The constituent in Bolivia and the Ecuador, the elections in Colombia, Guatemala, Greece, Lebanon and Pakistan, the choice of the new prime minister in Japan, mobilizations in Myanmar, the denuclearization process in North Korea and the crisis in US are some of the subjects treated in the bulletin number 18.

Bolivia – Constituent Assembly in a Stalemate
Peru – the corrupt dictator is back
Ecuador – the population elects its constituent assembly
Colombia – local and regional elections
Guatemala – result of the presidential elections
USA – Despite poor results in Iraq, Congress approves extra billions for the war
France – Sarkozy starts to show his claws
Greece – Parliamentary elections uphold a weakened government
A divided Lebanon tries to elect a new president
Pakistan – Musharraf and the presidential election
Japan – the choice of the new prime minister, Abe’s antithesis
Myanmar – Popular mobilizations continue
North Korea – denuclearization process underway, yet with no date to end
Financial crisis in the US preoccupies the world
62nd UN General Assembly Session opened
UN – Countries renew commitment to reduce emissions of polluting gases
UN – Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is approved

Bolivia – Constituent Assembly in a Stalemate

While the deadline to approve the country’s new Constitution is adjourned to December, concerns that nothing will be done by then start to arise.

The political parties that support the Evo Morales government do not have the two-thirds necessary to approve their proposals, and the opposition’s filibustering has been effectively conducted, stalling any breakthrough against the interests of the right.

Nor have popular mobilizations been able to overcome the stalemate, for it is clear now that the Bolivian society is divided not only between a minority elite and a majority poor population, but also across ethnicities and the population of the high plateaus and the lowlands.

An example of the latter aspect are the polarization and the deadlock with regard to the proposal currently being considered by the Constituent Assembly of making the city of Sucre the capital of the country, housing not only the judiary and the legislative branches as today, but also the executive bodies headquartered in La Paz, which guarantee its status as the capital of Bolivia.

The Bolivian economy has improved its performance after the nationalization of oil and gas exploration, particularly its international reserves. However, this move has not proved sufficient to institutionalize the necessary changes. Read more at and

Peru – the corrupt dictator is back

After seven years in exile, Alberto Fujimori returned to Peru extradited by the Chilean justice. In 2000, he resigned at the beginning of his third presidential term, obtained through a biased interpretation of the Peruvian Constitution. Although he obtained a majority of votes at the time, he was forced to seek asylum in Japan, soon after starting his term, from where he sent a letter resigning the presidency of the country.

This was due to, for one, the exhibition of a clandestine tape showing his honcho and head of the Peruvian secret service, Vladimiro Montesinos, bribing a lawmaker to support Fujimori’s third term, while popular demonstrations took care of the rest.

The Chilean judiciary based its decision to extradite him on seven of the charges mentioned in the petition, particularly those in connection with human rights violations and corruption practices.

The irony is that the incumbent president of Peru, Alan Garcia, who had been succeeded by Fujimori, was exiled in Costa Rica for ten years, from 1990 to 2000, also in an attempt to dodge corruption charges.

Yet, today, Garcia depends on the votes of the Fujimori power base in Congress to pass his bills, and should not endeavor to see the former president convicted. Keiko Fujimori, the ex-president’s daughter, who was the country’s most voted deputy in 2006, with 600,000 votes, leads the Fujimori representation.

Ecuador – the population elects its constituent assembly

Though still unfinished, the counting of 90% of the votes points to a great victory of Rafael Correa’s Alianza País party (the AP), which should elect a minimum of 70 deputies, more than the majority of 66 votes required to pass legislation. The center-left represented by the ID and RED is supposed to have 5 deputies, the same number anticipated for the left represented by the Patchakutik, the Ecuadorean Socialist Party and the Democratic Pole. Six other deputies were elected by communities living abroad, and for that reason are still unknown as far as their political positions. Rightwing parties are not expected to obtain 50 seats all together.

The National Constituent Assembly is to be installed on October 31, and will have 180 days, which may be extended for another 60 days, to conclude the drafting of a new Constitution, which is to be submitted thereafter to a popular referendum.

In the meantime, the Constituent Assembly has to elect a special 30-member commission that will be in charge of legislative affairs, while the incumbent deputies will go on a non-remunerated leave.

Although the AP and President Correa have the majority of the votes needed to approve a Constitution of their liking, they have already announced that they will not attend the installation of the Constituent with a proposal ready under the arm, stating that debate with the population is guaranteed.

