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In a memo last Thursday, Barack Obama declared that Venezuela and Bolivia “have failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotic agreements.”  His argument rests upon their expulsion of DEA operatives.

To the contrary, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports that from 2010 to 2011, Bolivia’s production of coca declined by 12 percent.  Eradication efforts were also up by 25 percent.  Moreover, Morales’ government has confiscated over three and a half times the amount of coca intercepted by the previous administration.  Though Venezuela has struggled to curtail rising violence from a spike in drug trafficking directed towards the growing European market for cocaine, Bolivia has been successful at containing the reach of organized crime and the proliferation of coca production.

Bolivia and Venezuela responded to US accusations with passion, but equally false claims.  Morales correctly countered that the US was the principle source country for cocaine, but failed to relate the historical trend of falling cocaine consumption in the US.

Morales challenged, “they should tell us by what percentage they have reduced the internal (drug) market. The internal market keeps growing and in some states of the United States they’re even legalizing the sale of cocaine under medical control.”

He pointed out “that since 1961, when the first international anti-drug agreements were signed, drug trafficking has grown rather than declined.”

Beside the erroneous claims of statewide cocaine legalization, what he failed to mention was that since 1989, the US market for cocaine has declined by over 360 percent.  The once enormous US market is set to be eclipsed by Europe over the next few years.

Though both sides in this squabble are rightfully upset over the actions and accusations, their conceptions of the issue are skewed by their position.

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So mid-2000s

An elusive MIST hangs over the soggy BRIC.  The darlings of the developing world – Brazil, Russia, China and India – have been outshined by new kids on the economic bloc.  Once again, Goldman Sachs has coined another global acronym, this time to classify a group of second tier, but more agile rising powers.  With the stroke of four keys, Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea and Turkey became the MIST.

But, their ascension into the world of invented global acronyms has irked many other countries eager to gain notoriety in the international arena.  The creation of the BRIC generated hype for these rising powers, leading other enterprising nations to petition for their very own acronyms.

Many have tried combinations that help dispel stereotypes and negative perceptions about their countries.  LUCKY, is a federation formed by the often less fortunate Libya, Uganda, Cambodia, Kosovo and Yemen.  With headquarters in beautiful Benghazi, LUCKY hopes for a radical rebranding.  Meanwhile, Somalia and Iraq have sought to shed their chaotic image by partnering with the uneventful countries of Kazakhstan, Canada, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Suriname.  Together they form KICKASS.

Others – Gautemala, Ecuador, Tanzania, Jordan, Israel, Greece, Ghana and Yemen – just want to GETJIGGY with it.  The delegation is in talks for the creation of a super coalition with the PARTYHARD nations of Poland, Australia, Republic of the Congo, Turkey, Yemen, Honduras, Algeria, Russia, and Denmark.  However, controversy shrouds the latter group over a disagreement with North Korea, which claims that its country, formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), puts the Democratic Peoples Republic in PARTYHARD.

To show solidarity and perhaps gain some residual stardom from global pop sensation and heartthrob Justin Bieber, Bolivia, Iran, Ecuador, Brazil, Ethiopia, Russia, Finland, Eritrea, Venezuela, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of the Congo, have come to represent BIEBERFEVER.  In a recent conference, they agreed upon a platform for global change and released this video as a teaser.

Meanwhile, Weakleaks, the less famous cousin of Wikileaks, has caused a row in Washington’s diplomatic circles after leaked cables showed the designation of troubled countries into an unsavory acronym.  PROBLEMS, composed of Paraguay, Russia, Oman, Bosnia, Libya, El Salvador, Myanmar and Somalia, began as a cheap joke, but evolved into a minor security commission.  Stable and wealthy Oman was most offended by the designation.  A hacked email from a US official revealed that the oil rich Mideast country was merely filler to complete the word. Both Oman and its neighbor Yemen are in high demand, for they control access to the only O and Y.

But, others have taken the acronym craze with a grain of salt.  As one Libyan scholar of international relations put it, “Hey, if you are LUCKY enough to KICKASS at your PROBLEMS, then PARTYHARD and GETJIGGY with BIEBERFEVER.”  None-the-less, it will be interesting to see the evolution of these blocs as the balance of world power continues to shift.

