Tag Archives: civil war

Honoring Colombia’s Civil War Victims

Colombia’s civil war has been raging for more than fifty years. Beginning in 1964 as a proxy war between the United States and the Soviet Union, the civil war pit the government of Colombia, allied with right-wing militias, against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), two left-wing paramilitary groups backed by communist governments. Throughout the conflict, all sides have been accused of drug trafficking and terrorism, and the death toll has exceeded 220,000 people, the vast majority of which were civilians.

Recent advances in the peace talks have given Colombians hope, and negotiations between FARC, the ELN, and Colombia’s government appear to be making headway. One of the most symbolically important tasks has been to excavate the many mass graves that dot the countryside.

What do you think? Will Colombia’s civil war finally be brought to an end? What will peace in Colombia look like after more than fifty years of civil war? And how can that peace be made to last?

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Destabilizing the Syrian Crisis

Russian Yakhont Anti-Ship Missile

Russian Yakhont Anti-Ship Missile

Quoting unnamed US officials, the New York Times today reported that Russia has sent sophisticated anti-ship missiles to Syria as part of a longstanding arms trade agreement. The missiles, known as the Yakhont, are radar-guided, supersonic missiles, with a range of 75 to 185 miles, and intended for coastal defense.

The shipment raises concerns about the viability of intervention in the Syrian crisis. The Yakhont system has advanced radar guidance systems that would enable the missile to evade ship defenses. The United States argues that the missile system would force any potential naval operations further off Syria’s coasts.

Beyond the potential impact on foreign intervention in the Syrian crisis, BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus argues that the missile system is significant for two reasons.

First, by following through on the sale agreed to in 2007, Russia demonstrates its ongoing support for and commitment to the Syrian regime. The sale highlights Russia’s desire to prevent possible Western intervention. It also suggests that Russia would likely oppose efforts to secure approval for such intervention through the United Nations Security Council.

Second, the sale may also raise concerns on the part of Israel about the potential transfer of weapons from Syria to its Hezbollah allies in Syria. Israel has already warned Syria that such a transfer would cross red line that could prompt a new wave of Israeli airstrikes against Syrian forces.

What do you think? Could Russia’s weapon sales to Syria undermine potential resolution of the Syrian crisis? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

Urban Development and the City of the Year

Medellín, Colombia, City of the Year (Photo Credit: Camilo Sanchez/Wikimedia)

Medellín, Colombia, City of the Year (Photo Credit: Camilo Sanchez/Wikimedia)

An annual competition by the Urban Land Institute, the Wall Street Journal, and CitiGroup yesterday named Medellín, Colombia, as the “City of the Year.” Selected from a list of 200 contenders, Medellín beat out a wide range of cities, including the other two finalists, Tel Aviv and New York, to claim the title. According to the Urban Land Institute,

Originally distinguished for its progress and potential, the winning city found new solutions to classic problems of mobility and environmental sustainability. Today, gondolas and a giant escalator shuttle citizens from steep mountainside homes to jobs and schools in the valley below. As a result, travel time for the majority of its citizens has been cut from more than 2 hours to just a few minutes. In this city, a modern underground metro system has eased pollution and crowding in the city’s main arteries above, and glistening new museums, cultural centers, libraries and schools enrich the community. Connections create innovation, and it is no wonder that our winning City of the Year has achieved great success in bringing its residents together to assure opportunities for all. That city is the traditional cultural capital of Colombia: Medellín.

The award is certainly a shot in the arm for a city that throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s was most well known as the most violent city in the world, scarred by an urban war that pitted drug cartels (the most well-known of which was the Medellín Cartel under Pablo Escobar, which controlled up to 80 percent of the global cocaine trade during the 1980s), and the police and military.

How did Medellín transition from the most violent city in the world to the world’s city of the year? Violence in the city gradually declined following the death of Escobar and the breakup of the Medellín Cartel in 1993. As the city became more stable, the local government was able to invest heavily in local infrastructure and development. As Medellín’s current mayor, Aníbal Gaviria noted upon receipt of the award,

Medellín stands today as an example for many cities around the world, because despite having lived very dark and difficult times 20 years ago, we have been undergoing a true metamorphosis. Going from pain and fear to hope, and now from hope to be a place filled with life, the city has known how to innovate in every step, both in social programs, urban developments, or the combination of both, and this has been key in the success of this process.

What do you think? Does Medellín deserve to be City of the Year? What lessons can we draw for countries and regions currently plagued by violence from Medellín’s success? Take the poll below or leave a comment and let us know what you think?

