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Wither Bangladesh Bank, wither Bangladesh?

Shahid Islam

Once upon a time, an enticing young lady strolled past her savoured park, enjoyed the charm displayed by blossomed lilies and creeping crocodiles in the nearby lake. She never felt happier until someone robbed her wallet and raped her under a bushy orchard. She asked herself; without the wallet, and the money, and the chastity, how happy am I?
With erasing values, the nation of Bangladesh has been losing its chaste for a long time. Now the wallet and the money are being robbed too. In less than two years’ time, another great heist and a surreal swindling has come to the limelight about the country’s central bank, known as the Bangladesh Bank (BB).

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Shahid Islam

Once upon a time, an enticing young lady strolled past her savoured park, enjoyed the charm displayed by blossomed lilies and creeping crocodiles in the nearby lake. She never felt happier until someone robbed her wallet and raped her under a bushy orchard. She asked herself; without the wallet, and the money, and the chastity, how happy am I?
With erasing values, the nation of Bangladesh has been losing its chaste for a long time. Now the wallet and the money are being robbed too. In less than two years’ time, another great heist and a surreal swindling has come to the limelight about the country’s central bank, known as the Bangladesh Bank (BB).

Golden Bengal, golden heist
In February 2016, cyber heist of US$ 1 billion was snapped in the process after $101 million already got electronically robbed. This time, 24 karet gold got replaced by 18 karet cheaper metals at the BB’s central vault, and gold bar and ring weighing 3 kg 300 gram was found to have turned into mixed metal substance; according to an authentically composed media exposure.
Customs intelligence of National Board of Revenue (NBR) in an investigation has detected a severe mismatch both in quality and quantity of gold deposited to Bangladesh bank vault.
Bangladesh bank, however, on Tuesday rejected the investigationreport saying that the mismatch took place due to clerical mistakes and differences in measurement.
But the economist and businesspeople were shocked and demanded an immediate prove.
Well, these are happening in a country known historically as the golden Bengal. The heist and the swindling are of golden nature too.
These are unique, little heard of incidents that speak volumes about how Bangladesh’s focal institutions turned susceptible to vulnerabilities over the years. Upon being alerted in 2016, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York succeeded in stopping the $1 billion heist; only after $20 million got transferred to an account in Sri Lanka, and another $81 million to the Philippines. The slated remaining thirty other transactions were successfully blocked by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, but bulk of the stolen money is yet to be recovered.

Inside work
The gold swindling is obviously an inside work; so was the dollar heist incident which occurred after the Federal Reserve Bank of New York received routine instruction from Dhaka’s central bank. The persons involved in the reserve dollar heist were bank staffers who had the security clearance to operate the computerized system and use password to activate the transaction. Following a global uproar, nothing much was heard later; except social media gossip that lingered for months to blame the ‘power that be’ as the main culprits.
What will happen to the gold swindling incident? Nothing much. Smokes may billow for days and weeks, but no fire will lit the horizon. In this benighted nation, traffic signals are still handled by police constables; physically using hand signals and whistling. No one follows street lane and none uses indicators to change lane. At the malls, no sales person can serve one customer peacefully; because four others shout from the side to be served simultaneously. It’s chaos everywhere, everyday. This colossal disorder is touted as the great order of a great nation.

Missing basics
In rarely seen walking pavements, one can be pushed, jostled, molested and shoved around to clear others’ path. Excepting the main streets of the nation’s capital and other major cities, all other streets are totally dilapidated, pot-holed, shattered and impassable. Instead of using standard zebra crossing to cross streets; children, elderlies and incapacitated are compelled to climb hundreds of stairs at foot-over bridges scatteredaround city’s major thoroughfares and intersections that are at times miles away.
These are scattered observations of things that are basic; like the food, drink and shelter of our daily lives. A system is defined by the existence of a structure and its successful operation. We have a nation on paper and in reality, but we couldn’t fix our fundamentals as yet. That means we could not develop a system of governance as yet. We still import the decorative ribbons of the quintessentially used lady garment called saree; despite being the second largest producer and importer of ready-made garments.
The garment production needs the skill and the craftsmanship of a tailor, nothing more. If asked why billions of dollars’ worth of vehicles are being imported from a neighbouring country instead of assembling them here to create local jobs, concerned authorities stare blank with an insipid, indigestible, irritating green.
The gold swindling is an exposed story now; of millions of unexposed ones that make merry go in every institutions of this country, every day. As well, an eerie quietnessmarks the status of the political horizon in an election year; because no one dares to say or do what is needed to prepare the nation for a fair, inclusive election. People learnt the lesson in 2014 when an election without voters produced so successful a government that it even managed to hoist a satellite to orbit around the celestial oblivion.