On Tuesday, Hugo Chavez announced he would consider efforts to end the Syrian conflict through collaboration with the global Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). “[H]opefully we can somehow help to achieve peace in Syria, whose people are being run over by this imperialist, violent politics,” he announced during a recent press conference. With action to resolve the political crisis stalled in the UN, this group of 120 countries seeks to take the reins.

History and Revival

The Non-Alignment Movement began in 1961 as an alternative to the spheres of influence dominated by the US and USSR.  Founded by Sukarno of Indonesia, Nehru of India, Nasser of Egypt, Nakruma of Ghana, and Tito of Yugoslavia, the movement represented the rising powers of the developing world. From the end of the Cold War until 2003, the movement ceased to its hold summits.  But since then, the last few summits have revived the movement and membership has increased and now includes China as an observer.

Notable attendance at this year’s conference in Tehran included:

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, North Korea’s parliamentary chairman Kim Yong-nam, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Cuba’s Raul Castro,  Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

During the conference, leaders condemned unilateral sanctions, backed the right of Iran and other states to peaceful nuclear energy and supported the creation of a Palestinian state. They also advocated for nuclear disarmament and “human rights free from political agendas.”

Non-Aligned Interventionism

In considering NAM’s desire to resolve the situation in Syria, many questions arise.  How does a movement championed most strongly by leaders without a good sense for human rights, stand to effectively fix a massive humanitarian catastrophe?  And moreover, how does a non-aligned movement, opposed to intervention, plan on intervening and aligning itself with one side of the conflict?

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) will not lay down its weapons until Bashar and his government resigns, making an effective solution to the conflict hinge upon the triumph of one side over the other.  Attempts by the NAM to keep Bashar in power while simultaneously ending the violence, would require the complete annihilation of the FSA.   But even the extermination of an insurgency will not end the root of discontent that originally created it.  The domination of Syria’s politics by a single dynasty must end before long-term peace can be achieved.

Additionally, division within NAM hinders efforts to draft a unified approach for conflict resolution.   Mohammad Morsi of Egypt strongly criticized Bashar’s delegation for its disregard for basic human rights and called on the leader to step down.  Meanwhile, Venezuela and Iran continue to support the continuation of Bashar’s regime.

Noble Intentions

Despite the dubious human rights credentials among many of the movement’s champions and the contradictory nature of their Syria proposal, NAM’s stance against dominant world interests interfering in domestic politics, is not without merit.

George Washington was one of the first to warn against the pitfalls of US interventionism.  In his 1793 farewell address, he spoke strongly against the formation of global spheres of influence:

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all…

The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest…

[H]istory and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.

Over the next two centuries, the US became a dominant global power through projecting its economic and security interests abroad.  What began as a response to two global crises – namely WWI and WWII – became a trap of perpetual foreign involvement.  The more that the US involved itself in the affairs of other countries, the greater its stake in a favorable outcome became.

NAM’s fundamental problem, is that it cannot be both a champion for non-intervention, while seeking to involve itself.  Involvement in the Syrian case requires an interest in the triumph of one faction over another, but non-alignment opposes favoring a specific political position.

The value of such a movement rests on its resistance to interfering in the sovereignty of nations and its opposition to the division of the world into blocs of interest led by a few powerful states.  NAM defends self-interest from the interests of others. As it is the responsibility of the UN to alleviate humanitarian catastrophe; perhaps, NAM will help ensure that such efforts exclude the use of military force.

Those with power often stand at the mercy of powerful information.  Leaders sculpt the world with their actions, but mass media paints a portrait of their work for all to see.   The freedom of the media to paint the portrait it sees in the world can be both toxic and beneficial to those in charge. Three cases of extradition reveal a triangle of powerful information and its powerful enemies.

Over the last few months, Ecuador has granted asylum to two oppenents of political hegemony.  In July, President Rafael Correa accepted a request by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange who is seeking refuge from allegations of sexual assault in Sweden.  Assange fears that such an extradition would provide the US with an opportunity to seize and prosecute him for publicizing state secrets.

Later in August, an Ecuadorian court protected Aliaksandr Barankov, a Belarusian dissident from being extradited back to his home country, where President Alexander Lukashenko has dominated politics for the last 18 years.  Barankov, a former police officer had fled the country after uncovering an oil smuggling ring led by top government officials.

