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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Blacks in Mexico Seek Government Recognition

Blacks in Mexico Seek Government Recognition

The first town of freed African slaves in the Americas is not exactly where you would expect to find it - and it isn't exactly what you'd expect to find either. First, it's not in the United States. Yanga, on Mexico's Gulf Coast, is a sleepy pueblito founded by its namesake, Gaspar Yanga, an African slave who led a rebellion against his Spanish colonial masters in the late 16th century and fought off attempts to retake the settlement. The second thing that is immediately evident to vistors who reach the town's rustic central plaza: there are virtually no blacks among the few hundred residents milling around the center of town.
Mirroring Mexico's history itself, most of Yanga's Afro-Mexican population has been pushed to neighboring rural villages that are notable primarily for their deep poverty and the strikingly dark skin of their inhabitants. Mexico's independence from Spain and new focus on building a national identity on the idea of mestizaje, or mixed race, drove African Mexicans into invisibility as leaders chose not to count them or assess their needs. Now many blacks want to fight back by improving the shoddy education and social services available to them and are petitioning for the constitution to recognize Afro-Mexicans as a separate ethnic group worthy of special consideration. (See graphics of slavery and the Americas.)
"The two races that are most discriminated against here are the blacks and the indigenous - but it is more accepted against blacks," says Hemeregildo Fernandez, a doctor in Yanga and one of the few blacks still living in town. His office is tucked on a narrow street that juts off the main square, where the rotund man with warm brown skin and salt-and-pepper hair receives a fluctuating stream of patients. The majority of the black Mexican population works in agriculture, fishing or construction, and while, like Fernandez, some have achieved notable positions in coastal towns, he says, "Most blacks have no economic power." (Read a story about the indigenous custom of bride-selling.)
Many of the country's mexicanos negros (black Mexicans), as they are called, know that their ancestors arrived in chains on boats that docked at ports in the sultry, steamy state of Veracruz. But they don't know much else. Indeed, Afro-Mexicans say that much of the history of los mexicanos negros is untaught or ignored by the rest of the country. Apart from Yanga, Afro-Mexicans claim Vicente Guerrero, who served briefly as President in the early 19th century and gave his name to the state of Guerrero, as one of their own, as well as revolutionary JosÉ MarÍa Morelos, who was executed by the Spaniards in 1815. (Read a story about an indigenous mother who might lose her child because she doesn't speak English.)
Black Mexican activists estimate the population of Afro-Mexicans at about 1 million, but there are no official figures. Earlier this year, they petitioned the National Institute of Statistics and Geography to include the Afro-Mexican population as a separate category in the next census, in 2010. Official statistics do not recognize blacks as a separate ethnic group (56 indigenous groups are officially accredited, the largest ones being the Nahuatl and the Maya, numbering more than 2 million each). As a result, Afro-Mexicans say they have been left out of institutional programs and are without a cultural identity. The group Mexico Negro A.C. is linking with similar Afro-descendant organizations in Latin America that have achieved success in securing better treatment. "We no longer want to be detained by security agents in our own country who say that in Mexico there are no blacks," says Rodolfo Prudente Dominguez, an activist with Mexico Negro.
The Afro-Mexicans face considerable hurdles. Prevailing stereotypes paint the group as happy to live the simple life apart from the rest of society, with no interest in education. The all-black shantytowns near Yanga lack schools, and eager young migrants who move to bigger cities for work complain of blatant discrimination. A report released late last year by Mexico's Congress said that roughly 200,000 black Mexicans who reside in the rural areas of Veracruz and Oaxaca and in tourist cities like Acapulco are out of the reach of social programs like employment support, health coverage, public education and food assistance.
Afro-Mexican culture expert Luz Maria Montiel acknowledges that blacks are particularly marginalized and excluded, to the point that it is impossible to find any mention of them in official records. Yet she argues that it is impractical for blacks to seek constitutional recognition. "It would be impossible to make a law for each of the populations that make up our multicultural nation," she says. Dominguez disagrees: "We are a totally different cultural group from indigenous groups and mestizos of our country, with a particular lifestyle and characteristics that do not respond to public policies that are designed for indigenous groups."
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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

U.S. Extends Cuba Embargo


HOME | Cuba

U.S. Extends Cuba Embargo

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama extended for a year the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba under what is known as the Trading With the Enemy Act, the White House said Monday.

“I hereby determine that the continuation for one year of the exercise of those authorities with respect to Cuba is in the national interest of the United States,” Obama said in a Sept. 11 memorandum to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury chief Timothy Geithner.

