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March 29, 2010
Cape Town makes strides in combating tuberculosis

Gladys Jaxa, a TB patient in Khayelitsha township.

March 24 was World Tuberculosis Day, so Worldfocus decided to take a deeper look at the disease that has long been a deadly threat.

Tonight’s Worldfocus special edition on deadly diseases includes a piece by Debra Daugherty about how one South African community has somewhat successfully combated the disease.

Despite advances, tuberculosis nevertheless remains a deadly threat around the globe. The New York Times describes the South African fight against tuberculosis:

South Africa, the richest country in the region, has poured money into building more space in hospitals for drug-resistant TB patients, but researchers say the number of new patients will grow faster than the country can add hospital beds…

It is hard to imagine a more ideal place than [Khayelitsha, a township outside Cape Town] for the spread of tuberculosis, a disease that hovers in the air. People here live at close quarters in overcrowded shacks that sprawl, like colorful jumbles of debris, as far as the eye can see. They go to work crammed into minibuses. They gather in the evening in the homes of friends who have televisions, or in small saloons…

The idea [of the new pilot program] is to show that such patients can be successfully treated in an impoverished community like Khayelitsha even while they are still infectious.

Tuberculosis is fueled in areas with rampant poverty, overcrowding, HIV and substance abuse and many factors. Cape Town suffers a high rate of TB but has managed to “achieve the best cure rate for the disease (almost 80%) compared to other metros in the country last year.” According to the city’s government:

Cape Town has an extremely high number of TB cases with 28,956 reported cases in 2009 and an incidence rate of 877 per 100,000 (compared with a national figure of about 500 per 100,000).

For its progress, Cape Town has been awarded by the United Nations for its efforts in the battle against TB. According to South African newspaper The Good News:

[Cape Town] received the award for its creative response to two different problems affecting poor communities in Cape Town. The first problem is that the incidence of TB has been rising consistently over the last 10 years while cure rates have remained static. This is partly because patients fail to complete the lengthy treatment or their response to treatment is not adequately documented, due to the intense pressure that nursing staff work under.

The second problem, though not directly a health issue, is the question of unemployment, especially for recently matriculated learners who are unable to find a foothold in the formal economy.

In response to these problems, city, provincial and TB/HIV Care Association health officials came up with the idea of employing unemployed school leavers as TB assistants and TB clerks to monitor and record TB treatment schedules.

After receiving the award in February 2010, the city published new targets for combating TB in 2010.

  • New smear positive TB cure rate per quarter: 78%
  • Slow the rate of increase of TB per 100 000 of Cape Town population: ≤1090
  • % TB patients tested for HIV: 90%
  • % HIV-positive TB patients who have a CD4 count: 95%

– Stephanie Savage

March 15, 2010
Mongolia faces climate-driven humanitarian crisis

In one of the most sparsely populated regions of the world, the hardy inhabitants are fighting for survival.

Mongolia’s three million people and forty million animals are now being tested by a brutal winter that followed a drought last summer.

Tony Birtley of Al Jazeera English reports how grazing, the backbone of the country’s economy, is under threat.

Mongolia battles severe weather yearly, but this year, the UB Post reports that Mongolia is experiencing a “dzud,” which is a summer drought followed by an even harsher winter”

Before this winter (2009-2010), Mongolia had not experienced a dzud since early 2002. This winter, Mongolia is experiencing unusually cold weather with temperatures dropping well below minus 20 [-4 Fahrenheit] as early as mid-December. It is expected temperatures will fall to minus 48 [-54 Fahrenheit] as northerly weather brings bitter snow storms from Siberia.

Roughly 47% of Mongolia’s 2.7 million people rely heavily on herding livestock. A blog from the World Bank reports:

Around 35 percent of Mongolia’s work force is dependent on herding for a substantial part of their livelihoods and about 63 percent of rural household’s assets are livestock; livestock herding accounts for about a third of employment in Mongolia. Food security is also worsening, poverty levels are likely to rise and these factors may cause an increase in rural-to-urban migration. Compounding the problem is the poor condition of many pastures as a result of last year’s drought and overgrazing. In addition heavy snowfall started earlier than usual in October 2009.

According to AFP:

More than 3.5 million animals — cows, sheep, goats, yaks, horses and camels — have died so far, with 60 percent of the country still buried under deep snow.