BB not alone
It’s not a secret that the country’s financial institutions, including the stock market, have been robbed and drenched away long ago by people whom the finance minister dubbed as ‘people beyond reproach.’The BB milking off isn’t a one off incident either. For years, the bureaucracy and the security forces have been politicized to the brink. And, in the process, the ethical mooring of the nation got washed away. You can steal, kill, rob and rupture the society with the blessing of the people in power. Sum up this nation as a one-party, one-person fiefdom. Yet, ask someone in power about the state of the nation, and, get an answer that everything is honkey dory. In reality, a wretched numbness has gripped this nation of about 165 million strong; something hours of stagnation on the street in mind-boggling traffic jam amply testifies.
Yet, more people are buying cars; because, early in the morning, one child takes one to the north to his private school while the other one goes south to his university, so to speak. The mom and dad move with two other cars to their offices and, the entire damn street is under their control; depriving millions of ordinary folks from public transport or other commutable means to go to work. Ask someone in power, are these ordinary people happy? The answer is positive, and, a claim of certainty that this nation has never been happier.
So, under the changed ambiance of a re-defined happiness, we can take the pain and exercise the patience to be numb, silent and inert until some foreign power takes us over in one moonless mid-night. The Bangladesh Bank had gone down the drain long ago. It’s the turn of Bangladesh itself to follow suit.


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QUOTA MOVEMENT
Govt is fighting with its own shadow

Faruque Ahmed

As the quota reform movement is dragging in, it looks like assuming a nature of confrontation of the government with its own shadow; as most students spearheading the movement are also members of the Bangladesh Chatra League (BCL) and left groups otherwise politically affiliated with the government. Many teachers supporting the movement are also closer to the government.  
It is true most leaders and activists of the BCL are now working for the government to break the movement but the bigger part of the general students running the movement also belongs to the ruling party politics. It is highly paradoxical that BCL leaders are beating its supporters and maiming them to save the government.

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Faruque Ahmed

As the quota reform movement is dragging in, it looks like assuming a nature of confrontation of the government with its own shadow; as most students spearheading the movement are also members of the Bangladesh Chatra League (BCL) and left groups otherwise politically affiliated with the government. Many teachers supporting the movement are also closer to the government.  
It is true most leaders and activists of the BCL are now working for the government to break the movement but the bigger part of the general students running the movement also belongs to the ruling party politics. It is highly paradoxical that BCL leaders are beating its supporters and maiming them to save the government.