Making Progress on Conflict Resources

Open Pit Mine Workers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Open Pit Mine Workers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

A 2012 column by New York Times op-ed writer Nicholas Kristof drew national attention to the problem of conflict resources. We had long been familiar with blood diamonds—diamonds mined from conflict zones and sold to finance civil wars and militias—in places like Sierra Leone and Liberia. Indeed, in response to popular outcry, the diamond industry in 2003 agreed to establish the Kimberley Process, which was intended to prevent conflict diamonds from entering global diamond markets, thereby depriving them of their value.

Although certainly far from perfect, the Kimberley Process illustrates the possibility of pressure by nongovernmental organizations in affecting the development of international regimes. In the case of the Kimberley Process, consumer groups and various human rights NGOs were able to convince diamond retailers that the value of their product would be negatively affected by its association with violence and civil war (hence term “blood diamond”). This led to the creation of a voluntary certification scheme instituted by diamond traders.

More recently, other conflict resources have garnered increased attention. Last year, Oxfam used the term “blood chocolate” to draw attention to human rights violations by cocoa producers in the Ivory Coast. And several groups have called used the term “blood phones” and “conflict minerals” to highlight the human rights violations and the sale of resources mined by militia groups to finance conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where more than 5.4 million people have died as a result of war-related causes, including disease and malnutrition, since 1998.

Much like the agreement with the Kimberley Process, though, some progress is being made. The Enough Project on Thursday released a report congratulating several electronics manufacturers, including Intel, HP, Dell, Microsoft, and Apple, on progress made in their efforts to trace the source of metals used in their products, but noting that much work remained to be done.

This process would allow them to certify resources sourced from countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo as “conflict free.” The DR Congo is the world’s primary producer of tantalum, a key component in the production of microprocessors, and is also a major world supplier for tungsten, tin and other important mineral resources. And rules included in financial reform legislation passed by the US Congress in 2010 would require companies to disclose whether they source minerals from conflict zones. Interestingly, students have been at the heart of the movement to require certification of minerals sourced from conflict zones.

What do you think? Should companies be required to certify their goods are not produced from resources sourced from conflict zones? Would you be willing to pay more for cell phones and other consumer electronics that were certified conflict free? Should the market decide? Or should government regulation mandate conflict-free production?

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

Perhaps the most shocking news from the previous week came in a series of stories and rumors that the U.S. government may move to nationalize some banks in an attempt to address the ongoing global economic crisis.  In an interview on Tuesday, former Federal Reserve Chairman (and ardent free marketeer) commented that, “It may be necessary to temporarily nationalize some banks in order to facilitate a swift and orderly restructuring.” In the same story, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham concurred, noting, “If nationalization is what works, then we should do it.” Speculation that Citibank and Bank of America may be the first banks to be nationalized drove their stock values down and led to both dramatic selloffs on Wall Street and a sharp increase in the price of gold, normally used to hedge against uncertainty. The events forced the Obama administration to attempt to reassure global markets, as White House Press Secretary Robert Ribbs said, “This administration continues to strongly believe that a privately held banking system is the correct way to go, ensuring that they are regulated sufficiently by this government. That’s been our belief for quite some time, and we continue to believe that.” Remember when the Democrats were the ones who wanted greater government control over the economy, and Republicans opposed such intervention? Seems the global financial crisis makes the conventional wisdom less and less relevant.

Here are five stories from the previous week you might have missed if you’ve been trying to keep the players in the nationalization debate straight:

1. On Friday, the government of Mexico confirmed the country was following the general trend in much of the rest of the world, heading into recession. In the final quarter of 2008, the Mexican economy contracted by 1.6 percent. In an attempt to stimulate the economy, the government cut interest rates. But close ties to the ailing U.S. economy have acted as a drag on the Mexican economy, undermining the ability of the Mexican government to develop an effective stimulus program.

2. The United Nations-backed naval taskforce in the Gulf of Aden appears to have been generally successful in addressing the problem of piracy in the region. A number of U.S. and E.U. naval vessels, as well as ships from several other navies, have been operating off the coast of Somalia in an attempt to curtail the piracy which had become endemic to the region. The government of Somalia remains unable to assert control over its territorial waters, and piracy was one of the few ways in which Somalis were able to earn a living.

3. The government of Pakistan and Taliban fighters in the northwestern part of the country agreed to a “permanent ceasefire” on Saturday.  In exchange for agreeing to the ceasefire, the Pakistani government has offered to reinstate Islamic sharia law in the region. Many observers are concerned that the ceasefire may create a safe haven in Pakistan for Taliban and al Qaeda fighters could regroup.

4. Latvia’s Prime Minister, Ivars Godmanis, became the second victim of the global financial crisis on Friday, as he was forced to resign from office amid widespread popular protest. Like the government of Iceland before it, the Latvian government had been forced by the global economic downturn to launch a series of austerity measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund. A number of other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, including Hungary and Ukraine, have already implemented structural adjustment programs. Several others, including Serbia, Romania, Lithuania, and Estonia, are also seen as vulnerable.