The signing of the measure has become routine, with the embargo being extended year by year.

In this case, however, it takes on a symbolic character since it represents the first extension during the presidency of Obama, who in his first months in power eliminated restrictions on Cuban-Americans’ travel and remittances to the communist-ruled island.

With this signing, Obama indicated he was continuing the embargo imposed in 1962.

The application against Cuba of measures provided for in the Trading with the Enemy Act would have expired Monday if it had not been renewed.

The law, which bans U.S. companies from trading with hostile nations, had its origins in 1917, when it was approved in anticipation of the United States entering World War I.

Under the 1996 Helms-Burton Law, the president must get congressional approval to end the Cuba embargo.

Cuba is the only country in the world subject to sanctions under the Trading with the Enemy Act, after the Bush administration in 2008 chose not to renew its application against North Korea following Pyongyang’s agreement to release details of its nuclear program.

Obama’s decision to renew sanctions comes despite calls from organizations like Amnesty International, which at the beginning of this month urged the U.S. president to repudiate the measure as a first step toward ending the embargo. EFE

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Russell to Jordan: Game on

Bryon Russell has a message for Michael Jordan: Whenever you’re ready, I’ll be waiting in California – in my basketball shorts.

“I’ll play his a— right now,” Russell told Yahoo! Sports. “This is a call-out for him to come play me. He can come out here in his private jet and come play. He’s got millions of dollars. He can pay for the jet. He can meet me at the Recreation Center in Calabasas.

“We can have Mark Jackson do the commentating. We can have Mitch Richmond do the officiating. We can put it on TV and see if Michael’s still got it.”

Jordan spent much of his enshrinement speech at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame singling out players and coaches who had slighted, criticized or motivated him. Russell merited a special mention.

After Jordan’s first retirement from the NBA, he was playing minor-league baseball and stopped by the Chicago Bulls’ practice facility, where the Utah Jazz were working out. Jordan said Russell, then a rookie with the Jazz, introduced himself and challenged him.

“…At this time I had no thoughts of coming back and playing the game of basketball,” Jordan said during his speech. “Bryon Russell came over to me and said, ‘Why’d you quit? You know I could guard you. If I ever see you in a pair of shorts…’

“When I did come back in 1995 and we played Utah in ’96, I’m at the center circle and Bryon Russell is standing next to me. I said, ‘You remember the [comments] you made in 1994 about, ‘I think I can guard you, I can shut you down, I would love to play against you? Well, you’re about to get your chance.’ ”

When the teams met in the ’98 Finals, Jordan hit his famous championship-clinching shot after knocking Russell backward. Jazz coach Jerry Sloan and point guard John Stockton, who also were being inducted, both shook their heads as Jordan told the story.

“From this day forward,” Jordan said, “if I ever see him in shorts, I’m coming at him.”

Russell said Jordan’s story was accurate and that he was honored, not offended, by his words.

“It was during my rookie year,” Russell said. “He turned to Karl [Malone] and said, ‘Hey Karl, is that your rookie?’ I really did say that to him. Karl was laughing and [Jordan] was laughing, too. …I guess I motivated him to come back. There had to be other reasons. You know he likes all challenges.

“Out of all the people he came across, he thought about me. I’m happy to be in his Hall of Fame speech.”

Russell said “not a single day passes” in which someone doesn’t ask him about Jordan’s shot over him. While playing for the Denver Nuggets, Russell and then-Nuggets interim coach Michael Cooper got in a heated debate about whether Jordan’s shot over Russell or Julius Erving’s famous acrobatic dunk over Cooper was more embarrassing. Looking back, Russell said he wasn’t humiliated to be part of such a historic play.

“To me, that’s the greatest play in basketball history,” Russell said. “It will stay that way because he will always be the greatest player to play the game. I didn’t mind. But the referees didn’t make the call on the push off.

“It’s long done and gone. It was a call that wasn’t made on a play that was great.”

Russell didn’t watch the Hall of Fame induction ceremony live because he was running errands with his 11-year-old son, Brandon, in Calabasas, Calif., but he did record it. After Jordan mentioned him, Russell received a voice message from his old Long Beach State coach, Seth Greenberg. Several other friends and family members also called and sent him text messages. As soon as Russell got home, he rushed to the television to watch Jordan.

Jordan and Russell were teammates with the Washington Wizards during the 2002-03 season, Jordan’s last in the NBA. Russell said Jordan never brought up the story while they were together and they never played one-on-one, either. Russell, now 38, last played in the NBA during the 2005-06 season, but he works out daily and is eager to “guard [Jordan] again and beat him.”

