Latin America


On Sunday, October 7, Costa Rica’s voters approved the entry of the state into the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with their first-in-history vote by referendum.  In Costa Rica, the agreement was known as TLC, or, Tratado Libre Commercio (Free Trade Treaty) and was hotly contested, publicly fought, and barely passed.   

The dramatic enactment of democracy in Costa Rica barely made a stir in United States news agencies.  For instance, the Washington Post published one short article on October 8, page A-11, dateline: Mexico City, with the results of the vote.  Other local news in states with large textile concerns were a little more interested–many in the U.S. believe that CAFTA will continue to take manufacturing jobs away from U.S. labor.  But I was there and can write a little about the conduct of the controversy.  The photos below (not the map, which is from NPR) I took this month.

CAFTA/TLC
PBS-CAFTA MapThe Central American Free Trade Agreement is a burgeoning economic community in the Western Hemisphere.  Its member countries are: the United States, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic–and now, Costa Rica.  Because the Dominican Republic is considered Caribbean rather than Central American, the agreement is sometimes called by the acronym DR-CAFTA or CAFTA-DR.  It is a counterpart of sorts to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.   Belize and Panama are not signatories to the agreement. 

The Caribbean states also have their own trade agreement (in which the U.S. is not a signatory), but (as stated earlier) only the Caribbean’s Dominican Republic is a signatory to CAFTA.

The case for Free Trade
TLC SiA free trade agreement allows states to lower tariffs between each other and can be bilateral or multilateral.  Currently, a network of free trade treaties, both bilateral and multilateral, link states of the Western Hemisphere to each other, but they differ in membership and content.  Increasing numbers of multilateral ties both reflect and facilitate the rise of global markets.  Under these agreements, states are given better access to each other’s markets and can export and import more easily.  For Costa Rica, this may enable an influx of engineering and technical assistance, serve to modernize its business management, and streamline its markets for agricultural products–both crops and value-added agricultural merchandise.  It may also add to the job pool for labor, both skilled trades and unskilled.  

Costa Rica is in urgent need of new engineering and better infrastructure, both governmental and non-governmental.  Costa Ricans that I talked to working in business look forward to the development of new kinds of management and new opportunities for their talents.  Costa Rica’s hospitality industry also stands to gain significantly from the agreement.

China
With the EU as a prime example, the global economy appears to be settling into trading blocs which are able to command greater portions of economic power.  This trend has not always aided the Western Hemisphere in gaining economic power for itself–for instance, the U.S. and Central America are further threatened in the textile/soft goods market by the economic power of China.  It should be noted also that China is developing economic power in the Western Hemisphere as well.   Recently, China opened a new consulate in Costa Rica and President Arias will be visiting the state later this month.

The case against Free Trade
Tratado Libre CommercialWhile I was in Costa Rica, it was quite obvious that U.S. commercial presence was already quite strong within the state.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect to me was that many of the arguments mirror arguments in the U.S. over the Farm Bill–large agriculture, particularly that of U.S. grain producers, might threaten the local agriculture in Costa Rica.  This argument was fought mostly over rice–with the rights of Costa Rican domestic rice producers versus the rights of householders to cheaper rice imports.  As always, agriculture hires the most workers and accounts for significant portions of Costa Rica’s GDP–yet it is not as efficient  (or as subsidized) as U.S. grain crops.  Other crops, such as coffee, are currently administered in very small farms utilizing micro-climates and small confederations of farms.  Any unification of coffee markets, for instance, are going to change the nature of local power structures within Costa Rica. 

Most of the agricultural labor, for coffee at least, is migrant labor from Nicaragua–already a member of CAFTA–which seemed to prove to many Costariccenses that CAFTA was not providing jobs for agriculture for their neighbor state.  

Other arguments focused upon a dread of change to various government monopolies such as energy, telecoms, social security, and utilities.  The arguments against change for telecoms, for example, centered upon the state’s mandate to provide service to all against a competitive influx of multinational corporations which might improve efficiency but not provide service to all.  This argument was largely theoretical — TLC did not abolish the national telecommunications monopoly– but serves as an example of the conflict between old and new that Costa Rica will now confront. 

