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RIORDAN ROETT: I think if there were no election this year this would be a nonissue. But there is an election this year; therefore it’s an issue.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, Brazil’s economic jitters.
KEITH PORTER: And the prospects for peace in Columbia.
BERNARD ARONSON: Where we’ve messed things up in Latin America, it’s when we have failed to pay attention early enough to help with problems, not because we’re involved.
PORTER: Plus, hear why three European countries are at odds over a new nuclear plant.
JOSEF PULRINGER: They start it up and it doesn’t function; so they have to stop and then they try it once more and it doesn’t function. And the next time and the next time. And we have to pray that nothing happen so they, we don’t have catastrophe like Chernobyl.
MCHUGH: More after this.
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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 Argentina’s economic meltdown continues, there are fears throughout Latin America of possible fallout from the crisis. And one of the most nervous places on the continent is Brazil, where the value of the currency—the ‘real’—has reached record lows against the dollar.
MCHUGH: Add to the mix the uncertainty of the upcoming presidential election and some Brazilians fear their country could be the next Argentina. Simon Marks reports from Rio de Janeiro.
[The sound of a large street celebration.]
SIMON MARKS: Brazilians don’t have a lot to celebrate these days, so when their soccer team won the 2002 World Cup, they went wild. The beaches of Rio were jammed with parties, bringing a sense of February’s annual Carnival back to the streets.
[The sound of a large street celebration.]
MARKS: Some hope the soccer victory could help revive a sense of national confidence here that’s been badly dented by the country’s recent economic performance. With nine percent of GDP just devoted to servicing Brazil’s $274 billion public sector debt, even a program of privatization of state assets hasn’t helped stabilize the situation. So stop Brazilians after the celebrations have died down, and they’ll tell you their country is in a mess.
BRAZILIAN MAN ON THE STREET: Let’s hope it’s going to improve.
BRAZILIAN WOMAN ON THE STREET: The system is wrong. You need, we need a person who will change the system in Brazil.
[The sound of Lula da Silva speaking in Portuguese at an outdoor political rally.]
MARKS: Many hope that this man—Lula da Silva—will change the system. He’s running for the Presidency in October’s election, heading the Workers’ Party. It’s his fourth attempt to win Brazil’s top office, but by far his best opportunity. He’s popular in Brazil’s sprawling and dangerous shanty towns for promising to build a new social contract that he says will help alleviate poverty.
[The sound of a busy financial market.]
MARKS: That kind of talk terrifies traders on Brazil’s financial markets, where many analysts believe Lula da Silva could default on Brazil’s debts. His denial that he represents a threat to Brazil’s economic stability hasn’t persuaded them. The ‘real’ has been trading at record lows against the dollar, and the Brazilian stock exchange has lost 25% of its value.
RIORDAN ROETT: I think if there were no election this year, this would be a non-issue. But there is an election this year, therefore it is an issue.
MARKS: Riordan Roett of Johns Hopkins University is one of the leading US analysts of Brazil. He says Lula da Silva is trying to please his core working-class constituency while satisfying the financial markets—a solution that in the end works for nobody.
ROETT: We’re not quite sure exactly what the Workers’ Party policies would be when they take office. I mean, he criticizes the current model of President Cardoso, but then says we must protect the market, we must take care of our debt obligations, and these kinds of things sends very confusing signals to people.
[The sounds of a busy street.]
MARKS: With term limits preventing President Fernando Henrique Cardoso from running for reelection, and with his own deputy, Jose Serra, lacking the President’s charismatic popularity, some voters in Rio say they’re worried about the prospect of a win by Lula da Silva.
SECOND BRAZILIAN WOMAN ON THE STREET: I don’t think he would be a good President. Definitely not. But I don’t know what Brazil thinks of him, and I’m worried about it.
THIRD BRAZILIAN WOMAN ON THE STREET: Everybody goes ‘oh, like, peace, Lula’. But they don’t know what they’re talking about.
MARKS: Those same Brazilians express confidence that the country can avoid becoming the next Argentina, and they point out that Lula da Silva has failed to win the Presidency three times in the past, and has also seen commanding leads disappear in the final weeks of campaigning. Riordan Roett of Johns Hopkins University says Brazil’s economic fundamentals put it in a stronger position than its Argentinean neighbor.
ROETT: Most of what’s happened in Argentina has been priced into the markets over the past couple of years. There’s no place for Argentina to go, tragically. Brazil is a very different issue I think, and that, because it is such an important economy, because it’s important to portfolio investors as well as foreign direct investors, and then given the climate of the last two-to-three weeks, the world economic climate, Brazil is unfortunately a target because people are concerned about this electoral process.
[The sound of street celebrations.]
