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Erdogan’s Turkish Delights

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There is only one president being capable to be at the same time offensive, out of line and arrogant, as well as needed and constantly courted. No, it is not Putin, as he has followers and admirers, but the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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Nationwide protests against his policies in May 2013, led to police crackdown resulting in 22 deaths and the stalling of EU membership negotiations. Following a split with long-time ally Fethullah Gulen, Erdogan tried to curb judicial power and started purges against Gulen’s sympathisers. His figure is subject of different views: a populist president, an Islamic reactionary trying to end secular power in Turkey, an opportunist and arrogant politician trying to exploit Islamic religion and conservatory policies to cover corruption, a future despot, etc.

In reality Erdogan is all and none of that, surely is a skilled and ruthless politician who exploit the confusion and lack of direction that Turkey, the EU, and the world face in these turbulent years. However, what strikes more is the ability to stay afloat and find renewed interest around his figure despite the continuous diplomatic faux-pas and international outcry. It is undeniable that Turkey under Erdogan acquired a new status and returned to the spotlight as a key player in the international scenario.

Hungarian Empire to annex the Balkans. The French were interested only in keeping the North African colonies and put a foot into Middle East, while the Prussians were becoming the latest power stepping into the colonial scenario, and saw in the Empire an ally to counterbalance Britain. The Italians took away Tripolitania and Cyrenaica (Libya).

WWI, the imperialist war, brought to an end the life of the “sick man”, relegating Turkey to the actual position in the Anatolian Peninsula. With Kemal Ataturk, Turkey became a republic, and started a growth that put the country back into international spotlight after WWII, when the Cold War inevitably saw Turkey being at the centre of the competition between East and West, and not only for its geographical position.

Nevertheless, 20th Century Turkey was different from the Ottoman Empire, it was not a “sick man”, instead becoming a strong military ally of the US, a member of NATO, a powerful republic dominated by an army ready to intervene to stop any sliding towards socialism. The US and the Soviet Union regarded Turkey as their border, and any action in Anatolia was to be counterbalance elsewhere.

Today’s Turkey is something similar to the 20th Century status, but with a striking difference: today can flirt with any power, break with them, harass and humiliating them, and still be considered important and crucial for the geopolitical equilibrium. In few words, Turkey is a country that every power would prefer to avoid dealing with, but have to in order to avoid that someone else will step in. A love-hate relationship where Ankara has only to gain rather to lose, if not partially.

Back to President Erdogan, he has the merit to fully understand this new position acquired by Turkey, and he is milking it with no shame nor politeness. Few years back, what the EU had with Turkey was just a dialogue on access to the Union, on which the EU felt always stronger thanks to two main arguments: the death penalty and Cyprus status. The first was the anti-thesis of the Union Treaty and the second a remnant of the past century to be solved, as it also involved a member. That strong position has now been lost and Erdogan has been the first and most skilled in exploit the new scenario, created by the reckless US policy in Middle East.

The Syrian conflict destabilized the Middle East in the last few years, put Turkey back in the map and among the key players. Erdogan put his tactics at work in wooing and blackmailing every single power. At first, he was a strong US ally, as per tradition, siding for a change of regime in Damascus, threatening military intervention to protect Turkmen, but in reality was looking at the opportunity to wipe out the PKK Kurdish rebellion. In this position, he even followed the Obama’s administration in a strong anti-Russian policy, despite Turkey had strong economic ties with Moscow.

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With the EU, he patiently used the open door policy on migration by letting millions of refugees into Europe through Greece and Bulgaria, and then blackmailing Bruxelles in renegotiating future access and obtaining financial support to face the humanitarian disaster. This first phase, however, was short lived, as Turkey committed a serious mistake: shot down a Russian MiG over the Syria-Turkey border. To the joy of the Americans (saw in it a point of no return in the relation between Ankara and Moscow), and to the embarrassment of Erdogan, Moscow adopted sanctions that hit Turkey very hard, as well as making clear remarks on avoiding future military actions by Ankara.

Nevertheless, when everyone was looking at a Turkey now in a straight and narrow, Erdogan restarted silently his contacts with Putin, started to adopt a low profile in the Syrian crisis, and especially mounted a strong campaign against EU. To this shift contributed the fact the Turkey suddenly found itself dragged into a spiral of violence, between the PKK and IS attacks, benefitting by EU open door policy to which Ankara at first agreed. The time for a new shift was coming, and was accelerated by the July 2016 coup. This military attempt resulted in an opportunity for Erdogan to change once again Turkey’s position on the international scenario. While Erdogan accused the US of supporting the coup by financing the Gulen Movement, considered a terrorist organization led by his former ally Fethullah Gulen, who lives now in Pennsylvania, United States, the EU and US accused Erdogan of staging a coup or using the coup to legitimate repression and extending his power. Whatever the reality, Erdogan used the coup to reset his international ties and officially opening his rapprochement with Putin. Turkey entered in Moscow sponsored peace talks, to which even the Iranian were invited and who never had idyllic relations with Ankara.

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Erdogan’s erratic policies this time led to a war of words with the US over the extradition of Gulen, by irritating Washington for holding military talks over Syria with Putin, and by starting a series of accusations to his old friend in the EU. He accused Germany to use “Nazi practices” and the Netherlands to be a “Nazi remnants”, leading to a serious diplomatic row.

However, regardless of how irritating or arrogant could be, Erdogan continue to be sought by every single power to change alliance, to join again the western friends, while Russia tries to keep on its side as no Syrian solution can be achieved without Turkey’s participation. Between US sponsored intervention or Russian sponsored neutrality, Erdogan is enjoying a wealth of opportunities to obtain the most from all: silence on Cyprus, access to the EU, economic ties with Russia, military support from the US. To obtain this he uses the migrants issue, the US sponsored coup, the Russian relation with Iran, strong words against some European countries where Turkish expats resides.

In this Erdogan achieved what the Ottoman Sultans never did: be a power not for spoliation but for building a new world order where Turkey is at the centre stage. Only gullible and short-sighted politicians could not see that without Turkey any plan to solve the Syrian conflict, whether American or Russian sponsored, will be ineffective. Unfortunately for them, Turkey’s price is high and the presidents and prime ministers of many countries will have to digest more Erdogan’s Turkish Delights, although very different for the famous ones, to achieve their dreams.