A third aspect of change is that Costa Rica’s environmental importance to the world (cloud forests, rain forests) may well be under assault from continued development.  As usual, this argument seemed to originate more from the international community than from Costa Rica itself.  Nevertheless, coffee growers, for instance, have marked environmental damage due to climate change on their own ability to provide coffee on the market.  Increasing development from the tourist industry and the development of resort/retirement real estate threaten the environmental benefit that Costa Rica’s undeveloped regions bring to the world.   

Further Reading:
PINR, May, 2005: The fight against CAFTA in the U.S. and U.S. reasons for backing CAFTA
U.S. Trade Representative site: CAFTA page, including links to the text of the Treaty

  

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A minor adventure:
I’ll be posting this week and weekend (and so forth), but my regular readers might find the schedule to be off here and there, because I’m on a month-long tour into the Spanish language.  I’m so close to being bilingual, and yet: I’m not.  So I’m taking my fate and my frustration with the word ‘almost’ and packing it into a suitcase along with my shoes, my verb book, and my toothbrush.

La Profesora, la Bruja
That's her.As far as U.S. language education is concerned, I think I’ve had most of the problems and some of the benefits.  One semester out of eight I had a native Spaniard, but Dios, that was high school, ages past; in one university semester I had a very good speaker who had traveled all over the Spanish-speaking world.  Two semesters I had the witch from hell, who quite frankly knew little Spanish at all.  The poor woman was ninety years old and her feet hurt, so I don’t blame her–much–but on the other hand, she was wasting time . . . . I learned no Spanish from her except how to say “the devil himself”.  Hmmm.  Wonder why that stuck.

The rest of the professors had exceedingly diminished expectations of our spoiled, Amer-anglicized students (yes, the students from hell, or at least, Purgatory).  Almost all of them are in it to endure only, because we try to keep Spanish-speaking people on the other side of the border around here.  Oh, don’t get me started on that one.

Las frases mas ridicula
Another problem I find with U.S. language instruction: I always learned how to say things I would never say in normal conversation.  My brother has a joke about this: he says, that in Spanish he learned to say “Tengo un lapiz muy grande” which is, “I have a big pencil”  and then we both just laugh.  Pues, quisiera a decir mas que esta, y en la semana que viene, lo empezare’.  (I want to say more than that, so next week, I will get started on it). 

How my coworkers have suffered
uh, Que sufrio’ mis colegios,
(I think).
So, I have spent a lifetime making attempts at the workplace to engage Spanish speakers in conversation, with some good results.  We shall see how it goes. 

So, perhaps upcoming:
Por eso, los que vienen:
La LoteriaOne great thing about going now is I’ll be able to report some different kinds of news than usual.  Some really important issues for my own home state (the U.S., if you haven’t figured it out by now) are obscured by celebrity nonsense, Congressional scandals, next years’ Presidential elections, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. 

But there are more immediate issues just to the South.  New/upcoming issues in Latin America include some important referendums for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), at least one new Chinese consulate in Latin America, new rulings at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR).  Who knows what else I might find out–once I can talk like a sensible person–but more importantly, listen with understanding.

Photos: Witch from easleys.com; JohnTunger, with La Loteria game piece.

Everything but Iraq, since this troubled state got its own post earlier.

Asia-Pacific:
♦ Almost like sports scores with the trade wars: China is now finding small nematodes in U.S. wooden crating.  Something undisclosed was wrong with some U.S.-origin frozen potatoes (no French fries today), and some vitamins and fish oil were guilty of false advertising.  As far as the ick factor in the product du jour goes, we’ve had melamine, lead, fugitive weeds, dirt, worms, and steroids.  Things to look out for next: spit, arachnids, cockroaches, slime molds, and stem cells, depending upon which side of the Pacific you’re on.
♦ Talks between U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill and DPRK Ambassador Kim Kye-gan went well in Geneva.  This coming Wednesday, Mongolia hosts the next chapter in the Six-Party Talks with diplomats from North Korea and Japan attending.
♦ The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum is in Sydney this week, with tons of security and a kick-off on climate change issuesAllan Gyngell at The Australian Age has a great backgrounder on the history of the organization, its sometimes sagging progress, and real achievements.
Australia’s contribution to Pacific stability at The Strategist.

