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AMBOKA WAMEYA: The UN has produced a report only this month saying that 3 million people have died as a result of that war and have implicated diamonds as being responsible for fueling part of that war.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, the global diamond industry’s plan to keep “conflict diamonds” from store shelves.
KEITH PORTER: And hoping for peace in Sudan.
BISHOP RUDOLPH DENG: One can only hope that we succeed. Because 40 years of war is more than enough.
PORTER: Plus, World Press Review‘s International Editor of the Year.
IDEN WETHERELL: I’ve been arrested three times in the last 18 months and charged under the new press law with publishing pictures or information to which the government objects.
MCHUGH: These stories—coming up next.
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PORTER: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Keith Porter.
MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. The world diamond industry will shortly implement certificates-of-origin for all rough diamonds, cracking down on the so-called “conflict diamonds” that help fund civil wars in Africa. Diamonds mined and sold by rebel groups in Angola, the Congo, and elsewhere buy those groups guns and resources. Now the diamond industry wants to polish up its image. Beginning January 1st nations will start to demand certified proof of origin of all rough diamonds.
PORTER: Dozens of countries worldwide will expect diamond certificates from all importers and exporters. But some campaigners say insufficient preparation at the level of “High Street” retailers spells trouble ahead, as Alastair Wanklyn reports from London.
[The sound of pedestrian and vehicle traffic.]
WANKLYN: I’m walking down Hatton Garden, a street in central London known as the center of the city’s diamond industry. Almost every shop front here is that of a diamond or other jewel trader. Campaigners say up to one in six diamonds sold here eventually buys weapons for rebel groups in Africa. And only a few weeks before it becomes illegal to import conflict diamonds to Britain, the campaigners say there’s not enough time to expect the trade to stop.
AMBOKA WAMEYA: We are not convinced that the World Diamond Council has done enough.
WANKLYN: At pressure group Action Aid, campaigner Amboka Wameya, sent researchers into London diamond shops posing as customers.
WAMEYA: Action Aid visited jewelers on the High Street in August to talk about conflict diamonds to find out if they were aware of the new legislation. And we were shocked to find that jewelers were saying conflict diamonds are no longer a problem, nobody imports conflict diamonds any more. We were also shocked to find that they were, none of them actually mentioned the new legislation by name. So, which means the World Diamond Council has not done the public awareness that they said they would do, or even begun to talk about the new legislation within the industry.
WANKLYN: Just two years ago the World Diamond Council was a forum created especially to present a united face to Action Aid and other NGOs lobbying for changes in the diamond industry. The World Diamond Council promises to make sure dealers observe the certificates—when the time comes. But the international agreement on certification—known as the Kimberley Process, signed in that South African city—comes into play only in January. At Action Aid, Amboka Wameya is furious about what she perceives as a lack of urgency among industry players.
WAMEYA: We were particularly shocked because at the moment there is a big conflict going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo; the UN has produced a report only this month saying that 3 million people have died as a result of that war and have implicated diamonds as being responsible for fueling part of that war. So while the UN is releasing such reports we are surprised to find that the industry is saying conflict diamonds are not a problem. And we also were surprised to find that people were willing to sort of misinform customers just because they didn’t think there would be a lot of pressure against them.
WANKLYN: Individual diamond dealers declined requests for interview for this report. But not all of them need fear answering criticisms. Campaigners have good things to say about dealers based in the United States. The US is perhaps the industry’s most important market, where diamond sales amount to $65 billion every year. And campaigners credit American dealers and retailers with implementing a good education program on the upcoming certificate requirements.
ALEX YEARSLEY: We wish that was repeated in Europe, and we wish the diamond industry would embark on a very intensive program of education, informing jewelers of the solutions and the problems of conflict diamonds.
WANKLYN: This is Alex Yearsley, of third-world campaign group Global Witness, in London. Global Witness used to take part in World Diamond Council meetings, but now boycotts the body.
YEARSLEY: It’s not a huge task at all. It’s really relatively simple and the industry has come off relatively lightly here. The governments really should have actually legislated against them far more strongly. And it’s certain sectors of the diamond industry that really are refusing to cooperate. Particularly in Antwerp we see traders that are still dealing in conflict diamonds, still dealing massively in illicit diamonds. And really, if the industry doesn’t actually take these measures necessary, then consumers can no, have no, you know, guarantee in their products.
