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Week of June 10, 2003, Program 0323

Nigeria Press Transcript MP3 Related Links
Cooperative Threat Reduction Transcript MP3 Related Links
El Salvador Music Transcript MP3 Related Links
Laos-Axis of Evil? Transcript MP3 Related Links
Peacekeeping Issues Transcript MP3 Related Links
Jamaica Visa Blues Transcript MP3 Related Links

 


June 10, 2003
Program 0323

(This text has been professionally transcribed, However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

MUHAMMAD SALI: A journalist has no absolute right to challenge what I say, because he is reporting. He's like a tape-recorder. A tape recorder cannot challenge anyone.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, Nigerian journalists struggle to achieve free and fair reporting.

KEITH PORTER: And the status of cooperative threat reduction.

SAM NUNN: I've always felt that chances of an accidental war, even during the Soviet Union-US days, was much greater than the chances of a deliberate war, because it would have been such an act of madness.

PORTER: Plus, hip-hop reflections of El Salvador's civil war.

MICHAEL DIAZ: [via a translator] Remembering the war, I don't believe, is the healthiest thing to do. I think the healthiest thing to do is think about what it was like, so that it doesn't repeat itself.

MCHUGH: These stories—coming up next.

[Musical interlude]

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Nigeria Press

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Related Links
International Journalist Network Nigeria, Code of Ethics
http://www.ijnet.org/3a6de3a4c68b0.html
Nigeria From World Press Review
http://worldpress.org/profiles/Nigeria.cfm

Tell Us What You Think

 

MCHUGH: Common Ground is radio's weekly program on world affairs. I'm Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I'm Keith Porter. Nigeria is a country in transition, from military dictatorship to civilian democracy. A civilian administration took office three years ago and over this past month Nigeria has been voting to elect a new President, a new national Parliament, and new state governors and parliaments. During the campaign, there was sustained ethnic violence in the southern state of Delta. Over a dozen people were killed, and the Army was able to restore only a very fragile peace. There were also persistent allegations, both from the opposition presidential candidate and from independent observers, of fraud and voting irregularities.

MCHUGH: If in spite of this, the results of these elections are respected and accepted by the military, it will be the first time a democratically elected federal civilian government will have succeeded another civilian government. Indeed, it will be a milestone in the country's troubled half-century of independence from British rule. Max Easterman has been in Nigeria, running training courses for local journalists on the principles of election reporting. He found a great determination to tell it as it is. But he also found many obstacles to free and fair reporting—some of them the responsibility of Nigerian journalists themselves.

[The sound of many journalists talking at a training seminar.]

SALIM: PDP is a peoples-oriented party, so we believe in rural transformation, free primary education for our children.

MAX EASTERMAN: You are saying, "we." Why are you saying "we"?

SALIM: Because I have that mandate. I am part of the party.

EASTERMAN: Salim is an active member of Nigeria's ruling PDP, the People's Democratic Party. Salim isn't his real name. To give that might not be in his best interests, because he's also a political journalist. For many like him, the problem is not being seen to be political, but being seen to be political enough—not covering up your political views, but showing them off.

WURNO: Professionally it is wrong but if you didn't do that in our area, you'd be in trouble. Even those in the opposition party, they would not grant interviews, they would not grant me audience. There are journalists who tried, but who were molested and now they are out of the job.

EASTERMAN: By molested did you mean they were physically attacked?

WURNO: Physically attacked, yes. Because that is the nature of the area. You can't run away from it.

EASTERMAN: You don't feel that you should resist it?

WURNO: Well, I could not resist.

EASTERMAN: Why not?

WURNO: If you are an editor, you will be demoted to a reporter. If you are a reporter, you will be transferred to Ministry of Information so that you won't be heard over the radio.

EASTERMAN: So you keep active in politics to keep your job?

WURNO: Yes, I can keep it.

[The sound of street traffic in the city of Kaduna, Nigeria.]

EASTERMAN: Here in Kaduna, in the north, some 20 journalists have been attending our training workshop. One of the guest speakers was Muhammad Sali, Vice-Chairman of the Kaduna State PDP party; I wondered what he thinks is the journalist's role in a democracy.

MUHAMMAD SALI: The role of the journalist is to gather facts on the spot of all political happenings and to disseminate such information objectively.

EASTERMAN: Is it the journalist's job to challenge your ideas?

SALI: A journalist has no absolute right to challenge what I say, because he is reporting. He's like a tape-recorder. A tape recorder cannot challenge anyone. A journalist is a journalist, he is a tape recorder, to report what he hears.

[The sound of PDP Chairman Alhaji Makama Rigachikum speaking.]

EASTERMAN: Mr. Sali's boss is the PDP Chairman Alhaji Makama Rigachikum. He's complaining here about what he calls "corrupt journalists." But he's just demonstrated how politicians like himself make journalists corrupt. We've just held a press conference. As it ended, he offered a gift to the journalists—50,000 Naira, about $400. Very generous and, you might think, very unethical. But in Nigeria it's just very routine. Politicians pay what's called "dash" in brown envelopes to make sure they get favorable coverage. Well, we've warned the journalists not to collect these particular brown envelopes.

[The sound of street traffic.]

