Blog of Mass Distraction

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Foreign Interests

This past week in Lebanon there was a massive pro-Syrian demonstration organized by Hezbollah with some 500,000 people attending in Beirut. The old guard of Syrian allied government officials seem to be taking hold again as well. There is, however, another anti-Syrian demonstration planned and the majority of people still want more independence from Syria. Generally, from what I understand, support for the Syrians lies mainly with the Hezbollah and Shiites in Lebanon.1 Other groups are supporting the Syrian withdrawal. And though there have been some movements of Syrian troops inside the country, these recent events fly in the face of the US insistence that Syrian influence and troops be removed from Lebanon before elections occur. This is also noted with extreme irony and hypocrisy by Iraqis that are still living under US occupation and just had their own elections.

Also in Iraq, one of the leading judges in the Saddam Hussein trial was assassinated a little while ago. I don't really know if a whole lot came about from that. There was some controversy some time ago about making it public knowledge who the judges in the trial were. There was fear of this exact thing, that if people knew they would be targets for assassination, but that pretty much blew over. And this doesn't seem to have caused a major ruckus either. At least not one that's still visible in North American media.

The former Chechen leader Aslan Mashkadov has been killed in a fight with the Russian military. The rebel separatist was widely respected among the Chechen people, but Russia is claiming his death as a victory against terrorism. The small region gained independence and autonomy after protracted fighting with Russia only to lose it again recently with a renewed Russian offensive. Putin has called this struggle a battle against terrorism, like the kind that saw many children slaughtered in Baslan. However he has ignored numerous reports of massive human rights abuses and crimes by the Russian military in Chechnya. Russian reports say that some 200,000 people have died since 1994 from the conflict; this in a region with a total population of little over 1 million. It seems like Chechnya has become Russia's East Timor.

Turmoil in Bolivia continues with massive anti-government protests. This after Bolivian congress voted to reject the resignation of Carlos Mesa.2 Mesa has withdrawn his resignation, which he initially offered over disputes on selling the country's large supply of natural gas reserves. The political opposition and the poor (which make up the majority of the Bolivian population) want fees raised on the sale of gas and oil for export. They want 50% of profits to go to the Bolivian people and Mesa wants only 18%, with possible 32% in taxes. But apparently the latter percentage can be under dispute and can be negotiated away so it is not guaranteed. Mesa is saying he wants to keep the rate low to encourage foreign investment. Mesa says he's been under a lot of pressure from foreign investors to keep the percentage lower.
Personally I don't buy this argument. There is no glut in the world market for gas and oil and having Bolivia as an available source even with increased fuel taxes will only encourage the Bolivian economy. The people in power that general want the lowered taxes on sale of resources for export are generally the wealthy elite in a country that are allied and supported with foreign investors. These investors however aren't worried about growth in the developing economy, but rather capturing these resources for as little cost as possible, with most of the local profits going to the same wealthy elite. The poor in Bolivia have been conducting massive protests and blocking highways to force the law to change, but Mesa has been adamant that he will put it through.
Now some foreign investors have taken drastic actions to punish governments that try to nationalize resources and take care of national interests (rather than helping foreigners make more profit). Sometimes these sanctions have even been violent in nature, but neither course of action (the punishment of the interests of the foreign investors) help the nation's interest. And in many cases, the power and sway of the external players can be limited depending on how much support nationalist movements can muster and maintain.

1. Much support for Hezbollah comes from Syria.
2. Mesa withdraws resignation.


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