For example a leader of the quota movement recently picked up by police and now in jail is a leader of the BCL unit of Cumila University. He came to the Dhaka for attending coaching for BCS examination and got involved in quota reform movement as he became convinced any merit based recruitment in government jobs needs abolition of the system.
Selection now takes place of party boys in the first place under different quota categories. Merit comes to the last and such complaints slowly united the general students to start the movement.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina however last week said she was unable to understand
the logic behind the quota reform movement. She said the anti-quota movement was “indirectly against the benefit of freedom fighters and their family members getting government jobs.”
She said the Awami League government had ensured the quota for the freedom fighters and their family members so that they could take part in running the country and to make sure that the anti-liberation elements and war criminals cannot return to power and get any government job.
In fact many believe such policy of the government is using the quota system to divide the nation sheltering a section with huge financial benefits to emerge as a political vote bank of the ruling party to hold its grip on power.
But the question is how people belonging to the opposition in many cases can be
ignored when it is known that many of their fathers and grand fathers were also tortured and killed during the liberation war. But their offspring have become largely ignored on political consideration.   
On the other hand, the new definition of freedom fighters includes even younger boys who were at the age of 12.5 months during the liberation war. Critics say it aims at enlisting as many people in the category of freedom fighters mainly picked up from families of party supporters to expand a bigger support base for the party.
Moreover people don’t know how many generations the freedom fighters benefit will continue to keep the nation divided on the political line. 
There can’t be any dispute that freedom fighters made sacrifice for the love of the country; they had never participated in the liberation war to be used later on by Awami League to become its vanguard to keep it in power.
They had never thought even a follower of the ruling party would become freedom fighter using false identity while a true freedom fighter may be dropped or sidetracked if he mainly belongs to BNP or such opposition parties, 
Despite the Prime Minister’s announcement on April 11 that she will abolish all quota it appears that the government has recently reversed its policy which becomes clear when the Prime Minister on July 12 said abolition of freedom fighters quota is not possible because of a existing Supreme Court order to keep 30 percent quota reserved for the children of freedom fighters.
But the fact is that it was a mere observation of the court and the government has no obligation to abide by it, legal experts have said. In a verdict in 2015, the Appellate Division of the SC said, “The High Court Division observed that the reservation of 30 percent quota for the children of freedom fighters shall be followed strictly,” which the Government leaders now say need to be obliged.
But judges, jurists and scholars say observations or opinions of judges in a verdict are not part of the verdict and not binding upon parties to a case. The fact is that it is not part of a law either. It is a policy of the government and its change can’t be denied using the cover of the court order.
Moreover, nobody is demanding the abolition of the quota for the freedom fighters, students and teachers are demanding reform of the system, which now eats up 56 percent of the government job leaving hardly any space for recruitment on merit basis.
Leaders of political parties and citizens groups recently have called upon the government to clear its position of the sensitive issue without going for unnecessary harassment of the students by police arrest and attack by party activists on the students.
Over 14 students are in jail or in police remand so far while repression of students and assault on teachers are taking place almost on daily basis in the campuses.
But the government has so far left the issue to be resolved by police arrest and attack on students by the party activists. Many believe they have been even somewhat successful to contain the spread of the movement in all public and private universities running a reign of terror.
Even on Sunday last ruling party activists assaulted some teachers of the Dhaka University and attacked students as they were returning from Central Shaheed Minar after holding a demonstration demanding release of arrested students and punishment of BCL men who earlier had attacked students.
Reports said an assistant prof of the department of sociology of Chittagong University has left the campus last Sunday for safe shelter as BCL men warned him of severe consequences for writing a post on his facebool supporting the quota movement.
It appears even the coalition partners of the government are not at peace. They asked the government last week to resolve the issue as students are keeping out of classes and examination paralyzing all public universities.
Moreover as election is drawing closer, they believe sitting on such explosive issue is highly risky as the opposition BNP has already warned of such risk.


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Bangladesh needs strong China relation

Barrister Harun ur Rashid

Amidst the dynamics of new international order, China’s position in the globe has changed faster than any nation in recent history. The replacement of G-8 by G-20 in global politics did not come about by accident but gradually influenced by the realization that without China, global issues cannot be adequately addressed. Although G-20 is constituted primarily as global economic policy, it deals on sidelines with security, climate change, terrorism and other global burning issues from time to time.

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Barrister Harun ur Rashid

Amidst the dynamics of new international order, China’s position in the globe has changed faster than any nation in recent history. The replacement of G-8 by G-20 in global politics did not come about by accident but gradually influenced by the realization that without China, global issues cannot be adequately addressed. Although G-20 is constituted primarily as global economic policy, it deals on sidelines with security, climate change, terrorism and other global burning issues from time to time.