Written by Matteo Figus

14/04/2017 at 19:32

Here We Go Again: Syrian Deja Vu

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The recent escalation in Syria, with the US attacking for the first time directly the Syrian territory, has taken many by surprise and confusion. To some commentators, is the sign of the unpredictability of Donald Trump, for others the continuous with a policy always directed to the change of regimes, for others more is the sign of end of Assad regime.

What is more striking, however, is the parallelism with the Iraqi War and its build up, as well as the confirmation of the “emotional diplomacy”, which affects mainly the West and its allies. There are no easy responses, or solutions, although an objective analysis requires to try to see the events with all eyes and minds in Washington, Moscow, Damascus, London, Bruxelles, Tehran, Beijing and Pyongyang.

All started with an attack, still not proven or completely investigated, on which a likely chemical substance (or more than one) has been used against the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in north-western Syria. On one side, the US and its allies accused the Damascus regime, on the other, Moscow and its allies talked about “involuntary chemical use” or accuses rebel fighting groups.

The bottom line in this terrible story, where more than 80 people have been killed, is that no one has a shred of proof or started a formal investigation to establish the exact causes. On this it is like  going back to the initial stages on the Syrian war, when the western countries were taking every single excuse to put  foot on Syrian ground. At the same time it is a deja vu of the Iraqi WMD fiasco, when not only proof was nonexistent but even fabricated.

Nevertheless, we cannot deny that Syria is home to a huge chemical arsenal, that under the US-Russia agreement should have been secured and stocked for dismantling. This amount, not known, added to the security on the ground difficult to establish, surely jeopardized any attempt to clear the area: Damascus has still chemical weapons? Yes. Have the rebels access to weapons following occupation of some areas? Yes. Has ISIL access to chemical weapons? Yes.

Under these conditions, it could be true that Damascus used prohibited substances, as well as it is likely that rebels bombarded the wrong area or ISIL used them against civilians. International Law and diplomacy have for decades worked on the same assumption of civil and penal justice: innocence until proven in court. A golden rule, followed most of the time, to avoid bloodshed and major conflicts, a necessity to give peace and mediation a chance. However, history teaches us that “incidents” have been used to justify military actions, incidents that could be see and proven: Tonkin incident, the Afghan “communist” conversion to open soviet invasion, etc.

The problem is that in recent years too many “incidents” have been unproven action by belligerents, and used to justify quick military solutions that proved disastrous in their consequences. One of the main pillars has been the “emotional diplomacy”, where after a deplorable action by warring parts, another country acts moved by sentiments, by “humanitarian” scopes. Like a child with a tantrum, bombs dropped as apples from a tree shaken by a storm, causing more death, destruction, and especially no solution. Or at least not a lasting solution, but a piloted result to benefit the Samaritan intervening.

This is the calculation made in Washington, Moscow, Tehran, Damascus, Ankara when they continuously switch their policies and alliances, not in the interest of Syrian people, nor for global peace, but for geopolitical equilibrium (Moscow) and change of regime policy (US) to destabilize Russia, China, Iran.

Therefore, can we even try to make some sense in all this? The US accuses Assad of war crimes, probably true but still unproven, for a simple reason: change the regime. This was the pillar of American policy with Bush and with Obama found in the so-called Arab Spring the lever to tilt regimes in Middle East that were unfriendly, historically. They instigated revolution in Egypt for then backtracking and supporting General Al Sisi in the repressions and coup that ousted the Muslim Brotherhood from power. Democracy has its strange ways of work. In Libya they accomplished the ousting of Gaddafi (thanks to a Russian/Chinese diplomatic suicide at the UN), while in Iran failed from the start. Syria was to be their final step, but the Russian strong opposition and support denied the change. It is not surprising that any attack made by Syrian forces receives wider coverage on Western medias than the thousands of people killed by terrorist groups and rebels armed with American weapons in Syria and Iraq. Nor is news the silent and censored war in Yemen, where not only chemical weapons have been used and thousands have been killed by Saudi’s aerial bombardment on civilians. Skepticism is the least, then grows when you read that 59 tomahawk missiles have been fired against a military base and that just 2 days later was again ready to use! Either all those missile failed the objectives or they bomb the wrong place.

Russia is defending Assad and his regime, under a status quo paradigm: losing Syria, will wipe out Russian presence from eastern Mediterranean, closing the Black Sea Fleet in a prison with the key held by the erratic Turkish President Erdogan. Russia support Syria to strengthen border control against terrorism, as many foreign fighters are from the Caucasus, and Russia already experienced first hand the change of regime policy with the “coloured revolutions” that engulfed Eastern Europe. However, Russia is not the sparring partner anymore, Yeltsin’s years have been forgotten like a day after being drunk. Russia, regretted the Libyan error, and since then responded tit for tat: Ukraine and Crimea are just a warning. Russia accuses the US of fabricating news and arming rebel and terrorist groups (whether directly or not, it is still not proven), and closing an eye or two when they make their massacres. Russia accused the US of interfering in the peace process that Moscow was silently building with Turkey and Iran.

A key to understand the Syrian puzzle is Turkey, and the actions of the two powers is a reflection of Ankara unpredictable policies. Erdogan at first was a fierce critic of Assad, threatening invasion to support Turkmen (covertly to wipe out Kurds and PKK), and conducting a strong anti-Russian campaign. Unfortunately for the US, Turkey made a big mistake by shooting down a Russian fighter jet, plunging its economy into disaster and becoming soon a central stage for terror attacks: ISIS ones following the western sponsored policy of open frontiers, and PKK ones taking advantage of Turkish foolishness in lowering their security. Timely and precise came the attempted coup against Erdogan, again with multifaceted interpretations: a US sponsored coup (Gulen supporters) to block a Russian rapprochement or a backfired coup that was used by Erdogan to increase his control, cut the ties with the US and change the foreign policy into a Russian backed solution of the Syrian crisis? Now this chemical incident once again saw Turkey siding with the US, but on the other they still seat at the table with Russian and Iranians to try in solving the conflict.