WANKLYN: But put this criticism to the World Diamond Council and it insists that all is on track for an efficient implementation of the diamond certificates from next year. The World Diamond Council says it is satisfied with nations’ plans to check on diamonds carried across borders. And it says its members have agreed to enforce the certificates voluntarily in High Street stores. But speaking in London, after a meeting of Council members, Council Chairman Eli Izaakov acknowledges Action Aid’s worries over current low levels of awareness.
ELI IZAAKOV: Well, I can understand their concern, and it may be a legitimate concern, but what we are doing today is exactly to address that. We have passed this unanimous resolution for the voluntary chains of warranty that’s going to be done by the industry complementing the Kimberly Process international certification system. Once that is in place after all the constituency of the diamond industry go back home, I urge them here to disseminate this information to all the diamond people, to the stores, and everybody who deals in diamonds, that this decision has been taken.
WANKLYN: Decisions are one thing, action is another, according to Amboka Wameya of Action Aid. She says the last word on this will come on the 1st of January, when the certificates come on stream. But she retains her doubts about its success.
WAMEYA: If the scheme has to be effective everybody has to be ready; it makes no sense for governments to be ready and the industry not to be ready, because we require independent monitoring and independent verification of the chain right through from the mine up to the jeweler.
WANKLYN: Meanwhile civil wars continue to simmer and burn in nations such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where revenues from diamond sales help to fund rebels’ operations. And even with a rigid certification process, skeptics may continue to argue a diamond is a diamond, and it’s always going to find a way to market. For Common Ground I’m Alastair Wanklyn in London.
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MCHUGH: A second round of peace talks between the government and the rebel army in Sudan is set to begin after the first of the year. The two sides failed to reach an agreement after five weeks of negotiations this fall. But, they extended a truce until at least the end of March. More than two million people have died, and twice that many have been displaced during the long civil war in that African country. Recently, two Sudanese Catholic bishops visited Washington, DC, seeking US support for the peace talks. Common Ground‘s Cliff Brockman talked with Bishop Rudolph Deng and Bishop Paride Taban.
BROCKMAN: This war is often characterized as the Islamic North versus the Christians and the other traditional religions in the South. Is that how you would explain the conflict? Or how would you explain the conflict, Bishop Deng?
BISHOP RUDOLPH DENG: It’s more complex than that. It’s true, groups who live in northern Sudan are people of Islamic religion. But if you look at them closely you find that they are African peoples. African peoples who were born, waves of people coming from the Arabian Peninsula over the years have come, married with them locally, and produced a race which is neither African nor, neither Arab. So, I mean, just to put it, that it is Islam against the Christians is oversimplifying it.
It is more to do with attitudes. The people in the North have always raided people in the South—for ivory, for slaves. That attitude has continued. The other attitude is, of course, that the people in the North, in general, there are better economic opportunities. They are better politically aware, so they like to retain political power. When the British left they, the political power was left with them, so there is that aspect that they want to keep the political power, they want to retain it. So I think it’s religion and economics and race comes in. And they are all intertwined so that at the end it’s power. People want to keep power, to retain power, and they don’t want to share power. This is true in the Sudan, this is true in Rwanda, this is true in many parts of Africa. And of course, this brings conflict.
BROCKMAN: Bishop Taban, would you agree with that?
BISHOP PARIDE TABAN: Really the motive is invasion of the South and to make it as, someone said, the breadbasket for the Arab world. It is racial, also, not only religion. Religion is only being used as a vehicle, in order to attract also the Arab world, to attract funds from Islamic fundamentalist countries in the beginning, from Iran, Iraq. And of course, we know Kuwait also have done a lot before the conflict of, between Kuwait and Iraq. And Saudi Arabia of course and Egypt, Libya—all these are all interested in this area because, as my brother Bishop Deng has said, ivory and now gold—we have oil—all, these are the things. They would like to have really the South as their property. They are not interested in the population of the South. They are interested in the land and the minerals which is in the South.
BROCKMAN: Tell us a little bit more, Bishop Taban, about the oil. How does that play into this conflict?
TABAN: We know that in the conflict before the oil was being extracted—extraction of the oil. There was less bombardment because the government didn’t have enough money. And now it’s getting $2 million a day from oil. So we know that they are buying new weapons. Even they are making their own tanks in the country. And ammunition is now being done in the country. They are able to buy MIG planes and the number of bombarding planes are increasing. And that is why the oil for us, we say is a curse. That this company would have waited until there is peace. And if they could suspend this oil until there is, let us say, durable peace and just peace in Sudan, they could come and they start getting this oil for the development of the people, not for the genocide.
