Sexta-feira, 30 de Julho de 2010

São Tomé: Rafael Branco or Patrice Trovoada?

By Paulo Gorjão

 

In the last decade, São Tomé and Príncipe had eight prime ministers, some of them extremely short-lived, and there was one military coup in 2003 and one alleged coup attempt in February 2009. In particular, since the legislative elections in 2006, São Tomé had three different prime ministers. Overall, as it follows from above, political stability has not been one of São Tomé's strongest arguments.

Next Sunday there will be legislative elections in São Tomé. Rafael Branco (MLSTP/SDP) or Patrice Trovoada (ADI), one of them is likely to be the next prime minister. In a sense, it really does not matter who will be the winner of the forthcoming legislative elections. Either way, political guidelines will be quite similar, foreign policy included. What really matters is the overall electoral result, and if it allows a stable government in the next four years.

An absolute majority in the São Toméan Parliament is guaranteed with 28 seats. This result was unachieved in the previous legislative elections held in 2002 and 2006. Will it be different this time?

No one knows. What we do know is that São Tomé needs to break this cycle of short-lived governments. One could hardly conceive a cycle of prosperity in the next few years if the trend of the previous decade is not overcome. With or without drops of oil in the political scene…

 

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publicado por IPRIS às 09:28
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ETA’s decline: Big political opportunities ahead

By Diogo Noivo

 

July 30th marks a year without Basque terrorist attacks, a clear sign of ETA's decline. However, one cannot say that this day marks a year without fatalities: Jean-Serge Nerin, a French police officer was killed in March 16th during a shootout.

ETA's decline started many years ago. In a nutshell, it began during José María Aznar's second term in office (2000-2004), then had an interlude for the most part of José Luis Zapatero's first term (2004-2008) and finally regained its impetus during Prime Minister Zapatero's second and current government.

ETA has never been as debilitated as it is at this stage. The Basque terrorist organization is lead by young militants with a weak ideological preparation and a scarce (if any) paramilitary training. Furthermore, apart from a committed and mounting police pressure within Spain, ETA now also has to face France – President Nicolas Sarkozy made the fight against ETA a French national goal. Among others, the aforementioned facts are behind the chain of high-profile arrests ETA has suffered over the last months. ETA is facing serious problems in planning, logistics, recruitment and financing.

ETA is in a corner, which constitutes very good news for the Spanish government not only because of the lower probability of terrorist attacks, but mainly due to the political opportunities it presents. ETA's debility gives the government the upper hand in a negotiation scenario. In fact, there are already rumors of a new cease-fire to be offered by the Basque terrorists which, given the circumstances, would not be surprising. The real question is to know what the cease of hostilities will be used for this time. In the past, Zapatero ended up serving ETA's rearmament and propagandistic purposes. Now, he has the necessary conditions to take full control of the process but, in order to successfully accomplish it, police forces and the courts cannot loosen their grip. Peace talks cannot compromise law abidance.

As far as negotiations with ETA are concerned, Zapatero's record is far from brilliant. Nonetheless, one must recognize that the current strategy is correct and working. Let's just hope that the Spanish Prime Minister has learned from his past mistakes...

 

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publicado por IPRIS às 00:19
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Quinta-feira, 29 de Julho de 2010

Catalonia: A political bullfight, as usual

By Diogo Noivo

 

The parliament of Catalonia approved a motion which bans bullfights. This decision may be interpreted – especially animal rights advocates – as a victory since it was achieved in the country seen as the motherland of bullfights.

However, the decision has little to do with animal rights, and with regard to Spain as the world center of bullfights, the ban is far from being a serious achievement. First, Catalonia does not have much tradition in what comes to bullfights. Second, nationalist Catalans have the habit of doing politics through shock and provocation – not so long ago, pictures of the Spanish Royal Family were burnt in the middle of the street – and this is what the ban really stands for.

After the enormous display of national unity that followed the World Cup – so incredibly significant that Spanish flags were waved and people sang “I am Spanish” in Basque public squares – Catalonia’s nationalists needed to find a controversial cause, able to generate commotion and stir up nationalist feelings throughout Spain. Banning bullfights fulfills those requirements.

Regardless of weather they enjoy bullfights the majority of Spanish citizens perceive it as part of their national identity, and not just as a symbol of regions such as Madrid or Andalucía. In fact, even some prominent Catalans opposed the ban. Therefore, by banning bullfights in Catalonia, nationalist Catalans are serving a two-folded purpose: they are provoking the Spanish society; and they are also symbolically demonstrating their wish to become independent from Spain.