Hundreds of thousands of livestock have perished due to lack of nourishment because the winter weather has made the ground infertile. Dead livestock in the region poses a potential threat for disease and has already directly impacted the economic and physical conditions of the Mongolian nomadic peoples.

The United Nations recently launched a campaign to provide funding to clear out dead livestock. In an effort to boost economic livelihood as well as to avoid further disaster, The Guardian reports that many Mongolian nomads are being paid to clear out the dead livestock in the affected regions.

The United Nations has launched a $4 million dollar carcass-clearing appeal for Mongolia as millions of camels, goats, yaks and horses perish across the steppe from a climate double whammy of summer drought and winter snow.

The international body will pay nomads to collect and bury dead livestock to ease the risks of disease, soil contamination and a worsening humanitarian disaster in a nation where one-third of the 2.7m population depends on animal husbandry.

As an initial step, [the United Nations Development Programme] has allocated $300,000 and will raise more fund to pay herders $4 a day to clean and bury carcasses. Eventually, it hopes to reach 60,000 of the worst affected families.

– Stephanie Savage

March 9, 2010
Bumpy road ahead for renewed Middle East peace talks

The Israeli West Bank barrier. Photo Flickr user ChrisYunker

Palestinian leaders have agreed to a further round of indirect negotiations with Israel, more than a year after the last attempt to reach a settlement broke down in December 2008.

The planned negotiations, which do not yet have a timetable, will be mediated by the U.S., and special envoy George Mitchell will travel between the two delegations. Direct talks are not envisaged at this stage.

The Palestinian Liberation Organization has set a four-month limit on the process, and its leaders have said they do not expect results from the renewed talks, which have been endorsed by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, Israel and the U.S.

In a recent development that has strained the peace talk proposals, yesterday Israel has approved the construction of 112 new apartments in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Illit. Israeli officials say the approval was granted before a 10-month moratorium on new construction in Jewish settlements within the disputed territory.

Israel has also approved plans to build 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem, an area not included in the moratorium but which the international community considers occupied territory.

This is how some commentators and bloggers have reacted to the renewed dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian leaders:

From Tikum Olam, a liberal Jewish-American blog:

[A]las it’s all a charade. For all the “proximity” the two sides may have they are universes apart on virtually every major issue that divides them. No commentators I have noticed have remarked upon the fact that these talks are in fact a deep regression from previous rounds of talks which, during the Olmert government, were direct and without U.S. mediation. Those talks too were largely ineffectual. But at least the parties had enough trust in each other that they were willing to talk face to face.

From a Talking Points Memo blog:

Everybody knows the core issues between Israelis and Palestinians, except for the one that will matter the most and can be acted on immediately, before any comprehensive deal; the one where Israel’s concessions will not compromise its security but enhance it. I am speaking of Palestine’s economy, specifically, its private sector, the driver of civil society and spine of any future state. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks about “economic peace,” but seems to mean little more than giving Palestinian laborers more jobs in Israeli agriculture and construction projects. What Palestinians need, rather, are entrepreneurs, managers, and professionals with the freedom to build a growing node in an urban and global network. The latter have made a remarkable start, but the occupation is thwarting them in ways few outsiders appreciate.

From Beneath the Surface, commentary on the peace talks:

Most people saw through Netanyahu’s peace bluff in June, but for those who believed the “outstretched” arm he supposedly gave the Palestinians, he just went against his campaign promises. Does Israel want peace with Palestine? By the decisions made the last couple of days it doesn’t seem like it, it seems like Israel want Palestine to surrender to their terms. Netanyahu has been given credit by vice-president Joe Biden for his indirect initiative to peace negotiations, but in reality the prerequisites that he laid aground for these negotiations were a joke!

From an opinion article in Haaretz, an Israeli center-left newspaper:

Israel must talk to Hamas. Not secretly. Not indirectly. Not for a politician to rehabilitate himself on the way to taking over the leadership of a party, as Kadima’s Shaul Mofaz tried to do, but openly and seriously. Just as the United States regularly talks to the Israeli opposition, Israel should maintain a dialogue with the Palestinian opposition. The dialogue should cover all core issues including a final settlement.

