Monthly Archives: April 2016

Facts, and Opinions: from Ireland’s Rising to the dogs of Costa Rica; a prison rodeo to dissing women

Commentary:

Remembering the Pillar, by Brian Brennan

A century ago, on April 29, 1916, the Irish Republic ended its brief existence with an unconditional surrender. Though successfully thwarted, it set off a series of events that led to the outbreak of an Irish war of independence between 1919 and 1921. Brian Brennan writes about his experience of Ireland’s independence movement halfway between then, and now.  … read more 

Related: The Causes of Ireland’s Rising. By Conor Mulvagh, Explainer … read more

READ: Boris Johnson: schemer or charmer? -- Jonathan ManthorpeThe Trump virus goes global, by Jonathan Manthorpe, F&O International Affairs columnist

Trumpery – the political disease that is convulsing the United States and which is characterized by  incompetence, boastfulness and danger – appears to be mutating into a world-wide epidemic. Like America’s Donald Trump, London’s Boris Johnson and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines are riding a wave of public disgust for traditional politicians. … read more

America’s hate-on for women, by Tom Regan, Summoning Orenda column

It was a rough week to be a woman in the public eye in the United States. Not that normally it’s a piece of cake. This week, however, gave us a rather disturbing view of what happens when a woman angers the army of Internet and social media male trolls whose hatred for women cannot be understated. … read more

Reports:

Illegal Gold Mining in the Amazon, by Bruno Kelly

An area the size of Switzerland belongs to the Yamomani people. But in their lust for gold illegal miners — who in the 1980s used guns and disease to kill 20 per cent of the population — continue felling trees and poisoning rivers with mercury. Authorities stage raids and destroy the miner’s equipment. But who are the illicit business interests behind the miners? … read more

Alvaro Saumet plays with stray dogs at Territorio de Zaguates or 'Land of the Strays' dog sanctuary in Carrizal de Alajuela, Costa Rica, April 22, 2016. In a lush, sprawling corner of Costa Rica, hundreds of dogs roam freely on a hillside - among the luckiest strays on earth. Fed, groomed and cared for by vets, more than 750 dogs rescued from the streets of Costa Rica inhabit Territorio de Zaguates or 'Land of the Strays', a pooch paradise. The 152-hectare sanctuary in the centre of the Central American country is funded by donations. Around 8,000 dogs have passed through the refuge. There are more than a million stray dogs in Costa Rica, where the government outlawed putting animals down in 2003. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate Land of the Strays: Costa Rica’s Lucky Dogs, by  Juan Carlos Ulate

In a lush, sprawling corner of Costa Rica, hundreds of dogs roam freely on a hillside – among the luckiest strays on earth. Fed, groomed and cared for by vets, more than 750 dogs rescued from the streets of Costa Rica inhabit Territorio de Zaguates or ‘Land of the Strays’, a pooch paradise.

How a bank turned a $10 billion profit into a tax loss. By Tom Bergin

When Barclays sold a fund management business to U.S. financial group Blackrock Inc. in 2009, the larger-than-expected price tag was not the only good news for the British bank’s investors: they reaped a tax loss, earning billions almost tax free. The legal deal is an example of how some companies benefit from tax regimes that regulators worldwide are trying to crack down on. … read more

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Posted in Current Affairs

The Trump virus goes global

Why are so many voters in a blind rage with government and politicians?

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
April 29, 2016

Trumpery – the political disease that is convulsing the United States – appears to be mutating into a world-wide epidemic.

Donald Trump is drinking from a deep well of public disgust for traditional politicians in his now seemingly unstoppable run to be the Republican candidate for President in November. He has found that voters will cheer anyone running for public office, no matter how incompetent, boastful or dangerous, so long as he is not tainted by conventional political experience.

READ: Boris Johnson: schemer or charmer? -- Jonathan Manthorpe

London mayor Boris Johnson has bigger political ambitions.

Something similar is happening in Britain where the Tory Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is championing the “No” vote in July’s referendum on whether or not the United Kingdom should stay in the European Union. Just as Trump threatens to rip the Republican Party into shreds, so Johnson may split the Conservative Party down its pro and anti-EU fault line.

Johnson’s principles are plastic to say the least. He has never made a promise he was not ready to break, or had a friend or lover he was not manoeuvring to betray.

Over a couple of decades in public life as a Member of Parliament (twice), directly elected Mayor of London, newspaper columnist and television personality Johnson has cultivated the image of a loveable bumbler. Like Trump, Johnson disdains political correctness and delights in saying out loud the outrageous thoughts most people have the good sense to keep to themselves.

But everyone knows that Johnson’s purpose in campaigning for Britain to leave the EU – “Brexit” in headline writer’s shorthand – is to try to oust David Cameron from the leadership of the Conservative Party and become Prime Minister himself.

Then there is Rodrigo Duterte, who by May 9 could have outpaced Trump and Johnson, and ridden the Trumpery wave to become the President of the Philippines.

Duterte has leapt into a solid lead in public opinion polls in the last few weeks as his anti-establishment, anti-crime agenda has gained traction with the electorate. And this is a man who takes anti-crime campaigns to extremes even Trump might find objectionable. During his 22 years as Mayor of Davao, the largest city in the Philippines’ southern island of Mindanao, Duterte has been cited by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Council of the United Nations for, at the very least, tolerating death squads and the extrajudicial killing of suspected criminals.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte speaks before the protesting residents in the city who are calling for the moratorium on housing foreclosure in several housing projects in the city. At least 5,000 homeowners coming from different subdivisions in the city and even from neighboring towns and cities marched around the city on Wednesday afternoon, Feburary 11, 2008 to oppose the transfer of an estimated P13 billion worth of housing loans with the National Home Mortgage Finance Corporation (NHMFC) to a private entity known as Balikatan Housing Finance Inc. (BHFI). AKP Images / Keith Bacongco

Phillipines presidential candidate Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in 2009, speaking as mayor of Davao to protesting residents calling for a moratorium on housing foreclosure. AKP Images / Keith Bacongco via Wikipedia

In a television interview last year Duterte admitted his links to the Davao death squads and warned that if elected president, he may kill up to 100,000 criminals. It’s “going to be bloody. People will die,” he said, pledging to end crime in the Philippines within six months of being elected.

How far Duterte gets personally involved in his anti-crime campaigns is hard to tell. However, there was one case last September where he stepped in. A bar owner called the mayor when a tourist refused to obey the city’s public anti-smoking bylaw and lit a cigarette. Duterte went to the bar and forced the tourist to eat the cigarette butt.

That, however, is far from being the full extent of Duterte’s boorishness. He readily admits to being a womanizer and clearly relishes his notoriety. But then there’s the case of an Australian woman missionary who was raped and killed during a prison riot in Davao in 1989. This is what Duterte said to a packed sports arena during a campaign rally on April 12:

“When the bodies were brought out, they were wrapped. I looked at her face, son of a bitch, she looks like a beautiful American actress. Son of a bitch, what a waste. What came to mind was, they raped her, they lined up. I was angry because she was raped, that’s one thing. But she was so beautiful, the mayor should have been first. What a waste.”

After outraged complaints from the Australian ambassador to Manila, Duterte said he regretted his “gutter language,” but would not apologise for his remarks, which he said flowed from his “utter anger” at the incident.

