Author Archives: aleforment

Republic of Yemen (الجمهورية اليمنية); Tribes at war

Writing about the Republic of Yemen is a pretty new thing. Just a few years ago, we had have to talk about the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen), a republic since 1962, and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen), controlled by the British till 1967, and under a Communist government afterwards.

The modern Republic of Yemen was born in 1990 when traditional North Yemen and Communist South Yemen merged after years of clashes. We will see this later.

Yemen region political mapYemen is a country of the Middle East. It is bordering the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Red Sea, between Oman and Saudi Arabia. It’s a strategic location on Bab el Mandeb, the strait linking the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, which is one of the World’s most active shipping lanes. The African nations of Eritrea and Djibouti are across the Red Sea to the west and southwest, respectively, and Somalia is across the Gulf of Aden to the south.

Its climate is mostly desert; hot and humid along the West coast, temperate in the Western mountains, affected by seasonal monsoon and extraordinarily hot, dry and desert in the East. Due to these extreme conditions and other factors, there’s a limited natural freshwater and inadequate supplies of potable water. Its natural resources include petroleum, fish, rock salt, marble and small deposits of coal, gold and copper among others.

It has been at the crossroads of Africa, the Middle East and Asia for thousands of years thanks to its position on the ancient spice routes. It is one of the possible locations for the Biblical kingdom of Sheba.

Ancient spice routes map  Ancient Kingdoms  Flag of Yemen

North Yemen had previously become independent in 1918 from the Ottoman Empire, and became a republic with the overthrow of the theocratic Imamate in 1962. South Yemen at its turn, became independent in 1967 from the UK.

A short civil war in 1994 ended in defeat for separatist southerners, but regional tensions re-emerged in the summer of 2009 when government troops and Houthi rebels from the Shia Zaidi sect clashed in the north, killing hundreds and displacing more than a quarter of a million people.

Prayers  Yemen political map  Women praying and child

The official language in Yemen is Arabic, and 99.1% of the aprox. 26 million of its population is Muslim; an estimated 65% are Sunni and 35% Shia.

                     Football (by Nicolas Axelrod)           Ethnicities in Yemen              2 young women relax on a beach near Hadibo (by Nicolas Axelrod)

Al Jumhuriyah al Yamaniyah, as is the local long form to name the Republic of Yemen, has its capital in Sanaa, which is at it turn, one of the 20 governorates of the territory.

Its constitution was adopted by referendum in 1991, following the unification, and has been amended several times, last being in 2009. They have a mixed legal system of Islamic law, Napoleonic law, English Common Law and customary law. Yemen is a non-party state to the ICCt.

And yet, more data; Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East. Since unification Yemen has been slowly modernising and opening up to the World, but still retains much of its tribal character, being the northern rebels, known as Houthis or Ansar Allah (Partisans of God) the main group. They adhere to a branch of Shia Islam known as Zaidism. Zaidis ruled North Yemen for almost 1000 years until 1962.

A history of conflict

North and South Yemen map

Since the formation of Southern Yemen –PDRY- in 1967 and the beginning of the nationalization programme, armed groups were formed in bid to overthrow the government and border clashes between the Yemen Arab Republic –YAR-, in civil war royalists, supported by Saudi Arabia vs. republicans, backed by Egypt, since 1962, and the PDRY, and later on, fresh fighting, occurred.


President Saleh

In the government, Ali Abdallah Saleh was named president of YAR in 1978, while President Ali Nasser Muhammad fled the country and was sentenced to death for treason in 1986, when the new government was formed. A few years later, in May 1990, the Unified Republic of Yemen was proclaimed, under Saleh presidency.

In 1991 Yemen opposed US-led action against Iraq in the Gulf War, and a year later there were food price riots in major towns.

The coalition government, made up of ruling parties of former north and south, was formed in April 1993, but soon after Vice-President Ali Salim al-Baid withdrawed to Aden, alleging that the south was being marginalised and that southerners were being attacked by northerners.

The situation got so tense that in 1994 Saleh declared the state of emergency and dismissed Al-Baid and other southern government members, following a political deadlock and sporadic fighting. Soon, foreigners fled the escalating fighting. That same year, Al-Baid declared the independence of the Democratic Republic of Yemen. Saleh rejected secession as illegal.

Hanish Islands conflict

In 1995, Yemen and Eritrea clashed over disputed Hanish Islands in the Red Sea. The conflict was resolved by the Permanent Court of Arbitration when it determined that most of the Zukur-Hanish archipelago belonged to Yemen, in 1998.

Al-Qaeda attacks started in 2000 with a suicide attack in Aden that killed 17 US personnel and a bomb at the British embassy. During the run-up to municipal polls and referendum in February 2001 which backed extension to presidential term and powers, violence broke out.

Current conflict

Shortly after snubbing a third attempt at mediation by the six-country Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), informally headed by Saudi Arabia, President Saleh sent his forces to fight the leaders of his country’s most powerful tribe, the Hashid. They were bankrolling the opposition and helping to sustain the tens of thousands of protesters who were camping out on the streets of Sanaa. On the ground, they were firing everything from pistols to anti-aircraft missiles at each other, as they jostled for control of government buildings and the airport.

al-Ahmar family

late 2014, Houthi supporters took part in weeks of protests calling for fuel price cuts and a new government

Led by the al-Ahmar family, Saleh’s bitterest rivals, the tribesmen gained control over the interior and water ministries, the ruling party’s main building and one of the city’s main police stations.

The Houthi insurgency to win greater autonomy for their heartland of Saada province and to protect Zaidi religious and cultural traditions from perceived encroachment by Sunni Islamists, started in 2004, when hundreds died as the troops battled the Shia insurgency, led by Hussein al-Houthi in the north. He was killed later that year by government forces. However, that didn’t marked the end of the insurgency, as in 2005, several people were killed in fights between government forces and al-Houthi’s supporters. Others across the country were killed as they protested about a cut in fuel subsidies, and when a landslide destroyed a mountain village around 20km from Sanaa.

             Yemeni women protest   Yemen Houthis

In 2006, more than 600 followers of al-Houthi who were captured following the rebellion he led in 2004 were released under an amnesty. Soon after, President Saleh won another term in the elections. Under his government, in 2007, security forces and al-Houthi rebels clashed in the north, but the conflict diminished when rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi accepted a ceasefire.

As suicide bomber attacks continued being common each week, citizens were banned from carrying firearms in Sanaa, and demonstrations without a permit were outlawed. That didn’t end clashes; Yemeni tribesmen and army personnel protecting a Ukranian oil company clashed in Shabwa province in November 2007, and two months later, renewed clashes between security forces and rebels loyal to Abdul-Malik al-Houthi erupted as the volcano that had destroyed Jabal al-Tair military base a few months before.

    Abdul Malik al-Houthi accused the president and other leaders of ignoring the people's interests   Tribal violence   Portrait of veiled Yemeni woman cradling wounded relative wins top photo award

Bomb attacks on police, official, diplomatic, foreign business and tourism targets continued, and US embassy evacuated all non-essential personnel in early 2008. Some months later, an attack killed 18 people in that same embassy in Sanaa, and President Saleh announced the arrest of suspected Islamist militants allegedly linked to Israeli intelligence.

The demands of the population for electoral reform and fresh polls were frequent, and people were displaced by the fighting in the Northern provinces as well as along the common border with Saudi Arabia, whose government was accused by the rebels of supporting the Yemeni government.

At the start of 2010, Saleh opened the government to talks with al-Qaeda militants, provided that they renounced to violence, and signed a ceasefire with the northern rebels, who released 178 captives after the government accused the Shia Houthi group of failing to comply with the terms of the reached truce. The focus was then in the southern Shabwa province, where the government launched an offensive against the separatists.

In October 2010, after packages containing explosives originating in Yemen were intercepted on cargo planes bound for the US, the international arena cared about a possible global terror alert, and US Secretary of State visited the country over “urgent concern” at al-Qaeda activities.

Saleh pledged then not to extend his presidency in 2013 or to hand it over to his son when pro-reform demonstrations took place, motivated by Tunisian street protests which unseated President Ben Ali. Police snipers opened fire on a pro-democracy camp in Sanaa in March 2011, killing more than 50 people. In that event, senior military figures including key general, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, declared their backing for the protest movement, and several ministers and other senior regime figures also defected to protesters. The President imposed the State of emergency, as the unrest was said to risk plunging the country into civil war.

Tribal leaders attend a seminar for the Alliance of Yemeni Tribes about the importance of their participation in the upcoming February 21 presidential election, in Sanaa

The Alliance of Yemeni Tribes, an alliance of tribes in Yemen opposed to the government Saleh was formed amidst the civil uprising in Yemen to defend anti-government protesters. Its leader, Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar of the Hashid tribal federation, stated his intention to remove Saleh and his sons from power in his capacity as head of the Alliance.

The situation kept getting worse as Saleh vowed to remain in office, and clashes between troops and tribal fighters were so brutal in Sanaa, the airport shut and thousands fled the city. As President Saleh was flown to Saudi Arabia after being injured in a rocket attack, British and French forces prepared to evacuate foreigners in the event of a civil war. The President returned in September 2011, when US-born al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki was assassinated by US forces. Just a month later, UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning violence, and called for transfer of power.

Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi

Saleh finally agreed to hand over power to his deputy Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, and left the country with full immunity granted. A unity government, which included a PM from the opposition, was formed, and Hadi inaugurated as President after uncontested elections in 2012. Meanwhile, the country was on the brink of a serious food crisis, after receiving more than 4 billion dollars in aid.

Strongholds and leaders from al-Qaeda were re-captured by the army and killed by drone strikes by the US, as they fought back with car bomb attacks and attacks and killings in embassies, such as the shooting to a Saudi diplomat and his bodyguard. Hence, several foreign embassies shut temporarily.

In March 2013, the most delayed national dialogue conference begun with aim of drafting a new constitution and Ahmed Ali Saleh, son of ex-president Saleh, was removed as head of the Republican Guard. It wasn’t till 2014 when the National Dialogue Conference winded up after ten months of deliberation, agreeing a document on which the new constitution would be based. As part of its political transition, Yemen became then a federation of six regions.

The country’s largest oil pipeline was blown up by tribesmen in July 2014, disrupting supplies from the interior to the Red Sea export terminal, before a month in which Hadi sacked his cabinet and overturned a controversial fuel price rise. In the streets, anti-government protests were constant, with Houthi rebels being heavily involved. They finally took control of Sanaa and rejected the draft of a new constitution proposed by the government.

Representatives of the warring factions signed the peace deal in Sanaa

In January 2015, they seized state TV and clashed with troops in the capital, in what the government called a coup attempt. President Hadi and his government resigned in protest at the takeover by Houthi rebels of Sanaa. He later fled to his native city of Aden and rescinded his resignation. In February, Houthi rebels said that they were seizing power and that transitional five-member presidential council will replace President Hadi, but the move was denounced by UN Security Council, who demanded they negotiate power-sharing agreement under the Gulf Cooperation Council aegis.


Considering the sputtering nature of UN-mediated talks aimed at brokering a new political accord, the deep risk of fracturing, if not descending into civil war of the country was quite obvious. Yemen has collapsed, to what Jamal Benomar, the UN envoy to Yemen, has described as an “Iraq-Libya-Syria” scenario.

Once hailed by international diplomats as a model for the region, for months now Yemen has appeared to be bursting apart at the seams. In recent years Yemen has seen violent conflicts largely caused by underlying problems of unequal access to power and resources.

There have been six rounds of fighting between the state and the Houthis in the north; separatist unrest in the south; frequent attacks by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP); power struggles between tribal and military factions; and the crackdown by Saleh’s supporters on the protests by youths and pro-democracy activists that eventually forced him to hand over power to Hadi.

The instability and resulting large-scale displacement, as well as weak governance, corruption, resource depletion and poor infrastructure, have hindered development in the poorest country in the Middle East.

Unemployment, high food prices and limited social services mean more than 10 million Yemenis are believed to be food insecure.

                                       Yemen, areas of control, feb.2015      development aid to Yemen

Yemen has been in political limbo since President Hadi and the government resigned after the Houthis seized the presidential palace in a struggle to tighten control.

Members of the UN Security Council pledged unanimous support to the legitimacy of embattled President Hadi. Meanwhile, Shia Houthis seized control of the strategic southern city of Taiz, raising concerns that Aden, where Hadi took refuge, may come under attack. The US evacuated its remaining personnel from Yemen amid the deteriorating security situation. Separately, ISIS claimed responsibility for the multiple suicide bombing attacks in Sana’a that left at least 137 people dead and 357 wounded.  That was just two weeks ago.

