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RYAN LIZZA: What the British have done in Sierra Leone, they have basically turned that country around when nobody thought they could. There were pretty successful elections there recently. There’s a Truth and Reconciliation Commission going on there now.
MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, maintaining peace in Liberia’s neighboring countries.
PORTER: Plus, South Africa’s controversial apartheid museum.
JOHN MASHIKIZA: Here we have a museum initiated by these twin brothers who made a lot of money out of skin lighteners sold to black people and curated by basically a white team.
PORTER: And the art of Buddhism.
COLIN MACKENZIE: It was only round about the turn of the 1st century that he begins to be represented. Initially by symbols such as a lotus or footprints and then figures of Buddha begin to appear.
MCHUGH: These stories—coming up next.
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MCHUGH: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Kristin McHugh.
PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. As the US continues to weighs its level of involvement in the West African nation of Liberia, observers have held up two recent examples of western military intervention in the region: Britain’s deployment to Sierra Leone and France’s to Cote d’Ivoire—Ivory Coast. In both cases, the former colonial powers intervened militarily to help bring stability to their former colonies, which were wracked by civil war. While the US was not the colonial power in Liberia, the historical ties are strong. The country was settled in the 19th century by freed American slaves. Judith Smelser takes a look at the British and French missions, as they compare to the ongoing situation in Liberia.
[The sound of African children singing and dancing.]
JUDITH SMELSER: In Sierra Leone, children dance barefoot in the dirt at a camp for amputees. Many of these youngsters—and the adults that watch nearby—are missing their hands or feet—a lasting reminder of their country’s decade-long civil war. Rebels fighting for control of the country were notorious for cutting off the limbs of civilians.
[Sounds from a busy refugee camp.]
SMELSER: Victims ended up in camps like these around the war-torn country. But Sierra Leoneans are slowly trying to put the brutal civil war behind them. The peace they now enjoy was secured in part by troops from the country’s former colonial power, Britain. The UK deployed its forces in 2000 to bolster a United Nations peacekeeping team already on the ground.
RYAN LIZZA: What the British have done in Sierra Leone, they have basically turned that country around when nobody thought they could.
SMELSER: Ryan Lizza is the White House Correspondent for the New Republic. He’s been writing lately about the Liberia issue.
LIZZA: There were pretty successful elections there recently, there’s a Truth and Reconciliation Commission going on there now, and there’s a very important UN- and US-backed court to try the war criminals from Sierra Leone’s civil war.
[Sounds of the citizens of a destroyed village talking.]
SMELSER: Not far from Sierra Leone, citizens of Cote d’Ivoire—or Ivory Coast—survey the damage to a small village, caused by a much shorter but still destructive civil war. This former French colony was the picture of stability until a military coup was launched nearly four years ago. The ensuing upheaval sewed the seeds of ethnic strife. Early this year, France sent 4,000 troops to help secure a fragile cease-fire, and this summer the war was declared officially over. Herman Cohen, a former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, says the French deployment was very successful.
HERMAN COHEN: The French did manage to stop the war, and they gave the diplomats time to organize peace talks which took place in France which resulted in the formation of a transitional government with a neutral prime minister, and which included representatives from the rebel groups as well as from the government side, and also as well as from unarmed opposition.
SMELSER: It may seem surprising that countries which declared independence from France and Britain just 40 years ago would ask their former colonial masters to send their troops back in. But Herman Cohen says on the contrary, those requests were quite natural.
COHEN: Countries that used to be colonies and that received their independence, their natural inclination is to form partnerships with the former colonial powers, whether it’s for technical assistance, whether it’s for military assistance, whether it’s for business relationships. So this carries over to the point including when countries are in difficulty.
SMELSER: Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst with the Washington-based Brookings Institution, agrees. He says there’s been no hint of neo-colonialism in either the French or British missions, and he doesn’t expect there to be.
MICHAEL O’HANLON: I think Britain and France will be careful not to overstay their welcome and not to get involved in running the countries any more than necessary in a very interim basis. So far they have tended to avoid that and have really just provided some military muscle where it was needed. So I think it’s to the credit of these countries they managed to get beyond sort of their historical hang-ups—when they really needed help and someone was willing to provide it, they accepted. I think that was the proper course of action.
SMELSER: The situation for the US in Liberia is different, of course, since America was not the colonial power there. But the West African country was settled by freed American slaves and Herman Cohen says Liberians still have strong ties to the US.
COHEN: They’ve always maintained close relationships with the United States, as if the United States had been the colonial power. And there are many, many Liberians who were educated in the United States, who maintain their homes in the United States, maintain United States citizenship.
