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MAX EASTERMAN: You can see the impact of Berlin’s crippling debt burden wherever you go in this city. It can’t afford to spend any money.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, Berlin eyes bankruptcy.
KEITH PORTER: Plus, East Germany struggles with flood clean-up.
ANTJE HERMANAU: A lot of roads are torn away, a lot of bridges are torn away. You have a lot of railways not working. Months and months or even years before we can make use of it again.
PORTER: And which countries are the most powerful?
GIANDOMENICO PICCO: If you want to be a geopolitical major player in the world you’ve got to possess military and technological strength, which requires money to be spent on. There is no way any European governments could do that. They will not get the votes.
MCHUGH: These stories—coming up next.
PORTER: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Keith Porter.
Listen to This Segment: MP3
MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Berlin was officially declared the capital of reunited Germany 10 years ago—though the government and Parliament didn’t move in until 2000. By then, the old, divided city was hardly recognizable. The Wall had been torn down, apart from a few bits mothballed as grim reminders; new apartment and office buildings had sprung up almost every available patch of land; the Reichstag building had been renovated to house the new Parliament; and the new central railroad station was under construction for the new millennium.
PORTER: But all this came at a price—to be precise $46 billion. As a result, Berlin is effectively bankrupt. Max Easterman spent a week in Berlin finding out what’s brought this city to the brink of ruin.
[The sound of heavy city traffic outside the German Reichstag in Berlin.]
MAX EASTERMAN: On the surface, Berlin is a city busy rebuilding and reinventing itself. And from here, in front of the Reichstag, you can see much of that going on. Just to the south, on Potsdamer Platz, the cranes tower over a huge new commercial development, the Biesheim Center. But under the surface—indeed, right under my feet where I’m standing on the corner of Konrad-Adenauer-Street—are signs that all is not well in Berlin. This was supposed to be the new subway station for the Reichstag. Well, the station’s there, but the line that would connect it to the subway system has not been built. When the new city government took office it realized it couldn’t afford to add millions more dollars debt to the $46 billion it already owes, so it canceled the project.
VIKTOR STEINER: The difference between receipts and expenditure is about $5 billion, so the public debt will increase for the next years to come in Berlin.
EASTERMAN: Viktor Steiner is an expert on Berlin’s economy at the German Institute for Economic Research. He says the seeds of the present crisis were sown decades ago, when Germany decided to make West Berlin a showcase for capitalism.
STEINER: Before unification Berlin got huge subsidies from West Germany. And so public services developed which were dependent on these huge subsidies. They were over-manned and are still over-manned, so expenditures were extremely high compared to other regions or other cities. There was a subsidy for employees just because they lived here in Berlin. And so, in effect, there was no budget constraint for the state of Berlin before unification.
[With the sounds of an applauding crowd in the background.]
EASTERMAN: So it was “spend, spend, spend”—and Berliners got accustomed to price hikes and wage hikes whenever the occasion demanded. But not any more. Behind me, the city’s taxi drivers are demonstrating because they’ve been told they can’t raise their fares. They say high taxes and regulations are strangling their business. It’s another sign that Berlin and Berliners can’t make ends meet. So I shall have to walk the half mile or so to the nearest subway station, to go to find the man many people claim landed Berlin in this mess—former Christian Democrat Governing Mayor, Eberhard Diepgen.
FORMER BERLIN MAYOR EBERHARD DIEPGEN: With the coming down of the wall we had to build up a new economic structure. And my responsibility—and I think that was the right decision—was that we try to build up. We believe in growing. And with this aim, we invest. That’s the reason—very simple.
[With construction sounds in the background.]
EASTERMAN: Much of Berlin’s debt comes from the public housing sector. Billions of dollars were loaned in the 1990s to build apartment blocks and the city underwrote contracts guaranteeing upwards of $20 rent per square meter. But real rents turned out to be nearer $5. The city has to make up the difference. And so many apartments were built that the market collapsed, and with it went BankGesellschaft, Berlin’s biggest bank. The city was forced to take it over—that was another $3 billion on the bill. And there are now over a 100,000 empty apartments in the city, so the ones being built here, just across the road from me on the Oranienburgerstrasse, are likely to remain empty for a good few years yet.
[Now reporting from the studio.]
EASTERMAN: The BankGesellschaft scandal forced Mayor Diepgen to resign. A leading member of his CDU party, Klaus Landowski, was also chairman of the major lending arm of the bank. There was enough of the scent of corruption to bring down the entire Christian Democrat Union/Social Democrat governing coalition. But Mr. Diepgen remains defiant.
