Tuesday, 9 July 2019


Long with us, numerous, mysterious, intriguing, yet ridiculed, UFOs deserve the increasing attention they are now getting.  With us for at least 5,000 years, they, as far as we know, have never harmed us.  Our fighter jets have fired on them to no known effect.  They refrain from harmful retaliation.
This blog is sparked by one of my daughters, Trish, who used the current renewal of interest in UFOs to admit she has kept to herself since 1966 the fact that, while returning home from school, was terrified by seeing a large flying saucer hovering over the hills just north of us as though trying to land.  She ran home, becoming quite embarrassed because the saucer had vanished, there was no panic, and everything was normal.  Today, she describes it as having a solid round simmering-blue deck with  a lower  deck shining yellow-orange lights.
In my own flying career, with much night flying, I have only two incidents of unexplained phenomena.  One was in 1943 over the North Sea en route to bomb Germany. I watched numerous large spherical rotating blobs of orange fire swarming up at us.  I had graduated from a month-long course that described all known varieties of enemy flak but these were strange and unique.  Coils of rotating wire?  My second mystery was in 1948 when on a 20-hour flight over the Northwest Territories in northern Canada we saw, about 30 nautical miles west of us, a large area brightly lit amid the surrounding dark sparsely-populated expanse, an area usually all dark.
While serving at NORAD, Colorado Springs, 1963-1966, as a controller working shifts at a long communications counter facing a wall screen depicting current activities, one of my tasks was to record and forward on UFO-sightings calls to the Blue Book Project.   Interpretations in both locations ranged from deep skepticism to deep interest.  Personally, I was intrigued, I was also surprised that many who took these calls lacked curiosity and that responses to our reports were few and inadequate.  Explanations even included  that the visual and radar sightings we reported were merely reflections from snow melting on the mountains.  It was easy to infer a cover-up, especially when I learned the good 1952 criteria of Captain Ruppelt had lapsed.   Our military is paid to detect and protect us from genuine threats.   Too often investigative findings are restricted to a select few thus hindering further research and readiness.  It results in dangerous ignorance among the rank and file and those who get to do the suffering and dying because of mistakes made by a dominant few.   
In our tiny and lonely speck of intelligent life, we can marvel at the staggering amount of knowledge we have acquired, more than enough to support seeking more with open minds.  Skeptics argue that UFOs must have terrestrial explanations.  We have found no other home base for intelligent life.  If any does exist in our time frame, it must be so many light years away that, even with worm holes, it would be impractical for them to expend the effort to study us, Or, are they actually in our space and time but on different vibration frequencies?
     Reported aliens and their ships come in different forms.  Different origins?  Multiverses in the same space?
     Through recent decades reported sightings are increasing.  At least ten countries have set up official organizations to investigate.  One of these is the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), formed in 1969 in California, now with over 4,000 members worldwide.
       Wikipedia details 242 sightings from 23 countries plus outer space.
Are Abductions real?  Why are reported aliens so concerned with our sexual organs, human and cattle?  Perhaps, a search for DNA that could help their own species?   The number of those involved in investigating and helping abductees  is awesome. Their abductee counts range from a few thousand to 6% of our population. Australia, Canada, and the USA have set up facilities to ease return to normal life those suffering from symptoms similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  The stories of numerous humans admitting to have been abducted include many similarities: lack of power to resist, a medical examination of those at reproductive ages, with emphasis on sexual organs, intercourse, nervousness and business-only attitudes of aliens until examinations are finished, then a tour of the alien ship, return to, or near to, their homes where they describe the aliens as humanoid but smaller with large heads and eyes.  Two  incidents report metre-tall aliens of  praying mantis build. 
      The UFO study is too vast and complicated for one blog, but here is a very brief summary:
China:    2,300 years ago (ya), texts recorded a ‘moon boat’ that returned to hover every 12 years.
Lower Egypt: 3,440 ya, the Tulli Papyrus of Pharaoh Thutmose III recorded fiery discs floating across the skies.
Rome:      2,200 ya, Livy recorded phantom ships gleaming in the sky.    2,080 ya, Pliny the Elder told of a spark that fell from a star, became the size of the moon, then shot back to be a small light.
Phrygia, Roman Republic: 66 AD, Plutarch reported that, at the start of a battle, the sky burst asunder, and a huge, flame-like body was seen to fall between the two armies. It was shaped like a silver wine-jar, 
Jerusalem, Roman Empire:   66 AD:   Tacitus and others reported that, as Romans attacked Jerusalem,  chariots with armed angels filled the sky.
World War 2 "Foo Fighters": Many aircrews reported strange objects infiltrating their formations. 
Current worldwide, wide-scale interest was sparked with several incidents three of which were:
Canada:  04 October 1957: Shag Harbour, Nova Scotia: Many people saw 4 orange lights off shore, moving at tremendous speed, then plunging into the ocean just offshore.  They alerted the coast guard who found no wreckage or bodies.  Nor could the crews of 3 RCN ships that searched the area for 3 days.  No known aircraft were in the area at the time.  Meanwhile, a sonar submarine-detecting station had tracked underwater movement from the crash site to 25 miles NE followed by a second underwater object.  Both sat motionless for a week when a Soviet submarine was detected in the area, so naval attention increased.  The underwater objects then moved off faster than they could be followed by investigating ships.  They then shot into the air and vanished.
Brazil:   16 October, 1957:   Near São Francisco de Sales, Minas Geraisms, farmer Antonio Boas, working in his fields at night, claims an egg-shaped vehicle landed and aliens took him aboard where he was examined then had sex with  a female alien.
United States: September 1961: Betty and Barney Hill claimed that, in a late evening, driving home near Lancaster, New Hampshire, they were abducted and medically examined by small aliens from a landed large flying disk.  Wide publicity spawned interest but the story was later shown to be fabricated.
Skepticism: Some roots lie in the Battle of Los Angeles 24-25 Feb 1942 when nervous anti-aircraft artillery crews fired on a lost weather balloon.  Fragments caused 5 deaths and extensive damage to Los Angeles buildings.  Later, in December 1953, Joint Army-Navy-Air Force Regulation number 146 made it a crime for military personnel to discuss classified UFO reports with unauthorized persons. Violators faced up to two years in prison and/or fines of up to $10,000.  This increased suspicions of government cover-up. And the world became more interested in UFO research:
Russia: Billionaire Yuri Milner has invested $100 million in searching for extraterrestrial life.
Canada:   In 1950 a UFO investigation unit, Project Magnet, was established in Shirley Bay near Ottawa by Transport Canada under the direction of Wilbert Brockhouse Smith, senior radio engineer. It was formally active until mid-1954 and informally active (without government funding) until Smith's death in 1962. He had concluded that UFOs were probably extraterrestrial in origin and likely operated by manipulation of magnetism.  A parallel study of scientists and military, Project Second Storey was initiated in 1952
Smith believed UFOs were linked to psychic phenomena and believed himself to be in contact with extraterrestrial beings who communicated to him through telepathy. Smith wrote a number of articles for Topside, the publication of the Ottawa New Sciences Club which he founded, outlining the philosophy of the "Space Brothers" with whom he claimed to be in contact.  The articles were later published posthumously in 1969 under the title The Boys from Topside.
In 1952-61 Avro Canada built, and experimented with, a  Top Secret Flying Saucer, sharing the technology with the United States.
The United States:   In 1947 numerous published UFO sightings prompted Gen Nathan Twining, Chief of the USAF Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, to form Project Sign, the first of a long line at that base.  Sign’s 1948 report was sent to the Pentagon. Its initial intelligence estimate concluded that the flying saucers were real craft, were not made by either the Soviet Union or United States, and were likely extraterrestrial in origin.  This was destroyed by Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg, USAF Chief of Staff, citing a lack of physical proof.  Project Sign was succeeded at the end of 1948 by Project Grudge which was criticized as having a debunking mandate.  Captain Edward Ruppelt referred to the era of Project Grudge as the "dark ages" of early USAF UFO investigation. Grudge concluded that all UFOs were natural phenomena or other misinterpretations, although it also stated that 23% of the reports could not be explained.
In 1952 high-ranking, influential USAF generals were so dissatisfied with the state of UFO investigations that they replaced Grudge with Project Blue Book headed up by Ruppelt, a decorated WWII airman with an aeronautics degree.  He coined the term "Unidentified Flying Object" to replace the many terms such as flying saucer and  flying disk.  He designed a standard witness questionnaire that eliminated stigma and ridicule.
