Thursday, June 28, 2007

Photos of Haiti

Since most of you have never been- see some pictures of Haiti:
Go to the Grassroots International Slide show:

So What is she really saying?

Those of you without a doctorate, or a long time away from the Academy, may have a hard time understanding these ¨Scholarspeak¨ book reviews of scholarship appearing on the website of the Carnegie Council - from their Journal of Ethics and International Affairs. It is as hard to translate this type of writing into the vernacular as it is to understand the "economist speak" of the papers of the World Bank.

I ask you to make an effort to decode the following reviews and see if you understand them.

I try to be an absorber of high-minded thought coming out of the Academy as well as the screams of the mobs carrying signs, a translator, perhaps, a boundary crosser. We live in an increasingly smaller world, one which holds the possibility of great acheivement or global distruction.

Are there some things on which we can, as human beings, agree ?

I wonder.

Are Women Human? And Other International Dialogues, Catharine A. MacKinnon [Full Text]

June 1, 2007

Clare Chambers (reviewer)

In April 2006, Catharine MacKinnon was interviewed about her new book, Are Women Human?, for BBC Radio 4's "Woman's Hour." The presenter, Jenni Murray, had one main question that she repeated throughout the short interview to the exclusion of any discussion of MacKinnon's arguments: Wasn't the book's title simply too controversial to be taken seriously?

Though frustrating, Murray's unwillingness to engage with the arguments of Are Women Human? was strangely appropriate. A recurring theme of MacKinnon's book is that it is extremely difficult to get violence against women taken seriously. MacKinnon's fundamental claim is that the violence and abuse routinely inflicted on women by men is not treated with the same seriousness accorded to a human rights violation, or torture, or terrorism, or a war crime, or a crime against humanity, or an atrocity, despite resembling each of these things closely at least and precisely at most. Thus, MacKinnon asks "why the torture of women by men is not seen as torture" (p. 21); why violence against women within the borders of a state is not seen as a human rights violation; why the mass rape of Bosnian and Croatian women by Serbs is not seen as an act of genocide against those ethnic groups as such; why the mass rape of women in general in peacetime is not seen as an act of genocide against women as such; why, "women not being considered a people, there is as yet no international law against destroying the group women as such" (p. 230); why the terror imposed by the violence of male dominance is not seen as the sort of terrorism against which a government might see fit to wage war; why atrocities against women "do not count as war crimes unless a war among men is going on at the same time" (p. 261); and why, when approximately 3,000 women are killed by men in the United States each year, we refer to that state of affairs as "peacetime."

MacKinnon describes the extent and nature of violence against women in the context of the national and international legal frameworks that do a better or (more usually) worse job of countering it. Both the facts and the arguments are hard-hitting. MacKinnon's writing is astonishingly powerful, combining a compelling air of authority and outrage with a sense of despair at the enormity of women's domination by men. It is hard to disagree with her central thesis that much violence against women has the severity of a human rights violation. Moreover, MacKinnon provides a compelling critique of the doctrine that only states can violate international law, and that only transborder atrocities merit international intervention.

Are Women Human? contains philosophical discussion as well as applied political and legal argument. One such discussion concerns the concepts of universality and difference and engages with debates on multiculturalism. In the context of a critique of postmodernism, MacKinnon argues against both relativism and essentialism. Against relativism, she notes that many multicultural defences, or "defences of local differences," are in fact "often simply a defence of male power in its local guise" (p. 53). Criticizing these multicultural differences does not imply cultural imperialism, for sex equality has not been achieved in any known culture. As she puts it, "Feminism does not assume that ‘other' cultures are to be measured against the validity of their own, because feminism does not assume that any culture, including their own, is valid. How could we?" (p. 53). And yet, MacKinnon emphasizes, criticizing cultures from the universal standpoint of women's equality does not entail some form of essentialism. (The charge of essentialism, she claims, is really an accusation of racism in disguise.)

For MacKinnon, feminism cannot be essentialist because it is based on a rejection of the idea that "woman" is a presocial or biologically determined category. What it asserts, rather, is that despite women's diversity, "commonalities" remain (p. 53). MacKinnon thus directly repudiates multiculturalists who claim that equality requires group rights that entrench gender hierarchy, a move that places her (in this respect) alongside comprehensive liberal theorists such as Susan Moller Okin and Brian Barry. At the same time, she is emphatic in her criticisms of the conceptual underpinnings of liberal equality: based on the idea that equality requires sameness, she argues, liberal equality cannot deal with the fundamental "difference" of sex. Instead, equality must be understood as the absence of hierarchy, an understanding that necessarily requires making normative judgments about particular social structures and practices. Are Women Human? thus criticizes both sides of the multicultural debate: multiculturalists for failing to challenge sex domination, universalists for failing to challenge their own philosophical premises.

As a whole, the fact that the book is a collection of discrete pieces, many of which were created for specific audiences, is both a strength and a weakness. It is a strength if the book is read as a historical record of MacKinnon's engagement with various actual political and legal struggles. One can imagine MacKinnon's voice in the courtrooms, parliamentary committees, and conferences where many of the chapters originated. Were any of these audiences able to remain complacent after hearing her speak? Did any object, or defend themselves? Indeed, if the book is to be understood in this way, it would have been illuminating if some of the chapters were accompanied with a note on the responses of their audiences. For example, what did the Swedish parliamentary committee do when told, "The Swedish law of pornography, with respect, is the wrong law. . . . You have a law against sexual violence in pornography, and you are surrounded by sexual violence in pornography. Nothing is done about it" (p. 102)?

Reading the book in this way mitigates the problem that arises when the book is approached, instead, as a unified work: there is a considerable amount of repetition. Viewed as a complete work, the book would have benefited from being reedited as such, with unnecessary repetition removed, to help the reader identify each new argument as it is presented and give each its deserved attention.