DIEPGEN: It’s not my responsibility and it’s not my task to explain all that. The Christian Democratic Union is not responsible as a party for what happened and what was the decisions in the bank. I was not involved in that. I have not this responsibility.
EASTERMAN: So that was the responsibility of Mr. Landowski, it seems?
DIEPGEN: That is one and only in one part. We tried merging some of the banks in Berlin owned by the city to build up this new bank system. And that was optimistic.
[With the sounds of a subway in the background.]
EASTERMAN: Mr. Diepgen’s optimism wasn’t shared by all the other members of his party. Throughout the ’90s, there was a group of younger Christian Democrats, who tried to challenge his policies, but without success. They believe that’s why the party is now in opposition, and I’m on my way to meet one of those young Turks. Now it’s finance spokesman, Nikolas Zimmer.
[With the sounds of a subway in the background.]
NIKOLAS ZIMMER: The time of manipulating the balance sheet in Berlin has come to an end.
EASTERMAN: [interviewing Zimmer] But you agree that there was manipulation under the previous administration?
ZIMMER: Manipulation, yes, of course. Everybody knows everybody and everybody gives somebody something and you get something in return and everything works fine—like a banana republic. I think that’s a picture you can use. And that was, I think, the problem we had in Berlin under Eberhard Diepgen. They were not checking the way it was done. So politics in Berlin were not corrupt. But they were on the border. And the CDU has a good part to be done clearing their own history.
[With Easterman reporting from a street in Steglitz]
MAX EASTERMAN: You can see the impact of Berlin’s crippling debt burden wherever you go in this city. It can’t afford to spend any money.
[More street sounds in the background.]
EASTERMAN: I’m walking at the moment through Steglitz, which is a leafy suburb in the west of the city. I’ve just passed on my right here a lovely little park with a lake surrounded by weeping willow trees. But the grass hasn’t been cut for weeks by the look of it. The road here is lined with trees, but underneath them the sidewalks are covered in weeds. The whole place looks as if it could do with a really good clean-up.
[With Easterman reporting from an S-Bahn train.]
EASTERMAN: The spending cuts Berlin’s already brought in, are hitting even harder where I’m now going—the working-class area of Wedding. I’ve a meeting with Sven Frye. He’s a youth worker. His voluntary organization, the Falcons, has been around for nearly 100 years, but the cuts are now biting deep and threatening its very survival.
[With sounds of children playing in the background.]
SVEN FRYE: Our community bus, the money is stopped by October. For the counseling and conflict service the money is cut in this year. And further cuts are taking place in the beginning of next year and continue. And also, in the last three years we had to close three of our centers in the local areas of Berlin. They also—and this is a really hard and unbelievable part of it—they cut the money for the activities for children to go away for a weekend, and as well the money for the summer camps. If you put all the cuts together we are cut for 56 percent of our last fund.
EASTERMAN: And it’s going to get a lot worse—for everybody. The new city government took office nine months ago. It’s a so-called Red-Red coalition—Social Democrats (SPD) and PDS (they’re the successors to the Communists). SPD Senator Thilo Sarrazin is the man charged with sorting out the budget—and he knows it’s going to be a very tricky job.
THILO SARRAZIN: Up to now I have not made any public proposals, because near every proposal will produce a storm of public anger. So, the basket of different cuts will have to contain some cuts in public housing, cuts in social welfare, in the size of the police force. Possibly cuts in education. I don’t know yet. Then also, some cuts in culture.
EASTERMAN: Now you’d have thought that budget cuts would be anathema to the Communist PDS, the junior partner in the coalition. But the financial crisis in Berlin is so deep that even they know they have to administer some nasty medicine. Carl Wechselberg is the PDS budget spokesman; he’s one of the new breed of young Berlin politicians, who’s prepared to tell people what they don’t want to hear.
CARL WECHSELBERG: The problem is that what we have to do doesn’t have a lot to do with left wing politics. We have a situation where there are demonstrations against this government, that’s nothing that a left-wing politician wants and likes. But in Berlin you have to tell people that certain expenses we are used to cannot be afforded anymore. Because if we don’t do that now, within a couple of years we will intensify the crisis that the city is in and if that takes the ability to live with demonstrations and opposition to that, we will have to do that.
EASTERMAN: Demonstrations there will certainly be. The trades unions claim most of Berlin’s public services are understaffed, as well as underfunded. Cuts, they say, will cripple the city. The Finance Senator Thilo Sarrazin, brushes the claim aside.
SARRAZIN: What is the meaning of crippling? If people have their homes, if they have work, and if the basic public services can be maintained, then there will be life in the city.