All the attitudes adopted by Correa thus far confirm that the Ecuadorean people are living a great moment and have a unique opportunity to implement the changes they deserve. Read more.

Colombia – local and regional elections

Elections are due on October 28, and expectations are that the Alternative Democratic Pole (PDA) will obtain a good result. The Pole launched own candidacies or made alliances with other parties, the Liberal Party mainly, in every medium-sized and large city of Colombia.

In the capital city of Bogotá, the Pole is running for the succession of Luiz Eduardo “Lucho” Garzón with its own candidate, Samuel Moreno, who is well positioned in the polls partly thanks to Lucho’s good performance, who leaves the government with a 62% approval rating. Bogotá’s constituency comprises the whole of the metropolitan area, which represents some eight million inhabitants and is the most coveted political post after the presidency of the country.

If this prognosis is confirmed, the PDA will consolidate itself as the country’s second largest political party. Read more.

Guatemala – result of the presidential elections

The first round of the Guatemalan elections for president, as well as the balloting process to elect 158 federal deputies and 322 mayors, occurred on September 9. In spite of the extremely violent atmosphere in which the electoral campaign was held, with nearly 50 deaths of political activists and candidates to the parliament or local governments, for the first time absenteeism was only 41%, against the more than 60% of previous elections.

Those chosen among the 14 presidential candidates of 21 political parties to run in the second round due on November 4 were Álvaro Colom of the National Unity for Hope (UNE), who came first with 28.4% of the votes and Otto Perez Molina of the Patriot Party (PP), who obtained 23.7%. Alejandre Giamattei of the Great National Alliance (GANA), supported by incumbent President Oscar Berger, came in third with 17%, while Eduardo Suger of the Social Action Center (CASA), with 8%, was the fourth.

Colom is a businessman who owns maquillas in the textile sector and self-proclaims to be a social-democrat defending a program for economic development, job generation, more investments in education and health, besides proposing a reform of the Security Forces and the Judiciary as a way to tackle violence and crime, the population’s two main concerns.

Molina, in turn, represents the classic heavy-handed rightwing candidate. He is a retired general, and his proposals to combat crime are strengthening the Security Forces, decreeing a “state of emergency” in certain regions of the country, and introducing the death penalty.

Rigoberta Menchú, a renowned human rights activist during the military regime in Guatemala who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, chose a businessman, Fernando Montenegro, as her vice-president and campaigned on a platform in which she stated she was “neither rightwing nor leftwing”, and prioritized gender and indigenous issues. She was always fourth in the polls, yet ended in sixth in the election, with 3% of the votes.

Representing the left, presidential candidate of the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Union (URNG), Miguel Angel Sandoval, who obtained 2.8% of the votes, will not support any candidate in the second round, while the candidate representing the New Nation Alliance (ANN), a scism of the URNG, Pablo Monsanto, obtained less than 0.5%, which is why his party will lose its registration. For the second round, however, he had already declared his support for Colom.

Both parties are members of the São Paulo Forum, but have not managed to broker a single candidacy. The bottom line is that the rightwing forces are still hegemonic in the country, electing most of the mayors, including that of the capital city Tegucigalpa, and also the majority of the members of the Chamber of Deputies. There is also the risk that, as part of the second round negotiations, ex-dictator Efrain Rios Montt, implicated in the deaths of more than 10,000 people, will become the president of parliament.

Guatemala, Central America’s most populous country with nearly 15 million inhabitants, is submerged in a deep economic crisis that the incumbent president, Oscar Berger, a businessman too, has been unable to barely start solving, and will thus step down in melancholy. Many Guatemalans see in immigrating the only way to survive.

In spite of the end of the military governments and of the peace accords signed with the former guerrilla, political violence persists. After Colombia, Guatemala is the most dangerous country in which to be a unionist.

Compounding the situation, the country has become a drug-dealing route to the US, which also accounts for the high crime and electoral violence rates, for the drug trafficking cartels see it in their interest to impose and elect candidates who will be instrumental in the future. Read more.

USA – Despite poor results in Iraq, Congress approves extra billions for the war

The US Senate accepted on September 27 to increase the federal debt cap by US$ 850 billion – from US$ 8,965 to US$ 9,815 trillion – and then approved a bill regulating expenses that allows the White House to raise funds for the war in Iraq by at least some additional US$ 9 billion.

