EXCLUSIVE: Powell's Plan for Arafat
Yasir Arafat's future is on the table--and, the White House hopes, out of his hands. George W. Bush's wish to be rid of the Palestinian leader will be among the topics in key talks this week in New York and Washington between Secretary of State Colin Powell and European and Arab officials. NEWSWEEK has learned that Powell is encouraging the drafting of a plan that would give the Palestinians a state while moving Arafat into a figurehead presidency with limited powers. U.S. officials say it would work like this: under a new draft constitution, written by Palestinian-American lawyers with Saudi funding, a Palestinian Parliament would be elected and it would appoint a prime minister, whose name could then be forwarded to the president, Arafat, for formal approval.
Washington badly wants to avoid the embarrassment of having Arafat run for election himself, which most observers think he would win handily. State Department officials hope to get the Europeans and Russians to back this approach, along with major Arab allies--Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan--and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The aging Palestinian leader would then face a tough quid pro quo from the international community: step aside in return for gaining early statehood.
The real questions are whether prominent Palestinians can be found to pink-slip Arafat, and whether Palestinian and Arab officials will demand that Israel withdraw its troops from the Palestinian territories first. The Israelis have said they won't pull out until elections are held; Palestinians say they cannot do so until Israel removes its troops. But U.S. officials say the Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians, worried by the out-of-control violence, are eager to move along negotiations for a provisional state.
Also expected this week is the inauguration by America, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations of an international task force for reform in the Palestinian territories. The task force, which is expected to include the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, will oversee efforts to rout out corruption in the Palestinian Authority. CIA Director George Tenet will tackle security reform. The foreign ministers will also present a unified front in demanding that Israel ease its clampdown against the Palestinian economy in order to help foster meaningful reforms.
Powell aides have modest expectations for this round. After the battering they took abroad for going along with Ariel Sharon's demand for new Palestinian leadership, U.S. officials are treading warily and not claiming the lead in drafting the new plan. Still, there is a chance for progress. Says one U.S. official privy to Powell's discussions: "There is hopefully going to be a fait accompli delivered to Arafat."
AIDS An Endless Battle?
No one expected last week's 14th International AIDS Conference in Barcelona to be a festive affair. But the dismal revelations of the conference were still shocking. Every day 15,000 people are infected by the HIV virus. Women make up 58 percent of the 28.5 million sub-Saharan Africans who are HIV-positive. (This will cut birth rates dramatically in the coming years.) And fewer than 4 percent of the 6 million people in the world who have AIDS receive adequate anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs). The list of sobering data is almost endless.
Even seemingly positive news was in fact negative: the announcement of a U.S. donation of $500 million over the next year and a half to prevent mother-to-child transmission and improve health-care-delivery systems in 12 African nations and the Caribbean was drowned out by calls for much more--and by boos and jeers. Hopes of a vaccine are few and far between. Although VaxGen hopes to have results of clinical trials for its vaccine by early next year, most believe it will fail like all those before it. Even if it does work, it would fight only the B-strain HIV virus, which is common in Europe and North America, not the A-strain dominant in Africa.
But there was some actual good news. Brazil, by producing its own generic ARVs and distributing them free since 1996, has managed to halve its rate of AIDS-related deaths. The country's representatives announced last week that Brazil would try to help other Third World nations to improve their capability to develop their own generic drugs. Oxfam also announced that countries that have successfully developed their own generic drugs have in turn created more competitive markets, forcing large pharmaceutical companies to lower the prices of their own patented AIDS drugs. And Medecins Sans Frontieres presented the results of a study proving the feasibility of treatment in "diverse health-care settings" like poor townships and rural clinics.
None of these moves--nor "Sesame Street's" announcement that it will introduce an HIV-positive Muppet on its South African version in order to educate children--will be the cure. But they are all small steps. And at this stage of the AIDS war, the world needs to take any kind of step it can.
EUROPEAN UNION: Going Bananas
In October 2000, armed Italian authorities stormed a suspicious merchant ship in Mediterranean waters, intent on busting a major drug ring. But amid the tons of bananas in the hold, they found no contraband drugs. "They must have peeled almost every single banana before they realized there was no cocaine," an official of the European Anti-Fraud office told NEWSWEEK. But their mission hadn't failed. It turns out the contraband was the bananas.