Meanwhile, the US has granted political asylum to an Ecuadorian journalist convicted of libel against the country’s president.  Columnist Emilio Palacio has been in the US for a year, escaping a three year sentence and a $40 million fine, for publishing an article that described President Correa as “the dictator” and accused the leftist leader of ordering soldiers to open fire on a hospital, during a brief coup attempt by members of the national police force.

These three extradition cases reflect foreign policy disputes.  The small Andean nation of Ecuador is standing up for an opponent of US power in the world, while the US is protecting a dissenter to the Ecuadorian government.   Though both these countries boast democratic values and a respect for human rights, they are more motivated by political priorities than humanitarian ones.  The US protects press freedom when it serves to undermine an opponent, but curses international transparency when the release of state secrets threatens diplomatic objectives.  Similarly, Ecuador praises the freedom of information when it damages the stature of a major world power and an oppressive regime, yet raises its own fist to squash dissent at home.

Despite rhetorical justifications, the powerful will always prioritize power over principles.

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Follow Up

America’s refusal to extradite Bolivia’s ex-president to face genocide charges

Another politically motivated extradition dispute from the Hemisphere

9 September, 2012

The Guardian

The view that [Ex-President] Sánchez de Lozada must be extradited from the US to stand trial is a political consensus in Bolivia, shared by the government and the main opposition party alike.

In October 2003, the intensely pro-US president of Bolivia, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, sent his security forces to suppress growing popular protests against the government’s energy and globalization policies. Using high-powered rifles and machine guns, his military forces killed 67 men, women and children, and injured 400 more, almost all of whom were poor and from the nation’s indigenous Aymara communities.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/09/america-refusal-extradite-bolivia

On 21 Aug., Mitt Romney announced a trade policy “focused primarily, but not exclusively, on Latin America.”  The presidential hopeful outlined his desire to rekindle the flames of a Pan American free trade zone, a fire smothered in 2005 by opposition from Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Dominica.  The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) proposed in 1994 by President Clinton, would have created a 34 nation trading bloc – arguably the largest and most ambitious in the world, given the variability of development profiles among potential member states.

Widespread opposition to the plan contested the viability of free-trade between countries of such unequal economic power.  Latin American states feared the destruction of domestic production, in the face of highly competitive US firms.  The failed FTAA, partly inspired Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Dominica to form their own bloc, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA): a trade agreement based on a reciprocal barter system.  Meanwhile, even US congress shied away from the proposal, over concerns that cheap labor costs in Latin America would lead to outsourcing, as well as the erosion of US agriculture to the farming giants of Brazil and Argentina.

The logo that never made it

Romney’s new plan seeks to build upon a network of smaller free-trade agreements (FTAs) already in place between the US and individual Latin American countries.  He proposes, joining these agreements to create a larger zone.  For example, separate FTAs between the US and Panama, and the US and Chile would be combined – requiring Chile and Panama to lower trade barriers with each other.

However, such a plan would most likely fail or produce an impotent version of an original proposal. Simply put, the US has little power to sway the Brazilian giant, which already scrambles to protect its resilient, yet troubled domestic industry.  Additionally, the US would bypass Argentina and other left-leaning ALBA states from an agreement.  Under these conditions, a Pan American free trade zone would include Chile, Colombia, Honduras, Panama, Costa Rica, Peru and Mexico.  But the US already has regional FTAs with Central America and Mexico, and Bilateral ones with Peru, Colombia, and Chile.  So essentially, a positive outcome means exactly what we already have, but under a different name.  Similarly, a negative outcome means exactly what we already have, plus another diplomatic failure.

Free Trade with the US is just plain unpopular.  The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Mexican farmers at the gain of US industrial agriculture.  The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) is not any better.  Moreover, increased economic power in Latin America combined with a historical distrust of US proposals, makes a comprehensive plan lead by the US extremely unlikely.  With Romney representing the hardline conservative face of US diplomacy in the Americas, Latin American leaders would be even more skeptical of a ‘mutually beneficial’ agreement.

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Follow Up

Peru Wants to Negotiate Free-Trade Pact With Indonesia

Peru finds new Asian partners

10 Septemeber, 2012

Nasdaq

LIMA, Peru–Peru wants a free-trade pact with Indonesia, adding to the number of other trade liberalization agreements the Andean nation has signed in recent years.