Under the current China-centric global order, Bangladesh relations with China have been growing fast both in economic and political terms. During the visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister in March 2010, Bangladesh suggested for road and rail connectivity to Kunming through Myanmar from Bangladesh to which China agreed to explore the possibility of transport links between the two countries, according to the Joint Statement released after the visit.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also offered that deep- sea port to be built at Sonadia near Cox’s Bazar could be used by regional countries including China. China expressed positive attitude to assist in building the deep sea port. Such interconnectivity will open up cooperation in fields of trade, investment and flow of goods from Chittagong to Kunming ( China).
The visit by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in March 2010 and that of the China’s Vice President Xi Jinping (he became the Chinese President in 2012) were evidences of the strength of the economic and political connections between Bangladesh and China. It has set a scene for greater understanding between the two countries.
In 2010, China signed the Letters of Exchange on the construction of the seventh Bangladesh-China Friendship Bridge at Kajirtek of Madaripur. China agreed to intensify efforts for the early start of the eighth second Meghna Bridge and the construction of Bangladesh-China Friendship Exhibition Centre.
It is reported that China in the financial year 2017-18 made commitment of $4.35 billion. It is noted that during the visit of President Xi Jinping to Bangladesh in 2016, he promised $21.5 billion in soft loans to the country. In 2017, loan agreements worth $4.35 billion for five projects were signed with the Chinese Exim Bank. The projects are: the Padma Bridge rail links project, Karnaphuli tunnel, a single point-mooring with double pipelines, modernization of telecom sector and Infosarkar. With the outcome of BanglaGovNet, Info-Sarkar-2, Info-Sarker-3, all the government offices of the country down to Upazila level (the lowest administrate level) are now interconnected digitally.
The relations between Bangladesh and China are not new. The cultural interaction between China and Bangladesh dates back to centuries. A Buddhist monk from Bangladesh named Atish Dipankar, traveled to China in the 11th century and preached Buddhism there for 17 years. He died in modern day Chinese Tibet and the Chinese Government has returned his ashes to his place of birth, Bajrajogini, in Munshiganj district as a mark of friendship between the two countries.
Bangladesh and China will celebrate 63 years of establishing diplomatic ties in October 2018 and the two countries would hold commemorative activities in Beijing and Dhaka to further enhance bilateral friendship ( China and Bangladesh officially established diplomatic ties on October 4, 1975.)
Relationship with China has become one of the priorities of Bangladesh successive governments. The heads of government of Bangladesh, irrespective of their political affiliations, invariably visited China and met with Chinese leaders to strengthen relations in every possible sector.
Bangladesh’s relations with China have taken a multi-faceted direction. China’s relations are not confined to state- to- state basis. China has interest to develop party-to-party relations.
China has assisted the country, among others, in infrastructure, power including hydro-power, coal mine, industrial plants, telecommunications, flood control, disaster prevention, river training, irrigation and water resources utilisation.
Bangladesh-China bilateral trade has been increasing significantly over the years, both in terms of absolute amount and percentage change among Bangladesh’s top trade partners. As per the statistics of Export Promotion Bureau of Bangladesh, the country’s total merchandised export to China was USD 808.14 million in the year 2015-16, which was only USD 319.66 million in 2010-11. Thus, Bangladesh’s export to China grew at an annual average of 30 percent in the last five years.
According to China, although the sum of money provided to Bangladesh is not the largest among all development partners, they put emphasis on the actual result of the assistance and whether such assistance can bring about concrete good to Bangladesh people.
Bangladesh and China share many of the challenges that will shape our region in the years ahead. Likewise there are avenues for collaboration to take advantage of opportunities that will unfold with the 21st century. It is clear that we can and should do more together.
Both nations seek a modern partnership based on our common interest in meeting the major challenges to global and regional economic growth, peace and security.
In my view, Bangladesh’s goal is to build a truly modern partnership with China—one that is practical, open and engaged on the global challenges that face us. I am confident that this is an aspiration that both our countries share.
The writer is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva


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July 25 elections in Pakistan: A test for state institutions

Mizan Ali

Barely a week ahead of the July 25 scheduled general elections, Pakistan sent its three times elected Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif to jail on corruption charges.
Sharif’s return on July 13 last coincided with unrelated incidents of bomb attacks centering election candidates that left more than 150 people killed and about 200 injured on Friday.
The media coverage centring Sharif’s home coming sidetracking the incidents of blast came under attack by critics for insensitivity as well as partisanship in favour of a convict at the cost of innocent Pakistanis who lost their lives in the carnage.

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Mizan Ali

Barely a week ahead of the July 25 scheduled general elections, Pakistan sent its three times elected Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif to jail on corruption charges.
Sharif’s return on July 13 last coincided with unrelated incidents of bomb attacks centering election candidates that left more than 150 people killed and about 200 injured on Friday.
The media coverage centring Sharif’s home coming sidetracking the incidents of blast came under attack by critics for insensitivity as well as partisanship in favour of a convict at the cost of innocent Pakistanis who lost their lives in the carnage.

Nawaz and her daughter remained on the spot light of cameras in a section of the media through-out the day but their insensitivity to send any message on the incident of blasts took many by surprise.