Moreover, the George W. Bush administration was authorized to direct, should it find it necessary, another US$ 70 billion to the occupation of Iraq while Congress discusses specific bills on the matter for the State Department and other governmental agencies. That is, Congress has just allowed the government to disburse a large sum of money for operations in Iraq, in a motion supported by all of the Senators but one.

Senator Russ Feingold (D – Wis) was the only one to vote against the bill, adopting a strong anti-war speech and for the withdrawal of troops, while the five senators abstaining from a decision are all 2008 pre presidential nominees: Democrats Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Joe Biden, and Republicans John McCain and Sam Brownback.

In the House, the resolution was approved by 404 votes, with 14 votes against (1 Republican and 13 Democrats) and 14 abstentions. This means that, of the candidates running for the presidential nomination, only representatives Ron Paul of the Republican Party and Dennis Kucinich of the Democratic Party voted against granting Bush a dramatic increase in resources for his war effort.

In the latest presidential debate, held one day before the voting session, the three most important Democratic candidates refused to commit themselves to withdrawing US troops from Iraq. Hillary, Obama and John Edwards declared they could not predict the challenges posed in future in Iraqi territory.

In addition to the disastrous Iraq War Assessment Report, prepared by General Petraeus and the US ambassador in Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker, and the countless scandals surrounding this war, only one day after the Congress session in which Petraeus presented the report, another incident in Iraq reinforced the impression that something is very wrong with the way this war is being conducted.

Security in Bagdhad’s Green Zone was outsourced by the American Army and is now in the hands of Blackwater, a security contractor. On September 16, this company under a US$ 800 million government contract to operate in Iraq and Afghanistan overreacted to a supposed car bomb in the Sunni neighborhood of Mansur in an attempt to protect a State Department diplomatic convoy that was passing by, in an action that left 11 Iraqis dead.

Witnesses said that the security agents shot at ramdom against civilians and that the alleged car-bomb actually was just entering the square where the convoy was, despite a blockade set up by the Iraqi police, and failed to quickly respond to an order to turn back.

A statement by the American government regretted the loss of innocent lives, and announced a joint US-Iraq committee to investigate the case. Ten days after the accident, the Iraqi government suspended Blackwater’s licence to operate in Iraq. However, a bill promulgated by Iraq’s transition government in 2003 exempts security contractors with over 50,000 men operating in the country from any liability and compliance with the law. Read more at and

In light of episodes like that one and the loss of legitimacy of the Bush administration with its questionable reasons to initiate, prolong and keep supporting this war, a poll conducted by Foreign Policy review and the Center for American Progress, toward the setting up of a Terrorism Index, demonstrated that 84% of the respondents disagree that their country is winning the war against terror.

Moreover, 91% believe the world is more dangerous for the US, 53% declared that the build-up of US forces in Iraq had a negative impact, while 49% believe that the pull-out of US troops from Iraqi territory would not prompt terrorist attacks against the United States. Read more.

Regardless of all these data and Bush’s low popularity, the probable Republican candidate, Rudolph Giuliani, insists on hinging his campaign on the 9/11 attacks and on a tough response to “Islamic terrorism”. His vision that international institutions should merely serve the interests of the United States is keeping the country in a permanent state of war, fueling Bush’s aggressive posture.

In face of the present situation, his position sounds unrealistic and pretentious. Read more.

France – Sarkozy starts to show his claws

Nicolas Sarkozy started his administration with several demonstrations that he intended to be very active, especially in the international arena. In addition to taking an initiative before the Colombian government aiming at the release of Senator Ingrid Betancourt, kidnapped by FARC guerrillas in Colombia, he helped to negotiate the liberation of some Bulgarian nurses arrested in Lybia. Later on, it was discovered that such negotiation involved the sale of French weapons to the Gaddafi government.

Upon taking office, Sarkozy appointed Bernard Kouchner, ex-president of NGO Medecins sans Frontieres and affiliated to the French Socialist Party, as his Minister of Foreign Relations, which led to the former’s ousting from the party. Sarkozy wreaked more damage in the socialist ranks by co-opting two other Socialist party members, former minister of Culture Jack Lang and even one of the socialist candidates running for presidential nomination in the last elections, economist Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was consulted to preside the IMF and accepted the invitation.

He has also played rough with immigrant workers, proposing bills that will make it difficult for the present community to stay in France and the reunification of families. One of his ideas is to submit those applying for French citizenship on the grounds of family reunification to DNA tests to determine links.