SMELSER: Last month Liberians flooded onto the streets of the embattled capital, Monrovia, to support US intervention in their bloody conflict. Many Americans have been wary of military involvement in Africa after the brutal deaths of 18 American soldiers in Somalia in 1993. But analysts believe Liberia is a place where American troops can save many lives even with a relatively small contribution. For Common Ground, I’m Judith Smelser in Washington.
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MCHUGH: In Johannesburg, next to a gambling casino, tourists can now visit the Apartheid Museum. The exhibits and multi-media presentations vividly remind visitors of the horrors of apartheid and the hope for the new South Africa. But the museum has also come under criticism from some black activists. Reese Erlich wraps up his four-part series on South Africa with a trip to the museum.
[The sound of a gate opening and people going into a museum.]
LYNN ABRAMS: There are two entrances to the museum. There’s a white entrance and there’s a non-white entrance. So people are given cards at random. Basically it’s to give visitors an idea of what it was like being separated under apartheid, people using different facilities.
ERLICH: Tour guide Lynn Abrams walks to the entrance of the Apartheid Museum, where every visitor must pass through turnstiles into one of two segregated areas.
ABRAMS: You have an exhibition on passbooks. The passbooks were given to black people. Black people didn’t receive identity books like other people, like coloreds and whites and Chinese and Indian people. The passbook was given to black people as a measure of control. It was basically to control the movement of black people into the towns, from the rural areas into the towns and the cities. It was, the whole idea was to keep the cities white, as white as possible. In the ’50s and the ’60s, the major resistance basically was around the passbooks.
ERLICH: While the passbooks were obviously aimed at repressing the black population, the white government of the time justified them as something helpful for simple-minded blacks. The museum features this TV interview with apartheid officials.
APARTHEID-ERA WHITE SOUTH AFRICAN GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL: And to give him a neat and handy book in which to carry all his papers. The black man in his traditional environment, 50, 60 years ago was a not a worker. He was a soldier, a warrior. We had to teach him that in the first place, that work was something which a man could do and still be a pride unto his women. Then we had to teach him to work satisfactorily and we have reached the stage now where he likes work.
ERLICH: Further into the museum, visitors see 131 nooses suspended from the ceiling, one for each activist executed in the fight against apartheid. And then you see the prison isolation cells, 8 x 10 feet, with no light.
[The sound of a prison door closing.]
CHRISTOPHER TILL: There is a sense of denial in white South Africans.
ERLICH: Christopher Till, Director of the Apartheid Museum, says one purpose of the exhibits is to make the horrors of apartheid clear so no white can claim ignorance.
TILL: It became the norm for black people to appear to work in your houses and disappear again in the evening. But where they went and what conditions they lived in, nobody really bothered about. A lot of white South Africans were not actively participating in, in any of the atrocities which were committed, chose to allow things to run in a pattern which was not rocking the boat.
ERLICH: Till sees a parallel between white South Africans and Germans living during the Nazi era who did nothing to stop the atrocities.
TILL: You talk to young Germans and they are very vociferous about the importance of showing what had taken place before and coming to terms with it. And I think young South Africans are in exactly the same mode.
ERLICH: John Mashikiza, a playwright and columnist for South Africa’s Weekly Mail & Guardian, agrees that this facility should be like a Holocaust museum. But he says the South African version doesn’t do the job.
JOHN MASHIKIZA: A Holocaust museum is an outward expression to the outside world of an emotional and physical and very trying experience for the Jewish community all over the world. Here we have a museum that was initiated by these twin brothers who made a lot of money out of skin lighteners sold to black people and curated by basically a white team.
ERLICH: Mashikiza points out that the Apartheid Museum was funded by the Krocks, two white brothers who owned a company selling skin care products to black South Africans. The Krocks financed the museum as part of a deal to build the nearby casino. The African National Congress government requires builders of new casinos to provide additional tourist facilities, and so far, companies have built two apartheid museums. The one in Johannesburg is by far the largest and best known.
MASHIKIZA: The apartheid museums that I’ve seen, the two that I’ve seen, both come about through licensing from an African National Congress government which was opposed to the manipulation of the casino culture in the past, during the apartheid era because it was warped economy of apartheid. The majority of people who go there as I understand it are poor black people who go and try to change their fortunes.
ERLICH: Museum Director Till argues that, whatever the origins of the museum’s funding, casino owners have no control over the content of the museum. Ultimately, he says, visitors must judge the museum on the effectiveness of its presentations.
[The sound of walking on steps.]