Aghast, the backdrop of unprecedented quadrilateral meeting of spy chiefs in Islamabad the blasts also bring into light the striking capacity of the forces opposed to such cooperation among countries in the region. Whether the meeting of the spy chiefs of Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan held in Islamabad only two days ahead of the blast is indicative of any change in the regional power dynamics is however, still not clear.

The push and pull of a corrupt elite
Imprisonment of Nawaz Sharif now seems to have brought the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) close to the Pakistan Peoples’ Party under Asif Ali Zardari and his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Both the parties are now accusing the state institutions of denying them level playing field and favouring Imran Khan. The elections are being subjected to ‘pre-poll rigging’ they blame saying its outcome as ‘already controversial’.
How the civil society organizations like the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) is contributing to further complicate scenario may be understood from its latest statement with regards to July 25 elections.
‘The coming general elections will be the dirtiest, most micromanaged and most intensively participated polls in the country’s history’, predicted the HRCP wrote Dawn on 17 July.
“We have serious doubts that elections will be free and fair. Before elections, efforts have been started to pressurise candidates to return tickets. Moreover, we have serious reservations about the use of military troops inside polling stations. So the issue was taken up with the CEC and he assured that officials will not go inside election booths,” said IA Rehman, HRCP spokesperson and a veteran journalist.
Rehman made these observations at a news conference held a few hours after his meeting with the chief election commissioner on Monday, Dawn said.
Sharif’s case will expose Pakistan’s institutional capacity to withstand the push and pull of its corrupt ruling elite on one side while on the other it will also test their negotiating skills with global players not only for realising the stolen money but also to set an agenda for peace in the region.
We would like to analyse the development of electoral politics in Pakistan from the perspective of push and pull exerted by a corrupt ruling elite with deep roots in national institutions and connections spreading across regional and global level.
The power of dirty money or illicit wealth of an individual also needs to be weighed against the institutional capacity of an individual country to protect its geo-political interest in the changing power dynamics at the regional and global levels.

Sharif not a global loner
This is the first time in more than country’s 70 years’ existence, general elections are held after two consecutive parliaments completed their tenure of five years each. This is also the first occasion, when Pakistan will vote with their elected prime minister behind the bars for corruption.
Sharif’s case is not the only one of its kind in the present day world. Many such examples can be cited from different parts of the world where leaders charged with corruption have been serving their sentences after being sent to prisons.
Former South Korean President Park Genu-hye was formally convicted and sentenced to 24 years in prison on April 6, 2018. A year before she was driven from office and arrested over a corruption scandal that saw months of massive street rallies calling for her ouster.
South African President Jacob Zuma bowed to intense pressure from his party and resigned on February 14, 2018, ending nearly nine years of rule marred by corruption scandals and fiscal mismanagement that shamed the party of Nelson Mandela and inflicted serious damage on one of Africa’s biggest economies.
The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday put off appeals of Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif the disqualified Prime Minister of Pakistan, his daughter and political heir Maryam Nawaz and her husband Capt ® Muhammad Safdar – convicted with prison term and financial penalty of various degrees in a corruption case. The court will hear their appeals in the last week of July, after the general elections scheduled on Wednesday.

Signs of rift in PML-N
Shehbaz not only failed to mobilise people on the road, his rally even did not reach near the airport though the flight carrying Nawaz and Maryam was delayed by a few hours.
To the surprise of many, neither Shehbaz, nor any of the top party rankers was personally available in the airport vicinity to receive their leaders when the plane landed in Lohore.
Was the flop show a deliberate move by Shehbaz, the three time chief minister of Punjab, or a sheer coincident? Was it an attempt by Shehbaz to distance the party from confrontational politics pursued against state institutions by the father and daughter duo? These questions become more relevant when Juned Safdar, son of Maryam, studying in London, is brought back in Lahore only a week ahead of the polls and is expected to be launched in the election campaign.

