News from Venezuela, Afghanistan and Egypt

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on September 10, 2013

VENEZUELA – U.S. Rice Farmers Cash In On Venezuelan Socialism

venezuela_productionSteve Orlicek, an Arkansis rice farmer, is living the American dream. He owns a thriving business; he vacations in the Bahamas.  His good fortune springs from many roots, including an unlikely one: He is a prime beneficiary of the socialist economic policies of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s late president and critic of what he called U.S. “imperialism.” During his 14 years in power (1999 until his death in 2013), Chavez nationalized [confiscated] large farms, redistributed land and controlled food prices as part of a strategy to help the poor.

But these policies turned Venezuela from a net exporter to a net importer of rice – from farmers like Mr. Orlicek.  … and it isn’t just rice. Production of steel, sugar and many other goods has fallen in Venezuela, leading to occasional shortages. Until recently, Venezuela was largely self-sufficient in beef and coffee. Now it imports both.

In this year’s first half, the U.S. exported $94 million of rice to Venezuela, a 62% jump from a year-earlier, making Venezuela the U.S.’s fourth-largest rice market, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Overall, Venezuelan imports have quadrupled since Mr. Chávez took office, to $59.3 billion in 2012 from about $14.5 billion in 2000. Exports to Venezuela from the U.S. hit $12 billion in 2011, up 16% from the previous year, the latest U.S. government figures show.

Among the winners are the American aluminum company Alcoa Inc., Anglo-Swiss mining company Glencore Xstrata and Brazilian firms like builder Odebrecht SA. In May, Venezuelan authorities announced they would import 50 million rolls of toilet paper. One supplier: Kimberly-Clark of the U.S.

image1035b…Supporters of Mr. Chávez say his fiery populism empowered the poor and fought hunger and poverty by providing subsidized food, housing and medical clinics. Yet job prospects and wages have fallen. A recent World Bank report says that 30% of people who were originally considered “not poor” in Venezuela fell into poverty between 1992 and 2006. In most other Latin American countries, the middle class grew in that time. …..

Alongside agriculture, Venezuela’s industrial output has faltered since 2006, when Venezuela said it would pursue an “endogenous,” or self-sufficient, development model that shuns profit-making and focuses instead on cooperatives (co-ops). The government took control of wide swaths of major industries including steel and cement.

“We’ve lost our national sovereignty in steel, aluminum and bauxite. It’s an embarrassment,” said Damian Prat, author of a book about Venezuelan industry. Production of bauxite, a key ingredient in making aluminum, fell 70% between 2007 and 2012, he estimates.

That loss has been others’ gain. Exports from neighboring Brazil have soared to $5.1 billion dollars in 2012, compared with $800 million 10 years ago, according to Brazil’s Foreign Trade Association. “Right now we have very little competition” from within Venezuela, said Jose Augusto de Castro, the association’s president. …..

In the early 2000s, Venezuelan rice farmer Eloy Alvarez’s farm was producing its maximum of seven metric tons of rice a year.  He was making a good profit.  But in recent years, Mr. Alvarez’s fortunes changed. The government set prices for rice and other products. With prices fixed but inflation rising, it became harder to afford equipment. He stopped buying new tractors and instead tried to fix his old ones. Import controls, however, made even parts hard to come by.

The 2010 nationalization of Venezuela’s main farm-supply company compounded the problems. Farmers say it [the government] is now often late in delivering basics, like fertilizer. That same year, weeds choked Mr. Alvarez’s rice crop – the result, he says, of herbicide delays. He now produces about 30% less than in the past.

Recently on Mr. Alvarez’s farm, a decades-old Ford tractor stood rusting in a shed. On a flat expanse of field, under a flock of circling white birds, another timeworn machine moved slowly, struggling to reap a rice field overrun with weeds.

“You can’t get the herbicide,” said Alexi Chambuco, 63 years old, one of Mr. Alvarez’s farmhands, wiping his face with a handkerchief. “And now it’s difficult to harvest.”…Despite the hassles, many farmers like Mr. Alvarez don’t quit farming. If they do, their idle land is at risk of being seized by the state.  “We have to pull out of this,” Mr. Alvarez said of Venezuela’s farming decline. “But there’s been a lot of damage done.

AFGHANISTAN – Indian woman who chronicled Taliban abuse is shot dead in Afghanistan

EscapeFromTaliban

Sushmita Banerjee was the subject of a Bollywood film on her life.