MARKS: That electoral process won’t end until October. So until then at least the country’s horizon will remain tinged with uncertainty. Which may in part explain why Brazilians celebrated their soccer victory so heartily—aware that they’re next opportunity to celebrate could be some way off.
[The sound of street celebrations.]
MARKS: For Common Ground, I’m Simon Marks in Rio.
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PORTER: Earlier this month a newly elected president took office in Colombia. Alvaro Uribe inherits a country torn apart by drug traffickers and a 38-year-old civil war. The deadly reality of Uribe’s task was underscored at his inauguration when bomb blasts killed over a dozen people. Bernard Aronson knows this part of the world very well. He served as the US Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs from 1989 to 1993. I asked Aronson to first explain to us the three extralegal military groups currently operating in Colombia.
BERNARD ARONSON: The first is the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which is a peasant-based group that’s been active for almost 40 years. It had its origins in the violence between the Liberal and Conservative Parties many decades ago, but it has stayed active. It espouses a kind of Marxist-Leninist ideology. And it’s implicated in the drug trade.
Secondly, there’s another Marxist-Leninist group which is smaller, called the ELN, the National Liberation Front of Colombia. It has more of an urban base—originally intellectuals, middle class, some radical church people. It’s also been out in the field for 30 years. Really it was originally a Cuban inspired group.
The FARC still has about 15,000 to 18,000 combatants and has been getting stronger over the last five or ten years. The ELN on the other hand has seen its ranks decimated significantly. Only has about 1,500 still active. Is very involved in sabotage of the Colombian pipeline and kidnapping as a source of revenue.
And then on the opposite side of the political spectrum, on the far right, is a group called the AUC, or otherwise known as the paramilitaries. It’s evolved out of civil defense groups that were formed, often by large landowners and the like to combat the guerrillas. It’s a fast growing group militarily and politically. Has about 10,000 combatants in the field. Also has won supporters in the municipalities and in some parts of the Colombian Congress. And it also has some implication in the drug trade and has been guilty of some terrible human rights atrocities. As has the FARC and the ELN. All three of the groups have been designated as terrorist organizations by the United States government.
PORTER: Into this mess steps a new President, Alvaro Uribe Velez. What can you tell us about him?
ARONSON: Well, he’s been in Colombian politics for many years. He was first a mayor of Medellin and then the governor of Antioquia Province. And performed pretty well in that, in that role. He also was a senator. He ran and won a first ballot victory, which is unprecedented in Colombia. Normally there’s a runoff between the two top vote gainers. And he ran really drawing on the frustrations of Colombians and their disappointment with the failures of the peace process and their perception that the guerrillas are not interested in negotiations. And he ran pledging to significantly increase the armed forces to create a million member civil eyes and ears of the government, to alert them to guerrilla threats, to put more resources into the armed struggle. He doesn’t rule out negotiations but he takes a much tougher line than the current president Pastrana.
PORTER: As you say, he has taken a tougher line and so seeks to ultimately defeat the rebel groups. Can he do that? I mean, what does he need to pull that off?
ARONSON: Well, I don’t think that, that you can simply defeat the rebel groups in the sense of, you know, making them disappear. But I think that you can alter the balance of power between them and the state. And I think that over time he has the capacity to do that. One, by increasing the Colombian commitment but also because the US commitment is increasing as well. Colombia today is the third largest recipient of US military aid in the world, second only to Israel and Egypt. And the Bush administration is negotiating with the Congress to expand some of the authorities under which the Colombians use our aid. Up until now the aid has been restricted for counter-narcotics purposes. The Bush administration has asked Congress to allow the Colombians to use the training and the helicopters and the intelligence to combat the guerrillas as necessary. It’s also asked Congress to train up a new rapid reaction battalion to protect the pipelines, the oil pipelines, which the ELN in particular have regularly sabotaged and blown up, costing the state enormous loss in revenues.
PORTER: And you’re in favor of expanding the US military assistance to Colombia?
ARONSON: Well, I think, I think it’s necessary for Colombia to defend itself, but I think that we should put tough human rights restrictions on the aid and essentially negotiate a bargain with the new president that in exchange for expanding the authorities and increasing aid that he has to make a very clear and concrete effort to dismantle the paramilitary forces.
PORTER: We do have sort of a reputation at least for messing things up in Latin America. Does that concern you? I mean, are you worried? You mentioned the human rights violations that we may not be able—that we may make things worse by inserting ourselves.
ARONSON: Well, I think that where we’ve messed things up in Latin America, it’s when we have failed to pay attention early enough to help with problems, not because we’re involved.
PORTER: Give us some examples of the safeguards that we can put in place to make sure that what we provide isn’t sort of perpetuating the human rights violations.