EASTERMAN: [Interviewing Sarrazin] But it will be a life without luxuries?
SARRAZIN: That’s quite right. It will be a life in a Volkswagen Golf rather than a Mercedes sedan. This is right.
[With sounds of street traffic in the background.]
EASTERMAN: Berlin’s city government—Berliners themselves—are in a jam. The debt is now so big, that it can’t be paid off by the city on its own. And this is, after all, the federal capital. Everyone is saying the same thing now—the federal government should start paying its way here. Technically, Berlin is bankrupt. If it were to default, a crisis would turn into a full-scale disaster. And Federal Chancellor Schröder knows it. Sooner or later, he will have to dig deep, and pay up. For Common Ground, this is Max Easterman, in Berlin, Germany.
MCHUGH: East Germany’s slow flood recovery—next on Common Ground.
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MCHUGH: As the end of the year approaches, people all over the world are in retrospective mood. In Germany, it’s been a difficult year. The country’s economy remains in perilous straits; Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder narrowly won re-election but at the cost of his relationship with President Bush, whom he criticized during the country’s election campaign. And in formerly Communist eastern Germany, they’re still picking up the pieces after some of the worst flooding in the region’s history. The floods, which also inundated the capital of the Czech Republic, Prague, took a tremendous economic toll on a part of the world that is still trying to recover from decades of Soviet domination. From the town of Freital in eastern Germany, Common Ground‘s Simon Marks reports.
[The sound of rushing flood waters.]
MARKS: In the foothills of eastern Germany, the streams that feed the River Elbe are still flowing rapidly. More than three months after the river burst its banks, sending more than 100 times the normal volume of water coursing through the streets, the torrential rains of the summer are still making their way downstream.
[With Marks reporting from the riverbank.]
MARKS: Everywhere you look along this riverbank there’s debris—plastic sheeting, plastic bottles, wooden planks—there’s even some children’s toys here that perhaps were washed away from a house that was destroyed in the floods. And every single piece of debris here really represents another significant setback for eastern Germany’s hopes of economic recovery.
[The sounds of Mr. Marks being escorted around the riverbank by Antje Hermanau.]
ANTJE HERMANAU: The water was in the basement, came in from the ground….
MARKS: Antje Hermanau is a member of Parliament for the region in and around the city of Dresden. A member of the Green Party, when she was elected, she hoped to help build a new environmentally sensitive eastern Germany. Instead, today she spends most of her time assessing the disastrous damage caused by the floods. The historic Ballhouse in Dresden—in the last century a popular dance hall—had just been renovated when the floods hit. A private investor from West Germany had just spent more than $5 million dollars restoring the building, and turning it back into one of the city’s most popular leisure centers.
MARKS: [Now directly interviewing Hermanau.] What was the idea behind the investment?
HERMANAU: There should be a Ball-house again and there was supposed I guess to have some movies in there and things like that, just for recreation time. A place to go to if you live here.
MARKS: [Now directly interviewing Hermanau.] Is this a rare investment?
HERMANAU: Private investment on that scale? Yeah. Yeah, I mean if you have some brave man investing here, then he’s hit by the flood, it’s terrible.
MARKS: Terrible, because East Germany desperately needs outside investment to help it recover from decades of under-development. In 1989, East Germany broke loose from the shackles of Soviet domination. It was here that demonstrations night after night against Soviet rule sparked the uprising that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and ultimately the collapse of the USSR. Today, many parts of the region show none of the signs of commerce and prosperity that people here hoped freedom would bring. Inward foreign investment is stagnant and unemployment is high. In some parts of eastern Germany, nearly one third of the people are out of work. And so, many of them are simply leaving, trying to find jobs and wealth in the West.
MARKS: [Now directly interviewing Hermanau.] How far has it set eastern Germany back?
HERMANAU: Well, people think it’s about a decade. It depends on the area, on how heavily it had been effected. But I’d say, put it on infrastructure, that it will be a decade somehow, because a lot of roads are torn away, a lot of bridges are torn away, you have a lot of railways not working and it will last another month—months and months or even years before we can make use of it again. So infrastructure and traffic is really hit very severely.
MARKS: Even more than before, eastern recovery will now be contingent upon western financial support. More than $650 billion has already been transferred from western Germany to the east in a bid to kick-start the region’s economy, and now even more will be needed.
[The sounds of construction.]
MARKS: In Leipzig, a magnificent Baroque city that currently resembles an enormous construction site as various civic projects take shape, the Mayor, Wolfgang Tiefensee, argues the region can bounce back.