A two-year probe by Italian authorities has revealed that illicit fruit smuggling has become big business in Europe. The smugglers are exploiting a trade loophole that has tied trans-Atlantic trade relations in knots for years; in order to protect its relationship with former colonies in Africa and the Caribbean, Europe has placed lower tariffs on their bananas than those from South America, the world's largest exporter of the fruit. But despite their privileged status, African and Caribbean bananas still cost more in European stores because they are more expensive to supply and produce.
So, smugglers simply falsified import documents and presto, cheap Ecuadorian bananas became Caribbean imports. Smugglers and consumers profited; in fact, everyone but the government came out on top. But like all good crooks, the smugglers got sloppy: the abundance of cheap bananas in Europe's markets caught the attention of the authorities. Now that Italian investigators have discovered losses of more than $80 million in customs fees and more than $2 million in unpaid sales taxes in the last two years, the days of smuggled bananas may be over.
RELIGION: Promoted To Be Pope?
Is the Pope trying to pick his successor? Last week he chose Dionigi Tettamanzi, 68, the cardinal-archbishop of Genoa, as archbishop of Milan. John Paul II may have made the move to put Tettamanzi (a conservative) in position to win election when the time comes--and to lessen the chances of Carlo Maria Martini, 75, the outgoing archbishop of Milan and one of the few liberal cardinals. Taking over in Milan--one of the world's largest archdioceses, it has produced several popes, including Paul VI--may not be enough for Tettamanzi. He will still be the same basically dull man who cannot speak English (but is taking lessons), has published a large manual on moral theology and impressed some observers in Genoa last summer during the G8 summit by embracing much of the anti-globalization agenda of protesters, while sternly rejecting the street violence that engulfed his city. For charisma, Tettamanzi cannot measure up to Martini, a polylingual Jesuit, Biblical scholar, preacher and world traveler. Martini has said he wants to end his days in Jerusalem to resume the Biblical scholarship he left behind to become a bishop, and to help search for peace in the Middle East.
But Martini will still be a candidate at the next conclave. His age is actually an asset: the common wisdom in Rome is that the Roman Catholic Church needs a breather after the exhausting pontificate of John Paul II. The pope, who was gasping for air at the Wednesday audience in his summer palace last week, has already reigned for more than 23 years.
BOLIVIA: A Failed Model
In 1985, Bolivia was in dire need of economic salvation. So Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs and the IMF advised the elimination of price controls and encouraged severe cuts in state spending, sweeping tax reforms, lower tariffs and the privatization of some state companies. The country's economic vital signs stabilized, it controlled its hyperinflation and the "Bolivian model"--or neoliberalism--caught on around the world.
But 17 years later, the original supermodel has fallen on hard times. The only significant investment in recent years has been in the natural-gas sector, which provides few jobs and spinoff benefits for the economy. Unemployment is soaring, and barely a dent has been made in reducing poverty. It's no wonder that in Bolivia's recent election, former coca farmer Evo Morales--who espouses the end of neoliberalism--finished a close second to former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada. Even the pro-market Sanchez de Lozada admits the old new way needs adjusting with some added government intervention. "This stuff about the invisible hand--it just doesn't work that way," he said recently.
Why not? Instead of creating large labor pools, the global market created few labor-intensive industries in Bolivia, says Hubert Escaith, director of the economic-development division of the United Nations Economic Commission on Latin America. And, he adds, "the traditional industries were no longer protected by high tariffs and were either closed down by the state or moved out by transnational companies." Privatization has largely failed and, to the chagrin of the likes of Morales, the coca industry has suffered, too; in the late 1980s, Bolivia was the world's leading exporter of coca for cocaine. Over the past two decades joint U.S.-Bolivian efforts have all but wiped out illegal coca. Morales and others have vehemently criticized their "alternative development" program--replacing coca with crops like bananas--which has drawn few dollars and even fewer markets. Says Nicholas Robins, a Bolivia expert at Duke University: "The Morales electoral success is also a sign that U.S. coca-eradication policies in Bolivia are flawed." Morales has no certainty of winning when he and Sanchez de Lozada meet in an Aug. 3 runoff. But one thing's certain right now in Bolivia: the old model's due for a makeover.