It also included questions to serve scientific and statistical studies.  Ruppelt left Blue Book in February 1953 for a temporary reassignment, returning a few months later to find his staff reduced from more than ten, to two. Frustrated, he resigned from the USAF, then wrote the book “The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects”  which described the USAF study from 1947 to 1955.  Scientist Michael D. Swords wrote that "Ruppelt would lead the last genuine military effort to analyse UFOs"
Knowing that factionalism had harmed Project Sign, Ruppelt sought the advice of many scientists and experts, and issued regular press releases along with classified monthly reports for military intelligence.  Each U.S. Air Force Base had a Blue Book officer to collect UFO reports and forward them to Ruppelt. He and his team were authorized to interview all personnel who witnessed UFOs, and were not required to follow the chain of command. This unprecedented authority underlined the seriousness of Blue Book's investigation.
Under Ruppelt, Blue Book investigated a number of well-known UFO cases, Astronomer Dr. J. Allen Hynek was the scientific consultant, as he had been with Sign and Grudge. He worked for the project up to its 1969 termination and created the categorization “Close encounters”. He was a pronounced skeptic when he started, but  his feelings changed to a more wavering skepticism during the research, after encountering a minority of UFO reports he thought were unexplainable.
     In July 1952, after a build-up of hundreds of sightings over a few months, a new series of radar and visual sightings were observed near the National Airport in Washington, D.C.  Senator John McCain saw one.  The Central Intelligence Agency set up a panel of scientists headed by Dr. H. P. Robertson, a physicist of the California Institute of Technology, which included various physicists, meteorologists, and engineers, and one astronomer (Hynek). The Robertson Panel first met on January 14, 1953 to formulate a response.
Blue Book's critics erupted on learning its reactions to the 17 Apr 1966 report of two Ohio police officers, who reported they were able to follow for 30 minutes and 85 miles a disc-shaped, silvery object with a bright light emanating from its underside, at about 1,000 feet in altitude. Police cars from several other jurisdictions joined the pursuit. The chase ended in Pennsylvania, some 85 miles away.  This made national news,  Five days later, following brief interviews with only one of the police officers (but none of the ground witnesses), Blue Book's director, announced their conclusions: The police (one of them an Air Force gunner during the Korean War) had first chased a communications satellite, then the planet Venus.  This conclusion was widely derided, and police officers strenuously rejected it. Trust in government plummeted.  This lack of trust is compounded when scientists from other fields are denied support for projects counter to government interests.
  But, world UFO interest had been aroused, prompting the growth of a jungle of fact and fiction articles, books,  movies and organizations pursuing the mystery, fertilized by continued strange sightings.
    Among many serious UFO investigators is Nicholas (Nick) Redfern, a British best-selling author of 124 books and numerous articles,   He urges government disclosure of UFO information, and has found thousands of pages of previously classified files on UFOs dating from the WWII.  He is an editor for Phenomena magazine.  His 2005 book, Body Snatchers in the Desert: The Horrible Truth at the Heart of the Roswell Story, purports to show that the Roswell crash may have been military aircraft tests using Japanese POWs, suffering from progeria or radiation effects.
Between 1996 and 2000 Redfern published: “The British Government’s UFO Top Secrets  Exposed”,  “The FBI’s UFO Top Secrets Exposed”, and “Cosmic Crashes: The Incredible Story of the UFOs  That Fell to Earth”. They were published in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, and the UK.
Redfern’s appearances on the History Channel, National Geographic, lecture circuits, and the like  keep the human worldwide quest for answers current and alive.
Could all these ongoing UFO investigations help us to uncover a link to the Quantum World to give us more understanding of what we are, where we are, and why we are?
Stay curious.
Ye Olde Scribe
www.yeoldescribe.com georgesweanor@comcast.net

Monday, 3 June 2019


Now, well into my hundredth tour around the sun, I am one of the few living graduates of the University of Sagan.  Of the schools I have attended in Canada, England, Germany, Scotland, and the United States, one stands out above all the rest. The University of Sagan may never had existed in name, but I consider it my Alma Mater.
Its values were not lauded at the time.  Both faculty and students were aircrew officers, all  discovering unrealized and untapped talents, revealed by a mix of danger, uncertainty, privation, dreams, determination, spirit, dignity, comradeship. mutual respect, and deep nostalgia.  We had that proper mix in Sagan, Silesia.
Like many universities this one was approached through an arbor of trees.  Some would call it a forest as the pine trees did stretch as far as the eye could see.  When the wind blew through them we could smell the sea - strange because the Baltic Sea was 150 miles (241 km) north of us.  Wind and sea were among the forces that had brought us to Sagan. Then they taunted our plight, but whispered that, someday, they could return us.
I was among the first group of new prisoners to pass the two gates to enter this new campus which had just opened in April 1943. We were individually interrogated by a panel of 3 Allied Aircrew officers to ensure we were genuine Allied aircrew and not enemy implants, then divided into groups of 5 and assigned rooms.
It impressed me at how quickly our new compound, with the help of older kriegies from other compounds, became quietly so well organised.  We called ourselves kriegies, short for kriegsgefangenen (prisoner of war)
Management had been discouraged with the high absentee rate that our social group had achieved on previous campuses, so extreme care was taken in the construction of this new campus to eliminate absenteeism.  Two tall wire fences that surrounded us were separated by coils of well-woven wire containing countless pointed reminders of management’s concern.  Instruments that could detect tunnelling to a depth of 30 feet hung on the wire wall.
Universities are proud of their towers.  Ours had eight, all manned by curious men highly interested, day and night, in our conduct.  Their concern was such that, at night, they left on campus handsome large dogs with dazzling teeth.  To enhance their inquisitive view of us, our hosts sacrificed most of the trees in the enclosure. 
Although knowing it was a strong possibility, I had no plans to enroll in this school.   But flak and fighters so disfigured my RCAF Halifax bomber that, after impolitely dropping my calling cards on Berlin I had to drop my aircraft on Hamburg, I was surprised that the well-bombed civilians who captured me treated me well as did the police and Luftwaffe they escorted me to.  The week-long interrogation in solitary confinement on a bowl of sauerkraut a day was uncomfortable but always polite as was the train journey to Sagan for my group of new prisoners.  I had encountered no SS or Gestapo so began to admire these long-suffering, yet tolerant, Germans.    At Stalag Luft III, Sagan, the new North Compound was designed to hold 2,000 guests.  As intake averaged 30 every two weeks, assimilation was gradual and effective.  When our population met its capacity, it was made up of 1,200 British RAF, 300 from occupied Europe who had escaped to fly with us, 250 Canadians RCAF, 150 Australians and New Zealanders RAAF & RNZAF, 50 South Africans SAAF, and 50 Americans USAAF. A black USAAF major was assigned to a room of 4 USAAF who refused to accept him.  An RAF room happily took him.   When our population grew beyond 2,000 we had to convert our double bunks into triple bunks.
Germany endured immense shortages during the war so was ill equipped to care for the millions of captives they housed in about 1,000 camps,  So they allowed the International Red Cross to send parcels.  British and Canadian parcels numbered over 9 million food and 800,000 clothing parcels.  New Zealand contributed a million parcels before financing a share of Canadian parcels.  The USA was to end up with some 27 million.
The Canadian food parcels included powdered milk in large ‘Klim’ cans, excellent for our ‘tin bashers’ to learn to turn empty cans into tools and, for the plays we enacted, artifacts such as telephones and Roman armour,   Long lines of joined Klim cans provided conduits to pump air down to workers in our 4 deep tunnels.  
When, in spite of our bombing and strafing, the Red Cross was able to stack and store parcels at our camps we often ate better than our captors, permitting us to bribe some Luftwaffe to smuggle in to us such items as cameras and radios.  As we also got German magazines we were able to be better informed about the war than those still fighting it.  New kriegies were amazed at what we could teach them.  
Contact with the outside world was maintained via the allowance of 2 letter forms and 4 post cards per person per month.  Incoming mail was not rationed but all mail was censored.  I was able to enroll in a University of  Saskatchewan political science course and receive 3 large books free of charge.  Parents and friends sent us books that slowly built up an impressive library in a room provided by our hosts.
  Among our ethnically-varied kriegies we had many experts in numerous fields so lectures were common.
The Luftwaffe also provided materials for us to build a theatre for our plays, musical concerts, and lectures.  We were able to rent costumes and musical instruments with money which, by mutual agreement, our governments, friend and foe, deducted from our continuing pay.    German POWs in Canada, the UK and US could buy from canteens.  Germany had no canteens for us, only costumes and musical instruments to rent to us. 
Viewpoints varied widely and friendly discussions were numerous and very educational.  However, I was frightened by the indifference of many to our precarious position.  The SS and Gestapo were highly critical of the Luftwaffe’s pampered treatment of POWs under Hermann Wilhelm Göring a World War I fighter pilot ace who earned the Pour le Mérite, established in 1740 by King Frederick II of Prussia. 