EASTERMAN: Unfortunately, it now seems our warning's gone unheeded. A carload of the journalists has just driven off after an argument over money, and you don't need to be a detective to work out which money. We spent a whole day on this workshop talking about ethics, and it seems we might as well not have bothered. It's very dispiriting.

CLEMENT WASAH: Most of the journalists do not seem to understand the stake they have in democracy. Because their interest is either to make money or their interest is to advance their political cause, which may not be in the interest of the whole society.

EASTERMAN: Clement Wasah works for Community Action for Popular Participation, a lobby group representing ordinary voters in the federal capital, Abuja.

WASAH: Journalists don't seem to have realized that with the transition from military to democracy that what they're supposed to do is make sure that they serve as a veritable check on politicians whose interest is to capture power and will use all means available to them. They have not been able to play that watchdog role in Nigeria. They are still comfortable with whatever any politician tells them.

[The sound of street traffic in Abuja.]

EASTERMAN: Half the journalists at the Kaduna training workshop took the PDP's brown envelopes. Perhaps not surprisingly, they weren't keen to talk about it. Their colleagues here in the federal capital, Abuja, have been more forthcoming. As far as they're concerned, taking money from politicians is perfectly okay. It's part of a tradition of Nigerian paternalism. The state house correspondent for Monitor Newspapers, Cyril Mbah, is quite prepared to defend that tradition.

CYRIL MBAH: [with the sound of street traffic in the background as he speaks] We have this culture in this country whereby your seniors are expected to cater for the juniors, if you like. That includes politicians and all manners of public officers. That's our culture and it's not that you have to ask. He feels obligated to do some favor to you. It would be an insult to that person to reject it.

EASTERMAN: Some press and broadcast editors and managers don't share that view—though, regrettably, not all. Kabiru Yusuf is the editor of Trust Newspapers in Abuja. He assumes most of his journalists do take brown envelopes, so he keeps a weather-eye out for biased reporting. But apart from that, there isn't much he feels he can do.

KABIRU YUSUF: You cannot punish somebody unless it's exposed. The giver doesn't say, the taker doesn't say. So it's only once in a while that you get to know in the office and we definitely discipline people we find doing that.

CHUKWUDI OKOLIE-UGBAJA: I am not going to pretend that after I've done a job and some kind of a present, gift, gratification comes, that I've resisted it—no.

EASTERMAN: Chukwudi Okolie-Ugbaja is a TV reporter for a privately-run station.

OKOLIE-UGBAJA: The tendency is for you to be overly protective of the man who's in the habit of telling you "Thanks for coming." Any time he has a problem, you might be tempted to color it up because over a period he had presented himself as a friend. If I, as a professional, had a choice I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole.

EASTERMAN: But, but you do have a choice, don't you? You can just say no.

OKOLIE-UGBAJA: Yes, and say no, then go back to your station where perhaps the last salary you saw was some three months back. You wallow in misery. What do you tell your wife at home?

[The sound of street traffic in Lagos.]

EASTERMAN: This is a huge issue for journalists in Nigeria. While the state- or federal-run media put political pressure on their reporters, in privately owned media, as we've just heard, the pressure is often financial. The salary check that never arrives. Titilayo Omotayo says her experience at a Lagos radio station is not unusual.

TITILAYO OMOTAYO: Occasionally we are paid maybe about once in two months or three months or more than that. And you know, it keeps accumulating. So...

EASTERMAN: What's the longest you've waited?

OMOTAYO: The longest I've waited? Eight, nine months.

EASTERMAN: So for eight or nine months, you had no money at all coming in from your job?

OMOTAYO: Yeah.

EASTERMAN: Making money in Nigeria's cash-strapped economy is hard. In a country of more than 120 million people, most daily newspapers sell fewer than 100,000 copies and broadcast media struggle to raise advertising revenue. So, political donations can be a lifeline for hard-pressed owners. Generations of corrupt politicians have stolen the country's oil wealth and used it to buy loyalty as well as lifestyle. The last government promised to stamp this corruption out. It didn't, and that's a major concern for Festus Okoye, a constitutional lawyer in Kaduna. The law, he says, gives journalists little protection from employers who pressure them to sing to a particular political tune.

FESTUS OKOYE: Unfortunately the law does not really make no provision for some of these things. But I think that the major responsibility for the training of journalists rests with the media organizations. But unfortunately, most of them are not just doing that.

EASTERMAN: Why not, do you think?

OKOYE: Funds. Some of the major organizations are privately owned and the only thing they are interested in is balancing their books at the end of the year, while the government media organizations are not well funded. So that leaves a very big vacuum and a big lacuna in terms of the training of journalists.

EASTERMAN: Somewhat belatedly, the Nigerian Union of Journalists, the NUJ, is trying to tackle these problems. It's sponsored a senate bill on journalism, but this has angered many journalists because what it will do is create a closed shop. To work as a journalist, you will have to be an NUJ member. To be a member you will have been a working journalist for at least ten years or you'll have a media-related degree. And that will mean several of the journalists I've met will be out in the cold. Funke Fadugba is the Lagos NUJ Chairman. So, why is just being a good journalist not going to be good enough to join her union?