The fear was back then that the Houthi advance would drive a fresh wave of militarisation and radicalisation in the Sunni-majority Yemeni heartland, acting as a recruiter for jihadis. Western intelligence already considered the local al-Qaida faction (al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula or AQAP), the World’s most potent franchise, a growing threat seeking to exploit regional turmoil to widen its scope.

The recent events have serious implications for Yemen, its neighbors and key Western ally, the US.

As Shia Houthi forces seized a strategic air base, thirty-five miles outside of Aden, the stronghold of embattled President Hadi, residents in Aden reported that warplanes fired missiles at the district where the presidential compound was located. Hadi requested then UN military intervention in Yemen to defeat the Houthis. In the cities of Taiz and Torba, witnesses said Houthis used tear gas and fired on protesters, killing six demonstrators and injuring many others. Meanwhile, US officials said that Saudi Arabia, whose government accuses Iran of sowing sectarian strife in its support for the Houthis, was building up heavy military equipment in areas along the Yemeni border.

If the proxy war route is pursued, the conflict is likely to rage for years. Rugged geography and broad spaces will make it hard for any side to hold land, and poor populations with little to lose will find themselves used as cannon fodder by one side or another. Jihadi groups of various stripes are bystanders to the principal fight between the rump government and the Houthis, but they will surely benefit from the widespread suffering.

Just few weeks ago, when writing this article, the current situation was deeply unstable, but despite this, there was some hope for a deal, as power-sharing remained and, to certain degree, remains in all parties’ interests. However, any deal will have had to overcome the deep spirit of distrust governing relations between Yemen’s political parties, as well as moving power-sharing from paper to reality, which will require reckoning with the many mistakes and false assumptions that have brought the country’s post-Arab Uprising transition to the brink of failure.

A new deal is needed, a better one. One which does not contemplate privileges to the traditional elites over all other parties, one which makes power-sharing and inclusivity a priority, while including a roadmap to end its never-ending transition.

Regional players such as Saudi Arabia or Kuwait could play very positive roles as mediators. Instead, a ten-country Gulf coalition led by Saudi Arabia, worried about losing influence in the region favoring Iran, and including Egypt and Jordan, launched a robust air campaign in Yemen against Iran-aligned Houthis, backed by the White House, who provided logistical and intelligence support. This, among others, affected oil prices, which surged following reports of the Saudi-led campaign and ongoing fighting between Yemeni factions. Yemen has now become another battleground where the two sectarian rivals will struggle against one another.

In the International arena, Europe has a strong role to play, as it is viewed positively by Yemenis, acting decisively and together with its political and donor coordination to foster a solution. Owing to the increasingly intractable nature of the political crisis, Europe should prepare for the option of Yemen’s continued fragmentation, but it must also exert itself to help prevent it by supporting negotiations towards a power-sharing deal. Yet, its role is poor and indecisive for the moment being.

South-Sudan, ethnic civil war

Map South Sudan in the globe    South Sudan geographics

Formed from the 10 southern-most states of Sudan, and with its capital in Juba, the Republic of South Sudan is a land of expansive grassland, swamps and tropical rain forest straddling both banks of the White Nile. It limits south of Sudan, north of Uganda and Kenya and west of Ethiopia. It is also bordered by Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

South Sudan is highly diverse ethnically and linguistically. Among the largest ethnic groups are the Dinka (35.8%), Nuer (15.6%) and Shilluk. South Sudanese speak English, which is the official language of the country, but also Arabic (including Juba and Sudanese variants) and regional languages such as Dinka, Nuer, Bari, Zande or Shilluk.

Unlike the predominantly Muslim population of Sudan, the South Sudanese follow traditional/animist religions, while a minority is Christians.

South Sudan has the 3rd population growth ratio in the World, and it is sadly the country where maternal mortality rate is higher. The literacy ratio is low and HIV/AIDS and other major infectious diseases risk is very high.

        Dinka     South Sudanese citizens wave their flags as they attend the Independence Day celebrations in the capital Juba


Political system

The President is both chief of state and head of government, and since the independence, Salva Kiir Mayardit, from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement or SPLM, holds the position, having been previously, since 2005, Vice-President of Sudan and President of southern Sudan. He comes from the Dinka community, the largest ethnic group in the south.

               Salva Kiir Mayardit        South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni at the mausoleum of John Garang. Celebrations marking 3 years of independence (Juba on 9,7,2014)

The president is elected by popular vote for a four-year term. The last election was held on April 2010 (Kiir having a 93%, vs. 7% Akol, from opposition party SPLM-DC), and the next are to be held next year, in 2015. The National Council of Ministers is appointed by the president and approved by a resolution from the Legislative Assembly.

The last one consists in a bicameral National Legislature; the National Legislative Assembly, on the one hand, with 332 seats and the Council of States, on the other hand, with 50 seats. Its members serve four-year terms.


South Sudan flag

South Sudan, the World’s newest country, gained independence from Sudan 9th July 2011, with an overwhelming majority of South Sudanese voting to secede in a referendum, as the outcome of a 2005 peace deal that ended Africa’s longest-running civil war.

Egypt attempted to colonize the region of southern Sudan by establishing the province of Equatoria in the 1870s. Afterwards, Islamic Mahdist revolutionaries overran the region in 1885, but in 1898 a British force was able to overthrow the Mahdist regime. An Anglo-Egyptian Sudan was established then the following year, with Equatoria being the southernmost of its eight provinces.

The isolated region was largely left to itself over the following decades, but Christian missionaries converted much of the population and facilitated the spread of English. When Sudan gained its independence in 1956, it was with the understanding that the southerners would be able to participate fully in the political system.

When the Arab Khartoum government reneged on its promises, a mutiny began that led to two prolonged periods of conflict (1955-1972 and 1983-2005) in which perhaps 2.5 million people, mostly civilians, died due to starvation and drought.

During the first civil war, the southern separatist movement Anya Nya fought the north, and socialist and communists, lead by Col Yaafar Muhammad Numeiry seized power, conceding a measure of autonomy for southern Sudan.

                                Anya Nya    Col Yaafar Mohammed Numeiry

Then again, in 1983, fighting broke out between north and south Sudan, under leadership of John Garang‘s Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), after Sudanese President Numeiri abolished South Sudan’s autonomy. The military seized power in 1989, and in 2001 Sudanese Islamist leader Hassan Al-Turabi’s party, the Popular National Congress, signed a memorandum of understanding with the southern rebel SPLM’s armed wing, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

After 22 years of Civil War that cost the lives of an estimated four million southern Sudanese, the ongoing peace talks finally resulted in a Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed in January 2005. As part of this agreement the south was granted a six-year period of autonomy to be followed by a referendum on its final status. The result of this referendum, held in January 2011, was a vote of 98% in favor of secession. Independence was attained on 9 July 2011, as said.

Since the independence, South Sudan has struggled with good governance and nation building and has attempted to control rebel militia groups operating in its territory, intensely fighting even since the 2005 peace deal. Economic conditions have deteriorated since January 2012 when the government decided to shut down oil production following bilateral disagreements with Sudan.

Today’s situation

Soon after the end of the Second Civil War, the country slid towards civil war amid a power struggle, between the President and his deputy whom he had sacked. In June 2013, President Kiir dismissed Finance Minister Kosti Manibe and Cabinet Affairs Minister Deng Alor over a multi-million dollar financial scandal, and lifted their immunity from prosecution. Soon after, he dismissed the entire cabinet and his former deputy Machar, from the Nuer community, in a power struggle within governing SPLM.

Rebel leader Riek Machar, who was on the run, was charged with treason, as some of his allies. They point that this accusations are “baseless” and threaten a ceasefire signed in late January 2014.

                 New recruits for the SPLA train in a secret camp in the Nuba mountains     South Sudan army today

Since December 2013, when Kiir accused Machar of plotting to overthrow him, violence has spread into a full-scale conflict, with reports of ethnic killing, as rebel fractions seized control of several regional towns. Foreigners were then evacuated and Uganda’s troops intervened to support the government.

Beginning of 2014, a ceasefire was signed, but broken several times, and by July, the UN Security Council described the food crisis (with more than a million displaced, slaughter of thousands and five million in need of humanitarian aid) as the worst in the World.

By today, peace talks are being held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Territorial disputes

The final sovereignty status of Abyei Area is still pending on negotiations between South Sudan and Sudan, being now a “special administrative status” by the 2004 Protocol on the Resolution of the Abyei Conflict, which was part of the comprehensive Peace Agreement that put an end to the Second Sudanese Civil War in 2005.

The conflict is rooted in a dispute over land between farmers of the pro-South Sudan Dinka Ngok people and cattle-herding Misseriya Arab tribesmen.

Abyei’s rich oil reserves make the region economically desirable to both Sudan and South Sudan. Its border location has also led to conflicting ethnic, cultural, and linguistic claims. Resolving the status of the Abyei Area is one of the essential steps Sudan and South Sudan need to take to ensure long-term peace in the region.

In July 2009, North and South Sudan said they accepted ruling by arbitration court in The Hague shrinking disputed Abyei region and placing the major Heglig oil field in the north.

                                     Abyei Conflict                 Ilemi Triangle

Likewise, Ilemi Triangle is another disputed land bordering Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan, at the north-western corner of Lake Turkana.Despite use and raids by tribes within Ethiopia, the Ethiopian government has never made an official claim on any of the Ilemi and in fact agreed that the land was all Sudanese in 1902, 1907, and 1972 treaties, but Kenya now has de facto control of the area.

Families displaced by bombing and fighting live in caves near Kurchi

Another border conflict zone is the Nuba Mountains region of Sudan’s South Kordofan state, where violence continues between the largely Christian and pro-SPLA Nuba people and northern government forces. The Sudanese government maintained heavy military presence in the region and even prospective “popular consultations” on their eventual were seen likely to be barred.

UNHCR suspends returns to Sudan's Jonglei state

Inside South Sudan, a cattle-raiding feud between rival ethnic groups in Jonglei state, declared a disaster in January 2012, has left hundreds of people dead and some 100000 displaced since independence. Aside from the intense tribal infighting, it has also been heavily influenced by the broader South Sudanese conflict since December 2013.



South Sudan has one of Africa’s least developed economies. After several decades of civil war, the country’s industry and infrastructure are severely underdeveloped, for instance, the country has only 250 paved roads.

Poverty is widespread, and subsistence agriculture provides a living for the vast majority of the population. South Sudan depends largely on imports of goods, services, and capital, mainly from Uganda, Kenya and Sudan.

Property rights are insecure and price signals are weak, because markets are not well organized.

Oil and other natural resources, however, account for almost all of government revenues (oil representing almost 98%), but relationship with Sudan complicates the industry. Since the conflict began, oil production fell drastically. At independence in 2011, South Sudan produced nearly three-fourths of former Sudan’s total oil output of nearly a half million barrels per day. In January 2012 South Sudan suspended production of oil because of its dispute with Sudan over transshipment fees (GDP declined 48% that year).

                             Oil exports       South Sudan annual Consumer Price Index (CPI)

Donors South SudanOil is exported through two pipelines that run to refineries and shipping facilities at Port Sudan on the Red Sea. That links South Sudanese economy inevitably. A deal in March 2013 provided for Sudan to resume pumping South Sudanese oil in May, and created a demilitarized border zone.

The outbreak of the conflict by the end of 2013, combined with a further reduction of oil exports, means that GDP growth forecasts for 2014 are being revised downwards again, and poverty and food insecurity are rising, in the country which presents, by far, the highest GDP real growth rate* (*comparing GDP growth on an annual basis adjusted for inflation), being 24.70%.

Also, the increased military spending implies that the country is currently burdened by considerable debt, having received more than $4 billion in foreign aid since 2005.


The March 2013 agreements between Sudan and South Sudan to resume pumping oil after a bitter dispute over fees that saw production shut down more than a year earlier, and the withdrawal of troops from their border area to create a demilitarized zone, are both signals of a bettering relation between the countries.

The role of Sudan and other neighboring countries should be of support for the return and reintegration of hundreds of thousands of refugees, as well as cooperation with the UN three-year South Sudan Development Plan, which heavily relays on its collaboration.

                   Displaced family in South Sudan          UN mission in South Sudan

More than 50.6% of South Sudanese live below the poverty line. Long-term economic challenges include diversifying the formal economy, alleviating poverty, maintaining macroeconomic stability, improving tax collection and financial management and improving the business environment.

This is not easy to attain, as conflicts buffer constantly South Sudan; with the fighting in Abyei between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the SPLA in May 2011, the clashes between the SPLA and dissident militia groups, the inter-ethnic conflicts over resources and cattle, the attacks from the Lord’s Resistance Army and natural disasters such as floods and drought..

