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BRIAN ALEXANDER: The message it seems that he’s sending to the Cuban people is that, “Stay in Cuba and stay quiet, or leave and you could potentially die.”
KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, Cuba’s dissident crackdown.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: And Cambodia struggles to cope with criminals deported from the US.
BILL HERROD: Some of those coming don’t speak Khmer. They know nothing about the culture, the economy of Cambodia. So it will be very, very difficult for them to integrate.
MCHUGH: Plus, young Iranians take to the ski slopes.
BEHNAZ ASHTARI: [via a translator] Because there is less pressure and fewer controls than in the city, they like to be there. Because it’s a comfortable place, they like to go there. The way women dress is freer and more comfortable.
PORTER: These stories—coming up next.
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MCHUGH: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Kristin McHugh.
PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. While much of the world’s attention was focused on Iraq, a massive crackdown was going on right next door to the United States, in Cuba. The communist island arrested 75 of its most prominent dissidents and gave them prison sentences ranging from 6 to 28 years. And in a move that shocked the international community even more, three people were executed for hijacking a ferry and trying to come to the United States. Judith Smelser has the story.
JUDITH SMELSER: The crackdown came as a surprise to some observers, coming as it did on the heels of an apparent relaxation of state control in Cuba. Havana has linked the arrests directly to the United States, accusing the dissidents of conspiring with US diplomats on the island to undermine the Cuban government. Dagoberto Rodriguez is the Chief Diplomat at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington.
CUBAN DIPLOMAT DAGOBERTO RODRIGUEZ: [via a translator] We have moved against people who were acting in favor of an international entity, an entity that has declared Cuba an enemy nation. We hope that the majority of the American people will understand our reasons for defending our sovereignty, defending our independence, defending and maintaining our identity.
SMELSER: Indeed, Washington’s top diplomat in Havana, James Cason, has been active in reaching out to democracy activists. He’s provided them with radios and books by the likes of Martin Luther King, and he even held a seminar on independent journalism in his home. But State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said nothing he did was out of line.
STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN RICHARD BOUCHER: The activities of our diplomats in Cuba are similar to the activities that we carry out around the world. We think that this response by Cuba is a response to the growing opposition movement on the island and the increasing desire of change among the population. Our Chief of Mission, Jim Cason, has traveled around the island. He has visited with Cuban people in their homes. He has visited independent libraries. He has visited other independent voices.
SMELSER: But some in Washington are questioning the wisdom of that kind of outreach. Brian Alexander is the former executive director of the Cuba Policy Foundation, a group which has been critical of US policy towards the island.
BRIAN ALEXANDER: I think we face a moral dilemma. On the one hand, we see a population and a people in desperate need for improved freedoms, and on the other hand, we see that the medicine we administer to help facilitate greater freedom on the island can potentially only make the disease worse by providing Castro an excuse to crack down.
SMELSER: The Cuba Policy Foundation has traditionally been opposed to the long-standing US trade embargo on Cuba. But in an indication of the impact of this crackdown, the organization effectively disbanded when Alexander and the entire board of directors resigned in protest against Castro’s actions. Alexander says there are many theories about why the Cuban leader cracked down when he did, and one of them supports the argument that the embargo actually helps keep Castro in power.
ALEXANDER: One theory that often gets discussed is that Fidel Castro in fact wants the embargo, and that knowing that this crackdown would spawn a negative reaction in the United States and potentially set back initiatives in the United States to lift the embargo, this was the kind of thing that Castro could use to kill progress toward easing the embargo.
SMELSER: Advocates of lifting the embargo believe it hurts the Cuban people while providing Castro with a scapegoat for his country’s flagging economy. But another theory explaining the recent crackdown assumes that the Cuban leader did, in fact, want the embargo lifted, but felt that the US administration was determined to oppose efforts to do that. Dennis Hays with the anti-Castro, pro-embargo Cuban American National Foundation explains that view.
DENNIS HAYS: I think with the President and the administration taking a very firm position that that wasn’t going to happen, that we needed to see democratic reforms in Cuba before we change the embargo, that he did in fact realize that this wasn’t going to happen. And therefore it may be that he calculated, since he had the threat on one side of a rapidly expanding civil society and on the other hand he wasn’t getting the benefits he thought, that he figured he had nothing to lose.
SMELSER: But that, says Hays, may have been a miscalculation. For one thing, he says, it could put a serious damper on the parade of celebrities that have been traveling to Cuba at Castro’s invitation.
HAYS: We see people—American delegations—for many years now, it’s been sort of “We can go have a six-hour lobster dinner with Fidel,” and kind of like going to Jurassic Park, as it’s said. But I can’t imagine—I mean who would want to go there to Cuba at this point?