The last step was to join the American threats of attacking Iran if that country fails to discontinue its nuclear program, calling for further sanctions by the European Union and considerations of an armed intervention. Such attitude was met with the opposition of the left, for the absurdity of its content, and the right, for it means adhering to the American foreign policy without any form of compensation. French students have already dubbed the president “Sarkobush”.

On the domestic front, Sarkozy charged against labor and pensions rights. He wants to extinguish the 35-hour working week and overhaul the Strike Law so that unions are obliged to guarantee services at a minimum level of functioning. He is also proposing some pension rules, particularly the extinction of the special retirement regime of train drivers.

The French CGT said such initiatives are tantamount to a declaration of war. The Juppé government fell in 1996, opening the way for the victory of the socialists led by Lionel Jospin, for a similar proposal that triggered a sweeping general strike.

It is hard to tell whether Sarkozy’s strategy will pay, but there is no doubt that the present moment is more favorable to him than it was for Juppé. The right is united around a government that holds a majority in parliament, while the left is divided and weakened, incapable of making true opposition. If the new president succeeds in reforming a historical accomplishment, as is the right to strike, it is likely to pave the way to outweigh the resistance against reforming the pension system and the working week.

In March 2008, there will be municipal elections in France, and another chance to gauge public opinion. There are concerns that the more left-leaning parties as the French Communist Party, the Greens and other groups will suffer setbacks in the positions they currently hold, especially in the Paris metropolitan region. Read more at,, and

Greece – Parliamentary elections uphold a weakened government

In the election held last September 16, the conservatives of the New Democracy party managed to retain the government of Greece by a narrow margin in parliament, 152 of the 300 seats available. In the previous election in 2004, the party had elected 165 members of parliament and reached power after 11 years of socialist administrations.

The Party of the New Democracy received 41.83% of the valid votes, while the socialists of the PASOK (the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement) received 38.1%, the KKE (the Greek Communist Party), 8.15%, the Syriza (Leftist Coalition), 5.04% and the ultraright Laos (Orthodox Popular Alarm), 3.8%.

These results make it difficult for the government to pass pollemic economic reforms aiming at closing the gap with its European Union partners. Among the government’s proposals are the privatization of the national airline, Olympic Airways, and other state-owned companies, and reforming the country’s public education system and social security.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis was hoping for a better result, and in face of prospects of winning more seats for his party, moved elections forward six months before the end of his term. According to pundits, PASOK results were not better the because the socialists were unable to capitalize on the government’s mistakes, like the forest fires that devastated Greece this summer, killing 65 people, which prompted many to accuse the conservatives of incompetence.

At the inauguration of the new cabinet on September 19, the ministers of Foreign Relations, Dora Bakoyannis, of Finances, George Alogoskoufis, and Defense, Vangelis Meimerakis, maintained their posts, while the minister for Public Order, Vyron Plydoras, responsible for the government’s response to the fires, will not return to the cabinet in this second term. Read more on the official site of the Greek Communist party (available in English and French) and

A divided Lebanon tries to elect a new president

Late October marks the end of the term of office of incumbent president of Lebanon Émile Lahoud. His substitute is to be elected by the Lebanese parliament, as there are no direct elections in the country.

Since there are nearly twenty ethnic and religious communities in Lebanon, the solution found to put an end to the civil war in the early 1950s was to constitutionally define the division of power between the most representative political factions.

Accordingly, the president and the army commander are Christians, and the prime minister and the president of the parliament are, respectively, Sunni and Shia Muslims.

The problem is that the demographic data on which such arrangement was based, which date back to the 1930 census, have been considerably modified. The Shias, who represent the poorest part of the population, have grown in numbers and in power, as demonstrated in 2006, when the Hezbollah managed to stop the Israeli army from occupying Southern Lebanon.

The political camp in which the Hezbollah participates includes the Amal Party, also representing the Shia community, the Free Patriotic Current of Christian general Michel Aoun, an ally of the Israelis during the 1980s civil war, and Suleimán Frangié’s Marada Christian Party.

Although a minority group in parliament, this bloc controls more that one-third of the seats and since the withdrawal of the Israeli troops has been pressuring to broaden its participation in the government. The tactic adopted has been to mobilize the population and obstruct parliamentary work, the resignation of the six ministers in the cabinet, and by keeping a permanent encampment outside parliament, which demands the resignation of the Sunni Prime Minister, Fuad Siniora, in an attempt to force new elections and thereby redefine the correlation of forces.