Another important issue in South Sudan not to be forgotten is that UNICEF reported 250 confirmed cases of the SPLA’s association with children at the end of 2012. The Government of South Sudan signed a revised action plan with the UN in March 2012 to demobilize all child soldiers within the SPLA, but it has not demonstrated evidence of increasing efforts to address other forms of trafficking.

An International response should be heard to make the ceasefire effective. A good media coverage and presence of the conflict might be the first step towards a caring International Community on South Sudan crisis.

Targeting sanctions, as the Security Council had been doing so far, to make the UN respected, will only hold aid to needy people. An active effort to try to bring the two sides together is necessary, and maybe the US Diplomacy, who had such an active role during the independence progress (hosting the Africa’s Summit), should lead the cause.

There is a lot of work to do; some of the challenges the country faces are, above all, ending political instability and inter-tribal conflicts, but also bettering the infrastructure, diversifying and developing the economy and having a higher human capital (by improving the literacy ratio, poverty and sanitation).

افغانستان Islamic Republic of Afghanistan: Beyond the headlines.

Afghanistan in the globe

Afghanistan is a landlocked country in southern Asia, north and west of Pakistan, at the east of Iran. Kabul, the major urban area, is the capital, and one of the 34 provinces in the country.

The climate there is arid to semiarid, with cold winters and hot summers. The terrain is mostly rugged mountains, with plains in the north and southwest, and lots of natural resources can be found; natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper, chromite, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, zinc, iron ore, salt, precious and semiprecious stones.

Afghans are divided into different ethnic groups, such as the Pashtun (42%), Tajik (27%), Hazara and Uzbek (9% each), Aimak (4%), Turkmen (3%), Baloch (2%) and other (4%). Afghan Persian or Dari is widely spoken by half of the population, functions as the lingua franca and it is one of the official languages of the country, together with Pashto (35%). Turkic languages, primarily Uzbek and Turkmen, are spoken by approximately 11% of the population, and another 30 minor languages, primarily Balochi and Pashai, by a 4%.

              Pashtun Ethnic Groups Afghan tribesman, Pashtun

The majority of the population practice Sunni Muslim religion (by approximately an 80%) and the rest are Shia Muslim (19%) or other (1%).

The country has the highest infant mortality rate in the World, with a total of 117.23 deaths/1000 live births, even though it has the 10th highest birth rate. The literacy ratio is also very low, especially for females, but the education system in Afghanistan is regarded as one of the country’s biggest success stories since the Taliban were driven from power. This is because in 2001 no girls attended formal schools and there were only one million boys enrolled, but by 2012 there were 7.8 million pupils attending school, including about 2.9 million girls (although many do not complete their secondary education).

Despite the advances, violence against women is still a problem, with beatings, forced marriage and lack of economic support being listed as the top three offences reported by the CSO in 2010.Afghan President Hamid Karzai addresses

Their government is al Islamic republic in which the suffrage is universal at 18 years of age. Their constitution was ratified in 2004, and there were several previous. They have a mixed legal system of civil, customary, and Islamic law.

Since 2004 Hamid Karzai is the President of Afghanistan, being both the chief of state and head of the government. Last elections were held in 2009, and Karzai was re-elected for another five-year term. He has a cabinet of 25 ministers, appointed by him and approved by the bicameral National Assembly, composed by the Meshrano Jirga (House of Elders) and the Wolesi Jirga (House of People). Ethnicity is the main factor influencing political alliances, and there are around 84 licensed political parties.

A bit of History

Ahmad Shah Durrani unified the Pashtun tribes and founded Afghanistan in 1747. The country served as a buffer between the British and Russian Empires until it won independence from national British control in 1919 (from UK control over Afghan foreign affairs). A brief experiment in democracy ended in a 1973 coup by Mohammed Daoud Khan, cousin of the king (Zahir Shah) and afghan PM from 1953-1963, and a 1978 communist (Khalq faction of the PDPA) counter-coup.

                             Ahmad Shah Durrani Zahir Shah Mohammed Daoud Khan

In 1978 the Saur (April) Revolution ended with the absolute monarchy, and PDPA (communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan) government took office. The initial cabinet appeared to be carefully constructed to alternate ranking positions between Khalqis and Parchamis (the other faction of the PDPA). Taraki (Khalqi) was PM while Karmal (Parchami) was senior Deputy PM. The unity, however, between Khalq and Parcham lasted only briefly, as most of the Parchamis where soon relieved from their government positions.

President Nur Muhammad Taraki (of the Khalq faction) did however start some reforms: land distribution among the peasants, not compulsory use of the hiyab, and compulsory education for boys and girls. The first Afghan Constitution was written by then.

During the Cold War, the radical Islamists (Talibans) gained relevance as the US was sending weapons to them, hoping that their Anti-Sovietism could help their own interests. The Afghan government was not able to defeat the fundamentalist insurrection, and asked the Soviet Union for help, who intervened in the country, but could not defeat them either.

                        Nur Muhammad Taraki Soviet ground forces in action while conducting an offensive operation against the Islamist resistance, the Mujahideen. The areas where the different mujahideen forces operated in 1985

The Soviet Union invaded in 1979 to support the tottering Afghan communist regime, touching off a long and destructive war that lasted nine years. The USSR withdrew in 1989 under relentless pressure by internationally supported anti-communist mujahedeen rebels (mostly composed by the alliances of the Peshawar Seven and the Tehran Eight).

In 1992, the Peshawar Accords established the Islamic State of Afghanistan, but opposition militia leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, with Pakistani military support and financial support by Saudi Arabia, started a violent war in Kabul. A series of subsequent inter-factional civil wars, supported by regional powers seeking influence over the geostrategically located country, saw Kabul finally fall in 1996 to the Taliban, establishing the Taliban Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

The United Islamic Front (Northern Alliance) was then created under the leadership of Ahmad Shah Massoud, former Defense Minister, as a military-political resistance force against the Taliban Emirate which was backed militarily by Pakistan’s Army and enforced by several thousand Al Qaeda fighters from Arab countries and Central Asia. The Alliance, on its side, was allies with Iran, Russia, China and the US among others. Its commander, Massoud, was assassinated by al-Qaeda operatives, which some called “the curtain raiser for the NY attacks”.

Map of the situation in Afghanistan in 1996, Ahmad Shah Massoud (red), Abdul Rashid Dostum (green) and Taliban (yellow) territories TALIBAN PICTURE OF MASSOOD

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, NATO intervened in Afghanistan, under Operation Enduring Freedom, a US-led war, and with Massoud’s United Front Troops cooperation and American air support, a military action toppled the Taliban for sheltering Osama Bin Laden.

Although Afghanistan is the base for al-Qaeda, none of the 19 hijackers were Afghan nationals. Mohammed Atta, an Egyptian, led the group, and 15 of the hijackers originated from Saudi Arabia. However, President George W. Bush signed into law a joint resolution authorizing the use of force against those responsible for attacking the US on 9/11.

This joint resolution will later be cited by the Bush administration as legal rationale for its decision to take sweeping measures to combat terrorism, from invading Afghanistan, to eavesdropping on US citizens without a court order, to standing up the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The war has lasted 10 years now.

                     9-11 operationenduringfreedom B-52H

                Afghan war Osama Bin Laden Guantanamo-Bay

Under the United Front control, a new interim government was established. The UN-sponsored Bonn Conference in 2001 established a process for political reconstruction that included the adoption of a new constitution, a presidential election in 2004, and National Assembly elections in 2005. The UN Security Council established ISAF (international Security Assistance Force) by then to provide basic security.

Despite continued operations to attack al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters (such as Operation Anaconda, the first major ground assault and the largest operation since Tora Bora), the US shifted militarily and intelligence resources away from Afghanistan towards Iraq.

      Operation Anaconda afghanistan-us-obama-1 Afghanistan Civilian Deaths

In December 2004, Hamid Karzai became the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan and the National Assembly was inaugurated the following December. He was re-elected in August 2009 for a second term, as said. Despite gains toward building a stable central government, a resurgent Taliban and continuing provincial instability – particularly in the south and the east – remain serious challenges for the Afghan Government, as well as the lack of basic services, the difficultly setting up police forces, and the lack of international forces to assist with security.

In December 2004, Hamid Karzai became the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan and the National Assembly was inaugurated the following December. He was re-elected in August 2009 for a second term, as said. Despite gains toward building a stable central government, a resurgent Taliban and continuing provincial instability – particularly in the south and the east – remain serious challenges for the Afghan Government, as well as the lack of basic services, the difficultly setting up police forces, and the lack of international forces to assist with security.

The process of reconstruction, which began in 2002, has had mixed results so far; because on the one hand, of the lack of coordination, knowledge of local conditions, sound planning on the side of international donors (ISAF –International Security Forces in Afghanistan-), as well as by corruption and inefficiency on the side of Afghan government officials. On the other hand, command for individual PRTs (provincial reconstruction teams), which was eventually handed over to NATO states, while credited with improving security for aid agencies, the model is not universally praised, as it lacks central controlling authority and it is disorganized.

Osama Bin Laden, al-Qaeda leader, was killed on May 1st, 2011 by US forces in Pakistan. President Barack Obama planed to withdraw all combat troops by 2014, now by 2016, but serious doubts remain about the Afghan government’s capacity to secure the country.

Last Presidential Elections on 5 April this year, with a second round held on 14 June, had Abdullah Abdullah (from National Coalition of Afghanistan) and Ashraf Ghani (as independent candidate) as the front-runners. As no candidate secured more than the 50% of the vote, there was a second round run-off on 14 June.Preliminary results for the second round were due on 2 July, but were delayed to 7 July, and final results are due 22 July.

Afghan Economy: Past, Present & Future; Opium & Minerals

After decades of conflict, and since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, Afghanistan’s economy is slowly recovering. This is due, largely, because of the infusion of international assistance, the recovery of the agricultural sector, and service sector growth.

Afghanistan has a narrow export base concentrated in few markets. Main export items are opium, fruits and nuts, hand-woven carpets, wool, cotton, hides and pelts, precious and semi-precious gems to Pakistan (32.2%), India (27%), Tajikistan (8.5%) and the US (6.2%) and the main imports; machinery and other capital goods, food, textiles and petroleum products, from Pakistan (24.3%), US (18%), Russia (8.7%), India (5.8%), China (5.6%) and Germany (4.4%). In February this year, the EU and Afghanistan signed a deal concluding their bilateral negotiations on Afghanistan’s accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva. Accession to the WTO is expected to make a lasting contribution to the process of stabilization, economic reform and sustainable development in Afghanistan.

Despite the progress of the past few years, Afghanistan is extremely poor, landlocked, and highly dependent on foreign aid. Much of the population continues to suffer from shortages of housing, clean water, electricity, medical care, and jobs. Criminality, insecurity, weak governance, lack of infrastructure, and the Afghan Government’s difficulty in extending rule of law to all parts of the country pose challenges to future economic growth. Afghanistan’s living standards are among the lowest in the World.

The Afghan econoOpiummy has always been agricultural, despite the fact that only 12% of its total land is arable and about 6% is currently cultivated. Afghan economy almost exclusively relied on opium. Not only Afghan farmers (about 2.4 million) grow poppy flowers from which poppy seeds are extracted, but bathtub laboratories in unstable areas along the Af-Pak border region convert opium into morphine and other opiates and use a sophisticated and international network of merchants and corrupt public officials in neighboring areas for global distribution.

Poppy cultivation increased 57 percent, from 115,000 hectares in 2011 to 180,000 hectares in 2012. As a result of instability, opium production has increased almost every year since the US-led invasion in 2001. Most of the heroin consumed in Europe and Eurasia is derived from Afghan opium. Russia remains concerned about the smuggling of poppy derivatives from Afghanistan through Central Asian countries.

For years Taliban warlords have directly controlled the Afghan opium industry; using proceeds from taxation at every step of the production process to bring in as much as $500 million a year by some estimates to finance their cause. The income per hectare for opium compared to wheat is $4662 to $1625.

That is why, the eradication of the fields is controversial, as there is virtually no national economy that would create other job opportunities, and other crops only yield a fraction of the profits.

       Map Poppy cultivation Opium cultivation Talibans and opium

On the other hand, mineral resources are vital to Afghanistan’s industrial growth and development. Afghanistan is endowed with vast quantities of natural resources, including extensive deposits of copper, iron, coal, marble, precious metals, gemstones and hydrocarbons. Unique to Afghanistan, these resources have remained untouched and undeveloped. Generations of instability have resulted in little exploration, minor development attempts and an inadequate infrastructure for development and transportation of these resources.

The value of these previously unknown deposits is estimated at $1 trillion.The process of establishing a modern mining infrastructure and accessing these untapped resources can create hundreds of thousands of jobs for Afghans with every level of education, from illiterates to engineers.

