The arrogant dragon. China and the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I have a penchant for China. I know the Chinese people. I’ve seen how they live and think. And how they look and smile.

And because of this special leaning I have followed with quite some concern, especially in the last few years, the progressive transformation of this great country, which given the ups and downs of history is becoming the world’s strongest capitalist power.

For a long time I have underscored that through outsourcing of production to satisfy greed and to make money by any means, having made China into the “world’s factory” in which, all profits go to the state..., without concern for working conditions or even the most elementary respect for human rights, is not only a huge error and an insult to the Chinese people, but also a serious destabilizing force worldwide.

Being to a large extent guilty of the above, the world’s most powerful countries have exquisitely looked the other way. We don’t really understand the reality of that great country, hiding behind that permanent and traditional smile. We are not allowed to observe what actually transpires there. Since this is China, which buys our treasury bonds and manufactures our trade-marked goods, it is better not to ask. Do we know how many people are executed there for capital offenses each year? Amnesty International estimates that there are several thousands... but the Chinese authorities don’t publicize the figures. Do we know how hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens can defend their rights?

It is essential –and I say this firmly because I love them- to clarify so many dark points. The award of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, imprisoned as a dissident, demonstrates to what point the authorities act arbitrarily, preventing the news of this brilliant award from being broadcast, so that it wouldn’t spread to the rest of the people, refusing to let his wife give him the news and, immediately thereafter, subjecting him to house arrest.

They must realize that there are limits to their clients’ economic interests and that they have been exalted for ulterior motives, but they must also be aware of how they are perceived by the world, by people who are to a large extent consumers of their products.

It is essential to reach a broad agreement, without violent impositions from anyone, so that within a reasonable period China can change. And those who have offered China so many advantages in exchange for huge profits must understand that they must now also make substantial changes.

It’s clear that the only language it understands is economics. "Made in China" can no longer stand for discretionary monetary, labor and social practices which today render that label so suspect.

With the secular roots of its culture China is capable of making spectacular changes. Now is the time to take a decisive step... from the party leadership down to the rank and file party members. Progressively showing their faces. Opening their society to other countries, obviously none of which are morally authorized to cast the first stone.

It’s not in a dragon’s nature to be submissive. But if it listens to its distinguished fellow countryman Liu Xiaobo –what a fine choice the Nobel Peace Prize Committee made this time!- and to all of those he represents, and if it likewise listens to the voices of all of us who acknowledge and value Chinese culture, it will cease to be arrogant. And we will like its smile. The way it smiles today doesn’t please us at all.

Danger! There’s No Time for Thinking

Monday, November 8, 2010

“We need to reallocate our time”

Prof. María Novo

Thinking is an exclusive and distinctive activity of human beings. To do so unhindered, without restrictions and unconditionally is an expression of our freedom.

And acting upon our thoughts and not in response to the dictates of others is our responsibility. “Free and responsible”: these are the characteristics of educated people, as set forth in the UNESCO constitution.

Education is “sensibly managing one’s own life”, according to Francisco Giner de los Ríos’ superb definition. In consequence, educated people can participate as actors, rather than being mere passive spectators who are fainthearted, obedient, silent and resigned to their fates.

It’s time to think. To attempt to find answers to the essential questions, although it’s not easy because, as José Bergamín wrote, “I flee from myself whenever I meet me”.

And it’s time to observe (that is, to think while looking) what we see.

The news logically always focuses on the unusual, the extraordinary. Although it may be accurate, the news only reflects a small part of what is really happening, of the whole of reality. We have to strain to see those who are “invisible”.

But, in addition, the news is frequently “tinted” with the color of the news source. News that is biased and deceptive.

“Spaniards think that...” I’ve heard this said repeatedly by those who claim to represent “Spaniards”, when in truth they can only speak for a part of Spanish citizens. And the result is merely adding politics to social apathy.

Thus, we must have access to many news sources and time to reflect on the “invisibles” (to be able to achieve the “impossibles”, in the words of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Professor B. Lawn).

It’s time to compare, to appreciate what we have, to realize the “quantity” of welfare we enjoy, and how much welfare others lack.

It’s time to become citizens who participate, and who reject the fact that others must suffer the “collateral effects” of our present system.

We are distracted by Internet, mobile phones, television, Play Stations, and omnipresent sports events. Football at all hours: the Spanish League, the Cup and Super Cup, the Champions League, the European and World Cups …! The entertainment industry has taken on colossal proportions and may be the next “bubble”… It’s almost an addiction. And when is there time for thinking? For imagining? For inventing?