 

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publicado por IPRIS às 12:58
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“Don’t rush us”, Cuba says. As if...

Por Pedro Seabra

 

Many eyes were set on the celebrations of the 57th anniversary of the start of the Cuban revolution. Many were expecting to hear President Raúl Castro indirectly signal further ‘minor adjustments’ to the island’s crumbling economy. Many more expected to see Fidel himself, as a revived revolutionary icon now apparently out from reclusion – six public appearances in the last two weeks – and keen on warning the world of an impending nuclear war.

But whoever held such expectations, was surely left frustrated. Not only Raul did not speak at the ceremonies but he also left such daunting task to Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura, who ended up claiming that “We will proceed with a sense of responsibility, step by step, at the rhythm we determine, without improvisation or haste so as not to make mistakes”. A bucket of cold water, for all it was worth.

However, one cannot help think that it’s surely taking them long enough to decide which steps to take. Indeed it has already been 4 years, since the 2006 unofficial leadership transition – consecrated two years later – that brought around promises of greater openness, or at least, of more chirurgical improvements to the worn-out economic model, inherently iconic to the Cuban Revolution itself. The possibility of owning cell phones or planting crops in unused farmland were quickly applauded and led to a semi-euphoria that inevitably proved ill-fated.

Taking in mind the recent context – specifically, the current international momentum over the latest dissidents’ release – once again, Cuba’s stalling political process is put in display by its own contradictions and by the barely-inexistent pace of its alleged reforms. The reality is, the Cuban leadership sees no rush in pursuing what ultimately could mean its very end. It’s therefore, not a question of pace, but a matter of absolute lack of will.

 

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publicado por IPRIS às 00:02
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Quarta-feira, 28 de Julho de 2010

Um primeiro passo em Cuba?

Por Pedro Seabra

 

A recentemente anunciada intenção de libertar 52 prisioneiros políticos, é a última reação do desgatado regime cubano perante a contínua pressão da comunidade internacional. Confrontado com a indignação generalizada face à morte de Orlando Zapata, às manifestações reprimidas das chamadas “Damas de Branco” e à prolongada greve de fome do activista Guillermo Farinas, o governo de Raul Castro viu-se simplesmente obrigado a ceder. Graças à pressão da influente Igreja Católica, através do Arcebispo de Havana, Cardeal Jaime Ortega, foi assim possível alcançar uma solução negociada, rapidamente assumida por muitos como um sinal de abertura e percussora de maiores reformas a médio prazo, em Cuba.

Contudo, tais expectativas devem ser refreadas. A título de exemplo, recorde-se as semelhanças com a situação em Cuba, aquando da visita do Papa João Paulo II em 1998, que coincidiu com a libertação de cerca de 100 prisioneiros e que acabou por não se traduzir em quaisquer progressos concretos assinaláveis.

De igual modo, a União Europeia aparenta preparar-se para – sob forte insistência do governo espanhol – rever a sua Posição Comum face a Cuba, dada a nova “margem de credibilidade” obtida recentemente e profusamente aplaudida pelo ministro dos Negócios Estrangeiros espanhol, Miguel Ángel Moratinos. No entanto, as condições delineadas em 1996, de só reatar as relações oficiais em troca de melhorias significativas no respeito pelos direitos humanos, não devem ser descartadas assim tão facilmente. Pelo contrário, o que a experiência dos últimos desenvolvimentos demonstra, é que uma atitude política uniforme e coerente – em conjunto com a participação da sociedade civil – é capaz de exercer pressão suficiente sobre as autoridades locais, ao ponto de produzir resultados nessa área, ainda que ténues no contexto geral.

Nesse sentido, esta recente cedência do regime cubano não deve por isso deixar de ser ‘recompensada’ com uma nova janela de diálogo que exiba a boa-fé europeia em abordar de forma abrangente e definitiva a “questão cubana”. Contudo, dado o extenso historial de Fidel e Raul Castro em concessões pontuais, tácitas e oportunistas, seria no mínimo ingénuo começar a debater o nível de abertura implícito ou explícito do regime cubano. Por vezes, um primeiro passo, não passa disso mesmo.

 

(Artigo publicado hoje no Diário de Notícias.)