However, it must be taken into account that these resources are limited and fixed. Factors such as corruption, Taliban presence, other national interests, opportunistic Western corporations and negative effects on the environment are also critical aspects that can affect this economic sector.


Conclusions: The need on building a functioning economy and society

There are still many problems to attend in Afghanistan. As a country “in transition”, it has to deal with many old problems implementing new solutions. Alliances and International as well as regional help is going to be a key factor to attain it.

Not only is the relationship with the US relevant to Afghanistan. Neighboring Pakistan is not an easy “brother” to deal with despite being an Islamic Republic as well; the Durand Line (2,640 kilometers long porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan), Taliban insurgency, water problem and the many refugee population had negatively affected their relations.

Afghanistan has one of the world’s largest repatriated populations. Almost six million refugees have now returned home since the Taliban were ousted, and the UNHCR estimates just under two million of these still require support. About 600,000 people are still recognized as internally displaced, most of them in the south and west of the country.

The new government will have to face internal problems as well, such as; Biggest problems Afghans

SECURITY.- Under a bilateral security agreement (BSA), some foreign special forces would stay to conduct “counter-terror operations” and others to support and train Afghan forces, but this has not been signed by the current Afghan President. The US said it will pull all its forces out by the end of the year if the BSA remains unsigned.

Al-Qaeda’s strength in the country has been reduced, although it still has a presence. After more than a decade of war, the Taliban are a long way from being defeated and have been growing in strength. Many of NATO’s territorial gains are by no means irreversible.

Promising to draw the war to a close by the time he leaves office, Obama announced that a residual force of 9,800 U.S. troops will remain in the country after combat operations end in December, split between a training/advising mission and special operations focused on what the president called “the remnants of al-Qaeda.”

If all goes well, the remaining trick will be to convince Congress to continue funding the advising and equipping efforts for the ANSF as well as other economic aid, which together will allow Afghanistan to continue the positive trajectory that has been set after thirteen years of fighting and building by the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the wider international community.

Maybe, what President Obama should have announced was that U.S. advisers would be kept in Afghanistan in unspecified numbers as long as the government of Afghanistan requested their presence and as long as the U.S. government judges that they are needed to prevent the Taliban, Haqqanis, al-Qaeda, and other terrorists from making major inroads, instead. Such an announcement will drain the Taliban of hope and fill hard-pressed Afghan security forces with newfound confidence.

POVERTY.- The proportion of the population of Afghanistan in poverty is estimated at 36%, although it varies from a relatively low 29% in urban areas to 36% in rural areas and 54% among the country’s nomadic or Kuchi population. The unemployment rate is high, and the government has not presented a plan yet to reduce it. The mining exploitation might be a possible solution, but infrastructures had to be prepared.

An important issue will be on how much US Congress and the international community will be willing to invest in Afghanistan if American troops, along with a much smaller contingent of NATO forces, are not in the country. Reconstruction of infrastructures highly depends on aid.

Finally, there is also the issue of opium; Afghanistan’s economy depends heavily on the drugs trade. The country supplies over 90% of the world’s opium, the raw ingredient of heroin.

HEALTH.- There have been big improvements in the country’s health system. According to the UN, access to safe drinking water improved from 4.8% of the population to 60.6% by 2011. However, the averages again mask big differences between urban and rural areas, with much less improvement in rural areas.

Vaccination campaigns continue to work towards the elimination of polio in Afghanistan, one of the last remaining countries where the disease remains endemic. In 2013 there were 14 reported cases, down from 37 in 2012.


Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy

ISAF Facts and Figures

NATO Lisbon Summit Declaration, 2010

Statement by President Obama on Afghanistan office/2014/05/27/statement-president-afghanistan

Afghanistan minerals Project by US Geological Survey (USGS):

Interactive map on Afghanistan Oil and Natural Gas:

Economic information (imports/exports/foreign investment):

UN Security Council adopts Resolution 1267, creating the so-called al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee:

UN Security Council passed Resolution 1378, calling for a “central role” for the UN in establishing a transitional administration and inviting member states to send peacekeeping forces to promote stability and aid delivery:

European Parliament Elections 2014

Allow me to take the liberty of posting here on a different topic, not directly on international conflicts, yet with a political content. I am going to expose some notes on the EU upcoming elections for the European Parliament (EP).

         European Parliament  EU Flags Parliament  Plenary Session in Strasbourg EP

So, seems that during this week, we Europeans are called to the ballot boxes.

What for?

While the EU is often depicted as a monstrous bureaucratic creature, condemned to irrelevance by the emerging economies, it remains the most accomplished experiment of economic, social and political integration in human history.

In a Mr. José Manuel Durão Barrosovast May 22nd-25th election covering 28 countries, as many as 350 million people will be able to vote for members of the EP, the bloc’s only directly elected body. It will be the 8th pan-European parliamentary election since the first direct elections in 1979 (across the, by then, 9 European Community member states).

The results will be taken into account when deciding, around October this year, Mr. José Manuel Durão Barroso successor as President of the European Commission (EC). This is a result of the amendments introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, giving the EP new competences to decide on some policies (energy, agriculture, migration, justice, health, etc) together with the CE.

This election will therefore enable voters to judge the efforts of the leaders of the EU to tackle the crisis in the euro zone and express their views on plans to intensify economic and political integration. Hence the election slogan “Action, Reaction, Decision,” and the main message “This time is different,” as voters will be more influential than ever.

How does this apply to current issues?

As said, the EP’s powers were boosted by the Lisbon Treaty in 2009. It now co-decides, with the EC, in nearly all policy areas.

Amid continuing economic hardship for millions of Europeans and a much-criticized “disconnect” between EU institutions and voters, policymakers in Brussels are trying to democratize the election process, and for the first time, the election results will be linked to the selection of the CE President, although the grip of recession continues to weigh on attitudes regarding the economy.

Key issues for Europe’s voters include; the reduction of mass unemployment, the Sovereignty issue, the rise in migration since 2007, and also energy policies (mainly, on the cost of fuel).

        EU unemployment rates     EU energy consumption

Some of the policies the EP effectively took care of in the past were, for instance, the anti-tobacco legislation, the new price caps in mobile roaming charges, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta), as it lacked safeguards for freedom of expression on the internet, some new regulations for banks and other financial services, the reform of EU fisheries policy or the Common Agricultural Policy.

Why should I vote?

Regardless of where you live, the EU has a large, yet often unnoticed, impact on many aspects of your everyday life. Whether you are traveling, eating, working, doing business, shopping, surfing the Internet or breathing, all these activities are largely shaped by the EU.

Young Europeans- Future

With just over some days to go until EP elections results, two separate polls on May 12nd suggested around two-thirds of Europeans feel their voices are not heard in Brussels, although trust in the EU is rebounding from record lows. Only 37 percent of Europeans believe their voice counts in Brussels according to a poll by Eurobarometer (a public opinion service of the EU).

EU elections Turnout

The turnout on EU elections is not usually very high, as the trust in EU institution decreases each period (it was 50% in 2008 vs. 31% in 2013) and austerity policies have not benefited some countries, being unable to boost the economy growth at the same time that reduced public spending.


What are the options?

The Members of the EP sit in political groups. They are not organized by nationality, but by political affiliation. There are currently 7 political groups in the EP. The groups are sometimes the formal representation of a Europarty, and, in other cases, they are political coalitions of a number of European parties, national parties, and independent politicians.

Results EP elections 2009Each group takes care of its own internal organization by appointing a chair (or two co-chairs in the case of some groups), a bureau and a secretariat. 25 members are needed to form a political group, and at least one-quarter of the Member States must be represented within the group. Members may not belong to more than one political group. Some Members do not belong to any political group and are known as non-attached Members.

The groups in the EP are: the European People’s Party (EPP), the Party of European Socialists (PES, S&D coalition), the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party (ALDE), the European Green Party (EGP, EGP-EFA alliance), the Party of European United Left- Nordic Green Left (GUE, GUE-NGL alliance) the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and the Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD).

  EPP logo PES logo  ALDE logo  European Greens Party logo  EuropeanLeft logo  CMJN de base

Who are the candidates?

Six candidates have been put forward by the various political factions in the EP.(from left to right): Jean-Claude Juncker (PPE) –lawyer, Luxemburg PM (1995-2013), PPE President (2005-2013)-, Martin Schulz (PES) –book seller, President of the EP (2012-2014), VicePresident of the Socialist International since 2004-, Guy Verhofstad (ALDE) –lawyer, Belgium PM (1999-2008), Current President of the EC-, Franziska “Ska” Keller (EGP/EFA) –degree in Islamic studies, Turkish and Judaism, President of the European Greens Youth (2005-2007)- and co-candidate José Bové – French politician and syndicalist-, Alexis Tsipras (GUE) – Syriza’s leader (Greece opposition)-.

EP 2014 Candidates

Last polls carried out by PollWatch on May 20th, suggest that, according to the apportionment system explained in the Traty of Lisbon (article 14) and the Treaty of Nice, EPP will get 217 seats (28.9%), followed by 201 seats of S&D (26.8%), 59 seats for ALDE (7.9%), 44 seats for EGP-EFA (5.9%), 42 seats for ECR (5.6%), 53 for GUE-NGL (7.1%), 40 for EFD (5.3%) and finally 95 for NI (12.6%).

It is important to know, that the mechanism to support each of the candidates/groups is voting for the national parties ascribed to such groups.

In Spain, for instance, the vote will be in closed and blocked lists (which means that the voter cannot mix different candidates or alter the order) and in a unique statewide. There is not a threshold either (as it is in Germany), as the Hondt system is used.

Each party will present a list with some candidates to become MEP (eurodiputado), with a head of list. Spanish members for the different Eurogroups are; for PPE, PP, Vox (Aleix Vidal Quadras) and UDC, for PES, PSOE and PSC, for ALDE, PNV and CDC (part of the Colaition for Europe), for EGP-EFA, IC-V, for ECR there is not Spanish party, and finally for GUE-NGL IU. For the NI there is UPyD.

What do they offer?

DebatingEurope edited these infographics which are pretty accurate on the main 10 priorities in each Manifesto of the Eurogroups (you can check out the complete texts in the link below);

          EPP   PES   ALDE   Greens   Left

Other Data and Bibliography

Links to the websites of the different Groups and its annual accounts till 2012:

Last Eurobarometrer:

བོད Tibet (Cholka-Sum). A story of ethnic prejudice and religious repression.

              Tibet Map      Tibetan flag

The history of conflict in the so called “roof of the World” dates back to 821, before the Mongol invasions, with the peace treaty between Tibet and China, signed after 200 years of conflict over border regions. It established Tibet as independent with its own inviolable territory.

 Tibet retained some autonomy and enjoyed religious authority throughout the Mongolian Empire. When the Mongol Empire in China fell to the ethnic Han Chinese, Tibet had already broken from the Mongols, and did not pay tribute to Ming emperors. Chinese scholars argue that lamas accepted titles and this is evidence of China’s sovereignty at this time.

 After some peaceful years under the Dalai Lama authority, the Dzungar Mongols invaded Tibet in 1717. The Qing Emperor sent troops and crushed them in 1720. Taking advantage of Tibet’s instability, the Qing then declared Tibet a tributary state and turned Kham and Amdo into the Chinese province of Qinghai.

              Mongol Empire (1200-1300) Kham and Amdo into the Chinese province of Qinghai

In 1903 a new invader arrived to Tibet; a British delegation entered on the pretext of establishing trade relations and resolving a border dispute. Probably they were more concentrated on assessing Russian influence in Tibet, as the country could be a good invasion route into British India.

Some 10 years after though, Thubten Gyatso (13th Dalai Lama) declared the independence when the Qing emperor abdicated following the establishment of the Republic of China, and all Chinese troops were expelled from Lhasa.

Shimla fails newspaper

In 1914, Britain, Tibet and China met to negotiate the borders of India and her northern neighbors in the Shimla Accord. The treaty gave secular control of Qinghai to China and recognized the autonomy of the rest of Tibet. China refused to sign as a result of south Tibet being ceded to British India.

By October 1950, 40000 Chinese troops invaded Tibet*. A 15-year-old Tenzin Gyatso was given full powers to rule as the 14th Dalai Lama. A 17 point agreement was signed, under protest, by representatives of the Dalai Lama. Lhasa became then filled with refugees from eastern Tibet, and the resistance movement grew, to which the Chinese responded with widespread brutality. In 1959, fearful of plans to abduct the Dalai Lama, 300000 Tibetans surrounded Potala Palace to offer him protection. A week later the Dalai Lama fled over the mountains to India. The instauration of Mao’s Great Leap Forward campaign led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Tibetan peasants and nomads.