View footage of a checkpoint outside of the Beitar Illit settlement, which has a majority ultra-Orthodox Jewish population:

– James Matthews

March 8, 2010
Women in Iraq make unprecedented gains at the polls

An Iraqi woman votes in Nasiriyah. Photo: Flickr user DVIDSHUB

According to Iraq’s 2005 constitution, women are granted a quarter of the seats in the nation’s 325-member Parliament.

Iraq remains a male-dominated society, but women have nevertheless made significant progress in the post-conflict society.

The parliamentary elections were held Sunday, the day before International Women’s Day. This year’s theme has been dubbed: “Equal rights, equal opportunities: Progress for all.”

In an interview with NPR, Professor Christina Asquith of the University of Vermont explains how the quota for female parliamentarians has a positive impact on the Iraqi political arena:

I hands down would say the quota has been absolutely fantastic for women. Because I think we have to imagine what the situation would be like if not for the quota. I think we would see almost no women running. It would be just difficult for women to get an edge in, get a foot in the door.

You see all of the candidates talking about the same thing, which is basically security, stability, rule of law. So, I think that, you know, the women, while they may have been quote, unquote “used” the first time around, that’s happening less and less now as women are able to reemerge. They’re really coming forward. And if not for the quota, I just don’t think we would see women at all.

One Iraqi candidate for Parliament is against this quota but remains an inspirational figure for women in Iraq. Jenan Mubarak is the founder of Iraq’s first all-female political party.

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting writes, “She has a dream: that women’s representation in parliament should be equal to that of men.” Mubarak elaborates:

I want to tell women, ‘You can do a lot.’ I want them to know they have choices; that they can be whatever they want. ‘Your achievements are who you are.’ That’s my message to women.’

Mubarak has thousands of female supporters who back her position on increasing the quota for female seats in the Iraqi Parliament. She continues:

Only a few women have been active in decision-making during the former legislatures because they are members of political parties run by others, and they can’t express their own opinion…We need a strong woman’s voice that has the ability to convince others in parliament.

Salama al-Khafaji, one of 1,801 female candidates up for election, told EuroNews:

The vision is still a masculine one and parties still nominate men rather than women to the high positions due to the fact that these positions are always given to men who assume ministerial positions and are nominated by their parties or political bloc.

But Maysoun al-Damlouji, a prominent Sunni lawmaker, explains:

The politicians who worked mostly against women’s rights and the quota are now introducing another vision that women have to take part in the political development as well as economic and every other development that Iraq needs.

– Stephanie Savage

March 3, 2010
Cultures around the world at risk of losing their languages

Linguists predict that over half of the almost 7,000 languages spoken in the world today will disappear by the end of the century. According to Ethnologue, 473 languages currently are close to extinction. In the Americas alone, 182 are endangered.

The Rosetta Project created this map to highlight the near-extinct languages in Africa and the Americas. They are working to update the map to include the entire world.

View Larger Map

Click below to view UNESCO’s interactive map of endangered languages around the world:

The blog Repeating Islands writes about Berbice Dutch, a language spoken in Guyana that was recently declared extinct:

Berbice Dutch is a mixture of the Zeeland dialect of Dutch, the local Arawak Indian language, and Ijo, which was spoken by slaves from Nigeria… The last speakers of this language were found in the 1970s by Ian Robertson, living on the upper reaches of the Berbice River in and around the area of the Wiruni Creek. The last known Berbice Dutch Creole speaker was Bertha Bell, who was 103 years old when last interviewed by Ian Robertson and a UWI linguistics research team in March, 2004. She died in 2005.

Linguist Hubert Devonish explains the dying language and interviews the last speaker of Berbice Dutch:

Listen to a BBC report on Boa Sr, the last speaker of the Bo language, which was spoken by the Bo tribe of the Andaman islands for up to 65,000 years.

The death of an 85-year-old woman in the Andaman islands, part of India but physically closer to Indonesia, has marked the death of an entire language:

March 1, 2010
Death toll rises as Chilean quake rescue effort continues

Santiago, Chile. Photo: Flickr user Luis Iturra

The 8.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Chile two days ago has resulted in over 700 confirmed deaths thus far and infrastructure damage throughout the country.

Tsunami warnings spread across the Pacific, as far away as Japan and Alaska. Chilean coastal towns and off-shore islands experienced tsunamis from the quake. Rescue efforts are underway and the military has been called in to fend off looters.