ARONSON: Well, there is existing legislation which I think we should continue to insist upon that says that any unit of the Colombian armed forces which receives US military training or equipment has to be vetted for human rights abuses and any individuals or officers who are found guilty have to dismissed before the unit is eligible for US aid. I think that’s a good safeguard. And then secondly, I think we ought to have a sort of clear understanding with the new Colombian government that they will view the paramilitaries in the same way as they view the FARC and the ELN, as enemies of the state. They ought to give them a chance to negotiate and disarm and come in from the cold. And if that can be done that’s a much better process. But if not, you know, the army has to completely separate itself and not in any way give tacit or informal support or allow the paramilitaries to operate outside the law.
PORTER: Do you think that some day we’ll see something similar to what happened in El Salvador? And perhaps even truth commissions like we’ve seen elsewhere and a true peaceful settlement?
ARONSON: Well, Colombia actually has a long history of negotiations with guerrilla groups that have been successful. You may remember there was a group called the M-19, which was very violent and currently is now a lawful political party. And some of their former guerrilla leaders are in the Colombian Parliament, as is the case in El Salvador. So there’s a precedent for that in Colombia. I think it will happen but it won’t happen soon. The FARC really had a chance to negotiate and President Pastrana, to his credit, showed a lot of political courage in trying to reach out to the FARC. He created a special zone where the negotiations were allowed to take place that the FARC could occupy without threat from the army. Many governments tried to be involved. But I think the FARC really still believes that there’s, they can win militarily. And so I think that the balance of forces has to chance vis-à-vis the FARC. I do think there’s an opportunity to negotiate with the smaller group, the ELN. And there have been and continue to be negotiations. I think that there needs to be more international support for those efforts.
PORTER: One last area I want to ask you about and that’s just regional stability. On our program recently we had a story about the problems created by Colombian refugees in neighboring countries; we had a story about farmers just across the borders whose crops are threatened by the anti-narcotic spraying. What can we do to keep the problems in Colombia from spilling over into their neighbors?
ARONSON: Well, it’s a real threat. They already are spilling over into the Ecuadoran border and into the Venezuelan border. There’s a lot of concern about this becoming a regional problem. I think one, we need to provide for support for some of those governments and not just make this a Colombia program—make it a regional policy. I think the Congress could do a lot more to enact the trade bill that, that’s been sitting there for many months, called the Indian Trade Preference Initiative. This was actually passed when I was Assistant Secretary in 1992. It expired in 2002 and was up for renewal last December. The Congress still has not renewed it. That’s important for the economies of this region. And then I think we, we need to move forward on the Free Trade Area of the Americas, which is also very important to the economies of this region. They need to have alternatives to the drug trade for their people and alternative employment. You know, we could be more creative in marshaling international aid for these countries as well.
PORTER: Bernard Aronson is the former Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs. He now serves as Managing Partner of AKON Investments in Washington, DC.
MCHUGH: Europe’s controversial nuclear plant, next on Common Ground.
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MCHUGH: The last of the Soviet-designed nuclear power plants to be built in eastern Europe is about to go online in the Czech Republic. The Temeline nuclear power plant uses a mix of eastern and western technology that critics call dangerous.
PORTER: The plant sits near the Austrian border and has been the center of long standing disagreements between the Czech Republic, Germany, and Austria over its safety. Charles Michael Ray has more.
[The sound of a turbine roaring and steam hissing.]
CHARLES MICHAEL RAY: At 3,000 rotations per minute the turbine of the number one reactor at the Temeline nuclear power plant is putting out enough energy to run about 100,000 households. Today the turbine is running for the first time in months after a series of adjustments and repairs were needed to make it functional. The plant has been on- and off-line several times for long intervals of repair during its two-year startup phase. Officials say the high number of delays are completely normal during the startup as thousands of tests must be made on various components. While critics agree that the length of this startup process is normal, they worry that the reasons for these delays are not normal. Josef Pulringer who is Chair of the Upper Austrian Platform, a group opposed to Temeline, cites a list of emergency shutdowns, leaks of radioactive water, and fires.
JOSEF PULRINGER: They start it up and it doesn’t function; so they have to stop and then they try it once more and it doesn’t function. And the next time and the next time. And we have to pray that nothing happens so they, we don’t have catastrophe like Chernobyl.
RAY: The reactors at Temeline are of Soviet design and were put in to the plant when construction was started in the mid ’80s. But after the Eastern Block disintegrated, planners decided to graft a western computer system onto the Soviet hardware. Critics of the plant say this unique mix of eastern and western technology make Temeline dangerous. Pulringer says this plant is a prototype that has never been tested.
PULRINGER: 100 billion crowns and it doesn’t function, it doesn’t run. And the technology mix is one of the most important problems.