SMELSER: And it’s not just the special delegations that might drop off. Tourism has replaced sugar in Cuba as a key source of revenue for the country’s struggling economy, and it’s not yet clear whether the crackdown will make the communist island a less attractive vacation spot. The moves against Cuban dissidents coincided with a spate of plane and boat hijackings by Cubans trying to get to America. Havana blames Washington for adopting a tolerant attitude towards these attempts. Again, Dagoberto Rodriguez, of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington.
DAGOBERTO RODRIGUEZ: [via a translator] During this period we have observed seven violent hijackings of boats or planes from Cuba to the United States and we have not seen clear or firm action from the US government to deter these actions.
SMELSER: But Washington has leveled a similar charge against Havana. State Department Spokesman Phillip Reeker addressed the issue in the midst of the crisis.
STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN PHILLIP REEKER: Two hijackings in two weeks indicates that there is a lack of airport security. And while they are using police and security forces to arrest human rights activists, people promoting democracy, and journalists, they might better use those individuals to follow what they should be trained to do, and that is to make sure that laws are abided by and that their airports are secure and not the subject of hijackings.
SMELSER: But this issue became much more than just a diplomatic spat when three men who staged a botched hijacking of a ferry boat were executed by firing squad. Brian Alexander, formerly of the Cuban Policy Foundation, says it’s impossible to know whether the crackdown on dissidents was at all related to the hijackings and the subsequent executions. But he says through those two events, Fidel Castro sent a clear message.
ALEXANDER: The message it seems that he’s sending to the Cuban people is that, “Stay in Cuba and stay quiet, or leave and you could potentially die.”
SMELSER: For Common Ground, I’m Judith Smelser.
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MCHUGH: Cambodia is still a politically fragile country struggling to emerge from three decades of civil war. Now 1,400 Cambodians, all of them convicted felons living in the United States, are returning to Cambodia. When Keith and I were there on assignment earlier this year we met some of these long-time American residents who have been returned to a country they barely know—and one American who is trying to help them. Keith has the story from Phnom Penh.
[The sound of a bird singing.]
PORTER: Aun, who doesn’t want to share is last name, was nine years old when he fled the genocidal rampage of the Khmer Rouge. His family was welcomed in the United States and settled outside Dallas, Texas. For 22 years, Aun lived the life of an average American.
AUN: I went to school, elementary school. I didn’t finish high school but then I went back and got my GED. So I work a lot of places like assembly line and test operator; test microchip quality.
PORTER: When he was 24 years old, Aun committed a crime.
AUN: It was robbery. I didn’t have a job so, and then I just, probably just, you know, just hang with the wrong crowd. And you just want to do the short-cut, you know. Don’t want to do the right way. And then you think it negative and you just wanna get something the easy way.
PORTER: For his crime, Aun completed a seven-year sentence in prison, but his punishment wasn’t over. On his release day, he was turned over to the US Immigration and Naturalization Service who took him to a detention center where he was held for another seven months. And then he was sent back to Cambodia—a country he was driven from so many years ago. Aun is one of about 10 felons from the United States arriving in Phnom Penh every month. All have completed their prison sentences and most are long-time residents of the United States.
BILL HERROD: Most of the individuals went as small children.
PORTER: Bill Herrod is an American who runs the Returnee Assistance Project, a nonprofit charity devoted to helping these former prisoners re-start their lives in what amounts to a foreign country.
HERROD: So if you get right down to it they’re not citizens because their parents did not get citizenship for whatever reason—too busy, too poor, didn’t understand, didn’t know how to handle the paperwork, didn’t think it was important—whatever. In addition to not being US citizens they have some sort of felony conviction, ranging from essentially mickey mouse domestic disputes to very serious, including manslaughter, and everything in between. But the combination of those two things—if they have a felony conviction and they’re not US citizens, under current law and practice, deportation is mandatory. So there’s no, there’s no appeal. There’s no consideration of that. If they meet those conditions then they’re gonna be deported.
PORTER: [interviewing Aun] During all that time, why didn’t you apply for US citizenship?
AUN: Well, I didn’t, you know, I was pretty much comfortable with the permanent resident and I didn’t realize, you know, I’m gonna make a mistake like this. So I didn’t expect that.
PORTER: Do you have family here or anyone you know?
AUN: I don’t have no family here. Nobody I know here.
PORTER: Another returnee, known as Buunath, came to the United States as a Cambodian refugee when he was six years old. He was convicted of attempted murder and completed a six-month prison term before being deported back to Cambodia.
BUUNATH: I miss the most, it’s my family, especially my Mom. She’s too old already. So I never see them again the rest of my life. Yeah, I miss—especially I miss my Mom. Life in Cambodia kind of bad.
HERROD: They have no connection with contemporary Cambodia.
PORTER: Again, Bill Herrod of the Returnee Assistance Project.
HERROD: Some of those coming don’t speak Khmer. They know nothing about the culture, economy of Cambodia, so it will be very, very difficult for them to integrate.