FUNKE FADUGBU: Because we have seen that that has done so much damage to the practice of the profession and because a good number of people like that don't know the ethics. And we feel that because of the challenges of our society, there is a need for people to be properly trained.

EASTERMAN: So are you saying that anybody who doesn't join the union will lose their job as a journalist?

FADUGBU: That is the implication. If they don't meet the requirements, too bad.

EASTERMAN: Well, many journalists think this is a draconian way of solving a problem which may be on the way to solving itself. And Kabiru Yusuf, the editor of Trust Newspapers in Abuja, says there is light at the end of the financial tunnel.

YUSUF: I've been in journalism for 18 years, from 1984, and I must say there has been a tremendous improvement. It's also a function of the environmental change. We're now in a democracy. There's an increasing move to a private sector economy in Nigeria, which wasn't there when I started in journalism. So as that is happening you find that newspapers are becoming serious businesses. And everything is based on that. Unless a paper is viable, freedom and integrity and dignity are theories. Because you have to pay for them.

EASTERMAN: Journalists themselves, in spite of their low or non-existent pay, in spite of the culture of bribery or paternalism, in spite of the political pressure to say what they're told, journalists remain optimistic. They've survived the elections. The real test, they say, will be holding the new government to account.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: There is a high hope that when it goes back to the producers, presenters, and even the owners of the stations, that you cannot continue to bamboozle the public. Things will begin to turn around. And I'm so optimistic that it's only a matter of time.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: And I share your optimism, too. Because the brown envelope syndrome notwithstanding, we still go ahead and write the truth. You know, because one thing you cannot compromise, especially in a country as fragile as Nigeria, is the truth.

[The sound of street traffic.]

EASTERMAN: The truth, of course, is that Nigerian journalists, media managers, owners and, above all, politicians, have to clean up their act. As long as politicians manipulate and corrupt the media, and as long as journalists allow this to happen, ordinary Nigerians won't know who's telling the truth. And that leaves the country wide open to cynicism, disaffection, and violence. For Common Ground, this is Max Easterman in Lagos, Nigeria.

MCHUGH: The nuclear terrorism threat, next on Common Ground.

[Musical interlude]

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Cooperative Threat Reduction

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Related Links
U.S. Senate Nunn-Lugar Program
http://lugar.senate.gov/nunn_lugar_program.html
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia
http://www.ln.mid.ru/bul_ns_en.nsf/kartaflat/en01
Russia From World Press Review
http://worldpress.org/profiles/Russia.cfm

Tell Us What You Think

 

PORTER: Nunn-Lugar. Its Washington short hand for the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Initiative. The program was born out of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Then Senator Sam Nunn, a Democrat from Georgia, and current Senator Dick Lugar, a Republican from Indiana, joined together to craft the program in which the US, Russia, and the successor states to the Soviet Union would work together—cooperate—to reduce the threat to each other from nuclear weapons. Today, this post-Cold War program is finding new life as one solution to what's been called the first war of the 21st century, the war on terrorism. Priscilla Huff has more, starting with concerns of one of the founders, Sam Nunn

SAM NUNN: If terrorists were to attack one of our countries, with weapons of mass destruction, and eliminate a great city and its people, what would we wish we had done to prevent it? The next question is, why aren't we doing it now?

PRISCILLA HUFF: That's the nightmare scenario, according to Sam Nunn. A terrorist organization gets its hands on one of the thousands of nuclear warheads stored in Russia.

[The sound of a nuclear explosion.]

HUFF: Millions could be killed if a stolen nuclear weapon were detonated in any one of the world's major cities. The former Soviet Union was estimated to have between 25,000 and 30,000 warheads. This stockpile is the largest and most obvious threat to international security.

SAM NUNN: I've always felt that chances of an accidental war, even during the Soviet Union-US days, was much greater than the chances of a deliberate war, because it would have been such an act of madness.

HUFF: Sam Nunn joined forces with Senator Dick Lugar in 1991 to craft what's become the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, known as Nunn-Lugar. That year, Nunn was attending a conference in Budapest, Hungary when the Soviet delegates were suddenly recalled to Moscow. Then-President Mikhail Gorbachev had been kidnapped. After Gorbachev had been released five days later, Nunn was invited to Moscow to witness the debates about the breakup of the Soviet Union. He also met with Gorbachev.

NUNN: I had a visit with President Gorbachev for about an hour. It was back in his office. And I asked him if he had control of nuclear weapons during the time he was in captivity. He'd always been frank and candid with me before, I'd had a lot of good discussions with him. He did not answer the question.

HUFF: It was the frightening implications behind that unanswered question that inspired Nunn and Lugar to figure out how to make sure the world's most fearsome weapons were always under lock and key. Today, the US government spends about $1 billion annually to dismantle nuclear weapons from the Soviet era, to increase security at nuclear installations, and to fund new and different jobs for Russia's highly-trained nuclear scientists. John Wolfsthal is with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He says the US directly benefits from Nunn-Lugar.

JOHN WOFLSTAHL: We have the most to lose if weapons go missing. If terrorists or states acquire nuclear weapons, we are more likely than not to be the target. And so, far from being a charity program or an assistance program, I view this as much as a national security program as any dollar in the defense budget.