The other bloc comprises the Kataeb Maronite Christian Party of Amin Gemayel, the Popular Social Party led by Druse Walid Jumblatt, the Party of the Future of Sunni Saad Hariri, the Christians of the Lebanese Forces of Samir Geagea, and the Liberal National Party of Dory Chamoun. This bloc self-named March 14 and presents itself politically as anti-Syrian, seeking to suggest that the other bloc is supported by the Syrian government, a version that the press permanently replicates. However, the March 14th is the political group favored by the US government and the European Union.

Since 2005, six of this bloc’s members of parliament were assassinated, including Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Saad’s father. The authorship has been attributed to the Syrians, who vehemently deny having any part in these deaths. Nonetheless, these deaths contribute to raise tensions and pollarize the country’s political atmosphere, while strong evidence shows that most of these parties are organizing their own, armed militias.

The quorum necessary to call new presidential elections is of two-thirds, yet to elect the president a simple majority of members of parliament suffices. The Shia bloc and its Christian allies proposed an effort to find a candidate through consensus, who could be elected by two-thirds or more of the votes, which was not accepted by the other bloc. They then boycotted the first parliament session that was to address the issue, precisely to force the alternative toward consensus building. Read more at and

Pakistan – Musharraf and the presidential election

Pakistan’s president, General Pervez Musharraf, formally submitted his candidacy to reelection on September 28, twenty-four hours before the Supreme Court’s ruling on his eligibility.

The opposition had filed petitions claiming the unconstitutionality of his holding two offices simultaneously, those of president and chief commander of the army. Should his candidacy be found unlawful, analysts believed the general would decree a state of emergency and dissolve parliament, or seek a new term as a civilian after the elections.

The ballot is due on October 6, yet the politicians of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy pledged to resign en masse to keep that from happening.

Before the ruling on Musharraf’s candidacy, the Supreme Court ordered the release of tens of opposition activists, an order the government stated it would fulfil in a couple of days. The general, a key ally of the United States, has been in dire straits since he collided last March with Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the Supreme Court Chief Justice.

As Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, accompanied by other cabinet members, submitted to the electoral commission the documentation for Musharraf’s registration, hundreds of demonstrators protested outside the building, provoking the closing of Islamabad’s main streets. The party of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistani People’s Party, registered its vice-president, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, to run in the presidential contest.

Bhutto promised to return to the country in mid October to run in the January 2008 parliamentary elections. She and the general have been talking for months over a possible alliance that would allow her return and that of other exiles involved in the political destinies of Pakistan.

Musharraf’s allies control enough seats to win the election, which will have the participation of national and provincial parliamentarians. Yet the opposition wants the ballot to be held after the parliamentary elections.

In addition to the PPP’s Fahim, another presidential candidate is Wajihuddin Ahmed, who has already been a Supreme Court Justice and was chosen by a group of lawyers heading a movement seeking to elect a civilian as the country’s next president.

To ease tensions, Musharraf guarantees that, should he win the election, he will resign the post of chief army commander on November 15, in order to be sworn in as a civilian. If he is not reelected, though, he has also given his warning: he will remain in his military post. Read more at and

Japan – the choice of the new prime minister, Abe’s antithesis

Amidst a crisis in the Japanese government, with the resignation of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the DLP (Democratic Liberal Party) chose its substitute for the post: Yasuo Fukuda. Supported by seven of the eight factions in which the party is divided, Fukuda has the task of strengthening the DLP and the government after the July parliamentary electoral defeat, countless scandals, and Abe’s sudden resignation.

The new premier received 330 of the 527 votes from MPs and regional leaderships in the party’s internal consultation. Tarso Aso, the DLP secretary general, who advocates positions close to those of Abe, received 197 votes.

Fukuda is known for his conciliatory tone in foreign policy matters, and should help the country to establish better relations with its neighbors China and North Korea, interrupting the nationalist rhetoric so strongly advocated by Abe, and to a lesser extent by his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi. A sign of that was the prime minister’s mention that he did not intend to visit the Yasukuni shrine, which is seen by Asian countries as a symbol of the Japanese militarism.
In the domestic front, Fukuda is expected to interrupt the ongoing economic and political reforms, pointed by the DLP as the reason for their loss in the July elections for the senate. Besides, he is also expected to call legislative elections due in September 2009, for April 2008, once parliament approves the new annual budget.