BROCKMAN: Speaking of genocide, the Committee on Conscience here at the United States Holocaust Museum has declared a genocide warning in Sudan. Is genocide happening in your country, Bishop Deng?
DENG: The Catholic Bishops of Eastern Africa have used it when we met, I remember here, in Nairobi, ’99. They said what is happening, happening in the war? The Sudan is assuming truly, truly genocidal proportions. And I think that was, expresses adequately what is—I mean, when, when food is denied to people what does that mean? When people are systematically thrown out by force of their ancestral lands for no crime except that they are sitting on oil, what other description would that amount to? So I think the bishops, the bishops did not use that term for nothing.
BROCKMAN: There has been mass starvation. Food used as a weapon for the people. Could you tell us about that?
DENG: I have no doubt in my mind, way back in 1988, the famous famine of 1988 in the regions of Bahr Al-Ghazal, were induced principally by men. Were induced by the militias of the government, the late General Kerubino, with his militias, with his supporters adopted a scorched earth policy of destruction and of pillaging and burning everything that they found in the countryside. With an inaccessible population that is reducing them to utter abject poverty. They were completely without anything. Something of 100,000 to 200,000 people were threatened. You can say it was prepared by the drought of the year before, but deliberately human intervention, to evict people and to throw them away off their homestead and to burn them, to shoot at them, that itself to me was genocide, yes.
BROCKMAN: There’s some concerns the government might use food as a weapon again. Do you think they might?
DENG: Under the present conditions I doubt. There might be elements in the government, but I am doubt whether their point of view would prevail.
BROCKMAN: Peace talks recently began and there was a cease-fire that began at that same time and then within 10 minutes there was a violation of the cease-fire. Do you think this cease-fire is going to hold for the duration of these talks, Bishop Taban?
TABAN: I think that is the importance of the Sudan Peace Act which has been signed. That the party now holding peace in Machakos, in Kenya, should not be allowed to go back to war, should be induced to continue. Because we know that the Sudan government is not very happy with some of the points which are brought out. And it feels also that it is now powerful, that it can win the war with all the weapons that it has and all the amount of the money that it has. It feels that it is not necessary to have peace talks because it is going to have victory over the South. And from there they say “There is no need of peace talk. I’ve already covered the whole country.” But that is not true. It is very difficult to win the war in the Sudan. We need support from the international community to pressurize, to see that this peace talk doesn’t break again.
BROCKMAN: Is that what the United States can do? Is that what we should be doing?
TABAN: That is what I am asking now from here. I’m sitting in Washington.
BROCKMAN: Is there anything else the United States should be doing?
TABAN: Well, we need more support on development. Because one word for peace is development. And we want also this development money extended to the Church. Because if you see in Madas?? we are building bridges, we are building roads, and these are not church things. We are doing social work which should be done by the, by the government. Since there is no actual government in the Espel?? area, most of the development is—I want that the Church be included in these money which the US is getting down for the development in the Sudan.
BROCKMAN: Bishop Deng, what hopes do you hold for these peace talks?
DENG: I nurture and hold the hopes of the Sudanese people with whom I work. They offer the best and only chance, really, of a serious negotiation to tackle the basic issues of the conflict and to reach an amicable solution. It’s a war that is going to leave a scar deep in the psyche of our people for many, many, many years to come in terms of traumatic experiences—families torn apart, the rape, the slavery aspect of it, the killings, the interruption of life in all its forms. So it’s not easy. The healing will take a long time. But it’s offered the only chance we have had in these last, how many years—40 years. One can only hope that they succeed. Because 40 years of war is more than enough.
BROCKMAN: Bishop Taban, do you think peace will finally come?
TABAN: If all of us, both the Sudanese and the international partners, we put hands together, it is possible. Together we can succeed. It was not South Africa who succeeded to get the apartheid by itself. The walls of Berlin fell not because of the Germans by themselves. The whole world contributed to that. And we talk of globalization and here is the duty of globalization. When we look at each one dying in Sudan as a brother, as a sister, that is the true meaning of globalization.
They call us sometimes toothless barking bulldogs. And if we want this, we want you be our teeth. And that is the help that you, the United States can give us in order to succeed, to bring a lasting peace in the Sudan. The visit we have done this time was not only political but it was also pastoral, to connect ourselves with the church in America. As I say sometime, Jesus would not have reached Calvary if Simon of Cyrene had not intervened with him to carry the, the cross up to Calvary, to reach there. So we have taken our cross already far enough. Help us to reach to Calvary and to the resurrection—that is to lasting peace.