HUFF: Nunn-Lugar must be renewed by the Congress every year, and every year, there's a battle over whether the US can and should pay to get rid of another country's weapons. The US also has had disputes with Russia over regulations, such as who's liable for the work of dismantlement. John Wolf, US Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation says the guidelines must be negotiated.

JOHN WOLF: They're essential to get the projects going. Taxpayers must be confident their money is going to be used for the purposes intended, that dangerous weapons are going to be destroyed or safeguarded and that former weapons scientists are actually doing genuine useful new work.

HUFF: The Carnegie Endowment's John Wolfstahl says, the US will need to keep spending on disarmament.

WOFLSTAHL: Over the years, we've found that this was a much bigger problem than the Russians knew about and that we knew about when we started funding these programs. It took us 50 years to dig ourselves into a world where you have tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, where you have hundreds of thousands of nuclear scientists and engineers in Russia that are poorly paid and don't have job alternatives. We recognize that this is a long-term program now, because the threats to the United States are real over the long term.

HUFF: Experiences in the former Soviet Republics, like Georgia, have convinced the Russians to fully cooperate with the Nunn-Lugar programs. There, a businessman tried to sell a Soviet-era agricultural device filled with radioactive cesium on the black market. The sale was stopped, but it was a wake-up call for Russian officials, that they need to clean house of both military and nonmilitary radioactive sources. Anatoly Antonov from the Russian Foreign Ministry.

ANATOLY ANTONOV: We hope that our partners will appreciate our practical steps and shall show reciprocal political will, respect of the principal understanding reached during the difficult discussions among the top government officials of our countries, united by the common task of counter-action in regard of the possible threat of international terrorism and proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction. Russia is ready to fulfill its part of obligations.

HUFF: To foster the US fulfilling its side of the bargain, Senator Dick Lugar wants to expand the original Nunn-Lugar program from the former Soviet Union's nuclear weapons to all biological and chemical munitions anywhere in the world. Lugar has seen how small some of these bombs are. A photo of him holding an open briefcase stocked with a single chemical weapon from the depot at Suchye Russia hangs in his office. Lugar has advocated the carrot approach—cash as the initiative—but now he acknowledges that the stick of the threat of military force may be necessary.

NUNN: Leaders just say "No, we don't want any part of you, America, G8 Russia, whoever. You represent yourself." Now, I didn't say I am mandating that we get into military action but I did say that we may decide in terms of our security and that of the world that we need to do that.

HUFF: Senator Dick Lugar does advocate for peaceful disarmament. And he and his partner, the former Senator Sam Nunn agree, now their program is more important than ever before. Their challenge is to convince the world everything possible should be done now to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, because the cost of coming up short is just too high. For Common Ground, I'm Priscilla Huff.

[Musical interlude]

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El Salvador Music

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Related Links
BBC's The World Global Hits, Pescozada
http://www.theworld.org/globalhits/2002/12/5.html
El Salvador From World Press Review
http://worldpress.org/profiles/El_salvador.cfm

Tell Us What You Think

 

PORTER: It's been more than a decade now since the end of El Salvador's gruesome civil war. While no corner of the country was left untouched by the conflict, the area of Chaletenango, about 50 miles north of the capital, San Salvador, was especially hard hit. It saw the worst fighting during the war and is still struggling with its after effects. While many Salvadorans, especially young people, try to forget about the war, one group of musicians is reminding people that the battle isn't over. Clark Boyd profiles the group Pescozada.

CLARK BOYD: In old-school Spanish, a pescozada is an honor given to a knight by a king or queen. But in back-street Salvadoran slang, the word takes on a whole new meaning. When you say pescozada here, you're talking about a punch or a slap in the face. And if you're from Chalatenango, you might also be referring to El Salvador's most notorious rap and hip-hop trio.

[The sound of one of Pescozada's recordings.]

BOYD: [reading a translation of the song's lyrics.] "My neighborhood is dark. Darkness is my reality." That's the opening shot in Pescozada's relentless lyrical attack on the many ills currently plaguing not only Chaletenango, but all of El Salvador. True to their name, Pescozada pulls no punches on its debut album.

[The sound of one of Pescozada's recordings.]

BOYD: [reading a translation of the song's lyrics.] "My little neighborhood El Salvador," the group says, "in reality is in great pain." Pescozada traces the roots of that pain back to the 12-year civil war, which left some 70,000 people dead and countless more missing. All three of Pescozada's members grew up in Chalatenango. Luis Escobar is Pescozada's oldest member at 27. He says he remembers the bloody spectacle of the war quite well.

LUIS ESCOBAR: [via a translator] I remember it was horrible. You saw people quartered, people looking terrible. Soldiers left some dead guys hanging at the door of my house once. And I remember we all wanted to get out. We opened the door of our house, and when my mother went out—ping—a bullet went into the wall. Everyone was saying, "Oh my god, they're going to kill everyone."