Those intent on escaping and damaging the enemy war effort prevailed to dominate executive positions. Compound possessions and energies were organized mainly into building 4  tunnels, Tom, Dick, Harry, and George.  George was designed for post-war Soviet occupation which we knew was inevitable but we wondered whether they would consider us friend or foe, From captured Soviet soldiers who spoke English I had learned they feared our capitalism more than our military might.  I was asked to command a platoon to train as commandos to use George to steal German or Soviet arms to defend ourselves if needed.
Tom was just days short of completion when it was discovered after intensive Luftwaffe searches during the 1943 summer.  To discourage future use it was filled with wagon loads of deterrent from our outdoor toilets.
A new West compound was built in the field we had meant for Tom and reserved for USAAF only.  A new South Compound, also for USAAF only, had been built and our USAAF were moved there in August, thus missing the Great Escape.  A new compound for Commonwealth kriegies was opened in Belaria, 4 km west.
Days after our North Compound opened, Harry was started 11 Apr 43 and finished 24 Mar 1944, We got 76 out with 3 (a Dutchman and 2 Norwegians) making it back to Britain.  73 were recaptured of whom 50 were shot (24 Britons, 6 Canadian, 5 Poles, 4 Australians, 3 South Africans, 2 New Zealanders, 2 Norwegians, plus 1 each from Greece, France, Czechoslovakia, and Lithuania).  I knew, and had worked with, all of them, often trying to convince them it was too early in the season to steal food from farmers, and too late in the war, so escaping was suicidal and counter-productive.  Our carpet bombing was intensifying so much civilian misery that escaped aircrew kriegies would be targets for revenge.  How much better to cultivate our captors into world citizens for a peaceful post-war world.  Nevertheless I did contribute much time to permit those so anxious to escape our barbed wire, if only for a few hours, to do so.  
Sadly, my fears became fact.  We did harm the German war effort in that 5 million people spent weeks hunting down kriegies ranging far and wide.  Hitler ordered that  all 73 caught be shot.  Hermann Goring fought shooting any but had to compromise on 50 as he lost control of us to Heinrich Luitpold Himmler (Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel (SS), and a leading member of the Nazi Party. He was one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany and a main architect of the Holocaust. Our excellent commandant, Colonel von Lindeiner, was disgraced and fired.  He never handcuffed a prisoner but was handcuffed himself and ill treated when later captured by the Allies, and kept in jail in the UK for 2 years unable to help his impoverished wife who lost homes in Berlin to our bombing. In reprisal for getting back to Britain, Bram Van der Stok’s brother in Holland was shot by the Gestapo and his father tortured to death, Himmler gave control of us to SS general Gottlob Berger who, along with Eva Braun, failed to carry out Hitler’s harshest orders.  They saved my life. 
Using RAAF kriegie Paul Brickhill’s book, Hollywood grossed $12 million in its good 1963 film about our escape, but erred in inventing a motorcycle chase to please Steve McQueen who played a role making up for our valued USAAF missing their earned part in the Great Escape.  He acted as a key USAAF kriegie hero in a role that was actually a composite of 3 Canadians.   In 2009 I published my first blog. It answered this film.
In Sagan we had an unique situation where our individual latent talents could flourish.  We lacked the diversions of  cars, generation gaps, girls, grades, money, parties, and excess calories, We did have a worthy cause - the defeat of human failings so dominant in Nazi actions.
And, we had an inspiring motto, inherited from the RAF: “Per Ardua Ad Astra” (Through Difficulties to the Stars), so appropriate today. 

www.yeoldescribe.com              georgesweanor@comcast.net

Wednesday, 29 May 2019


The term ‘Middle East’ can be confusing.  It was coined about 1900 by a British civil servant and today numbers between 15 and 19 countries, including: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Cyprus, Gaza, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia. Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
North African countries also become associated.
The Arab World consists of 22 countries in the Middle East and North Africa: Algeria, Bahrain, the Comoros Islands, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
In 1948 Egypt, Iran and Pakistan signed the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights .  In 1990, 45 Islamic nations signed the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights based on Sharia Law.  It does not include a complaints mechanism.  In 2009 the Arab Human Rights Committee was formed to oversee compliance.  But, by 2012 only 15 Islamic states have ratified it.  Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
My previous blog dwelt briefly with Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Israel-Palestine, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Yemen with mention of Daesh, Hamas, and Hezbollah.  Shall we carry on?:
AFGHANISTAN The current untapped mineral wealth has been assessed at $3 trillion yet there is extreme poverty. Progress has been hampered by numerous war lords, 5 years, 1996-2001, of Taliban rule, drug profiteering, suicide bombings, a resurgent Taliban, and abuses by occupying troops sent to help, 
The country now has a strong human rights framework within its current constitution, none of which is enforced.  Afghan security forces and its intelligence agency have been accused of committing grave human rights violations like disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and torture of suspects. Afghanistan is ranked as one of the most corrupt countries and Afghans name the Ministry of Education the third most corrupt of 13 ministries.  Teaching is discouraged with many salaries below $100 a month and 41% of schools have no buildings.  Under Taliban rule, women were denied any schooling. Since then impressive starts at female education were made by Afghan women and organizations plus foreign countries and organizations.  Adult literacy rate of Afghans increased from 18 to 38% from 1979 to 2015 yet female literacy is 17%.  The most common ages for girls to marry are 15 and 16 thus denying further education.   Afghanistan has one of the world’s lowest literacy rates. 
Civilization began here some 5,000 years ago.  The earliest documents date from the  Iranian Achaemenian Dynasty, in control from 550 to 331 BC when Alexander the Great defeated the Achaemenian emperor Darius III and squashed resistance. Alexander and his successors, the Seleucids, brought Greek culture. Then the Mauryan Empire of India gained control bringing Buddhism. Nomadic Kushans established an empire with Afghanistan a cultural and commercial center (30–375 AD). They took Buddhism as far as China.  From the end of the Kushan Empire the area was fragmented under the Iranian Sassanian Empire untl  642 when Arabs invaded bringing Islam. Arab rule gave way to the Persians, who controlled the area until conquered by the Turkic Ghaznavids in 998.  Various princes ruled sections until the Mongol invasion of 1219, led by Genghis Khan. A descendant, Tamerlane, made Afghanistan part of his vast empire.
In 1747, Ahmad Shah Durrani unified the Pashtun tribes and created the Durrani Empire, which is considered the beginning of modern Afghanistan. In the late 1800s Afghanistan became a buffer state between the British Indian Empire and the Russian Empire.
Prior to WWI my wife’s father earned several citations as a member of the Royal Horse Artillery, with the responsibility to prevent Afghan hill tribes using the 53-mile Kyber Pass to raid Pakistan then part of India. 
On August 19, 1919, after the 3rd Anglo-Afghan war, the country regained full independence from the UK.
From the 1930s to the 1970s, Afghanistan had the essence of a national government and Kabul was known as the “Paris of Central Asia.” A brief foray into democracy ended in a 1973 coup and a 1978 Communist counter-coup. The Soviet Union invaded in 1979 to support the frail Afghan Communist regime, sparking a long and destructive war. The USSR withdrew in 1989 under relentless pressure from internationally supported anti-Communist mujahedin rebels.  In 1996, after a subsequent series of civil wars, Kabul fell to the Taliban, a hard-line, Pakistani-sponsored, movement that emerged in 1994 to end the country's civil war and anarchy. 
     After the 11 Sept 2001 New York tower attacks, a US, Allied, and Afghan anti-Taliban Northern Alliance military action toppled the Taliban for sheltering involved Osama Bin Laden. The UN-sponsored Bonn Conference in 2001 established a process for political reconstruction that included the adoption of a new constitution.
In December 2004, Hamid Karzai became the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan. The Nati
presidency came to an end in 20onal Assembly was inaugurated the following December. After winning a second term in 2009, Karzai's 14. The Afghanistan election of 2014 was controversial, and despite UN supervision there were many allegations of fraud. After a second round of voting, the two front runners, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah Abdullah, came to a power-sharing agreement. Ghani serves as the president. 
Despite gains toward building a stable central government, a resurgent Taliban and continuing provincial instability — particularly in the south and the east — remain serious challenges.
BAHRAIN:  A kingdom with 1.6 million people, Bahrain has the 9th-highest military expenditure per capita ($936) in the world. The USA and UK have naval bases there.
The Human Rights Watch describes Bahrain’s record as "dismal", and having "deteriorated sharply in the latter half of 2010". The government has marginalized the native Shia Muslim population. Torture and forced disappearances are common.  Its penal code is barbaric with stoning for minor offenses.