ERLICH: Tour guide Lynn Abrams says the museum not only educates people about the past, but offers hope for the future. Just before exiting the museum, visitors enter a room laced with natural light, containing dozens of large stones. Abrams explains how a visitor lifts a stone and places it with others as a symbolic commitment to some larger goal in their life or the life of their country.
ABRAMS: You go down here. And you place it on here. And then by placing it on you commit yourself. And at the moment….
ERLICH: And to what are you committing yourself?
ABRAMS: To world peace. Peace in Africa, peace in the whole world.
[The sound of a waterfall at the end of the museum tour.]
ERLICH: The Apartheid Museum is full of symbolic elements such as the stones, South African flags, and this peaceful waterfall. But only future generations will be able to determine if the symbols and substance of the museum help the country grapple with the crimes of the past. For Common Ground, I’m Reese Erlich in Johannesburg.
MCHUGH: How the Internet is changing Syria, next on Common Ground.
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PORTER: In the aftermath of the war to oust Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, Syria and Iran have come firmly under the Bush administration’s spotlight. Some senior government officials in Washington have even suggested that now that regime change has been accomplished in Baghdad, it should also be attempted in Damascus and Tehran. As the spotlight shifts to locales beyond Iraq, Americans may be surprised by some of the recent changes in Syria made by young President Bashar al Assad. Simon Marks has more.
[The sound of children outside a computer show.]
MARKS: It was the biggest crowd that we came across during our two weeks in Syria. A group of young people were standing patiently in line in the center of Damascus. They were not—as some other young Syrians had done just a few weeks previously—volunteering to defend Saddam Hussein or take on America’s GIs. They were waiting outside a glass-enclosed café, waiting for the doors to open….
[The sound of doors opening.]
MARKS: ….so that they could stream inside and then bump and jostle and race each other in a bid to get to dozens of computer terminals, all hooked up to the Internet.
MARKS: [interviewing a young Syrian at the computer show] Do you think it’s making a big difference to the country?
YARA BADER: Well, I think so…
MARKS: Student Yara Bader was among those eager to get online. The World Wide Web only arrived in Syria two years ago. And at this annual trade show held in Damascus, many young Syrians say they now spend up to six hours a day online.
YARA BADER: I don’t remember when, when that event start, but I remember it was like a surprise. I was really happy ’cause of that. I’ve known that there was something that is named Internet and mail and everything, but I wasn’t sure that event will happen here. So I was really happy.
MARKS: The trade show, like the Internet itself, was brought to Syria by the country’s President, Bashar al Assad.
[The sound of a cheering crowd.]
MARKS: And when the President himself paid the trade show a visit—an event previously unannounced that surprised even many of the exhibitors—a large crowd of enthusiastic young supporters cheered him on his way. At 37, Bashar Al Assad wants to be seen as the new face of Syria. The son of the late Syrian strongman, Hafez Al Assad, who ruled here for 30 years until his death in the year 2000, Bashar Al Assad moved quickly to embrace new technology that had previously been barred from the country. He is an enthusiastic proponent of modernization, even while Syria remains a tightly controlled, virtual one-party state that the US accuses of sponsoring terrorist organizations including Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.
HUSSEIN QATTAN: Today we have one high speed in Syria.
MARKS: Businessman Hussein Qattan has met President Assad. He’s working on plans to install broadband access to the Internet throughout Syria—a project that is said to be on track for completion by the end of next year. He says the President is taking a keen interest in the project.
QATTAN: It’s a new government. It found the, I think it is, it sends the needs of the Republic and the rest, and being open and communicating with the rest of the world. I think that is, I think the President has seen this one a long time ago and it’s just, it takes some time to implement things. And right now it is the right time.
MARKS: The arrival of the Internet and its eventual expansion throughout the country is putting the rest of the world just one mouse-click away from Syria. And while that could effect the outlook of young Syrians, some in Damascus say it won’t necessarily make the next generation any less loyal to a national government which has irked successive US administrations for years. Mahdi Dahlala is the editor in chief of the daily newspaper operated by Syria’s governing Ba’ath Party. He argues that the country is already relatively open to outside influences, and that western ideas face stiff competition from many Arab viewpoints.
MAHDI DAHLALA: [via a translator] Since 1970, Syrians can buy any newspaper—The Washington Post, Time, The Guardian, Le Monde, and all French newspapers can be found in bookstores here. What people in the West forget is that Syrians speak Arabic, and there are 23 other countries who speak Arabic. There is a minimum of 300 satellite stations that Syrians can watch on their televisions. Different ideas and opinions. We hope that the West will see Syria outside this frame of stereotyping.