5. The conflict in Sri Lanka continues. After the government had made significant advances into rebel territory over the past several weeks, Tamil Tiger rebels responded on Friday night with a surprise air raid on the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo. Initial reports indicated that at least 42 people were injured in the attack. An estimated 70,000 people have been killed since the civil war began in 1983.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The big story of the week has to be the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States on Tuesday.  Since then, President Obama has been moving quickly to make sweeping changes to U.S. foreign and domestic policy, including announcements that he was suspending the military tribunal system established to try terrorism suspects, closing the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay and other secret detention facilities, mandating that all U.S. interrogators comply with the Army Field Manual, and issuing orders to national security team that they should develop a plan outlining a “responsible military drawdown in Iraq.”  And that was his first day in office.

Here’s five important stories from the past week you might have missed if you were only focused on the Obama transition.

1. Seeking to improve deteriorating relations with India, Pakistan announced on Friday that it would prosecute militants with links to the November Mumbai terror attacks.  The government of Pakistan is hoping to amend its constitution to permit trials for acts of terror committed outside its borders.  In the meantime, it has announced its intention to try several militants with links to the Mumbai attacks for cyber crimes.  Last week, the Pakistani government arrested 124 alleged militantsThe United Kingdom, the United States, and other western powers have made an effort to improve relations between India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers, which have been particularly tense since the November, and Yousuf Raza Gilani, the new prime minister of Pakistan, is facing considerable domestic and international pressure

2.  The temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza seems to be holding, but tensions continue to rise.  On Sunday, Hamas announced that it would terminate the ceasefire if Israel continued to maintain its blockade on Gaza.  Israel maintains that the blockade is intended to prevent the shipment of weapons into Gaza, but the blockade also prevents the shipment of food, energy, and reconstruction materials into the territory.  Both U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. President Barack Obama have called on Israel to reopen its borders with Gaza.

3.  Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda was arrested last week.  A central player in the ongoing civil war in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nkunda was believed responsible for the destabilization of the region which has resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people and an estimated 5.4 million deaths—half of whom were children—during the past ten years.  Nkunda’s arrest presents an opportunity for peace in the eastern DRC.  It also represents a fundamental shift in relations between the Congo and its eastern neighbor, Rwanda.  The two countries have had tense relations since the mid-1990s, but Nkudna’s arrest was part of a joint operation and Rwandan troops are currently cooperating with the Congolese military to track down remnants of guerilla forces operating in the region.

4.  A national referendum on a new constitution in Bolivia is currently underway.  The constitution, promoted by Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, is widely expected to pass given Morales’ popularity.  However, several groups are campaigning against the constitution, including the Christian groups and the country’s relatively wealthy.  If passed, the new constitution would introduce “community justice,” provide for the election of judges, remove Catholicism as the official state religion, and cap landholdings at 5,000 hectares.

5.  Europe continues to struggle with the fallout from the global economic crisis.  On Friday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy unveiled a new €600 million stimulus package targeting the French newspaper industry.  The Spanish government has called on its citizens to engage in “patriotic” shopping, buying Spanish products as a way to address the economic downturn in that country.  Meanwhile, Iceland became the first county to witness a government collapse as a result of the crisis.  The prime minister of Iceland, Geir Haarde, resigned on Friday, paving the way for early elections and a potentially dramatic shift to the left after nearly twenty years of liberalization in the country.   In November, Iceland became the first developed country to have to turn to the International Monetary Fund since 1976.

New Hopes for the Congo

Hopes for peace in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo were boosted on Friday.  In a surprising shift in policy, the government of Rwanda arrested Laurent Nkunda, the leader of rebel forces in the North Kivu region.  Nkunda’s forces, believed to be supported by the government of Rwanda, had been engaged in a guerrilla war against both the government of the DRC and Hutu militants who fled into the Congo after the 1994 Rwandan genocide.  According to the New York Times, the government of Rwanda had come under increasing pressure to move against Nkunda, who has been accused of crimes against humanity for his role in the war in the Congo.  The government of the DRC has requested Nkunda be extradited to the Congo to face trial there, but the Rwandan government has not yet confirmed whether or not they will hand their former ally over to stand trial.

The extent to which this may represent a real shift in the Congo remains unclear.  The government of the Congo is still fragile, and its ability to effectively govern is weak, particularly in the eastern Congo near the Rwandan border.  The arrest of Nkunda nevertheless represents an important—and hopeful—development in the region.  Perhaps the long period of instability in the Great Lakes region is finally drawing to a close.