Blogs and social media sites have been addressing the disaster and the impact of the quake around the world.

Foreign Policy Blogs writer Richard Basas discusses the immediate impact of Chile’s earthquake, concerns in the coming days and the differences between Chile’s and Haiti’s ability to handle natural disasters:

The actual quake was felt as far as Buenos Aires, but the main concern now for non-Chileans has been a Tsunami effect that has already hit Chile and islands near the mainland of Chile and South America. So far the damage from Tsunami has been limited, but warning about possible Tsunamis have been issued as far as Mexico and Hawaii, and even as far as Asia. Some reports have come out about Tsunamis landing in Mexico and Central America, and countries closer to Chile’s quake like Peru and Colombia but information is limited at this point.

Chile was hit by the largest recorded earthquake in history at 9.0 in the same area of the country in 1960. Unlike Haiti, whose quake was unexpected as one had not occurred for over 200 years before 2010, Chile and its structures have been designed and built to withstand quakes, and emergency plans and sophisticated Search and Rescue equipment exists in Chile to deal with quakes that are well known in Chile. Aid efforts in Concepcion, a city of 670,000 people and the town very close to the quake zone, Talca, are underway as few structures, even those earthquake resistant one can withstand an 8.8 magnitude earthquake. People trapped under collapsed structures often were inside their homes as the earthquake occurred in the middle of the night while most were asleep in their homes.

While Chile’s earthquake was 500 times stronger than the earthquake that rocked Haiti just over a month ago, Chile’s death toll was much smaller. Global Voices blogger Silvia Viñas writes about the praise that Chile is receiving for its disaster preparedness:

Quakes are commonplace in Chile; since 1906 and counting this most recent earthquake, Chile has experienced 28 earthquakes [es]—without counting the smaller in magnitude but still frequent seismic activity that is often felt around the country. The three biggest earthquakes that many Chileans can still remember left 30,000 dead in 1939, 3,000 in 1960, and 177 in 1985.

The international community, together with Chileans living abroad, have praised Chile’s preparedness in front of this devastating situation, which could have had an even higher casualty total.

Chile is the world’s leading supplier of copper, but the country’s copper mines and seaports are struggling to get back to full capacity, after suffering damages and power outages from the quake. The price of copper rose over 5 percent when the markets opened on Monday, and over a fifth of the copper mine capacity was shut down, according to Reuters.

Gwen Robinson, of the Financial Times blog Alphaville, discusses the damage done to Chile’s infrastructure and its impact on global copper prices:

A crucial factor for Chile is its identity as one of the most quake-prone countries on the Pacific Rim. This, as the FT explains, has ensured the country is well prepared for big shocks, with building codes that require shake-resistant construction and a rapid emergency response system.

Chile’s top copper mines also managed to escape much damage because of such factors — though commodities markets still reacted to the earthquake with precautionary buying of the metal.

In an effort to calm commodities markets, Santiago Gónzalez, Chile’s mining minister, said on Sunday that the country would honor all export commitments, citing its ample copper stocks.

But that hasn’t stopped copper prices soaring by the biggest amount in nearly a year on Monday. amid fears of supply interruptions and infrastructure damage to Chile’s copper facilities.

Social media such as Twitter and Facebook have been used in Chile to get information and locate loved ones. Mashable‘s Matt Silverman writes about one woman’s use of Twitter to track down her family member:

A woman was able to track down her missing sister-in-law today thanks to the help of a fellow Twitter user.

Earlier we posted some of the Chile earthquake pictures that Chileans have been sharing on Twitter of the devastation caused by this morning’s magnitude-8.8 earthquake. Many of our readers were moved, as we were, to see some of the destruction first-hand. But one reader, Sheryl Breuker, shared a personal story with us in the comments about the true power of social media in crisis situations.

Also on Mashable, CEO and founder Pete Cashmore, discusses the launch of Google’s new person finder:

The simple interface lets you choose between two options — “I’m looking for someone” and “I have information about someone,” then either query the database or enter new information. At the time of writing, the Person Finder app has 3,100 records.