However, in face of the DLP’s instability, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which gained the control of the senate in July, will push for new general elections to be moved forward.

The first measure by the new prime minister will be to guarantee the Japanese naval mission in the Indian Ocean, in support of the US war in Afghanistan. Though not allowed by the Japanese Constitution, a special bill was drafted in 2001 to that end, providing for an extension to be approved by 2010. Read more at and

Myanmar – Popular mobilizations continue

Myanmar, former Birmania, conquered its independence from England in 1948. One of its first leaders and an important politician in the world scene of the time was Aung San. His government played an important role in the organization of the third-world, non-aligned movement, together with Indonesia’s Suharto and India’s Nehru.

In 1962, a coup installed a dictatorship led by General Li Wen, supported by a single party, the so-called Party of the Socialist Program of Birmania (PSPB). A student protest against the government in 1966 was brutally repressed, with the subsequent deaths of hundreds of people.

Popular pressure accomplished a slight process of aperture starting in 1987, which proposed presidential elections for 1990, preceded by parliamentary elections. In these elections, the Pro-Democracy National League, led by Aung San’s daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, got approximately 80% of the votes and the PSPB elected only 10 MPs of a total 485.

The military once again brutally repressed this redemocratization attempt, and more than 3,000 people were murdered during the 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations. The military simply ignored the electoral result, annulled the presidential elections, installed a military junta in power, changed the country’s name to Myanmar, and placed Aung San Suu Kyi under home arrest, a situation she finds herself in until today.

In 1991, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and today she is one of the world’s symbols of democracy and respect for human rights.

The military dictatorship has been ferocious in using arrests, torture and murder of opponents, which include the guerrilla groups fighting for the emancipation of ethnicities Karen and Shan, two of the most important after the Birmanese.

The government of Myanmar has been repeatedly condemned by the ILO for the use of slave work as a State policy to carry out public works of infrastructure to benefit the establishment of important multinational corporations of, especially, the oil and gas industry.

This time protests started on August 19, initially involving few people, against economic austerity measures and price hikes determined by the Military Government presided by General Than Swee. With the arrest of nearly three hundred protesters, there was a demonstration by Budhist monks in the city of Pakokku, who were beaten by members of the army.

The monks set a date for the government to apologize and, once the deadline expired, they took to the streets in a movement that was quickly joined by the population of several cities around the country, including the capital city Yangun (formerly Rangoon).

At one point, the movement came to gather 300,000 people, plus some 30,000 monks of the country’s total 400,000, and is now again a pro-democracy movement. One of the latest rallies marched to the center of the capital to the home of Aung San Suu Kyi, who could only wave to the crowd from behind the file of soldiers that surrounded her house.

In the beginning, the movement was tolerated, for the military had always maintained good relations with the country’s religious top hierarchies, and was unwilling to clash against the monks and further fuel the demonstrations. However, as of September 26, in light of the inevitable scaling up of the movement, the regime authorized its repression with shootings and arrests. So far, official figures acknowledge 15 deaths, including that of a Japanese photographer, and some hundreds of injured demonstrators. It is also estimated that more than one thousand people were detained, among them Aung San Suu Kyi, whose whereabouts are unknown.

Nonetheless, figures should be higher, for foreign diplomats have denounced that the soldiers quickly remove the bodies of those who fall on the streets. Moreover, the military have sought to block telephone and internet communication with the rest of the world, and have surrounded mosques to impede the participation of the monks in the protests.

The novelty was the decision by the Bush administration, supported by many European governments, to impose economic sanctions on Myanmar to pressure for the country’s redemocratization.

A democratic and humanitarian gesture? Hardly so, for neither the “bad behavior”of the military government nor Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement started recently.

Apparently, the American and European attitude aims at embarassing China, which has close relations with the military government ruling Myanmar, which have granted the Chinese access to Myanmar’s huge oil and gas reserves, by means of long pipelines to be built between the two countries. Read more at and

North Korea – denuclearization process underway, yet with no date to end

After launching an intercontinental missile in 2005 that could reach Alaska and, therefore, American territory, and also detonating its first nuclear artifact in 2006, North Korea suffered great international pressure, notably by the US, Japan, and South Korea, and accepted to take part in negotiations toward dismantling its nuclear industry.