Former Soviet Union:
♦ At NewEurasia.net, Ben Paarman looks at possible changes in Central Asia’s relations to great powers via the tired metaphor of the Great Game.  A great read  for Central Asia watchers.
♦ Get up-to-date on the new problems in the Caspian/Kazakhstan oil at the Kashagan field, at FPA Central Asia.
♦ Russia is going to put missiles in Belarus, if NATO is going to put them in Poland.
♦ Anna Politovskaya, the brave, committed, and murdered Russian journalist, would have been 49 this past week.  Robert Amsterdam documents the investigation as driven by political agendas rather than a desire for justice.

Latin America:
♦ Mr. Obama, U.S. Presidential candidate, said during his campaign that the U.S. should consider diplomacy with Cuba and opening up remittance payments, and the LA Times explains why.  H/T: Boz.   Then Professor Weeks sums up the anti-Castro backlash as diplomatic amateur hour in two paragraphs. 
♦ In a move to be imitated by world leaders everywhere, Lula declines a third presidential term.
Grief and destruction from Peru’s earthquake.

Middle East: and North Africa:
A call for unity within Islam, and the adoption of a social agenda, with a look at what makes Hizb ut-Tahrir compelling, at Tabsir.net.
Aquoul has a three part series on Moroccan elections, which is a very interesting beginning on learning the politics of the state.  Part 1 discusses the role of the King in Morocco’s democracy; Part 2, the situation for a free media; and Part 3, on interior security and political parties.  It’s referenced and the comments are good, too.

Afghanistan:
Taken in part from The Afghanistan Aggregator at FPA Central Asia, which has more:
♦ David Rohde on the Taliban v. Afghanistan’s police: the new tactics of the Taliban, including 102 suicide bombings, IEDs–against a police force which is rife with corruption and under-trained, under-equipped, etc, at the NYT.
♦ The last 19 South Korean hostages were freed over the past two days, in small groups at various collection points.  Of 23 hostages from the ROK kidnapped July 17th, two male hostages had been killed, and two previously released.  The South Korean goverment had to agree to withdraw their troops (as previously planned) by the end of the year.  They also had to agree to respect Taliban isolationism, including no missionaries (no surprise) but no visitors of any kind.  An undisclosed ransom has also likely been paid.
♦ Now that the hostages are freed, a backlash against the alleged reckless endangerment of missionaries by Church societies will begin.
♦ A Taliban spokesman has reportedly vowed that the Taliban will continue their kidnapping activities.  And so it seems: the Taliban possibly captured as many as 100 Pakistani soldiers this week.  And Mayor Shah is still missing from last week.  German hostages are still missing. 

Iran:
♦ Mr. Ahmadinejad says Iran has met its centrifuge goal: 3,000 in 164 cascades.  However, this is disputed by analysts in Europe, who say that Iran’s activity has actually lessened, which is disputed by Iran.
♦ So is this deterrence?  The U.S.-planned 1200 military targets in a three-day swipe over Iran, if necessary.
♦ After the U.S. was threatening to list the Quds force as a terrorist organization, Iran replaced its leader.  The new leader is: Brigadier General Mohammed Ali Jafari, replacing General Yahya Rahim Safavi, who has been its leader for the past decade. 
♦ Iran plans to build two new refineries in its southern region/Bandar Abbas.  Also, a new oil dock is being designed for incipient construction.

Energy Issues:
Prices as per August 31, 2007: Brent crude, USD 72.38 per barrel; West Texas Intermediate, USD 73.87.
See also Kashagan field in FSU above, and Iran’s refineries, in Iran above.

Happy Labor Day Norteamericanos, doing no labor–unless, of course, you are in a service industry.  For those of you in the service field, I hope your next day off is very nice.

 

Africa:
♦ I don’t usually cover Africa in the RI, but this article about Darfur cannot be passed by.  As usual, Dan Graeber hits the essentials in this brutal, piteous world.