[Sounds from the computer exhibition.]
MARKS: In other words those young Syrians riding the online wave—reading the latest news from around the world, following European sports scores, and the latest showbiz gossip from Hollywood, won’t necessarily emerge as pro-western in their political outlook. At least that’s what the government of Syria is banking upon as it gradually opens up to a globalized world but tries simultaneously to retain tight political control. For Common Ground, I’m Simon Marks in Damascus, Syria.
MCHUGH: The art of Buddha, next on Common Ground.
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MCHUGH: In New York, 20 institutions have come together for a city-wide series of exhibitions and programs called The Buddhism Project to explore the impact of Buddhist thought on contemporary art and culture in America. As part of this initiative, the Asia Society is staging a showcase of ancient Buddhist art drawn from the Mr. and Mrs. John D Rockefeller III collection. Keith toured the exhibit with curator Colin Mackenzie.
COLIN MACKENZIE: The historical Buddha who lived in the sixth or and, or perhaps early fifth century, he did not preach a religion. He preached a philosophy. So for a number of centuries he was not actually represented. And It was only round about the turn of the 1st century that he begins to be represented. Initially by symbols such as a lotus or footprints and then figures of Buddha begin to appear. As, particularly as Mahayana Buddhism developed another type of divinity appeared, that is to say the Bodhisattva. The Bodhisattva is a being who hasn’t attained enlightenment but stays within the world in order to help humankind.
PORTER: And do you have samples or examples of those different points in the evolution?
MACKENZIE: We do, actually. The earliest Buddhist piece we have in the exhibition is from Gandara, the area of Kashmir and Pakistan. In ancient times actually at some point it had been colonized by, by the Greeks. And it’s a sort of post-classical culture. And some of the earliest figures of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas come from that region. And their, the drapery is very much in classical style. And even their faces rather evoke classical forms. And then moving forward we have from the classic age of India Buddhist sculpture, that is to say the Ghupta period of the fifth and sixth centuries. Very, very rare. And we have three wonderful pieces, two bronzes and a stone piece. And they all represent the historical Buddha, Ghatama Buddha. And they are idealized forms. The drapery is virtually transparent and you see these wonderful, slightly abstracted torsos and limbs. Because the whole idea is that by this time the Buddha has become the perfect, the perfect being. And he has to be represented with all his perfection revealed.
And the exhibition actually is divided into two parts. The large gallery contains the sculptures and the smaller gallery contains Buddhist paintings. And we have designated this as a meditation room, where you can go in, sit on the carpet, and meditate. Likewise, if you’re not into meditation you can also go in and, and enjoy the paintings.
[Now Mr. Mackenzie is narrating to Mr. Porter as they tour through the exhibition.]
MACKENZIE: This is the meditation room and as you can see it’s quite, fairly dark, conducive to meditation. And in it we have displayed four paintings and a couple of sculptures. Three of them are Japanese and one is Tibetan. And the painting we’re standing in front of at the moment is a painting of Amitabha from the 13th century. Amitabha, he’s lord of the Western Paradise. But in Japan he had another role and function. And that was comforter of people who are very ill and probably about to pass away. And he descends from paradise to lead their souls away actually. And often in Japan threads were connected from the dying person to scrolls such as this. It’s a remarkably beautiful image actually. His body is covered in gold leaf because the Buddha was the perfect being, his body was gold. And his garments are beautiful, typical of, of actually going back to T’ang and Silk Road styles. These roundels on his red robe. And then the delicacy of his hands is so remarkable as well. This is one of our, our great pieces.
PORTER: Tell us about this piece.
MACKENZIE: This is an image of Biakuku Kannon, or White Robed Kannon. And this is actually closely associated with Zen Buddhism. And as you can see it’s monochromatic. It doesn’t have the wonderful colors of the Amitabha. Zen Buddhism was anti-textual, anti-religious in a way. The idea was that it all depended on the individual to attain enlightenment. And that enlightenment was attained through meditation and perhaps also through mundane work as well. But this type of scroll would have been hung in the monk’s quarters. It’s a wonderful image, a very soft image actually.
We’re now in the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller III Gallery, in which we’re displaying almost exclusively sculpture. We have just one painting in here. We’ve divided the exhibition into you could say really three sections. One section on the Buddha, one section on the Buddha of the future, Maitreya, and the one section on the Bodhisattvas and other deities. And so we’re now standing in the area of the Buddha. And these first images actually tell the story of the Buddha’s life or aspects, events in the Buddha’s life. And his quest for enlightenment and his attainment of enlightenment, indeed.