Here are some Twitter posts about Chile today, some sharing information and others trying to locate people:

LisaTw RT @Baybe_Doll: #Chile #need help Building collapse – 52 families affected #loc Edificio Diego Portales

lluviafina RT @microsiervos: Google ofrece un servicio para la localización de víctimas del terremoto de Chile (@la_informacion) (citing Google’s new Person Finder service)

LaConqui #terremotochile SE BUSCA a Fernando Hormazabal y Lidia Concha de #Pellehue #chile Info al fono 02 – 3301412 (favor RT) #chileayuda (seeking info about missing persons)

February 25, 2010
Bloggers weigh in on Greek economic woes

Greece is continuing its struggle against debt that is threatening the entire eurozone economy. U.S. and European stocks fell Thursday amid concern that Greece will not be able to meet its budget deficit targets. There is also worry over whether Greece’s debt crisis will spread to other European countries with debt problems of their own.

Photo: Flickr user 0neiros

In response to Europe’s economic woes, protests have erupted in Greece and spread across the continent.

The Economist blog, Charlemagne’s notebook, writes about the protests spreading across Europe, and notes that these strikes have been made up of people of privilege and not solely the underclass.

In Greece, the strikers have included customs officers and tax collectors: workers who not only enjoy special tax free allowances and early retirement on big pensions, but also include in their ranks some of the most notoriously corrupt officials in Greece, known for their willingness to take bribes in order to allow the wealthy to avoid paying their taxes (a big reason why Greece is broke). The public sector workers were striking, among other things, against plans to increase their retirement age from 61 to 63 (when many European countries are talking about raising it from 65 to 67). Greek taxi drivers are due to strike against plans to open their closed profession. It is symptomatic of the unhealthy power of the trade unions that the Greek deputy prime minister, Theodoros Pangalos, was forced to “clarify” what he meant when he said that in the future civil servants could not expect a job for life.

Global Voices blogger, Asteris Masouras, takes a look at the fierce response from Greek bloggers on the financial crisis there and offers this translation from political  blogger Panos Zervas.

I really don’t think this was our only alternative. What made it the only alternative was the incredible inadequacy of our civilian leadership. Two parties swapping power, headed by two blatantly inadequate princely heirs, burdened by an incredible gang of graft “ideologues”. An entire army of bootlickers, mediocrities and common crooks. With the capable and selfless having been exiled from politics decades ago, because there simply isn’t any room for them.
The wretched vultures of power weren’t and aren’t capable of plotting and executing policies to steer the country out of the crisis without turning it into shambles. Fearful, incompetent, and finally shameless, they will do what the “outsiders” dictate.

Foreign Policy Blogs writer Elison Elliott discusses the impact that a Greek default would have on the 16-nation eurozone.

The paucity of detail underlines how delicate a matter aid to Greece is. The euro zone is built around the idea that each nation manages its own fiscal affairs, subject to monitoring by the EU’s executive arm. A bailout of Greece would imply that a badly behaving nation—Greece for years violated rules against overspending—can be saved from the consequences.

Neither are the saviors happy. Germany, which as the bloc’s biggest and most stable economy would have to take the brunt of any bailout, has been wary. Helping its profligate peer is unpopular in thrifty Germany. But letting Greece default has risks, too—mostly for the stability of the euro—and EU leaders are deeply reluctant to let the International Monetary Fund extend help. Many in Brussels believe that would be an embarrassing sign of weakness.

Social Europe Journal contributor, Steven Hill, however, has a surprisingly optimistic analysis.

With some $25 billion worth of loan payments coming due for which Greece will need to refinance, the bond markets became skittish that a Greek default may lead to a wave of other national defaults in Portugal and Spain, and drag down the euro itself (much like Lehman Brothers initiated the global financial industry’s collapse).

But that seems unlikely. Greece’s economy comprises only 2% of the overall European economy – about the same magnitude as Indiana’s in the United States. Greece’s deficit to GDP ratio, while high at about 12.5%, is not that much higher than that of both the US and Japan, around 10.5%. True, Greece has a sizable accumulated debt over many years, estimated at about 110 percent of its GDP, but even the US has a debt to GDP estimated at 94 percent and projected to break 100 percent by 2012.

February 24, 2010
Brazil’s ruling party picks successor to Lula

Dilma Rousseff, Brazilian presidential candidate. Photo Flickr user Joka Madruga.

Brazil’s ruling Workers’ Party (PT) nominated Dilma Roussef on February 20 as its presidential candidate for the upcoming October 3 general election.