If the thought of Duterte as President of the Philippines – or of anywhere – is not bad enough, there’s another unappetizing wrinkle to the story.

In Philippine elections the vice-presidential candidates are not part of the ticket in the presidential vote. They are elected independently. Well, the man coming through the pack with increasingly good prospects of being elected Vice-President next week is Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who ran a brutal authoritarian state for 20 years until his ouster in 1986. The young Marcos is a fan of his father’s fixed bayonets approach to dealing with social and political problems. He and Duterte would probably get on famously.

What is difficult to understand is why voters in the Philippines appear to be in such a bitter, anti-establishment mood. Outgoing President Benigno Aquino has done a pretty good job. The economy has been growing steadily since 2000. Foreign investment is being pumped steadily into the country. Money has been available for much needed spending on social services and infrastructure. Low oil prices have been a boon.

Like the tenure of Barack Obama in the U.S., the Aquino years have been ones of rebuilding, consolidation and bright prospects for the future, unmatched for several generations.

Why then are so many Filipino voters, like their U.S. counterparts, in a blind rage with government and politicians? Some of the reasons in the Philippines and the U.S. are similar. The economic benefits of rebounding economies have not been shared equally. In the U.S., Trump’s appeal is to blue collar white people whose manufacturing or other low-skilled jobs have been blown overseas by the gales of globalization and free trade. In the Philippines, the divide is between rural and urban areas. Most of the jobs generated during the Aquino administration have been in the cities, while the countryside remains mired in poverty and the semi-feudal domination of a few families who own vast tracts of land.

To these people Duterte looks like a champion of the poor who might shake up the entrenched, moneyed establishment. Well, Filipino voters thought the same about another big city mayor, Joseph Estrada, in 1998. He had been mayor of Manila and before that a movie star who frequently played heroes of the downtrodden working classes. But his screen roles did not translate to the Presidency. He turned out to be just as venal as the rest and was removed by his vice-president in a coup in 2001.

Duterte as President would likely be similarly disappointing to his followers, just as Trump will be if he makes it to the White House.

There is, however, one area where Duterte could make a positive contribution and it concerns the killing this week of Canadian John Ridsdel by the Islamic terrorist group Abu Sayyaf after a ransom was not paid. Another Canadian, Robert Hall, is still among the estimated 20 hostages being held by the group.

Abu Sayyaf started life in the 1990s as one of several separatist groups in the predominantly Muslim region of Mindanao and the surrounding islands. It has become, however, little more than a bandit gang that attracts recruits not by its Islamic fervour, but by the easy money to be made from hostage taking.

For well over 20 years successive administrations in Manila have attempted to reach agreements with the main separatist groups in the Mindanao region. The aim has been to give the region enough autonomy so that it will drop the demand for independence.

In 2014 Manila signed an agreement with one of the main separatist groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The idea was to strengthen local authority in the already established Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. Elections for the new authority were meant to be held together with the national elections on May 9. But that agreement collapsed last year after 44 policemen were killed in a battle with MILF fighters.

The future of the peace process now hangs by a thread. It may seem unlikely, but even foreign security analysts see Duterte as the person most likely to be able to get the negotiations back on track. He is a Christian, but as Mayor of Davao has always maintained good relations with the local Muslim community, and ensured Muslims held senior positions in his administrations.

There is strong opposition among the Christian Filipinos, who make up about 90 per cent of the 100 million population, to greater autonomy for the Muslim Mindanao region. Duterte favours creating a federal Philippines rather than doing special autonomy deals for Mindanao or other minority regions. Christian leaders like the federal approach, but it will require constitutional change to implement, which is always an uncertain matter.

Even so, Duterte is the only presidential candidate talking seriously about the Muslim minority problem and the only one with any track record of successfully promoting communal harmony.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

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Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Remembering the Pillar

By Brian Brennan
April, 2016

On the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1966, a terrorist explosion blew away the top half of the iconic Nelson’s Pillar – a slightly smaller version of the Corinthian column in London’s Trafalgar Square – that had dominated Dublin’s skyline for 157 years.

I was sad to see it go. My father had helped me climb the Pillar’s interior spiral staircase when I was a child (168 stone steps, Google now tells me) and we agreed afterwards that the panoramic view from the top was spectacular. Down below were bustling O’Connell Street and the swans and brewery tugboats of the River Liffey. Off away to the south were the misty grey peaks of the Dublin mountains. Over to the east we could catch a glimpse of the blue-green waters of Dublin Bay.

Fair Use via Wikipedia

Fair Use via Wikipedia

The Pillar was the city’s focal point. All the buses stopped there. Downtown office workers ate their lunchtime sandwiches there. They met there again after work to repair to a nearby hostelry for a quick pint before heading home. It was my rendezvous of choice whenever a young lady caught my eye at the Saturday night rugby club dances. “See you on Wednesday evening, then? Meet you at the Pillar.”

Did I ever stop to think this imposing granite column was a symbol of British imperialism on republican Irish soil? Not really. To me, as to the songwriter Pete St. John, it was just a part of Dublin in the rare old times.

Others, obviously, felt differently. They came out in the early morning hours of March 8, 1966 and blew Nelson off his pedestal. Nationalistic sentiment clearly still ran high. Republican bombs in Dublin had earlier dispatched to oblivion the statues of King William of Orange, King George II and Viscount Hugh Gough. It was just a matter of time before Admiral Nelson’s day of reckoning came too.

The police never caught the culprits. I don’t think they even tried to find them. When a 67-year-old Dublin man, Liam Sutcliffe, went on the radio in 2000 to claim responsibility for the bombing, the police interviewed him briefly and let him go. This was one cold case they seemingly wanted to remain unsolved. Or perhaps, like many Dubliners, they just wanted to treat the event as more of a prank than a serious crime. Nobody had actually been injured in the 1966 blast. The normally humourless president of Ireland, Éamon de Valera, was said to have phoned the Irish Press that morning with a suggested headline for the story: “British Admiral Leaves Dublin by Air.”

Bomber Sutcliffe told the Irish Times in 2003 that he felt a grand gesture was needed to recapture the spirit of Easter 1916, when a motley crew of poorly armed freedom fighters, poets, teachers, dreamers, farmers and trade unionists went out to take on the might of the British army in what was then seen as a losing battle for Irish independence.

“The anniversary of the 1916 Rising was being marked with functions and dinners and the campaign was fizzled out,” Sutcliffe told the Times. “We thought the Rising should be marked with something a bit more dramatic.”

If indeed Sutcliffe was responsible for the Pillar bombing, he did a very clean job. The top half of the monument fell north along the length of O’Connell Street without damaging a car or breaking a window. So reported the newspapers at the time, although researchers have since insisted the damage was more extensive than originally thought. When the Irish army came along a week later to demolish the jagged stump that had survived the explosion, the soldiers blew out many of the nearby plate-glass shop windows with their plastic explosives. “It came down, but not exactly the way we had planned,” said Col. R.G. Mew, the officer in charge of the stump removal operation.

There has been no grand gesture this year to mark the 100th anniversary of the Rising. There have been more functions and dinners, museum displays, lectures, documentaries on television, special commemorative sections in the newspapers, and learned articles written by historians who view the Rising as a transformative event: the first shot fired in a war that eventually led to the establishment of the 26 counties as an independent sovereign republic.