PORTER: Bill, one tough question I guess that listeners will have has to do with the sympathy factor. I mean, they’ll say, “Well, these are people who didn’t pursue citizenship. They committed a crime. Why not send ’em back? Why—there are a lot of people in the world I should feel sorry for. You know, it’s hard for me to get worked up about this.” How do you respond to those kind of questions.
HERROD: Well, several factors. First, the deportation to Cambodia of many of these people will create—will create—a serious social problem for Cambodia. Why does the United States want to do that? Secondly, many of these individuals, including a couple of the ones you’ve interviewed, have real skills and talents that they could and would cheerfully contribute to the United States. Thirdly, many of these people have American citizen spouses and children. So you’re splitting up families which doesn’t help—it doesn’t help America to have the bread earner taken away. So I think there are a number of factors like that that need to be considered. And that’s again why I’m saying that case-by-case review would allow a judge to examine situations and see if the person has reformed, if, if they’re no longer involved in criminal activity and have established themselves through their family and job as being stable, contributing members of society, why rip them away and send them to Cambodia.
PORTER: Over the next few years, 1,400 of these long-time American resident will be sent back to Cambodia. Herrod says most of them have already lived tragic lives.
HERROD: Many of them are orphans. Several of them just extremely tragic cases of being essentially the sole survivor of their whole family. I think of one of them whose father was bayoneted to death in combat and his mother died of malnutrition just after they got to Thailand. So they’ve grown up having been kicked around from a very early age. So by the time they go to the States they were already damaged people.
PORTER: Now these returnees are bringing their troubled lives to one of the poorest countries in Asia. Herrod says he’ll measure the success in his assistance program by pure survival.
HERROD: We’re looking at the beginnings of violence. Some of it is gang related. Some of these guys, because of their background in gangs and in prison, when they fight, they fight very seriously. But we’re also talking about people who have experience in using assault rifles, machine guns, and those weapons are available here. One of the returnees himself said to me that there were hundreds of gang members from opposing gangs who were in INS detention in the States awaiting deportation. He said they’re all going to come here into this building with a sworn enmity for each other. And they will fight each other in the streets of Phnom Penh. I said to him, “How are we—you and I—how are we going to stop that?” And he said, “We can’t.” Well, I think we can try. And that’s where I say we’ll measure this success in survival rates. How many of those we can keep from killing each other.
PORTER: Bill Herrod runs the Returnee Assistance Project in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
MCHUGH: The search for Hassan, next on Common Ground.
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PORTER: Imagine trying to find a family friend you lost touch with 30 years ago. Then consider that you live in the United States and the person you’re trying to reach lives in Iran. Essentially, that’s the plot of a real life adventure detailed in a new book titled Searching for Hassan. Recently Common Ground‘s Cliff Brockman talked with author Terence Ward about his search for his family’s former cook, the contemporary Iran he discovered along the way, and the incorrect views he believes Americans have of Iran.
TERENCE WARD: Hassan was like our—not just a cook, but he was like a Persian father, our cultural guide into his culture. And Iran is, remember, ancient Persia. It’s a dramatic country. And it spellbinds virtually anybody who’s ever lived there. And so we were always haunted with this idea of “What happened to Hassan and how could we go back and find him?”
CLIFF BROCKMAN: I don’t think it’s a big secret that you did find him and his family. How did you track him down?
WARD: Well, actually, Cliff, it was a bit more difficult than one can imagine. Because all we had was a black and white photograph from 1963, of Hassan standing next to his wife Fatima. And we had my mother’s faded memory of the name of an ancestral village somewhere lost in the remote mountains of central Iran. And with a country of two million Hassans, no phone, no address, it was really daunting.
BROCKMAN: You finally met at a hotel. Can you tell us what that was like?
WARD: It was hysterical. Because we had just by accident stumbled across the mother-in-law in this tiny village that it turned out my mother’s memory had been correct. And we had been told that they had all died. And just through accident we were then led down an alleyway. We found the mother-in-law. And then this great reunion took place in the Hotel Abbasi, which was known as the Shabaz(?). And I mean, there were tears, there was weeping, there was celebrations. And then we began this huge Babette’s feast that lasted for about four or five days.
BROCKMAN: Now this was in 1998. Have you stayed in touch with them since?
WARD: Yes. As a matter of fact I’ve been back there twice now. And my brothers have even brought back their wives to visit their Persian father and their Persian mother. Surprisingly enough, on September 11th I got a phone call from Hassan, just after those horrific events. And on that day he and his wife were just mortified at what had happened. And I think this is one of the things that very few Americans understand. That we are loved over in Iran. The people of Iran love the people of America.
BROCKMAN: Your book is kind of a travelogue, or a travel memoir if you will, about your trip and your observations of current day Iran, kind of compared to when you lived there before. What are some of the major changes you did notice from 30 years ago?