IRAQ - KUWAIT: perhaps named after influential Uruk, Sumer, founded 6,500 years ago, Iraq has both suffered from, and been guilty of, gross violations of human rights.  In 1638 it was taken by the Ottoman Turks from the Persian Empire, remaining as a backward and neglected province.
In 1798 Britain set up an office in Baghdad to keep an eye on Napoleonic threats to India.  In 1858 Britons explored the Tigris and Euphrates areas seeking commercial avenues and did make Basra a thriving port.  In 1908 the first discovery of oil in the Middle East in Persia (Iran) set off many searches. 
In March 1917, during WWI, Britain with Indian troops captured Iraq where oil was also found that by 1929 became the Iraq Petroleum Company, headquartered in London and is still controlled by British Petroleum, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell, Oil was found in Kuwait in 1938   In the 1970's Kuwait negotiated control of its oil from Chevron, a successor to Standard Oil, headquartered in California and active in over 180 countries.
As part of the breakup of the Ottoman Empire after WWI the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq was organized under a mandate of British protection which lasted until 1921 when it was granted independence.  Adjacent Kuwait had to wait until 1961.   In establishing boundaries among Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, little thought was given to the Arabs and Kurds who were resentful of hundred of year of colonial rule and forgotten British and French promises of independence.  Even Winston Churchill considered them uncivilized and needing the use of gruesome killing weapons to make them behave.   Tiring of military devastation, the UK formed puppet regimes.  In 1925 the UK set up the first, but supervised, parliamentary elections under puppet-King Feisal with full independence with a Leaque of Nations seat planned for 1932.  Feisal died in 1933, followed by his son, then 7 coups by 1941.  The UK sent forces to defeat the pro-Nazi regime in Bagdad.  There was turmoil until 1958 when a military coup overthrew King Feisal II, ending Hashemite rule that survives in Jordan.  A pro-British regent was killed, dragged through the streets, and run over by a fleet of busses. There was yet another coup after which thousands of Iraqis were massacred, Saddam Husein’s Baath party, in which he worked with the US CIA, rose to control.  It is believed that both the CIA and Husein supplied names for execution.  Husein thought his anti-communism would endear himself to the USA.
When the UK granted Kuwait independence in 1961, Iraq revived an old claim that Kuwait had been governed as part of an Ottoman province in southern Iraq and was therefore rightfully Iraq's. After intense global pressure, Iraq recognized Kuwait in 1963. Yet, there were occasional clashes along the Iraqi-Kuwait border, and relations between the two countries were sometimes tense.   Relations  improved during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), when Kuwait assisted Iraq with loans and diplomatic backing. After the war the Iraqi government launched a costly program of reconstruction.
By 1990 Iraq was $80 billion in debt so demanded that Kuwait forgive its share  and help with other payments. It also complained that Kuwait was pumping oil from a field that straddled the border and was not sharing the revenue. Iraq also accused Kuwait of producing more oil than allowed under OPEC quotas. Iraq's complaints grew increasingly harsh.
Kuwait had an army of 16,000 men, an airforce of 2,200, and a navy of 1,800, compared to Iraq’s 950,000 men, 4,500 tanks, and hundreds of fighter jets and helicopters., In spite of weeks of Iraqi military build-up along the border, Kuwait was caught off-guard when, 02 Aug 1990, Saddam Husein invaded Kuwait. The invasion took 2 days to defeat a strongly-resisting Kuwait that suffered 420 killed, 362 wounded, 120 tanks and armoured vehicles, 39 aircraft and 4 ships destroyed, and 12,000 POWs,   Kuwait’s king, Jaber III, and the government fled to Taif, Saudi Arabia.  About half of the Kuwaiti population, including 400,000 Kuwaitis and several thousand foreign nationals, fled the country. The Indian government evacuated over 170,000 overseas Indians by flying almost 488 flights over 59 days.   Organized resistance to Iraqi annexation and rule was immediate, causing a breakdown of Kuwait social restrictions but an increase in Iraqi arrests, tortures, and executions. 
World condemnations failed to eject Iraq, so 39 countries, with 28 contributing troops, followed the US lead in ousting Iraq, permitting the Kuwait government to return by 15 March 1991.  More than 600 Kuwaiti oil wells were set on fire by retreating Iraqi forces, causing massive environmental and economic damage to Kuwait.
Content with rescuing Kuwait, hostilities ceased, but the US led a long propaganda war accusing Iraq of various violations especially the false one of amassing weapons of mass destruction,  
On 19 Mar 2003, the US led a coalition that sent into Iraq 177,194 troops, about 130,000 US, 45,000 UK, 2,000 Australia, 200 Poland. Complete victory was claimed 01 May.  36 other countries were involved in its aftermath which included the disbandment of the Iraq Sunni army causing unemployment, resentment, and recruits for Al Qaida, prisons such as Abu Ghraib where the CIA and US troops were guilty of  torture, rape, and the murder of about 1,000 prisoners.  
Actually, it did seem an impossible task for the Coalition to inject democracy into a country long ruled by Sunni dictators.  The Shi’a were more moderate but still not up to the task even though there were only 100 revenge killings against Sunni oppressors.
Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shi’a cleric, whose father and two brothers were murdered by Saddam, rose to major importance in opposing US influence.  He supports the poor, the 2 million displaced Iraqis, fights corruption, and control from both the US and Iran.
  Corruption is pervasive at all levels of government in Iraq, ranking it 168th among countries freer of it.  It also rates near the bottom in human rights.  Numerous laws have been passed that lack enforcement.  Lack of empathy is enormous. 
QATAR:  Qatar’s 2.6 million people have the fourth-highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita (36.82 tonnes) in the world, along with the world’s highest per-capita income ($130,000) assisted by the abuse and low wages of  hundreds of thousands of mainly migrant south Asians, according to Human Rights Watch.
Qatar is rated the 16th safest country, Its Qatar Airways earns top ratings.  It forbids pork, pornography, an unmarried man and woman sharing the same dwelling, and controls the use of alcohol.  Flogging and stoning are legal under Sharia Law.  Qatar claims it does not use it but it is used in  the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, northern Nigeria, Afghanistan, Brunei, and tribal parts of Pakistan, including northwest Kurram Valley and the northwest Khwezai-Baezai region.
Qatar has issued dress and alcohol restrictions for tourists.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: A constitutional monarchy of 8 million people, rated #10 among world countries in economic freedoms, it consists of seven emirates, which are:  Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Ras al-Khaimah, Fujairah, and Umm al-Quwain.
Basically authoritarian and conservative, the UAE is one of the most liberal countries in the Gulf, with other cultures and beliefs generally tolerated.  It quarrels with Iran over ownership of some Gulf islands.  It did recognize Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Its economy boomed and diversified when it started to export oil in 1962.  It is now a tourist and trading hub with large foreign investments. 
ENHANCING HUMAN RIGHTS:   I extend my gratitude to the billions still striving to ensure empathy to the less fortunate, but much more light is needed to reveal the flaws of the country that considers itself the greatest ever, and in many respects is, even though it ranks 38th in human rights.  It is so frightening when its vice president tells the West Point graduating class that they are certain to see combat, thus implying that elements within the country will continue to be guilty of numerous violations of human, animal, and environmental rights, such as allowing the God of Greed to rule in disregard for foreigners, minorities, equal opportunities, the persecution of whistle blowers, ignoring science, and unbeneficial interference in other countries.  Improving the Middle East should be easier if we first eliminate our own flaws.
                                                                                   Ye Olde Scribe

Sunday, 12 May 2019


Billions of our species, Homo sapiens, individually and in groups, enjoy helping others navigate through this Life that can range from most pleasurable to most painful.  A smaller number, I refer to as Homo the Sap, have become dangerously powerful through worshiping the God of Greed.  How fares the Middle East? 
SAUDI ARABIA:  here was hope, starting in June 2017, when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud,  (known as bin Salman or MbS) was appointed by his father, King Salman, a Sunni Muslim and king since January 2015, to be his deputy prime minister on a platform of needed reforms.  MbS  is also chairman of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs, chairman of the Council of Political and Security Affairs, and minister of defense.  He has led several successful reforms, including regulations restricting the powers of the religious police,  removing of the ban on female drivers (except for those who first proposed it), the first Saudi public concerts by a female singer, the first Saudi sports stadium to admit women, an increased presence of women in the workforce, and opening the country to  tourists by introducing an e-visa system which can be issued to foreigners from the Internet to attend events.   Since 2011 Saudi Arabia has accepted 500,000 Syrian refugees.
Despite praise for his strides towards social and economic freedoms, human rights groups are frightened at bin Salman's leadership and the shortfalls of his reform program, citing a rising number of detentions and  torture of human-rights activists, his bombing of Yemen, the escalation of the Qatar crisis, the Lebanon–Saudi Arabia dispute, the diplomatic spat with Canada, the arrest of members of the Saudi royal family in November 2017, the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and of being an autocratic leader with no tolerance for dissidents.