LEIPZIG MAYOR WOLFGANG TIEFENSEE: [via a translator] The flood was a terrible disaster. It caused lots of human suffering and it will take billions of Euros to rebuild the area to where things where at the start of August. It may take three to five years. A great effort is necessary, but in the whole nation there is support for this reconstruction. There is huge solidarity from all parts of Germany. The whole nation is helping and the people here are creative and courageous. So I have no doubt that in the end we will make it.
[The sound of rushing flood waters.]
MARKS: It’s a tall order, but one that local officials insist will be met. After all, they point out, a generation of Soviet rule didn’t dampen the enthusiasm for the fruits of a free society here—nor will the vagaries of nature. For Common Ground, I’m Simon Marks in Freital, eastern Germany.
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MCHUGH: Giandomenico Picco is an Italian citizen with a remarkable career in the international civil service. He served 20 years at the United Nations, rising to the rank of Assistant Secretary General. He was chief negotiator in the talks which ended the Iran-Iraq War, and personally negotiated the release of western hostages held in Lebanon.
PORTER: I recently spoke with Giandomenico Picco about the way he sees geopolitical power evolving on the global stage. His predictions may surprise you. He sees the United States, Russia, China, and India emerging as the world’s four most powerful nations. And he sees the global influence of the old European powers and Japan on a steady decline. In particular, he says that US, Russia, China, and India share a number of economic, political, and strategic interests in common. Picco also says these countries are the four main targets of what he calls “strategic terrorism.”
GIANDOMENICO PICCO: A terrorism in other words which is there to fight the battle to the end of times. A terrorism which has been devised to simply fight the enemy and the enemy will always be there no matter whom. If I was more specific, I would say a terrorism which is there to fight the other because it is the other. And therefore, this kind of terrorism I call strategic. It happens that these four countries have been victims of this kind of terrorism, and in my view may well continue to be. And therefore this has only further cemented the necessity in my view for those four countries to get together on other issues and to be more in tune with each other.
PORTER: These countries represent how much of the world population?
PICCO: Fifty-one percent of the world population; 75 percent of the major expenditure; and a similar amount of the technological innovation of this world.
PORTER: I was also struck by who’s not in your top of the list here—Europe, Japan, the Arab world. How will these areas be so marginalized in the coming world?
PICCO: I think we have to accept that different countries and different societies have different priorities. The United States population may be in denial about, whatever called, the imperial destiny of the US—and I don’t say this in a negative term—but the destiny which falls on any major power, or superpower in this case, at any time of our history.
But on the other side, we have other societies—like the European societies—that have really indicated—if not in words, in deeds—that their priorities are basically their own welfare within the boundaries of that region. There is not question that the per capita income in the world may not be highest in Europe, but the standard of living is by far highest [in] Europe than in any other part of the world. The Europeans are basically living in a system which I will call “stakeholder capitalism” system, as opposed to what we would have in America, a shareholder capitalist system. And the stakeholding capitalist system is basically marriage between a welfare state and capitalism.
That system has produced a level of comfort for European societies which they are not prepared to give up. And if you want to be a geopolitical major player in the world you’ve got to possess military and technological strength, which requires money to be spent on. There is no way any European governments could do that. They will not get the votes. The votes indicate what kind of priorities society has.
PORTER: They’ve made a choice between standard of living and military spending?
PICCO: They made a choice between standard of living and geopolitical role in the world.
PORTER: You mentioned these four countries—the United States, Russia, China, and India. How would you characterize what the relationship between and among those four countries will be like in the coming years? Will this be a traditional alliance?
PICCO: This will be in my view an alignment, not an alliance. I think gone are the days when we had friends 100 percent on every issue. Alignments will [be] the characteristics of the future, in my view. And alignment means “I’m basically in agreement with you on many issues, but on some issues we may disagree. And this will not deprive from our friendship, nevertheless.” And I think the four countries that I mentioned—the US, Russia, China, and India, will fit very well in that description.
PORTER: Near the end of our conversation I spoke with Giandomenico Picco about the region he has dealt with most as an international diplomat—the Middle East. I asked him if there is even a small reason to be optimistic about peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.
PICCO: The story of the conflict in Palestine again is a story of lost opportunity. But it is also—and we have to confront the truth in my view—the story of those who have actually killed the Oslo process. Let me just be very risky in this. I have made a point in my life never to enter the fray of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Because I am too small to make any difference. But I think if we are not honest with what actually happens in the world we will not be able to deal with the problems. And if we are not, don’t have the courage of looking at the truth we will never find a solution to the problems. I think there has been lost opportunities on the Palestinian sides and there has been a large part of the body politic in Israel who have systematically gone around to destroy the peace process. They both succeeded.