Rousseff, a 62-year-old economist and former guerrilla leader, was personally nominated by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and endorsed at a party conference. She is currently Lula’s chief of staff and has also served as Brazil’s energy minister.

According to Brazilian electoral law, the popular outgoing president is unable to stand for a third consecutive term.

Rousseff has not yet stood for public office and, according to recent polls, she trails five to 10 percentage points behind her main rival, the conservative governor of São Paulo state, José Serra. However, the gap is narrowing.

If elected, Rousseff has said she will maintain the strict fiscal discipline that has underpinned Brazil’s recent growth and economic stability. She has also pledged to continue working with the 11 parties that make up Lula’s current coalition government.

Bloggers have commented on the nomination:

From Dilma 2010, a blog in support of the Workers’ Party presidential candidate [translated by Worldfocus from Portuguese]:

Is it possible to elect a woman to the Brazilian presidency? The Brazilian people are already mulling over the possibility given that Dilma Rousseff is now the PT’s candidate and has Lula’s support. His government is widely recognized to be the best this country has ever had, and Rousseff has played a role in that success as the president’s colleague, both as a party member and as a minister.

From Carlos Selonke‘s blog, commentary on Brazil:

The coming weeks and months will give us a better clue on what to expect of Ms. Rousseff. Lula’s support will be crucial, but she will have to emerge eventually and expose herself to Brazil’s voters and the media. While she can safely assume to win in the poor Northeast, a region where Lula is considered a saint, she will have to explain to middle-class voters in the populous Southeast how she pretends to push urgently needed reforms with a party behind her that, despite the triumph of pragmatism during the Lula years, at times seems dangerously wedged to ideology.

From Post-Western World, issues to watch in 2010:

José Serra or Dilma Rousseff? The candidates have a lot in common: They largely agree on economic policy. They are both surprisingly uncharismatic, but quite competent and easy to underestimate. Ms. Rousseff, Lula’s chosen heiress, is more likely to continue Lula’s South-South diplomacy that aimed to position Brazil as the “Leader of the South”. Serra, on the other hand, would realign Brazil more with the United States and Europe, yet maintaining ties to other emerging powers. Under Serra, Iran’s Ahmadinejad will have to skip Brasília on his next visit to South America, and relations to Venezuela’s Chavez are likely to turn sour. Neither Serra nor Rousseff will be able to achieve Lula’s global stardom. Nonetheless, Brazil is a force to reckon with: Home to the world’s largest carbon sink, the Amazon, Brazil’s stance on climate change will be crucial, and only Brazil is able to salvage democracy in an increasingly divided South America.

– James Mathews

February 23, 2010
An American bloc without its big players?

Closing ceremony of the Latin American and Caribbean Unity summit. Photo Miguel Romero/Presidencia de la República, Flickr user Presidencia de la República del Ecuador.

Latin American and Caribbean leaders are set to launch a regional group that will be an alternative to the U.S.-led Organization of American States.

More than 30 heads of state met on Monday, February 22, in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, for the two-day Rio Group unity summit.

The group – that includes Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela – will discuss plans to launch the Latin American and Caribbean Community in 2011. All nations in the Americas will be represented, with the exception of both the U.S. and Canada, and the organization’s goal is to promote greater international cooperation.

The conference, however, has been overshadowed by the spat between Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. According to officials, Uribe urged Chávez to “Be a man!” and the Venezuelan president reacted and told Uribe to “Go to hell!”

The row – that has highlighted the lack of unity between some countries in Latin America – erupted when Uribe complained to Chávez about the Venezuelan trade embargo on Colombian goods. Chávez in turn accused Uribe of plotting his assassination by paramilitary forces and threatened to leave the summit early.

Another pressing issue that will be considered by the Rio Group – whose meetings are not public – is whether to acknowledge Porfirio Lobo as the legitimate president of Honduras. Lobo, who was not invited to the summit, was elected president following a coup in June last year and the ejection of his predecessor, Manuel Zelaya, from the country.

Representatives will also discuss aid to help Haiti recover from the devastating January 12 earthquake and the disputed sovereignty of the British-owned Falkland Islands. The Latin American and Caribbean nations backed Argentina’s claim to the Atlantic islands where Britain has plans to drill for oil.