This Buddha here is very interesting. Because Buddhas normally don’t wear crowns and they don’t wear earrings and they don’t wear jewelry. When the Buddha left his home—and he came from a very rich, wealthy, aristocratic family—in fact he’s often described as from a princely family—he left behind him all the trappings of worldly existence. Including, one might add, his wife and his son. So he’s normally represented just in a monk’s robe. But this depiction here, this sculpture here, shows him with jewelry, with arm bands, and with a crown. And it’s because it’s to represent him as a universal monarch in a way. But what is most interesting is that you’ll see that he’s being sheltered by these serpents. And this is a type of Buddha called Muchilinda, and he’s also actually sitting on serpents as well. And it’s from Cambodia, from Angkor, round about the 12th century, 11th to 12th century, and it’s particularly common in Khmer Buddhist art. Angkor and Khmer is now what is located in Cambodia. The Buddha, as he achieved enlightenment, or after he’d achieved enlightenment, in the hours following his attainment of enlightenment, a thunderstorm started up but some serpents came up behind him to shelter him from the rain as it poured down. So it’s an image actually that’s very popular in Khmer Buddhist art in Angkor but less so elsewhere. And it’s probably because the serpent—and actually they’re called Nagas in Khmer tradition—were probably had an additional significance in their tradition that was not limited to Buddhism. And they’re probably connected with royalty.
PORTER: Is there a particular message that you hope people take away from seeing this exhibit.
MACKENZIE: I think so. I think it’s one of peace, actually. But really Buddhism is a religion that although there has been turbulence in Buddhism and there have been schisms and disputes between various Buddhist schools, it hasn’t really been a warlike religion. And so I think it’s, it’s a religion really where people can take spiritual nourishment from. In a way it’s dependent on yourself because meditation is something that you have to do. It’s not dependent on an outside, necessarily on an outside being. Although bodhisattvas clearly are there to help you. So we hope that people will come and enjoy and will leave with a sense of spiritual fulfillment.
PORTER: Colin Mackenzie is Museum Curator and Associate Director of the Asia Society. The World of Buddhism exhibit at the society’s New York headquarters runs through August 24th.
MCHUGH: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
MCHUGH: I’m Kristin McHugh.
PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, Mexico’s endangered fishing industry.
SERGIO CARRILLO: [via a translator] There are less fish because the big tuna boats have taken out all the marlin and everything else.
PORTER: Plus, hope for ending Colombia’s civil war. And Great Britain weighs the importance of Sterling versus the Euro.
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIR: The benefits are now clearly spelt out, the path is clear, this is something we want to do, we’ve got a process in place to remove the obstacles. In the end you cannot judge this on anything other than the national economic interest.
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MCHUGH: Every year a village on the tip of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, pays tribute to its traditional fishing heritage. People from neighboring towns and villages come to Las Playitas, named after the lovely beaches, to celebrate the fishing harvest, and to pay tribute to fishermen who may have died during the year. Catherine Drew concludes her three-part series on the state of the world’s oceans with a visit to this year’s festival.
[The sound of a band playing.]
DREW: Local musicians entertain the crowds that have gathered at Las Playitas for this year’s celebration. They sing songs about the usual subjects like love, as well as adventure on the sea and their fishing traditions.
[The sound of a band playing.]
DREW: The four members of the band are dressed in matching red and white shirts and trousers, with yellow tassels. They are shielded from the brilliant sun by a large shelter which stands above the beach. This is where fishermen haul large fish onto metal tables to gut and fillet them. Today those tables are bloody and the trash bins are filled not only with soda cans, but with heads, guts, and skins of a few large fish. Some fishermen have been displaying their skills with a knife—filleting marlin and swordfish as women and children sit on chairs to watch. Outside more people gathered to chat and talk about the year’s harvest. Sergio Carrillo is a 53-year-old fisherman who says he’s worked at Las Playitas all his life, first as a fisherman, now as a sports fishermen, taking tourists out to try their hand at catching a trophy fish. He says the festival has declined somewhat in recent years.
SERGIO CARRILLO: [via a translator] The festival has gone down some. In past years it was better. We don’t have a greased pole that men used to try to climb. They used to make little boats out of palm, but they don’t do that anymore. We’re losing our traditions. Still, most of the kids want to grow up to be fishermen, I’ve got kids in Palmia, they like fishing, that’s how we make our living here in Las Playitas.