On 24 April 2019 the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, condemned the silence of US President Donald Trump's administration on Saudi Arabia's mass execution of 37 people convicted of terrorism.   He complained:  "After a wink at the dismembering of journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, not a whisper from the Trump administration when Saudi Arabia beheads 37 men in one day -- even crucifying one two days after Easter." 
Nothing new for King Salman.  In January 2016, he executed 47 civilians, tortured and convicted for terrorism in 12 provinces. Also killed was Shi’a Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.  The executed included 11 men convicted of spying for Iran, and 14 others convicted of violence during their participation in anti-government demonstrations in the Shi’a majority Eastern Province between 2011 and 2012. The 14 men were subjected to prolonged pre-trial detention and were tortured for ‘confessions’.  Also, among those executed is Abdulkareem al-Hawaj – a 16-year-old Shi’a man - for anti-government protests. Under international law, the use of the death penalty against those who are under the age of 18  is strictly prohibited.
The House of Saud was founded in 1744.  King Salman has a net worth estimated at $17 billion. The net worth of the entire royal family has been estimated at well over $1.4 trillion,  making them one of the wealthiest families in the world if not the wealthiest.   Power and wealth is possessed by a group of about 2,000 of them.
YEMEN: In 2015, the Saudis led 8 other Sunni states to join the Yemeni conflict, supporting the government against the Iran-aligned Shi'a Huthi rebels.  One of the poorest Arab-World countries, Yemen is being devastated largely by Saudi indiscriminate airstrikes using aircraft and help from the USA, UK, and France, blamed for up to 65% of the reported 68,000 deaths.  A war-induced famine puts 13 million at risk of starving.  Cholera has  1.5 million suspected cases with 3,000 deaths.  More than 3 million people - including 2 million children - are acutely malnourished, making them more vulnerable to disease. The charity, Save the Children, estimates that 85,000 children with severe acute malnutrition may have died between April 2015 and October 2018.
Aden, a trading port for some 3,000 years and former capital of South Yemen, was occupied in January 1839 when the British East India Company landed Royal Marines to stop pirate attacks on shipping to India. Aden’s importance greatly increased when the Suez canal opened in 1869.  It became the British Aden Protectorate and one of the world’s busiest trading ports.  Northern Yemen remained part of the Ottoman Empire until 1918.  The British left in 1967 and Aden became The Republic of South Yemen with the capital in Sanaa which Houthi rebel fighters entered in September 2014 and took full control by January 2015.  The conflict has its roots in the failure of a transition supposed to bring stability to Yemen following an Arab Spring uprising that forced its longtime authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to relinquish power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, in 2011.
     Hadi struggled with jihadists, a separatist movement in the south, Saleh loyalists, as well as corruption, unemployment, and food insecurity.  It was a divided country that he Saudis invaded to destroy Iranian influence.
DAESH or ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yezidis, Christians, and Shi'a Muslims in areas it controls.  ISIS evolved from the jihad mujahideen guerrilla fighters employ by western forces to oppose the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, greatly augmented by the disbandment of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni army in Iraq.
MOSUL: Left in a crippled state after the 2003 US-led invasion, Iraq was unable to prevent Daesh from capturing and controlling Mosul in 2014.  The 9-month, 2016-17, street-to-street battle to retake it by Iraqi, Kurdish, and Western forces caused up to 11,000 civilian casualties and widespread devastation and disease.  Reconstruction is plagued by corruption.  The 2019 budget of $560 million allocated, in face of $1.8 billion needed, is largely misspent.  There are still 4 million tons of debris to be cleared.  
The total estimated population of 1,377,000 is over 60% Sunni Arab, 25% Kurds, and smaller numbers of Shi’a Arabs, Turkmen, Shabak, and Christians. Mosul is divided by the Tigris River, which creates different dynamics. The much longer occupation of West Mosul and the higher scale of damage incurred during the liberation of West Mosul create different priorities.
PALESTINE and ISRAEL: 137 of the world’s 193 nations recognize Palestine as an independent nation.  The US is the leading denier.  With considerable help from the US president, Donald Trump, Israel’s Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu  has won a 5th term (1996-1999 and 2009 to the present) as  prime minister.  It was a close and  hard fight with challenger Benny Ganz, a centrist and former military chief whose Blue and White alliance promises a continued opposition to the right wing policies of the Likud Party and personal corruption charges Netanyahu needs to face.
Netanyahu plans to continue expanding Israel at the expense of Palestine and Iran.  Palestinian frustration increases the number of missiles fired into Israel most of which are intercepted by the Iron Dome’s increasing deployment since 2011, even out to sea.  Foreign sales have been made and financial help received from the USA.  Hamas rocketing seems foolish, doing little harm compared to massive Israeli reactions that kill hundreds and destroy much infrastructure.  During the 3-day conflict in May 2019, of the 600 rockets Gaza fired into Israel about 155 were nullified by the Iron Dome.  The others killed 4 Israelis.  Israeli air strikes killed 27.  
The long-standing belief in the USA that Israel can do no wrong is now shifting towards Palestinian sympathies.  When Roger Waters, a world-renowned musician, organized at the University of Massachusetts, for May 04, 2019, a panel named “Not Backing Down”, 80 right-wing organizations, demanded that the event be cancelled and that the university disassociate itself from anything to do with it.  A judge ruled it could proceed.  The university invited as a speaker Hanan Daoud Mikhael Ashrawi,  age 72, a Palestinian leader, legislator, activist, and scholar who served as a member of the Leadership Committee and as an official spokesperson of the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace process, beginning with the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991. The Trump administration denied her a visa.
HEZBOLLAH:  After its invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Israel occupied a strip of south Lebanon, which was controlled by the South Lebanon Army (SLA), a militia supported by Israel. Hezbollah was conceived by Shi’a Muslim clerics and funded by Iran primarily to harass the Israeli occupation.
HAMAS:  A Palestinian Sunni-Islamist fundamentalist organization. It has a social service wing, Dawah, and a military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. It has been the de facto governing authority of the Gaza Strip since its takeover of that area in 2007. During this period it fought several wars with Israel.
IRAN:  Human Rights activists may operate in Iran and some progress has been made, but the UN criticizes its abuses.  There were 273 executions in 2018 and in 2019 two teenagers were flogged and executed.
    In 1901 a British speculator got a concession to explore for oil in southern Iran and to develop any found.  Oil was found in 1908.  Since then Iran has been exploited by the UK, US, USSR, and various companies, while receiving a pittance for its oil and being charged inflated prices for the goods it imported.
In 1941 the UK imposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavin to rule Iran and the US even offered him nuclear weapons.  Iranian resentment continued to grow.  In 1951 the Majlis (Iranian parliament) forced the Shah to allow  Mohammad Mosaddegh to nationalize the oil.  In reprisal Iranian oil was boycotted and the Abadan Refinery, one of the world’s largest was forced to close.  In 1953 Prime Minister Mosaddegh was overthrown by a military coup by the CIA and UK MI6 and kept under arrest until his death in 1967.
In 1979 Iranian college students took over the US embassy, holding 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days.  Six other US diplomats were smuggled out by the Canadian diplomatic staff.    In 2015 a deal was signed curtailing Iran’s ability to start a nuclear weapons program.  Iran has lived up to  it but Trump withdrew the US in 2018, tightening sanctions.  Survival forces Iran into closer ties elsewhere.
  Unbelievably bizarre, apparently at the bequest of Netanyahu, is Trump’s inhumane treatment of Iran, Aiming to destroy it economically, he is actually misusing US economic might by weaponizing it and dictating to the world that they must not trade with Iran or face crippling sanctions.    Trying to cut Iran’s oil revenue from $50 billion annually to zero, he imposed sanctions in 2018, allowing a 6-month exemption to those dependent on Iranian oil: China, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey to find other sources.
A year after Tump pulled out of the nuclear pact with Iran, Iran, having lived up to its terms and getting nothing in return, announced it would start enriching uranium for peaceful purposes while Trump sends a carrier group to the Mediterranean to teach Iran a lesson.
EGYPT:  An absolute and very dangerous scoundrel, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in a controlled election, has won a second term as president.  And, what is so demoralizing is the presidential praise he got during a New York visit and the restoration of US military aid.   The EU adopted a strong resolution against Egypt’s behaviour and the UN detailed a long list of abuses including widespread torture and execution for mild dissent.  Canada complained: “ In 2013, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, grabbed power from the democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi in a coup d'etat, cheered on by Washington.  El-Sisi has tortured and killed thousands of followers of Morsi's Islamic Brotherhood, most of the rest of whom rot in prison, along with Morsi.”