U-TsangIn 1965 U-Tsang (renamed Qinghai), was formally inaugurated as the Tibet Autonmous Region (TAR). Along with Amdo and Kham (incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan), historical Tibet was about the size of western Europe.

 By that time, the cultural revolution started as Mao insisted in imposing communism.

In 1979 Deng Xiaoping (Mao’s successor) opened talks with the Dalai Lama and offered the Strasbourg Proposal, calling for autonomy over domestic affairs, with China overseeing foreign policy. Despite the efforts made, Tibetan unrest began in 1987 on the 30th anniversary of the National Uprising thousands took to the streets, and the authorities responded with brutal force, expelled all foreigners and declared martial law.

            Tibetans rally on Tibetan National Uprising Day    Gendun Chökyi Nyima    Gyancain Norbu

In 1995 the 11th Panchen Lama (highest ranking Lama after the Dalai Lama), the 6-year-old Gendun Chökyi Nyima, became the World’s youngest political prisoner when he was taken by Chinese authorities. The following year China launched a patriotic re-education campaign and named Gyancain Norbu Panchen Lama.

Who is the Dalai Lama and which is his political role?

Lamas are spiritual teachers. The Dalai Lama is the most senior figure in Tibetan Buddhism.

Dalai Lama lineage started in 1578, when Mongol ruler Altan Khan bestowed the title Dalai Lama on Sonam Gyatso (the 3rd Dalai Lama, after his two previous reincarnations), leader of the Gelugpa school of Buddhism.

The 5th Dalai Lama assumed political authority over Tibet. He unified the central Tibetan states, began the construction of the Potala Palace as his seat of government, and established diplomatic relations with China in 1649.

Since 1950, Tenzin Gyatso is Tibet’s14th Dalai Lama, considered to be the reincarnation of Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987. He is living in Dharamsala, northern India, seat of the Tibetan political administration in exile (Central Tibetan Administration, or CTA) since 1959, with the brutal suppression of the Tibetan national uprising in Lhasa by Chinese troops.

                                                      Tenzin Gyatso 14th Dalai Lama     The Potala Palace

For generations, Dalai Lamas have also been the rulers of Tibet, but the current Dalai Lama has given up any political role and is now a purely religious figure. He relinquished the last vestiges of his formal governmental role in the Tibetan government in exile. These duties, enshrined in the Charter (constitution) of Tibetans in exile, include summoning or suspending the parliament (empowered to elect the Tibetan Kashag or the Council of Ministers), appointing ministers, and holding referenda. He handled over full governmental responsibility to the elected leaders of the exile population.

The Dalai Lama stated that the exile government would be dissolved as soon as Tibet regained freedom, and that he would then transfer his power to a transitional government headed by an interim-president, required to hold a general election within two years, and hand over the power to the popularly-elected government.

However, his political image is still relevant in the country, and in most areas of Tibet, it is illegal to sell or possess images of the Dalai Lama. Also, the Dalai Lama still advocates for Tibetan people; he has appealed to the United Nations on the question of Tibet (the General Assembly adopted three resolutions on Tibet in 1959, 1961 and 1965).

Is modernization good or bad for Tibetans?

China’s attempt to consolidate its control over Tibet through modernization has gone tragically awry. After pouring money into programs for a “new socialist countryside,” “civilized cities,” and “comfortable housing” and even a “gratitude education” campaign, Beijing faces resentment.

Entrepreneurial Han migrants to Tibet rent land and living space from residents and use government aid to start businesses, pushing local people to the economic margins. In response to Tibetan disaffection, the authorities have increased surveillance, making Tibetans feel “already guilty” just for looking and acting Tibetan.

                    Tibetans in camels     Qinghai–Tibet Railway

On the one hand, in the evolutionary framework of Chinese historiography, Tibetans and other so-called national minorities lag far behind and must therefore be civilized by the more advanced Han people. In 2001 Hu Jintao, by then China’s vice president, visited Tibet and gave a speech on China’s civilizing mission which would “turn from darkness to light, from backwardness to progress, from poverty to affluence.” In this statement and in scores of official policies and regulations, there is an open attitude of superiority and paternalism, which is sometimes officially recognized as “Han chauvinism” but which masks a reality that exists in countries all over the World: racism; a social fact for many Tibetans living under Chinese rule.

On the other hand, economic indicators suggest that Tibetan economy has progressed significantly during the past 50 years (in 2000, the region’s GDP reached 11.746 billion yuan, twice as much as in 1995), as basic industries have thrived, the level of urbanization has constantly improved and remarkable achievements have been made in opening up. Finally, rapid progress has been made inmedical and health care, science and technology, and education. Although it is true that it hasn’t been exempt of some controversy, such as the “National Territory Consciousness Education in School, Community and Media” activity implemented in Primary Schools, just to name an example.

Is resistance self-generated or incited from abroad?

It is not so much the struggle for sovereignty as the struggle for respect that drives Tibetan resistance, which persists despite improvements in Tibet’s economic conditions.

              Tibetan monks     Self-immolation protest

On March the 16th 2011, Phuntsog, a young monk from Kirti Monastery, set himself on fire in Ngaba. Since then, there have been over 100 self-immolation protests. The number of self-immolations since 2009 ascends to 131 persons. Self-immolations together with other Tibet-related protests are considered as internal affairs and phrased as the “Tibetan Problem” (a name ironically similar to the over 60-year-old “Taiwan Problem”) by China.

Map; Tibetan self-immolations from 2009-2014The Chinese government has responded to the self-immolations and unrest in Tibet by intensifying the military buildup and strengthening the very policies and approaches that are the root cause of the acts, such as aggressive campaigns against loyalty to the Dalai Lama.

There is a direct correlation between the self-immolations and an intensified campaign against the Dalai Lama in Tibet together with the aggressive expansion of legal measures tightening state control over Tibetan religion and culture.

Although the Chinese government has sought to blame the Dalai Lama and ‘outside forces’ for the self-immolations, it is far from absurd to think that these dramatic developments in Tibet reflect significant failures in policy that must be addressed.

While it is an official government policy that all peoples in China are equal and discrimination is prohibited, what is occurring in China today is massive denial of tragic proportions. China’s laws and policies are in dire need of revision to remove the pervasive paternalism and inferences of superiority that lead to thousands of acts of discrimination day in and day out.

The International Community has to monitor this process while making sure human rights are being taken into account. At the same time though, it is important to give due credit to many of China’s reformers, past and present, in and out of government, who are part of the genuine fight against racism and who have contributed to reducing racist attitudes in China.

What has the World to say about it?

March 2008 demonstrations in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and other Tibetan-populated areas of China and the vitriolic popular Han response further polarized ethnic antagonisms. Since 2008 protests supporting Tibet erupted also in cities across North America and Europe, targeting Chinese embassies and the Olympic torch relay.

Instead of being silent as they have been for last 50 years, Tibetans found the necessity of having their own position towards the “Tibetan Problem” phrased by Chinese government and “Tibet tensions” acknowledged by US and other Western governments.

               Tibetan activists and supporters wave placards and flags as they take part in a peace march along with the group of around 100 core marchers in Dharamsala on March 10, 2008, to commemorate the 49th anniversary of the Tibetan Uprising Day. More than 100 Tibetan exiles in India set off to tumultuuous applause Monday on a symbolic march home as part of pro-independence protests ahead of the Beijing Olympics.     2008 protests in San Francisco

President Obama meets with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the Map Room of the White House, Saturday, July 16, 2011

US foreign policy towards China and Tibet has been evolving, emphasizing its humanitarian elements. From the first encounter between a US diplomat and the then Dalai Lama in 1908, to the recent pattern of congressional and White House pressure on Beijing to engage in dialogue with the Tibetan leadership in exile, Washington assured the Tibetans of their friendship and support but never abandoned the position that Tibet is part of China.

In the 1950’s and early 1960’s, the US provided limited training and assistance to Tibetan guerillas resisting Chinese rule. This aid was sufficient only to harass, not expel, Chinese forces. CIA support for the guerillas (such as Chushi Gangdruk) is also a known story (Dalai Lama’s administration acknowledged that it received $1.7 million a year in the 1960’s). The decade-long covert program to support the Tibetan independence movement was part of the CIA’s worldwide effort to undermine Communist governments, particularly in the Soviet Union and China.

European Parliament 100th Tibet Intergroup meeting

Less well known are the roles of the Indian and Nepali (with a large refugee population), and, to a small degree, Taiwanese governments (Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party) in supporting the small force. It has to be bearded in mind that Tibet is the source of 10 major rivers in Asia, and so it is vital for India and South Asia, as well as Asia as a whole.

The EU created the Tibet Intergroup and Committees on Foreign Affairs and Human Rights (within the European Parliament) and the European External Action Service and the European Commission advocate policies to advance a negotiated settlement for Tibet’s future. Also, there are many Europe-based International Organizations, agencies and other multilateral forums to raise Tibetan issues on the World stage and to have China address these issues.

In those forums, as well as in the UN, during the various General Assembly debates, several members spoke passionately, denouncing the Communist government’s aggression against Tibet as a violation of its independence. However, while two of the resolutions referred to the principle of self-determination, all three skirted the issue of Tibet’s status under international law, focusing instead on human rights violations. Many interpret the UN’s unfinished consideration of the question of Tibet a longstanding act of omission.

             Li Keqiang, Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China     Dr Lobsang Sangay, Prime Minister, Tibetan government-in-exile

Tibet-China dialogue must be assured to find a peaceful and negotiated solution. The reunification of all Tibetan areas as a single Tibetan administrative entity, enjoying real autonomy, within the political framework of the People’s Republic of China to avoid instability in Tibet and its eventual separation from China, seems to be a reasonable “middle-way” solution.

*I acknowledge that in the Tibetan sovereignty debate (as an interpretation of the modern succession of states theory), the view presented here is closer to the one held by the Tibetan Government in exile, rather than PRC claims that Tibet has been a part of China since the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368) and ROC claims that Tibet was placed under the sovereignty of China when the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) expelled Nepal from Tibet in 1793. I held this position as the literature I have had access to suggest this is more accurate, although in my research I have found evidence to hold all three views to some extent.



  • “Tibet’s Last Stand? The Tibetan Uprising of 2008 and China’s Response”, by Warren W., Jr. and Smith Jr.
  • “Struggle for Tibet”, by Wang Lixiong, Tsering Shakya. (A very interesting collection of back-and-forth articles by Wang (an independent Chinese intellectual) and Shakya (a Tibetan academic living in exile)
  • “Arrested Histories: Tibet, the CIA, and Memories of a Forgotten War”, by Carole McGranahan.
  • “Beyond Shangri-La: America and Tibet’s Move into the Twenty-First Century”, by John Kenneth Knaus.
  • Simla Accord, 1914; Convention Between Great Britain, China, and Tibet, Simla (1914)
  • UN General Assembly Resolutions 1959 (1353 XIV), 1961 (1723 XVI), 1965 (2079 XX).
  • “Jampa, The Story of Racism in Tibet”, (prepared for the UN World Conference against racism, September 2001), by International Campaign for Tibet.
  • CRS Report for Congress; “Tibet: Problems, Prospects and US Policy”, by Kerry Dumbaugh (April 10, 2008).

Central African Republic

“In CAR, it is cheaper to buy a grenade than a baguette.”

Will the international community respond to the threat of genocide in the Central African Republic?


As South Africans cheered President Barack Obama’s speech at the funeral of Nelson Mandela and his legacy of tolerance and reconciliation, a nation of 4.6 million people 2,500 miles/ 4000km north was being torn apart by religious hatred.

Escalating violence and risk of mass atrocities in the Central African Republic, where a wave of sectarian killings has raised fears of a coming genocide, is a silent conflict which is claiming hundreds of victims each week.

Before knowing what’s going on…

The former French colony of Ubangi-Shari became the Central African Republic upon independence in 1960. After three tumultuous decades of misrule, mostly by military governments that acceded power by means of three coups (1966-1979-1981), civilian rule was established in 1993, when the first elections were held, and lasted for one decade.


A military coup deposed in 2003 President Patassé after several failed attempts, in favor of General Bozizé, his removed chief of staff, who was “reelected” in 2011 in a doubtable regular election. In March 2013, when rebel groups seized the capital, Bozizé fled the country, becoming rebel leader Djotodia the President, and Tiangaye the Prime Minister. Today, and since January 2014, Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza is chief of state. She was elected by the National Transitional Council to replace Interim President Nguendet, who took over after the resignation of Interim President Djotodia. Prime Minister is, since January 2014, Andre Nzapayeke, as Tiangaye resigned early this year.


