Daily Archives: November 26, 2007

Robert Fisk: Darkness falls on the Middle East

,So where do we go from here? I am talking into blackness because there is no electricity in Beirut. And everyone, of course, is frightened. A president was supposed to be elected today. He was not elected. The corniche outside my home is empty. No one wants to walk beside the sea.

When I went to get my usual breakfast cheese manouche there were no other guests in the café. We are all afraid. My driver, Abed, who has loyally travelled with me across all the war zones of Lebanon, is frightened to drive by night. I was supposed to go to Rome yesterday. I spared him the journey to the airport.

It’s difficult to describe what it’s like to be in a country that sits on plate glass. It is impossible to be certain if the glass will break. When a constitution breaks – as it is beginning to break in Lebanon – you never know when the glass will give way.

People are moving out of their homes, just as they have moved out of their homes in Baghdad. I may not be frightened, because I’m a foreigner. But the Lebanese are frightened. I was not in Lebanon in 1975 when the civil war began, but I was in Lebanon in 1976 when it was under way. I see many young Lebanese who want to invest their lives in this country, who are frightened, and they are right to frightened. What can we do?

Last week, I had lunch at Giovanni’s, one of the best restaurants in Beirut, and took out as my companion Sherif Samaha, who is the owner of the Mayflower Hotel. Many of the guests I’ve had over the past 31 years I have sent to the Mayflower. But Sherif was worried because I suggested that his guests had included militia working for Saad Hariri, who is the son of the former prime minister, murdered – if you believe most Lebanese – by the Syrians on 14 February 2005.

Poor Sherif. He never had the militia men in his hotel. They were in a neighbouring building. But so Lebanese is Sherif that he even offered to pick me up in his car to have lunch. He is right to be worried.

A woman friend of mine, married to a doctor at the American University Hospital, called me two days before. “Robert, come and see the building they are making next to us,” she said. And I took Abed and we went to see this awful building. It has almost no windows. All its installations are plumbing. It is virtually a militia prison. And I’m sure that’s what it is meant to be. This evening I sit on my balcony, in a power cut, as I dictate this column. And there is no one in the street. Because they are all frightened.

So what can a Middle East correspondent write on a Saturday morning except that the world in the Middle East is growing darker and darker by the hour. Pakistan. Afghanistan. Iraq. “Palestine”. Lebanon. From the borders of Hindu Kush to the Mediterranean, we – we Westerners that is – are creating (as I have said before) a hell disaster. Next week, we are supposed to believe in peace in Annapolis, between the colourless American apparatchik and Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister who has no more interest in a Palestinian state than his predecessor Ariel Sharon.

And what hell disasters are we creating? Let me quote a letter from a reader in Bristol. She asks me to quote a professor at Baghdad University, a respected man in his community who tells a story of real hell; you should read it. Here are his own words:

“‘A’adhamiya Knights’ is a new force that has started its task with the Americans to lead them to al-Qa’ida and Tawheed and Jihad militants. This 300-fighter force started their raids very early at dawn wearing their black uniform and black masks to hide their faces. Their tours started three days ago, arresting about 150 citizens from A’adhamiya. The ‘Knight’ leads the Americans to a citizen who might be one of his colleagues who used to fight the Americans with him. These acts resulted in violent reactions of al-Qa’ida. Its militants and the militants of Tawheed and Jihad distributed banners on mosques’ walls, especially on Imam Abu Hanifa mosque, threatening the Islamic Party, al-Ishreen revolution groups and Sunni endowment Diwan with death because these three groups took part in establishing ‘A’adhamiya Knights’. Some crimes happened accordingly, targeting two from Sunni Diwan staff and one from the Islamic Party.

“Al-Qa’ida militants are distributed through the streets, stopping the people and asking about their IDs … they carry lists of names. Anyone whose name is on these lists is kidnapped and taken to an unknown place. Eleven persons have been kidnapped up to now from Omar Bin Abdul Aziz Street.”

The writer describes how her professor friend was kidnapped and taken to a prison. “They helped me sit on a chair (I was blindfolded) and someone came and held my hand saying, ‘We are Muhajeen, we know you but we don’t know where you are from.’ They did not take my wallet nor did they search me. They only asked me if I have a gun. An hour or so later, one of them came and asked me to come with them. They drove me towards where my car was in the street and they said no more.” So who are the A’adhamiya Knights? Who is paying them? What are we doing in the Middle East?

And how can we even conceive of a moral stand in the Middle East when we still we refuse to accept the fact – reiterated by Winston Churchill, Lloyd George, and all the details of US diplomats in the First World War – that the Armenian genocide occurred in 1915? Here is the official British government position on the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915. “Officially, the Government acknowledges the strength of feeling [note, reader, the ‘strength of feeling’] about what it describes as a terrible episode of history and recognises the massacres of 1915-16 as a tragedy. However, neither the current Government nor previous British governments have judged that the evidence is sufficiently unequivocal to be persuaded that these events should be categorised as genocide as it is defined by the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide.” When we can’t get the First World War right, how in God’s name can we get World War III right?