Many say Trump could be too impetuous on decisions, or even dangerous for world peace, but looking closely he has just reconditioned a well used machine that in the last two decades has made of the Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Matteo Figus

10/04/2017 at 20:49

IS Strength is Proportional to our Weakness

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The recent Paris attacks have opened a series of questions on security and the real strength of IS. However, one clear fact is in front of our eyes: IS strength is proportional to our weakness.

World powers division over Syria has just highlighted how easy is for groups like IS to increase their force and exploit the void created by our indecisions. IS strength has been unequivocally supported by the fragility of political institutions in Middle East, and especially after the raging war in Syria. It cannot be denied that the so-called Islamic State is a collateral effect of the western disastrous policy of “change of regime” and at the same time a sub-product of the illusory Arab spring. The weakening of secular states, pursued by the US during the Al-Qaida years, although has led to the fall of repressive regimes, created a void thus replaced by the only real organised and opposition force: Islamists groups.

While the Arab spring worked in a way in Tunisia, Egypt is the best example of how the dangerous shift to Islamism was blocked in time by the only possible resource available: a military coup. When Mubarak was ousted, and the Muslim Brotherhood won, everyone just simply knew that it would be matter of time before Egypt would be engulfed in serious troubles. The army, conscious of the danger, used its force to avoid a Libyan scenario thus blocking the contagion from the IS fever. It is true nonetheless, that Egypt is still a terrain fertile for IS infiltration and the recent attack on a Russian airliner simply shows that.

Nevertheless, it is the total failure of western policies in Syria and Iraq, that ultimately led to the growth of IS and its apparently unstoppable force. Following the steps of Libya, Western powers have made a huge miscalculation in thinking to replace easily the Assad regime with a pro-western government. Arms sent to strengthen the illusory rebel army, instead favoured the growth of all Islamist groups and ultimately of IS. In Iraq, the total disregard and animosity towards the Shia government in power, united with their own mistakes in seeking revenge against the Sunnis, soon created the fertile terrain for Sunni resistance and ultimately IS growth.

However, how really strong is the Islamic State? Is terrorism a sign of power or weakness? IS in itself is full of contradictions: fights the West but many fighters are mercenaries from Europe where most of them enjoyed life of freedom; is against idolatry and western consumerism but uses all social media platforms; destroys cultural history, belonging even to their own past, but put forward slogans of brotherhood; it fights against other Muslims, mainly Shia, and does not concern itself with the Palestine problem.

It is quite remarkable for a group claiming to be ready to install a Caliphate to notice that in all their claims Israel and the Palestinian problem has been left out. Even when they slightly consider the issue, their targets are Hamas and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, for who they fight for then?

Terrorism is never a viable political solution, inevitably leads only to two solutions: total annihilation of the group or negotiation. By the choices of targets and its political agenda, it is unlikely that IS can pursue or even is willing to negotiate. Exactly because has been born from western hypocrisy is in itself a hypocritical and cowardly group: attacks minority groups, enslave women, fight a terror war against civilians, is armed and financed by foreign donors (powers). Therefore, the question is, can be destroyed? Yes and easily.

Taking into account that its main base is in Syria and part of Iraq, and it is surrounded by major regional power, we have: Turkey in the North, the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq in the North, Lebanon backed by pro-Syrian groups and Hezbollah to the West, the sea to the West can be blocked (if wanted by any major power like the US), Israel and Egypt in South-West, Jordan in the South, Iraq Shia backed government to the East and obviously Iran that support Assad, Hezbollah and the Iraqi government.

At first looks like an impressive display of power but we need to consider the following issues affecting the real fight against IS:

  1. Turkey could block the borders better and support the Kurds, instead of fighting them for internal reasons;
  2. The western powers keep living the dream of the Free Syrian Army that in reality is just non existent as long as all weapons are used against the only other legitimate ground force to counter IS, which is the regular Syrian Army. Any future agreement on Syria should be postponed after the war. They face a common enemy.
  3. Western powers, namely US, against Russia: the Russian campaign in Syria was denigrated and attacked before the Paris attacks, while now Putin is seen as a messiah in the fight against terror;
  4. Russia is also not always clear on the real targets of its campaign in Syria: internal security, defence of strategic interests or to pin point US forces?
  5. Western powers refusal to acknowledge the importance of other actors in the scene: Iran and its allies.
  6. The hypocrisy and double play of some of the so-called “allies of the West”: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and UAE. Financing for IS comes mainly from “donors” in these countries.
  7. The refugee problem: open door policy or closed borders? EU has not a clear strategy and swing from an excess to the other in the assessment.
  8. Media propaganda and misinformation: once again serious anti-Islam slogans and total disregard for an unbiased assessment of the reality. The theory of the double standards still applies and only has as a result an increase in racism and xenophobic attacks in the western capitals.

Nevertheless, the Paris attacks and the Russian plane bombing are changing everything, as France is now ready to cooperate (at least in words) with Russia; Egypt will have to answer about its security standards as surely cannot allow tourism to disappear following the recent incidents. Calls are growing on US and the UK (the most recalcitrant in changing their views and policies towards Syria) for a coalition to destroy IS, but the risk of leaving main actors such the Kurds, the Iraqi government, and Iran out of the decisions can also expose further the West and Russia in a direct intervention that will play IS propaganda. On the other side, all powers must reconsider their circle of friends in Middle East and realise that a shift of policy towards Iran could benefit these powers in the long term better than the current dependence from questionable partners, Pakistan-US relations are a lesson.

Written by Matteo Figus

18/11/2015 at 14:32

Argentina and Brazil: Between Exceptional Growth and Raising Social Tensions

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Latin America is assisting to a rapid economic growth and hopes for the future have never been as positive as in recent years. All economies have experience rapid growth with GDP over 5%, at least until the 2008 downturn that has inevitably hit economies still over dependent from US import/export. Nevertheless, the rises of Chile, Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina have been hailed as the most positive signals in world economic trends since 2000 and results were obtained with a mix of policies not always made from a strong capitalist background. However, if some countries like Chile continued in their growth, others have started to slow down due not only to world recession but also to internal political problems. Venezuela descending trend was accentuated by Chavez death and a succession that started to show some cracks in the once strong and united Socialist Party’s support, but it is certainly the two main giants of the subcontinent that attracted the attention of the economists: Brazil and Argentina.