These comments notwithstanding, Are Women Human? is a book that deserves to be widely read. It contains important empirical and legal analysis of particular conflicts, most notably what MacKinnon insists must be described as the Serbian genocide of the early 1990s. It develops MacKinnon's own feminist philosophy, building on the approach developed in her earlier works and demonstrating how feminism should respond to international issues. And it engages directly with contemporary debates about culture, global justice, human rights, international law, and the demands of equality. As such, it challenges those from a variety of disciplines to answer her question: "When will women be human? When?" (p. 43).

—Clare Chambers, University of Cambridge

Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny, Amartya Sen
Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, Kwame Anthony Appiah [Full Text]

June 1, 2007

Michael Blake (reviewer)

These two books are the inaugural releases in Norton's Issues of Our Time series, but they are linked by much more than this fact. Each is a measured attack on the cultural separatism prevalent in many academic and policy circles. According to the cultural separatism thesis, cultures or nations are morally central groups in the world; membership in such groups is both ethically significant and explanatorily powerful; and the borders of cultural and national groups must be preserved against outside influence. This thesis is rejected by both Appiah and Sen, in subtly different ways. Each book, moreover, is extraordinarily personal. Appiah and Sen illustrate their theoretical points with reference to their own experiences and the experiences of their families. The books represent excellence in philosophical reasoning, but only philosophers whose relationship to these issues is more than simply academic could have produced these works.

Sen's argument focuses primarily on the ascription of identity. Individual membership in identity-creating groups such as culture—and, in many recent discussions, religion—is often taken by observers to have an explanatory significance. We tend to think we can know a great deal about a person's beliefs in politics and morality, for example, if we know their cultural background. Cultural activists, moreover, frequently insist that this ascription is normative, rather than simply descriptive; there is, on this account, a single proper way of being Muslim or Arab, and it has implications across all strands of a human life. This assumption is not simply inaccurate, writes Sen, but deadly; it insists upon a single form of identification, making all other forms of diversity sources of disagreement and potential violence. Sen defends, instead, a notion of "diverse diversities" (p. 13), by which we have a plurality of forms of identification, both within and between the large-scale cultural and religious markers we tend to emphasize. Being Muslim, on this account, should not be misinterpreted as a marker defining all aspects of human life. Muslim reactionaries, cultural separatists, and academics such as Samuel Huntington all come under fire for making this mistake of distorting human diversity through a false and damaging simplicity.

Appiah shares this concern for complexity in identification, but combines it with a more extensive account of how our moral duties might change when we encounter difference. The assumption of cultural separation, he argues, underlies both the easy, moral indifference of the cultural relativist and the arrogance of the imperialist. These two approaches to difference—making difference sacred, or imposing sameness through force—rest on both epistemic and moral mistakes. What is needed, Appiah suggests, is a serious attempt to learn how to speak to one another across difference, and much of his book is devoted to explaining both the difficulty and the necessity of this process. This fresh start, moreover, will have to teach us both how to speak and how to disagree across cultures. What emerges by the end of Appiah's book is a conviction that most of this process will happen without the help of philosophical reason. In the end, learning to live with difference is more an arational process of acclimatization—of getting used to one another—than a philosophical process of rational argumentation. We must ultimately seek acceptance and familiarity even with those whose beliefs we reject.

There is much in these books that is fascinating and refreshing, as they reject the separatist thesis frequently found in discussions of multicultural politics and cultural rights. Even more interesting for a student of international relations is the effect of such arguments upon the conventional analyses of international law and sovereignty. Many such analyses rely on a notion of coherent social nations, or ways of life, as the foundational units of international politics; we may think of John Rawls's concept of "peoples" in this context. The arguments of Sen and Appiah make the ascription of cultural separateness, and the normative valuation of cultural groupings, that much more complex. As such, their arguments represent a serious addition to the literature on international ethics. If the easy linkage between state self-determination and cultural survival is rejected, the precise contours of the rights and immunities of state agencies may require considerably more thought.

These books, however, might be better read as introducing a research agenda than a final series of conclusions. Both books function best when understood as attempts to rebut the assumptions of contemporary thinking. Their positive analyses, in contrast, remain somewhat underdeveloped. Sen, for example, does not develop the notion of "diverse diversities" to any significant degree. Identifying this phenomenon is useful, but we need more guidance in understanding just how diverse we want our diversities to be. Some ascriptive forms of identity will surely have some impact upon what other forms of identity might be adopted: identifying myself as a philosophical liberal, for example, will likely preclude me from also identifying with a theocratic religious order. Similarly, if I am both Catholic and homosexual, there will be—at the very least—an internal pressure and tension from holding these two identities. It would have been helpful for Sen to provide a more complex analysis of when and how we are right to take some forms of identity as having priority over other forms. The easy assumption that we can explain everything about ourselves with reference to a single strand of identity is surely wrong, as Sen notes. But the fact that some forms of identity determine or shape other forms of identity must also be acknowledged and understood; we cannot ignore the ways in which some of our identities do, and must, take priority over others. A more complex and accurate account of cultural identity, then, would neither always accept nor always reject the idea that some forms of identity will dominate others. Sen is quite right to reject the simple account on which some forms of identity are inevitably dominant; a more complex account of identity, however, would nonetheless accept that some forms of identity place pressure on other acceptable forms of identification. Sen paves the way for this more complex account, but it remains as yet undeveloped.

Appiah's argument, similarly, might stand more in need of amplification than amendment. His solution to the difficulties of speaking across difference is attractive; we should seek to become used to one another's foibles rather than solve all disagreements through force or argument. The difficulty, however, is that we still need some guidance about what sorts of differences we should seek to accommodate. To know everything is not always—or should not be, at any rate—to forgive much of anything. There are some sorts of difference whose evil we ought to keep sharp and focused in our minds; we would be wrong, for example, to lump political fascism together with religious difference, as an example of the sort of difference we should simply cease to find unusual. Appiah would agree, of course; he is no relativist. The difficulty in this case lies only in finding a principle suitable to determine what sorts of difference we ought to normalize. Appiah may be right that toleration across cultures will not be achieved by philosophy; surely, however, philosophy will have something useful to say about how to determine the sorts of toleration we ought and ought not to seek.