Distracted, we forget what we should remember with each step. We have an obligation to remember; an obligation to be the voice of others.

To reverse the present trends we must begin by changing ourselves and our surroundings.

To mobilize citizens, so that they may cease to be submissive, silent and obedient subjects it is necessary to invent another tomorrow…

Careful! Mental globalization? We must offer alternative formulas and demand democratic government at the local and international levels. We do not want to be led by the world’s 6, 7, 8 or 20 richest countries! We want a strong United Nations –“We the Peoples…” –endowed with the necessary human, technical and financial resources!

We want to be guided by universal ethical principles (social justice, solidarity…) and not by the rules of the marketplace. Citizen Power, Now!

I will end with another saying of María Novo’s: “The big problem is T.D.U. (they’re distracting us)”.

Let’s refuse to be distracted so easily.

Who Owns Africa?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I asked this question years ago (around 1996), as Director General of UNESCO during a meeting on African development.

One of the participants had underscored the difficulties that corruption poses for the proper distribution of aid.

In my intervention I admitted that it might be true in some cases, and that certain corrupt persons were well known. But I added that I was much more concerned about the corrupters. The important question is who are the real owners and who are the real beneficiaries of Africa’s immense (gold, diamonds, oil, bauxite, coltan, uranium) resources?

The exploitation continues. A few multinationals continue to control the energy sources and mineral wealth of the entire continent. Others buy land directly!

There is total impunity at the supranational level, because the G-7, G-8 and G-20 have not been able to replace the United Nations, whether they want to recognize it or not.

The huge oil tankers don’t comply with transportation safety regulations. And the environment is ignored, especially with respect to the exploitation of gold mines…

We recently read about the uranium mines in Arlit, in Niger, which supply French nuclear plants, and where the Maghreb branch of Al-Qaeda kidnapped five employees of the “strategic French multinational” Areva. That same day in the Gulf of Guinea two additional hostages were kidnapped in the oil fields of Taddox, a subsidiary of the Chinese group Sinopec, for which the French company Bourbon provides maritime services…

So let’s take stock. Let’s draw a map showing the real owners of Africa. We will discover many keys for meeting the challenges facing this continent. But we will have to make radical changes. We will have to replace exploitation with cooperation; an economy of speculation and war with an economy of sustainable global development; governance by plutocrats with governance by a renewed United Nations.

And the corrupt? What about the corrupters?

Who owns Africa? (And the world?)

Power (whether it be financial, military, political, technological or the communications media) is in the hands of a very few. But progressively it must change to many. The “peoples” will soon mobilize. They will soon express themselves with voices that are loud and clear. We stand at the dawn of a new era.

VERY IMPORTANT: Alternative Sources of Financing

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I have written about this topic on several occasions (Blogs, 28.05.20, 3.09.10; Manifesto of June, 2010...) because I believe it’s of great interest and quite urgent.

As early as 2004, Presidents Lula of Brazil, Lagos of Chile, Chirac of France and Spain’s President Rodríguez-Zapatero committed themselves to fighting poverty with progressively larger contributions and by seeking alternative sources, particularly through electronic and currency transactions.

Later, French Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner promoted this initiative and Secretary General Ban Ki Moon added the support of the United Nations.

Finally, there exists a way to provide funds for alleviating the poverty suffered by so many; a way which would hardly be noticeable, since these contributions would be a minute percentage of the immense capital transactions.

The topic was recently discussed in New York and our President presented it at a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. Here everyone could applaud, because many would benefit and no one would be hurt.

However, those who were “rescued” with generous amounts of public funds and who should be so thankful to their now-impoverished “rescuers” who are having to adjust their national budgets, have energetically reacted against alternative financing, arguing that it would only serve to increase the price of credit for families and companies. They must substantiate this threatening affirmation with hard facts, because excellent research has shown that a tax of this nature on international financial transactions would have no real impact and would not increase the price of normal banking operations.

The "rescued" who were helped in their hour of need should now help rescue those who are in a more precarious position. And they should also help to adequately regulate financial activities and to eliminate tax havens.

The time has come to express ourselves through Internet and the communications media at our disposal, to confront an economic system based on speculation and war (I continually refer to military spending that amounts to almost 4,000 million dollars daily) and commence to implement the much needed radical changes (in energy, in the economy, in politics).

These new formulas are not “stupid”, as one of the arrogant bankers termed them, without offering any data that would render his attitude credible.

A. Maalouf once said that "unprecedented actions require unprecedented solutions”.

Let’s listen to him.