Blasts coincides with Sharif’s homecoming
Coinciding with Sharif’s return, but in unrelated incidents, the wave of bomb attack centering election candidates seemingly reached its peak on Friday. Two separate incidents taking place in two different places killed more than 150 people and injured about 200 others. The militant Islamic State claimed responsibility of the suicide attack at Mastung in Balochistan Friday afternoon in which an election candidate and 145 others were killed and more than 150 were injured.
The other incident of the day left, five people killed and 37 injured when a former Khyber PakhtunKhwa (KPK) chief minister and a central leader of a religious party escaped an assassination attempt targeting his convoy at Bannu in northwest Pakistan,
Another 20 people including an election candidate were killed and 30 others were injured in bomb attack targeting an election rally in the north western city of Peshawar under KPK on July 10. Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), that earlier claimed the responsibility of killing the candidate’s father in 2012 took the responsibility of the attack.
There is no evidence to establish whether the ill-gotten money of the corrupt elites in Pakistan had any direct bearing on the current wave of terrorism in the country. But it has been globally established that the ill-gotten money apart from being spent for extra ordinary life style and procurement of luxurious apartments and palatial buildings in tax havens are also spent in terror financing.

Role of electronic media
A section of the powerful electronic media in Pakistan gave minute by minute update and live coverage to Nawaz and Maryam’s home coming from London via Dubai. During the day long coverage, preparation of the proposed rally to welcome the father and daughter duo on their arrival at Lahore and security measures taken by the caretaker government were telecast but the incidents of bomb blasts in Bannu and Mustang that led to deaths of over 150 people so far was either sidetracked or received poor coverage.
Amidst continuous media apology, journalists in different television out lets conceded that they failed to pay proper attention on the incidents of blasts on July 13 and termed it as ‘oversight’ but critics call it their partisanship in favour of a convict at the cost of innocent Pakistanis who lost their lives in the carnage.
[Mizan Ali is a senior journalist]


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EU and CELAC urge ending US blockade on Cuba

Special Correspondent

The Foreign Ministers of the European Union and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) called Tuesday for the end of the blockade imposed on Cuba by the United States, since “it has caused undue humanitarian consequences for the Cuban people.”
“We reiterate our rejection of the application of those coercive measures of a unilateral nature with extraterritorial effect,” the ministers said in the statement signed after a meeting in Brussels of the EU and Celac foreign officials.

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Special Correspondent

The Foreign Ministers of the European Union and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) called Tuesday for the end of the blockade imposed on Cuba by the United States, since “it has caused undue humanitarian consequences for the Cuban people.”
“We reiterate our rejection of the application of those coercive measures of a unilateral nature with extraterritorial effect,” the ministers said in the statement signed after a meeting in Brussels of the EU and Celac foreign officials.

The ministers also reaffirmed their rejection of the application of the extraterritorial provisions of the Helms-Burton Act, approved by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, which states that any non-U.S. company operating in Cuba may be subject to legal reprisals.
In this regard, representatives of the EU and Celac stressed that the United Nations General Assembly had adopted a resolution condemning this blockade, which was only opposed by the United States and Israel.
“These measures are damaging the legitimate development of commercial ties between Cuba, the European Union and other countries,” concluded theEU and Celac foreign ministers.
For two days, the European and Latin American and Caribbean foreign ministers met in Brussels to give their support to multilateralism, the 2030 development agenda and fair trade.
Both the CELAC and the EU are interested in discussing investment and productivity in times when the increasingly protectionist measures promoted by Donald Trump have pushed the U.S. into relative conflict with its main trading partners.
On Tuesday, the discussions focused on trade, sustainability, investment and productivity. Representatives of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay met with Cecilia Malsmtrom, the EU commissioner for trade, to discuss an agreement between the union and Mercosur.
The representatives of at least 61 countries were present during the summit, representing 15 percent of the global population.
The meeting was originally planned for last October in El Salvador but it was resceduled due to a request by the signatories of the so-called Lima Group, a set of pro-U.S. right-wing governments explicitly uniting against the Venezuelan constituent assembly and the Bolivarian revolution.


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India must avoid the partisan pitfalls in Bangladesh, keep options open

Bharat Bhushan in New Delhi

By playing a partisan role in the domestic politics of Bangladesh, India could well be making the same mistake as in Nepal and Sri Lanka.  The summary deportation of a British lawyer Lord Alexander Carlile is a pointer in that direction.
Carlile was to address a press conference in Delhi on the ongoing legal case against his client, Begum Khaleda Zia, a former prime minister of Bangladesh and the chairperson of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). For this, he had a business visa. However, a benign exercise was transformed into a potentially criminal act by the Ministry of External Affairs under pressure from Dhaka. Lord Carlile was externed at midnight.