 

Brazil: A Future Superpower with Explosive Social Contradictions

In Brazil presidential elections are expected on 5 October and after the spotlight of the recent football world cup, Brazilians will have now a serious ground to challenge the political establishment. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who is running for re-election under the Workers’ Party, will have to conduct her campaign amid the official news that Brazil had fallen into a recession earlier this year. The economy of South America’s largest country shrank by 0.6% in the second quarter of this year and by 0.2% in the first. Analysts are projecting Brazil’s growth to be less than 1% in 2014 while inflation is on the rise. In 2010, when Ms Rousseff was first voted into office for the Workers’ Party, the economy was growing at 7.5%, attracting positive headlines both at home and abroad. However, support for the government started to fall after millions of Brazilians took to the streets last year amid a wide range of grievances, ranging from the rising costs of public transport to police violence and the expenses associated with this year’s World Cup. If the football competition, for a moment, helped the government in keeping Brazilians distracted it is now clear that the struggle cannot be postponed any longer. The opposition, tired of years of leftist policies, although successful, is now riding the popular discontent for increased prices and unemployment accusing what they called an “excessive state interventionism” in economy and a lack of reforms to help business flourish independently. The government blames a less favorable international environment for the slowdown and claims that a wave of unjustified pessimism has inhibited investments.

The Workers’ Party has been in power since 2003, following the election of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula, as President in October 2002. Lula, a former shoeshine worker, heads Brazil’s first left-wing government for more than 40 years with the promise to challenge poverty and for the first time to rule for the poorest while assisting to an unprecedented economic growth that put Brazil into the rising economies of the 21st century.

Brazil’s natural resources, particularly iron ore, are highly prized by major manufacturing nations, including China. Thanks to the development of offshore fields, the nation has become self-sufficient in oil, ending decades of dependence on foreign producers. The spectacular growth even led Brazil to launch its first space rocket in October 2004, officially including Brazil within the space élite. Nevertheless, the oil richness has not come without compromises and the rights to explore Brazil’s biggest oilfield are awarded to a consortium led by the state-run energy giant Petrobas backed by French, Anglo-Dutch and Chinese firms. Critics say that allowing foreign companies a stake in the oilfield will damage national interests and within the party’s hardliners this has been seen as a concession to those same capitalist enemies fought for decades. But the new resources helped Lula and the government in launching social programmes, continued by his successor Dilma Rousseff, that allowed millions of Brazilians to be lifted out of poverty. These included a variety of policies such increases in the minimum wage, social programmes such as Bolsa Familia, which encourage school attendance and vaccinations in exchange for income support. Brazil’s Aids programme has become a model for other developing countries: it has stabilized the rate of HIV infection and the number of Aids-related deaths has fallen. Brazil has bypassed the major drugs firms to produce cheaper, generic Aids medicines. The government has also launched Brazil Sem Miseria (Brazil Without Poverty) welfare scheme, aimed at lifting millions out of extreme poverty, and in August 2012 the parliament approved a law for universities that requires them to reserve fifty percent of their places for public school students, and increases the number of spaces allotted to black, mixed-race and indigenous students.

Campaigns to improve the life conditions in the Amazon forest and the most remote areas of the country generated initially wide support to the Workers’ Party. The exploitation of the Amazon rainforest has been a major international worry, as it is also an important reservoir of plant and animal life. Deforestation has been slowed down by extra policing and pressure from environmental and consumer groups. The government has fined illegal cattle ranchers and loggers, while the food industries have banned products from illegally deforested areas, such as soya beans and beef. Officials estimate that deforestation in 2010 fell to 5,000 sq km for the year, down from 7,000 sq km the year before and a peak of 27,000 sq km in 2004. Nevertheless, it has not always been a smooth sailing: pressure from poor peasants for land, struggle against slavery that it is still common in some remote areas and the need to sustain a rapid development have created uneasiness. Ranchers reacted sometimes violently, as in November 2011 when Brazil indigenous Guarani leader Nisio Gomes was shot dead in western Brazil. He was part of a Guarani Kaiowa group that had returned to their ancestral land after being evicted by ranchers. Farms lobby criticized the government’s law in forest protection and forced tree replanting in illegally cleared lands, leading even to resignation within the party from the environment minister Marina Silva, who is today the main rival candidate for President Rousseff.

Brazil’s spectacular growth, combining a strong policy to develop the immense resources and the necessity to tackle the poverty and inequality that weighs down the country, nevertheless opened difficult scenarios for the party. The economic growth did not solve Brazil’s problems and although nobody can deny the huge progresses registered especially for the poorest sector of the population, there is still a wide gap between rich and poor. Two are the main areas of social conflict in the country: in the countryside, where much of the arable land is controlled by a handful of wealthy families, a situation which the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) demand land redistribution, and in the big cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo where harsh social conditions are responsible for a third of the population living in favelas or slums.

Unfortunately for the government one of the counter effects of the cities widespread poverty is the rising of violence and drug trafficking which put the political leaders between two major problems: gangs violence on one side and police brutality on the other. In March 2005 a Death squad kills at least 30 people on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, the city’s worst massacre in over a decade; in May 2006 scores of people are killed in gang attacks and a police brutal response in Sao Paulo state; in June 2011 Security forces occupy one of the biggest slums in Rio de Janeiro, as part of a major crackdown on organized crime ahead of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

The discontent generated by rising prices and the excessive spending to host the Fifa World Cup and the Olympic Games In Rio de Janeiro in 2016 have also been fuelled by the accusations that after Lula the party is losing its original soul, with corruption scandals filling the press news. Although the first corruption scandal emerged during Lula presidency in 2005, the fast action from the president announcing a wave of resignation within the party ranks and his televised apology reassured Brazilians of his goodwill leading to the re-election in 2006 and the election of Dilma Rousseff in 2010. But soon it appeared that the old corruption monster of past governments was able to affect the Workers’ Party and scandals continued to emerge: in December 2007 the speaker of the Brazilian Senate and a key ally of President Lula, Renan Calheiros, resign in order to avoid an imminent impeachment hearing; in September 2008 President Lula suspends intelligence chiefs amid allegations their agencies spied on officials, politicians and judges; in June 2011 President Rousseff’s chief of staff resigns amid corruption allegations.