Attitudes in Ireland – particularly in Southern Ireland – have changed. England is no longer viewed as the enemy. The Queen has come to visit and shaken hands with Martin McGuinness, the former IRA chief who did time in prison for his republican activities. Pictures of Kate and William and baby George grace the front pages of the Dublin newspapers just like they do in newspapers elsewhere around the world.

I left Dublin for Canada in November 1966, eight months after the bombing that brought down Admiral Nelson. Ireland then seemed to me like a sleepy backwater and I wanted to see what the rest of the world had to offer.

My patriotic Christian Brothers teachers had brainwashed me into believing that the English should be denounced unto perpetuity for the 400 years of suffering they had visited upon us through the yoke of imperialism. It took a few years before I could get comfortable with the idea of pledging allegiance to the Queen.

Ireland has since become more tolerant, more sophisticated, less nationalistic, more cosmopolitan. It was the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote. The restaurant dinner menus are no longer limited to selections of stewed meat and two veg. The country feels now like an integral part of Europe, no longer an isolated island outpost on the western edge of the continent.

I’m relieved to see there was no grand republican gesture to mark this year’s anniversary. I still miss the Pillar. It gave our city a distinctive appearance. During the years it stood there, it provided us with a beacon for visitors as recognizable as the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building. After it was blown to smithereens, it left us with a diminished city core that looked like the monstrosities that pass for human shelter in Luton, Coventry, Birmingham and Bristol. There never was a defensible reason for taking Nelson out. His world had already collapsed when he was toppled from his perch in 1966.

Copyright © Brian Brennan 2016

Next, read Irish scholar Conor Mulvagh’s explainer, What caused Ireland’s rising?

 

Brian BrennanBrian Brennan, an Irish journalist living in Canada, is a founding feature writer with Facts and Opinions and a contributor to Arts dispatches and the Loose Leaf salon. His profile of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the first original feature in the journal’s inaugural issue, won Runner-up, Best Feature Article, in the 2014 Professional Writers Association of Canada Awards. Brennan was educated at University College Dublin, Vancouver’s Langara College, the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the National Critics Institute in Waterford, Connecticut.

Visit him at his website, www.brianbrennan.ca

Brian Brennan also plays jazz piano, for fun and profit.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers.We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit donations from partisan organizations. Thank you for your patronage, and please tell others about us. Most of our pages are outside our paywall. To help us continue, we suggest a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or for use of the entire site at least $1 for a day pass, and $20 for a year. With enough supporters  paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our ability to offer original works.  Visit our Subscribe page for more details. 

 

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AI chills and thrills, climate pledges, a Nazi haven, children’s lit, and a film about a genius: Facts, and Opinions, that matter this week

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry kisses his two-year-old granddaughter Isabelle Dobbs-Higginson after signing the Paris Agreement on climate change at United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan, New York, U.S., April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry kisses his two-year-old granddaughter Isabelle Dobbs-Higginson after signing the Paris Agreement on climate change at United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan, New York, U.S., April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Reports:

Ban Ki-moon (2nd from R), Secretary-General of the United Nations, delivers his opening remarks at the Paris Agreement signing ceremony on climate change as French President Francois Hollande (2nd from L) looks on at the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan, New York, U.S., April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mike SegarChina, US, among those pledging to ratify Paris Agreement. By Michelle Nichols & Valerie Volcovici  Report

China and the United States, the world’s top producers of greenhouse gas emissions, pledged to formally adopt by the end of the year a Paris deal to slow global warming, raising the prospects of it being enforced much faster than anticipated. The United Nations said 175 states took the first step of signing the deal on April 22, the biggest day one endorsement of a global agreement.

Focus on Artificial Intelligence

Figure-1The chilling significance of AlphaGo. By Sheldon Fernandez  Magazine

In March, a computer named AlphaGo played the human world champion in a five-game match of Go, the ancient board game often described as the ‘Far East cousin’ of chess. That AlphaGo triumphed provoked curiosity and bemusement in the public — but is seen as hugely significant in the artificial intelligence and computer science communities. Computer engineer Sheldon Fernandez explains why.

The Sunflower Robot is a prototype that can carry objects and provide reminders and notifications to assist people in their daily lives. It uses biologically inspired visual signals and a touch screen, located in front of its chest, to communicate and interact with users. Photo by Thomas Farnetti for Wellcome/Mosaic, Creative CommonsA one-armed robot will look after me until I die. By Geoff Watts Magazine

I am persuaded by the rational argument for why machine care in my old age should be acceptable, but find the prospect distasteful – for reasons I cannot, rationally, account for. But that’s humanity in a nutshell: irrational. And who will care for the irrational human when they’re old? Care-O-bot, for one; it probably doesn’t discriminate.

And from earlier this year:

Product and graphic designer Ricky Ma, 42, gives a command to his life-size robot ''Mark 1'', modelled after a Hollywood star, in his balcony which serves as his workshop in Hong Kong, China March 31, 2016. Ma, a robot enthusiast, spent a year-and-a half and more than HK$400,000 ($51,000) to create the humanoid robot to fulfil his childhood dream. REUTERS/Bobby Yip SEARCH "ROBOT STAR" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIESBuilding a humanoid Hollywood Star. By Bobby Yip  Report

The rise of robots and artificial intelligence are among disruptive labor market changes that the World Economic Forum projects will lead to a net loss of 5.1 million jobs over the next five years. Where will they come from? Why, we can make them ourselves. Or at least some of us can, and do.

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Commentary:

By Brian McMorrow - http://www.pbase.com/bmcmorrow/image/45156182, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=833719This Week’s Other Birthday, by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs  column

Until quite recently, while Queen Elizabeth and her family were celebrating her birthday every April 21, a group of elderly men in south-west Africa were nursing the effects of the birthday toasts they had drunk the night before, to Adolf Hitler,  born on April 20, 1889. The men had been senior  Nazi officials, and had managed to escape capture by the Allies at the end of the Second World War. What is now Namibia offered a lasting sanctuary.

Why Bernie Sanders need to fight on … and surrender, by Tom Regan, Summoning Orenda Column

It looks like the end is nigh for the Sanders campaign. But it is absolutely necessary that Bernie not give up running. Yes, he should start to encourage his supporters to support Clinton. I am, however, totally in favor of him building up his delegate total and going into Philadelphia in late July demanding that the party’s platform reflect his point of view.

Those Healthy Yankees: Graham and Alcott, by Jim McNiven, Thoughtlines Column

Sylvester Graham and William Andrus Alcott were men of their disease-ridden times, amongst the first American promoters of “health food,” “phys-ed” and temperate living for health in both the here and now — and the afterlife.

The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, in the midst of their ICESCAPE mission, retrieves supplies in the Arctic Ocean in this July 12, 2011 NASA handout photo. Kathryn Hansen/NASA via REUTERS/File PhotoAfter Paris climate pact, let’s get personal. By Gwynne Taraska and Shiva Polefka  Loose Leaf salon Column

Reengineering global economic dependence on carbon pollution requires conscious commitment and action from individuals as well as governments and corporations.