DREW: While most of the village children may want to follow in their father’s footsteps, they may not be able to. The fishermen here work with small boats and lines, their catches are relatively small, and find their way to the local markets and restaurants. But for years these boats have been in competition with Mexican, Japanese, and American commercial trawlers. As Sergio Carrillo explains, the sea is not as generous to the local fishermen as it used to be.
CARRILLO: [via a translator] There are less. There are less fish because the big tuna boats have taken out all the marlin and everything else. The tuna boats and all the other commercial boats are taking out all the fish.
DREW: Conservationists have been warning about the declining state of the sea of Cortez, which lies between Mexico’s Baja Peninsular and the mainland, for years. Locals recall how marine life, including hammerhead sharks, marlin, swordfish, turtles, manta rays, and hundreds of other species were plentiful. But in the last 20 years or so the area which is one of the most bio-diverse in the world, has seen much of its sea life disappear, victim to over-fishing and illegal fishing. Fewer tourists now come in the hopes of landing a trophy fish. In recent years local fishermen have joined with conservation groups and state lawmakers to try to enforce stricter regulation. They say they face great challenges from a federal government which sells too many fishing permits, and corrupt inspectors who take bribes from large commercial operators. The environmental group Conservation International runs a project to try to increase the size of the Sea’s marine reserve parks—areas off limits to fishermen, which allow fish stocks to recuperate. Currently only four percent of the Sea of Cortez is protected. Oceanographers have long thought that at least 20 percent is needed for fish stocks to replenish. Alejandro Robles of Conservation International told a recent environmental conference that the International Development Bank is considering loaning the state authorities money to place more sea area into reserves. But he says that’s opposed by Mexico’s federal government and commercial fishing interests.
ALEJANDRO ROBLES: That requires a tremendous political negotiation, but the opportunity is there. And it’s happening and it’s moving forward. The IDB is very interested in making this happen through a $150 million finance.
DREW: Conservation International has also started a program to buy out fishermen in a bid to reduce the size of the fishing fleet. The organization is also trying to modify fishing techniques and equipment on the remaining fleet, so there is less damage to ocean life, and less by-catch—seals, turtles, and fish species which are inadvertently killed or injured in fishing nets. The governor of the state of Baja California is solidly behind these efforts. However his spokesman, Gabriel Larrea Santana says they realize that reducing the fishing fleet is far from easy, as fishermen must be able to find other employment.
GABRIEL LARREA SANTANA: So they are proposing an International Conservancy, another manner, and to reduce that fleet. That’s going to be difficult. They have to work together, the fishery industry and the government, because they have to give an alternative to the persons that they’re leaving about that kind of fishing, you know. They have to involve in other productive areas.
[The sound of children playing in the ocean.]
DREW: Solving the problems of the Sea of Cortez is likely to take generations, to be passed on to the children that play in the sea at Las Playitas. On the beach, four teenage girls in long formal dresses—the local beauty queens—wait for a group of men to push two large boats down to the water’s edge. A group, including the beauty queens, boards the boats and head out into the bay.
[The sound of the boats heading out to sea.]
DREW: As the boats circle, a wreath is thrown from each boat, in memory of two fishermen who died this year. Groups of villagers and visitors watch from the beach, as the boats skim the beautiful blue waters. They expect to hold the same festival next year, as is their tradition. But it’s not clear how long these traditions will survive if measures to conserve the endangered sea life do not succeed. For Common Ground, I’m Catherine Drew, in Las Playitas, Mexico.
[The sound of the boats heading out to sea.]
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PORTER: A Colombian historian and journalist believes many people have the wrong image of his country. Colombians have been fighting a civil war for most of the past four decades. Dr. Eduardo Posado-Carbo says Colombia is not the lawless place depicted in the global media. And while Posado-Carbo admits his homeland has serious problems, he tells Common Ground‘s Cliff Brockman he has real hope for Colombia and its new government.
DR. EDUARDO POSADO-CARBO: My concern has been to modify the view that this is either random violence, anarchic violence, or this is a civil war where the country is split in two equal forces. Or this is a country where criminal gangs have taken over, displacing the state. In Colombia we have had a debate about whether or not this is a civil war. It looks like a rhetoric debate, but it’s not. Some people would argue, would still argue that there is a civil war going on using the concept in a very loose terms. I think it, that concept also gives the wrong image because the idea that you are giving is that the country is split in two bits. And, in fact, what we have is some organized illegal armed groups, criminal organizations—call them guerillas, paramilitaries, narco-traffickers—who do not represent a significant proportion of the Colombian population. And you have a Colombian state which is democratic, representative—with problems, with lots of problems—but still with democratic representative foundations. And the vast majority of Colombia are not in support of illegal violence. They are not in support of violence. They are in support of a state resolution of this conflict, respecting the rights and their security.