All this suggests only that the books ought to be taken as introducing a new direction in research rather than a settled position. Both books are admirable and valuable additions to our literature on global ethics in an age of cultural diversities.

—Michael Blake, University of Washington

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Breast Milk Dilemma

Our white chick group is getting more diverse as we add to the discussion with a Haitian (black, she says, I am black even though her Dominican driver´s license has her listed as √Źndio¨because, well, they won´t call you black here as they figure that no one wants to be ¨Black¨) And one Canadian-Philipino, educated in London. We have named ourselves the ¨transnational hybrids¨.

We have the ongoing bean discussion. And have added the breast milk discussion.

Many of you will remember that the Nestle Company - a multinational out of Switzerland- was taken before the World Court in the Hague for promoting the use of their infant formula over breast milk in Africa. It was an ugly story - they were held responsible for the deaths of thousands. Now, on the Nestle web page, there is a frank promotion of breast milk for the first six months of life.

Yet in the campo here, the women save every can of formula that their children consume during the first year- At the end to the year, they take a picture of the baby with the cans of formula lined up behind. So what is that about? Breast milk is safer, more nutritious, provides needed antibodies. Most of these women are poor by Dominican standards which is extremely poor by US standards. Why spend the money when nature has provided something even better?

I went with my friend and her new born to the Doctor´s office to get her vaccines and questioned the doctor about it.

"Because that shows how much money the father has given her. Most of them are not married. Many of the father´s have lots of children by lots of women. The formula cans show how much money he has given her, how much he loves her, what a good provider he is."

And why not just give the money? For her food or rent?
¨"Because the only thing that they will give the money for is the formula."

It seems that there is always a back story.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Death of Doha

I am always surprised at how isolated the United States is, considering its self proclaimed position as a global leader. I get the major networks here and CNN and FOX - alas, no NPR-and I scan the NYTimes and Washington Post, and thankfully, the BBC and DW TV from Germany. I am amazed at how little coverage there is of the "rest" the world, how internally focused the discussions are. Honestly, here on this little island, I get more news of the world than you in NYC.

Two days ago, international trade talks, known as the DOHA round,broke down. There are plenty of activists on the left inside the US who perhaps applaud this - thinking that this helps the developing world. It doesn´t. What would have helped was if all the people who had a concern for Africa, for Latin America, for the developing world had really gotten up in arms about the agricultural subsidies and made thier elimination part of the progressive agenda. Instead the "antiglobalization" groups make common cause with the heavily protectionist French - who use 40% of the EU budget to subsidize their farmers.

Americans sit tight in their homes, thinking about going to Home Depot to redo their kitchens, content that they are, in fact, sending lots of aid to Africa, and after all, it isn´t as if we created the problem there, right? Wrong.

The Global South cannot compete with the subsidized products of the North- the cotton, the sugar, the rice, the corn. They do not have the money to subsidize their farmers, do not even have the money to educate their children - but must still pay their debts to the World Bank, etc.

Informed estimates (William Easterly, President Carter) are that the developing world has lost about 6 times the amount of money in trade that it has gotten in aid. So it continues, now, the colonial exploitation of the poor by the rich.

Haiti, once the richest producer of coffee, rice, sugar, oranges, art and handcrafts in the hemisphere, is now reduced to trading used clothing and subsidized rice, shipped in from America. The biggest HOPE that America has offered is to open more clothing factories where the Haitians can work for 10 hours a day, for $3 a day. But even under those conditions, there are more than a few applicants for every job.

India and Brazil walked out of the talks - said, no, in fact, they were not going to take it anymore - not going to reduce their trade barriers to let in more ¨products from the Global North.

Yesterday, the president of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernandez, was in Brazil, meeting with President Lula de Silva. Brazil is now the global leader in ethanol -becoming a green leader in the world.

Like many of the nations here - Haiti and the DR; Brazil still recognizes the democratic government of Taiwan. But, well, suppose that China, which we used to call Red China or Communist China, were to decide that the future of the world would be better served if it aligns itself with the Global South, and stopped, as it could do anyday, buying up the Treasury Bills of the US Government.

It could happen any day now, America. They could just cut off your credit card.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Neighborhood

HAITI-DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Neighbours, But Not Friends
By Elizabeth Eames Roebling

SANTO DOMINGO, Jun 20 (IPS) - On a recent trip from Pedernales, the most southern province on the border with Haiti, Dominican officials boarded the bus 12 separate times.

Two women on the bus, traveling with children and their Dominican identity cards, were subject to repeated intensive scrutiny. One, accused of having a false cedula, engaged in a bantering but friendly interchange with the border guard.

The heightened security follows reports that Haitians were entering the Dominican Republic by paying off border guards, and an outcry among many Dominicans who fear that their nation will be overrun with Haitian immigrants escaping poverty and environmental degradation.

In response, the Dominican Republic government has increased the guards' salaries and launched a new military frontier force which recently held exercises geared to restraining a massive influx of Haitian refugees.

Plainclothes government officials now stop the buses inbound from the Haitian border.

The majority of the passengers on the journey from Pedernales presented Haitian passports, which had cost them 75 dollars, about 15 percent of the average national income, and single and multiple entry visas which cost between 33 and 150 dollars.

Riders on the bus confirmed that until a few months ago, it was possible to enter the country by simply paying off the driver, who would negotiate passage with the border guards.

"We could come with nothing, no papers, only money," said one of the women. "Now we must have papers."

The Haitian men said that they were coming to work, that there were no jobs in Haiti. But none of their visas gave them the legal right to work.

