Monthly Archives: June 2011

John Paul Rathbone

“It is like throwing money down a hole.” The judgement from Mexican think-tank “Mexico Evalua” is a dispiriting verdict on the country’s four-year long offensive against organised crime, which has resulted in almost 40,000 deaths. But it also reads like a true one.

In 2009, Mexico spent a mere 0.5 per cent of gross domestic product on security. (Colombia spent eight times the amount, while the regional average is 1.5 per cent.) But boosting spending won’t make any difference, on Evalua’s reading, because the main problem in Mexico is not that it is trying to fight organised crime, but that it is using an institutional apparatus that does not work to do so. Read more

By Kerin Hope and Ralph Atkins in Athens, and Esther Bintliff in London

18.45pm (Athens time): We’re wrapping up the live blog here. Here’s a quick recap of events today:

  • Greece’s 300-member parliament approved the austerity bill by 155 votes to 138 votes
  • Protests continued throughout the day, with police firing tear gas and demonstrators hurling stones and other debris, as well as setting fire to rubbish bins. As evening fell in Athens, demonstrations began spreading beyond Syntagma square.
  • 26 police and 15 protesters have been injured and transferred to hospitals, according to AP
  • Angela Merkel, German chancellor, said the austerity package was “a really good piece of news”
  • José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, and Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, praised the Greek decision – but also reminded everyone that there is another vote tomorrow
  • Markets, which had risen on Wednesday morning in anticipation of the vote, came off their highs once the “Yes” vote was confirmed – providing a lesson in an old saying that it’s ‘better to travel with hope than arrive’. Wall Street was looking at another session of healthy gains, with the S&P 500 lifted by the Athens news

Thankyou all for reading, and for more Greece coverage, go to Read more

Alan Beattie

With all the suspense of a North Korean municipal election, Christine Lagarde becomes managing director of the IMF .

 Let’s take all the bad stuff as read: continuation of ludicrous decades-old stitch up of the MDship by the Europeans; increased likelihood that the US will try to hold on to the counterpart piece of patronage i.e. the presidency of the World Bank; conflict of interest from French banks and taxpayers’ exposure to Greece, akin to putting a debtor in charge of a bank, etc. Read more

Roula Khalaf

I’m told that the UN-backed special tribunal for Lebanon will, within days, hand down indictments over the 2005 killing of former premier Rafiq Hariri. Pan-Arab papers have been speculating about this. Diplomatic sources say the speculation is justified.

This is an explosive case that is being closely watched all over the region. Read more

Alan Beattie

First in a potentially infinite series. Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva given world food prize for undoubtedly impressive Brazilian domestic welfare programme; advances radical notion that hungry people need food; co-opts, or is co-opted by, the aid agency Oxfam.

This must be a different Lula to the one who just got a new head of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation installed who defends land-hungry biofuels and whose government helped to block legal restrictions on agricultural export bans, a big cause of volatile food prices in the developing worldRead more

The unseemly row that has broken out between Britain’s prime minister and the country’s defence chiefs points to a much deeper problem. British foreign policy is in a state of confusion, as comfortable old certainties crumble away.

John Paul Rathbone

What to make of the fact that Hugo Chávez is governing from a Cuban hospital bed? The rumour mill has gone into overdrive amid a Soviet-style news blackout since Venezuela’s socialist president was operated on in Havana for a “pelvic abscess” 17 days ago.

Government officials are playing it all down as mere scaremongering by the far-right – although when the president’s mother starts praying for her son’s health, you have to wonder. Indeed, it would be a game changer if Mr Chávez was critically ill – and not just for Venezuela. It could mark the beginning of the end for Havana’s symbiotic relationship with Caracas, whereby cheap Venezuelan oil is swapped for Cuban intelligence and medical expertise. And then there is the oil that Venezuela ships to the United States too, accounting for around 10 per cent of the US’s imported energy needs. Read more

Gideon Rachman

I get so many pamphlets sent to me by think-tanks that most of them go unread. However, one that I’m really glad to have picked up is a brilliant effort from the European Council on Foreign Relations called “The New German Question“. The ECFR is committed to greater European unity and that belief runs through the pamphlet. But it does not prevent the authors, Mark Leonard and Ulrike Guerot, from asking some really penetrating and difficult questions. Read more

Roula Khalaf

What do Syrians make of Bashar al-Assad’s vague pledges of reform this week?
A passionate embrace, according to Syrian TV, which does a brilliant job of fabricating its own reality, particularly on Fridays, when pro-democracy activists stage their biggest demonstrations. Some of the guests this morning in fact were hailing the “reform revolution” that was on the way.

The protest movement’s answer, on the other hand, is, forget it. The theme of the Friday protests is “the fall of legitimacy,” which according to the Facebook page of the Syrian revolution 2011 means: “Bashar al-Assad is no longer my president and the government does not represent me.” Read more

Audio Obama’s troops, eurozone collapse, India’s economy

In this week’s podcast: President Obama accelerates the timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan; as the Greek crisis unfolds, we ask whether the eurozone could actually collapse; and, India battles to keep inflation under control. Read more