* The Independent
* http://news.independent.co.uk/fisk/article3191532.ece

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León Bendesky: Confianza a prueba

Los periodos de estabilidad económica provocan expectativas favorables entre los inversionistas, los productores y los consumidores. En ocasiones las extienden más allá de lo debido. Los gobiernos tratan de mantener la estabilidad financiera como les corresponde, pero además hacen eco de esa situación e incluso amplifican el estado de ánimo prevaleciente. Creen que es necesario reforzarlo con afirmaciones sobre las bondades del funcionamiento de la economía y de la gestión pública. Cuando lo hacen es síntoma de que una y otra ya están a prueba.

No importa si la estabilidad es precaria, aun así las expectativas tardan en ajustarse a las nuevas condiciones económicas y nadie quiere ser el primero en adaptar sus expectativas de modo consistente con los escenarios más probables; no los más deseados. La divergencia entre lo que es probable y lo que es deseado, ya sea por quienes sacan una ventaja económica legítima (o no) de la situación existente o quienes desean beneficiarse políticamente, se vuelve crecientemente riesgosa.

Cuando se señala, como sucedió en los días recientes, desde un centro financiero de la relevancia de la Bolsa Mexicana de Valores o cuando desde el gobierno se declara que ante los evidentes vaivenes de la economía de Estados Unidos, la mexicana va a resistir mejor que en otros episodios de este tipo, se alimenta esa discrepancia entre lo posible y lo deseable.

Esas afirmaciones parten de una visión estática que proyecta hacia el futuro la situación actual. Esa proyección no es necesariamente ingenua; conlleva un mensaje. Cuando los mercados globales de las inversiones, el comercio y el trabajo, de los que México participa de modo activo, que no decisivo, operan en condiciones de creciente inestabilidad, su dinámica marcha en una dirección distinta a la conocida en periodos estables.

Esta nueva dinámica se manifiesta hoy a partir de los efectos del desplome del mercado hipotecario estadunidense. Su expresión más directa es la necesidad de dar cuenta de millonarias pérdidas en muchas instituciones financieras con respecto de créditos de mala calidad que resultaron de la creciente especulación en el sector de la construcción de viviendas. De ahí se derivan otras repercusiones como son la caída de los precios de las casas y de la demanda de bienes y servicios asociados con esa actividad. Esto arrastra la caída de los índices de precios de los mercados bursátiles, la reasignación de las carteras de inversiones hacia títulos más seguros. El dólar no ha resistido la presión y se deprecia de modo rápido frente al euro y el yen.

Los efectos adversos se transmiten en los mercados: alteran los precios relativos del dinero, de los capitales, de las importaciones y exportaciones y de los salarios. En medio de esa turbulencia las autoridades monetarias reaccionan controlando las tasas de interés y la cantidad de dinero. En situaciones de riesgo excesivo ponen dinero para rescatar instituciones que se vuelven insolventes o para impedir que los circuitos del crédito se sequen y se bloqueen las transacciones y con ello se reduzca aún más la demanda. A eso debe sumarse la presión sobre los precios, derivada del costo del petróleo y la restricción que impone en la política monetaria.

La semana pasada se hicieron públicas las minutas de la reunión del Comité de Mercado Abierto de la Reserva Federal, realizada a fines de octubre, en las que se exponen las consideraciones sobre la magnitud de la desaceleración esperada de la economía estadunidense. Al mismo tiempo, la OCDE señaló que las condiciones de fragilidad de los mercados financieros se extenderán varios meses y que no sería sino hasta marzo del año entrante cuando se viera la sima de la crisis hipotecaria.

Pero, al parecer, todo esto no provocaría ningún efecto negativo de gran relevancia en México. Según evalúan los directivos de la bolsa de valores y los responsables de la política pública, estaremos a salvo. Se aduce que las condiciones mismas de la estabilidad interna, apoyada no en una mayor productividad y mayor competencia, sino en abundantes reservas internacionales e ingresos petroleros serían suficientes para resistir. No se ofrece como sustento de esta postura un análisis claro de las condiciones prevalecientes ni hay un balance de los riesgos y una estrategia para enfrentarlos. No se olvide que una situación similar existió en las crisis financieras de 1982, 1987 y 1994, y que no hay medios para exigir una rendición de cuentas a nadie.

En el Banco de México parece haber menos certezas. Por algo será. El crecimiento productivo es crónicamente bajo y la estabilidad financiera de varios años no lo ha alentado; el peso no se ha depreciado más porque no hay liquidez; un embate serio sobre las reservas será incontenible, las tasas de interés aumentan y no es mucho más lo que desde el banco central se puede hacer en las condiciones actuales. Si la situación en Estados Unidos se agrava, por necesidad se resentirá la economía mexicana y su actual “fortaleza” quedará expuesta. La bonanza petrolera no sacará a flote a esta economía, más aun cuando la renta que genera está inmersa en la quiebra virtual de Pemex.

* La Jornada
* http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2007/11/26/index.php?section=opinion&article=033a1eco

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