A new law, which would formalise the status of temporary workers, was passed in 2004 but needs a presidential protocol to be implemented. The Dominican Republic is heavily dependent on Haitian workers, who perform an estimated 60 percent of the agricultural labour and much of the construction work. Few of the newer Haitian workers come to look for work in the sugar cane fields, preferring to live in the cities or look for other agricultural work.

The Dominican Republic has been accused of "modern-day slavery" in two films about the living conditions among sugar cane cutters, now showing in France and the United States. There have also been negative reports by Amnesty International and an internal and international campaign on behalf of Dominican-Haitians without documentation.

One result has been an upsurge in nationalistic sentiment. Moderate voices have been overwhelmed as local newspapers publish letter after letter conveying the fears of many Dominicans that their nation, traditionally "white, Spanish, and Christian", will be overtaken by Haitians, from whose rule they gained independence in 1844.

The accusations of abuses against Haitian migrants have been taken by many here as attacks on the entire nation. The sugar industry was privatised in 1999, but sugar and its by-product, rum, were for centuries the backbone of the Dominican economy. Leaders in the tourism industry, now the main economic engine, fear that calls for sanctions and boycotts against the nation will affect revenues.

Following the settlement of a 10-year-long case at the International Human Rights Court in Costa Rica, a non-binding judicial arm of the Organisation of American States, the Dominican Supreme Court reasserted its sovereignty by stating that it would not grant citizenship to the children of illegal workers, as the court had recommended, but would instead establish a "rose book" for the registration of the births of children of foreign nationals. Edwin Paraison, director of Foundation Zile and a former Haitian consul working for the rights of Haitians in the Dominican Republic, supports the "rose book".

He believes that the sugar cane workers do indeed live in conditions of modern slavery, but speaking of the "rose book", Paraison says: "It is a first step. At least all children will have a record of birth and we can work from there, to get them official documents, either from Haiti or here."

"There are as many as 600,000 Haitians living in this country, but only 5-6,000 of them have proper legal status," he emphasised.

All the others are living in conditions of insecurity, subject to deportation at any moment. However, massive deportations of Haitians have slowed down, with only 5,000 registered in the first five months of this year as opposed to an estimated 20,000 last year.

Paraison also urges implementation of the new migration law. "Bosses call the police to have Haitian workers deported so they don't have to pay them," he added.

This abuse was confirmed by Luis Manuel Ramirez, representative of the International Organisation for Migration, based in Geneva.

"Employers often call the police to have Haitian workers deported to avoid paying them, this is true," he told IPS.

Working with the Dominican government from the local office in Santo Domingo to ensure that deportations are done in a humane manner, and that deportees can collect their pay and notify their families, Ramirez says: "Things are a bit better over the last two years. They are transported in buses, not open trucks. They are fed while they are in custody. Fewer children are being taken."

While the IOM takes no position on citizenship, deeming that a Dominican domestic matter, Ramirez believes that "conditions will improve once the new law is implemented."

Contrary to the impression that all Haitians live under appalling conditions in the Dominican Republic, evidence suggests that the majority of them live as well as their poor Dominican neighbours.

A nationwide survey (Encuesta sobre Inmigrantes Haitianos en Republica Dominicana, 2004 by FLACSO, Facultad Latinoamericana de Cience Sociales) of a representative 40,000 households found that over 70 percent of the Haitians lived with electric lights, beds with mattresses, toilets and city supplied water. (END/2007)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hispaniola and Racism

Spaniards under Christopher Columbus established the first successful colony in the Americas in 1496 on the eastern side of Hispaniola. By 1511, having wiped out the indigenous Taino population, they began the importation of Africans as slaves. This was a century before colonization of North America with the importation of slaves into Jamestown in 1607.

In 1697, Spain ceded the western third of the island to France, who created their most productive economic colony with the use of African slaves. Noted for working the slaves to death and relying on constant new importations of new Africans, the French created a massive racial imbalance. By 1789 there were an estimated 500,000 African slaves to an estimated 32,000 French and French Canadian plantation owners. In 1804, the slaves revolted and formed the first Black Republic, Haiti.

Henri Christophe, became President of Haiti in 1807. He writes of the French:

"Have they not hung up men with heads downward, drowned them in sacks, crucified them on planks, buried them alive, crushed them in mortars? Have they not forced them to eat shit? And, having flayed them with the lash, have they not cast them alive to be devoured by worms, or onto anthills, or lashed them to stakes in the swamp to be devoured by mosquitoes? Have they not thrown them into boiling cauldrons of cane syrup? Have they not put men and women inside barrels studded with spikes and rolled them down mountainsides into the abyss? Have they not consigned these miserable blacks to man eating-dogs until the latter, sated by human flesh, left the mangled victims to be finished off with bayonet and poniard?"

Political control of both sides Island went back and forth in a series of battles: Spain, France, Haiti, Spain, Haiti, Spain, independence, US occupations, dictatorships, democracies, overthrows, "imperialist interference', democracies.

The Dominican Republic defines itself historically as "white, Christian, Spanish." Despite the fact that the Taino indians were wiped out in the first 50 years of European occupation, and the Dominican Republic is 76% mixed race, most Dominicans are identified on their national identity cards as "indios".

Immigrants into the United States from the eastern side, the Dominican Republic, are classified under the US census as "Latinos"- theoretically marked as an ethnic identity -while immigrants from the western side, Haiti, are classified as "black" - a racial identifier.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Four white chicks out to save the world

There were four of us at the table, 2 peace corps volunteers, one Brit volunteering for the OAS, and me, an unrecovered hippie with Utopian dreams. We were celebrating the end of a week long bi-national theater program (Haitian Dominican-- on that more later) which one of the Yanks had started and the Brit had worked on all day. It was uplifting for me, to meet such women, who could live easily without running water for showers, had a sense that their lives and work would make a difference, would live on $300 a month.