RAY: Plant officials admit that some of the problems during the startup of Temeline are the result of the plant’s unique nature. But they say that this plant is totally safe and regulated.
DONNA DRABOVA: I think it is fully comparable with any other plant in Europe or in the world.
RAY: Donna Drabova heads the State Office of Nuclear Safety, the body that oversees atomic energy in the Czech Republic. Drabova says the mix of eastern and western technology in Temeline is a safety asset and that the computerized control system at Temeline corrects a major weakness in the original Soviet design.
DRABOVA: And experts in a nuclear field are not against Temeline for the case of safety. Because there were worldwide numerous missions, expert missions to Temeline. The results are quite positive. If the plant doesn’t meet basic safety criteria which are included in the international recommendations it is not allowed to operate by the regulatory authority.
[The sound of a truck going by and then birds singing.]
RAY: Just south of Temeline lie the mixed forests and rolling hills of the Czech-Austrian border. Over the last 10 years antinuclear activists have staged more than 40 blockades at border crossings like this one. Controversy over safety standards at Temeline has led to strained relations between the neighboring countries. In Austria there has been call for a block to the Czech Republic’s entry into the European Union. And in Germany public outcry against the plant has lead to a boycott of Czech electricity by two major German power companies. In an attempt to smooth relations between the neighboring countries, the Melk process was started. The plan, named after the Austrian border town of Melk, brought together experts and politicians to hammer out an agreement. The effort lead to several promises for safety improvements at Temeline and pledges from German and Austrian politicians to let the plant go forward. The spokesperson for Temeline, Milan Nebesage hopes the outcome of Melk will lay the opponents fears to rest.
MILIAN NEBESAGE: [via a translator] I believe that Melk brought some progress forward. And it is about the communication between governments and between experts. I believe that this process will continue to clarify certain things and also that I would like that both parties not only understand each other but they also have some trust in one another.
RAY: But critics of Temeline say the Melk process only involved political maneuvering and didn’t address many of the real problems at the plant. Dana Kuchtova of the South Bohemian Mothers Against Temeline says the public is being kept in the dark on the safety improvements that are being made at Temeline in the wake of the Melk process. What is even more alarming for Kuchtova is that documentation on the problems at the plant is kept hidden and cannot be investigated by the public.
DANA KUCHTOVA: [via a translator] For the past 10 years we have been trying to get some more information about some of the different emergency shutdowns and accidents that have happened at Temeline. The only thing we can learn is on the Web pages and it’s very general. We want to see some transparency and we feel that it is our right to know the details of exactly what is happening there.
RAY: Temeline officials say records at Temeline have been open during the review under the Melk process. Milian Nebesar says Temeline is working to be open to the public, but also must insure security at the facility.
MILIAN NEBESAR: As for the daily news, put all the events that have happened either during the construction or during operation. We also inform about the progress of the construction. I believe that we really are on a much higher standard in providing of information than any other power plant.
RAY: Other critics go even further and allege tampering with documents and burying facts to cover malfunctions at the facility. While plant officials deny this, the people living near Temeline have mixed feelings.
[The sound of a car driving over cobblestones.]
RAY: Cobblestones rattle car tires on the main square of Ceske Budejovice. The largest town in south Bohemia sits in the shadow of Temeline’s massive cooling towers and just a short distance from the borders of Germany and Austria. On a warm summer afternoon one can find varying shades of opinion on the power plant from those German, Austrian, and Czech citizens strolling through the square.
GERMAN WOMAN ON THE STREET: Temeline is not good for us on the Austria, Germany. It’s not good. The technique from Temeline is not on the new level.
[The sound of a church bell ringing.]
CZECH MAN ON THE STREET: I am for atomic energy because I think it is very ecologic. And I think the safety is OK. It is very modern plant. I think the most of people here in southern Bohemia are for Temeline.
[The sound of a fountain and people talking in the background.]
A CZECH WOMAN ON THE STREET: [via a translator] Temeline is bad. And it’s not good for the people here. I’m not sure why, but our children have been sick around here a lot lately and I don’t think it’s a good thing. It should be canceled.
RAY: Polls show that a majority of Czechs support Temeline, while many citizens in the neighboring countries oppose it. Czechs say they want to keep it going because of the millions of tax dollars that have already been invested in the plant. But critics say this argument doesn’t hold out against the economic reality of the energy market. The Czech Republic is the second largest producer of electricity in Europe and must export a major portion of its power on a surplus market. Jan Havercamp, nuclear expert for Greenpeace, says Temeline will never make back the money invested to build it, and it is already cost prohibitive to even operate.