Asia-Pacific:
♦ The China-U.S. trade quality war Escalates again: now it is U.S. soybeans, with considerable dirt, pesticide, and weeds.  The latter conditions would allow for perhaps large changes in Chinese biomes–sort of like the kudzu vine that took over the South.  Also U.S. oil-seed.  Best-case scenario? All of this ends up increasing quality in the long term.  In the short term: heck, no.  In the meantime, the toy-and-dog-biscuit inspections in the U.S. proceed apace.
♦ The increasing importance of relations between India and Japan.  India’s maritime might, now and in the future.
♦ Australia’s military defense strategies and the debate over economic v. military security at The Strategist.
♦ In India’s Hyderabad, 34 people die because of bombing. 

Former Soviet Union:
♦ Italy’s ENI is re-negotiating in Kazakhstan over delayed extraction and environmental issues.
♦ Little beef-kiev-cake for ya.  Holy Samovar!!
♦ Mr. Saakashvili of Georgia on living next to Russia at Robert Amsterdam.  Russia denies all.
♦ Russia’s LUKoil cuts supplies to Germany by 30% over the last two months.

Latin America:
♦ Hurricane Dean in Mexico: at least 26 have died from the storm.
♦ Peru’s earthquake: at least 510 are dead, with more casualties being found.  Quisiera expresar mis condolencias al gente de las dos paises.
♦ The FEALAC symposium met this week this week in Brasilia, as reported by Boz. According to AFP, the Forum for East Asian-Latin American Cooperation includes: Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, and from Latin America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.
♦ Venezuela–now cutting bus fares for the indigent in London.  Now buying 98 Ilyushin aircraft from Russia, for cargo or passengers . . . or, not.
♦ According to an extract provided from this post, Castro is in no way dead.  So there you are.
♦ Pollution from blue jeans in Mexico.

Middle East:
♦ Afghanistan:  Just three out of many from FPA Central Asia’s Afghanistan Aggregator, plus one update:
◊ Afghanistanica has a great post on Afghanistan scholars to watch, read, and study.
◊ Another article on the mystery of not-enough translators for Afghanistan, also at Afghanistanica.
◊ Mr. Foust at Registan.net on basic flaws in reconstruction aid .  A good start on the issue, with links for more.
◊ Friendly fire (what a term) from U.S. aerial bombardment kills 3 British soldiers and injures two more in Helmand Province. 
Iran:
◊ New in-the-works U.S. intelligence report is pessimistic about Iran, as reported by AP.  More nukes, no overthrow of Ahmadinejad, more weapons traffic. . .
◊ Iran plans to continue developing a 2,000 pound ‘smart bomb’.  Great.
♦ Iraq:
◊ Iraq’s elites are still leaving as fast as possible. 
◊ A Berlin study says Iraq will disintegrate soon.  The new U.S. NIE  on Iraq is not hopeful. 
◊ The Brits are leaving Basra any day now.

Iraq / U.S. Politics:  I tried to cover this in the op-ed war posts that I wrote yesterday.  Here is one post on Mr. Allawi, and here is one on a must-read editorial from staff officer veterans of Iraq.

Energy:
♦ Storm damage notwithstanding, Pemex is back in business, bringing oil to the U.S.
♦ Storm damages notwithstanding, Energy Prices a little more stable overall.  As of August 23rd: Brent crude, USD 69.58; West Texas intermediate, USD 69.68. 
♦ Rounding out the North American picture on U.S. energy imports, The Oil Drum has started a series on oil sands extraction, which does not look attractive. 

Overall, the message this week to me is two-fold: we need to plan international endeavours so carefully, in terms of both physical and energy security. 

Have a great week, everyone!

Sorry I scamped out on you last week.   I missed you all, and I hope to do bettah.

Asia-Pacific:
♦ China suffers another product recall, and the WSJ says it is at least partly a design flaw that has nothing to do with China.  I have already blogged that it is partly a management failure that has nothing to do with China.  But now it’s also baby bibs.
♦ Highly contagious swine virus in China, international community on alert.
♦ One thing I missed last week and is beautiful for covering a region we don’t know well: The Strategist keeps on with some in-depth study of Melanesia, this time resource wars.
♦ Kevin Rudd on Australia’s campaign trail.  I heard Mr. Rudd speak at Brookings Institution this past April and I wish him well. 
♦ The ADB again announces inroads against extreme poverty in Asia, but a widening income gap.
♦ Hizb-ut-Tahrir conference in Jakarta is well-attended.
♦ A large amount of my attention this week has been the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Bishkek and military games in Xinjiang & Chelyabinsk.  Check out the FPA Central Asia blog for the latest.  This is all so important, whether you are a Central-Asia watcher or not.  To wit, next entry:

Former Soviet Union:
♦ Russia’s new military budget: fat–means Russia’s new military might: formidable.  More on buzzing NATO.  More on Russia bombing Georgia.  More
♦ Kazakhstan has Parliamentary elections Saturday, August 18th.