Two of us had been reading William Easterly's books on how development aid isn't working, or at least hasn't worked 'til now. Somehow the conversation rolled around to beans. Beans are a major topic of conversation in the developing world. That and, well, rice.

Haiti is 99% deforested. Most Haitians cook with charcoal. Most cook beans every day.

So what would happen if they soaked them? I asked. They don't. They just boil away.One of the peace corps volunteers, who had served two years in Haiti before being evacuated during the most recent "unpleasantness" and then re-enlisted for two more years (bless her heart) started to shake a bit. "Don't get me started. I have had this discussion with them for two years. They don't. They won't. "

And those of us who have been reading development books, or working in the field, know that you can't impose solutions. They have to arise, sort of full blown somehow, from some local head. A new idea of how to make the wheel.

But imagine if the women of Haiti would soak the beans overnight! Half the cooking time, half the charcoal.

I asked my best friend Haitian when I returned to the Capital. "You soak the beans? We never do that." And then she explained a bit more of Haitian life. Middle class Haitian life. First there is breakfast, usually juice, bread and peanut butter. Then Mom starts the charcoal fire, over the three legged grill which is in most Haitian homes, the "recho" inside, but in the back kitchen. And puts the beans on to cook. Then she walks the kids to school and then goes to the market. By the time she gets home, the beans are cooked.

So soaking the beans to cut the cooking time in half would just not fit the schedule.

In very hard times, the money for the charcoal runs out before the money for beans.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Haitian Border

This photo looks a lot like the northern Haitian border with the Dominican Republic. Some of you may have seen the aerial photographs in Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth - one side all lush and green and the other all bare and brown. When you cross the border from the DR, from Dajabon, into Ouanaminthe (or Juana Mendez as the Dominicans call it) you pass not just from one nation to another but from one level of development to another. On the DR side there are paved roads, electricity, cars, bottled water producers, ice cream parlors. On the Haitian side, there is dust and more dust, burros, bicycles, and a guy selling pressed juice out of sugar cane.

On both sides, you will see children dressed in their uniforms going to school.

On market days, Mondays and Fridays, the barefooted Haitian women wearing hi-end used dresses. They always take the best ones, the Anne Taylor linens with the lovely button fronts. The Dominican women prefer jeans, flaunting not only their bodies but their access to indoor plumbing.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Foreign Remittances to Africa

It was a slow day in the newsroom so I opened some of my junk mail. I have, as I am sure that you do to, a great concern for Africa so I was pleased to get a note from a genuine African.

You, too, have probably been receiving such notes. It is touching to see how the internet is enabling genuine people-to-people contact. I hope that you will enjoy my correspondence with Mr.Madugo, although I did find his form of addressing me a bit over familiar.

Feel free to copy and use my reply should he contact you. Unfortunately, his return address did not work and the note bounced, as would the check.

Oh, and should you know of any of Mr. Grillo's family, be sure to have them contact the bank.


I am the manager of bill and exchange at the foreign remittance department
of The African Bank. I saw your contacts in INTERNET SEARCH,After much
consideration i decided to write you since I cannot be able to see you face
to face at first. I will like you to take your time to read this mail
carefully. I did not mean to embarrasse you with my business proposal but I
seriously need your assistance. Please this is a confidential matter and it
requires urgency.

In my department we discovered an abandoned sum of U.S$12.5m dollars (Twelve
million five hundred thousand USD) in an account that belongs to one of our
foreign customer who died along with his entire family into the World Trade
Center on September 11,sept 2001 (AMERICA ATTACK).

Since we got information about his death, we have been expecting his next of
kin to come over and claim his money because we cannot release it unless
some body applies for it as next of kin or relation to the deceased as
indicated in our banking guidlines and laws, but unfortunately we learnt
that all his supposed next of kin or relation died alongside with him at
11,sept 2001 (AMERICA ATTACK). leaving nobody behind for the claim. The
owner of this account is Mr JOSEPH. F. GRILLO, foreigner and he is the
Manager Of petrol chemical service, a chemical engineer by Profession. He
died in world trade center as a victim of the September 11,2001 Incident
that befall the United State of America , the bank has made series of
efforts to contact any of the relatives to claim this money but without
success, you can confirm through this
I now decided to make this business proposal to you and release the money to
you as the next of kin or relation to the deceased for safety and subsequent
disbursement since nobody is coming for it and I don't want this money to go
into the bank treasury as unclaimed bill.The banking law and guidine here
stipulates that if such money remained unclaimed after Seven years, the
money will be tranfered into the bank treasurey as unclaimed bill I
therefore agree that 40%of this money will be for you as foreigner partner,
in respect to the provision of a foreign account, 10% will be set aside for
expenses incured during the business and 50% would be for me.

There after I will visit your country for disbursement according to the
percentages indicated. Therefore, to enable the immediate transfer of this
fund to you as arranged, you must apply first to the bank as relation or
next of kin to the deceased indicating your bank name, your bank account
number, your private telephone and fax number for easy and effective
communication and location where in the money will be remitted.

I will not fail to bring to your notice that this transaction is hitch-free
and that you should not entertain any atom of fear as all required
arrangements have been made for the transfer. You should contact me
immediately as soon as you recieve this letter. Trusting to hear from you
Yours faithfully,

My Dear Mr. Madugo,

Thank you so much for choosing me for your generous offer, which I would have assumed is against the law in your nation. Certainly it is against the law in mine. However, I note that the name of your nation, Burkina Faso, translates into "land of people of integrity" so I must assume that your offer is genuine.

I have looked at the statistics for your nation of 13 million people and find that your average annual income is only $1300 a year - certainly not enough to ensure proper education or health care.

Therefore I have decided to decline your offer, generous though it may be as it is clear that the Central Bank of your nation needs this money more than I do. I know that it is the opinion of the world that all that Americans are interested in is money, but I assure you that many of us, myself for one, Bill Gates for another, have a sufficient amount of money and a deep concern for Africa.