JAN HAVERVCAMP: I don’t see a market for this electricity. So the investment costs have to be sunk costs. Overall, the indications are that there is a very good chance that Temeline will even not will be able to pay back it’s running costs. That means that we in the Czech Republic, in the end, will pay for the cheaper electricity that the Germans will be able to draw from it.
RAY: Officials at CEZ, the state-owned power company that oversees Temeline, admit they are having to sell below the cost of production to get rid of a large surplus of power. The head of the department of strategy and planning at CEZ, Evan Novak, acknowledges that the market for energy is poor now. But he insists that the energy market will open up in the next five years and make the operation of Temeline feasible.
EVAN NOVAK: We are convinced that the plant will work efficiently. So I don’t know how the payback period sounds exactly, what are the exact years for it. And it of course depends on the price we will be able to sell the electricity for. But we expect that it will be paid well before 20 years, of the operation of the plan. So the, the net percent value of the plant is of course positive.
RAY: CEZ officials say Germany will be the main market for its power, but German consumers have become increasingly wary of using electricity generated by nuclear plants and the German government has started a 30 year phase-out of its nuclear capacity. Because of these changes many German economic officials comment that CEZ will be challenged in finding a market for its power in the long run. But for now Temeline is going forward.
[The sound of the nuclear plant—a large door opening.]
RAY: The door to the number one reactor vessel is like the door to a bank vault. Thick walls of concrete and lead shield the vessel in an emergency. Inside, the walls of the main control room for the number one reactor are lined with flashing lights and buttons. Rows of desks and computer monitors show readouts on all aspects of the plant. While the running tests are continuing on the number one reactor Temeline officials say number two will be ready for startup shortly. They add that the plant should be in full commercial operation within a year. Meanwhile, opponents of the project who worry about its safety hope market factors and public pressure will put and end to Temeline before it goes into full operation. For Common Ground I’m Charles Michael Ray in Prague.
MCHUGH: I’m Kristin McHugh.
PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, documenting torture in Zimbabwe.
TONY REELER: What you’re doing is you’re trying to force people to behave in a way that they don’t want to. Very simply, not to vote for this particular party, not to support that political party, not to do it. Or, to create a climate of terror so that people wouldn’t vote.
PORTER: Plus, celebrating the year of the mountain. And uncovering a whale of controversy over a planned sonar system.
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MCHUGH: The United Nations has designated 2002 the Year of Mountains, and is encouraging aid groups to channel assistance into sustainable development projects in remote, upland communities. Alastair Wanklyn reports from one such province, the Pamir mountains of former-Soviet Tajikistan.
[The sound of a roaring mountain river.]
ALASTAIR WANKLYN: This bare, sun-bleached valley in central Tajikistan has a tumbling torrent of a river deep in the ravine. But the steep hillsides are dry. A thin corn crop grows here, which villagers are harvesting with scythes.
[The metallic swishing sound of scythes reaping corn and peasants talking as they harvest the grain.]
WANKLYN: As the men and women sweep the long knives through the corn, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’ve done this for a living all their lives. Not so. Here there are trained engineers. One man here is a school teacher.
[A man named Khusrov speaks.]
WANKLYN: This is Khusrov. He’s taking time out of school because teaching pays practically nothing, and farming helps him to make ends meet.
KHUSROV: [via a translator] It’s very difficult to work in the schoolroom and at the same time to farm, but I have to if I’m to support my family. The land is my bread; it’s my main source of income for my family.
[The rumbling sound of a military tank.]
WANKLYN: In Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe, an army brigade is on show for foreign visitors. This tank and other weaponry is up to date and shows the Tajik government wants a big bang for its bucks. Military and other expenditure consumes money that could be purchasing rural infrastructure, but isn’t. A shortage of electricity and fuel oil in remote areas in the past few years caused residents to cut down local trees for fuel. That worked for four or five years, but Tajikistan’s forests have now disappeared and there’s still no fuel. So some nongovernmental organizations are reaching some communities with ideas for sustainable development.
[The sound of a gurgling thermal spring.]
WANKLYN: This hot spring has probably bubbled out of the rock for centuries, but its heat has never been put to use. Winters this high in the mountains are severe. So engineers from the Aga Khan Development Network have been helping villagers build greenhouses and to channel the hot water through them to sustain harvests year-round.
NAMAAN ADRA: They can control the flow of water. Therefore they can control the temperature.
WANKLYN: Project leader Namaan Agra says one greenhouse produces about two tons of cucumbers and tomatoes in only a few months, a good example of a free-to-run sustainable energy system.
NAMAAN ADRA: The greenhouse is a big asset for the community. They were at the beginning wondering what it will give them. But later on they found that when the production started the people realized that it is a big asset. This sustainable livelihood asset that we are creating is going to improve, empower, and strengthen the community.