BOYD: At age 13, Escobar says he was already writing lyrics about the war, and getting his first taste of American rap and hip hop. Lighter stuff, he says—Vanilla Ice and Naughty by Nature. In 1997, five years after the war ended, Escobar teamed up with a neighbor of his, a kid called Michael Diaz, who was also into writing lyrics and rapping. Soon, they were joined by Mario Arteaga, and Pescozada was born. One of the tracks they laid down was called Soledad Obligada—or Forced Loneliness—which tells the tale of a young kid whose parents disappeared during the war.

[The sound of one of Pescozada's recordings.]

BOYD: "I would like to have you close, I would like to see you smile," the tune goes. "But all I have is this forced loneliness." Twenty-year old Michael Diaz, or Devil Star as he's known in the band, echoes the feelings of many Salvadorans when it comes to the topic of the civil war.

MICHAEL DIAZ: [via a translator] Remembering the war I don't believe is the healthiest thing to do. I think the healthiest thing to do is think about what it was like, so that it doesn't repeat itself. The important thing is that there be a culture of peace and that we learn from the errors. And if the war was an error, then we need to learn not to commit the same mistakes.

BOYD: El Salvador has had peace for a decade now, but as Pescozada points out, all is not well in the country. Illiteracy remains high and education levels remain low, especially in Chalatenango, where a whole generation of young people were either killed or learned how to fire a gun instead of how to read a book. Murder and armed robbery are commonplace. The economy is stagnant and farmers can barely afford to plant their fields. And meanwhile, says band member Luis Escobar—or Fat Lui as he's known—says the government pats itself on the back.

LUIS ESCOBAR: [via a translator] They're not paying attention to the labor groups. They're not paying attention to the things that matter—the bread and butter issues for Salvadorans. We know our government has been elected, and yes you see the results, but the results are not necessarily benefiting our people. So people are getting frustrated.

[The sound of one of Pescozada's recordings.]

BOYD: Pescozada pours that frustration into the title track from its album, Dias Oscuros en el Barrio, or Dark Days in the Neighborhood.

[The sound of one of Pescozada's recordings.]

BOYD: Many here applaud Pescozada for speaking out at a time when so few people will. Others say that the band is giving a bad image to El Salvador, and that the group is offensive. Pescozada admits that telling their version of the truth can have its down side. Radio station owners are often too scared to give the band air time. They worry that listeners will complain, or worse, that the government might try to shut them down.

[The sound of one of Pescozada's recordings.]

BOYD: Pescozada's Devil Star says that they don't just want to be some sort of angry teenage protest group, but that they want to keep letting people know that there are issues here in El Salvador that need to be dealt with. And, he promises, the group won't change its style or its message.

DIAZ: [via a translator] There are a lot of groups who are just going for fame, or just for money. And we want everyone to know that Pescozada was born here in El Salvador, and exists because of what happened here. We are happy with what we're doing. That's the way that we live. We love this, and if we make it big, great. But if not, that's fine.

BOYD: As the trio likes to tell anyone and everyone who is listening, "It's our way and no one else's—100 percent."

[The sound of one of Pescozada's recordings.]

BOYD: For Common Ground, this is Clark Boyd in San Salvador.

[The sound of one of Pescozada's recordings.]

MCHUGH: If you have questions or comments about today's program, visit our Web site at commongroundradio.org or e-mail us at commonground@commongroundradio.org.

ANNOUNCER: Common Ground is a Stanley Foundation production. On the Web at stanleyfoundation.org.

MCHUGH: This is Common Ground, radio's weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

KRISTIN MCHUGH: I'm Kristin McHugh.

KEITH PORTER: And I'm Keith Porter. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, normalizing US-Laos relations.

CATHARINE DALPINO: Hopefully, this is something that, that could help Laos in many ways. And it's basically our neglect that's withholding it. Really it isn't a political issue. It's more an issue of not being on the screen at all.

PORTER: Plus, United Nations peacekeeping efforts. And Jamaica's visa blues.

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Laos-Axis of Evil?

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Related Links
Amnesty International Laos
http://web.amnesty.org/library/eng-lao/index
Laos Human Rights Council, Inc.
http://www.laohumrights.org/home.html
Laos From World Press Review
http://worldpress.org/profiles/Laos.cfm

Tell Us What You Think

 

MCHUGH: Little-noticed legislation before the US Congress would grant normalized trade status to a handful of countries, including Laos, the small landlocked communist country which lies between Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, and China. With the exception of Burma, Laos is the only one of these countries that does not enjoy normal trading privileges with the US, the result of what some analysts say is neglect since the end of the Vietnam War. But some Lao-American groups and human rights activists are working hard to ensure that Laos continues to be isolated for what they call a dreadful human rights record. Such activists are playing up the country's recent overtures to both North Korea and the former regime in Iraq. But the Lao-American groups face daunting opposition from US business groups, US diplomats in the region, and even the Bush administration, all of whom favor the granting of normalized trade relations. From Washington, Catherine Drew reports.

THE INTRODUCTION TO A CONGRESSIONAL HEARING: It's my honor to convene today's congressional forum on Laos. I see very many familiar faces in the audience, people that have come from across the country, from California, Minnesota, Ontario, Canada, Quebec, Tennessee...