Arts:

image-20160421-30266-12jsnvsHow GH Hardy tamed Srinivasa Ramanujan’s genius. By Béla Bollobás   Report

Throughout the history of mathematics, there has been no one remotely like Srinivasa Ramanujan. There is no doubt that he was a great mathematician, but had he had simply a good university education and been taught by a good professor in his field, we wouldn’t have a film about him. Credit is due to GH Hardy.

Why children’s books are serious literature. By Catherine Butler Report

Once a generation, it seems, a cri de coeur goes out, in which a representative of the world of children’s literature speaks with revelatory authority to the literary establishment and makes it reassess the place of children’s books.

Last but not least: alongside the many musical tributes to the American artist Prince, who died this week at age 57, his appearance on the Muppets should not be missed:

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Namibia’s Nazis — This Week’s Other Birthday

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
April 23, 2016

Until quite recently, while Queen Elizabeth and her family were celebrating her birthday every April 21, a group of elderly men in south-west Africa were nursing the effects of the birthday toasts they had drunk the night before.

The birthday these ageing men were celebrating was that of Adolf Hitler, who was born on April 20, 1889, in Austria. The men had been senior officials in Hitler’s Nazi party and its military wing, the Waffen-SS, and had managed to escape capture by the Allies at the end of the Second World War.

It is well known that about 9,000 former Nazis wanted for war crimes escaped capture using the Odessa network, usually with the complicity of sympathetic Catholic priests, and made their way to various South American countries. Less well documented is the story of the several hundred former Nazis who managed to make their way to the far more inviting sanctuary of the former German colony of Southwest Africa, now called Namibia.

By Brian McMorrow - http://www.pbase.com/bmcmorrow/image/45156182, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=833719

Swakopmund, in what is now Namibia, was an inviting sanctuary for former Nazis wanted for war crimes. Photo by Brian McMorrow via Wikimedia, Creative Commons

And once there, most of them gravitated to the town of Swakopmund, 280 kilometres across the Namib Desert west of the capital Windhoek, at the heart of the fabled Skeleton Coast.

Exactly how many former Nazis made it to Namibia and how has never been conclusively established. In then 1970s a young German ethnologist, Karl Budack, moved to Namibia with the intention of exploring the Nazi refugee story. He managed to get a few interviews, but not many and when the German magazine Der Spiegel tried to follow up the story, also in the 1970s, the entire German-Namibian community closed ranks.

I got much the same treatment when I first went to Swakopumnd in the late 1980s after hearing rumours of the Nazi exiles. I was then the Southam News Africa Correspondent and one of the first major stories on my plate were the negotiations for Namibia’s independence from South Africa, which had occupied and ruled the country since 1915. In all my visits to Swakopmund I never did find ex-Nazis who were willing to talk. But after a few visits some townspeople opened up enough to tell me about the long tables set up in private dining rooms in some of Swakopmund’s hotels where, on the evening of each April 20, the increasingly elderly comrades would eat together and share silent toasts.

There was other evidence of their presence. Swakopmund’s antique shops had on display for sale significant amounts of Nazi memorabilia. There were well-thumbed copies of Hitler’s manifesto, Mein Kampf, lots of swastika flags of various kinds, and now and then Waffen-SS daggers, which are much prized by collectors of this sort of dross of history.

The book store run by Peter Haller and his son Ludwig was one of the main outlets for this sort of stuff. But not any more. When German tourists starting coming in significant numbers after Namibia achieved independence from South Africa in 1990, many of them were not pleased to see on display these affronts to their country’s determined efforts to expunge the Nazi past. After many angry confrontations with customers, the Haller’s culled their stock and focussed more on offering arts and crafts produced by Namibia’s many African ethnic groups.

There are other ambiguities in Swakopmund. The war memorial, for example, is a large stone cross surrounded by a low fence. The writing on the cross simply gives the dates “1914-1918,” and “1939-1945.” The only clue to whom is being remembered are the imperial German crosses built into the gates of the small enclosure.

For the Nazis who did make it to Swakopmund it was a sensible choice, and a much more attractive and safe refuge than hellish bolt-holes like Paraguay.

Before my first visit I had been warned it is a bizarre place, and it lived up to its billing. It is Bavaria in the desert. The architecture is from the German colonial period of the late 1800s and early 1900s. The faux medieval half-timbered houses, ornate Lutheran churches and imposingly Germanic public buildings would fit neatly into some small Black Forest, Alpine town. But, surrounded by the Namib Desert on one side and the crashing South Atlantic Ocean on the other, Swakopmund looks like some particularly demented Disneyland.

Yet the architecture undoubtedly offered the comfort of the familiar to Hitler’s refugees.
And it was not just the buildings.

Germany held its Southwest Africa colony for only 31 years from its founding in 1884 until it was captured by the British moving up from neighbouring South Africa in 1915 during the First World War. But for some reason, Germany has left a far greater mark on even modern Namibia than it left in its other African colonies: what are now Tanzania, Togo and Cameroon.

German remains one of Namibia’s 13 official languages and is still widely used. It was even more prevalent when the Nazi exiles slipped into the country after 1945. There are now about 40,000 German-speakers out of a population of just over two million.

Namibia offered many other comforts not available in Paraguay.

Namibia still brews beer by the same rules established in Bavaria in 1516. These specified that pure beer must only contain water, malted barley and hops. Namibian breweries import barley and hops from Germany to make their beer.

Then, just down the road, are South Africa’s Cape Province vineyards. They offer fine accompaniments to the produce of land and sea from around Swakopmund. Just south of the town is the old British outpost of Walvis Bay, which produces some of the best oysters to be found anywhere. The West Coast rock lobster, or crayfish, halved and grilled with garlic butter, is one of life’s delights.

Namibia used to boast massive fish stocking in its territorial waters off the Skeleton Coast. But in the late 1960s, the United Nations withdrew the mandate given South Africa after the First World War to manage the old German colony. Once South Africa’s occupation was declared illegal, pirate fishing fleets from the Soviet Bloc and other countries such as Portugal and Spain, took advantage of this legal immunity, swooped in on Namibia’s fishing grounds and vacuumed them clean.

The fisheries have recovered dramatically since Namibian independence in1990, when the new country gained the legal clout to manage its resource. These are again some of the richest fishing grounds in the world. But it’s a bit late for Swakopmund’s Nazi exiles, most, if not all, have now crossed to Valhalla.

Old-style German cooking remains a staple in Namibia. It is an arid country that allows agriculture only grudgingly. Rainfall around Swakopmund is only about 20 mm a year. Many plants and animals rely on moisture from the abundant sea mists created by the collision of the cold Benguela sea current and the warm air.

Most of Namibia’s food production remains the domain of farmers of German heritage, who with a lot of patience, courage, and large reservoirs of minimally-paid black Namibian labourers, have forged a productive pastoral industry. The quality of the cattle, pigs and sheep are first rate, and are one of the country’s major exports.

Another major attraction for the Nazis was the legal vacuum when South African occupation was declared illegal by the UN. It made formal extradition impossible for any people wanted for war crimes, and, anyway, the apartheid regime in South Africa included people with more than a passing support for Nazi doctrines.

Such legal niceties never stopped Israeli secret services from hunting down Nazi war criminals in other parts of the world. However, there are no indications Mosad or other Israeli agencies operated against the Namibia Nazi exiles. Even the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, which has played such a large part in tracking down Nazi war criminals in the last 70 years, has no records of the Swakopmund Boys in its public archives.