Whether it will be still the Workers’ Party to address this series of issues, with the aim of completing its programme with more attention to the needs of the population or it will be a change with Marina Silva and a sort of step back to a more liberal and capitalist strategy, one fact is clear: Brazil is a superpower in his childhood, and exactly like a child the good discipline imparted cannot be forgotten and must be used to build the next step of development.

 

Argentina: A Spectacular Recovery Can Survive on Political Nationalism?

Argentina, exactly like Brazil, after the dark age of a brutal dictatorship, the Falkland’s/Malvinas War and the years of uncontrolled corruption, assisted to a long period of exceptional growth. Although there are unresolved social issues and rising discontent within the poorest population, the achievement of Argentina’s economy have been even more remarkable if we take into account the crash of 2001-2002 which left a scar still visible today in the whole infrastructure that appear vulnerable and politically unstable.

However, unlike Brazil, Argentina turn to progressive leftist policies was not an obvious one or piloted by a proper socialist party, instead was the progressive wing of the Peronist party that emerged as victorious. Due to the strong critic against US policy and pursuing soon a policy mixed of nationalism and veiled socialist views, the Kirchners (Nestor and Cristina Fernandez) were able to rebuild the economy, obtaining strong popular support. Especially in recent years the government of Cristina Fernandez resorted even more to a strong and aggressive policy: justice for the criminals of the Dirty War, renewed claims on the Falklands/Malvinas and a new wave of nationalizations, aimed at secure popular support although critics points to the fact that this is just a diversion to mask the economic troubles that led to a new recent financial crisis.

Argentina benefits from rich natural resources, a highly educated population, a globally competitive agricultural sector, and a diversified industrial base. The country is one of South America’s largest economies although it has also fallen prey to a boom and bust cycle. The modern history of Argentina’s economy started In 1999, when Fernando de la Rua, of the centre-left Alianza opposition coalition, won the presidency thus inheriting 114 billion-dollar public debt. In order to restructure the economy de la Rua accepted the IMF policies of austerity and an aid package for nearly 40 billion dollars. The harsh austerity measures provoked a mass unrest and strikes forcing de la Rua to form a government of national unity in July 2001 and appointing three finance ministers in as many weeks as cabinet resignations and protests continued. While the country’s credit rating started to slip, President de la Rua met US President George W Bush in a last-ditch attempt to avoid an economic crash in Argentina. By December 2001 Economy Minister Cavallo announced stronger restrictions to halt an exodus of bank deposits while the IMF stopped $1.3bn in aid. The news sparked violent riots during which 25 people died in street protests forcing on 20 December President Fernando de la Rua to resign. The appointments of Adolfo Rodriguez Saa first and Peronist Senator Eduardo Duhalde as president in January 2002 could not avoid the collapse: within days the government devalued the peso, ending 10 years of parity with the US dollar, banking and foreign exchange activity were suspended. In November 2002 Argentina defaulted on an $800m debt repayment to the World Bank, having failed to re-secure an IMF aid. The new elections called by Duhalde for March 2003, later put back to April, to try in winning public support for the government’s handling of the economic crisis in reality put an end of it opening a new era in Argentina’s history.

In May 2003 Nestor Kirchner is sworn in as president after former President Carlos Menem, who gained most votes in the first round of elections, pulled out before the second round. During Kirchner’s presidency a recovery was well under way, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to a vital new loan. Since then, Argentina has restructured its massive debt, offering creditors new bonds for the defaulted ones, and has repaid its debt to the IMF.

Between 2003 and 2012, GDP doubled, with an average annual economic growth rate close to 7.2 percent, which constituted the highest average growth rate achieved in the country’s economic history for such a long period. More importantly, this unparalleled economic growth was socially inclusive, reflected in a clear reduction in poverty, unemployment, and inequality, making Argentina’s GDP per capita one of the highest in Latin America. Since 2003, key components of Argentina’s growth model were the creation of quality jobs, the progressive reduction of inequality, social inclusion and better income distribution. During this period, 500,000 new jobs were created each year, and unemployment thus was reduced from 18 percent in 2002 to 6.9 percent in 2012. The minimum wage grew to be the largest in Latin America. In turn, the average real wage increased by more than 37 percent. The end-result was a historic increase in living standards, which is reflected in the doubling of the middle-class between 2003 and 2009, as found by a report by the World Bank, only 24 percent of the population in 2003 against 46% in 2009.

The economic boost was mainly due to a more flexible exchange rate regime, a sustained global and regional growth, a boost in monetary, fiscal and income distribution policies, and a favorable international commodity prices. The economic recovery enabled the government to accumulate substantial official reserves, over $51 billion as of late August 2010. Poverty dropped to 12% in 2010 from the record high of over 50% in 2001-2002. Foreign trade played an increasingly important role in Argentina’s economic development, and key export markets included Brazil, EU, China, U.S. and Chile. The production of grains, cattle, and other agricultural goods continues to be the backbone of Argentina’s export economy while high-technology goods and services are emerging as significant export sectors.

This was the extraordinary period of growth that coincided with Nestor Kirchner presidency and his wife Cristina Fernandez at least until his death in 2010. The extraordinary economic results gave huge support to the presidents along with some of the internal policies such as the strong commitment to make justice for the Dirty War years crimes by imprisoning those responsible. Tens of thousands of people were killed by the military junta between 1976 and 1983; the bodies of many abductees (known as the desaparecidos “disappeared” ) have never been found, although forensic work continues to recover them. Amnesties which protected former junta members from prosecution (established during Carlos Menem presidency) were repealed in 2003 and the pardons granted to military leaders overturned in 2005. Soon followed the trials and the sentences: in October 2007 former Roman Catholic police chaplain Christian Von Wernich is convicted of collaborating in the murder and torture of prisoners; in August 2008 two former generals are sentenced to life imprisonment for their actions; former military ruler General Jorge Videla is sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity; former naval officer Alfredo Astiz and 11 other former members of the security forces are given life sentences for crimes against humanity; in July 2012 two former junta leaders were found guilty of overseeing the systematic theft of babies from political prisoners during 1976-1983 dictatorship: Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone were sentenced to 50 and 15 years in prison respectively.