WANKLYN: Empowering impoverished peoples is what the Aga Khan Foundation aims to do. It’s a charitable organization headed by the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims worldwide. The foundation runs in part on the funds of the Aga Khan’s inherited wealth. But it raises additional funds from governments worldwide to pay for specific development projects in nations such as Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and northern Pakistan. These mountainous locations have common problems. Isolated villages have suffered from the indifference of governments. Their prospects are bleak unless long-term development is fostered. CEO of the Aga Khan Foundation in Tajikistan, Mirza Jihani, says it takes careful planning when deciding on projects.
MIRZA JIHANI: Single-entry interventions—health, education, irrigation water, and sanitation—whatever you might do and what is normally done by NGOs is very limiting. And you really need to look at a holistic approach where you are integrating these various interventions. No point improving agriculture production, for example, if there is no road to take that food to the market.
WANKLYN: A comprehensive approach is what western donors are being asked now to budget for as they donate to help improve the job and wealth prospects in places like rural Tajikistan. And that need for assistance was brought into focus by the events of September last year in America. The Aga Khan Foundation finds that the terrorist attacks in the US has resulted in a great increase in attention on the Pamir region of Central Asia. Mirza Jihani says it can be measured in the number of western agencies setting up in Tajikistan alone.
MIRZA JIHANI: My own feeling is that Central Asia is going to see an increase in aid amounts. They will not be as large as those going to Afghanistan but there will be an increase in aid. For example, just in the space of the last six months we see the establishment of two large British NGOs, Christian Aid and Oxfam.
WANKLYN: Embassies of developed nations mean the rich-world will be getting more feedback from a nation that recently economists were writing off as a basket case. It’s their pledge to monitor and consider the needs of the people in this impoverished, mountainous part of the world more comprehensively than before the wake-up call on September the eleventh last year. For Common Ground, I’m Alastair Wanklyn in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
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PORTER: The Amani Trust, a human rights group based in Zimbabwe, estimates, 20 percent of Zimbabwe’s citizens have been physically tortured, with many thousands more traumatized by witnessing torture. And yet, under the harsh government of President Robert Mugabe and his ruling political party, the average Zimbabwean has almost no recourse. Now, some are turning to the international community for help. Priscilla Huff has more on the toll of impunity on Zimbabwe and its tormented citizens.
[The sound of a toilet flushing.]
PATRICIA HUFF: Imagine being forced to stand upside down, with your face in a toilet bowl, while its being flushed repeatedly. Imagine being, having the side of your head hit so many times, your ear drums burst. Imagine having the soles of you feet beaten until you can’t walk.
[The sound of a diplomatic party or reception.]
HUFF: In contrast, imagine discussing death and destruction, torture and famine, at a reception at Zimbabwe’s embassy in Washington, DC. Dr. Simbi Mubako, Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to the United States, says his is a peaceful nation.
Dr. SIMBI MUBAKO: The government of Zimbabwe does not torture anybody.
HUFF: But Ray Choto, an independent journalist from Zimbabwe, tells a different story. He and his editor, Mark Zambuka, were tortured after publishing a story in The Standard, a weekly newspaper in the capital, Harare, about the arrest of 23 military officials. The government claimed this violated Zimbabwe’s strict press laws. Choto says, to begin with, President Mugabe’s government won’t even investigate.
RAY CHOTO: I mean in our case, the government cannot convince us that they are still investigating when, I in my case, I handed over personally myself to the police and it was the police who handed me over to the military, where I and my editor, Mark Zambuka, were subsequently tortured. I mean, what are they investigating? They know exactly whom they handed us over to.
HUFF: Tony Reeler is a human rights activist with the Amani Trust. The Trust provides medical treatment for victims of torture and documents the cases. He estimates at least 400,000 Zimbabweans are victims of torture. Reeler says Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and his government use torture to achieve political goals.
TONY REELER: What you’re doing is you’re trying to force people to behave in a way that they don’t want to. Very simply, not to vote for this particular party, not to support that political party, not to do it. Or, to create a climate of terror so that people wouldn’t vote. So, it’s very specifically to terrorize people into support them and not supporting another political party.
HUFF: The most vocal opposition is the Movement for Democratic Change, the party that presented Morgan Tsvengerai as an alternative to the reelection of Robert Mugabe. Zimbabwe’s white farmers, who’ve historically produced most of the nation’s food, have also been caught in the crosshairs. Journalist Choto has seen how Mugabe’s government is using Zimbabwe’s constitution against its own citizens.
CHOTO: There is this, I mean selective application of the law in Zimbabwe. As long as you are a member of the opposition, if you break the law, the law will be used to arrest you. But then sometime again, members of the ruling ZANU-PF, party, you know, have been committing offenses on a daily basis, and no arrests have been made.