BROCKMAN: Bishop Paride Taban is head of the Torit Catholic Diocese in southern Sudan. Bishop Rudolph Deng is the leader of the Wau Catholic Diocese in southwestern Sudan. For Common Ground, I’m Cliff Brockman.
PORTER: Fighting for freedom of the press in Zimbabwe, next on Common Ground.
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MCHUGH: Editing an independent newspaper under a repressive government is a tough and dangerous job. This is especially true for journalists in Zimbabwe. There President Robert Mugabe holds a tight reign on news and information.
PORTER: It’s one of the reasons our sister publication, World Press Review, has named Iden Wetherell of the Zimbabwe Independent as its international editor of the year. Wetherell recently visited New York to accept his award. Nathan King spoke with him at the United Nations.
NATHAN KING: Congratulations. And what does this mean in a broader sense to you, being recognized for your work but also independent journalism in Zimbabwe?
IDEN WETHERELL: Well, it I think gives a much needed boost to my staff at the Zimbabwe Independent. It shows that their work is recognized and that we’re not fighting alone. And that’s important.
KING: What have conditions been like? What sort of harassment have you and your staff felt?
WETHERELL: Well, we’re threatened on a regular basis by the president and his ministers, who have designated us the enemy, as the threat to the government press. And in addition to that, there’s very difficult conditions under which we work. There’s a raft of laws such as the Public Order and Security Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. To make journalism an offense in a sense and to include in that any criticism of the president that the president and his advisors object to. Ministers, senior government officials, will not deal with the independent press. The Department of Information within the Office of the President does not respond to inquiries. It is not helpful—is actually abusive. And then seeks to counter our stories by anticipating them in the government media and abusing us roundly.
KING: What about personal abuses of you and your staff.
WETHERELL: We’re continuing to do our job. That’s what the public expect of us. It would be very difficult to do the job if we didn’t have the support of the wider Zimbabwe public. So we’re going on doing that. I’ve been arrested three times in the last 18 months and charged under the new press law with publishing pictures or information to which the government objects. So there is that sort of harassment. It occupies time. It’s expensive. We have to have legal defense. So it is a form of harassment which is designed to deter us from doing our jobs.
KING: What about the business of actual reporting? Because you’re based in Harare, the capital, but so much of what goes on in Zimbabwe is in the outer lying, in the countryside areas. And can you actually physically get there and find out what is actually going on in your own country?
WETHERELL: Well, war veterans have physically prevented the distribution of our newspaper and other independent newspapers. So there’s that physical impediment. In addition to that you’re quite right—in the countryside, usually newspapers don’t penetrate areas where there is much less overall literacy. And the only voice heard there is President Mugabe’s because that is where radio does penetrate. Radio and television are a monopoly of President Mugabe’s government which he uses for party political purposes. So you do not have an even playing field. There is no access for independent voices in Mugabe’s rural fiefdom.
KING: Well, you’ve just won Editor of the Year. What about the rest of the world’s press? Zimbabwe hasn’t had many headlines over here. It’s been reported in very skewed ways, some would say, in Europe. What’s your impression of the world press?
WETHERELL: Well, yes, it is one of frustration in that the United States is preoccupied with other things. So there’s, I feel, a lack of balance in their reporting. There are very incisive American columnists who are very well informed about Zimbabwe and South Africa. But at the same time I’m afraid there’s something in the training of American journalists that obliges them to go for what I would call an artificial balance in their reporting. It’s what I call “on the one hand this and on the other hand that” style of reporting, which is unhelpful. The obvious example on the one hand, the West demonizes President Mugabe, but on the other hand many in Africa find him a hero. It’s that sort of reporting that diminishes the struggle of the Zimbabwean people for democracy, for human rights observance, for electoral due process, that in that type of reporting that suggests it’s merely the West that charges that Mugabe is guilty of human rights failures and not the people of Zimbabwe, who are the victims of his rule. I think that style of reporting is frankly unhelpful and there needs to be a more informed and in-depth approach to reporting on Zimbabwe by the United States media.
KING: And what about the European reporting? Because colonial attitudes die hard and a lot of the British press, for example, have reported it as a battle between the white farming community and a black government. Very little is being said about the ordinary Zimbabweans in all this.