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Bharat Bhushan in New Delhi

By playing a partisan role in the domestic politics of Bangladesh, India could well be making the same mistake as in Nepal and Sri Lanka.  The summary deportation of a British lawyer Lord Alexander Carlile is a pointer in that direction.
Carlile was to address a press conference in Delhi on the ongoing legal case against his client, Begum Khaleda Zia, a former prime minister of Bangladesh and the chairperson of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). For this, he had a business visa. However, a benign exercise was transformed into a potentially criminal act by the Ministry of External Affairs under pressure from Dhaka. Lord Carlile was externed at midnight.

Action on Carlile backfired
On returning to London, Carlile addressed the press in India through a satellite link, garnering a much wider coverage in the region than it would otherwise have.
A signal went out that India has an exclusive relationship with only one political party in Bangladesh – the Awami League. This happened at a time when Indian political leaders had begun engaging the Opposition BNP in the run-up to the upcoming general election. Suddenly, these efforts were nullified by suggesting that the relationship remained narrow and partisan.
Within the BNP, anti-India elements got fresh oxygen, putting on the backfoot those who had courageously spoken of a new and friendly engagement with India. Should this perception remain uncorrected, India will lose further heft in Bangladesh, which goes to polls in six months.
In the 2014 general elections boycotted by the BNP, India was perceived by many to have played a partisan role. As the political turbulence in Bangladesh increases in the coming months, how India conducts itself will be crucial.
The Awami League-BNP political competition is such that when one is in power, life is near-impossible for the other. The Awami League, which came to power in 2009 and again in 2014, has tried to hobble the BNP by devising an electoral system skewed in its favour.
This has been done by using a pliable judiciary, Parliament, the Election Commission, the executive and the law and order machinery.  Bangladeshis refer to the process as “peaceful rigging” to prevent political adversaries from mounting a credible electoral challenge.

Caretaker govt. system removed
For example, the provision that a caretaker neutral government should conduct the election, which the Awami League fought for in 1996, has been removed by its government after coming to power. Under the caretaker government system, Parliament had to be dissolved 90 days before its term expired so that sitting MPs would not enjoy an advantage over their challengers. It was on these issues that the BNP had boycotted the 2014 general election.
Further, in 2009 the Awami League changed the law to confine the army to the barracks during elections. On the face of it, this seems a reasonable proposition. However, the widespread violence and anarchy during the 2014 general election have proven the inability of civilian law enforcement agencies to ensure peaceful elections. Civil society activists ask if the army can run five-star hotels, construction projects and hospitals, why it cannot ensure the safety of voters during the elections.
With the executive and the law and order machinery already under the government’s thumb, Opposition parties find it difficult even to campaign because police permission for their political rallies is routinely denied. As for the Election Commission, the Opposition parties allege that it is manned by Awami League supporters.
The legal process has also been routinely used by the government to disable and disqualify its opponents. A prison sentence of two years or more disqualifies a candidate from contesting. Begum Khaleda Zia has been sentenced for five years. Other top BNP leaders are fighting criminal cases that could lead to their sentencing and disqualification before the elections. Nearly 78,000 criminal cases have been launched against 1.8 million BNP workers.
There are also accusations that the Duterte-style aggressive anti-drugs campaign, which has already led to more than 130 deaths, is being used against ‘persons of interest’ by the government.

Legal, extra-legal methods to be used
Even if it manages to contest, the Opposition would have to deal with issues such as ballot stuffing, denial of ballot papers to voters and Opposition polling agents being chased away. These tactics deployed in recent local body polls are seen as a dry run for the general elections.
The Awami League realises that it cannot afford a repeat of 2014 when the main Opposition boycotted the polls. Without the Opposition participating, its victory will lack legitimacy. It is keen, therefore, to see the BNP contest, even if it is a truncated party which participates. Rumours of plans to break the BNP are rife. Indian agencies are being accused of aiding this effort.
It is understandable that India is happy with its relationship with Bangladesh. There has been excellent security cooperation with the Hasina government. Border issues have been resolved and a transit agreement signed.
By contrast, anti-India Islamic terrorist groups came up in Bangladesh during the BNP’s previous stints in power – 1991-96 and 2001-2006.  Cox’s Bazar became the port of choice for smuggling arms to Indian insurgents. Besides, the BNP’s alliance partner the Jamat-e-Islami is known for its anti-India stance.