I am sure that Mr. Grillo would also not object to this fortune being used for the benefit of the people, whose oil he evidently exploited to obtain it.
You, as a bank manager, were obviously never intending to profit from this transaction, as that would be unethical. You are, after all, one of the "upright" people of Burkina Faso.

Therefore I do hope that you will cease and desist from trying to give this money back to any people in the United States, whom the whole world knows, have too much money (although much debt) and use it for the benefit of your own people.

I am certain that this is what all of Mr. Grillo's family would want.

Que Dieu vous benis-

What am I doing here?

I am on my way back to find the place where I left my heart.

Twenty five years ago, I spent a lifetime in Haiti, in a little house on a hill overlooking a perfect beach. The place had no electricity, and intermittant running water, a thatched roof and screens all around. From the porch, I could see the tip of Cuba. Every evening at sunset, I would pour myself a shot of smooth Barbencourt Rum, and sit on the porch with my invited imaginary friends. We would talk out loud as I dipped my Q-tip into my jar of hydrogen peroxide, cleaning any cut or insect bite that I might have recieved during the day. Infections thrive here in the tropics.

The Haitians, whose drums would keep me awake at night but who passed almost invisibly through the private reserve, must have thought I was quite mad, or at least had some very powerful Juju. I was a woman living alone, something that never happens in Haiti. I was white and did not preach or treat as only missionaries and a few doctors and nurses had penetrated to that area. There was one couple of born-agains in the town of St. Marc two miles away, coming to save the souls of people who ,in my opinon, always seemed to have a very strong and deep connection with God already, thank you very much. I have always had an aversion to religious imperialism.

One evening after my cocktail, I walked up the hill behind the cabin and sat on a rock in a large grove, listening to the nightingales. A small Haitian boy entered and seeing me, stopped rigid, so much blood draining from his face that he appeared almost white. His father came in after him, and I greeted them with a "Bon Soir". The child exhaled his fear, grateful that I was living. Haiti is a place where the living and the dead abide in close proximity.

I was working, in a casual manner, with some old friends Alan and Eva Baskin, who had the diving concession at the resort hotel near Port au Prince, two hours south on the main road. Haiti attracted only the most adventuresome of divers, as we had no hyperbaric chamber, no chance of resuce in the case of the bends and diving was still considered a new and quite risky sport.Occassionaly the divers would bring family who did not dive, wives,mostly, the occassional child. My job, then, would be to outfit them with masks, fins, and snorkels, and take them through the labyrinth that I had mapped out through the shallow reef of fire coral. If you made a wrong turn, your belly and arms would be scraped red and stinging by the creatures who live on the coral. Along the path, two Moray eels would come out of their holes and gape at us, a regular Halloween treat. If only divers came, they would bring me an extra tank and I would tail the dive, making sure no one was sucked into the exquisite beauty of the deep and left behind. I almost was once, when I saw a giant Eagle Ray at 40 feet and followed him down to 90 before I heard the psychic scream in my head from Alan at the head of the dive and turned around.

When I first rented the cabin, the owner kept asking me where I was from. Belgian? Swiss? Canadian? My French was very good but evidently not good enough to be French French. No. America. New York. United States. Why is that so hard for you to believe? "Because you are not badly brought up"

It pierced my heart.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Hispaniola - Birthplace of America

First European colony, first university, first destruction of the indigenous population, first slave rebellion, first independent Black nation, home of Ponce de Leon who discovered Florida. Two nations, three official languages, both occupied at various points during their history by the United States, both passed through military dictatorships during much of this century.

Featuring white sand beaches, high mountain ranges,chaotic agressive drivers, baseball champions, LIVE pink flamingos, crocodiles, reefs, merengue, bachata, kompa, controversial immigration issues. We have foreign embassies, offices for the World Bank, the UN, UNICEF, and every NGO working on global development. You will be able to see a bit of Spain and a bit of Africa right next to each other.

New York City is the second city of both nations, where the presidents of both nations were educated.Remittances from America account for 10-20 of GNP of the whole island.

Come on down. Florida is Full.

The Landmine Detecting Flower

And from the Good News Desk:

There is good news out there if you look hard for it. Last week in NYC, the Cooper Hewitt Museum opened up an exhibit of "Inventions for the Poor" which featured such items as a foot operated well water pump, a rolling tire water carrier, and the $100 laptop, rechargeable by pulling on a hand crank.

Among the absolute best products I have seen is the color changing land mine flower. A Danish company, Aresa, has produced a genetically altered plant that respond to the presence of concentrated nitrogen dioxide in the soil. The colors of the flowers change from green to red when they are growing on or near unexploded land mines.

I learned of this fantastic flower from a download of a video of the Ted (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talks . Ah the wonders of global technology! From the comfort of your own desk, you can watch video and audio of the world's cutting edge thinkers talking of their life's projects and concerns in 20 minutes or less.

Since I live here in the developing world, my computer speed is not fast enough to listen to the video without serious pausing to buffer so each night I download another talk or two and by the end of the next day after listening, I feel smarter, happier, and far more optimistic about the future.

The information on the land mine flower came from a Ted Talk by John Doerr, a venture capitalist who believes that perhaps, just perhaps, green technology can indeed save the planet.

Try the Ted Talks as an antidote to the evening news.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Pass the Farm Bill Cut the Subsidies

Life inside the superpower is complicated. Not only are you required to have informed opinons on the Shiites and Sunnis, your carbon footprint, the government of Venezuela but you are also supposed to care about how Paris Hilton will do in prison. And you are not given much time or resources to form these opinions.

You are busy. I know. I'll make it short.

Before this September, Congress must pass the 2007 farm bill which contains a substantial cut in the US farm subsidies. That means a lot to the developing world. And they have no vote inside the US Congress. Only you can do it.