CATHERINE DREW: Around 50 Lao-American community leaders and other interested participants gathered at a congressional office building to discuss the upcoming legislation that will grant Laos, one of the poorest countries in the world, the same trade relations with the US as Washington has with all but a handful of pariah nations. At this gathering there was little disagreement. All were vehement that the Lao People's Democratic Republic—the LPDR—should retain it's pariah status. So far the activists have won the support of human rights groups like Amnesty International, as well as seven US lawmakers, who have written to their Congressional colleagues to urge them to vote against the legislation. Stephen Vang is President of a group which opposes the LPDR, the United Lao and Hmong Congress for Democracy. He is also a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin.

STEPHEN VANG: The LPDR, they are a strong supporter of Saddam Hussein and other similar nations, evil nations. If what the LPDR did to our people in Laos is not evil, then evil and human values have no meaning, as President George Bush stated in regard to Saddam Hussein's human rights abuse in Iraq.

DREW: The various Lao-American groups at the seminar highlighted demonstrations in Laos against the US war in Iraq, which they claim were orchestrated by the Communist government there, as well as the country's renewal of its friendship agreement with North Korea. The Lao-American groups present also described what they claim is the LDPR's vicious record of persecution and torture of the Hmong minority as well as other religious and ethnic minorities in Laos. Some analysts within the US government agree with this assessment. A recent report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom described Laos as "a one-party authoritarian state which has suppressed the human rights of its citizens and foreigners alike." John Tai is a Policy Analyst who worked on Laos for the commission.

JOHN TAI: Laos is at an important crossroads. It seems that within the government of Laos, there are some who are advocating that the country follow the model of China or Vietnam. And yet there are also those who seem to be more interested in modernizing the country by learning from the United States and other Western democracies that respect human rights. We think the United States has a unique opportunity to engage the government of Laos in the process of reform that would end the suppression of religious freedom and other related human rights.

DREW: The US State Department has also expressed concern about the human rights record of the Lao government, but is currently in favor of granting normalized trade relations. Laos' neighbors, regional economic power houses Thailand and China already have NRT. Vietnam was granted normalized status in the year 2000. Some Hmong-American groups point to the human rights record of both Vietnam and China as evidence that granting NTR does not mean automatic improvements in that area. But some observers say human rights in Laos have improved dramatically over the past decade without the carrot of NTR. Catharine Dalpino, formerly the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and now a Fellow at the Brookings Institution, says personal freedoms in Laos are better now than they have been in years. Moreover she says, connecting the issues of trade and human rights has proved to be futile.

CATHARINE DALPINO: It does increase nationalism, not only on the part of hardliners, but also on the part of moderates. They don't like those sorts of ultimatums. Second, our trade with Laos is not extensive enough for it to hurt if we withheld NTR. I mean, it would not be noticeable. We haven't built up that much of a relationship economically with Laos, and so there, if we withheld NTR it really would have no affect at all because it's sort of taking nothing from nothing.

DREW: Ms. Dalpino estimates that US-Laos trade, currently worth a mere $8 million a year, could double or triple with the granting of NTR, creating around 200,000 jobs in Lao textile and handicraft industries, but barely making a mark on the multi-billion dollar US economy. She notes that many Lao-Americans, particularly the younger generations, are in favor of normalizing trade relations, while opponents tend to be those Lao Americans still trying to reverse the communist victory of 1975. One of those is Hmong democracy activist Zong Khang Yang, who would like to see the US give military aid to the small group of Hmong rebels still trying to overthrow the Communist government.

ZONG KHANG YANG: These people are looking for freedom and peace. The only way they can save their life and protect it and is wage war against the Pathet Lao, the Laos People Democratic. And that's why, that's why we are fighting. And these people are heroes. They are fighting over this, to keep the spirit of democracy alive in Laos.

DREW: But it is the Lao Communist Government which the US recognizes and which in recent months have been cooperating with America's global war on terrorism. And while the Bush administration may not approve of the LPDR's human rights record, the White House, the State Department, US business groups, and some in the Lao-American business community are ready to normalize trade relations, in an agreement which was first reached in 1997, but has been held up for the past six years. Catherine Dalpino of the Brookings Institution says after years of uncertainty, Laos could soon enjoy the same opportunities as its powerful neighbors.

DALPINO: Part of the problem is that there is not a big Laos lobby either way. Part of the problem is that Laos is so small and it no longer figures into US policy in a significant way, and it simply falls between the cracks. Congress is very busy and people need a reason to take up a bill. But hopefully, this is something that, that could help Laos in many ways. And it's basically our neglect that's withholding it. Really it isn't a political issue. It's more an issue of not being on the screen at all.

DREW: The trade committee in the US Congress dealing with this legislation is currently sifting through the public comments it received. Officials on Capitol Hill say the majority of replies welcomed NTR status for Laos. A vote on the issue is likely sometime in the next few months. For Common Ground Radio, I'm Catherine Drew in Washington.

PORTER: Coming up next on Common Ground, peacekeeping lessons. And later, Great Britain removes the welcome mat for Jamaicans.