Although world economic entered a period of crisis in 2008, Argentina managed to stay afloat continuing its economic growth and ensuring to Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, succeeded to her husband in 2007, a comfortable presidency. The trend is also confirmed when, following the death in October 2010 of the ex-President Nestor Kirchner and seen as likely to come back into power in 2011 elections, President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner wins a second term with a landslide 54% of the vote mainly thanks to the economic successes. But her second term is also the most controversial one and lead to the present new economic crisis, thus for many opening a second phase for Argentina.

After a 9.2 percent growth rate in 2010, and 8.9 percent in 2011, in 2012 the economy only grew by 1.9 percent in a context of a persistent drought that impacted heavily on agricultural output. Strong economic activity recovered in 2013 but the global financial turmoil and rapid declines in world commodity prices started to impact Argentina’s market. While the economic downturn was less severe in Argentina than elsewhere, the deterioration of both domestic and international demand complicated the fiscal situations of both the federal government and the provinces. Nevertheless, was still the financial sphere that causes apprehension, due to Argentine arrears to international creditors and a large number of arbitration claims filed by foreign companies that remain to be resolved. Outstanding external debts included over $6.3 billion owed to official creditors according to Government of Argentina statistics, including about $500 million owed to the United States. By July 2014 Argentina made a final attempt to reach a deal with a group of US creditors to avoid a possible default on its debt, but a US federal judge did not allow the country to make a scheduled payment to bond holders unless it paid the creditors as well. This opened to the current financial crisis although many point at other economic indicators that put Cristina Fernandez under accusations of mismanagement.

By 2014 the government was struggling with high inflation, slow economic growth, falling central bank reserves and weak exports to key markets such Brazil. Argentina’s economy slipped into contraction in the January to March quarter for the first time in nearly two years with consumer prices rising by 12.9 percent, while international reserves shrank by 25 percent. Argentina’s has been accused of masking economic results to avoid international pressure and keep internal support. The inflation rate was estimated by many private-sector economists to be around 30% a year, consumer prices were rising by about 25 percent annually, while the peso currency’s black market rate was 48 percent weaker than the official rate. After several years of publishing non-credible statistics, Argentina’s official statistics agency (INDEC) released substantially revised inflation and GDP growth data that are closer in line with private estimates. The IMF had formally censured Argentina in February 2013 because of manipulation of inflation and GDP data, the first act of this kind in financial history.

Nevertheless, Cristina Fernandez managed to stay in power and keep support mainly due to a policy of political nationalism and economic nationalization, turning more to the left to appease popular demands. Argentina remains locked in a territorial dispute with Britain over the Falklands Islands, which are governed as a British overseas territory, but have been claimed by Buenos Aires since the 1830s as Las Malvinas. The issue led to war in 1982, when the islands fell to an invasion launched by Argentina’s military junta, but were re-conquered by Britain in a conflict that caused hundreds of deaths on both sides. Cristina Fernandez supported renewed claims over Las Malvinas by handing documents to UN formally laying claim to a vast expanse of the ocean, as far as the Antarctic and including island chains governed by Britain; imposing new controls on ships passing through its waters to Falklands Islands and even persuaded members of the South American trading bloc Mercosur to close their ports to ships flying the Falkland Islands flag during the 30th anniversary of the war. In March 2013 Falkland Islanders vote overwhelmingly in favour of remaining a British overseas territory but Argentina described the referendum as pointless. Parallel to this political nationalism, Kirchner proceed in a nationalization plan that hit energy company YPF, which was majority owned by Spain’s Repsol. In November 2013, President Fernandez appoints left wingers to run the cabinet of economy, agriculture and central bank in a move to strengthen state intervention.

All the above moves aimed at uniting the traditional nationalism of the peronist party by pursuing Las Malvinas claims and increase economic state interventionism to please the left radicals ensured to Cristina Fernandez a majority in the congress even when she has lost control on some provinces in the last elections. Playing Las Malvinas card is always a sure bet as the majority of Argentineans still consider this a post-colonial issue, and also put Argentina in the forefront of those countries that in South America strongly oppose the arrogance of the main powers such US or UK. Using interventionism in economy, pleased some of the radicals within the party as well as opening to a cooperation with left sectors that will connect the president with the popular strata more inclined to support social policies.

Whether Argentina will be able to achieve resilience in economy and put behind the traumas of the financial crashes it will depend on how effectively the government will be able to play its cards without bluffing: the result could backfire leaving more arguments to the opposition rather than the supporters.

Written by Matteo Figus

19/09/2014 at 16:59

Ariel Sharon Death: A Controversial but Historic Figure

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The death of Ariel Sharon, a key figure in the Israeli-Palestine conflict, has been received with mixed feelings and opens many questions about his legacy. As only popular figures can be, controversy always surrounds their achievements, in a mix of lights and shadows, greatness and misfortunes, Sharon has linked his name in many ways as a military general or as a politician.

Ariel Sharon, born as Ariel Scheinermann, started his career in the paramilitary groups that can be considered the precursors of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). Soon he made the marks as a genial strategist and commander, capable of unexpected actions and great achievements; nonetheless, he also showed another element that will always characterize his figure, whether as a soldier or a politician, insubordination and a tendency to force state of things not always following orders from above.

Sharon fought three wars, Independence (1948), Six-Day (1967) and Yom Kippur (1973), plus actions in the Suez Crisis and other skirmishes, and in all of them he showed, under a military point of view, incredible resources, strategic brilliancy and ruthlessness. During the Six-Day War some of his manoeuvres, such the ones that led to attack Egyptian forces in the Sinai Peninsula by simultaneously attacks in small forces has been regarded as one of the most influential innovations in military strategy at the time. During the Yom Kippur War (1973), when Sharon was already retired to join the Likud party, he was recalled due to the disastrous results of the IDF military campaign, receiving the lead of the forces to reconquer the lost Sinai. He mastermind the amphibious attack on the Egyptian forces known as “Operation Gazelle” which led to the isolation of the Third Egyptian Army and considered the salvation of Israel from a certain lost war.