One of the reasons for Israel’s detachment from the Namibia connection may be the highly ambiguous relationship successive Tel Aviv governments maintained with South Africa’s apartheid regime. The international sanctions imposed on apartheid South Africa created a market, and Israeli companies and institutions took advantage of that opportunity.

One relationship does not appear to have been so ambiguous. On September 22, 1979, a massive double flash characteristic of a nuclear explosion was detected in the South Atlantic by a United States satellite. It is widely believed this was a joint South African-Israeli nuclear test, though there has never been public confirmation of that by Washington or anyone else.

There is significant contention that the Nazi links to Namibia and German Southwest Africa before are far more deep and old than the story of the old comrades in Swakopmund.

Germany grabbed what became known as German South-West Africa in 1884 during the “scramble for Africa” by European colonial powers. The British had already taken control of the only useful deep-water port on the coast, Walvis Bay, so in 1892 the Germans started constructing a harbour at Swakopmund, and linked it by railway to the capital, Windhoek.

The first Germans to arrive were Schutztruppe colonial forces and farmers. All were male, and their marriages to local women led to the creation of one of modern Namibia’s distinct ethnic groups, the Basters.

Back in Berlin, the administration of Otto von Bismark was not happy about what their colonials were up to with the local women. Much like the filles du roi who were shipped out to Quebec from France in the mid-1600s, Berlin arranged passage of cohorts of German women to stock its south-west African colony.

Not all Namibia’s local people welcomed the Germans with open arms.

In 1904 the Herero and the Namaqua took up arms against the Germans. The three-year war was brutal and on the German side, entirely merciless. In what is sometimes called “the first genocide of the Twentieth Century,” the Germans used machineguns and other industrialized weaponry. It is generally reckoned that about 10,000 Namaqua, half the population, were killed and about 65,000 Hereros, about 80 percent of their number.

The German government formally apologized for the war against the herero and the Namaqua in August, 2004.

Insurgents who were not killed, and their women and children, were kept in concentration camps, a strategy employed a few years before by the British against the Afrikaners in the Second Boer War in South Africa.

Some visitors to Namibia read more into the country’s place and street names than is there. Göringstrasse in Windhoek is often said to have been named for Herman Göring, Hitler’s close confident and head of the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. In fact, it was named for Heinrich Ernst Göring, the father of Herman Göring, and one of German South-West Africa’s first governors. Since 1990, the street has been renamed for Danial Munamava, the founding president of the South-West Africa People’s Organization, which fought against South Africa for the independence of Namibia.

Other old Nazi links are more certain. In 1908, soon after the wars against the Herero and the Namaqua, a German professor of anthropology and eugenics, Eugen Fischer, spent a couple of years studying the Basters. His report railed against mixed marriages and in 1912 interracial marriages were prohibited in all German colonies.

Fischer’s work had a strong influence on Hitler and the Nazis. He went on to experiment on Jews in Germany and to provide the pseudo-scientific justifications for the Nazis’ racial laws.

Skulls of Basters and other Namibians collected by Fischer were returned to Namibia in March 2014.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

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Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

 

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Good reads: fresh Facts, and provocative Opinions

KINGS OF THE RANCH. By Brian Brennan   Feature

After a historic cattle ranch was added to a major conservation site in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, the two eccentric brothers who originally owned the ranch were again in the spotlight. Although they saw the property appreciate in value to an estimated $6 million during the 60 years they lived and worked on it, Maurice and Harrold King always gave the outward impression they were barely keeping the wolf from the door. They were squabbling bachelors who disagreed about almost everything yet couldn’t live without one another.

Inequality threatens democracy — investors. By Laurie Goering  Report

Global wealth inequality is becoming a fundamental risk to democracy and to economies around the world as more people feel government rules are “rigged” in favour of the rich leave them with few options, say investors and governance experts.

Move everything, to curb climate change — investors. By Laurie Goering   Report

 Meeting the goals of a new global agreement to tackle climate change will require social change on an almost unprecedented scale,  sustainable investment experts told a global conference. That includes shifting trillions of dollars each year into renewable energy – up from $345 billion last year – and making everything from transport to agriculture and consumer products much greener very quickly.

Khamis, 24, (Back) and Khlouf, 25, prepare an artificial limb inside a mobile truck clinic in the rebel-controlled area of Maaret al-Numan town in Idlib province, Syria March 20, 2016. Two university students forced to interrupt their studies have learnt to make and fit hundreds of new limbs in the past four years in opposition-held areas of Syria. A mobile clinic operating from a truck has gone some way to improve access to treatment. While most patients are between 15 and 45, the clinic also helps children and the elderly with replacement limbs. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi SEARCH "SYRIA AMPUTEE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIESSyria’s mobile amputee clinic, photo-essay. By Khalil Ashawi  Magazine

In what looks like an ordinary white truck, two men are helping victims who have lost limbs in the conflict in Syria to walk, play, and even herd sheep again.  The five-year war between the government of President Bashar al-Assad and insurgents has killed at least 250,000 people and wounded many more. Most of the wounded are between 15 and 45, but the clinic also fits children and the elderly with replacement limbs.

The fix: world waterworks near obsolescence, Erica Gies   Report

Globally, water systems in developed countries are nearing the end of their useful life. The lead-poisoning crisis in Flint, Michigan, was a wake-up call. Can innovative technology and financing prevent the next disaster?

In Commentary:

The despair and death of America’s middle-aged women, Penney Kome, Over Easy column

Americans are dying in their prime years, especially middle-aged white women. The rise of an entire population’s death rate shows the folly of America’s insistence that health care is a private matter and not a public responsibility.

Why I fear Americans more than terrorists, Tom Regan, Summoning Orenda column

A true story of living in a country overwhelmed with firearms, and how it constantly leads to you imagine the worst. About a month ago, I went to see the movie Zootopia with my family in Frederick, Maryland. We like to sit close to the screen, so we planted ourselves about six or seven rows back. I noticed a tall young man sitting in the very front row, but didn’t think much about it at first. As the pre-show features came to an end, that changed.

Jim McNiven’s Thoughtlines column and Jonathan Manthorpe‘s International Affairs column will return next week.

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in All

The back story, to the troubles facing Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff looks on during a meeting with state governors at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil March 4, 2016. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Reading: BRICS turning to rubble, by Jonathan Manthorpe. Above, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff looks on during a meeting with state governors at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil March 4, 2016. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

A Brazilian congressional committee has recommended the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff. For background on this story and what was recently seen as one of the world’s champion developing economies has plunged into chaos see Jonathan Manthorpe’s column published by F&O on March 17th. Excerpt of the piece, BRICS turning to rubble:

The leadership chaos in Brazil and South Africa is a timely reminder for emerging economies that unless they also press ahead with political, administrative, judicial and social reform they are doomed.