After the CAR Bush War in 2004-2007, which began with the rebellion of UFDR rebels, several rebel groups were formed and a number of peace agreements were signed to resolve the conflict between 2007-2012, granting amnesty for any acts perpetrated against the state prior to the agreement, and according disarmament and demobilization. Despite this, violence persists after hundreds were killed and thousands displaced.

What’s the problem now?

Sectarian killings have steadily spread throughout the Central African Republic since predominantly Muslim Seleka (Alliance) rebels ousted the Christian president (Bozizé) in March. Djotodia (UFDR’s leader) largely lost control of his loose band of fighters, which includes many gunmen from Sudan and Chad.

Seleka is a reference to fighters from three rebellious groups, namely; Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), the Union of Republican Forces (UFR) and the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), all three becoming integrated into the army in 2007, but many deserted in 2012, accusing President Bozizé of not honoring the ceasefire deal (release of political prisoners and payment for fighters who disarmed) and took up arms again.


They captured many major towns in the central and eastern regions of the country in the end of 2012.

Also, Uganda’s militant group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) destabilizes southeastern CAR, and several rebel groups joined together in early December 2012 to launch a series of attacks that left them in control of numerous towns in the northern and central parts of the country. LRA insurgency is not only operating in the CAR, but also in South Sudan and eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

As a result of all the instability, illegal weapons proliferate across the country, whose forests and rich resources provide cover and money for armed groups.

Are cleavages the key factor to the current crisis? Yes, but this conflict cannot be described as ethnic-religious alone. The unrest is partly fuelled by ethnic and religious rivalries and poor communities who feel ignored by those in power. There are several ethnic groups coexisting in the country; Baya (33%), Banda (27%), Mandjia (13%), Sara (10%), Mboum (7%), M’Baka (4%), Yakoma (4%). Also, religious cleavage is determinant to explain the situation; the population divides between indigenous beliefs (35%), Protestant (25%), Roman Catholic (25%), influenced by animistic beliefs and practices and Muslim (15%). However, intermarriage between faiths is common, and towns are mixed, with mosques and churches sharing the same streets.

Vengeance is not forever

Even though since the Bangui Agreements under President Patassé in 1997, small inter-African observer mission (MISAB) and UN mission (MINURCA) among others have been monitoring the agreements, an institution with enforcement capacity is needed. The appeals of the population to the international Community must be taken into account. CAR is facing a situation of total lawlessness.


The World took note when last year 1000 were killed in two days of battles between the Seleka and anti-balaka (Christian militias). Given the fact that the Army (FACA) is unable to halt the unrest, is not CAR itself who can do something immediate to solve the security threat, but other regional or international actors.

The unrest in CAR represents a serious security threat to bordering Chad. Mr. Bozizé came to power with the assistance of the Chadian army; Chad has thousand of CAR refugees and Mr.  Idriss Deby, Chad’s President wants a close ally to the south.

Some other regional players, such as Gabon, Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, South Africa and Uganda (with the help of US military advisers) are also contributing with troops to protect the capital.

The International Community, at its turn, are established in CAR in two peace missions as said; UN Integrated Peace Building Office in CAR and Fomac or Micopax, a EU-funded regional force, supported by France with 250 soldiers providing technical support (Sangari). This is far from enough to solve the situation. UNICEF estimates there are as many as 6,000 child soldiers across the country.

It is urgent to pact a ceasefire and form a government of national unity to restore peace, reform the security forces and organize legislative elections.

Heightened insecurity has serious implications on the government’s ability to protect its sovereign wealth, for which regaining control is a must, and also over the worsening humanitarian situation.

At the same time, several trials are to be held for the crimes committed. Even though CAR has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration, it accepts ICC jurisdiction. Mr. Bozizé has already been indicted in the ICC for crimes against humanity and incitement of genocide (case no. 428/1990). So was Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, a Congolese warlord, commander-in-chief of MLC (Movement for the Liberation of Congo) and opposition leader also involved in the Central African Republic’s civil war, charged with counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes and on trial since 2010.

The current scale of violence, detestability, hate, poverty, humanitarian disaster and suffering is so extreme that cannot be ignored anymore, in a country with a history of coups and corruption, and still, with such abundance of natural, human and cultural wealth. Do we really need a “second Rwanda” to be shocked and vow again “never again”? CAR 2012 International Religious Freedom Report


Venezuela unrest

In nearly two months of political unrest in Venezuela, at least 32 people have died. The unrest began in western Venezuela on the 4th of February and grew into a nationwide movement denouncing the economic crisis, high inflation, crime and police brutality.

Why do they protest?

Anti-government demonstrations started in Tachira and Merida in February 2014 and were the largest in a decade. Then the Caracas ones started to demand the release of those detained during previous marches, and soon turned deadly. Now, it is not weird to see burning barricades in eastern Caracas’ streets.

Apparently, the protests started after students of a local university in San Cristobal (Tachira) took to the streets and clashed with the authorities, following the alleged attempted rape of one of their female classmates.

Students then started protesting against several subjects; high inflation (around 56.2% in December 2013), food shortages, government-lead media blackout (as many TV channels had been removed or threatened to be expel for its coverage of the protests) and high crime rates and violence levels (the country has the fifth highest murder rate in the whole World). Some others want President Maduro’s resignation.


The excessive and unlawful force used against protesters has alerted institutions, both local (Foro Penal Venezolano) and international (Human Rights Watch). Prosecutor General Mr. Ortega talked about the detention of some security forces members and other officers. Some motorcyclist’s gangs, pro-government, had also been accused of violent attacks. The government blames “fascists” for the attacks.

Who is who in “La Salida”

The opposition main figures are being targeted. Maria Corina Machado (Vente Venezuela), has been one of the most visible leaders of the opposition demonstrations against President Maduro. Venezuela’s Congress on the 18th of March requested a criminal investigation of Ms. Machado for crimes including treason in relation to her involvement in anti-government protests.

Leopoldo López (Voluntad Popular), considered by many the leader of anti-chavista democratic opposition, is in jail after surrender himself to the military, awaiting trial on charges of intentional arson, incitement to violence, damage to public property and conspiracy. According to Mr. Maduro, he created a road map to topple the legitimate government, so now he’s in jail and he has to go through justice.” Government officials had also blamed Mr. López and other opposition leaders for fueling the violence and not doing enough to stop it. At its turn, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other international human-rights groups condemned his arrest as politically motivated, as he is imprisoned even when there is no evidence linking him with a crime.

The opposition group MUD (Democratic Unity Roundtable) soon joined the protests. Henrique Capriles, who in a first stage opposed the marches as he considered those were mainly confined to the middle class, joined them after more than 500 people were arrested and more than a dozen killed.

The government has been very critical on these actions, arguing that the opposition receives economical support from, among others, the US Congressional Budget.


What has been the Government reaction?

Mr. Maduro is unapologetic about his government’s response to opposition protesters. According to him, the protests are part of a right-wing plot backed by the United States to oust his democratically elected government (Great Patriotic Pole), insisting on that the protesters are “fascists” and “saboteurs” seeking to overthrow his government.

An accusation to the opposition of trying to stage a coup (with backing of the US and NATO), as in 2002, is the argument held by the government. It has also called for its supporters, mostly the poorer sections of Venezuelan society, to show their strength. Venezuelan National Militia, SEBIN, “colectivos” (militant groups) and security forces support the government.


Several measures had been taken by the government since the beginning of the crisis. On March the 5th, Mr. Maduro cut ties with Panama on charges the country’s President was conspiring with the US to intervene in Venezuela’s affairs. He actually gave the Panamanian ambassador and three other diplomats in Venezuela 48 hours to leave the country.

Maduro’s government also rejected a closed-door meeting on the crisis held on the 6th of March by the Organization of American States, but received Unasur on the 25th.

Some of these actions had also affected internal politics; on March the 26th, President Maduro announced that three air force generals had been arrested, under allegations of plotting an uprising against his government. Also, Economy Vice President Rafael Ramírez, said the government will start up a new foreign exchange swap market known as Sicad 2 on March 10th.

Last November the National Assembly granted Mr. Maduro special decree powers that allow him to pass laws without the assembly’s approval. Many expect the government to announce a new devaluation of the bolivar soon, in order to close the gap with the black market. As the biggest oil reserve holder, and as a member of Petrocaribe, Venezuela may be slowly pulling the plug, cutting shipments and modifying repayment terms though, as the country is in need of more liquidity.

What about the international response?

The Union of South American Nations (Unasur) announced that it would send a mission to Venezuela in an effort to foment peace between the government and opposition. Mercosur also called for further dialogue.

Ban Ki-moon urged the authorities to listen carefully to the protesters aspirations in Geneva’s meeting with Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Mr. Jaua, as the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said a group of its experts have asked Venezuela to respond to “allegations of arbitrary detention and excessive use of force” against protesters and journalists.

The EU, at its turn, declared that only respect for fundamental rights, constructive and respectful dialogue and tolerance can help Venezuela to find a way out of its current violent crisis.

President Obama criticized the government for the unacceptable violence during the protests. Soon after, three US diplomats were expelled from Caracas, and a new ambassador was named to Washington.

What now?

Insecurity, food shortages and power outages are only three items, in a long list of grievances, that seems to have united a significant part of the population against Mr. Maduro’s government in this deeply politically polarized country.

However, the most relevant ones might be the economic problems of the country. Venezuela suffers from the region’s highest inflation, which is one of the World’s highest rates. Its annual inflation rate for 2013 was 56.2%. There is a fixed rate for buying dollars, but on the black market dollars sell for 10 times as much (as the government imposed controls over foreign exchange in 2003, after a major oil strike crippled the country’s economy, to avoid capital flight and to control the prices of food staples, the amount of dollars available at the official rate is restricted, but the demand remains high. This causes the black market to flourish.).

Hence, the shortages. Venezuela’s inadequate domestic production of food staples makes it dependant on imports for many products. If companies cannot easily access dollars, imports become difficult. The government however blames shortages on businessmen who are trying to boycott the system.

As said before, the protests are massive, but so far they seem confined mainly, though not exclusively, to the middle class. Mr. Capriles has said that as long as the protests do not spread to a wider sector of society, it is unlikely there will be any change. Something to be taken into account is that Venezuela’s student movement is largely conservative in its outlook, unlike many other Latin American countries.

On the other hand, the government’s popularity remains high, amid its working-class voters, who gave it a further boost in local elections in December. Mr. Maduro proved that there is a “chavismo” after Chávez and, till now, that it was stronger than what the opposition was offering.

Some argue that opposition leaders currently aim to topple the democratically elected government by portraying it as a repressive dictatorship that is cracking down on peaceful protest, and say this is a standard regime change strategy.

In any case, violence from either side is deplorable and must be condemned, and detained protesters should be released on bail unless there is legal and justifiable cause for pre-trial detention. Diplomatic relations and international mediation (through regional institutions, or other Latin American governments, such as Brazil or Cuba), plus solving the lack of investment to rise the oil production to help stabilize the Venezuelan economy are necessary. Loosen restrictions on the media and allow greater measures of free political activity are also measures the government should take to be able to govern. Opposition will have to wait then for two years for a recall referendum to gain security and stability.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. Article by Mary O’Grady (in Spanish), published in The Wall Street Journal 24/03/2014. Link to CEDICE’s (opposition think-tank) website ( ). Statement posted on the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ website (asking for clarification on alleged arbitrary detentions and use of violence). FY 2014 US Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations (shows about $90m in US funding to Venezuela since 2000).

Ukrainian Crisis

What is the background?

Ukraine has been culturally divided since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, when a referendum for the independence was successful by a 90% in favor and Kravchuk became the first elected President, succeeded by Kuchma. The South and East of the country has a Russian culture (Russian is widely spoken and pro-Russian political groups receive more electoral support) whilst the North and West (closer to Europe) identify with Central Europe, being Ukranian the main language. But the current crisis must not be interpreted as a Yugoslav-style ethno-cultural fight, but a political struggle.

    Ukraine map region language, Source 2001 Ukraine Census               

In 2004, when the pro-Russian candidate, Yanukovych (Party of Regions), nominally won the elections and reports of widespread vote-rigging appeared, Yushchenko (Our Ukraine–People’s Self-Defense Bloc), the opposition candidate, lead mass protests in the streets; the Orange Revolution had started, and the Supreme Court finally annulled the result of the poll. The re-run is won by Yushchenko, and Yanukovych resigned as PM.


Some years later, in 2010, Yanukovych won the presidential election and his opponent, Tymoshenko (Batkivshchyna) was arrested for abuse of powers, and went to prison over a ten-year gas deal signed with Russia in 2009, being banned from political office for three years. This was seen as a politically motivated move by the EU, and criticized by Russia.