Latin America:
♦ Peru’s earthquake has killed hundreds.
♦ Venezuela, the new Central Asia: Mr. Chavez wants to be perpetually re-elected.   Umm, can’t he find anyone in Venezuela who thinks like he does?
♦ Venezuela buys AK-47s . . . and we want to know why.
♦ Help for Argentina in procuring energy resources.
♦ Boz covers the stuffed suitcase that is getting attention everywhere better than anyone. . . in Bags o’ Cash series, 4 parts, easy read, gracious!

Middle East:
♦ Two respected foreign policy professors expand a controversial article into a soon-to-be controversial book about U.S.-Israeli relations.  This NYT article has links to the original piece and some background.  Whatever you might think of their opinion, one has to admire the courage of their convictions.  I’m glad that they have brought this to examination: everything important deserves scrutiny.
♦ FPA War Crimes reports on the verdict in the Padilla detention/terrorism case.  For more background, you can stay with that blog, because Daniel’s been covering it thoroughly.  The Conjecturer also analyzes it, by taking a look at the limits and mandates of the DIA in re: Padilla.

Afghanistan: [ edited down from FPA Central Asia ]
♦ Now that Britain is pulling out of Iraq, they plan to focus more on Afghanistan.
♦ An AP article that titularly is about Barack Obama is actually a report on civilian deaths in Afghanistan.  Though the U.S. or NATO does not keep figures on civilian deaths (either a mistruth or a mistake) AP does: 231 civilians were killed by militants; 286 by troops; and 20 in crossfire, unattributable to either party. 
♦ On August 15th, a New offensive started against the Taliban in Tora Bora. 
♦ Two S. Korean hostages released.  That means there’s 19 left.
♦ New Counternarcotics strategies sound the same as old counternarcotics strategies.  This is a must-read article by Mr. Weitz over at World Politics Review, complete with maps, and, new UNODC figures estimating another rise in opium production, this time by 15%.
♦ U.S. would certainly take out al-Q targets in Pakistan, but not in a way that would make Pakistan angry.  But Pakistan seems to be already upset at the prospect: a highly literate editorial at Pakistan Daily.
Australia’s work in Uruzgan, at My State Failure blog.

Iran:
♦ Is it semantically correct? I don’t know, but the Quds Force is going to be designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. of A.
♦ Mr. Ahmadinejad in Turkmenistan and Bishkek for SCO meetings.

Iraq:
♦ Targeting the Yazidi sect in Nineveh near Mosul.  Four hundred are dead.  Do we call this genocide?  As Iraq increasingly settles in sectarian patterns, every bombing will be a kind of genocide or sect-killing; yet Yazidis have been a deliberate target since at least April.  al-Q is blamed immediately, but the reasons haven’t been divulged.
♦ Abu Aardvark’s Marc Lynch reports that the last-ditch political rapprochement for September’s Benchmark Report and ultimately for Iraq’s political viability is dead in the dirt.  h/t: FP Passport. RFE/RL has a slightly different take, citing Mr. Talibani: “Sunni are welcome to join our coalition.” It ends up the same, however: Sunni have not joined the coalition.  In my newsletter this month, I’ve discussed the way Sunni concerns have been sidelined. . . in the oil law. . .
Iraq-Iran pipeline deal signed.
♦ Iraq Slogger special report on the Bridges of Baghdad.