WETHERELL: Let’s not underestimate the scale, the impact on the formerly white agricultural community. They have suffered enormously in terms of having their property seized, suffering abuse, physical harm, threats. They’ve lived under the most appalling conditions. But black Zimbabweans have experienced a great deal more in terms of intimidation, torture, harassment, and outright murder. It’s black Zimbabweans who are the victims of Mugabe’s regime. Let’s make no mistake about that. Whites may be occasional victims, but it’s the democratic majority who have suffered most.
KING: How do you see your role in the Mugabe society at the moment? You know, you’re one of the few independent producers of news. Where do you see your voice being most effective?
WETHERELL: Mugabe has no support whatsoever in Zimbabwe cities—amongst the youth, amongst professional people, amongst people who have any contact with the outside world. He is entirely dependent upon a hostage constituency—his rural fiefdom. That is his political base. So the independent press is part of a wider civil society that has been conducting over the last few years a struggle for basic democratic beliefs, for the rule of law, for the right of people to criticize the government, for their right to vote—which is what tens of thousands of people tried to do in the presidential poll this year. So we see our role as functioning within a broader democratic constituency in establishing the connection between good governance, accountability, democratic due process. And in that regard we’re supported by millions of ordinary Zimbabweans. And that is what drives us. That is what motivates us. That is what keeps us doing what we do.
KING: But it’s not just the press, is it? There is an opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, that came so close to winning the election, albeit a flawed election, last time. Have they been on the wane. They came so close to unseating President Mugabe and then were denied the fruits of victory. And global interest in the Movement for Democratic Change, the MBC, has been waning, hasn’t it?
WETHERELL: Yes, quite definitely. But the MBC is in a very difficult situation, a very insidious situation. How do you, believing in the rule of law, believing in the judicial process, believing in your rights as a democratic party—how do you challenge a regime that is determined to subvert the rule of law in order to deal with you? That crushes you with the use of the state’s own security arms? How, how do you operate in that situation as a democratic party committed to democratic values and democratic processes? When, when the government shares no such commitment, when it is absolutely ruthless determined to use all the means at its disposal to crush you? That, that’s the dilemma.
PORTER: Iden Wetherell is the 33rd recipient of World Press Review‘s International Editor of the Year Award. He was cited for his courage and leadership in advancing the freedom and responsibility of the press.
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, Germany’s Muslim community struggles with the war on terrorism.
MARKS: Hamburg’s entire Moslem community has come under an investigative microscope since the city’s links to September 11th became known.
MCHUGH: Plus, the conclusion to a long wait for international adoption.
LORI JOHNSON: Before dinner I call the lawyer to confirm everything is OK. The papers have come out, he says. They are denying the adoption. They may decide to take Diego away.
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PORTER: More than a year after the September 11th attacks on America, Muslim communities around the world still find themselves facing questions about why Islamic fundamentalists chose to wage war against the United States. And that discussion is still heated in Hamburg, Germany, where three of the September 11th hijackers lived, and where a number of alleged senior Al Qaeda lieutenants have been arrested. Common Ground‘s Simon Marks recently traveled to Hamburg, and found a Muslim community still reeling from the events of 9/11.
[The sound of a busy Arabic restaurant.]
MARKS: It’s lunch time at the Islamic Cultural Center in the middle of downtown Hamburg. In a scene that doesn’t immediately strike a visitor as being quintessentially German, patrons from more than a dozen mostly Islamic countries crowd the lunch room and pile into mounds of lamb kebabs, pita bread, and steaming cups of fragrant tea. But in a sense this scene is now quintessentially German. There are more than 3 million Muslims living in Germany today, and in Hamburg alone, there are 130,000—nearly 8 percent of the city’s population.
MUSTAFA YOLDAS: I am coming from Turkey, and I cannot speak as free as I am doing now with you in that country.
MARKS: Many of them, like Mustafa Yoldas who heads the city’s Islamic Council, came here attracted by the city’s liberal ethos and traditions.
YOLDAS: My opinion is that Germany is the most Islamic country in the world. Because of the Constitution, Muslims feel more free than in many Islamic countries. It’s sure that some of the Muslems misused this freedom, but you cannot tighten the human rights in this country because some few stupid people have made bad things in the world.