Israel has therefore regarded him as a national hero and defender of the sacred borders, but Sharon;’s history has also another side that links with the Palestinian and Arab perspectives. Along his fearless and ruthless action during the numerous military actions Sharon made his mark in Palestinian minds especially as a politician,  paradoxically. Soon after retiring from the army, he made special recommendations to Begin on the necessity, during the years 1975-1981, to increase Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories . On his settlement policy, Sharon said while addressing a meeting of the Tzomet party: “Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours. … Everything we don’t grab will go to them.”

By supporting Begin’s government election, Sharon received in 1981 the post of Minister of Defence, linking forever his name to a page of history that will never be forgotten. During the bloodiest Lebanon Civil War, in 1982, the Sabra and Shatila massacre occurred between 16 and 18 September. Between 762 and 3,500 civilians, mostly Palestinians and Lebanese Shiites, in the refugee camps were killed by the Phalanges Lebanese Maronite Christian militias, sent in to clear the camps from PLO fighters while Israeli forces surrounded the camps, blocking exits and providing logistical support. The killings led some to label Sharon “the Butcher of Beirut”.

The investigative Kahan Commission (1982) found the Israeli Defence Forces indirectly responsible for the massacre, although was established that no direct participation of IDF soldiers in the massacre occurred. Nevertheless, the commission recognized the Phalangist unit as responsible and acting on its own but whose entry was known to Israel and approved by Sharon. The Commission also concluded that the defense minister, Sharon, was personally responsible for not taking necessary measures to avoid the massacre. Following the verdict Sharon was forced to resign, although reluctantly, starting the darkest era of his career.

After this Sharon made a comeback in 2000 when, following years of renewed tensions in the Palestinian territories, he made the famous al Aqsa Walk that ultimately led to the Second Intifada. Whether planned or unintentional, this was a typical provocation that infuriating the Palestinian Authority and Arafat led to a four years bloody conflict. Nevertheless, Sharon in the years as Prime Minister showed along the above ruthless and crude calculations also unexpected overtures: swinging from isolating and undermining Arafat’s authority until hid death, only to find then himself surrounded by hostile terrorists groups now acting freely and without a control, Sharon decided to overturn his appeasement of settlements by declaring an unitlateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip. While his decision to withdraw from Gaza sparked bitter protests from members of the Likud party and the settler movement, opinion polls showed that it was a popular move among most of the Israeli electorate with more than 80% of Israelis backing the plans. But ultimately this split the party and Sharon left Likud to found a new party, Kadima. When Sharon was caught by a series of strokes and left in a coma in 2005, he was pursuing a new disengagement plan, likely to anger nationalist but to please  Palestinians and pacifists in Israel and around the world now wary of years of senseless conflicts.

His death after 8 years in a limbo state, have reopen to many memories and  nightmares, bitter fightings, admiration, and even sparked celebrations. Sharon, whatever is the angle or the point of view, has been a figure that linked great achievement but also accusations of serious crimes, closures and provocations as well as important diplomatic steps and even clamorous overtures.

Sharon will be remembered as a national hero in Israel, where in 2005 was voted the 8th-greatest Israeli of all time, and as the Butcher of Beirut from Arabs and Palestinian people, because history cannot be rewritten and this double identity will always accompany his legacy, and at the same time, without any doubts, Sharon will remain a key figures of the 20th Century and modern history of Middle East.

Written by Matteo Figus

13/01/2014 at 19:44

Ukraine: Europeanism Utopia and Russia’s Security Paranoia

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The Ukrainian protests against government’s decision to not sign an EU agreement melted in just few days, but was it really only an internal matter or was just another episode of the saga Putin vs West?

It is now clear that was never at stake the interest of the Ukrainian people but political gains and economic benefits behind the interests of such powers. Ukraine, as Georgia in the past, is a fertile ground to gauge the pressure of the tensions between Russia and the West, and once again, to the dismay of the latter, Putin won.

Ukraine economy is a mess, near to collapse, needed a bail out regardless on whoever will grant it, so why there was this attention to pull Ukraine on either sides? The answer is simply European hypocrisy and Russia’s vital space paranoia.

The EU jumped on the protests claiming that Ukrainian people were behind a popular protest to join the EU, that their will was betrayed and Yanukovich change mind after Russia’s blackmailing. All this may be true, and it is no surprise for a poor country to see people cherishing the idea of free travel to countries better off, as also it is no surprise that Russia used all its weight to sink the agreement. However, what is wrong is that not all Ukraine was behind the protest and that all the country supports an EU access. While the western regions, rich in agriculture in what was the granary of Soviet Union, support strong links with the West, on the other the Eastern areas and the Donbass, the powerhouse of heavy industry always had strong ties with Russia. Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions has its stronghold in eastern Ukraine and it is no surprise that he also had to put an ear on that side.

The problem for Ukraine and the EU is that Russia will never allow in such proximity to lose its control either politically and economically. Russia at the end triumphed, with Kiev’s government accepting a $15 billion bailout, with cheaper gas prices and the promise to accelerate the accession to the Russian version of the EEA, a  custom union with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Has Ukraine therefore lost? Not really, as said either ways Ukraine was going to receive a bailout, but the problem connected with this is that nothing comes for free and whether EU or Russia, Kiev has now linked itself to a strong dependence, by chosing to do not irritate the strongest side.

Nevertheless, if Ukraine calculations were based on purely economic data and immediate needs, what moved EU, Russia and even US was totally different: balance of power.

The EU jumped into this dispute denouncing Russia’s interference and “acting” with its fake paternalism in a time where the Union has its lowest approval index by the population of state members and where crescent nationalism is advancing in many countries requests for an exit referendum.  Nevertheless, the EU cannot be trusted, it uses bail outs to control governments’ policies, it is the most undemocratic organisation and what benefits really could have from Ukraine’s accession? The benefit was to bail out another government and impose IMF/BCE controlling policies to gain the most from a no competitive market which would have been a “colony” for western economies in crisis. Cheap labor would have offered the chance to struggling companies to cut workforce in their home countries to reopen across the borders, and while they present Bruxelles in such pan-European dream on the other we can see Cameron’s UK trying to introduce changes to migrants from Romania and Bulgaria in an attempt to please nationalists of the UK Independence Party. Another reason that would have well suited Bruxelles was to introduce another bigger country which would have altered balance in the EU Parliament, a message to the fellow British partners.