CLIFF BROCKMAN: You do have a new president that was elected last year on a promise to crack down on the rebels, the leftist rebels. Any progress towards ending the conflict?
POSADO-CARBO: He came to power under a large program. I mean, he published a hundred-point manifesto. And he actually asked his electors, “Copy this program, carry it with you, because I am going to deliver.” So the program is much wider than just battling the rebels. But, of course, a key concept in his program is, is citizens’ security. He has phrased that as democratic security because he’s meaning security for everyone involved regardless of their ideological position, regardless of class position. He has referred directly to security for the teachers and the citizens for the members of the working class, for the entrepreneurs, for the peasant, for the farmers, for everyone, from the left and the right.
Progress is difficult to measure at this stage. I have seen figures where the upward trend of homicide from 1997 has been stopped and that’s a good sign. But I haven’t seen—you know, it’s very difficult at this stage to have a balance. He has come, I think, not just to crack down. I think it would be limiting his purposes because he has, he actually, it’s very interesting, in his campaign he never used the expression “war.” And the recent meeting with the European, there was a European Union meeting in Colombia and he insisted to the foreign ministers of Europe there that the country was not at war. War is an expression he does not use. He says he wanted to guarantee citizen security. And that is, I think, is a more wide category involving a wider problem. But he has also sent the message that he’s ready to negotiate as long as the conditions he is suggesting are met. And these are cease-fire. He has also called for international mediation, possibly the United Nations, and he has narrowed the agenda to an agenda of negotiations to, in order to reintegrate, demobilize the guerillas.
So, you have all the options there. How have we moved? I mean, so far little. All the guerillas have not accepted the conditions. They have to some extent escalated their attacks. But I think there is a feeling in the country that the state is on top and things are, are probably moving in the right direction. But of course there is, there is opposition also in the country to this. He’s got a backing of 60, 70 percent of the population, but there are some critics of his program. But you only need one bomb to destroy a feeling of trust. I think by, before February for example, the levels of trust were on the increase and then we had a terrible bomb in Bogotá, which killed a large number of people. The following day a bomb in Neva. And you only need a terrorist attack to destroy, you know, whatever job you’re doing in terms of trust. Having said that, the president continued to carry a large opinion of the public behind him.
BROCKMAN: There is a concern that this civil war may expand to some neighboring countries and become more of a regional conflict. Do you think that would happen?
POSADO-CARBO: Well, I cannot predict that that would not happen, right? My own belief is that yes, there are dangers of the spillovers. There has, there was a meeting recently of the presidents to discuss these issues. The Brazilians are also interested in having, in having a policy of containment. And I think it’s one of the key central problems that it’s not just Colombia you’re dealing with. Other possibilities, you have problems in Venezuela, too. And, of course, you have the possibility of Colombia may be successful—and indeed the country has claimed already some success in destroying the coca fields. They may move to other neighboring countries. So it’s not, I don’t think that the focus ought to be just on Colombia. I think one ought to be very careful of what’s going on around.
BROCKMAN: There are some concerns in the United States about human rights abuses in Colombia. How would you describe the human rights situation there?
POSADO-CARBO: I don’t think that the problem, the decreed problem in Colombia of human rights is related to exclusive authoritarian repressive state that is abusing, you know, the abuses of human rights are coming from precisely the armed legal organizations that are involved in the conflict. I think there is an effort from the state—not always successful—to improve that record.
BROCKMAN: You seem hopeful for the future of Colombia. What do you foresee happening.
POSADO-CARBO: I am hopeful because I think there is a lot of, some people call it human capital. I don’t like the expression. But there is a lot of energy from Colombians to solve this conflict. I live abroad. I live in England. I’ve been living there for the last 14 years. And whenever I go back to Colombia, I’m amazed by the new things I find. If you ponder for a second or for a minute, hopefully for five minutes, about the dimension of the threat that Colombia has had in the last 20 years and to their institutions, it has faced those problems. That is to say we have had in the last 20 years and in spite of all this conflict, successive presidential, congressional elections. Elections for city mayors, counselors, that have taken place. People continue to vote. People continue to pay their taxes. There is faith. It may be because of that. I mean, the transformation of Bogotá. I cannot stop my surprise of the improvement. And it’s not improvement for the elite. This is improvement for the large majority of the population. A massive system of public transit for the first time. Parks. Public libraries. Only these little measures. The transformation of the public space. And the administration is handling it properly. And the population in Bogotá is backing Bogotá institutions by a large majority.