North Korean Prime Minister Pak Ui Chun made the commitment on behalf of his country to end the nuclear weapons programme, yet did not set a date to deactivate all of his country’s nuclear plants. The statement was made in Manila, Philippines, in late July, while attending the regional conference of the ASEAN (Association of South Eastern Asian Nations).

North Korea shut down the Yongbyon reactor in early July, under the auspices of an accord negotiated by the Group of Six, composed of the two Koreas, Russia, the US, China and Japan. In return, it started to receive 50,000 tonnes of oil from South Korea, and is supposed to receive about half a million tonnes to deactivate the remaining nuclear plants.

However, the most recent round of negotiations in Beijing ended without date being established for that, on account of the North Korean demands for economic concessions that include removing the country from the State Department’s list of countries that “sponsor terrorism”and the establishment of diplomatic relations with the US.

Negotiations were also stalled because of an issue regarding the kidnapping of 13 Japanese citizens decades ago, five of whom were released, while the others had died in captivity, according to the government of Pyongyang. Japan refuses to offer any help to North Korea without a satisfactory explanation for the episode.

What’s more, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun is sceptical in relation to the guarantees of peace and stability in the Korean peninsula. In a speech in Seoul before the National Council for Unification, the president stated that a peace treaty must replace the 1953 ceasefire accord.

The North Korean decision to begin the deactivation of its nuclear plants has been proclaimed by the US government as a success story of George W. Bush’s diplomacy. As part of the agreement, the US has also released the return of some US$ 25 million in North Korean funds that had been frozen in a bank in Macao. The White House had justified the freezing under the allegation that they were irregular funds obtained through the sales of arms and smuggling.

A new meeting of the Group of Six is supposed to occur any time soon, and the US expectations, as declared by its negotiator, Christopher Hill, are that the process of dismantling Yongbyon will be finished by the end of this year.

Financial crisis in the US preoccupies the world

The end of the Bretton Woods system in the 1970s came as a result of a decision by the US government under the presidency of Richard Nixon to quit the dollar-gold standard which defined its worth as that of the other currencies of the world, and consequently of their relation with the dollar.

With such measure, broadly speaking, the dollar exchange rate in relation to the other currencies was “liberalized”, for its value relation with them was no longer based on the gold reserves the other countries had, but on the behavior of the American economy and the measures adopted by the US Treasury and Central Bank.

Thus, the variation of the American interest rate acquired great influence on the world’s financial speculation movement. As the US is the largest economy in the world, the country attracts financial investments on a permanent basis, for investors feel confident that they will receive the return on their investments.

The US interest rate has remained relatively stable over the past years at 5 percent a year, as has the domestic credit offer for, particularly, construction and house acquisition and other activities, through mortgage guarantees.

These loan and mortgage contracts gradually began to be invested in the secondary market. This type of deal entails that banks lending money for the construction or the acquisition of real estate started to “sell” these debts at sight for lower amounts that what they would earn at the time they were finally paid off. The main investment funds that allocated resources in this type of operation were hedge funds, which guarantee the investments made by investors in any situation by charging higher rates than those charged by other types of funds.

At a given moment, some of these funds in Australia and the US announced they would quit such mortgage-denominated operations, for they were becoming too risky, while others went bankrupt because the rates they would have to charge to keep their investors were becoming extremely high.

This was a sign that the insolvency of credit takers in the US would rise, and housing resources would fall, with the subsequent devaluation of these securities, signalling to the closing down of contractor companies, unemployment, and recession.

Recession in the US generally means that the country will import less from other countries, so the crisis becomes systemic and affects the world.

The US Fed (central bank) reacted by reducing its interest rate by half a percentage point to combat insolvency and uphold the the interest of American consumers in search of credit to invest in real estate and, thus, eliminate the risk of a recession, at least for the moment. With that, the market has temporarily quietened.

However, the financial liberalization initiated in the 1970s, now practically global, constitutes a risk of damage to the economy because of the ever-present flight of capital and speculative attacks. For example, the American credit is twice the size of the country’s GDP, which therefore represents virtual money, for it is due and speculated with, yet may not be paid. When, for whatever reason, this lack of confidence arises, we witness a crisis and the risk of a recession.

62nd UN General Assembly Session opened

The United Nations 62nd General Assembly, the main forum for multilateral negotiations, was opened in New York on September 18 under the presidency of former Macedonian ambassador, Srgjan Kerim. Traditionally, after the opening ceremony, a general round of debates is held, which this year occurred from September 25 to October 3, to aid in directing the proceedings for the whole year. It is on this occasion that the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, and the presidents or representatives of all member countries, always starting with Brazil, deliver their addresses.

