Monthly Archives: June 2011

“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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

Close observers of this blog may notice a few changes from tomorrow. For a start, the blog’s name is going to change. It will be called “The World” (or something a bit like that). This will reflect the fact that I will no longer be the sole contributor to the blog. Five of my FT colleagues will also become regular bloggers: Alan Beattie in Washington, Roula Khalaf (our Middle East editor), William Wallis (our Africa editor), John-Paul Rathbone (our Latin America editor) and a fifth mystery signing, whose arm is still being twisted by the World Desk. The foreign-affairs team also plan to post occasional “issue briefings” on the blog. I will continue to blog as frequently (or infrequently) as before – ie about three or four times a week. The others have promised that they will be good for at least one contribution a week. But the precise division of labour will doubtless evolve. Read more

President Obama’s announcement of an accelerated US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is strategically brilliant. It has divided the enemy and significantly increased the chances of victory. Unfortunately, the enemy in this case are the Republicans and it is victory in the US presidential election, rather than Afghanistan, that the president has in mind. Read more

Maybe China does respond to international pressure on human rights, after all? That’s certainly one way of reading the release of Ai Weiwei. There has been a major crackdown on dissidents going on in China for some months. But the case of the imprisoned artist and activist, Ai Weiwei, had attracted the most international attention and condemnation. Read more

As the Greek crisis worsens, so voices are being raised demanding new and more radical approaches. Forget the sticking plaster bail-outs and slice-by-slice austerity packages. The ultimate solution to the eurozone debt crisis is “political union”.

When it comes to the trade off between America’s support for human-rights and its promotion of its security interests, Saudi Arabia is where the rubber hits the road – literally in the case of the Saudi women drivers. Earlier this afternoon, an email arrived in from a group campaigning for support for the brave Saudi women, who in a gesture of civil disobedience, have taken to driving cars around the kingdom. Saudi Arabia, of course, is the only country in the world, where this is actually illegal.

The e-mail was mainly addressed to Hillary Clinton, who has made a point of supporting women’s rights around the world. It asked plaintively – “Where are you?”, adding:  “we write to express our deep concern over the US government’s public silence on the issue of Saudi women’s right to drive.” Read more

Although I make my living as a newspaper commentator, I still find it depressing that The Guardian’s reaction to its current financial difficulties (that’s putting it mildly) is likely to be be reduce the amount of news in the paper – and to increase the amount of comment. The rationale is that their readers get their breaking news from other sources, and that they look to the newspaper for comment and context. But I wonder whether there isn’t another unspoken rationale. Producing news is expensive; producing comment is cheap. Read more

Audio Nato, Greece, Vietnam
In this week’s podcast: scathing criticism of Nato from the US calls the alliance’s future into question; the political instability in Greece compounds the sovereign debt crisis and causes arguments within Germany; strains over contested islands in the South China Sea could see an unlikely alliance between old enemies, Vietnam and the US.

Presented by Gideon Rachman, with James Blitz, Quentin Peel and Ben Bland Read more

Will the Sri Lankan government be able to shrug off the persistent allegations that war crimes were committed, in its successful assault on the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) in 2009? I have always assumed that the answer to that question was – probably Yes. But now I’m beginning to wonder. Read more

Despite the alleged “dumbing-down” of our culture, there is a startlingly large audience for public lectures and debates. The most striking example of this that I have come across was when I spoke at an Intelligence Squared debate in London, a few months ago, opposing the motion “Latin America will be the 21st century’s superpower”. Latin America is a minority interest at the best of times, and this was the week that the war in Libya had broken out. It was a rainy Tuesday night and the panel was largely made up of academics and journalists – all worthy people, but none of them Mick Jagger. And, to cap it all, there was a £25 entry fee. I expected about three people to show up. In fact, the Royal Geographical Society in London was packed. The audience ran into hundreds. Read more

As Syrian tanks prepared to advance on Jisr al-Shughour late last week, Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, launched an offensive of his own. In a speech in Brussels, he dismissed most of America’s European allies as a useless bunch of timewasters. I paraphrase – but not much.