Russia favors the Ukranian inclusion in the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia, to pursue economic integration with former Soviet states. US foreign policy is currently opposed to the Customs Union, as it is seen as an attempt to reestablish a Russian-dominated USSR-type union amongst the Post-Soviet states.

Economic ties are both with the EU and Russia important. Reaching a trade agreement with the EU was seen as a threat by Moscow as it might mean a step towards an eventual application to become EU member state. Plus, in December 2013 Russia bought $15bn of Ukranian debt and slashed about a third the price of gas supplies.

How did everything start?

Back in November 2013, Yanukovych’s cabinet announced that it was not favoring the Association Agreement that would lead Ukraine to strengthen trade ties with the EU, and then it pushed closer co-operation with Russia. It also rejected a bill to allow Tymoshenko to leave the country, which was a condition of the EU for the deal to proceed. The opponents to that political movement called for the President’s resignation and early elections.

Demonstrations started in the pro-EU capital Kiev, where Tymoshenko attained 50-69% of votes in 2010 elections, namely in the Maidan (Independence Square), establishing a mostly peaceful protest camp, which soon turned into violent clashes with the police.

In early December, Kiev’s city hall is occupied, and the Parliament was then forced to act, and the President was overthrown and fled over the border into Russia. Afterwards, PM Azarov resigned and Parliament annulled the anti-protest law, less than two weeks after the measures were introduced. As the amnesty is granted for the detained demonstrators, those abandon occupied Kiev city hall along with other public buildings in other regions.

In February 2014, the total balance of about 90 deaths in two days is serious enough for three European foreign ministers to fly in to try to broker a deal, while Russia announces it is sending an envoy. Yanukovych signed then a compromise deal with opposition leaders and a national unity government was to be formed, with constitutional changes handing powers back to Parliament, and early elections, held by December 2014. But opposition leaders called for elections on 25th May, which Yanukovych branded as “coup d’etat”.

Nowadays, Parliament speaker, Turchynov (1999 deputy leader of Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party), is Ukrain’s interim President, following Yanukovych’s dismissal. He suggested Ukraine would re-open talks with the EU about closer links. Meanwhile, opposition leader Tymoshenko, who has been already freed from jail, has ruled out becoming PM again.

What about the gas?

Russia is the most important provider of gas to the EU (providing about 40%). About half of that supply flows through pipelines in Ukraine. Gas pipelines pass through Ukraine, from Russia and Belarus, and leaves for Europe, into Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, etc.

There are currently 10 major pipelines in Russia, dominated by Gazprom, eight of which are export pipelines. The Yamal-Europe I, Northern Lights, Soyuz, Bratstvo, and Nord Stream pipelines all carry Russian gas to Eastern and Western European markets via Ukraine, Belarus, and across the Baltic Sea

Russia sends about 76% of its natural gas exports to customers in Western Europe, with Germany, Turkey, Italy, France, and the UK receiving the bulk of these volumes. Smaller volumes of natural gas are also shipped via the Gazprom pipeline network to Austria, Finland, and Greece.


Russia has cut off that flow in past disputes with Ukraine; another disruption could push up energy prices for businesses and households. But Russia would not be thrilled about playing this card. For the Russians, the trade in oil, and to a lesser extent natural gas, earns the country 70% of its $515 billion in annual export revenue and accounts for 52% of the federal budget (according to the U.S. Energy information Administration).

So the disruption to energy trade would be in neither side’s interest, and therefore any Western sanctions will probably only target individuals, or political and cultural links, rather than trade.

What’s going on in Crimea?

Crimea became part of Soviet Ukraine in 1954 and remained Ukrainian after the Soviet collapse in 1991. Some weeks ago, the Russian Parliament said Crimea could become Russian territory, if that was what the region’s people –the majority of them identify as Russian, ethnically and as speakers-  decided they wanted, in a referendum set for 16th March, which was finally celebrated and resulted in a 96,77% favoring the annexation to Russia, not recognized by Ukraine nor the West.

Days after the end of the Sochi Winter Olympics, Putin began a covert military operation in Crimea, a vital base for the Russian Navy.

It has a significant strategic importance to both, Russia and Ukraine. There are some issues that link the regions to both nations, not just militarily, but also, for instance, as Crimea’s main water supply comes through Ukraine (Dnieper River).

However, Ukraine evacuated all military personnel from Crimea, a day after Russia declared it was annexing the peninsula, while mobilizing troops near Ukraine’s eastern border.

Sevastopol is a military base for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, by virtue of a leasing agreement which was drawn up to allow the fleet to continue operating from there, in exchange for Russia supplying discounted natural gas. This is stated clearly in the TACA Agreement from 1997. But Russia deployed its army out of the territory of its military bases, taking power over the autonomous Republic, by even taking control over key installations.

This constituted a violation of International Law, including the UN Charter, as Russia recognized undoubtedly Ukraine and its borders. According to the Agreement, Russian forces’ major movements required consultation with the Ukrainian authorities and the agreed force levels cannot be increased unilaterally.


By now, Russian forces had already seized a naval base at Feodosia, the last military base under Ukrainian control in the region.

NATO’s eye is now in Moldova and its small pro-Russian enclave, Trans-Dniester, as an escalation of “Russia’s expansion” will have serious implications for the security and stability of the Euro-Atlantic area as a whole.

International reaction

Russia and the US have been on opposite sides during the Ukraine crisis, which the US, along with the EU, backing the opposition. China, on its side, is calling for dialogue and negotiation, while expressing understanding of Russia’s analysis on the causes of the crisis in Ukraine.

The EU on 21 March signed the political chapters of an Association Agreement with Ukraine, while expanding its list of sanctioned Russian officials, a response that is milder than the US one (list here: ). So far, the suspension of talks on closer economic cooperation between the EU and Russia, and the preparations for the G8 Summit in Sochi had been two of the actions taken.

Germany is trying to act as a broker in the conflict and to assuage Russian fears that it will be threatened if Ukraine moves closer to the EU. Some German government MPs have called for swift financial aid to Ukraine, possibly involving the International Monetary Fund.

For the EU and the US, the main focus will be to reinforce their political and financial support for the government in Kiev, maybe complementing with funds an IMF Stand-By Agreement.

It is important to bear in mind that Russia’s rouble has fallen to a fresh all-time low against both the dollar and the euro after the political turmoil intensified.

If Russia withdrew its offer of purchasing Ukraine’s debt, the debate in Berlin is whether the EU could replace the Russian money and how that might affect relations with Moscow.

Plus, Russia appears unfazed by the prospect of being expelled from the G8. If the G7 decide to meet in Brussels in June, so be it.


The Russian reaction is calculated, as it is not escalating further, at least, not immediately. Maybe this is because “winning” Crimea was enough as a political victory, or the fear of an escalation of US sanctions including key state companies, or maybe it is due to Russia’s huge control over Ukranian trade and gas supplies.

Russia’s interests in the area, namely; a Ukranian President whom it can work with or a higher level of decentralization in the country, suggest that Russia will keep “playing the card” of its influence in the East and military threat, although the probability of a further Russian invasion is not to be discarded at all.

Further actions might involve the restriction to Russian banks and corporations to finance access or the introduction of direct economic sanctions, as import/export bans. Imports to the EU from Russia are dominated by crude oil (84%) and gas (76%), for which state-owned energy giant Gazprom would be high on the list if specific firms are to be targeted.

But it is not to be forgotten that those are two-way processes, and any financial shock in Russia will impact on the EU’s and the US’ banking systems and gas prices/ companies ties and interests.

In short, the crisis is now entering a period of relative stability, even if tensions remain high.

Documents : Ukraine’s Constitution 21 Nov. 2013 EU Statement Guide to the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement Agreement on the Settlement of Crisis in Ukraine

Federal Republic of Nigeria

Nigeria is in Western Africa, bordering the Gulf of Guinea, between Benin and Cameroon. It is the most strategically important country in Africa.

Southern lowlands merge into central hills and plateaus; there are high mountains in the southeast and plains in the north. The Niger enters the country in the northwest and flows southward through tropical rain forests and swamps to its delta in the Gulf of Guinea. Natural resources include natural gas, petroleum, tin, iron ore, coal, limestone, niobium, lead, zinc and arable land (38.97%). The climate varies; from equatorial in south to tropical in center or arid in north.

It is Africa’s most populous country, being the 7th in the World. It has longstanding ethnic and religious tensions, although many Nigerians claim that the real reason for the violence is not ethnic or religious differences but the scramble for land, scarce resources and political clout.

The country is home for more than 250 ethnic groups; Hausa and Fulani (29%), Yoruba (21%), and Igbo-Ibo (18%), just to mention the most populous and politically influential, each having established political systems that were distinct. Religiously, it is heterogenic as well, with a 50% of Muslims, 40% Christians and 10% indigenous beliefs. There are over 500 additional indigenous languages, apart from Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo (Ibo), Fulani and English, which is the official language.


Abuja is the capital of Nigeria, but Lagos (with 10.203 million people), Kano and Ibadan have more inhabitants. The country is divided into 36 states and 1 territory, the Federal Capital Territory. Nigerians pay their groceries with Nigerian naira.


On October the 1st 1960, Nigeria gained the Independence from the UK. Its constitution dates from May 1999. Its legal system consists on a mixed legal system of English Common Law, Islamic Law (in 12 northern states), and traditional law. It is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The suffrage is universal, for all citizens who have 18 years of age.

The current President of Nigeria is Goodluck Jonathan, who was sworn into office in May 2010. The election results revealed a geographical divide, with Mr. Jonathan scoring well in the predominantly Christian south, and Gen Buhari sweeping many of the Muslim-dominated northern states.


People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has dominated since the return to civilian rule in 1999. Although it has strong opposition; the al-Qaeda-aligned Boko Haram (Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad) armed movement is conducting an insurrection in the, mainly Muslim, north. Separatist aspirations have also been growing, prompting reminders of the bitter civil war over the breakaway Biafran Republic in the late 1960s.

African Affairs

 Nigeria has a deep involvement in African affairs, where it plays a prominent role.

It is involved in several frontier disputes. Perhaps the controversy with Cameroon over the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula solved by the International Court of Justice in 2002 and effectively handed over by Nigeria to Cameroon in 2008, is the most remarkable one.

The International Court of Justice ruled on an equidistance settlement of Cameroon- Equatorial Guinea- Nigeria maritime boundary in the Gulf of Guinea (GOG), but imprecisely defined coordinates in the ICJ decision and a sovereignty dispute between Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon over an island at the mouth of the Ntem River, all contributed to the delay in the implementation. Also, only Nigeria and Cameroon have so far heeded the Lake Chad Commission’s admonition to ratify the delimitation treaty which also includes the Chad- Niger and Niger- Nigeria boundaries. Finally, the location of Benin-Niger-Nigeria tripoint is an unresolved issue, being a point fixed by 1906 Anglo-French agreement.

There is also place to regional cooperation to solve some security issues. UN Security Council Resolutions 2018 and 2039 urged member states of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Economic Community of African States (ECAS) and the GOG Commission to take urgent actions to develop collective maritime strategies to prevent illicit maritime activities in the GOG. It has become now a new global route for the oil trade, but the coastline has increasingly become a haven for criminality.

As part of the ECOWAS, Nigeria promotes regional peace and security in the West African sub-region by contributing to UN peacekeeping operations (in Darfur, Chad, Namibia, etc), maritime security operations, mediation and fighting against cross-border criminal activities.

Other spheres of cooperation include combating the smuggling of small arms and light weapons (SALW), human trafficking or drug smuggling in Sahel, for instance, and since 1998, cooperating together with Niger and Chad in a multi-national joint force (MNJTF) to patrol areas prone to those attacks.

Concerns on the training of Al-Qaeda, including Boko Haram sect, in neighboring Mali, and the crackdown on Islamic insurgents (AQIM) by Maghreb and Sahel, which effect is the spread to Nigerian areas of these groups, explain the special interest taken in the ongoing operations in these countries and the efforts taken by the government together with the national leadership of the Muslim Ummah to reduce radicalization, as well as the participation, since 2005, in the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP).

Domestic troubles

Nigeria has been wracked by periodic episodes of violence for decades.

A list of internal conflicts include the North-Eastern Islamist militancy and insurgency (Boko Haram and Ansaru); Ethno-religious and kidnappings in North-central Nigeria; Oil theft, kidnapping (declined since the 2009 amnesty for militants) and piracy in the Niger Delta and kidnapping in the South-East (Abia state used to be known as the kidnapping capital of Nigeria, although the incidents have fallen since 2010).