TURKEY:   June 2018 saw President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan re-elected president, but his AKP party lost control of Ankara and Istanbul.  Turkish human rights are protected by  international law treaties, Yet they are of high importance for the negotiations to join  the European Union.  They include the status of Kurds and numerous human rights violations over the years. There is an ongoing debate on the right to life, torture, freedoms of expression, religion, assembly and association. Minorities cannot get a primary education in their mother tongue. The largest minority, the Kurds, 15% of the population, have no right to self-determination yet Turkey signed the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). In March 2017, the UN accused the Turkish government of "massive destruction, killings and numerous other serious human rights violations" against the Kurds.  Turkey has imprisoned more journalists than any other country.
But, to many in the US and NATO, Turkey’s major crime is their purchase of the cheaper Russian S-400 Triumph surface-to-air missile defence system, currently deployed in China and Syria, and is not NATO compatible.
ALGERIA:  Free elections were held from 1988, but a victory by the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in 1991 sparked a military coup d'état and the imposition, of a state of emergency under which basic human rights were suspended. Freedom of expression, association, and assembly were severely restricted, and many were arrested without charge. A civil war raged from 1991 to 1999, and there have been no official investigations into the massive human-rights violations during the conflict.  The government's main opponent was the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), a violent Al Qaeda affiliate also causing a wave of bombings in Paris in 1995.  The terrible fratricide got little coverage in Western media, despite the fact that it probably claimed twice as many lives as the Bosnian conflict, which ran concurrently and received nonstop Western attention.
Abdelaziz Bouteflika, president since 1999, lifted a state of emergency in 2011 and human rights have improved recently, but large scale protests continue over restrictions on freedom of expression, of the press, of association, of assembly, and of movement.  Extensive corruption and discrimination against women remains.
There is so much more; I do need to continue in my next blog.  May I leave you with a frightening example?
PAKISTAN:  ASIA BIBI,  a poor Pakistani Christian woman farm worker spent 8 years on death row for insulting Islam, a charge she denies.  In 2009 she was convicted of blasphemy after a dispute with 2 farm workers who refused to drink out of the same container as a Christian.  She was sentenced to be hanged.
The case got international attention as it emphasized Pakistan’s harsh laws that harass minorities such as Christians who make up 1.6% of the population. In 2011 her case sparked the assassination of Salmon Taseer, governor of Punjab by his own bodyguard claiming it was their duty because he supported Bibi.
Shahbaz Bhatt, the only Christian member in the cabinet, was also killed.
In Oct 2018, the Pakistan Supreme Court overturned Bibi's conviction.  Thousands took to streets protesting acquittal.  In Nov 2018 Canada asked that she be allowed to fly to Canada where her husband, Ashiq Masih, and her two daughters lived having fled Pakistan during her incarceration.           She has arrived in Canada but her location is being kept secret as hard-line muslims have vowed to pursue and kill her.
Over 1,300 in Pakistan have been accused of religious offences since 1987.
Ye Olde Scribe

Saturday, 20 April 2019


     On Sunday, 07 April 2019. at the capital, Kigali, where 250,000 victims are buried, President Paul Kagame, and his wife, Jeannette, returned world attention to the 1994 100-day orgy of ethnic murders of 800,000 minority upper-class Tutsi by the majority lower-class Hutu. They organized a 25th anniversary memorial aimed to impress guests from the African Union, Belgium, Canada, Chad, the Congo. Republic, Djibouti, Ethiopia, the European Union, and Niger with the impressive improvement they had made. The memorial also prompted French president, Emmanuel Macron, to order a thorough investigation into the role of France that had helped both sides.
     This wave of ethnic cleansing exploded when an aircraft, carrying Burundi president, Cyprien Ntaryamira, and Rwanda president, Juvenal Habyarimana, both Hutu, was shot down with surface-to-air missiles while landing at Kigali 06 Apr 1994. Hutu blamed the Tutsi, but doubts remain.
      Conflict was ongoing at the time.  In 1993, a UN peacekeeping force under command of Canadian general Roméo Dallaire was sent in. He became disillusioned with inadequate and indifferent world support.  Overwhelmed by the Hutu, and, after 10 of his Belgian troops had been murdered, he withdrew, leaving behind a token force of mainly Ghanaian and Tunisian volunteers until the Hutu victory in 1996. In 2003, Dallaire published his book “Shake Hands With The Devil - the Failure of Humanity in Rwanda” He remains an outspoken critic of world ethnic cleanses and the use of child soldiers.
     Today, Rwanda remains one of the smallest countries in Africa. It has 12 million predominantly young, densely-packed rural people speaking 3 official languages: Kinyarwanda, French, and English. It has a temperate climate with 2 dry and 2 rainy seasons per year. It is bordered by Burundi, the Congo Republic, Tanzania, and Uganda. Its people are one linguistic group containing: Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa, a forest-living pygmy group descended for the first humans there.
     The 1884 German and 1916 Belgian colonial periods introduced and promoted Christianity. The Rwandan Banyarwanda religion’s creator, Imana, is now considered the same as Jesus Christ.  Roman Catholicism is the leading religion at 43%, followed by Protestantism at 37%, and Islam 2%. All must now be proud Rwandans.
     There is much to support this unified belief: There is low corruption, and;
     Rwanda is one of only two countries with a female majority in its parliament;
     Rwanda is one of only two countries where mountain gorillas can be visited safely;
     Access to electricity has increased from 18 to 70%.
     The GDP has increased from $416 in 1994 to $2,225 in 2018.
     The World Economic Forum rates Rwanda as the world’s 9th safest country to visit.
     Free education has been increased to 12 years and professional sports teams compete well                   internationally.
  Yet Rwanda rates among the lowest in happiness, Critics claim that only tourists and local politicians enjoy Rwanda’s stability. There is a climate of fear imposed by intimidation and restrictions on freedom of speech with frequent suppression of opposition groups. Reporters Without Borders calls Kagame a predator who attacks press freedom, citing the fact that in the last two decades, eight journalists have been killed or have gone missing, 11 have been given long jail terms, and 33 forced to flee Rwanda. Anjan Sundaram in his book “Last Journalists in a Dictatorship” details Rwanda’s suffocation of a free press, giving a 12-page list of journalists harmed.  He also tells of rows of homes in a rural province made roofless by owners to please Kagame who objects to thatched roofs that he considered non-modern. The country has been governed by a strict administrative hierarchy since precolonial times; there are five provinces with borders established in 2006. Kagame, president since 2000, admits there are large areas of poverty and that most children are malnourished.
     For a better understanding of this dilemma, we do need to look at still-controversial Rwandan history:
     Hunter-gatherers settled the area in the stone and iron ages, followed by the Bantu, first with clans then with up to 8 kingdoms, all including Tutsi Hutu, and Twa. The Kingdom of Rwanda dominated from the mid-eighteenth century, with the Tutsi kings conquering others and enacting anti-Hutu policies. In 1884 Germany colonized Rwanda as part of German East Africa. Gustav Adolf von Götzen, was the first European to effectively explore it. The Germans ruled by backing the king and local chiefs . In 1916, during World War 1, Belgium invaded and exerted more direct colonial rule but still through local kings who perpetuated a pro-Tutsi policy.
     In 1959 the Hutus revolted, massacred numerous Tutsi, and established an independent, Hutu-dominated, state in 1962. A 1973 military coup changed leadership, but pro-Hutu policy remained. Some 500,000 Tutsi had fled Rwanda. Their request to return home peacefully was refused by the Hutu Habyarimana, president since 1973.
     The Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) under Paul Kagame, launched a civil war in 1990 ending in 1993 when the Hutu accepted a peace deal. The RPF had won a military victory only to face the 1994 uprising.
      An amazing example of the current wave of forgiveness is the 15 April Christiane Amanpour PBS interview of Tutsi genocide survivor, Denise Uwimana, who lost her husband but saved her family including the baby she gave birth to under a bed while soaked in the blood of victims. This son, now 25, was due to a Hutu rape.  She forgives all for a better future.
     The economy is recovering from the great harm of the genocide. Major exports are coffee, tea, tin,
cassiterite, wolfframite, and pyrethrum. Also mined are sapphires, gold, and coltan, Manufacturing contributes 17% of the GDP.  By 2017 tourism generated $444 million from 1.2 million visitors. The RwandAir fleet of a dozen, mainly Airbus, aircraft flies to Brussels, London, Nairobi, Entebbe, Lagos, Mumbai, Johannesburg and Cape Town. with the motto “Come, Grow With Us”.
     Ethiopia is achieving a similar resurrection from a civil war that inflicted over 1.4 million casualties, 400,000 from conflict and a million by a ruinous famine.