HUFF: And Tony Reeler says, that’s the trick. Mugabe’s government has passed laws so there’s no recourse when it comes to politically motivated torture.
REELER: What they do then is this double step, where they do that; and then they pass a formal statute of impunity, which basically excuses everybody from any kind of criminal prosecution.
HUFF: Zimbabwe’s Ambassador, Dr. Simbi Mubako, flatly denies the government tortures anyone.
AMBASSADOR MUBAKO: There might have been some violence, but this violence is committed by individuals, who are punished if they are found by the government of Zimbabwe itself. So this is ridiculous to say the government is, itself tortures people. It does not.
HUFF: But, a report from Amnesty International on the toll of impunity and the cost of torture contradicts this claim. The report points to militia members, who kidnap supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change, Zimbabwe’s opposition. Amnesty cites rape, electric shocks, and beatings as just a few of the tools of torture used by the militias. But, the government officially disavows any ties to these militias, which Amnesty says helps to obscure the role President Robert Mugabe or the ZANU-PF might have in torture. Amanda Blair monitors Africa for Amnesty International.
AMANDA BLAIR: Impunity is one of the main reasons why human rights abuses, like torture, are still being perpetrated. ZANU-PF supporters, police, military, use torture with impunity all the time. And they’re not held accountable by it, and they just keep going and going. Arresting opposition or suspected opposition members, torturing them, detaining them, sexually assaulting them.
HUFF: Ambassador Mubako insists that violence and torture are not party of Zimbabwe’s political policies.
Ambassador Mubako: The Government is against any violence and wants peaceful conduct of any political campaigns.
HUFF: Ray Choto suspects President Mugabe may believe that he’s above the law.
CHOTO: The laws are being changed on a daily basis. I mean, he is simply, I mean, exercising, his presidential powers, which I also see as they are unconstitutional. I mean, it’s like he’s the court unto himself.
HUFF: Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe also has a crisis on his hands, a crisis that begs for international help. Half of the nation’s population of 11 million are facing starvation, according to the United Nations World Food Program, and Zimbabwe’s economy is stumbling towards collapse. The crisis comes as African leaders, including Zimbabwe’s neighbor, South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki, have been trying to sell the West on a proposal, the New Program for African Development, or NePAD. NePAD includes a peer review function to build on the African tradition of collectivity, for African leaders to decide if their fellow presidents and prime ministers are meeting the goals—including democracy, economic growth, and improved health and education. White House officials and top Congressmen, like Representative Ed Royce who chairs the Africa Subcommittee, have been open about Zimbabwe serving as a test case for NePAD. Tony Reeler of the Amani Trust says the test is already over.
REELER: We sure as hell don’t like peer review and actually we think the case example has already been proven. Zimbabwe proves peer review fails.
HUFF: Other tests have already made their way through the courts. A US federal judge is reviewing a 32-page ruling which fines the ZANU-PF $73 million dollars for torturing and killing eight Zimbabweans. The suit was brought under the Alien Tort Claims Act, a 200-year-old American law. Ray Choto, the journalist, wants to return to his native Zimbabwe, because he feels he has a duty to contribute to his nation. But, the future of his nation remains bleak at best, while the international community struggles with how to help the average Zimbabwean. For Common Ground, I’m Priscilla Huff.
MCHUGH: Coming up, the debate over sonar and whales. You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
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MCHUGH: Last month, the US Navy received permission to start using a controversial sonar system in the Pacific. The system, which has been the subject of years of debate and research, is designed to find and track modern submarines. Environmentalists strongly oppose the technology, saying that it will harm or even kill whales and other marine mammals. Malcolm Brown reports.
MALCOLM BROWN: The system at the center of the dispute is a low frequency active—or LFA—sonar. Unlike a passive system, which essentially just listens, an LFA sonar transmits sounds underwater and then analyzes the echoes for signs of an enemy submarine.
[The sound of submarine sending out active sonar pings.]
BROWN: Fans of war movies will be familiar with the basic concept, but what’s new are the very low frequencies used by the LFA system. The sound, generated by 18 projectors suspended beneath a ship, will be 215 decibels at its source, much louder than a military jet at takeoff.
[A loud, low-frequency rumbling sound.]
BROWN: Opponents say this is a good studio-generated approximation of what will soon be heard in the waters of the Pacific, to the dismay of critics like Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist at the Humane Society,
NAOMI ROSE: The problem is that great whales—the whales that we are most familiar with—humpback whales that sing those songs, and blue whales which are the largest animals that have ever lived—all of those animals, they communicate in very low frequencies. Therefore, undoubtedly, they hear in very low frequencies. They can hear this sound almost certainly.