The agricultural subsidies of the North are the main barrier to achieving any sort of fair trade between the North and the South. The talks, called the Doha Round, inside the World Trade Organization, The WTO, have been stalled on this issue since 2001.

The US now spends about $3 billion a year in non-military foreign aid and $25 billion a year in agricultural subsidies. The EU is even worse. One half of the entire EU budget goes to agricultural subsidies. Farmers in the developing world cannot compete with such heavily subsidized crops.

In the US, most of these subsidies go to the very wealthy agro industrial farms, not to Willy Nelson's gang of small farmers.

Many of us, I know, simply hate to agree with President Bush and the Republicans on anything. I know I do. But on this one, they are right. The proposal in the Administration's farm bill will cap subsidies to anyone making more than $200k net per year and will pull out substantial subsidies from wheat, rice, corn, soybean and cotton.

Here on Hispaniola the heavily subsidized American rice comes in cheaper than the home grown rice. Rice is the staple of both the Dominican and the Haitian diet. The Haitian rice production has been all but destroyed since Haiti was forced to cut their tariffs on imported rice in 2004, as a condition for the return of Aristide. This contraband rice is the main product that is traded across the border.

Yes, you might argue that cheaper rice means that more people can eat for less. But, alas, where will they get the money to buy it, since they no longer have work in their own rice fields?

So please. Take a moment. Email your Congressman.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Sing it Sister - Turn off your Lights, America!

When I visited NYC a few years ago, soon after the start of the war, I stayed with friends who lived down in the financial district, overlooking the hole that used to be the World Trade Center. The recently renovated apartment had no shades. I awoke as I often do 3 AM, struck with yet another bright idea on how to save the world, and looked out the windows on the 22nd floor onto a sea of blazing lights. The cleaning crews from the offices had long gone. There were no signs of life. Yet the lights were all all on, in building after building.

Was this why we needed to go war over oil? To light up empty offices in the middle of the night?

Hey, I didn't like those funny little florescent bulbs at first either. I still don’t. I put a new incandescent in an overhead the other day but at least I felt guilty and bought a new low impact bulb at the market the next day. All the new bulbs will be low impact. I vow it. I promise my new sister, Sharon. I hope that you will too, when you meet her. (read on...)

It is a drag to go around the house every night and make sure that all those little green lights on all the power strips are off. It takes a good ten minutes for my internet and computer to get warmed up after I shut off the computer every night. Ten minutes of “my precious time”. Sometimes, I just leave the power strip on all night.

Really, we are such little drops in the big ocean. Why should we bother?

From the SING IT SISTER department- I bring you one of our new Sojourner Truths: ( addressing the ministers at the Convention of Parties for the signers of the Convention on Biological Diversity, signed at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992.

Sharon Looremeta, Practical Action Maasai project manager, spoke out about the impact of climate change in Kenya, and the frustration felt by many there at the lack of international progress:

My name is Sharon Looremeta, and I am a Maasai and I work with my farming community —we have mainly herding animals and they have been suffering and continue to suffer from drought. Many of the animals we rely on are dying.

Two weeks ago we welcomed you to our country. We had high hopes that you were serious about addressing the threat of climate change which is destroying livelihoods all across Africa. Now we wonder if you are just like all the other tourists who come here to see some wild animals, and some poor Africans; to take some pictures and then go home and forget about us..

Dear ministers, we hope that the pictures you have taken, remain fixed in your mind while you're deciding what to do. Here is another picture for you:

Parts of Kenya have suffered a drought which started in 2003, these areas have had no proper rains for three years. During this time:

In Northern Kenya, pastoralists have lost 10 million livestock;

Two thirds of the population in Turkana have lost their livelihoods;

In Kajiado, the Maasai country where I come from, we have lost 5 million cattle

We have had no part to play in contributing to this problem but we are already suffering the consequences.

Kofi Annan sent a special envoy to Kajiado in March this year to try and help with the drought.

Not such a pretty picture, eh? And these pictures are repeated all across Africa, and the scientists are telling us that pretty soon, this kind of picture of hunger and suffering is the only kind of picture you're going to be able to see here in Africa. I hope you keep these pictures in your mind when you are deciding whether this COP will achieve anything, or not.

Dear ministers, we never asked for anything that you yourself didn't say was possible here in Nairobi. In all your speeches you said improving the Kyoto Protocol was important. But are you really willing to do the work to make it happen?

We said, "the review of the Kyoto Protocol was important for Africa, because we need more funds for adaptation — more than what we have now", and you said, 'later';

We said, "we need deeper emissions cuts so that our children and grandchildren can have a better chance in life", and you said, 'later';

We said, "we need new mechanisms to help sustainable development in Africa" and you said, 'later'.

I am a mother. I have a daughter. When she asks me what came out of the meeting in Nairobi, I don't want to have to tell her that you said, 'ask me again next year'.

This was supposed to be the African COP - building and strengthening the Kyoto Protocol with Africa's needs in mind. I think this should be called the 'Safari COP'. 'Climate change tourists' is what I call you ... you come here to look at some climate impacts and some poor people suffering, and then climb on your airplanes and head home. Africa is sometimes called the forgotten continent. And it looks like you've forgotten us again….
Just so you know, that this weekend while you head off on Safari or climb on your jet airplanes and fly back to your comfortable homes — and we know that most of you live in comfortable homes, no matter what country you come from, my people will be left out here with very little food, very little water, with our herds dying around us. My people are living on the edge of existence.

We believe your decisions have left a small window of opportunity to meet the demands of the people of Africa and the rest of the world.

If they cannot be made today, they must be made at your next meeting. Give me some good news that I can tell my daughter when I get home.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman/President.


Turn off your lights, America. Let us see the great cities go dark from the sky at night. Show them your hearts. They can see you, down in Africa, on Google Earth.