     Benedict Oramah, president of the African Export-Import Bank, has invested over $200 million in Rwandan development, praising its can-do spirit. The Africa boss at the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Matshidiso Moeti, chose Kigali for this year’s first ever Africa Health Forum. She praised Kagame for remarkable leadership, creativity, tenacity and resolve in achieving health progress in a short space of time.
     Elder Nigerian statesman, Olusegun Obasanjo, announced “Rwanda has made difficult trade-offs. But as an African leader, I would make the same trade-offs.”
     Kagame was elected to chair the African Union’s April summit in Addis Ababa.
     Big money interests are embracing Rwanda.  Kagame has made Kigali his show case. The city is
immaculate, Its streets can be walked safely anywhere at any time. There are fancy hotels and restaurants. parks, urban farms, and golf courses are springing up and the views are spectacular. New housing developments attract so many that prices become inflated and renters must move on to high-rise rather than single-family houses.
     Some of the trade-offs include shades of totalitarian Nazi-Germany, the USSR, and China.  For example:  one day each month, villages must come together to participate in Umuganda, a nationwide community service day. Afterwards, villages will meet to discuss issues, such as directives from the national government. Those who do not toe the line, who have not signed up for mandatory health insurance, or who have not delivered on personal pledges may be reprimanded or, on occasion, kicked out of the community. Each layer of society must answer to the one above it.
     A resultant improvement can be seen in healthcare. In 2000, life expectancy was 49 years. It is now 64.5.  Child mortality is down over two-thirds. Maternal mortality is down about 80%.  HIV/Aids prevalence is down to 3% from 13%. There is now one doctor for every 6,000 people, compared 10,555 in 2000.
     But, there is Anjan Sundaram’s “Last Journalists in a Dictatorship” detailing Rwanda’s suffocation of a free press with a 12-page list of journalists who have allegedly been beaten, tortured, exiled or killed by Kagame’s government. It is not, Sundaram says, an exhaustive list.
     Kagame’s forces were also implicated in atrocities – and, later, were to contribute to a devastating war in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo that left millions of civilians dead.
     The arbitrary arrest of poor people is part of an unofficial government practice to hide ‘undesirable’ people from view, and contrasts with the Rwandan government’s impressive efforts to reduce poverty,” said Human Rights Watch.  One of these detention centres is the notorious Iwawa Island. Officially, it’s a rehabilitation centre for drug addicts, set in the glittering blue waters of Lake Kivu.  Unofficially, it’s often described as Rwanda’s Alcatraz, where enemies of the state, along with its poor and homeless, are kept in prison-like conditions.
     While Kagame’s impressive improvements in Rwanda deserve praise, his disdain of those who do not fit into his agenda is unforgivable, especially as the rising wave of far-right-wing groups are prone to copy such strongarm tactics whose true costs need exploring.
     Those who create good for all, including the environment, must have the last word.

www.yeoldescribe,com                                                                          georgesweanor@comcast.net

Saturday, 30 March 2019


When consulting History to assess the crisis in Venezuela, we must remember that it has the world’s largest reserves of oil and is also rich in bauxite, coltan, and gold, all of which have been nationalized, perhaps overly.
       Venezuela (Little Venice) was named after Venice, Italy, in 1499  by the 2nd Spanish expedition, led by Alonso de Ojeda, sailing along the length of the NE coast of South America.  The first  European to reach South America was Columbus in 1498, on his 4th voyage.  He found the pearl island of Venezuela, stating natives could be used to harvest them for us.  In 1521 Spain built its first permanent American settlement in the what became the city of Cumaná (translated as “union of the river and sea”), Venezuela.  When the Spanish arrived Venezuela had a native population of one million.  From Columbus on, all were considered inferior but useful a slaves.
Original human settlements originated 9,000 years ago by hunter-gatherer groups that had evolved into tribes, such as the Kalina (Caribs), Auaké, Caquetio, Mariche, and Timoto-Cuicas. The Timoto-Cuicas culture was the most complex  with pre-planned permanent villages, surrounded by terraced fields, irrigated by water stored in tanks. Their houses were made primarily of stone and wood with thatched roofs. They were usually peaceful, and depended on growing crops including the root crops, potatoes and ullucos. They left us works of art like ceramics, but no major monuments. They spun vegetable fibers to weave into textiles and mats for housing. They invented the arepa (ground maize dough), a  Venezuelan staple.
Native caciques (leaders), such as Guaicaipuro and Tamanaco, attempted to resist Spanish incursions, but were subdued.  The Spanish founder of Caracas, Diego de Losada, had Tamanaco executed.
In 1528, to pay off debts owed by Charles I of Spain, Venezuela was given to the Augsburg, Germany, Welser banking family that then searched extensively for the legendary golden city of El Dorado, founding Maracaibo in 1529.  In 1546 Charles revoked the Welser contract.  There were about 2,000 European settlers.
The opening of gold mines in 1632 increased slavery of the natives, then of imported Africans. The first real economic success was the raising of livestock on the grassy plains known as llanos.— a few Spanish landowners and widely dispersed native herdsmen on introduced horses copied the old latifundia feudal estates of Rome.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the cities suffered relative neglect. The Viceroyalties of New Spain and Peru, headquarted on the sites that had been the capital cities of the Aztecs and Incas, showed more interest in their nearby gold and silver mines than in the remote agricultural societies of Venezuela. Responsibility for the Venezuelan territories shifted to and between the two viceroyalties.
In the 18th century, a second Venezuelan society formed along the coast with the cocoa plantations manned by much larger importations of African slaves, many of whom also worked in the haciendas of the grassy llanos. Most surviving natives had migrated to the plains and jungles where only Spanish friars took an interest in them — especially the Franciscans who compiled grammars and small lexicons for some of their languages. 
Under the Viceroyalty of New Granada, established in 1717, Caracus had a close monopoly on trade with Europe.  Cacao had opened Venezuelan ports to foreign commerce. Unlike other Spanish American dependencies, Venezuela had many more contacts with Europe through the British and French  Caribbean islands.  Caracas had become an intellectual powerhouse. From 1721, it had its own university, teaching Latin, engineering, medicine, and the humanities. Its most illustrious graduate, Andrés Bello, became the greatest Spanish American polymath of his time. In Chacao, east of Caracas, there flourished a school of music whose director, José Ángel Lamas, produced impressive compositions.  The Mantuanos (white Creole elite, wealthy from cacao) had access to a solid education, but became overbearing, and zealous in affirming their privileges against the pardo (mixed-race, free blacks and slaves) majority.  Creoles are Spaniards born in America not Spain as were Peninsulares.
Influenced by the French Revolution, the first organized resistance against the regime occurred in 1797, but was put down with the collaboration of the mantuanos who were afraid of radical social changes.
The Napoleonic Wars in Europe weakened Spain's imperial power and put Britain on the side of the independence movement. In May 1808, Napoleon Bonaparte won the abdication of Ferdinand VII of Spain, replacing him with his brother, Joseph Bonaparte. That was the beginning of Spain's own War of Independence from French hegemony and partial occupation before the Spanish-American wars of independence began. The first major defeat that Napoleonic France suffered was at the Battle of Bailén in Andalusia in July 1808. The French rebounded to invade southern Spain. The Spanish government fled to the island redoubt of Cádiz. 
Taking advantage of Spain’s problems, The Caracus city council in 1810 set up a new, self-appointed, junta, claiming it also supported the pardos.  In 1811, seven of the ten provinces of the Captaincy General of Venezuela declared their independence from Spain.  The Venezuelan War of Independence ensued, along with that of New Granada. The First Republic was lost in 1812 following the 1812 Caracas 7.7 earthquake that killed 20,000 and the Battle of La Victoria.  The campaigns of 1813 saw many rivals contesting for power as loyalists to Spain or to independence parties seeking the Second Republic of Venezuela.  Simon Bolívar recruited a Mantuanos army and invaded Venezuela from the southwest by crossing the Andes and re-establishing the Republic of Venezuela on 6 August 1813,   Santiago Mariño and Manuel Piar, a pardo from the Dutch island of Curaçao, were successfully fighting royalists in eastern Venezuela. So two independent Venezuelan states were set up, one in the west headed by Simon Bolívar at age 27, and one in the east headed by Mariño.
      José Thomás Boves, initiated a widespread pardo movement against the restored Republic. Bolívar and José Félix Ribas held and defended the mantuano-controlled center of Venezuela. In the east, the royalists started recovering territory. After suffering a setback, Mariño and Bolívar joined their forces, but they were defeated by Boves in 1814. Republicans were forced to evacuate Caracas and flee to the east, where, in the port of Carúpano, Piar was still holding out. Piar did not accept Bolívar's supreme command, and once again Bolívar left Venezuela and went to New Granada (1815) to liberate it.