But while on one side the EU showed its hypocrisy, on the other the US got involved only to pinpoint Russia’s rediscovered power and any plan that undermine or limit Putin’s influence it is always welcomed in Washington. Plan for a missile shield are back on the table, Russia’s involvement  in Middle East has irritated many governments and after the Snowden affair, US-Russia relations are getting sour quickly enough to foresee a 2014 rich in similar tit for tat actions. Russia, for history, ethnic-religious ties and economic reasons pursued and will always pursue a politic of self-defence and retake control of its vital space. Russia, and the USSR before, always lived in the paranoia of the constant threat of an invasion or isolation to starve the country, and today this is still visible in Putin relentless new strategy to keep at bay any intruder in  the eastern side. Whether blackmailing the fragile Ukrainian government, or supporting eastern region ties (basically threatening a dangerous rift), by placing missiles in Kaliningrad, by intervening in Syria and Iran issues turning the table against western plans, Putin is achieving slowly the task of rebuilding a stronger Russia and defend its autonomy of action. But is it all roses for Russia in bailing out such an economy in crisis? Obviously not, but Russia’s strategy has always been to achieve the task with whatever methods and at the end by extending control over economy in Ukraine, Putin reasserted its political control over the area, demonstrating once again the weightless spirit of the EU as international power. Russia nevertheless, by taking on its side Kiev’s fragile economy and offering to cover debts may be pushed into a finance black hole, and Moscow’s economy will have to be strong enough in the next years to make sure that this agreement will not backfire.

The reality is that Ukraine is one of those countries that will always struggle to balance itself, but until you will have a Russia this powerful, inevitably it will fall under a particular sphere of influence. The Russian achievement in Ukraine is the defeat of EU hypocrisy, but it is not a total victory as Western powers will find another way to limit Putin’s attempts to  a system restore to Yalta’s configuration. Nevertheless, there is enough in Moscow to cheer and Putin can celebrate by even allowing himself to show total control and confidence in his absolute power by  freeing Mikhail Kodorkovsly and granting amnesty to the Pussy Riot members. A lesson to learn, another missed opportunity for the West to understand Russia’s new path with an old map.

Written by Matteo Figus

24/12/2013 at 18:16

A Tribute to Nelson Mandela

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Today we are giving our last salute to Nelson Mandela, one of the most influential and inspiring figure in history. Mandela, symbol of the struggle for freedom, for peace and reconciliation, for equality and progress, has dedicated his entire life to these ideals paying a high price for being able to see the end of Apartheid. Independently on the views, political orientations or nationality no one can deny the impact that Mandela had in the 20th century and the first part of the 21st, leaving a legacy and a heavy inheritance which will not be easy to fulfill for all of us._71640387_020287142-1

Everything has been said and discussed on Mandela’s life, a man of different roles: an attorney, a revolutionary, a rebel, a military commander, a politician and ideologist, a prisoner, president and later retired but an active campaigner and guardian for his country. Mandela grew up in a continent enslaved by colonialism and then ravaged by civil wars, military coups and brutal regimes; above all the Apartheid regime of white South Africa was identified by Mandela not only as the reason to struggle for freedom to black South Africans, but he also identified a wider struggle for all Africans to achieve their complete independence.

For these ideals the ANC and many party leaders were imprisoned, tortured physically and psychologically, while people suffered an appalling brutality from which the world took some time to wake up. Sharpeville, Soweto and other tragedies and massacres cannot be forgotten and Mandela helped in making the struggle for freedom going global. During the crucial years, when Mandela was in prison, he never gave up his ideals and ultimate goal: end of Apartheid, complete freedom for its people and independence. Methods on how to achieve this alternated in his mind and strategy, from initial peaceful resistance to the acceptance of violence to liberate themselves, because Mandela was after all an able strategist and, as all the leaders of a national liberation movement, was immersed in a world that was divided along Cold War allegiances. If the apartheid regime was strong and brutal, in defiance of all condemnations, was not only for its internal strengths but also because the white South Africa was the ring of a strong chain in Austral Africa designed to counter attack the rising Marxist movements of liberation. South Africa was along with Ian Smith’s South Rhodesia and Mobutu’s Zaire a bastion against communism, a brutal alliance against all other movements such ANC, SWAPO, MNLA, FRELIMO, ZANU and ZAPU in South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. During those years some countries, that today cry and hail Mandela as a national hero, were on the other side of the barricades.

Nevertheless, Mandela on its liberation day never showed any sign of revenge or desire to impose a black dictatorship, he made a gesture that 9 out of 10 men in his situation would have never done: forgiveness and reconciliation. Whether acceptable or not, like the controversial general amnesty by forgiving all crimes  on each side, Mandela on this showed his greatness not only under a humanitarian spirit but also, politically speaking, as a true leader; he understood that a civil war would have destroyed South Africa for ever, and examples in the continent are not uncommon, tribalism would have ravaged communities and foreign intervention would have replaced white power as the new master. Mandela’s choices have always been a sapient, pragmatic and strategic choice with an ultimate beneficiary: the people of South Africa as a whole. This is what his legacy leaves, a leader that like many others has pursued his goals and even taken unprecedented measures, but with the difference that he always had at the centre of his mind one goal: to give freedom and power to all people, regardless race, language or religion.

Critics are not mistaken in highlighting some failings, after all Mandela was a man, but never in our history we have assisted to such dignity and power of  action, without arms, like in Mandela. He leaves today a South Africa that has to face many problems: poverty, crime, integration of communities, Aids, and will be now up to President Zuma and the leadership of ANC to follow up his steps. The absence of Mandela, a man of unity and great charisma, will be missed, as well as world leaders have lost a powerful voice and living reminder of their responsibilities and duties.

His legacy is that the struggle against poverty, abuse, oppression and freedom can be pursued by leaders if they have the honesty and integrity to pursue these ideals whatever the price with only one interests, the wellbeing of their people.

Written by Matteo Figus

10/12/2013 at 12:46

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