings you have covered up if not encouraged to act. Since 1999 the two of you have engaged in an unending guerilla war-like dispute for control and power: Abdelaziz Bouteflika trying to be something other than “three-quarters of a President” and you defining the red lines over which not to cross? All of this with often tragic and cruel consequences for the Algerian people! You have made managing the affairs of the country a private playground in which the only ones allowed to intervene are the infernal couple the two of you make up and your two clans. The destiny of this country has been and continues to be for you both a chess game in which each of you in turn tries to advance his pawns, mark points against his opponent, without either of you succeeding to check or mate the other.
What you are seeking in this hushed-up struggle, invisible to the untrained eye but nevertheless ferocious, is not only to affirm your supremacy but also — and especially — to lay hands on this country’s wealth, an objective for which, despite your bickering, you share an unfailing solidarity. In each of the two clans, your respective henchmen have taken advantage of the guarantee of impunity you have afforded them and stuffed their pockets, garnishing to the hilt their bank accounts and tax havens. But not only that. They have also acquired sumptuous residences, notably in the most chic quarters of Paris, haciendas in Latin America, palaces in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, and offered their children the latest model luxury cars which are then indecently exhibited in the streets of Algiers while others rummage in garbage dumps and landfills for food to feed themselves and their children. Many of your acolytes have decorated their mistresses with jewels, dressed them in Haute Couture and availed them with first-class airline tickets that they have not even paid for. These are VIP, they get this genre of knick-knacks!
Where do they get all this money? First of all, from commissions perceived from foreign companies which have found in your respective succor the mother lode guaranteeing them fabulous contracts in Algeria. Or from import-import operations which have flourished over the past twenty years; monopolies on imports that some — and you know perfectly well who — have self-attributed; fraudulent set-ups of phony bank loans which have become an Algerian specialty; customs “agreements” on false imports or exports. And much more that I can’t even begin to enumerate, such being the panoply of fraudulent operations which appeared in the 1980s and have become widespread since 1999; such being the fertile imaginations of the members of your two clans to create niches from which to extract the maximum of profits. You and Abdelaziz Bouteflika knew all this, but you let it happen. And the day that it becomes necessary to put the adverse clan in a difficult situation, you will need but to disclose compromising files that you detain on the other. A perfect example being the BRC affair, which exploded in 2006 and in which millions of dollars were embezzled by some of your acquaintances as well as by certain corrupt Americans! To your great satisfaction, oil prices — and revenues — have skyrocketed over the past twenty years, thereby facilitating these wheelings and dealings. Such revenues have permitted you and Abdelaziz Bouteflika to buy consciences and support from inside and outside the country, to finance parties in Algeria and abroad, and, finally, to reinforce and perpetuate your power, up to the point that you, yourself, have become Rab Dzayer.
Incompetence is the other term used in foreign business circles to characterize Algeria. They of course know that all Algerians — thank God! — are not incompetent, although the overwhelming majority of those with whom they are in contact are just that. How can we explain this particularity? The Algerian upper-level managers they meet and with whom they have business dealings have been chosen and placed in their positions of responsibility by none other than you two. Now the fundamental criterion for you in this choice is, above all the rest, obedience to the clan chief, not competence. In your microcosm, only the “yes man” can succeed. As proof one need only look at the obsequiousness and servility of the persons in your entourage. These “yes men” moreover help you to marginalize competent people, who risk upstaging them.
Finally they speak of criminality. What a horrible term when investors speak about Algeria. Criminality, of course, since even before going to Algiers, foreign businessmen will have been approached by the missi dominici of the Algerian godfather charged with the affair who will indicate the terms of the “contract”. Not the contract concerning the project itself, but rather the contract pertaining to the amount of the tithe, the commission to be paid, the account into which the payment will be made. And God knows the voraciousness of these Algerian godfathers who demand percentages far superior to the “average percentages normally perceived”. This commission is included in the total amount of the deal, without being deducted from the profits of the company receiving the contract, such that the commission is not particularly bothersome. It is this greed, this voracity, which leads others to speak of criminality. Poor Algeria, what have they done to you?
Rab Dzayer, are you today willing to erase these infamous marks that dishonor the image of this country? Gods can do that. You, yourself, have proved this on several occasions. For just once will you be able to put a stop to this kind of behavior? Will you be more perspicacious, more efficient than the Italians who have announced 200 million Euros in kickbacks? For a series of contracts totaling 11 billion, the 200 million Euros-worth of announced commissions represents less than 2 percent. There is just one comment we can make here: Ridiculous!
P.S. Dear God of Algeria, One last request: Will you authorize the Algerian press to publish this letter?