Bloggers have reacted to the summit and to the altercation between the two leaders:

From El Tiempo, a Colombian newspaper’s blog:

Colombians and Venezuelans have two loquacious leaders who don’t measure their words. They speak without minding the consequences to the two countries’ relations. The effects are evident: the so-called economic blockade that Caracas maintains on Colombia, the poverty that Venezuela faces and the crisis of Colombian exporters. What is also true is that Chávez has been responsible for wild, vulgar and disrespectful verbal abuse, not just against Uribe, but also against all Colombians. He deserved a manly rebuttal.

From Juventud Surversiva, a pro-Bolivarian revolution blog:

Uribe and his henchmen have handed over not only their nation, but also the entirety of Latin America on a plate. How can anyone justify an extensive and impertinent U.S. military presence in Colombia to combat drug trafficking and terrorism?

From The American,the Journal of the American Enterprise Institute blog:

Ironically, this confrontation came at a summit of Latin American and Caribbean leaders intended to launch a “regional mechanism” that might serve as an alternative to the Organization of American States (OAS). Apparently, Latin and Caribbean diplomats think that a new forum—minus the United States and Canada—might advance their common interests more effectively. However, it is clear from the showdown in Cancún that Chávez is the problem. His polarizing, bullying style has poisoned the atmosphere at the OAS and will undermine confidence wherever he goes.

Meanwhile, La Crónica de Hoy, a Mexican newspaper, quoted President Evo Morales of Bolivia, an ally of Chávez:

[P]resident Uribe provoked President Chávez, who listened patiently and then tried to explain the issues. President Uribe would not let him speak and that is when the small problems arose.

– James Matthews

February 22, 2010
Japan’s indigenous Ainu people struggle to keep way of life

The Japanese government is moving ahead with plans to improve relations with the Ainu people, the country’s indigenous inhabitants.

Mostly living in the northern island of Hokkaido, Ainu are believed to descend from people who lived in Japan as early as 13,000 years ago. Their culture is distinct from mainstream Japanese society.

In the 19th century, Japan banned the Ainu language, seized their land, and outlawed their hunting and religious practices. Today the Ainu language is almost completely extinct.

Just under 24,000 people identified themselves as Ainu, in a 2006 study by the Hokkaido prefectural government. However, many of those included were of mixed blood. Also, it is not known how many Ainu live outside Hokkaido.

In June 2008, Japan’s parliament passed a resolution that formally recognized the Ainu as an indigenous people with a distinct language, religion and culture. Today, the Ainu have their own cultural institutions and are working with the Japanese government to maintain their unique heritage.

Harry Fawcett of Al Jazeera English reports from Hokkaido on the struggle to save their way of life.

Global Voices blogger Scilla Alecci writes about the extinction of indigenous languages in Japan, including the Ainu language:

In February UNESCO presented the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, giving an accurate and worrying description of the languages considered endangered (about 2,500). Among these eight belong to the Japanese archipelago. Not a big surprise if we think about the severe policies of linguistic and cultural assimilation carried out by the Japanese government until the end of the WW2, after completing the annexation during the 19th century of the Ryukyu reign (now Okinawa) and the island of Hokkaido inhabited by the Ainu people. contributor Razib Khan writes about the relationship between language and genes of near extinct people’s around the world:

This is a case where the preponderance of evidence seems to be that the Yayoi rice-culture bearers arrived from the continent and predominantly replaced the indigenous post-Jomon culture. The Ainu may be a residue of the Jomon natives, and a non-trivial, though minority, component of the Japanese ancestry can be traced back to the Jomon.

The Ainu Museum in Hokkaido explores the history of the Ainu people:

“Ainu” means “human.” The Ainu people regard things useful to them or beyond their control as “kamuy” (gods). In daily life, they prayed to and performed various ceremonies for the gods. These gods include: “nature” gods, such as of fire, water, wind and thunder; “animal” gods, such as of bears, foxes, spotted owls and grampuses; “plant” gods, such as of aconite, mushroom and mugwort; “object” gods, such as of boats and pots; and gods which protect houses, gods of mountains and gods of lakes. The word “Ainu” refers to the opposite of these gods.

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History held an exhibition dedicated to exploring the ancient origin of the Ainu, their evolving relations with the Japanese, and the 20th century Ainu cultural renaissance.

Blogwatch summarizes what bloggers and news sources are saying about the international news of the day. We’ll link to informative and bold voices that place the headlines in the context of the global conversation.

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