In 1820, liberal sections of the military under Rafael del Riego established a constitutional monarchy, which precluded new Spanish invasions of America. Before his recall to Spain, Morillo signed a truce with Bolívar. In 1821 at the Battle of Carabobo Bolivar’s 8,000-strong Gran Colombian army defeated the 5,000-strong Royalist army that included British volunteers.  The victory ended the Royalist cause. 
In Venezuela, a province of Gran Colombia, José Antonio Páez, backed by the ruling clique in Caracas, initiated the separation of Venezuela in 1826. Bolívar returned to Bogotá, where vice-president Francisco José de Paula Santander complained about Venezuelan insubordination. 
In 1828, due to opposition he faced both in Venezuela and in New Granada and because his Great Colombia had started to disintegrate, Bolívar named himself dictator. After escaping an assassination attempt, he arrested suspects including Admiral José Prudencio Padilla, a pardo who had fought Nelson at Trafalgar and became the founder of the Colombian Navy, executing him for treason.  Later he was exonerated.  Santander was also suspected and sentenced to die but Bolivar exiled him   He returned in 1832 to lead a 2nd administration, continuing to execute most of the rest of the Spanish officers still in captivity, who had been saved by Bolivar  Santander's murderous pursuit including General José Sardá, accused of leading the plot to kill Bolivar.  
Peruvians invaded Guayaquil so Bolívar returned to Quito in 1829 to repulse them, but the invasion had petered out before he arrived. Back in Bogotá, Bolívar pleaded for unity and, though he had offered to resign various times, this time, when Great Colombia had a new constitution and a president, Joaquin Mosquera, Bolívar finally did resign in 1830.  The same year his close friend, Antonio José de Sucre y Alcalá, the 4th president of Peru and the second of Bolivia was assassinated  Páez not only had declared the second independence of Venezuela but also had promoted a campaign against Bolívar who, sick ans exhausted, rode to the coast with the intention of leaving the country, He died near Santa Marta in Colombia at the age of 47.
Turmoil continued.  The Federal War, 1859-1863, was the most bloody since the War of Independence. The start of the 20th century saw several notable international crises: the Venezuela Crisis of 1895 under Joaquín Crespo (a dispute with Britain over Guayana Esequiba) and the Venezuela Crisis of 1902–1903 (Venezuela's refusal to pay foreign debts) under Cipriano Castro. There were coups in 1945, 1948, 1958, 1993, and 2002. 
Venezuela suffered political turmoil and autocracy, remaining dominated by regional caudillos (military strongmen) until 1958, when the country started a series of democratic governments. But problems continued. 
Despite being elected twice as a populist, 1974-79, and 1989-1993,  Carlos Andrés Pérez proved less generous with hand-outs.  He supported: no price controls, privatizations, and laws to attract foreign investment.  His 10% increase in the cost of gasoline caused a 30% jump in fares for public transportation. An 1989 popular uprising was crushed by the army with an official death toll of 276, but actually higher.  There were 2 attempted coups in 1992.  In 1996 Pérez was impeached for embezzlement of funds and sentenced to 28 months in prison.
Venezuela had 4 presidents before Hugo Chávez who was elected in 1999.  John Bolton, US National Security Advisor,  accused Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua of being part of a “troika of tyranny.”  Chávez served until 2013 when he died and his vice president, Nicolas Maduro, took over.  Chávez had humble origins but did graduate from high school then, seeking social justice, he joined the academy of military sciences, took part in many activities, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel.  After a failed 1992 coup, he turned himself in and was arrested.
In 2000, with a new set of relations between socioeconomic classes, voters approved a new constitution and re-elected Chávez, placing many members of his Fifth Republic Movement party in the National Assembly, calling the process the Bolivarian Revolution, organised into different government-funded groups.
In April 2002, Chávez was ousted in a coup by military and media groups, hut he was returned to power after two days due to demonstrations by the majority. He then embarked on a long process of sharing the benefits of the county’s resources that had been enriching the Venezuelan elite and foreign companies.  Its oil reserves had been tied to 32 agreements with 22 companies.  Revenues became 30% of GDP and  80% of export revenue by 2001.  To share the profits with all, he raised taxes 80%.  Companies fled so he nationalized oil in 2007, losing the means to sustain and increase production, yet in 2012 he was easily re-elected.  A member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Venezuela is highly dependent on oil whose price fluctuates rapidly. In 2014, it dropped, causing the economy to contract each quarter since.  The Central Bank's monetary reserves also declined. A severe shortage of goods followed, with necessities in short supply. In 2007, on paying off its debt 5 years ahead of schedule,  Venezuela terminated official financial relations with the IMF and the World Bank that it joined in 1946.  Both say they will offer assistance if called upon.
Chávez nationalized oil production, banking, telecommunications, metallurgy and mining. The high price of oil allowed him to fund ambitious public programs. This included a Caracus - Buenos Aires rail link that was to service places in between.  Due to all this, plus redistributive policies, the poverty rate was cut from 50 % in 1998 to 30% in 2013,  When Chavez died in Mar 2013, Vice President Nicolás Maduro was elected narrowly, determined to continue social equality.   But the price of oil sank and the economy worsened.  Maduro opposed daily street protests using lethal force.  The UN reported 8,292 executions, 2015-17, yet he won re-election in 2018 by jailing opposition leaders and threatening job losses.  Canada, Panama, and the USA imposed sanctions.   
The per capita income was $7,808 in 2013.  Inflation accompanied falling income. By 2017 it was predicted to reach 720%.  This affected the ability of the economy to remain viable.  A US  financial embargo in Aug 2017 plus a trade embargo in Jan 2019 have hurt considerably.  Of a 32 million population, 3 million destitute and hungry people have fled the country.  This is forecast to rise to 8 million.  Reported refugee destinations are:  Colombia 1.1 million, Peru 520,000, Ecuador 220,000, Argentina 130,000, Chile 100,000, Panama 94,000, and Brazil 85,000.  Canada resettled 40,000 Syrian refugees but has taken in only just over 100 Venezuelans.  In the USA the Trump administration has brought refugee admissions to historic lows, from the 110,000 yearly limit set by Obama in 2017, to 45,000 in 2018, and now 30,000 officially but much lower actually. 
Maduro’s main opponent is Juan Guaidó, a founder in 2009 of the Popular Will Party, a member of the 153-member Socialist International, an organization promoting a fairer world.  Guaidó argued that Chávez had become too totalitarian and that Maduro had seized power illegally.  Building a following he declared himself president, immediately accepted by the US that led a group of 65 Nations to support him against Maduro who was supported by the UN itself and 50 nations including  China, Cuba, Iran, Turkey and Russia from whom Venezuela has bought fighter jets. In August 2018 Maduro survived an assassination attempt when he was attacked by a small drone. He accused the U.S. and Colombia.
After Trump abandoned nuclear disarmament treaties, Russia retaliated in December 2018 with a visit of Tupolev-160 supersonic bombers to Venezuela’s La Orchila Island air base, then announced Maduro’s  approval to base some there.  Russia then landed 200 troops and can justify this dangerous move by citing NATO bases on its borders as well as the fact that the US has interfered in far more countries for decades.  Despite closing hundreds of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States still supports almost 800 military bases in over 70 countries.  The UK, France, and Russia, have about 30 foreign bases combined.
Venezuela is now a battleground among socialism, capitalism, dictatorial regimes, reformers, and the Supreme Tribunal of Justice in Exile that sentenced Madura to 18 years in prison.  We need to negotiate, peacefully without cruel sanctions.  Venezuela needs help without the fear of a commercial or military takeover.  Current flash points include: the US withdrawal of diplomatic staff, the financing of 90 Guaidó trips to foreign countries, his taunt that Maduro’s administration was too dysfunctional to arrest him, Maduro’s response of arresting him and barring him from civic office for 15 years, and Trump’s Oval office hosting the wives of Gaidó and his chief of staff.  This is another world-threatening situation that demands immediate dialogue and cool heads.  Many of the Latin American countries that the US has persuaded to join the Guaidó camp are those in which the US has supported cruel dictators that have caused the exodus of millions of persecuted migrants against whom the Trump administration is insisting  on completing a formidable, expensive, and unnecessary wall to deny them refuge.  In controllable numbers, migrants have been beneficial to receiving countries.  But they invoke genocide, war, disruption, disease, ethnic hatreds, and terrible suffering.  It is so much cheaper and sensible to support world organizations that promote and finance the eradication of problems at home that incubate such infections.  We do have the intelligence and wherewithal. Yes, remedies can be very painful, but do we have a choice if our goal is to save our planet and the treasures it still offers? 

www.yeoldescribe.com georgesweanor@comcast.net