ISLAMABAD AND KABUL – Sushmita Banerjee, who only recently moved back to Afghanistan to be with her husband, was killed by Taliban gunmen outside her home, according to police in Paktika province. …

It is the latest in a string of attacks on prominent woman. The Taliban and other militant groups have kidnapped high-profile politicians, murdered female police officers and killed campaigners as they try to enforce their brutal form of Islam.

Mrs. Banerjee, 49, became well-known after writing A Kabuliwala’s Bengali Wife, an account of her life in Afghanistan after marrying an Afghan businessman in 1989. At first life was tolerable, she wrote, but a Taliban crackdown soon meant she was no longer allowed to run a medical clinic or leave home without her husband.  It describes how she fled to Pakistan when her Afghan husband was away on business in India but was forcibly returned by his relatives.

She was kept under house arrest by her in-laws before she escaped by burrowing through the walls only to be caught and interrogated by the Taliban. “Many of them said that since I had fled my husband’s home I should be executed. However, I was able to convince them that since I was an Indian I had every right to go back to my country,” she wrote in a magazine article, detailing the terrors of life under the Taliban.

The book was turned into a film called Escape from the Taliban, starring Manisha Koirala, one of India top actresses.

[At some point, she successfully escaped to India, where she lived until 2013. She recently returned to Afghanistan.]  Mrs. Banerjee had lived in the provincial capital Sharana, employed as a health worker, since returning from India.

Dawlat Khan Zadran, police chief of Paktika, said Taliban fighters arrived at her home on Wednesday night (Sept. 4), tied up her husband and other members of the family, before marching her outside. “Her body was dumped at a madrassah with some of her hair ripped out,” he said. “It seems the killers were angry with the book and the film.”

The killing is a reminder of the ruthless tactics employed by the Taliban and reminiscent of the attempt to silence Malala Yousafzai in neighbouring Pakistan last year. She was singled out by Taliban gunmen for writing a diary highlighting extremist abuses and campaigning for girls education.

This year has also brought a slew of attacks on women in Afghanistan.  Lieutenant Islam Bibi, who had survived death threats from her own brother to become Helmand’s most senior policewoman, was shot deadin July as she travelled to work.

Improvements in women’s rights have frequently been trumpeted by Western officials as they talk up progress under the government of [Afghanistan’s President] Hamid Karzai. However, campaigners fear fragile gains are being reversed under pressure from Taliban and other Islamists – a process that could accelerate when NATO countries complete their withdrawal of combat forces next year.

EGYPT – Army attacks Sinai Islamists as militancy spreads

sinai-mapThe Egyptian army launched an attack against Islamist militants in North Sinai on Saturday, Sept. 7, killing at least nine people, security officials said.

Two Egyptian soldiers were killed late on Saturday when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated in a road in the North Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid near the border with the Gaza Strip, security sources said.

Radical Islamists in the rugged desert region adjoining Israel, who expanded into a security vacuum left by the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, have been staging almost daily assaults on security forces and other targets. …

Since the army toppled Islamist President Mohamed Morsi on July 3, and especially since security forces killed hundreds of Islamists when they smashed protest camps in Cairo on Aug 14, there have been online calls from Islamist radicals for wider attacks on the state.

Egyptian memories of an Islamist insurgency in the 1990s were revived on Thursday (Sept. 5) when a suicide bomber blew up a car bomb next to the interior minister’s convoy in Cairo.

A week ago, militants fired rocket-propelled grenades at a ship passing through the Suez Canal on the Sinai’s western edge, vital to world trade as well as Egypt’s depleted state finances.

On Saturday, a bomb exploded at a Cairo police station for the second time in less than a week, state media said, although no one was hurt.

In addition, explosives were found on the railway line between the cities of Suez and Ismailia along the Suez Canal, but defused before they could do damage, according to Egypt’s state news agency MENA.

No one has claimed responsibility for any of the attacks, although a video apparently of the Suez attack was posted on YouTube with an Islamist logo.

But the army-backed rulers have incensed Islamists inside Egypt and abroad with their violent crackdown on Morsi’s Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, most of whose top leaders have been arrested and accused of terrorism or inciting violence.

The Brotherhood [claims it is] sworn to peaceful resistance and dismisses the accusations of violence as a pretext for the crackdown by a “putschist regime,” and Brotherhood leaders have defied the crackdown to bring thousands onto the streets across Egypt three times in eight days. …

(The news briefs above are from staff reports posted at The Wall Street Journal on Aug. 18, the Daily Telegraph on Sept. 5 and Sept. 8.) 