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publicado por IPRIS às 18:45
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EU foreign policy: More harm than good

By Vasco Martins

 

The European Union approved a fresh new wave of sanctions targeting Iran’s foreign trade, banking and energy sectors. Russia has already reacted to the unilateral row of sanctions, considering them not only to undermine joint efforts to seek a political and diplomatic solution to the issue of Iran’s uranium enrichment program, but also to show disdain for the co-ordinated provisions of the UN Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent member.

Russia has frequently shown uneasiness in imposing sanctions on Iran. Although it approved the last UN resolution, in part due to unprecedented rapprochement with the US, Russia has always been trying to minimize the impact on its relations with the Islamic Republic.

Russia, lost in its own Eurasian/Western orientation, shares several interests with Iran. Firstly, both Russia and Iran see Turkey’s aspirations in the wider Middle East and Europe with caution and contempt; both understand the presence of US military bases on Central Asia as a threat to their national security; and both realize that China, although cooperative, is a force to be reckoned with in the coming future. Secondly, regarding military cooperation, due to the imposition of sanctions Russia has been one of the only countries to sell military equipment, especially aircraft, to Iran, although it halted the delivery of surface-to-air S-300 missiles. Lastly, concerning trade relations, and although substantially small, trade between the two countries accounts for approximately US$3.7 billion, which makes Russia a top trading partner with Iran.

Hence, it is not difficult to understand Russia’s harsh criticism to the unilateral EU imposed sanctions on Iran. Moreover, Russia feels its position was not taken into account in such an important decision. Russia has always felt like a ‘second tier power’ when international decisions are made outside the centers of powers it can control - i.e. the UN Security Council - a factor which has always promoted contempt between the Federation and the western powers.

This unilateral adoption of sanctions targeting Iran is a move that will surely anger Moscow, which will feel alienated and will further support Tehran in response. The incredibly counter-productive imposition of sanctions by the EU will also cast a shadow between Russia-US relations, as the US is an active supporter of sanctions against Iran.

The EU managed to antagonize its most important partner in dealing with Iran. This position only reveals the EU’s desire to quickly achieve concrete results in its foreign policy prism in order to justify the need for such a common action. However, it failed to include Moscow in the equation, which only proves the EU is not ready to become an independent foreign policy actor.

 

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publicado por IPRIS às 00:01
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Terça-feira, 27 de Julho de 2010

AQIM strikes again

By Diogo Noivo

 

Since 2007, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has made the kidnapping of European citizens a recurrent event. Abducted in the Maghreb and in the Sahel, Europeans have become an important source of revenues for the terrorist organization. In fact, AQIM's habit of releasing the hostages after the payment of a ransom made the organization look more like an criminal enterprise (that aims for profit) than a terrorist group (that sees financial resources as a mean, not as an end). This idea was strengthened by the fact that AQIM is deeply involved in trafficking tobacco, drugs and other goods throughout the region. However, if doubts existed about AQIM true nature, the execution of Michel Germaneau (a 78-year-old French aid worker who was kidnapped in Niger in April) certainly re-centered attentions.

Among other aspects, Germaneau's assassination is another strong evidence that AQIM – which, for the most part, is still the old Algerian Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et Combat (GSPC) – is definitely moving south and already established a strong foothold in the Sahel region. The visit started today by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to Mauritania, Mali and Niger demonstrates that France is well aware of this geostrategic shift. Kouchner's international road tour was accompanied by strong statements at home. Prime Minister François Fillon said that the fight against terrorism is going to strengthen, particularly against AQIM, and President Nicolas Sarkozy said that the crime will not go unpunished.

France's commitment in the region may force the European Union to rethink the way it approaches the Maghreb, especially with regard to EU's Neighborhood Policy. When dealing with North African countries, the EU tends to limit its contacts and negotiations to local political officials, disregarding social groups and their grievances. Despite the specificities of jihadist terrorism, it can not survive without a constituency. Therefore, gaining the genuine support of local citizens is a key element in fighting AQIM. With regard to the Sahel, perhaps highlighting the ethno-racial divide within AQIM (African recruits are kept outside leadership roles, which are held by Arabs) may help to debunk the organization's southern venture.

 

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publicado por IPRIS às 13:27
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Brazil's Atlantic turf

By Pedro Seabra

 

Last year, Brazil’s defense expenditure was naturally marked by the overreaching effects of the US$9.4 billion French Scorpène submarines deal. This year, however – despite the constant uncertainty surrounding the fighters’ bid – is all about frigates, Italian ones, to be more accurate.