PORTER: And to my question about whether or not you’re optimistic? It sounds like you’re not.
PICCO: At this point I don’t believe that we are going to have a Palestinian-Israeli peace process. I believe there is simply no will on the table to do that. It just may happen that we have to fix other matters before. What I would hope is that things don’t get worse on the Palestinian front. But, I have to utter something, which is very sad to say, I ask myself if indeed the reason why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not being resolved is because in this new era, which means after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the problems of the ’90s, the Israeli-Palestinian issue is no longer a global issue. You see, in the ’80s, when we had a terrorist attack in Israel, the price of oil, the relationship yen/dollar, and the price of other commodities, would react within minutes. Because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a strategic conflict. It could have expanded. It could have become something worse. And therefore the world took notice.
But if you look at what has happened since the Intifadah II has come into being, you will see that on an economic front this incredible suffering of the Israeli and Palestinian people have produced no effect on anybody else except themselves. The Palestinian economy is destroyed. The Israeli economy for the last two years for the first time in 54 years has declined. But outside their own country basically nobody has been economically and strategically affected. The Palestinian conflict, in my view, is now a local conflict. And accordingly I think there is real less interest, on behalf of many, to push for a solution. I think it’s a sad commentary, but I have to tell you that even the oil weapon, which was used 30 years ago, I don’t think that it’s any longer an option with regard to Palestine.
PORTER: Giandomenico Picco is now President and CEO of GDP Associates in New York.
MCHUGH: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
KEITH PORTER: I’m Keith Porter.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, Great Britain’s role in Zimbabwe’s controversial land swap program.
ALASTAIR WANKLYN: The British government says at fault is the Robert Mugabe administration for failing to ensure orderly resettlement. But some campaigners here criticize the British government.
PORTER: Plus, the trials and tribulations of international adoption. And China prepares for a new President.
JOHN TKACIK: Official Washington seems to be looking at this new crop of leaders in China with a certain amount of equanimity if not mild relief.
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PORTER: Decolonization in southern Africa has produced mixed results in terms of good governance among the successor states. There are the success stories of South Africa and Botswana, but Zimbabwe remains an international pariah. In Zimbabwe, political repression has invited contempt from its peers. And its former colonial power, Britain, has severed relations over the forced seizure of land from Zimbabwean citizens—mainly white. The British government accuses President Robert Mugabe of persecution of his nation’s white minority landowners.
MCHUGH: The British official who oversaw Zimbabwe’s independence process in 1979, now says the UK government should meet its promises to help pay for the same land resettlement. Lord Peter Carrington says money set aside at the time of the so-called Lancaster House negotiations should now be unfrozen, to help compensate the losers in Zimbabwe’s land grab. But the British government has rejected the proposal, despite sitting on a pot of ₤36 million offered to Zimbabwe as recently as last year. From London, Alastair Wanklyn reports on the history of Britain’s standoff.
ALASTAIR WANKLYN: More than two decades ago Zimbabwe emerged from British Rhodesia—a state that had concentrated good farmland in the hands of its white minority. So, when Zimbabwe gained independence in 1979, the London government promised to help with the cost of resettlement. But it transferred to Harare only 45 million pounds before the program ground to a halt in 1996. And despite two attempts since then to restart it, the British fund has remained frozen.
LORD PETER CARRINGTON: [speaking in the background] It was envisaged that we should help them…
WANKLYN: The chairman of the talks in London that marked Zimbabwe’s birth, Lord Peter Carrington, says the compensation program was started in good faith, but halted amid suspicions over how the funds were used.
LORD CARRINGTON: There was a disproportionate amount of good arable land in the hands of the white farmers and our—what was proposed was that we should help—not pay entirely, but help out with a compensation for those farmers. And the Americans, incidentally, said they would do the same thing. And this went all right; I mean we did help out for some time. Then it transpired that what Mugabe was doing was to confiscate the land really from the white farmers, not pay them anything, and just give the land to his cronies. So the government of the day here decided that they wouldn’t pay any more money for that purpose. They would give it to the wrong people.
WANKLYN: At Zimbabwe’s birth, the so-called Lancaster House agreement, Britain promised around ₤50 million to help pay for farm transfers. It halted payments in 1996, suspecting corruption and inefficiency. Then at a land conference in Harare in 1998, donors renewed their pledges. Britain promised an additional ₤36 million, then withheld it in protest at illegal farm occupations and violence in the run-up to the 2000 parliamentary elections. In September 2001 in Abuja, Nigeria, Britain offered the same sum again, but Zimbabwe subverted the agreement on orderly land reform, and sped up compulsory seizures. Peter Carrington, now a member of Britain’s upper house of parliament, says the payments should go ahead anyway, directly now to dispossessed white farmers.