WARD: Well, I’ll tell you, the most interesting element is really this new generation, what some people call Khomeni’s children. But if you can imagine, Hassan and Fatima, at the age of six, thrust into working for a living. They had no education. They never went to school. They spoke English, of course, which was how we communicated, and also through Farsi. But, their children, if you can imagine, Ali is a commander in the Navy, in the Persian Gulf. Maryam is a teacher, university graduate who speaks to women’s groups that number three, four hundred and lectures them on social issues and a whole host of other things. Mahoi, the other son, was a university graduate, master’s degree in electrical engineering and is running all the telecommunications in the Isfahan Steel Company. What they represent for me is in fact this new generation—literate, intelligent, highly critical of the current hardline unelected regime. Very, very optimistic for the future. And extraordinarily brave and courageous. And this is what actually we have to look for in Iran. And understand that we have some huge allies in that culture.
BROCKMAN: Now you say there are some misconceptions, common misconceptions, about Iran that you point out in your book. What are some of them?
WARD: Well, Iranians are not Arabs. That’s the first. I mean, it’s one of the great insults you can say. It’s like calling somebody from Montana a Mississippian. I mean, they are a completely different people with a 2,500 year civilization, one of the richest cultures in the world next to China, India, and Italy. And the other misconception is that we think of them in this hardened media image when, in fact, not only do they love Americans, but it’s also the leading democracy in that part of the world.
BROCKMAN: You’ve mentioned a couple of times that the Iranians are generally pro-West, but there’s also an anti-West faction that you talk about in the book. How can that be at the same time?
WARD: Well, what in fact happens is, you have a small clique that are ruling that were, that have their place not through any direct election. And that clique has been keeping these hardline policies in place for a number of years .What one doesn’t really see in the news is that 80 to 90 percent of the people have in polls reported that they would like to see ties restored with America.
BROCKMAN: I’m guessing that you probably do not agree with President Bush’s naming Iran as one of the Axis of Evil states.
WARD: Well, I’ll give you a simple example. By saying that he immediately emboldened the hardliners. By saying that he immediately allowed the hardliners to turn and claim anybody who wasn’t supporting them was not a patriot.
BROCKMAN: Terence, after reading your book and talking with you here it’s obvious that you’re a person that really loves Iran and its culture, its people, its heritage, its history. What are your hopes for the country and its future?
WARD: The country is changing. It’s changing every day. People have lost their fear. They’re courageous, brave. There’s more democratic dissent and discussion on the streets than you would find in any political science class in the United States. The youth are so aware and they know the change is coming. I think one huge miscalculation would be to use Iraq as a staging ground for trying to interfere in Iranian domestic politics. Because at that stage it’s going to embolden the hardliners and probably give them another 10 years of power.
BROCKMAN: Terence Ward is the author of Searching for Hassan—A Journey to the Heart of Iran. For Common Ground, I’m Cliff Brockman.
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MCHUGH: Over the past six years, Iran’s large youth population has helped sweep reformists into the country’s presidency and parliament. Today, many of Iran’s voters have become disillusioned with promises of reform that have not been delivered. But, Roxana Saberi visited one place that’s a testimony to how much the country has changed in recent years.
[The sound of street traffic in Tehran.]
ROXANA SABERI: The streets of Iran’s busy capital can be stifling.
[The sound of street traffic in Tehran.]
SABERI: But drive about an hour north of Tehran to the ski slopes of Shemshak….
[The sound of skiing.]
SABERI: …and you might feel as if you’ve stepped into a different country.
UNIDENTIFIED YOUNG IRANIAN WOMAN: I think that we have nothing less than European or American people, young people in fun and other entertainment of life.
SABERI: There are 21 ski areas in Iran, though skiing is a fairly exclusive sport here because only wealthier Iranians can afford it. The prices range from around $4 to $16 a day, depending on when you go and if you rent equipment. That may be inexpensive to many Westerners. But for Iranians, who officially make an average of about 13 million rials, or $1,700 a person a year, the cost can be substantial.
[The sounds of people waiting for a ski lift.]
SABERI: Yet the lines here are long: managers say up to 3,000 people visit Shemshak on the weekends, and the resort has plans to expand to accommodate the crowds. Many of the visitors are young people, escaping from the restrictions of their day-to-day lives in Tehran. In the city young men and women walk on the streets and eat at restaurants together. But mixing at parties with dancing, loud music, and sparse clothing is illegal. It’s subject to punishment, which is usually a fine.
[The sound of young Iranian men and women talking to each other at a ski resort.]
SABERI: Here men and women mix more freely than elsewhere. They gather on the slopes and at the refreshment stands, laughing and occasionally exchanging phone numbers.
UNIDENTIFIED YOUNG IRANIAN WOMAN: We just want to have fun and don’t care to limitations. It’s good. No problem.