The Donald Arrives

Donald Trump has arrived in the Dominican Republic and we are just thrilled. His new project featuring million dollar lots for the super rich was 90% sold out by the end of the opening day. We get a lot of publicity in the NY Times and the high life living magazines about the high end resorts out in Punta Cana, where you bathe in luxury for $700 a night.

That is about double now the annual income of the 9 million people who live over on the other side of the island, in Haiti, which 30 years ago had an even bigger tourist industry than the DR. The government does place a whopping 16% tax on hotel rooms so those at least produce income: perhaps not enough to have public schools sessions more than half days but perhaps. And the hotels do provide some jobs, although resort workers are low paid, taking most of their salary in room and board, with a few hundred dollars in their pockets. I am not sure how much money the Donald's project will bring into the country: there are some nominal real estate taxes. But it will be good to have all those folks so close by to the sugar batayes.

I am thinking that they will eventually get bored out there on the beach with the golf course and only other rich people to talk with, won't they? Then they will start coming into the Capital, buying up the old colonial buildings, opening up cool little boutiques that I won't be able to afford, but perhaps a neat cafe or two where they will leave off old copies of their hard cover books for us to read. Books are so expensive here that it is cheaper to Xerox them than buy them.

Maybe we can have some round table discussions and a few little excursions to the other side of the island to see what's up in Haiti.

"Oh they say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one." (I would cite that quote but really, you simply should know it).

Don't get me wrong here. I have a healthy respect for the rich. They usually have figured out how to do something a whole lot better than the rest of us. They are bright. They haven't made a whole lot of mistakes. And, while they may not be a lot happier than you and me, they certainly have more influence.

So I am looking forward to running into the Donald around town. (He'll have to come out because those developments certainly don't let any strangers in, even if we are pink mottled.) We could talk about how to film the real reality show on "The Survivors" over in Haiti, where the people are actually eating dirt, but somehow, miraculously, keep on singing.

Imagine that.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Life in a Bird Cage

Life in the Bird Cage

I have an affinity for birds. I would be a bird watcher except for the fact that the humans who do so seem to start their days at about 4 AM. Why? Aren't the birds are up all day? I know there must be a good reason, catch them in the nest, before they have to go out for coffee and worms, that sort of thing, I prefer to watch the birds around 5 PM., with a smooth Rum in my hand, which, I guess, accounts for my lackluster career.

I had a Pekinese Robin as a pet as a teenager. The species was placed on the endangered list and banned from import many years ago. I wanted a parakeet but we lived in Greenwich Village and my brother considered parakeets too plebian so I got a pair of Pekinese Robins, one of whom died swiftly from neglect. The other, named "Alvin" after the chipmunk, became the star of the family.

About the size of a finch, with olive feathers and an orange and red breast plate, orange beak, Alvin was allowed to fly free for several hours a day. We learned that he abhorred bagpipe music, much like the enemies of the Celts. We had a Scottish grandfather and were trained to love it. When we put the music on, he would fly back into his cage and bury himself underneath the gravel paper, so we thought that we "had him trained". We would prop his cage on the windowsill on the fourth floor of our NYC apartment and when a member of the family turned the corner to head down the street, Alvin would let out a particular screech of joy that alerted us to the return of our family.

He lived with us for 9 years. I cried deeply when he died. I still miss him even though he never once sat on my finger.

Later in life I had a pair of Peach Faced Love Birds - sort of a poor man's parrot, a glorified parakeet. But they dutifully loved and bred and we watched the family grow, mourned the death of the mother at the claws of the family cat.

So when I moved here to the tropics, I thought, Perfect! Time for a Parrot! But no, actually I decided to live in the city, and the Botanical Gardens has this big poster about NO CAGED BIRDS. Besides my neighbor to the back has one who screeches all day.

But my little balcony has iron bars (a feature of the developing world) in the shape of the loveliest of birdcages. So I bought some seed, both thistle and sunflower and set out two dishes. They remained ignored for two weeks until one brave finch, the Jonathan Livingston Seagull of Finches, discovered it. If I sit very quietly in the corner inside the cage, they will come inside and share it with me.

Last week; as I mounted the stairs, I saw about 25 birds in a feeding frenzy. I held my breath as I saw one of them-- Alvin?- the same olive colors, the same perky personality, but no, as I looked closer, this fellow had a Zorro-style black mask around his eyes, sort of a speedo mask that certainly made him fly faster.

I contacted a friend who is an expert birder, who told me that I had sighted a Cuatro Ojos (a four eyes), a Black Thatched Palm Tanager, one of the 38 endemic species here in the Dominican Republic. He even has his own postage stamp. If you want to see him, why not come down for a bird trip with our resident expert, Kate Wallace at www. Think of it: 38 species that you could add to your list.

Turn off the Lights, the rains are coming

Turn off Your Loghts: The Rains are Coming

"So do you want to go away this weekend?" I said to a friend in the Capital. We can see the sea but are bound in by concrete and pollution.

"But it is raining all over the country. Even across Haiti. There have been two deaths in Santiago."

So we will not be attempting to go to beach or the mountains,for when the rains come here, they come in torrents. Rivers flood, bridges wash out, trees uproot bringing down live electric wires, people die. Mostly the poor, of course, the ones who have built their small wooden shanties on the side of the river's edge.

People die on the roads as cars skid through mudslides. Commerce slows as people stay home. Open air markets, fruit vendors who sell off their horse drawn carts, all lose their incomes. You do not hear, as you do in the States:"Well, it is good for the plants: they need the water."

For lurking behind every storm for the next 6 months is the possibility of the big one, the hurricane, the killer. Here there is no FEMA to call, no shelters to run to, no federal flood insurance.

So when you leave your house today make sure that all the lights are off. All the fans and air conditioners are turned off, all those little energy lights are off. And while you are out, go pick up those low consumption bulbs you have been meaning to buy. And stop complaining, please about the price of gas at the pump. Every little bit helps. Lives are at stake.