Indeed, Brazil is cleverly seeking to expand its strategic defense partnerships and after the overwhelming agreements with France in 2009, Italy appears to be the next in line. The alleged multi-billion deal – involving 18 FREMM frigates, 10 Comandante patrol-boats and one Evna support ship – is undoubtedly the latest step in the Brazilian’s Navy rearmament program.

Such move is viewed within the extremely vast range of interests defined in the 2008 National Defense Strategy, but one particular objective is in display, when it comes to reinforce the country’s naval capabilities: the need for a clear and greater assertiveness in the strategic South Atlantic area.

It is no secret that Brazil’s newfound underground wealth is mainly located alongside its coastline, the so-called “Blue Amazon”. But when it struck gold, the country suddenly found itself lacking the means to effectively defend and protect its rich shores, as a self-proclaimed regional power is supposed to.

One could argue that Brazil faces little, if any, credible competition in its Atlantic domain and in that order, it could be questioned the merits of a nuclear propelled submarine – the first and predictably, the only in Latin America. But in the end, bringing the Southern Atlantic within its sphere of influence – with an eye in Africa, perhaps? – and acquiring the means to sustain such claim, can also be seen as another calculated step in Brazil’s global move for greater international stance.

 

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publicado por IPRIS às 00:01
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Segunda-feira, 26 de Julho de 2010

A CPLP military component?

By Paulo Gorjão

 

Manuel Alegre, member of the Portuguese Parliament elected by the Socialist Party and presidential candidate, said last week that the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP) should have a military component, i.e. a reaction force. According to Alegre, this military component would intervene only in Portuguese-speaking countries.

Alegre is assuming that the Lusophone countries have capacity to project power by themselves in countries as far as Timor Leste. In other words, he is ignoring the logistical difficulties inherent to the deployment of a military force.

However, even if they did have capacity to do so, in the end the main issue is political. Alegre did not go as far as supporting a CPLP military force. But at this stage even the possibility of a reaction force under the umbrella of the CPLP is an awkward idea. Assuming that the member states were willing to do so – a great leap of faith: last April, no one was enthusiastic about the idea of sending a military force to Guinea-Bissau…  – one should not forget that Article 5 of the CPLP demands compliance with the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of each state. Thus, CPLP would always require a formal request to intervene. In other words, a reaction force would be helpless if the request was not done.

In the end, a UN Security Council resolution would be required. Moreover, there is no reason why a UN peacekeeping force could not be composed mainly – or exclusively – by military forces from the Lusophone countries.

Last but not the least, it is difficult to grasp what were the benefits brought by such reaction force. Why should only Portuguese-speaking countries intervene in Lusophone states? Does this mean that the Portuguese military should leave Lebanon or Kosovo?

This cultural/linguistic vision of military interventions is a Pandora's Box. One should think twice before open it.

 

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publicado por IPRIS às 16:05
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Domingo, 25 de Julho de 2010

Portugal, NATO and sub-Saharan Africa

By Paulo Gorjão

 

The Portuguese Secretary of State for Defense and Maritime Affairs, Marcos Perestrello, told yesterday that Western Africa could face the same sort of problems that exist in Eastern Africa. In order to overcome the risks, NATO should deepen its multilateral and bilateral cooperation with sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, he also emphasized that Portugal could play a relevant role. The Portuguese Defense Minister, Augusto Santos Silva, made a similar statement last April. During the Roosevelt Forum, held in the Azores, he emphasized the Portuguese potential role regarding NATO and the South Atlantic.

The list of potential problems erupting from the African continent is known: illegal immigration, drug trafficking, arms trade, human traffic and terrorist attacks, among others. Thus, as Vasco Martins pointed out, self-interest dictates that NATO could play a relevant role in securing its internal space, but at the same time projecting sufficient influence to change these areas both domestically and regionally.

Indeed, NATO could -- and should -- play a role as security partner rather than as world policeman, as the Portuguese Foreign Minister, Luís Amado, pointed it out. Yet, it is still unclear if NATO’s new Strategic Concept will embrace this challenge. The list of problems is known, but the threat perception is still low. I am afraid that, as usually, reactive strategies will probably prevail upon preventive approaches.

 

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publicado por IPRIS às 00:02
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