SABERI: Indeed, limitations are more lenient here than in the city. Many women like the ski slopes because the dress code is much more relaxed. Though they have to wear some sort of head covering, many replace the usual head scarf with a stylish winter cap. And many don’t sport the long coats they do in town.
LEILA: [via a translator] Only here I can dress like this. Nowhere else.
BEHNAZ: [via a translator] There are still some controls there, but it’s freer.
SABERI: Behnaz, a researcher of women’s studies in Iran, who asked that her last name not be used, says young people feel more relaxed on the slopes.
BEHNAZ: [via a translator] Because there is less pressure and fewer controls than in the city, they like to be there. Because it’s a comfortable place, they like to go there. The way women dress is freer and more comfortable.
SABERI: The slopes haven’t always been like this: in many ways, Shemshak reflects how life has changed in Iran since Mohammad Reza Shah built the resort 45 years ago. He used to come here by helicopter, to ski.
MOUSSA SHEMSHAKI: [via a translator] In the Shah’s time, men and women could mix on the slopes, but after the Revolution, the conditions changed.
SABERI: Shemshak manager Mousa Shemshaki saw how Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979 brought many changes.
SHEMSHAKI: There were two separate slopes, one for women and one for men. And they used the Islamic head covering after the Revolution, and still they use it.
[The sounds of a ski lift.]
SABERI: Today at Shemshak, men and women are required to stand in separate lines for the ski lifts, and they can only ride with the same gender. But in the past few years, they’ve been able to mix on the slopes. It’s common to see young men and women teaching one another how to snowboard. As the rules have gradually become less strict, young Tehranis like 21-year-old Leila, seem to feel more at ease to say what’s on their minds.
LEILA: [via a translator] There’s a difference between girls and boys. Boys have more freedom and more power.
SABERI: Other young skiers here say they’ve become disillusioned by the slow pace of reform in recent years. Several, like this Tehrani woman who preferred not to be named, didn’t bother to vote in the recent municipal elections.
UNIDENTIFIED YOUNG IRANIAN WOMAN: Because I was at skiing. I didn’t go there. I preferred to come here and you know, have, do the ski and have fun. You know, it’s better.
SABERI: Nowadays skiing here may be less popular among Westerners than it was before the Revolution. But for Iranians, these slopes—10,000 feet high—have become a different culture within their own country. They’re a snapshot of what’s changed in the past 24 years—a peek into the minds of many young Iranians and possibly, a forecast of their future. For Common Ground, I’m Roxana Saberi in Tehran.
PORTER: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: I’m Kristin McHugh.
KEITH PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, more problems for foreign students trying to go to school in the United States.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR CONSULAR AFFAIRS, MAURA HARTY: I don’t believe that we have to choose between secure borders and open doors. It is incumbent upon us all to do both.
PORTER: Plus, the global impact of cancer. And examining Stalin’s legacy in Russia.
DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF THE RUSSIAN MODERN HISTORY MUSEUM TAMARA KAZAKOVA: [via a translator] We were so socially tense all these years that it was impossible to have a calm exhibition like that. Some time had to pass and we had to calm down.
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MCHUGH: Nearly one million students and academics travel from other countries to learn at America’s colleges and universities. By August 1, 2003, they’re required to apply to enter the US through SEVIS, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. It was supposed to be a simple and secure method of double-checking that applicants are who they say they are, but it’s not working out that way. Priscilla Huff has an update on the new student visa process.
[The sound of typing.]
HUFF: Trying to check the status of its international students, Cornell University discovered it was accessing Harvard’s data. George Mason University, a state school outside Washington, DC, pulled up the records of a Princeton student, enrolled in New Jersey. Needless to say, educators are not impressed with the new Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.
MARLENE JOHNSON: The monitoring system, the SEVIS system, is still, in our view, broken.
HUFF: Marlene Johnson is the Executive Director of the Association of International Educators.
JOHNSON: From the standpoint of the students and the schools, the system is at best an inefficient screening process.
HUFF: SEVIS is designed to be private—a school should only be able to look at its own data. It’s supposed to be an essentially paperless process, based on the Internet. Administrators complain if applicants data is entered incorrectly, even by accident, there’s no way to change it. Worse, they’ve been locked out of the system at times, or processing has been delayed so badly, applicants have missed enrollment dates and international conferences. Janice Jacobs with the State Department insists, however there is some good news.
JANICE JACOBS: Ninety-seven percent of people who apply for visas normally have a decision within one to two days. It’s a very small percentage of the overall number of applicant students that are actually subject to these new clearance procedures.
HUFF: And the other good news is that, across the board, the number of students and scholars applying to travel to the US is remaining at the same level. Peggy Blumenthal with the Institute for International Education.