MARKS: The Muslims whom Mustafa Yoldas accuses of misusing Hamburg’s freedoms were Muslims who, until September 11th, 2001, were virtually anonymous within the city’s Islamic community. They included 9/11 hijackers Mohammed Atta, Marwan Al Shehhi, and Ziad Samir Jarrah, all of whom called Hamburg home for several years. A string of arrests has led authorities to accuse at least four area Muslims of providing financial and logistical support for the attacks. But Mustafa Yoldas insists the local Muslim community knew nothing of the roots Al Qaeda had established in the city.
YOLDAS: You must believe me that people of bad intentions or terrorists will not come to a mosque like this in which 3,000 people every day are coming and praying and eating and buying something, that terrorists go to the council and say “Hello, listen to me, I have a plan and I want to make this action.”
[The sounds of the Moslem call to prayers.]
MARKS: There are 44 separate mosques in Hamburg today, and the one Mohammed Atta visited most regularly can be found in some dimly-lit rooms above a fitness center. The Al Quds Mosque has been a focus of police investigation ever since the attacks. Its founder and President, Aziz El Alaoui Sossey, says that no one at the mosque had any involvement in Mohammed Atta’s plans.
AZIZ EL ALAOUI SOSSEY: [via a translator] I cannot say who is good or bad, it’s not written on their forehead. It’s exactly the same at church—you sit in the first row, and the priest is opposite to you, and he cannot know if you are a murderer or not. It’s the same here.
MARKS: Hamburg’s entire Moslem community has come under an investigative microscope since the city’s links to September 11th became known. That’s caused tensions between the city’s Muslims, who accuse police of racial profiling, and Hamburg’s security agencies, who say they still have more work to accomplish unraveling the city’s Al Qaeda cell. Manfred Murck heads the Office for Constitutional Security in Hamburg, an agency that focuses on undercover work here.
MANFRED MURCK: Within the more than 100,000 Muslims living in Hamburg as normal people, having their life here as good people, we think there are about, let’s say, 1,500 who have more in their minds—who are in sympathy to an interpretation of the Islam which is more radical. And within that we think we have a group about 100 who are militant Muslims, who are a real danger for us and for others. We have to communicate this, and we have to ask the others—the good guys, if I can say so—to help us find out who are the bad guys.
[The sounds of Hamburg’s notorious Rieperbahn Street.]
MARKS: Since September 11th, this northern port city has found itself seeking to preserve its traditional liberties, perhaps best-symbolized by its most famous street, the Rieperbahn. Tourist literature describes the Rieperbahn as “the world’s most sinful mile,” and after dark the casinos and brothels that operate right up against the fringes of the German law do a brisk business. But maintaining a liberal image while taking stronger measures to prevent terror groups from operating here is a tough balance to strike, and Muslim community leaders argue that the police are failing to get things right. Mustafa Yoldas of the Islamic Council of Hamburg says a series of raids on mosques have generated hostility from the local community.
YOLDAS: They should win the mosques as partners for dialog and integration. As far as you give the mosque and the Muslims the feeling that they are the underdogs of the society, you’ll go the danger that people get separated and go the way of Mohammed Atta.
MARKS: The police defend their actions. They say they’re simply trying to protect as many people as possible. Bobo Franz is the Director of Criminal Investigations for the Hamburg Police Department.
BOBO FRANZ: I think Hamburg, is as well as other cities in Germany or the Western world, a place where Muslims can live and in that sense it could be a pleasant place to live. What we do not want is to be a pleasant place to live for the fundamentalists, which are working or fighting against this society and this structure of our living and so on. That is not our aim, and we are fighting against that.
MARKS: That Hamburg should remain a pleasant place to live is a goal that both the city’s Muslims and its authorities can agree upon. But that it may never be the same, following the events of September the 11th is perhaps an inevitability. Mustafa Yoldas of the Islamic Council of Hamburg is a medical doctor who says even in his life personal relationships have changed here—perhaps forever.
YOLDAS: I have a colleague. And we had a good relationship September 11th. But after September 11th, she asked me really whether I would follow the call of Osama bin Laden for jihad. And I said, “You have not really made the acquaintanceship of mine the last years that we have been in touch together?” You see that how quickly it can turn to mistrust and suspicion.
[The sound of ringing bells.]
WANKLYN: There is in Hamburg no shortage of mistrust or suspicion today—a city that was unwittingly thrust to the forefront of the global fight against terrorism. For Common Ground, I’m Simon Marks in Hamburg, Germany.
PORTER: Coming up next, “Adopting Diego.”