Sectarian conflict erupted most profoundly in 1967, when three primarily Igbo eastern states seceded under the name Republic of Biafra, sparking a bloody three-year civil war. The attempt to break away ultimately failed, and Nigeria reintegrated the Igbo majority region in 1970.

Ethnic and religious cleavages play a major role in Nigeria. Jos, some 300 miles north of Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, sits smack-dab in the center of Nigeria’s tumultuous “middle belt,” a so-called cultural fault line that divides the country’s Muslim north from the Christian south. The “middle belt” is a melting pot where the major ethnic groups of Nigeria, Hausa-Fulani Muslims and Yoruba and Igbo Christians, usually coexist peacefully, but sometimes collide.

One thing is to be taken into account. Whatever is at the root of such violence, extremism in Nigeria has emerged in a context of extreme conditions. Poverty, joblessness and corrupt politics drive extremists from both sides to commit horrendous atrocities. Although the nation rakes in billions of dollars in oil revenue annually, the majority of Nigerians scrape by on less than a dollar a day.

Some problems of militancy in the Niger Delta, as well as the radicalization in the north and criminal activity more generally cannot be understood without reference to lack of opportunity for Nigeria’s youth. Although there are regional differences in the consequences of youth unemployment and it is not possible to generalize.

Aside from (sadly) famous Boko Haram, there are several terrorist groups which are active in Nigeria. In 2010, the main rebel group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), announced it had lost patience with the delay and re-started its campaign of attacks on pipelines and installations and kidnappings of Western oil workers, declaring ceasefire from time to time.

Other conflicts include terrorism, internal fragilities, unregulated fishing, piracy, illegal trafficking, Islamic fundamentalism, oil theft and illegal oil bunkering and pipeline vandalism, which are difficult to classify crimes, as they have both a transnational nature and national impact.

The impact of oil

Nigeria is Africa’s leading oil producer; although more than half of its people live in poverty. The country is the fifthlargest oil producer in the World, and the second largest economy in Africa by GDP (nominal).


The Nigerian government is striving to boost the economy, which experienced an oil boom in the 1970s and is once again benefiting from high prices on the World market. But progress has been undermined by corruption and mismanagement. Insecurity centered on northern Nigeria is of growing international concern. As mentioned before, problems with oil theft and pipeline vandalism in the Niger Delta, as well as piracy within the maritime territory and the Gulf of Guinea, are important in Nigeria. The solution of securing the sea, seeing as Nigeria’s notoriously corrupt, crime-ridden fuel sector is intertwined with the piracy, may not happen any time soon.

The trade in stolen oil has fuelled violence and corruption in the Niger delta, home of the industry. Few Nigerians, including those in oil-producing areas, have benefited from the oil wealth. In 2004, Niger Delta activists demanding a greater share of oil income for locals began a campaign of violence against the oil infrastructure, threatening Nigeria’s most important economic lifeline.


Efforts to clean up the oil sector have failed largely because as long as the status quo continues, people with the right connections have been able to fill up their bank accounts.

Despite being Africa’s biggest oil producer, Nigeria imports almost all of its refined fuel. Rarely has there been anything as unifying as the fuel subsidy protests. When President Goodluck Jonathan removed a fuel subsidy on 1 January 2012, and as prices doubled, a strike was called, forcing head of the central bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, and Finance Minister Ngozi Okonji-Iweala to explain their actions like none of their predecessors. After two weeks, the government announced that part of this subsidy would be restored. In another way, many of the critics of the subsidy are aware of the corruption associated with it; they also know that a few individuals used the subsidy to milk the Nigerian treasury and amass huge wealth.

On another note, internet fraud is far from unique to Nigeria but the West African nation excels at these particular swindles. “419. This number might not mean much to you, but it is a verb, a noun, a way of life, a cliché and a curse in Nigeria. It refers to a section of the criminal code that proscribes seeking money for non-existent benefits.” (from Will Ferguson’s novel, 419).

Understanding models of reform and economic success in Nigeria

 It is necessary that Nigeria reforms its petroleum-based economy. Improving support to the agriculture and mining sectors to diversify the economy are some measures the government wants to implement to achieve this goal.

Nigeria is keen to attract foreign investment but is hindered in this quest by security concerns as well as by a shaky infrastructure troubled by power cuts. Investors are attracted to Nigeria because of its resources and market potential, but they are concerned about contract sanctity, security and the lack infrastructure. There are some states with dynamic and reformist governments who wish to leave legacies of visible change and thriving economies. A broader and more nuanced understanding of the country’s diversity and complexities is needed so that opportunities can be identified and made the most of.

There are risks to doing business in Nigeria, and entry for newcomers may be difficult. The World Bank ranks Nigeria 133 out of 183 economies for ease of doing business. Political uncertainty and short-termist policy has created an attitude among many foreign businesses that they must operate on short time-horizons and seek to recoup their investments as quickly as possible.

People of Nigeria can do a lot to change this perception. During fuel subsidy protests, Christians formed symbolic shields around Muslims as they prayed. In Kano, Muslims visited churches on Sunday as a sign of solidarity. These were not the actions of a nation at peril, but of a disparate people clinging together, refusing to be divided. It is extremely important to notice that the policy response to the threat of terrorism in Nigeria is not only about security. It is a multifaceted challenge that must be addressed from multiple policy areas.

For its potential to be untapped, Nigeria’s population needs to be more than an impressive statistic: young people need genuine education and skills training, and ambitions need to be matched with opportunities (youth unemployment in Nigeria is at between 20 and 30 million). Nigeria’s economy will grow considerably, but unless federal and state reform agendas succeed now, progressive change will be stifled by future challenges stemming from demographic growth in an environment without the institutions to cope.

It is a priority in Nigeria to achieve domestic stability trough regional security, by way of combating terrorism and the rest of transnational crimes.

Other countries as well must not encourage the trafficking of stolen crude, patronizing only genuine crude, as the situation Nigeria finds itself is not different from the illegal trade of blood diamonds from Liberia and Sierra Leone, which fuelled civil wars in those countries, by financing armed conflict.



Reference websites: Enough is Enough, Nigeria Coalition. EnoughisEnough Nigeria (EiE) is a coalition of individuals and youth-led organizations committed to instituting a culture of good governance and public accountability in Nigeria through advocacy, activism and the mobilization of the youth population as responsible citizens. Non-partisan, neither a platform for the actualization of any individual’s political ambitions. BudgIT. National budget explained in a creative and accurate way. National Geographic. Find some amazing pictures of Nigeria, “Curse of the Black Gold: Hope and Betrayal in the Niger Delta”, by Ed Kashi.

Colombia’s agricultural strike

“En el campo está la frontera entre la guerra y la paz”

What pops into your mind if I say you will be (hopefully) spend the next 5 minutes of your life reading about conflict in Colombia? Even if you know little about the Latin America country, probably “FARC” and “cocaine” are two of the concepts you are considering. But let me add something else to that cocktail; the agricultural strike within the frame of the Peace Negotiations that are taking place in La Habana and Oslo,  which started an year ago.

Here’s a sneak a peek: Masacre Catatumbo

Nearly an 18% of labor force in Colombia is employed in agriculture. They cultivate coffee, rice, tobacco, corn, bananas and sugarcane. Oh, and yes, they also cultivate coca. In fact, Colombia is the World’s leading coca cultivator with 116,000 hectares in coca cultivation in 2009. It supplies cocaine to nearly all of the US market and the great majority of other international drug market. Aerial eradication, dispensed herbicide combined with manual eradication had been the tools to transform this reality, but better policies are needed. We will go back to that point later on.

Farmers demand government help; they want it to agree to a wide-ranging set of demands, including subsides for their products, and cheaper fuel prices. It’s pretty simple to understand; prices for raw materials and fuel needed to transport their goods rise, while the prices their products fetch have been falling. Another of their demands was relative to the fact that the TLC or CTPA (free-trade agreement or FTA between the US and Colombia) makes them buy genetically modified seeds which can only be used once, from US corporations, instead of using their natural local seeds. The TLC between the UE and Colombia and Perú, which operates since the 1st of August this year, has also been criticized. The peasant farmers see the pursuit by the Santos government of the free trade agreements placing their future increasingly in danger.

To learn more on the FTA: Impact of the FTA with Colombia on Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Communities (An extended version:

But their claims are not just a reaction to the current economic situation, those have historical roots.  Demands go from reforms on ownership, territoriality, and legalization of small and traditional miners, political inclusion and social investment in state programs investing in education, health care, housing, roadway infrastructure and public services.


However, the peasants’ most pressing concern is food. Colombia has one of the most severe rural poverty rates in South America (according to the National Study on Human Development.)

They do not just protest on the streets, but politically, by submitting a formalized list of complaints to the office of President Santos. The basic points of their demands can be summarized as follows;

  1. Implementation of measures and actions to face the farming crisis.
  2. Access to land ownership.
  3. Recognition of the rural territoriality.
  4. Effective participation of communities and traditional miners in the formulation and development of the mining policy.
  5. Implementation of measures which fulfill the real guarantees to exercise the political rights of the rural population.
  6. Social investment in rural and urban population in education, health, housing, utilities and infrastructures is demanded.

The National Agricultural and Popular Board for Dialogue and Agreement (MIA) challenge is, among others, to present a unified front, that is, to represent all the different groups, ethnically and culturally diverse, that protest; peasants, miners, afro-Colombians, indigenous peoples, artisan miners, farmers, union laborers, transport workers, students and victims of armed conflict. The peasant movement itself is a hardly a uniform group, either.

They protested in almost all the 32 Colombian provinces. Even Interior Minister Fernando Carrillo wrote on Twitter that many of the demands “were just, but violent protests will not bring about solutions, but rather only deepen the crisis”. About the violence of the strikes; the Government claims that the peasants are being “manipulated” by outside forces, including armed militants and organized drug traffickers. The movement itself has no intention of instigating violence, but it will fall on the Government to ensure a diplomatic end to the protests. ESMAD’s (anti-riot police) and mobilized army units’ response has been brutal in some cases to face the demonstrations and the obstruction of traffic using highway blockades.

The Catatumbo background is of poverty, populations displaced from land, and Governmental neglect of dire social problems. Paramilitary groups controlled the area for many years and oil production and industrial agriculture expanded due in part to foreign funding and backing by multi-national corporations.

The Government’s decision in early June to carry out eradication of coca cultivation without prior consultation served as trigger for the protests. The area under coca crop cultivation in Colombia fell by a quarter (according to UNODC 2012 survey). The number of households involved in coca cultivation fell a 3%. Coca production does not fetch the same lucrative rewards as in the past, but it is still worth 0.2% of national GDP and 3% of the GDP related to the agricultural sector.

The underlying reason to punish coca-cultivators was the same than to criminalize (through the implementation of its new licensing requirements) artisanal miners, putting them in a position of great vulnerability; the current internal armed conflict is being fuelled by a struggle for control of mineral-rich lands and land profits. These activities finance their armed actions, and remove popular resistance to incursion of multinationals. The problem is that it makes no distinction between new illegal medium-scale mechanized open pit mines run by powerful criminal gangs and traditional artisanal mines.


1.- This is a national issue that should go through an agreement all together. The input costs for products such as fertilizer and gasoline, the effect of the nation’s free trade agreements and the legal push to use licensed seeds should be addressed to dignify the agricultural and rural sector in a country where it is so important.

The internationalization of the conflict might be interesting at some point as well. If some of the 28member states of the EU do not ratify the free-trade agreement, because it violates de human rights it is supposed to protect, for instance, it won’t make it, and the SGP Plus, a much more advanced piece of legislation could be revised and implemented. At the same time, the ILO must have a word to protect the unions, which are highly vulnerable in Colombia, considered the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists for several decades. The international public opinion has a lot to say as well.

At the same time, the IACHR could intervene, as repression and discrimination are taking place in the conflict, on the one hand, and property law is being disputed.

2.- Food dependency is a violation of sovereignty. The speculation with raw materials prices put at risk core values and protected rights such as the public health, and therefore should not be permitted and be sanctioned as a crime.

International pressure for Colombia to ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights could be an interesting tool.

 To read the complete report visit:

3.- Finally, crop eradication, even when it yields positive results, must be complemented by alternative livelihood schemes to improve social, economic and environmental conditions and to achieve a sustainable reduction in the area under cultivation.


*This article was motivated by the conference “Videoconferencia con el líder del movimiento campesino en Colombia: ‘¿Qué está pasando en Colombia con el paro agrario?’. Mecanismos de intervención del Derecho Internacional”, organized by The International Criminal Court (Comisión Justicia Penal Internacional) and held on the 19th Sep. 2013 at ICAB, Barcelona. Presented by Gustavo Franco, Eulàlia Pascual, Leonora Castaño, Jaume Saura and César Jerez.