Questions

1. For each of the 3 countries, give the following information: 
a) capital:
b) location/the countries that share its borders:
c) the religious breakdown of the population:
d) the type of government:
e) the chief of state (and head of government if different) [If monarch or dictator, since what date has he/she ruled? – include name of heir apparent for monarch]:
f) the population:

[Find the answers at the CIA World FactBook website. For each country, answers can be found under the “Geography” “People” and “Government” headings.  Go to worldatlas.com for a list of continents.]

NOTE: Before answering the questions below, read the info under “Background.”

2. For VENEZUELA:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Supporters of Chavez’s socialist policies say he “empowered the poor and fought hunger and poverty by providing subsidized food, housing and medical clinics.”  How did Chavez’s policies harm the poor?

3. For AFGHANISTAN:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Sushmita Banerjee was a Hindu who married a Muslim. At some point she successfully escaped from Afghanistan to India, but voluntarily returned this year. There is no mention in the article or others as to whether she had children there. How would you view her decision to return to Afghanistan? Do you think she was naive, optimistic, willfully ignorant, foolish, etc? Explain your answer.

4. For EGYPT:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) List the attacks made by Islamist militants/terrorists in Egypt over the past week.


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Background

VENEZUELA:

For most of the first half of the 20th century, Venezuela was ruled by generally benevolent military strongmen, who promoted the oil industry and allowed for some social reforms. Democratically elected governments have [ruled] since 1959. Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela from 1999 until his death in 2013, promoted a controversial policy of “democratic socialism,” which [aimed] to alleviate social ills while at the same time attacking globalization and undermining regional stability.(From the CIA World FactBook.)

Under the presidency of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela saw sweeping and radical shifts in social policy, moving away from the government officially embracing a free market economy and towards quasi-socialist income redistribution and social welfare programs. (from wikipedia)

nationalization – refers to the process of a government taking control of a company or industry, which can occur for a variety of reasons. When nationalization occurs, the former owners of the companies may or may not be compensated for their loss in net worth and potential income.

What is wrong with the socialist/communist policy of nationalization?:

Nationalization destabilizes a society and economy, reduces investment, entrepreneurial innovation and economic growth, and has negative consequences for the majority of the population, including the poor. It sends a message to inhabitants and outside investors that private property is not safe. Nationalization destroys jobs and the profitability of enterprises and is a crime against the general populace. It is bad for consumers, workers, the poor and democracy. (read more at moneyweb.co.za)

  • AFGHANISTAN:

    The Taliban

    • The Taliban is an Islamic fundamentalist movement that stated it wanted to “to set up the world’s most pure Islamic state” when it effectively ruled over 90% of Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001.
    • The Taliban is currently engaged in a protracted guerilla war against NATO forces within Afghanistan, and also a war in Pakistan with the Pakistani government and military.
    • The Taliban implements the “strictest interpretation of Sharia law ever seen in the Muslim world” including the complete ban of education for girls, and is widely criticized internationally for its treatment of women.

    Taliban’s Treatment of Women:

    • While in power in Afghanistan, the Taliban became notorious internationally for their treatment of women. Their stated aim was to create “secure environments where the chasteness and dignity of women may once again be sacrosanct.”
    • Women were forced to wear the burqa in public, because, according to a Taliban spokesman, “the face of a woman is a source of corruption” for men not related to them.
    • Women were not allowed to work.
    • Women were not allowed to be educated after the age of eight, and until then were permitted only to study the Qur’an.
    • Women seeking an education were forced to attend underground schools, where they and their teachers risked execution if caught.
    • Women were not allowed to be treated by male doctors unless accompanied by a male chaperone, which led to illnesses remaining untreated.
    • Women faced public flogging and execution for violations of the Taliban’s laws.
    • The Taliban allowed and in some cases encouraged marriage for girls under the age of 16. Amnesty International reported that 80 percent of Afghan marriages were considered to be by force.
  • EGYPT

    NOTE: Islamism is an ideology (Islam is a religion). Islamists support Shariah (Islamic) law, and wish to have it implemented in as many countries as possible; preferably throughout the entire world. A few Islamists may advocate such radical change via peaceful means, but most seem to advocate the change using violence.

    Resources

    AFGHANISTAN

    Read an in-depth analysis of “The Taliban in Afghanistan” at: cfr.org/afghanistan/taliban-afghanistan/p10551