MCHUGH: You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
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PORTER: International adoption can be fraught with obstacles. For the past two weeks, we’ve been following the story of a Minnesota couple as they try to adopt Diego, a Guatemalan baby. Weeks have turned to months as Lori Stern waits with Diego in Guatemala for red tape to be untangled. Lori’s husband, Dan Lake, has joined her for another of his visits to South America.
LORI JOHNSON: During Dan’s visit I interpreted a conversation he had with a 17-year-old birth mother who came to our house. The three of us sat on a bench outside while she explained she was 17, unmarried, and jobless. Dan told her he and a girlfriend had been in a similar situation 30 years earlier. Thanks to public aid they were able to keep their son. The pregnant girl shook her head in regret or disbelief. She knew adoption was her only real choice. I met six birth mothers and I heard six different stories. A birth mother who looked about my age had 11 children, the last three relinquished for adoption.
JOHNSON: [now reading from a journal entry] September 15th. We hear that Diego’s papers are about to come out of the attorney general’s office. Dan left for home a week ago. We don’t want to waste any time, so the facilitators and I take off to get Isabel. Our plan is to bring her back to Guatemala City so she can sign the final relinquishment papers in the lawyer’s office the next day. Before dinner I call the lawyer to confirm that everything is OK. “The papers have come out,” he says. “They are denying the adoption. They may decide to take Diego away.” We’ve had seven months of setbacks but this is a devastating and ominous development. For the first time I am really, really scared.
[The sound of slowly ringing church bells in the background.]
JOHNSON: I got an e-mail from my friend Donna.
DONNA: [reading the e-mail she sent to Lori, with the sound of a clacking keyboard in the background] One more?! I want to send the e-mail saga to the guy in Wellstone’s office. I have 19 pages dating back to February.
JOHNSON: Another one came from my friend Mary.
MARY: [reading the e-mail she sent to Lori, with the sound of a clacking keyboard in the background] Dan called me last night, spoke to Ryan from Wellstone’s office today. I’ve got calls in to Sara and a friend of mine who adopted. It’s just unbelievable.
JOHNSON: And Emily wrote, too.
EMILY: [reading the e-mail she sent to Lori, with the sound of a clacking keyboard in the background] I am so sorry. You don’t deserve this hell. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do. Do you want me to call Paul or Sheila Wellstone?
[The sound of Guatemalan music.]
JOHNSON: I felt so desperate I began thinking of ways we could smuggle Diego out of the country. My friends at home were working their political connections. Realizing I had nothing to lose I decided to go to the Guatemalan Attorney General’s office to find out for myself just what was going on. This time I didn’t bring my lawyer or the baby. I did bring my friend and translator, Heidi Flores. If this story has a hero, it’s Heidi. The bureaucrats were not exactly friendly, but they were more accessible than I’d been led to believe. They told us what the problems were. The lawyer and the facilitators, my main sources of information, were not to be trusted. They’d been making mistakes on the paperwork, possibly on purpose, to prolong payments from the agency. Or maybe they’d just been screwing up!
[The sound of Guatemalan music.]
JOHNSON: Confronted with the truth, the adoption agency agreed to hire a new lawyer for our case. Heidi and I could trust no one else. Methodically and lawfully the new lawyer moved forward to correct the record. The attorney general approved the adoption on November 5th. I left a message for my husband Dan. “Congratulations! You have a son!”
[The sound of Guatemalan music.]
JOHNSON: Four days later I went with a lawyer to get Isabel’s thumbprint on the final relinquishment papers.
[The sound of a moving truck.]
JOHNSON: On November 9th we pull up in the little parking lot down from the market at Santiago Atitlan City Hall. The lawyer pulls out his folder. Isabel offers her thumb with a smile. It’s done in two seconds. The final relinquishment. She and I and the kids go off to breakfast and the lawyer heads to the mayor’s office to apply for a birth certificate with Diego’s new name. Isabel picks the most private corner of the closest restaurant. There are three choices. Beans, eggs, eggs and beans.
[Lori continues narrating with sounds of the restaurant in the background.]