The presidents of both Brazil and South Africa are clinging to office by their fingernails in the face of accusations of corruption and administrative incompetence. Both Jacob Zuma in South Africa and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil have already taken confidence in their countries’ economies down with them and will probably do more lasting damage to the political institutions before their scandals are resolved…. continue reading BRICS turning to rubble

Other new works on Facts and Opinions include:

Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi: The Image And The Reality
Pakistan’s Long Road to the Lahore Bombing
JONATHAN MANTHORPE, International Affairs Column

The healers of Australia's outback. © David Maurice Smith/Oculi

The healers of Australia’s outback. © David Maurice Smith/Oculi

Panama Papers: 

A Conflict of Whistleblowers vs Elites
ARNE HINTZ  Report
The Psychology of Tax Fairness,
STIAN REIMERS  Expert Witness
What are ‘Tax Havens’?
TOMMASO FACCIO  Explainer

A Dyeing Tradition in Egypt
AMR ABDALLAH DALSH  Photo-essay

Australia’s other ‘flying doctors’
GEORGINA KENYON   Magazine

Attend to the Real Clash of Civilizations 
The West’s racist response to terrorism
TOM REGAN, SUMMONING ORENDA Column

AI: Building a Humanoid Hollywood Star
BOBBY YIP  Report/Photo-essay

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Current Affairs

Fresh facts, and opinions, this week

 

Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi: The Image And The Reality, by Jonathan Manthorpe, F&O International Affairs

It has come as a shock to Aung San Suu Kyi’s international groupies and fans that the Burmese freedom icon is not the ethereal Princess in the Tower of their imaginations.  Instead of the pure visionary of a silken and untainted transition from nearly 60 years of military rule to the sunny uplands of inclusive democracy, Suu Kyi is proving herself an assertive and determined knife fighter … read more

Panama Papers:  A Conflict of Whistleblowers vs Elites, by Arne Hintz

The Panama Papers have brought the powerful role of whistleblowers back into the public consciousness. The struggle over controlling this kind of information is one of the great conflicts of our times. … read more

Panama Papers: The Psychology of Tax Fairness, by Stian Reimers

The tax dealings of politicians are under scrutiny, following news of their offshore holdings in the Panama Papers. We want a fair tax system, in which everyone pays what they are meant to. The problem is that different types of fairness are pitted against each other… read more

Panama Papers: What are ‘Tax Havens’? by Tommaso Faccio

As well as charging minimal or no tax to residents and non-residents, tax havens lack transparency and information exchange. As the leaked files of Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca show,  individuals and companies use them to stash cash away from prying eyes. How do they do this? … read more

A Dyeing Tradition in Egypt: Photo-essay, by Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Egypt’s hard-currency crisis and competition from modern factories in Asia and at home threaten one of the last dyeing workshops in Egypt but one of its owners takes comfort in the trade’s ancient resilience. …read more

© David Maurice Smith/Oculi

Australia’s other ‘flying doctors, © David Maurice Smith/Oculi

Australia’s other ‘flying doctors,’ By Georgina Kenyon

How can modern medicine include traditional bush healers whose spirits fly around at night diagnosing people’s problems? … Read more

In Case You Missed It, our recent stories include:

Attend to the Real Clash of Civilizations/ TOM REGAN, SUMMONING ORENDA Column

Pakistan’s Long Road to the Lahore Bombing/JONATHAN MANTHORPE, International Affairs Column

AI: Building a Humanoid Hollywood Star/ BOBBY YIP  Report/Photo-essay

How to write a best-selling novel./ANDY MARTIN   Expert Witness/Arts

Rescued from Slavery, Nepalis Rediscover Circus Magic./KATIE NGUYEN   Arts/Publica Report

The West’s racist response to terrorism/ TOM REGAN, SUMMONING ORENDA Column

“Feeling the Bern”/ ROD MICKLEBURGH   Column

Party dissent in China as time for a new mandate for Xi nears/ JONATHAN MANTHORPE, International Affairs Column

Scan of Shakespeare’s Grave Suggests Skull Missing/Reuters   Arts Report

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Current Affairs

Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi: The Image And The Reality

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
April 9, 2016

It has come as a shock to Aung San Suu Kyi’s international groupies and fans that the Burmese freedom icon is not the ethereal Princess in the Tower of their imaginations.

Aung San Suu Kyi in 2013 By Claude TRUONG-NGOC via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Aung San Suu Kyi in 2013 By Claude TRUONG-NGOC via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Instead of the pure visionary of a silken and untainted transition from nearly 60 years of military rule to the sunny uplands of inclusive democracy, Suu Kyi is proving herself an assertive and determined knife fighter in the merciless cut and thrust of Burmese politics.

Suu Kyi’s response to two events in particular have troubled many of her international fans and have spawn headlines like: “Aung San Suu Kyi: Colluding With Tyranny.”

One event has been her failure to conclusively damn the persecution of the Muslim Rohingya minority in north-western Burma, which is also known as Myanmar. The military regime followed the feelings of the country’s majority Buddhist Burmans, and refused to give citizenship to the Rohingya, even though many have lived in Burma for several generations.

Suu Kyi has been purposefully vague about whom she regards as citizens and has been largely silent on attempts at ethnic cleansing, which has seen thousands of Rohingya fleeing across the border into Bangladesh or by sea to predominantly Muslim Malaysia.

It has been unsettling for Suu Kyi’s international supporters, to whom she owes her Nobel Peace Prize and the sanctions that eventually persuaded the generals to embark on a transition to democracy, to contemplate that she might harbour racial and religious intolerance.

Equally troubling for foreign fans is what looks like Suu Kyi’s lust for power. Part of her appeal was that she appeared to be driven entirely by an innate sense of morality and natural justice. It seemed a fairy tale of chance that this very beautiful and appealing Oxford housewife – her husband Michael Aris was a professor of Tibetan and Himalayan studies at the British university – became the leader of the Burmese democracy movement and a prisoner of the military regime.

That was always a misreading of Suu Kyi, her steely toughness and blood loyalty to the visions of her assassinated father, Aung San, Burma’s first leader after independence from Britain in 1948.

Because of her marriage to a foreigner – Aris – and her two British sons, Suu Kyi was banned from assuming the presidency under Burma’s current constitution. But from soon after last November’s first reasonably free elections, when her National League for Democracy (NLD) won 59 per cent of the seats across the two houses of parliament, Suu Kyi made it clear she intended, President or not, to run the government of the country.

Migrants collect rainwater at a temporary refugee camp near Kanyin Chaung jetty, in Myanmar June 4, 2015. Soe Zeya Tun: This group of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants were rescued from a boat carrying 734 people off Myanmar's southern coast. Those on board had been at sea for more than two months - at the end with little food or water. The men in this photo were part of a group of 400 crammed into a warehouse by Myanmar police. They had arrived the day before, but while the women, children and some men had already been moved, these men were left behind. There was no sign of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR or foreign aid agencies. Just moments before this shot, the sky opened and the monsoon rains started coming down. The men were jostling with each other for space to catch water in their bottles and plates. The authorities were hesitant to grant us access at first, but as the morning wore on and the rains started, we were able to enter and start photographing and speaking to migrants. Just after taking this photo, the men were loaded into buses and trucks and driven to a camp where international aid agencies were waiting. I have worked on long and difficult assignments where I have gone days without a proper shower. But for these people it had been months without enough water. Everyone was dirty and had likely washed little while at sea. I could see just how meaningful it was for them to suddenly have a chance to drink and clean themselves with whatever small amount of water they could capture. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Reuters’ 2015 Photos of the Year —  Migrants collect rainwater at a temporary refugee camp near Kanyin Chaung jetty, in Myanmar June 4, 2015. Soe Zeya Tun: This group of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants were rescued from a boat carrying 734 people off Myanmar’s southern coast. Those on board had been at sea for more than two months – at the end with little food or water. The men in this photo were part of a group of 400 crammed into a warehouse by Myanmar police. They had arrived the day before, but while the women, children and some men had already been moved, these men were left behind. There was no sign of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR or foreign aid agencies. Just moments before this shot, the sky opened and the monsoon rains started coming down. The men were jostling with each other for space to catch water in their bottles and plates. The authorities were hesitant to grant us access at first, but as the morning wore on and the rains started, we were able to enter and start photographing and speaking to migrants. Just after taking this photo, the men were loaded into buses and trucks and driven to a camp where international aid agencies were waiting. I have worked on long and difficult assignments where I have gone days without a proper shower. But for these people it had been months without enough water. Everyone was dirty and had likely washed little while at sea. I could see just how meaningful it was for them to suddenly have a chance to drink and clean themselves with whatever small amount of water they could capture. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