Ban Ki-Moon had already declared at the opening ceremony that this cycle’s proceedings would prioritize combat against global warming. In his speech, apart from stressing this theme, the UN Secretary-General stated that the organization must strengthen itself in order to better meet global challenges, and to that end it needs modernizing.

President Lula reinforced Ban Ki-Moon’s speech by stating the importance of the developed countries in leading the efforts to preserve the environment, pointing out Brazil’s own efforts, including the experience with the production of biofuels. Read Ban Ki-Moon’s speech “A stronger UN for a Better World” (in Spanish) and President Lula’s speech at the UN General-Assembly.

This year, besides President Lula, highlights were the participations of Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, and of Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran. Chavéz did not attend this year, and was replaced by Venezuela’s Foreign Relations minister, Nicolás Maduro. In 2006, the Venezuelan president caused a great commotion when, addressing the plenary of the General Assembly after George W. Bush, he said that the devil had been there and that the orator’s stand still smelled of sulphur.

The priorities for the work of the General Assembly this year, in addition to climate change, will be the reduction of poverty, mechanisms for the funding of development, accords and anti-terrorist actions, and the implementation of global agreements to favor development under the banner that “Global Challenges Call for Multilateral Solutions”.

With the end of the initial protocol, the General Assembly begins to consider the agenda’s substantive items and, given the great number of issues to which the body makes its recommendations, the work is divided in six main committees, which mediate debate between countries and prepare the drafts of the resolutions to be voted in the plenary. These are the Committee for Disarmament and International Security; Economic and Financial Committee; Committee for Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs; the Special Committee for Political and Decolonization Affairs; the Administrative and Budgetary Committee; and the Committee for Juridical Affairs. A range of pressing matters, such as Palestine and the situation in the Middle East, will be discussed in the plenary sessions.

Taking advantage of the holding of the General Assembly, the Group of the 118 Non Aligned Countries held a ministerial meeting to coordinate their movement. Read more at

UN – Countries renew commitment to reduce emissions of polluting gases

On occasion of the UN General Assembly, an important meeting of heads of state was held in New York to discuss global warming and climate change issues. The September 24 event entitled “The future is in our hands – the role of leadership in face of climate changes” had the objective of stimulating countries to reach an agreement at the Bali Conference on Climate Change, due next December, to replace the Kyoto protocol.

The meeting submitted the agreement by 191 countries, signed in Montreal on September 22 (on the 20th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol), as a positive outcome to accelerate the process for the elimination of hidrochloricfluorocarbons (HCFC) – gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect and the depletion of the ozone layer.

George W. Bush did not attend the event. His administration planned a conference on the same theme to be held a few days after the UN high level meeting. Even so, the step taken in Montreal and the holding of the event were considered by the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) as a historical breakthrough and a sign that another important step may be taken soon towards the reduction of carbon gas emissions, of much higher volumes and causing far more damage that the HCFC’s, yet of a more delicate nature since they deal wih the burning of oil and fuel fossils. Read more.

UN – Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is approved

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was ratified by the General Assembly on September 13, thus meeting a historical demand by the social movements and the indigenous peoples of the whole world. At the voting session, 143 countries were for the approval, 11 abstained (Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Colombia, the Russian Federation, Georgia, Nigeria, Samoa, Kenya and Ukraine) and 4 voted against (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, all countries with considerable native populations).

The adoption of the declaration was achieved as a result of 22 years of consultations and dialogue between governments and indigenous peoples of every region in the world, a population estimated at over 370 million people. The document emphasizes the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions, to plan their development in keeping with their needs and aspirations, and establishes basic norms with regard to respect for human rights and the combat against discrimination and marginalization. Read more at and

The declaration, which contains 46 articles, addresses individual and collective rights, the rights to culture, identity, education, health, employment and language. It proposes harmonious and cooperative relations between States and indigenous peoples. It acknowledges the right to free self-determination and autonomy, or self-government in internal affairs. Furthermore, it ensures the equality of rights between indigenous men and women, the ownership of ancestral lands and the resources they traditionally possessed, occupied or used, and the preservation of the environment. It bans military activities on indigenous lands or territories.

The opposition made especially by Canada and the US is based on clauses dealing with self-determination and intellectual property rights. Read more.