India’s option narrows
Nevertheless, India should be ready to do business with any government that comes to power in Dhaka next January. Today Bangladesh is not the same as it was two decades ago and India’s position in the world has also changed. The BNP seems to be turning a new leaf recognising the emerging realities. Begum Khaleda Zia during her visit to India in 2012 went out of her way to declare that if her party came to power, Bangladesh’s territory would “never be used for anti-India activities”.
More than the proclamations of good intent, India must note the emerging strategic competition with China in its neighbourhood. At this juncture, it makes no sense to narrow down its options in Bangladesh as any misstep is likely to be capitalised upon by Beijing.  India must not wade into the emerging political mess in Bangladesh in favour of any one of the players. It cannot be in India’s interest to push Bangladesh along the path that Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives have taken.
(Courtesy: Business Standard. The writer is a journalist based in Delhi)


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Mexico to create Truth Commissions for disappeared people

Special Correspondent

Mexico’s future secretary of the interior said the government of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will implement a national plan to repair relatives of victims and prevent further forced disappearances, as well as a new strategy to combat this national problem that has left tens of thousands missing.

“It’s time to talk about memory and repair. We won’t simulate a human rights policy and that there’s nothing going on in Mexico. The State has been unable to prevent disappearances, of looking for the victims and finding out their whereabouts,” said Olga Sanchez Cordero, the soon-to-be secretary of the interior.

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Special Correspondent

Mexico’s future secretary of the interior said the government of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will implement a national plan to repair relatives of victims and prevent further forced disappearances, as well as a new strategy to combat this national problem that has left tens of thousands missing.

“It’s time to talk about memory and repair. We won’t simulate a human rights policy and that there’s nothing going on in Mexico. The State has been unable to prevent disappearances, of looking for the victims and finding out their whereabouts,” said Olga Sanchez Cordero, the soon-to-be secretary of the interior.

In a forum called “Oblivion, truth or justice?” Sanchez Cordero pledged the future government will review the possibility of drug decriminalization, repair victims and work on public policies aiming to recover and promote economic spaces and life projects as an alternative to the violent “war on drugs.”
Speaking about drug decriminalization, a controversial proposal that a great part of the conservative Mexican society opposes, Sanchez Cordero echoed the words of Lopez Obrador, who said he would do “anything necessary to pacify the country.”
One of Lopez Obrador’s main campaign promises is a possible amnesty on minor crimes, as part of his “national reconciliation” plan, a proposal criticized by many who fear “the criminals will be out on the streets again.” Besides, Sanchez Cordero also announced plans for a reduction of sentences for those who provide information about missing people and future “truth commissions” to investigate the thousands of cases of forced disappearance in the country.
The truth commissions would investigate specific cases and complete regions, besides a “great national truth commission” in charge of analyzing cases all across the country. All these commissions should work side-by-side with the State’s justice authorities, taking into account the demands of the victims.
After Sanchez Cordero finished speaking, several mothers and relatives of missing people demanded her efforts for the thousands of disappeared in the country, not only the 43 students from a rural school in Ayotzinapa that were kidnapped by security forces.
“We want a solution for the thousands of disappeared, more than 43! with all due respect that the parents of the 43 deserve, but there were thousands missing before them!” said one of the women present at the forum.
“We want justice for all, we’ve been looking for it for years!” said another.
“Because alive they took them, alive we want them!” yelled several together.
The poet and activist Javier Sicilia was also present at the event and, even though he welcomed many of the proposals, he also criticized the invitation of Pope Francis for the future peace dialogues in Mexico, calling the move a “truly regrettable show.”

An Independent Prosecuting Office
On Sunday, Lopez Obrador presented the first 50 reforms to be implemented, mostly dealing with corruption.
Among the proposals is the creation of a totally independent anti-corruption prosecuting office to combat that “evil that has done so much damage to Mexico.”
“The General Prosecuting Office will be absolutely autonomous, it won’t be interfered by the president of the republic,” said Lopez Obrador speaking at a press conference at the staircases of his office in Mexico City, “the anti-corruption attorney will act with absolute freedom and punish anyone who commits a crime of that nature, whoever it is, including partners in struggle, public servants, friends and family.
The reforms will also allow the president to be judged on corruption charges, as well as a removing legal immunity for government officers.


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