PEGGY BLUMENTHAL: The top sending countries—India, China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Canada, Mexico—these are not countries with, that are really feeling the heat of the new regulations, although India has a large Muslim population obviously there, so there is some issues there. But there are huge numbers of Indian students and Chinese students continuing to apply, many getting turned down in their visa applications and many getting approved.
HUFF: Those not getting approved are more likely to come from the Persian Gulf region. Peggy Blumenthal.
BLUMENTHAL: Campuses that recruit heavily in the Middle East or in Southeast Asia, certainly are very hard hit by some of these issues.
HUFF: That’s because SEVIS has its roots in a key circumstance of the 9/11 hijackings. Six months after the tragedy, a flight school in Florida received approval to switch two of the hijackers visas from visitor status to student status. Legislators are keeping a sharp eye on the new student visa system, motivated by the fear of another September 11th type tragedy. Indiana Republican Congressman John Hostetler now chairs the Immigration panel of the House Judiciary Committee.
US REPRESENTATIVE JOHN HOSTELER: Those problems cause tensions between foreign students and these institutions of higher learning and so there’s a big concern overall that the impact of a system not well implemented will have ramifications down the road on these universities and colleges.
HUFF: And impact on the students who come to study here. Janice Jacobs with the State Department wants to work with the intelligence agencies and the Department of Homeland Security to make sure the wrinkles are ironed out.
JACOBS: While I’m in this job, if I do nothing else, what I would like to do is to introduce predictability back into this system. I think that that is perhaps what has been the most frustrating part for the people caught up in delays after 9/11. You don’t really mind waiting—well you may mind waiting for three months for a visa, but if you know that at the end of three months a decision will be made, I think that’s a lot easier to deal with than sort of being left in limbo and not knowing.
HUFF: Data entry, Internet access, documentation, software bugs and cost are just some of the problems with SEVIS. Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs, Maura Harty, says Washington is committed to making the system work
ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR CONSULAR AFFAIRS, MAURA HARTY: I don’t believe that we have to choose between secure borders and open doors. It is incumbent upon us all to do both. We hope that the very valuable asset of international exchange continues to thrive in a nation that is both open and secure for its citizens as well as those who would come to join us.
HUFF: Educators, administrators, and government officials do agree on the bottom line. Opportunities to learn in the US have a greater value than just tuition dollars, and they’ve got to figure out how best to make sure the greatest number of students can take advantage of an American education, while keeping the bad apples out. For Common Ground, I’m Priscilla Huff.
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MCHUGH: The World Health Organization has published a report on the global impact of cancer. It’s the most comprehensive study of the disease ever conducted, using data compiled in every region in the world. Jude Landau has more from London.
JUDE LANDAU: By 2020 cancer rates worldwide could increase by 50 percent. That’s 15 million new cases. It makes sobering reading. The 301-page global report issued by the International Agency for Research on Cancer on behalf of World Health Organization, sets out the causes, types, detection, and treatment of cancers. It’s a study that spans continents, and took three years to complete. The report’s co-author Dr. Bernard Stewart.
DR. BERNARD STEWART: The situation in developed countries such as Western Europe, North America, and Australia is that lung cancer is the main cause of death for men and breast cancer is the main cause of death for women.
LANDAU: Tobacco-related diseases contributed to a hundred million deaths in the last century. The World Health Organization sees it as a priority to prevent these types of cancers by lobbying governments to take action on smoking. Dr. Rafael Bengoa is the Director of Management of noncommunicable disease at World Health headquarters in Geneva.
DR. RAFAEL BENGOA: The tobacco industry has had an organized campaign on children, on women, before on men in a extremely marketed and organized way which they are now duplicating in less developed countries. We are putting a face to the diseases that need to be attacked in relation to another activity which is being undertaken by WHO and member states which is the framework convention on tobacco control.
LANDAU: Its something the British government has tried to tackle through a concerted campaign to help people give up smoking.
BRITISH ANTI-SMOKING COMMERCIAL: Cancer spreads and it develops fast.
LANDAU: This hard-hitting public awareness commercial was put out by the British governments’ Ministry of Health.
BRITISH ANTI-SMOKING COMMERCIAL: That white little stick that you put in your mouth. For help and advice about giving up smoking….
LANDAU: It’s a move that anti smoking lobby groups welcome. Amanda Sanford is from ASH.
AMANDA SANFORD: The UK government really should be congratulated on this initiative of setting up these publicly funded specialist clinics around the country. It’s paying off and you know, we’d like to see other countries follow suit.
LANDAU: The government of Finland has already seen a significant reduction of cancer rates in men since it introduced tough laws on smoking in the 1970s, though smoking in Central and Eastern Europe and many developing countries is on the increase. WHO says it’s the responsibility of governments to stop this trend. Reducing smoking is considered the most effective way to combat lung cancers, but screening, particularly for cervical and breast cancer, would have an impact in the developing world.