MCHUGH: You're listening to Common Ground, radio's weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

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Peacekeeping Issues

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Related Links
United Nations Peacekeeping Operations
http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/dpko/home.shtml
United Nations Peacekeeping Operations Biography of Jean-Marie Guehenno
http://www.un.org/News/ossg/sg/stories/guehenno_bio.html

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PORTER: The United Nations is not involved in formal peacekeeping efforts in Iraq, at least so far. But the UN is in charge of such efforts in 14 other countries. Jean-Marie Guehenno is the UN's Undersecretary General for Peacekeeping Operations. He recently told Common Ground's Cliff Brockman there are several challenges facing the blue-helmeted UN teams when they arrive in a post-conflict area.

UN UNDERSECRETARY GENERAL FOR PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS JEAN-MARIE GUEHENNO: The UN has no standing army so we have to mobilize the resources quickly. The experience is that the sooner you are on the ground the better. Because deploying quickly, giving an impression of strength, of political will, puts you on a good footing to start a peace process after a conflict. The second key challenge as you deploy is to build the right rapport with the population. You are a foreigner. After a conflict very often you are welcome in the immediate aftermath of the conflict but you are nevertheless a foreigner. You are there for a limited period of time and the people you are dealing with, that's their life. So you have to be humble so as to be accepted.

CLIFF BROCKMAN: You said recently peace building must start the same day as peacekeeping. What are the differences between those two?

GUEHENNO: Peacekeeping is really preventing the resumption of hostilities. Peace building is creating the conditions for sustainable peace. In a country, if people have no other way to make a living than to have a gun, there's not going to be peace. But if you want them to surrender their gun and to really support peace they have to have an alternative way of making a living. And that's what the peace building is all about. Building the structures that would, that will sustain peace, giving an opportunity to the people to lead, to have a normal life.

BROCKMAN: Why is it important that these two develop in a parallel manner?

GUEHENNO: If you develop the two, the two efforts in a sequential manner, once you begin to pull out your force, the conditions, the foundations for peace will not be there. So you may have disarmed the people—the combatants; you may have the impression of peace. But there is no political nor economic basis for sustained peace. So people will find arms again and will resume fighting. And so the real investment of the international community has to be comprehensive.

BROCKMAN: What is the UN's ultimate goal in peace building when they go into a post-conflict country?

GUEHENNO: It is to really work ourselves out of a job. [laughing] It is to, to make sure that that country doesn't need us anymore. That it can stand on its feet without a major effort of the international community. That's the sign of success, when we can leave.

BROCKMAN: By their nature, peacekeeping missions are usually conducted in difficult circumstances and they can last for a year or two, or longer. What kind of commitment do you look for or expect from the people you send on these missions?

GUEHENNO: You have to be very, very committed. Because you're right. I mean, in most places where we deploy, I mean, it's hard. The security is not perfect, even if the conflict has stopped. Very often the infrastructures have been destroyed. So as you, as you move in you have to have a certain mindset. If you want to, to have the sort of protected life of a high-powered diplomat in a place like that you're going to fail. You have to be close to the people you're going to, to support, you're going to help. You have to empathize with them. You have to reach out to them. You have to listen to them. Because if you try to be ahead of them, if you try to lead them while you're just a foreigner they will reject you. So you, you have to be there in a sort of humble position where you try to understand what their concerns are. At the same time you are impartial. You've not been part of the conflict so you do not share the kind of passion that they may have. And you try to lead them out of that, of that passion, of maybe the narrow focus that they have had so that they understand the benefits of peace. And eventually you try to stir them in the direction of justice.

BROCKMAN: The United States has indicated it will take charge of rebuilding Iraq but they've said they'll ask the UN to assist. What is the UN preparing for? How big of a role do you think the UN will have?

GUEHENNO: It's difficult to tell what the role of the UN will be, because that very much depends on decisions of the Security Council. And the Security Council is still debating on what that role should be. I think the UN is already playing a significant role in the humanitarian area. I believe that role could be expanded. Whether that will go beyond that humanitarian and possibly development area, that depends, that will eventually depend on the decision of the Security Council.

BROCKMAN: Do you think the UN should be in charge of rebuilding Iraq?

GUEHENNO: I think the Iraqis will rebuild Iraq. And I think it's, the international community ought to support them. But I think the Iraqis have to be very much at the center of the process.

BROCKMAN: Jean-Marie Guehenno is the Undersecretary General for the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations. For Common Ground, I'm Cliff Brockman.

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Jamaica Visa Blues

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Britian Home Office
http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/
Jamaica From World Press Review
http://worldpress.org/profiles/Jamaica.cfm

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MCHUGH: Early this year the British government announced it would require all Jamaicans visiting the United Kingdom to apply for entry visas. The Home Office, which deals with immigration and tourism issues, noted concerns about the increasing number of Jamaicans illegally entering Britain. But the Jamaican population in Britain is wondering why it has been singled out. Suzanne Chislett reports from London.

SUZANNE CHISLETT: The new rules came into effect just a few hours after the formal announcement that visa restrictions would apply to all Jamaicans visiting Britain. There was a brief changeover period for those who had already bought tickets, but effectively from January the 9th this year, all those traveling to Britain from the Caribbean island must officially apply for permission.

[The sound of a staff member at the Jamaican High Commissioner answering the phone.]

UNIDENTIFIED STAFF MEMBER: Good afternoon, Jamaican High Commission.