BOOKS: Proust... With Pictures!
Near the beginning of Marcel Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past," there is the famous scene in which the narrator inhales the aroma of a madeleine, a shell-shaped pastry, dipped in tea. It is a smell not encountered since childhood, and it unlocks the treasure house of his memory. Everything that follows, all 3,000 pages of the saga, stems from this scene (or so we've been told; we've made it through only the first 150 pages of Proust's masterpiece, although we've gotten that far at least three times). If only we had waited for Stephane Heuet. The French advertising illustrator has completed two volumes in a projected 16-volume illustrated version of Proust. "Illustrated"--as in comic books. Though it was widely condemned by French critics ("Marcel is being murdered!" declared Le Figaro), Heuet's first volume quickly sold more than 50,000 copies. Maybe U.S. audiences, schooled on comic art like Art Spiegelman's "Maus," will be more accepting, now that the books are being published in the United States. This Proust looks like the Classics Illustrated comics of our midcentury youth. Those initial encounters with Dumas, Dickens, Melville came flooding back the moment we looked at Heuet's pictures. Comic books as our tea and madeleine--there's the American version for you.
First Person Global
The first time it happened, I was taken by surprise. On a tour of the townships outside Cape Town, a crowd of little boys surrounded me and all started jabbering in unison. "How sweet," I thought. "They're talking to me in Xhosa." Then, from the Nguni babble I made out the distinctly English words: "Jackie Chan! Jackie Chan!"
Xhosa kids know Jackie Chan. So do children whose first language is Sotho, Pedi, Zulu or Tswan. The appeal of kung fu films in South Africa's townships, a world away from urban Hong Kong, is actually easy to understand. Young blacks, caught in the unremitting violence of apartheid's last days, felt powerless and angry about what looked like an endless struggle against white rule. Travel was strictly monitored and cities were segregated, effectively imprisoning black people in the townships. But kung fu films were always accessible to all. "The kung fu films were more than fun," explains 22-year-old Samora April from Guguletu township. "They were our only outlet."
American blockbusters, simplistic and politically pallid, were never relevant to the South African struggle. "We were sick of watching movies where only the Western guys win," says Ntobeko Peni, 27. So instead, bootlegged versions of Hong Kong action films played on flickering reels at local community halls, offering an alternative scenario: a lone hero beating all the bad guys singlehandedly, with wit and skill instead of the latest high-tech rocket launcher. Africans could relate to these heroes. And, as Peni points out, "Africa is in between the U.S. and China, so we were more aware of both cultures."
This awareness has had a profound impact on my South African experience. Every time that I, an Asian-American who's lived here for two years, go to a predominantly black neighborhood, a gang of boys will surround me, chanting "Jackie Chan!" or "China!" and mimicking drop kicks and karate chops. Sometimes I'll strike back with a fierce tai chi pose, and they'll pull away in alarm--for a second or two.
Being Asian in Africa is an interesting experience. Many Africans treat me with the same sort of resigned bemusement a Martian might direct at a crocodile. ("Funny, I wonder how that got here.") But if the crocodile should then smile, open its mouth and say, "Molo, Mama, kunjani?" ("Hello, Mother, how are you?"), the Martians might also fall over, mouths agape. The storied warmth of Africans comes in those moments of utter disbelief when I, with my Chinese face and Western clothes, speak a little of their language in my American accent. After the gasp follows, invariably, a laugh. An astonished, joyous, curious laugh, followed by an embracing hug and often an immediate invitation home.
My entire experience in South Africa has been one of welcoming. Like most foreigners, I ask a lot of questions, some of them insultingly naive. But everyone I have come across has answered those questions with patience and honesty. South Africans aren't used to being this direct with each other, or with anyone else, for that matter. But a huge advantage of being Chinese-American here is that each of those identities is so rare (even more so when coupled) that I am unique. Fitting no one's image of the arrogant American or the quiet Chinese, I can be who and what I like. Myself: curious, interested, open, investigating. And welcomed.