U.S. Politics:
♦ Mr. Rove waltzes on out of the White House, ostensibly to avoid Congressional investigation.  No doubt he will write a book that exculpates him from all wrong decisions, minimizes his impact on poor outcomes, and maximizes his genius in those extraordinary outcomes, and dishes against all those who tried to block his progress.  uh, sure.  . . Can’t wait.  They store a lot of extra, non-partisan, all-purpose whitewash in the White House, and I’m sure he took a bucket of it with him.
♦ Candidate Romney says the way his sons support U.S. efforts in Iraq is by campaigning for Dad.  Oh, Bleah.  Vanity to the max.
♦ U.S. military suicides are running very high.  Twenty-eight soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan this year.  Such deaths denote despair, and that despair radiates outward into the military community: their close associates, who also must deal.  ♦ Related to my many comments on the U.S. Farm Bill: CARE International is finding USDA aid too much trouble, too expensive, and way counterproductive in meeting famine in poverty-stricken countries. 

Political Economy:
Selling to Islam at the Public Sector Development blog.

Energy:
♦ Oil prices: USD 69.84 for Brent crude, USD 71.76 for West Texas Intermediate, as of August 16th. 
♦ The EBRD pulls out of Sakhalin-2 investment.

I’m running a little late this weekend: computer problems. . .
You know, most of these entries are really U.S. politics-based this week:  I suppose that’s generally true, but seems especially prominent this week.

Asia-Pacific:
♦ China is still working through the graft by petty officials: after issuing a month-long amnesty in the wake of slavery cases and product adulteration cases, 1800 officials have stepped up and confessed. Here is a link to the Chinese-language only Incorruptible Fighter Web site: just so you know it’s out there.
♦ The IAEA sends a delegation to: Japan–in order to investigate nuclear plants damaged by earthquakes first, and scandal second. 
♦ Cambodian tribunal will try former Khmer Rouge prison administrator.
♦ World Hizb-ut-Tahrir Conference starts this coming week in Indonesia.

Former Soviet Union:
♦ Belarus under the pincers: in the face of mounting debt for energy, Gazprom threatens to cut supplies by 30%.  It was going to be 50%, but Belarus paid USD 190 million out of the USD 456.16 million that they owed so far this year.
Russian Sub♦ Drop a flag and USD 4 million, gain a continent: I don’t think so.  But it does create complications in international law.
♦ U.S. declines to renew the START treaty.
♦ Turkmenistan’s president consolidates power through trials we never heard about.

Latin America:
♦ Almost every time Cuba has come up in U.S. presidential politicking so far, it’s been as a dirty word associated with “socialized medicine”.  Now, a new post with Great Comments at Two Week’s Notice talks about potential U.S. agricultural trade ties with Cuba. 
♦ Another dirty word: “immigrant.”  Uh, this issue is very complicated, but it seems the U.S. has forgotten that the use of this word in such a way tends to denigrate the experience of ancestors of most U.S. citizens: my great-grandparents for one.  Let’s get a reasonable policy without inciting (or incurring) contempt.
♦ Professor Weeks has another great post on “The Wall” currently being boon-doggled (excuse me: built) at the U.S.-Mexico border, and how it becomes a rallying point for international discourse between Latin American States. 
♦ Last of all, and also related to U.S.-Latin American relations, the CAFTA agreement is still being hotly debated within Latin America.  Costa Rica votes on the referendum October 7th.  Good luck with that wall, Arizona . . .
♦ Mexico’s EPR guerrilla group has bombed again: last time, oil pipelines; this time, a store.
♦ Venezuela is purchasing more Argentine bonds (already have purchased 4.2 billion worth): this has to do with high energy prices, and a volatile, insecure bond market.

Middle East:
♦ Israel launches an air raid in Gaza: two Islamic Jihad members escape; two killed, 15 wounded.
Lebanon votes to replace two assassinated officials: turnout, about 45%. Waleed Eido, a Member of Parliament, was assassinated in June of this year; and Pierre Gemayel, a Cabinet Minister, had been assassinated last November.  The opposition is proclaiming victory–votes still being counted.
♦ Hamas sponsors some weddings by providing celebrations and economic help to newlyweds.  Now this is an important post at The Arabist–at the core of Hamas’ capabilities, a personal approach that continually confound institutional-based efforts at developing friends in the Middle East.