That left a bad taste in the mouth of many of her fans. Did this paragon of political virtue actually lust for power? Well, yes, and for good reasons.

And so it has come to pass. On March 15, Suu Kyi’s handpicked surrogate, Htin Kyaw, a long-time close supporter and loyalist, was made president with a clear majority of votes in both houses of parliament. On April 1 the new government came into office and on Tuesday this week a bill was passed creating the position of “State Counsellor” for Suu Kyi.

The most charitable interpretation of this position is that it is akin to a Prime Minister. The reality is the position allows Suu Kyi to be the effective President and to speak with Htin Kyaw’s voice.

Adding to the perception that Suu Kyi wishes to be mistress of all she surveys was her assumption of three ministerial position in addition to that of State Counsellor. But earlier this week she gave up the posts of Minister of Energy and Minister of Education. She retained only the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That, of course, allows her to be the international face of Burma, despite not being President. This week she met a string of visiting foreign ministers, including Canada’s Stephane Dion.

One of the justifications for Suu Kyi operating through a puppet president is that the vast majority of Burmese undoubtedly want her to be their country’s political leader. That she is not points to the tough, complex and dangerous campaign she and the NLD must wage if Burma’s transition to a full civilian democracy is to be achieved.

The danger here is that by end running the constitution with the creation of the post of State Counsellor, she and the NLD have fashioned a precedent that may come back to haunt them. For one thing, constitutional sleight-of-hand tricks like this tend to make foreign investors nervous.

Beyond that, the truth is that at the moment Burma remains a country where the military still has its hands on the critical levers of power. The generals can close down this experiment with civilian rule any time they please or feel threatened.

Some of the military’s power remains overt. Twenty-five per cent of the seats in parliament are reserved for the military. As the current constitution requires a parliamentary vote of over 75 per cent to approve changes, the military has a veto, including on Article 59 (f), which bars Suu Kyi from being President.

The military is also guaranteed a third of the seats in provincial and regional legislatures.

The constitution requires that only serving military officers can lead the three most powerful national ministries — Defence, Home Affairs, and Border Affairs — and prevents legislative scrutiny of the military’s budget.

In addition, the National Defence and Security Council, which includes the civilian President, vice presidents and speakers of the two house of parliament, but which is dominated by the military and its ministries, can declare a state of emergency and re-impose military rule.

Less obvious as international sanctions are lifted and Burma returns to the world of global commerce, is how much of the country’s economy is now in the hands of military leaders. Over the decades of military rule the generals and their senior officers have taken control of all elements of the economy. Even though civilian private enterprises and foreign enterprises have sprung up since the military began the transition with the appointment of a “civilian” government – in reality military officers in civilian clothes – in 2011, the key elements of the economy remain in military hands.

A critical element in the progress of the transition will be whether Suu Kyi and the NLD can make the generals feel confident that she does not intend to rob them of their ill-gotten wealth or hold them to legal account for their past atrocities.

There are many in the NLD who suffered greatly under military rule. They nurse the very human thirst for revenge after years of imprisonment, mistreatment and torture or the abuse and killings of family members. Suu Kyi and other senior members of the NLD know full well that nothing will shut down Burma’s tentative steps along the path to civilian democracy more quickly than thrusts for retribution from the party or the people.

It is a very skittish horse she is riding. It can be easily spooked. She needs firm and sensitive hands on the reins and a watchful eye on the pitfalls in the road ahead.

Of one thing there is no doubt. She is her father’s daughter.

Suu Kyi went to Burma from Britain in 1988 to care for her elderly mother. She was swiftly caught up in politics and was soon appointed leader of the NLD at a time when the military was contemplating holding elections, which it believed its candidates could win. But the generals feared the ghost of Aung San, and Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest before the 1990 election. Much to the military’s disgust and alarm, the NLD won 80 per cent of the seats in parliament. The generals swiftly disavowed the entire process.

I was one of the first foreign reporters to interview her in the crumbling family villa at 54 University Avenue in Yangon when her house arrest was lifted and she was permitted to have visitors in 1995. We met in her large living room, shaded from the tropical sun and torpid air. There was no furniture – we sat on a built-in bench in a bow window. Suu Kyi said she had had to sell all the furniture except essentials to buy food during her more than five years of confinement.

Yet on the wall opposite where we sat was a massive poster painting, perhaps 10 feet square, of her father, Aung San. There could not have been a more unquestionable statement of what had inspired her to set aside her comfortable life as the wife of an Oxford don and to separate herself from her husband and young children.

General Aung San started his political life in the 1930s as a student activist and founder of the Burmese Communist Party. Early in the Second World War he fled Burma and went to Japan, where he received military training. When the Japanese captured Burma, Aung San was made War Minister. However, he became disillusioned with the Japanese, whose promises to give Burma true independence or ability to win the war he began to doubt. In 1944 he contacted the British, and after receiving assurances that Burma would receive independence after the war, in 1945 he turned his Burma National Army on the Japanese occupiers.

Thus Aung San is seen as the founder of the Burmese military and he continues to be held in reverence by the generals, which has undoubtedly held their hand in their dealings with Suu Kyi.

After the war, Aung San became a civilian politician, the chief minister in the colonial administration, and negotiated with the British the terms of the 1948 independence. But on July 19, 1947, six months ahead of independence, armed paramilitaries loyal to a political rival, broke into the government offices, and killed Aung San and six of his ministers.

With Aung San gone, Burma stumbled into independence. The military took over in 1962 and are still a fixture in government.

It has often been said that the English have set up federations all over the world, but have never actually had to run one. Well, the Scots, Irish and Welsh might have comments to make about that. But it is certainly true that the Union of Burma is one of the most challenging mish-mashes of peoples, cultures and religions the British put together anywhere. Although 68 per cent of the country’s 52 million people are ethnic Burmans, there are 135 distinct ethnic groups recognized by the government.

For much of the last half century of military rule the army has been at war with many of them, especially the hill tribes in Burma’s mountainous border regions with Thailand, China, India and Bangladesh. The Shan, Karen, Rakhine, Wa and Mon have fought with dogged determination for the autonomy they were promised at the founding of the Union of Burma.