JAMAICAN HIGH COMMISSIONER MAXINE ROBERTS: I think what shocked most people here and surprised me was the fact of the timing of the announcement.

CHISLETT: That's the senior representative of the Jamaican Government in Britain—High Commissioner Maxine Roberts. She had been campaigning against the introduction of visas since taking up her post last September. Her predecessor had also fought the move.

ROBERTS: We didn't like the idea of having a visa regime. We found that it would be a problem particularly for the Jamaicans here. We made the case that, you know, we didn't think our numbers were that high in terms of abscondees. But the fact is, that when the Home Office provided the evidence and the figures of abscondees in relation to other countries the evidence was so overwhelming that you know, we couldn't fight it.

CHISLETT: In a letter to Jamaican organizations in Britain, Home Office Minister Beverly Hughes says the decision was made because of delays to genuine Jamaican visitors as checks were carried out at immigration controls. According to Home Office statistics nearly 3,500 were refused entry in 2001 and forced to board planes back to Jamaica. And the high number of children arriving unaccompanied was also cause for concern. In one instance 70 arrived on one flight—many aged just five or six. Ensuring they had proper documentation, relatives, and accommodation to go to took time, and many never left. But the timing of the visa announcement was such that perceptions within the Jamaican and wider population of Britain were drawn to other possible reasons.

[The sound of politicians debating in British Parliament.]

CHISLETT: It followed the fatal shootings of two teenage girls in the city of Birmingham. It was widely believed by police that the pair had been caught in the crossfire of rival black gangs. Also Britain's longest ever domestic siege had just concluded in London. Many of the newspapers incorrectly labeled the suspect as Jamaican. High Commissioner Maxine Roberts is concerned that could all lead to misconceptions.

ROBERTS: It was timed right at that point, the announcement, which I think made people have a sort of reaction that the British government was having a knee jerk response to what had taken place in Birmingham.

CHISLETT: Mavis Stewart is Chairperson of the Association of Jamaicans. The media stereotyping of an entire community is something she would like to see change—and quickly.

MAVIS STEWART: We are a mixed bag, exactly as you are in the wider community here. A mixed community, and we are very proud of the links we have here.

CHISLETT: Mavis came to Britain in the 1950s. She was a fully trained nurse in her teens, who answered one of the many adverts distributed across the black commonwealth nations for workers to come to the so-called "motherland." She spent over 40 years working in the National Health Service, battling against discrimination and low wages. She's recently been honored by the Queen. She says Britain is her home and home to tens of thousands like her.

STEWART: The Jamaica and the Jamaicans that I know are hard working and law abiding. We're not afraid of tackling the hardest of work and indeed many of us are professionals and there are many of us who are not professionals. We do menial tasks out there for a living. I mentioned earlier about Jamaicans in academia. There are Jamaican professors here. I can name you an A to Zed of Jamaicans in all walks of life in this society and no one ever talks about them.

CHISLETT: Another organization concerned about the implications of the visa rule is the West Indian Standing Conference. It acts as an umbrella organization for community groups representing the whole of the Caribbean and its Director is William Trant.

WILLIAM TRANT: We are an interrelated community. There is a lot of intermarriage between Jamaicans and other nationals from the Caribbean. Jamaicans have been here for a very long time. They are the largest of the Caribbean community here. Their relatives coming from the Caribbean are obviously going to be affected. And the human rights issue will surface a lot here. Because I mean, you are denying family links.

CHISLETT: But Mr. Trant has deeper concerns. He's worried that the visa rule will be applied to other Caribbean countries—and not for wholly legitimate reasons.

TRANT: I think that, I mean, there, there is a movement, headed to introduce visa control throughout the Caribbean. And perhaps much wider—the black Commonwealth. The exclusion there is the white Commonwealth. And you know, there is a strong belief that it really has to do with color. None of the Commonwealth white countries require a visa to come to the United Kingdom. So there is a great fear that that will in the long run be introduced. Visa control in respect of Jamaica has been a long standing argument. Each successive government have moved away from that introduction. Now we have a much stronger and more far-right Home Secretary and that is the fear.

CHISLETT: The Jamaican Government acknowledges the decision to introduce visa requirements is the sovereign right of the British government. For their part, UK officials say they had little choice but to implement the change. In a few months time the first statistics following the introduction of visas will be available and the Jamaican community here will be monitoring them. Meanwhile the fight to persuade the British government to reverse the move is already underway. For Common Ground, I'm Suzanne Chislett in London.

PORTER: That's our show for this week. If you have questions or comments about today's program, visit our Web site at commongroundradio.org or e-mail us at commonground@commongroundradio.org. Please drop us a line—we'd love to hear from you.

MCHUGH: Transcripts and information on how to order copies of this and other Common Ground programs are also available on our Web site: commongroundradio.org. I'm Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I'm Keith Porter. Cliff Brockman is our Associate Producer. B.J. Liederman created our theme music. Additional compositions by Wink Music.

ANNOUNCER: Common Ground is a Stanley Foundation production. The Stanley Foundation: promoting public understanding, constructive dialogue, and cooperative action on critical international issues. On the Web at stanleyfoundation.org.

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