Russell encouraged Jordan to get his phone number from a mutual friend if he’s up for the challenge. Until then, he wants Jordan to know this:

“I keep my basketball shorts on.”

Brought to you by: Yahoo Sports

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Prince Turki al-Faisal, Op-Ed Contributor - Land First, Then Peace

Published: September 12, 2009
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
THE United States and other Western powers have for some time been pushing Saudi Arabia to make more gestures toward Israel. More recently, the crown prince of Bahrain urged greater communication with Israel and joint steps from Arab states to revive the peace process.
Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam, the custodian of its two holy mosques, the world’s energy superpower and the de facto leader of the Arab and Muslim worlds — that is why our recognition is greatly prized by Israel. However, for all those same reasons, the kingdom holds itself to higher standards of justice and law. It must therefore refuse to engage Israel until it ends its illegal occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights as well as Shabaa Farms in Lebanon. For Saudis to take steps toward diplomatic normalization before this land is returned to its rightful owners would undermine international law and turn a blind eye to immorality.
Shortly after the Six-Day War in 1967, during which Israel occupied those territories as well as East Jerusalem and the Sinai Peninsula, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution stating that, in order to form “a just and lasting peace in the Middle East,” Israel must withdraw from these newly occupied lands. The Fourth Geneva Convention similarly notes “the occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”
Now, Israeli leaders hint that they are willing to return portions of these occupied territories to Arab control, but only if they are granted military and economic concessions first. For the Arabs to accept such a proposal would only encourage similar outrages in the future by rewarding military conquest.
After the Oslo accords of 1993, Arab states took steps to improve their relationships with Israel, allowing for recognition in the form of trade and consular agreements. Israel, however, continued to construct settlements, making its neighbors understandably unwilling to give up more without a demonstration that they would be granted something in return.
Today, supporters of Israel cite the outdated 1988 Hamas charter, which called for the destruction of Israel, as evidence of Palestine’s attitude toward a two-state solution, without considering the illegalities of Israel’s own occupation. Israel has never presented any comprehensive formulation of a peace plan. Saudi Arabia, to the contrary, has done so twice: the Fahd peace plan of 1982 and the Abdullah peace initiative of 2002. Both were endorsed by the Arab world, and both were ignored by Israel.
In order to achieve peace and a lasting two-state solution, Israel must be willing to give as well as take. A first step should be the immediate removal of all Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Only this would show the world that Israel is serious about peace and not just stalling as it adds more illegal settlers to those already occupying Palestinian land.
At the same time, the international community must pressure Israel to relinquish its grip on all Arab territory, not as a means to gain undeserved concessions but instead as an act of good faith and a demonstration that it is willing to play by the Security Council’s rules and to abide by global standards of military occupation. The Arab world, in the form of the Arab peace initiative that was endorsed by 22 countries in 2002, has offered Israel peace and normalization in return for Israeli withdrawal from all Arab territories including East Jerusalem — with the refugee issue to be solved later through mutual consent.
There have been increasing well-intentioned calls for Saudi Arabia to “do a Sadat”: King Abdullah travels to Israel and the Israelis reciprocate by making peace with Saudi Arabia. However, those urging such a move must remember that President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt went to Israel in 1977 to meet with Prime Minister Menachem Begin only after Sadat’s envoy, Hassan el-Tohamy, Sadat’s envoy, was assured by the Israeli foreign minister, Moshe Dayan, that Israel would withdraw from every last inch of Egyptian territory in return for peace. Absent a similar offer today from Israel to the leaders of Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, there is no reason to look at 1977 as a model.
President Obama’s speech in Cairo this summer gave the Arab and Muslim worlds heightened expectations. His insistence on a freeze on settlement activity was a welcome development. However, all Israeli governments have expanded settlements, even those that committed not to do so.
No country in the region wants more bloodshed. But while Israel’s neighbors want peace, they cannot be expected to tolerate what amounts to theft, and certainly should not be pressured into rewarding Israel for the return of land that does not belong to it. Until Israel heeds President Obama’s call for the removal of all settlements, the world must be under no illusion that Saudi Arabia will offer what the Israelis most desire — regional recognition. We are willing to embrace the hands of any partner in peace, but only after they have released their grip on Arab lands.
Prince Turki al-Faisal, the chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, is a former director of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence services and ambassador to the United States.

Information Researched By: Sister Anonymous