LORD PETER CARRINGTON: You could help them in some way, and we’d always envisaged we would spend the money in this way and it seemed to me sensible to do so. But I got a very wintry answer from the government about this, and I’m wondering how I can—what else I can do.
WANKLYN: British government ministers refused written requests for interview. In a verbal response the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, simply confirmed that the money was last “on the table” at Abuja.
[now reporting with street sounds in the background.]
WANKLYN: So thirty-six million pounds was last year labeled to help Zimbabwe with its land reform, but it seems that sum is currently frozen—here, in the government treasury, in London. The British government says at fault is the Robert Mugabe administration, for failing to ensure orderly resettlement. But some campaigners here criticize the British government for making what they call unrealistic conditions. I’m standing outside the former anti-apartheid movement, an NGO now called Action for Southern Africa. Campaigner Aditi Sharma says Britain failed to grasp what land reform must entail, and so held back Zimbabwe’s progress.
ADITI SHARMA: The Lancaster House agreement constrained Zimbabwe in the sense that it set conditions on the pace and nature of land reform. It insisted on the willing buyer/willing seller principle, which severely constrained a kind of a proper land reform. Land reform is about several things. And first and foremost for people, for the black majority across southern Africa in a post-apartheid state, it is about justice. It is about rights. Why should the black majority have such little ownership of land? But the second thing, it is also about development.
WANKLYN: Economic development is something that, in spite of sanctions, the British government says it does want to help stimulate in Zimbabwe. But at the moment, there’s no public talk of resuming the offer of aid, or even—as suggested in the Parliament—making money available to displaced white farmers. For Common Ground, I’m Alastair Wanklyn in London.
PORTER: Coming up next on Common Ground, adopting Diego. And later, Jiang Zemin’s legacy in China.
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MCHUGH: International adoption is a growing option for American families. The number of foreign children adopted in the United States has more than doubled in the past decade. But, the red tape can be overwhelming.
PORTER: Last week we began following the story of Lori Stern and Dan Lake as they try to adopt Diego, a Guatemalan baby. This week we find Lori has been in Guatemala for several months waiting for the paperwork to be completed, and Dan has joined her for a brief visit.
[The sound of a flying jet aircraft.]
LORI JOHNSON: The adoption process does not move as quickly as we had hoped. Three weeks later Dan, my husband, comes to visit. He thinks that Estella’s?? place is too depressing and we should move. I guess that hadn’t occurred to me, because I’m still under the impression we’ll be going home soon. But we do move.
LORI’S UNNAMED FRIEND: [Introducing an e-mail Lori sent to her, with the sounds of a clacking keyboard in the background.] Lori sounded relieved in this e-mail.
JOHNSON: [reading the e-mail she sent] The good news is that Diego and I are installed in a residential hotel, for which I paid a month’s advance rent—$725. It’s luxurious—not just compared to Estella’??s, but with maid service, wall-to-wall carpeting, and a powerful shower. It compares favorably to our house.
[With Guatemalan music in the background.]
JOHNSON: Guatemala tops the Central American charts when it comes to birth rates, child mortality, and illiteracy. The 36-year civil war ended in 1996. But the fighting and its aftermath left 150,000 orphans. Many of them languish in institutions where conditions range from heartbreaking to insufferable.
[The sounds from an orphanage, such as crying children, a television, and conversation.]
JOHNSON: In Seragossa??, a few nuns care for 70 or so infants and toddlers. There are no toys and no diapers—not even cloth ones. And some of the kids are soaked through. But the kitchen is well stocked and the sisters are preparing tortillas and chicken soup for lunch. For the most part the children here are not being fought over by agencies, facilitators, foster mothers, or foreigners who want to adopt them. They are in limbo—abandoned by their parents but not available for adoption. While a few orphanages do work with foreign adoption agencies, most of the thousands of kids in them are destined to stay right where they are.
[The sound of an adult speaking to a toddler.]