But the report shows a more worrying trend: a worldwide inequality between rich and poor countries in the treatment and detection of cancer. The next major battle will be to ensure that multinational drug companies do not price treatments for cancer way beyond the reach of countries in the developing world. It has the potential to be a similar battle to the one currently being waged against AIDS. Dr. Stuart again.
DR. STUART: WHO has put together a basic cancer drug list and many of these drugs are outside patent and other commercial restrictions and hopefully will become more readily available in developing countries. But in the final analysis a third of all cancers, under even optimal conditions, will be lethal. And that requires a separate set of circumstances which are circumstances that provide for adequate quality of life and adequate pain relief. And again, Western industrialized countries not surprisingly are way ahead of the developing nations in terms of the availability of good palliative care and adequate pain relief.
LANDAU: The report ends on an upbeat note. Many of the cancers which occur are self-inflicted by eating fast food and doing little or no exercise. The effects can be reversed. What is most surprising is that certain infections which could lead to cancer can be stopped in their tracks at an early stage, diseases such as hepatitis B and C, cervical viruses, and viruses associated with the stomach. Dr. Bengoa again.
DR. BENGOA: Our hope is that governments of all types of countries, both developed, less developed, understand that they can prevent without waiting for any magic treatment, any magic bullet on the treatment side, they can prevent one third of the cancers that are coming if they act on the risk factors.
LANDAU: For wealthy countries the cure may be a less difficult pill to swallow. For Common Ground, I’m Jude Landau in London.
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PORTER: Russia remains at odds with the US and Britain over how to manage post-war Iraq. Russia says that until weapons of mass destruction are found, United Nations sanctions against Baghdad should not be lifted.
MCHUGH: During their last meeting, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin both claimed that the main purpose of the visit was to narrow the rift between Moscow and London, a divide which occurred as a result of differences over Iraq. Britain also wants to convince the Kremlin that the United Nations sanctions against Baghdad must now be lifted now that the war is over. But nearly six hours of talks seemed to have brought no result. Shortly after the meeting the Russian President said that until coalition forces find conclusive proof of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the sanctions should remain in place.
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [via a translator] The sanctions against Iraq were based on the suspicion that this country has weapons of mass destruction. And from a purely legal point of view they can only be lifted once it has been fully and clearly established that no such weapons exist.
MCHUGH: The Russian leader also wondered where Saddam Hussein really was.
PRESIDENT PUTIN: [via a translator] Where is Saddam? Where are these arsenals if they were really there? Maybe he’s sitting somewhere in a secret bunker with plans to blow all this stuff up at the last minute, threatening hundreds of human lives. We don’t know, but we have to find answers.
MCHUGH: Tony Blair, however, said he was confident Iraqi weapons will be found.
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIR: What he’s just said there has not disappointed me. I think it’s important that we find exactly what has happened in Iraq. I’m confident that we will. Time will tell. I’m confident time will tell. And it’s important for the whole of the world that we know exactly what has happened. Because one thing is for sure—Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and has been pursuing a program for weapons of mass destruction over a long period of time. That’s established fact. That’s there in the United Nations and there in all the resolutions the UN has passed.
MCHUGH: Analysts say Russia’s tough stance on Iraq is mostly based on the desire to protect its economic interests. Baghdad owes billions of dollars to Moscow and it signed lucrative oil contracts with Russian oil companies before the war. Tony Blair meanwhile, suggested that Russia and other nations should embrace a new strategic partnership with the United States and warned of possible consequences if the world fails to put behind the divisions created by the Iraqi conflict.
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Our other colleagues on the Security Council prepared to accept that our soldiers, having fought and died in respect of this war in Iraq, cannot simply hand over Iraq to the sole charge of the UN whilst coalition forces are on the ground stabilizing the situation. Now, that’s the first test of whether this partnership can be made to work again.
[Blair is interrupted by someone speaking rapidly]
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Sir, if you’ll just give me one moment. That’s the first test of whether this partnership can be made to work again. And I think that it can be made to work but it requires goodwill and it requires a real vision and acceptance that this strategic partnership is the only alternative to a world in which we break up into different poles of power, acting as rivals to one another, with every single dispute in the world being played off against these different poles of power. That is a real danger for our world.
MCHUGH: Although the two leaders spoke about the importance of improving the diplomatic relations shattered by the Iraq war, they didn’t seem to fully understand each other. Analysts in Moscow agree that neither Russia nor the United States or Britain is prepared to make compromises, especially now when the future of Iraq is at stake.
PORTER: Coming up, Russians contemplate Stalin’s legacy. You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
PORTER: Fifty years after the death of Soviet Dictator Josef Stalin, many Russians are still divided over his role in the country’s history. A recent poll suggests more than 53 percent of all Russians still think that Stalin’s role was mostly positive, and only 33 percent said it was negative. A newly opened exhibition in Moscow, all dedicated to Stalin’s rule, supports both views. Anya Ardayeva reports from Moscow.