BROCKMAN: Dr. Eduardo Posada-Carbo is a native of Colombia, but lives in Great Britain. He is currently a visiting professor at the University of Chicago. For Common Ground, I’m Cliff Brockman.
MCHUGH: Coming up next on Common Ground, the sound of money in Britain. You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
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MCHUGH: Could the British pound be following in the footsteps of the French franc, the German Deutsh Mark and the Dutch Gilder? The British government has spent much of the last few years considering whether to drop its national currency in favor of the euro. In June it set out it’s current position with a special statement to the London House of Commons. Correspondent Suzanne Chislett examines what was said, what it means, and whether anyone in Britain particularly cares.
SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS: Order. Statement. The Chancellor of the Exchequer.
[Sounds of British Parliament in session.]
CHISLETT: When Britain’s Finance Minister Gordon Brown stood to address politicians in the House of Commons in June it was to announce whether the time was right for Britain to join the Euro. Thousands of pages of studies had been poured over by senior government ministers. There were hours of discussions on the five economic tests to determine whether the British economy was ready to converge with the euro zone and what the effect of adopting the single european currency, the euro, would be on British jobs, inward investment, and the financial services industry. It was an announcement many were waiting for, but few had any doubts about what Gordon Brown would say.
BRITISH FINANCE MINISTER GORDON BROWN: So we conclude: The financial services test is met. We have still to meet the two tests of sustainable convergence and flexibility. Subject to the achievement of sustainable convergence and sufficient flexibility the tests for investment and employment would be met.
CHISLETT: So, six years after the Labor government came to power pledging stronger links with Europe, and 18 months after 12 of the 15 European Union countries converted to the single currency, Britain’s answer was still a loud “not yet.” But the government is keen to stress it wants to adopt the euro. Prime Minister Tony Blair.
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIR: The benefits are now clearly spelt out, the path is clear, this is something we want to do, we’ve got a process in place to remove the obstacles.
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIR: In the end you cannot judge this on anything other than the national economic interest.
CHISLETT: Is the nation really interested? Surveys continually show that the majority of the British people don’t want to lose sterling—the current decimalized system has been in place since 1971. One poll on the day the announcement was made showed a massive 80 percent against. And on a busy London street, the size of the Prime Minister’s task was clear.
[The sound of London street traffic.]
BRITISH WOMAN ON THE STREET #1: To be honest with you, I don’t really like it anyway. I’m not, really don’t like the euro so I think it’s just a nice thing that identifies, you know, makes us a bit more individual than Europe. So…
BRITISH MAN ON THE STREET #1: The general public don’t really know what they are talking about. They don’t really know enough information. I don’t think I know enough information to make an informed decision, so I don’t know how anyone else does.
BRITISH WOMAN ON THE STREET #2: I don’t think we will benefit from having, from using the euro. I think we’re okay as we are.
CHISLETT: But the government is convinced that those attitudes are due to a lack of knowledge about the benefits of change and a fear that Europe is about take over many of the powers of the London Parliament and regional assemblies. Mr. Blair vowed to convince the doubters.
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIR: To defeat the false case that if Britain is a full-hearted member of the European Union, we lose our identity as a nation. And to show in a world which is moving closer together and being transformed by globalization, it would be a cruel denial of our own proper self-interest to cut ourselves adrift from the major strategic, economic, and political alliance right on our doorstep.
CHISLETT: The euro-skeptic politicians are equally vocal. The main opposition party, the Conservatives, insist Britain would lose out if it joins the Euro. Party spokesman John Redwood condemned the whole decision-making process as “unnecessary.”
JOHN REDWOOD: The government is wasting time and money and destroying far too many trees to print all these silly words. The answer is “No, we don’t want it. It won’t work. It would be bad for business and bad for democracy.”
CHISLETT: But Tony Blair is determined to win the public over and squash any fears they might have about closer economic ties with Europe.
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIR: I think it’s very clear that people don’t want to leave Europe, in Britain. But I think it’s also clear that there is a debate that needs to be engaged with in a far more considered way. And this is the right time to do it.
CHISLETT: The Finance Minister, Gordon Brown, has pledged to look again at the economic situation next year when he delivers the annual budget. But he has already unveiled a series of measures aimed at paving the way for convergence and flexibility with the euro zone and in the fall will publish a bill setting out how the euro referendum would work. Tony Blair wants to see his “wait and see” policy turned into a “yes” vote, but with the public having the final say. He knows he will have to put his persuasive skills to good use. For Common Ground, I’m Suzanne Chislett in London.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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