DAN LAKE: Here’s an e-mail Lori sent everyone on the list: [reading the e-mail in his voice, with the sound of a clacking keyboard in the background] “Yesterday we went to Santiago Atalan?? to visit Diego’s birth family. To get there you drive three hours west from the capital, then take an hour boat ride across Lake Atalan??. Both towns are major tourist destinations, with some of the biggest markets in Guatemala. The place where Isabel lives looks like a lot of communities in Chiapas. We land at Santiago Atalan??, wade through a half mile of vendors selling clothes, furniture, jewelry, to a market where we are the only outsiders. And then we hitch a ride in the back of a pickup down a dirt road, to where the people live. I wait near a scale for weighing sacks of coffee. Someone has to go get Isabel from the coffee fields. And after an hour Isabel shows up and doesn’t want to acknowledge me. The deal is, we have to hitch a ride back to the tourist part of town because she doesn’t want anyone to know about Diego.”
JOHNSON: Diego was Isabel’s third child. She’s 26 years old. A single parent of seven-year-old Josepha?? and four-year-old Juan. Isabel and the kids pick coffee for about $1.25 a day. Diego’s birth and adoption are secrets from her tiny community, so I meet the family in a public place, some distance from where she lives. While I wait children swarm around and mug for my video camera
[The sound of children yelling and playing.]
JOHNSON: Little girls wearing embroidered purple weepils?? and long skirts; the boys in T-shirts and jeans. They’re bare-foot and scruffy, jabbering in Chitzuil??, friendly and curious. I take my camera over to where some men are weighing sacks of coffee beans on a makeshift scale. They do not want their pictures taken. When Isabel and her children come walking down the road, my first impression is how tiny they are. We pretend not to know each other as we hitch a ride with a dozen others in the bed of pickup back to the tourist area. There I set up my camera to record for Diego what I’m sure will be an historic interview.
[With sounds from the busy market in the background.]
JOHNSON: [Now speaking to her video camera at the market.] I’m taking the little boy that, that was born to you six months ago.
[Lori then speaks in halting Spanish to Isabel, beginning with “Muchas gracias,” with further remarks also in Spanish. Then she switches back to English] “It means the world to me that I have yours.”
JOHNSON: [Again back to narrating the story.] I write my address and phone number on the back of photos of Dan and our dogs in front of our house in Saint Paul. Isabel doesn’t understand much Spanish and I don’t speak any Chitzuil??. She looks worried and self-conscious. When we say goodbye she is relieved and I am crying. It’s March and I still think we’re going home soon. I don’t have any idea that I’ll be seeing her and the kids several more times.
[With more sounds from the market in the background, followed by Guatemalan music.]
JOHNSON: It shouldn’t have taken so long. But human error comes in many guises, and trying to adopt Diego I got to see quite a few of them. In the paperwork for Diego’s adoption, our lawyers and facilitators wrote that he was Isabel’s second child, not her third. To cover up that mistake they filed another birth certificate and got his birth place wrong. The authorities discovered inconsistencies in the story and began an investigation, which prompted more lies. Three months into this saga I asked the US embassy for help. They suggested that a second DNA test should satisfy the Guatemalan officials.
In February I came for two weeks. In mid-May the consular official in charge of adoptions personally swabbed Diego’s mouth. Later that day she took DNA samples from Isabel, too. During Isabel’s appointment I brought her kids to Diego’s pediatrician—their first time seeing one. They needed treatment for scabies. My most moving photographs are from that day. Diego in his stroller, shaking hands with Juan, his biological brother. The moment when Isabel’s face collapsed in tears after I put Diego in her lap. I reproached myself for being stupid and insensitive. But I took the picture.
[The sounds of an adult greeting Diego. Other background sounds include children playing and a birthday party.]
JOHNSON: In late August we’re still waiting for resolution. My husband Dan is visiting when Diego takes his first steps. I think he’s been waiting for his father so he’d have someone to walk to, as well as from. By now we’re sharing a house about an hour from Guatemala City, with another adopting family. Antigua?? is much more pleasant and we have a little support group going.
[With sounds of the “Happy Birthday” song in the background]
JOHNSON: That’s who I invite to Diego’s first birthday party on August 28th. Among the waiting mothers, I’ve been there the longest. And Diego is the oldest baby.
[Sounds from Diego’s birthday party.]
PORTER: Next week, we’ll conclude our series, and find out if Lori finally gets to bring Diego home. “Adopting Diego” is part of the For Kids’ Sake radio series. For a link to their site, go to commongroundradio.org.
MCHUGH: You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
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PORTER: China’s recent 16th Communist Party Congress set the stage for the hand over of power in China, and the ushering in of the so-called “fourth generation” of leaders. As expected, President Jiang Zemin stepped down as leader of the Communist Party. Vice President Hu Jintao took his place, virtually ensuring that Hu will also take over the presidency early next year.