[The sound of a humpback whale song.]
BROWN: Whales, like this humpback, can communicate over very long distances, which is why the US Navy wants to use low frequency sound to hunt the new generation of diesel-electric submarines. Naval officials say these modern subs are becoming so quiet that they could soon be able to get within striking distance of American or allied ships without being detected. The military sees the solution as LFA sonar, coupled with a listening device called the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System—or SURTASS.
The Navy now has the go-ahead to use the combined system, following a long-awaited decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA officials determined that, subject to certain controls, the system would have only a negligible impact on marine mammals. Rebecca Lent is the deputy assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries.
REBECCA LENT: We have done everything we can to get as much information as we can to reach a final decision that we believe protects marine mammals.
BROWN: The go-ahead includes a package of safeguards, including a measure forcing the US Navy to shut down the LFA system if any marine mammal or sea turtle comes within two kilometers—just over one nautical mile—of the sound source. Joe Johnson, who oversaw the US Navy’s environmental impact statement, says they’re almost 100 percent confident that they can detect most marine mammals at that range.
JOE JOHNSON: We’ve got a $3.5 million, high-frequency sonar that’s state of the art that we’ve developed solely for that purpose. So, we’re using the best available science to detect animals coming very close to the source array, which is really the only, in my opinion, the only possibility of an injury occurring is very close to the array.
[The sound of a humpback whale song.]
BROWN: But those who oppose the use of SURTASS-LFA disagree, saying that the loud sonar will affect the hearing of whales and other marine mammals well outside the protection zone. Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, says that could prove fatal.
JEAN-MICHEL COUSTEAU: For whales and dolphins, sounds are, unlike humans, where our primary sense is vision—for whales they’re completely dependent on sounds to navigate, to recognize each other, or find each other, to find their food. If you eliminate that, they’ll die.
BROWN: Opponents of the LFA sonar point to a number of stranding incidents around the world which occurred while naval exercises were taking place in the area. In particular, they cite the stranding, back in March 2000, of 16 whales in the Bahamas. Of the six whales which died, several were found to have signs of bleeding in their inner ears and around the brain, consistent with acoustic trauma. A report by NOAA Fisheries and the US Navy found that midrange sonar, being used in the area at the time, was the most plausible source of the sound which caused the damage. While that incident did not involve the same low frequencies used by the LFA system, it did heighten general concerns among environmentalists about the possibility of tissue damage caused by resonance. Naomi Rose of the Humane Society likens the effect to an opera singer shattering a wine glass.
ROSE: It can cause your body cavities that have air in them to resonate and actually cause the animal to internally bleed and have tissues shear and tear and rupture.
BROWN: The Department of the Navy says that an international group of scientists recently concluded that whale tissue damage caused by resonance is “highly unlikely,” although further experiments are needed. Additionally, the Navy says that a scientific research program which it commissioned concluded that the LFA sonar would not produce any lasting changes in whale behavior. At the Pentagon, Joe Johnson says the only real danger to whales occurs well within the area which will be closely monitored, where the volume can exceed 180 decibels.
JOHNSON: Clearly, LFA is a loud sonar system. However, injurious levels are going to be very close to the vessel. They can be heard a long way. But I would compare it to the fact that marine mammals can be heard over long ranges themselves.
[The sound of a humpback whale song, intermixed with sounds of the SURTASS-LFA.]
BROWN: As if to illustrate that point, the US Navy’s SURTASS-LFA Web site provides a recording of a whale singing and the sonar operating, simultaneously, recorded off Hawaii, during the Navy-sponsored research. But beyond all the arguments about the science of the LFA sonar system is a fundamental difference over risk. The Humane Society’s Naomi Rose says she understands the need for a national defense, but not at any cost.
ROSE: It really doesn’t matter if you save people and don’t save the world. You know, the planet we live on has to remain healthy for us to remain healthy. And I know that sounds very Pollyanna, but it’s really quite basic biology.
BROWN: On the other side, Joe Johnson says there’s very little chance of a serious adverse impact and he points to the requirement that the US Navy must continue to research the effects of LFA sonar on marine mammals.
JOHNSON: We’ll never know all the answers to every possible hypothesis that could occur. I mean, we have done everything we possibly could over the last five years within reason to study the effects of SURTASS-LFA sonar. We can’t answer every single question, every single hypothesis.
BROWN: The SURTASS-LFA sonar will be operated first in the Pacific on board the Cory Chouest, a modified research vessel. The second of the two currently planned systems will be deployed later in the Atlantic.
[The sound of a humpback whale song.]
BROWN: For Common Ground, I’m Malcolm Brown in Washington
[The sound of a humpback whale song.]
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