A camp near Sittwe can only be accessed by sea with boats transporting supplies . Photo: Mathias Eick, EU/ECHO, Rakhine State, Myanmar/Burma, September 2013

Myanmar’s abuses yield ready supply of slaves —  A camp near Sittwe can only be accessed by sea with boats transporting supplies . Photo: Mathias Eick, EU/ECHO, Rakhine State, Myanmar/Burma, September 2013

In recent years the military regime has negotiated cease-fire agreements with most of these armed groups, usually by making them paid paramilitary adjuncts to the national army. But in almost all cases, the peace agreements remain tentative and there is abiding hope among the minorities that Suu Kyi and the NLD will bring them the substantial self-rule they were promised.

Suu Kyi has always said a political solution for the aspirations of the minorities is a priority. However, she does not control internal security and the military continues to dominate provincial and regional administrations. The generals have their own views on the sanctity of Burmese nationhood, and they don’t include handing substantial autonomy to the hill tribes. Suu Kyi needs to make significant progress in the transition at the national level before her or any civilian government can effectively come to grips with the problems of the ethnic minorities.

And that brings us to the Rohingya and Suu Kyi’s refusal to categorically condemn the persistent violence against them by both the security agencies and local Buddhists.

For over 50 years – more than two generations – Burma has been a closed society whose main economy has been peasant agriculture. Schooling has been minimal. Forced labour akin to slavery for road and other construction projects has been habitually used by the military. Burma has always been a superstitious society where unfounded suspicions easily grow. With all forms of open communication blocked or censored, inflammatory and exaggerated rumour has been the fuel of public discourse. In this destructive communal climate, fear and mistrust of the ethnic minorities, especially the Muslim Rohingya, has become embedded among the majority Burmans. It is widely believed that the Muslims, who make up four per cent of the population, are bent on turning Burma into an Islamic state. Suu Kyi’s stature and personality alone are not enough to overcome or sweep aside these ingrained prejudices.

By keeping silent on the persecution of the Rohingya, Suu Kyi is trying to be seen as remaining impartial so that both sides respect her when the time is ripe for negotiations.

It is the same kind of role Suu Kyi is trying to play in the big game of getting the military to relinquish power. It is a part that requires strong nerves, but above all a superhuman capacity to know how far to push without knocking the whole project off the rails.

So far, she has played her hand superbly. Her father would be proud.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and relies on the honour system: enjoy one free story. If you value independent, no-spam, no-ads,expert journalism, support us with a minimum of .27 per story, a $1 day site pass, or $20 per year. Donate below. Please respect our copyright. Details here.

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

 

You might also wish to read:

Religion-inspired violence not just a Muslim problem

By JONATHAN MANTHORPE, F&O International Affairs, July 18, 2014

Myanmar’s abuses yield ready supply of slaves.

By Penny Green,  Alicia de la Cour Venning & Thomas MacManus, November, 2015

Myanmar’s historic election raises both hopes for democracy, and fears for worsened discrimination and violence bordering on genocidal against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims.

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Fresh Facts, and Opinions, this week: from a robot to the circus, civilization’s clash to Pakistan’s madness

A large crowd, taken just after a Muse concert in Paris. Photo by James Cridland, Creative CommonsAttend to the Real Clash of Civilizations, by Tom Regan, Summoning Orenda  F&O column

 “Am I my brother’s keeper?” How you answer this question tells a great deal about you as a person and about the kind of society in which you would like to live. And the great clash of civilization is between tolerance and intolerance.

Pakistan’s long road to the Lahore bombing, by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs   F&O column

The Easter Sunday suicide bombing in Lahore, which was aimed at Christians but killed and maimed mostly Muslims, is a gruesome metaphor for the religious madness that has consumed Pakistan since the country’s creation in 1947. From the start, Pakistan has been a crippled state and no one seems able or willing to fashion a prosthetic that will allow it to function. Added to the religious turmoil, which is as bloody inside Islamic communities as outside, the political class is overpopulated with craven self-servers, bereft of courage or vision.

Product and graphic designer Ricky Ma, 42, gives a command to his life-size robot ''Mark 1'', modelled after a Hollywood star, in his balcony which serves as his workshop in Hong Kong, China March 31, 2016. Ma, a robot enthusiast, spent a year-and-a half and more than HK$400,000 ($51,000) to create the humanoid robot to fulfil his childhood dream. REUTERS/Bobby Yip SEARCH "ROBOT STAR" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIESBuilding a humanoid Hollywood Star. By Bobby Yip  Report/Photo-essay

The rise of robots and artificial intelligence are among disruptive labor market changes that the World Economic Forum projects will lead to a net loss of 5.1 million jobs over the next five years. Where will they come from? Like innumerable children with imaginations fired by animated films, Hong Kong product and graphic designer Ricky Ma grew up watching cartoons featuring the adventures of robots, and dreamt of building his own one day. Unlike most, Ma realized his childhood dream, by successfully constructing a life-sized robot from scratch on the balcony of his home.

How to write a best-selling novel. By Andy Martin   Expert Witness/Arts

Maybe I shouldn’t be giving this away for free, but, beyond all the caffeine and nicotine, I think there actually is a magic formula. For a long while I thought it could be summed up in two words: sublime confidence. Don’t plan, don’t map it all out in advance, be spontaneous, instinctive. Enjoy the vast emptiness of the blank page. It will fill.

An Indian boy holds a placard during a demonstration in New Delhi June 21, 2004. Bachpan Bachao Andolan or the "Save Childhood Movement" - a non-governmental organization-on Monday staged a protest against trafficked Nepalese children working in a circus in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. REUTERS/B Mathur AH/SHRescued from Slavery, Nepalis Rediscover Circus Magic. By Katie Nguyen  Arts/Publica Report

As a little girl, Doli from Nepal found it hard to resist the thrill of the circus. When scouts came looking, she was captivated. “The circus sounded like a magical place, so I wanted to go, too,” she recalls in a teaser for a documentary about Nepal’s first and only circus, made up of rescued victims of human trafficking. … read more

Recommended, elsewhere on the web:

Generation Anthropocene: How humans have altered the planet for ever, by Robert Macfarlane, the Guardian. Macfarlane, a British academic and writer, is always worth a read.

We are living in the Anthropocene age, in which human influence on the planet is so profound – and terrifying – it will leave its legacy for millennia. Politicians and scientists have had their say, but how are writers and artists responding to this crisis?

In Case You Missed It: Our recent stories include:

Last but not least: Were you fooled on April 1? Most of us were, if only for a few seconds.  Jokes work by seeming plausible, or taking us by surprise so that we let our guard down. For example:  The land-locked Canadian province known worldwide for its oil sands announced on Friday  it would ship its oil to markets by zeppelin. Stated Alberta’s premier, “Balloons are a safe and environmentally friendly means of transporting our energy products.” Uh huh ungh …  it took a beat to get the joke, because in in the politicized energy industry, how are balloons less bizarre than pipelines or trains?

And then, sometimes we’re gullible just because we really, really want to believe. Take the April 1st meme about a certain orange-haired contender resigning from his bid to be America’s president. The whole campaign was merely a publicity stunt for a new reality-TV show about politics, he reportedly confessed. But, hahaha.

Meantime, companies of all kinds wrap marketing around April Fools, none slicker than Google:

 

As one wag said, April Fool’s day may be the only day of the year when we try hard to to think critically about everything we see online. Maybe we should have April Fool’s every day.

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F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Current Affairs