JOHNSON: We all have eggs and beans and coffee, which is Nescafe, despite the fact that primo coffee beans are growing all around us. I show them some photos from Dan’s last visit. They are excited to see them. Isabel tells me Diego looks “bien gourdo.” Literally, “very fat”—a compliment. She tells me Dan looks “bien gourdo,” too. After they’ve looked at the photos a while I slide 3,000 katzales??, about $400, across the table. Isabel doesn’t count it. She just slips it under a little cloth she carries like a handbag. We eat breakfast hungrily. Isabel tells me she’s eight months pregnant. She’s so tiny and the way her skirt is I couldn’t tell. But I finally understand how she could have kept Diego a secret. All four kids have the same father, she tells me proudly. He’s a soldier, a sergeant, and also “gourdo.” The problem is he’s drunk all the time and he gives her no money.
[The sound of street traffic.]
JOHNSON: When we walk back to the parking lot the lawyer is nowhere in sight. Isabel hoists Juan onto the hood of his pickup and says, “Wait for me.” Then she heads for the market. After a little while I pull out Diego’s hackey-sack ball and we start a game of catch. Juan is not so good at catching but Josepha?? is great.
[The sound of children playing.]
JOHNSON: Once in a while Juan throws it harder, away on purpose. Josepha?? never does. They both laugh a lot. Especially when I pretend the ball is hot and make a funny catch. They are so like Diego. Juan looks like him and has that same tough vulnerability. Josepha?? is even more beautiful than last time I saw her. And her laugh and sunniness are just like Diego’s. I keep thinking how much he would fit in here. The road not taken. Not that he had anything to say about it.
[The sound of children playing.]
The lawyer shows up before Isabel does. City hall has told him the form we need will take another week. He shakes his head and says, “Don’t worry. We’ll have it by noon.” In the truck heading back to drop Isabel off, I ask him how much he had to pay to expedite it. He says “Very little. About $30.” We drive Isabel and the kids back to their neighborhood, down a dusty dirt road with coffee trees on one side and four-deep cane shacks with thatched roofs on the other. You can see wooden moons in some people’s yards. The shacks are tiny, maybe 10 foot square. Pint-sized kids are playing naked in the ditch. Then I go to reclaim Diego. He’s with a housekeeper at the inn where we stayed the night before. It’s the first time I’ve ever left him with a stranger.
[The sound of Lori greeting Diego.]
JOHNSON: He comes running toward me holding a book of matches, kind of laughing and crying at the same time. Happy to see me but mad at me for having gone. There are no words for what I’m feeling, knowing he’s finally ours. We head back to the parking area around 11. And the lawyer disappears for a long hour. He comes back with a folder. It’s noon, November 9th. And it’s done. He shows me the new birth certificate. Diego Rodrigo Luke Stern.
[The sound of Guatemalan music.]
JOHNSON: At last we can think about going home.
[The sound of Guatemalan music.]
JOHNSON: Adoption is dicey by definition. Usually a transaction between unequals. This is as true for domestic adoptions as it is for international ones. It takes money to adopt and desperation to relinquish a baby. The business is dominated by nonprofit agencies but still largely unregulated. There’s plenty of room for opportunism and abuse. Especially in poor countries where more people need a hustle to make ends meet. It’s an imperfect system in an unfair world. A recent, highly publicized UNICEF report said most Guatemalan adoptions are illegal. But the report cited no source, admitted the information was mostly anecdotal, and based on only 11 days of investigation.
In our case the Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office rejected the adoption five times. These rejections made the examples of what the report called “illegality.” But to me they were signs the regulators were doing their jobs. Some of the adopting families I met in Guatemala were wealthy, but most were middle class professionals or working class. Some established long-lasting relationships with the birth mothers. One friend of mine who adopted two unrelated infants is helping both birth families start small businesses in Guatemala City. Other families are contributing substantially to nonprofits that support Guatemalan families. Most feel a new permanent connection and responsibility to the country.
We love our son and don’t feel as if we bought him. What we did was exercise a privilege.
[The sound of Diego playing.]
JOHNSON: Diego will know that he laughs just like his biological sister and that children in his village wear traditional clothes and go barefoot. We hope he will care about his connection to Guatemala and the Tzotzil. In a better world the choices in the adoption process would be different. In the real world Diego’s birth mother can now afford to keep her fourth child. Estella, his foster mother, earned a few months’ living by caring for him. And Dan’s life and mine have been immeasurably enriched. And we must trust that Diego will benefit from the decisions we all made to change his circumstances, and so the course of his life.
[The sound of Guatemalan music, and of Diego playing and laughing.]
PORTER: Lori and Diego returned to Minneapolis on Thanksgiving of 1999, 10 months after Lori first traveled to Guatemala. “Adopting Diego” is part of the For Kids’ Sake radio series.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security