“Indonesia is a large south-east Asian nation with about 250 million persons. It is a multicultural nation and has an extremely large market.”

http://www.nasdaq.com/article/peru-wants-to-negotiate-free-trade-pact-with-indonesia—minister-20120910-01096

Ever since Argentina expelled Spain’s Repsol from developing the country’s oil fields, trade relations between the two nations have deteriorated.  Spain has since retaliated by denying many Argentine imports, most notably biodiesel, which composes 20-30 percent of all Argentine trade with Spain.

In response to the Spanish announcement – meant to protect the local production of alternative energy – Argentina filed a complaint with the WTO.  Argentina’s Foreign Ministry contested the Spanish decision as “an attempt to stop developing countries gaining more control of global value chains and evolving beyond their role as suppliers of raw materials.”  The government lamented the potential loss of $1 billion per year in export earnings, lambasting the Spanish policy as “protectionist.”

While the new barriers do block developing countries such as Argentina and Indonesia from selling their biodiesel to Spain, the intention was not to suppress development.  When certain countries conduct poor trade relations with others, they are liable to retaliation.  Back in April, the Argentine Government seized all 57 percent of Spanish Oil Firm Repsol’s stake in the development of oil resources.  Nationalization, which replaced Repsol with state-owned YPF, was made without proper compensation.  Moreover, Argentina has repeatedly increased tariffs and raised import barriers over the last decade.

This year alone, Argentina has been hit by a triple complaint at the WTO, joining China, which faces a similar hat trick maneuver.  The EU, Japan, and the US have all cried foul play to the WTO.  They criticize Latin America’s No. 3 economy of a policy of “trade balancing,” which requires importers to purchase equivalently valued Argentine goods to make up the difference in trade.  Argentina is expected to post a $674 million surplus for July, on resilient farm exports, despite an ongoing drought.

The triple complaint reflects a larger trend of trade disputes arising in 2012.  So far, the WTO received 18 complaints this year, more than double the eight complaints filed over the previous year.  The spike in disagreements reflects global uncertainty in the face of continued Euro Zone crises and a potential slowdown in Asia.  Countries have leaned towards protectionism to combat rising and persistently high unemployment.

Shipment intercepted by Spanish authorities

This morning, Spain announced the apprehension of four traffickers associated with the Mexican Sinaloa cartel, including the cousin of billionaire kingpin fugitive Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Near the end of July, Spanish authorities discover the four men with a shipping container of 373kg of cocaine, worth more than $24 million in street value.  Today, Spain went public with the seizer and apprehensions.

According BBC News, “it was only a matter of time before the cartel tried to expand into Europe and Spain was the natural choice as an entry point, given the common language and its sea ports.”  Sinaloa, which controls near half of all US narcotics trade, may have connections in more than 50 countries.

Two of the detained: Jesus Gutierrez Guzman (left) and Samuel Zazueta Valenzuela

This extensive transnational criminal network may be uncovering a major strategy shift among Mexican cartels to distance themselves from the violent corridor into the US.

And speaking of “natural entry points,” landlocked Mongolia has become a new hotspot of narcotics trafficking.  Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) are packing up their supplies and heading to the steppes.  The opportunity of tapping the vast Mongolian market has encouraged Sinaloa and others to set up shop in Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian capital.  “The pay-off is endless out here,” said an anonymous DEA spokesman, “they’re calling it the ‘Hot Gobi.’”

“What’s the point in fighting bitterly over millions of wealthy customers, when you can relax in a yurt all day and sell dime bags to a few thousand nomads,” said one former dealer.

Potential regulars

Such is the logic of ruthless DTOs.  First it was the Caribbean corridor, then it was Mexico and Central America, now it’s the entire Pacific Ocean with a rendezvous along Russia’s Eastern Seaboard, followed by a quick jaunt through northern China.  The balloon effect – a tightening of enforcement in one area leading to an expansion of trafficking in another – has really taken a bizarre turn.

What used to be a 3,500 mile journey from Colombia to the US border is now an 8,500 mile journey to Mongolia.  As of a few hours ago, the DEA announced it will relocate its Mexican and Central American operations to Ulaanbaatar.  “This is ground zero,” said another DEA agent.  The CIA is likely to follow, capitalizing on the lucrative and practical Mongolian corridor.

Disclaimer: Half of this news update is veritably untrue.  For real news on the East Asian drug trade follow this link: http://www.china.org.cn/china/news/2009-06/27/content_18023666.htm.

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