Afghanistan: (partly cross-posted at FPA Central Asia)
♦ Focus on the UK’s Operation Chakush in Helmand.
♦ UNAMA discovers mass graves in Afghanistan.
♦ Hostage news: Four of Afghanistan’s judges were taken hostage two weeks ago in Ghazni province; their bodies were found on Wednesday this week.  The hostage from Germany, one of two German hostages kidnapped last month, had been previously reported in the news as dead from a heart attack.  News recently released indicates that he died of gunshot wounds.  A second South Korean hostage was killed of the 22 first seized on July 19th.  So far the U.S. and ISAF forces have agreed not to attempt freeing the hostages by force.
♦ Dateline, Camp David: President Karzai is due for an informal summit with Mr. Bush on August 5th and 6th.
In Transit to Afghanistan has made one solid post after another this week.  In this post, the blog discusses dangers in Waziristan and the most-likely strategies that the U.S. should take against the terrorist havens in the region.  Another post points us to terrorist expert Peter Bergen’s newest analysis on Afghanistan’s burgeoning insurgency.
Iran:
♦ Now swapping oil with Nicaragua: no doubt through Mr. Chavez de Venezuela’s agency. 
♦ Now building its own fighter jets.
Iraq:
♦ The oil law still confuses us: on August 3, a senior member of the Dawa party has said: no oil law under occupation.   But on August 2, the Oil Minister of Kurdistan said that the oil law was proceeding–for the Kurdistan region.   In other words, Kurdistan continues to deal, and the Federals have not yet caught up. 
♦ They won’t, either, for the next month: the Sunni delegation decamped, and the Council of Representatives has begun its August break–or, August to September break.  Not boding well for the U.S. benchmark report in September.
The UN General Assembly will probably pass an increased mandate for the UN in Iraq.  Expected Vote date: perhaps this upcoming week.

U.S. Politics:
It's the Point.♦ My earmark makes more sense than your earmark: I listened to the proceedings on C-Span radio, but here is the NYT article on “single-source” contracts that are defined as necessary and appropriate by the U.S. House of Representatives, and were attached to the military spending bill.  I’m pretty sure it was Representative Flake who satirized earmarks by calling a ball-point pen in military spending jargon (paraphrase) a “polymer-based, multi-purpose portable communication facilitating mechanism”, which was truly my favorite part of the debate.  Language is a beautiful thing, and scarcely more creative than in use by scoundrels with something to hide.  However, as the NYT pointed out, this is less pork than usual for the dominant party, and they didn’t look ashamed, either.
♦ U.S. Energy bill passed: and it requires the U.S. to use renewable energy sources for 15% of utilities. 
♦ U.S. Congress passes  a 6-month long interim eavesdropping bill to catch terrorists, or private citizens, depending upon one’s point of view: and increase security or reduce privacy, again depending upon one’s point of view.
🙂 In case you’re wondering at all this activity: Congress is trying to go on vacation.

Energy:
♦ Oil prices: Brent crude, USD 75.11; West Texas Intermediate, USD 76.13 per barrel: after a large speculative rise this week, the price calmed a little back down.
♦ The National Petroleum Council is talking sense: they noted the difference between national Energy Security and national Energy Independence.  The first is possible; energy independence is not.  Energy security will be a combination of a. moderating demand, b. expanded/diversified energy supplies (I would include alternate energy here) and c. strengthening global trade.  Just a note: U.S. demand is expected to go up 50-60% by 2030.   China and India might need more oil, but the biggest consumer remains the United States.

Have a great week.

In the quest for better international news sources, I’ve made a couple of changes: first, I removed the InfoBrazil link, since the weekly hadn’t changed in a good long time.  Instead I have added on blog that seems to follow news accounts very faithfully, Bloggings by Boz; and one South American News Agency that covers Mercosur and Latin American news in Uruguay: Mercopress.   I recommend them both to readers and as always, I entertain suggestions.

For those who are interested, more Latin American web sites are available at the University of Texas site.

Little footnote: What is Mercosur?
A little but not much information is available at Wikipedia–Mercosur is an economic integration organization–a collective economic security arrangement between states in Latin America.  It began with Argentine-Brazil bilateral cooperation and continues to expand in importance, providing a foundation for other Trans-American economic communities.
Mercosur Trade Center Web site