MCHUGH: The 16th Party Congress was dominated, not by the new leader, but by Jiang Zemin, the politician who has been at the helm of Chinese politics for over a decade. And Jiang, who has established himself as the point man on US-China relations, is expected to retain a great deal of influence even when he steps down from the presidency early next year. That’s because a majority of the nine member Standing Committee—the inner sanctum of the party now headed by Hu Jintao—are loyal to Jiang. From Washington, Catherine Drew reports on what this change in power means for US-Sino relations.
CATHERINE DREW: Jiang Zemin has been a familiar face in Washington for many years.
[The sound of a band playing at a diplomatic reception.]
DREW: His first visit to the United States as President of China came in 1997, when he met with President Bill Clinton at the White House. While Jiang is now dealing with his second American president, the issues the US and China disagree on have remained the same. The two countries have consistently clashed over Taiwan’s future, human rights, religious freedoms, and weapons proliferation. One steady positive in the relationship has been US-China trade, which has increased throughout President Jiang’s time in power. China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2000 was viewed by both Washington and Beijing as a major step forward. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks of last year, US geopolitical priorities and security concerns have shifted dramatically. And despite the many points of tension in the relationship, today the US counts China as an ally in the war on terrorism, a theme President Jiang repeated during a three-day farewell tour of the US at the end of October.
CHINESE PRESIDENT JIANG ZEMIN: China and the US ought to enhance co-operation in these fields, for this serves the common interests of the two countries. We are ready to stay in touch and cooperate with US in search for your fair solution to these problems and promote peace and stability in the world.
[The sound of many cameras snapping pictures.]
DREW: It was during this recent visit that President Jiang was granted an audience with President Bush at his Texas ranch, something which is considered a great honor. Mark Fung is a China scholar at the Johns Hopkins University.
MARK FUNG: The symbolism reigns supreme in China and so if you look at it, those who were invited to the Crawford ranch are people that Bush really took a liking to, number one, or two, wanted to develop stronger ties with—and it’s not just anyone. Even Japanese Prime Minister Koisumi hasn’t been invited—he just went to Camp David. So this is big for Jiang in terms of a coup, in terms of leaving with a longer legacy that reestablishes him as the US-China relations guy.
DREW: Some observers say getting this sort of treatment from the Americans will help cement Jiang’s continuing influence in China’s foreign policy, even when he’s officially out of office. Mark Fung says it will also add to the perception of President Jiang’s legacy.
FUNG: We know he made himself out as the point man for US—Sino-US relations. And that was key. So whenever there were problems with it they would look to Jiang and say, “What’s going on?” So I think in the turbulent 13 years he’s made sure that US-China relations have been relatively stable, with a few exceptions. So he can leave, “I brought China into WTO, I made sure that China’s bid for the Olympics, I was able to make sure that under my watch US-China relations have for the most part improved.”
DREW: President Jiang’s farewell visit to the US was overshadowed by the tricky issues of North Korea and Iraq.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I want to welcome the President of China to our ranch and to Texas. This is the third meeting of the president and me and our personal relations and the relations between our two countries are strong.
DREW: From America’s standpoint the visit was not particularly fruitful. President Bush had been hoping for a strong statement against North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and more cooperation on the issue of Iraq. Some observers in Washington, like John Tkacik, a senior scholar at the Heritage Foundation believe, President Jiang has little to claim credit for in US-Sino relations, which he says have largely been propelled by a symbiotic trade relationship between the two giant economies. John Tkacik says he believes the Bush Administration is looking forward to the change in China’s leadership.
JOHN TKACIK: Official Washington seems to be looking at this new crop of leaders in China with a certain amount of equanimity, if not mild relief. There is a sense that the old guard, Jiang Zemin in particular and Qian Qichen, who’s the senior Vice Premier for Foreign Affairs Issues, frankly they were very difficult to deal with.
DREW: Analysts agree that the Bush administration and congressional leaders were impressed with Jiang’s heir apparent, Hu Jintao, when he visited the US earlier in the year, particularly as he seemed to appreciate America’s concerns regarding Iraq. Hu is likely to be pivotal in the future of US-Sino relations, as he’ll probably deal with two, possibly three American presidents. However, John Tkacik says he doesn’t anticipate an immediate change in the course of relations.
TKACIK: I don’t see US-China relations as warming up over the next several years, I think that what China will be doing is shifting its focus now to Russia and Europe, in the hopes of generating some sort of counterweight to US influence.
DREW: And while US officials and China watchers are studying the personalities that have come to the fore as the so-called fourth generation of leaders ascend to power, they are also observing the process of political transition in China—a process which is still something of a mystery to observers here. For Common Ground radio, I’m Catherine Drew, in Washington.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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