[Sounds from Josef Stalin’s state funeral.]
ANYA ARDAYEVA: Just hours after Joseph Stalin’s death in March 1953 dozens of people were killed in a stampede as massive crowds gathered in central Moscow to say a final goodbye to the beloved leader. But a film about Stalin’s funeral, on display at the Russian Museum of Modern History in Moscow, doesn’t even mention the deaths. What visitors see is the official state version of the event, with children looking sad and carrying flowers and Communist Party leaders praising their deceased leader. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the name of Josef Stalin became a symbol of repression and a reminder of the 20 million people who were killed under his rule. Now, 12 years later, Russians are taking another look at those dark times in their history and asking surprising questions about Stalin’s role.
DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF THE RUSSIAN MODERN HISTORY MUSEUM TAMARA KAZAKOVA: [via a translator] We were so socially tense all these years that it was impossible to have a calm exhibition like that. Some time had to pass and we had to calm down.
ARDAYEVA: Tamara Kazakova is the museum’s deputy director.
KAZAKOVA: [via a translator] When we stop feeling emotional, when we stop connecting the name of Stalin with concrete lives of our relatives, only then we would be able to give a sober evaluation of that time in our history. The person who comes to our exhibition will see two different views on Stalin. To the right, he will see the posters dedicated to him and to the left, the posters which say: “We will not allow this to happen again.” This is our concept—to show the society’s division towards Stalin. This is the main idea.
ARDAYEVA: As she walks through the small two-room exhibition called “Stalin: The Man And The Symbol,” she describes the dictator from a more personal side.
KAZAKOVA: [via a translator] Stalin was literate, he was educated, and he even wrote poems that were published in a textbook We have to admit that he was very well educated. He understood the psychology of a human soul and he knew how to use it. He knew how to speak—softly and slowly—and it made a difference.
ARDAYEVA: During Stalin’s rule, the Soviet Union became the world’s second largest industrial power and achieved remarkable economic results. But on the other side of the coin was Stalin’s low regard for human life. He was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people through deportation, execution, imprisonment, and hard labor. Still, few people were aware of the purges and some exhibits demonstrate how much people loved Stalin back then.
KAZAKOVA: [via a translator] There are some amazing things here, like this writing set. It was presented to Stalin for his 70th birthday by Muscovite woman Semyonova. She was born without hands, and she learned how to weave and stitch with her toes. She also made a carpet and a towel. We have to understand those who still support Stalin because he symbolizes the best times of their lives. People have a right to their opinion. It’s not our goal to change them. We want to show the young people what the personality cult was all about and where it leads to. The future of our country depends on what conclusions they draw.
ARDAYEVA: More than 500 people came to the opening of this exhibition. Most of them still support Stalin and believe he was not personally involved in the purges. They say the KGB killed people behind Stalin’s back—a story which is fully denounced by historians. Still, many young people also showed up. They say they simply want to learn more about the person they’ve heard so much about from their grandparents and make their own judgment.
ALEXEI: [via a translator] I came here because I am interested in Stalin and in that period in general. History is a very difficult thing. Everyone can play with it however they like. It’s hard to show a true picture of what this person was really like.
SVETLANA ANDREEVA: [via a translator] History cannot be forgotten. Our country is very good at forgetting its history. We can’t do that. Of course, it’s interesting and educating. It won’t make me a Stalin supporter though. I like the time I am living in now.
ARDAYEVA: And others, like 73-year-old Boris Klyachkin, still remember what it was like back then, when he supported Stalin and his policies. But he came here looking for answers on how to prevent anything like Stalin’s rule from happening again.
BORIS KLYACHKIN: [via a translator] Russia still doesn’t have a democracy. Historically, Russia has never been democratic. We could have achieved democracy but we failed. This exhibition is good, but it needs to be completed. I realize there isn’t enough space, but they should have explained more about where Stalinism came from. Stalin was just the tip of the iceberg. He’s gone now, but Stalinism still exists. And it doesn’t come from nowhere; it’s the result of the society’s historical development. They should have shown how Stalinism was born.
ARDAYEVA: Some believe modern-day Russians should be averse to any form of personality cult, like the one which surrounded Stalin. But that’s not necessarily the case. Russians love to admire their leaders and recent examples prove that. Today, people are reluctant to criticize the current Russian president, Vladimir Putin. And numerous expressions of adoration, including portraits, sculptures, books, songs, and even cakes dedicated to Vladimir Putin, have raised concerns about the new personality cult appearing in the country. These fears might be a bit exaggerated but still, everyone here agrees that it will take decades—if not centuries—for Russians to fully overcome their communist past. For Common Ground, I am Anya Ardayeva in Moscow.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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