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Robert A. Spira and Shirley J. Goldstein

2001 - Copyright Pending

Edited by William Noe

 

Indonesia

 

Prosperity, historically definable in national or regional terms, has taken on a more global definition. Not too many years ago, it was enough to be "relatively" prosperous; your prosperity was measured against that of your neighbors, and as long as the guy next door didn’t have a better car or a bigger house, you might have felt comfortable. Prosperity can be fleeting, though, if its foundations are not set in stone. In order to maintain their station, people must analyze the frailties of their own system and correct its weaknesses, or it will fail and they will fall behind their neighbors.

 

Yet, it isn’t always failure that breeds unrest. A bizarre example of how prosperity caused riots, death, burning and looting is illustrated by recent events in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim State and the fourth most populated country on earth, with 210 million people, 13,700 islands, 350 dialects and hundreds of ethnic groups. President Suharto, who was in office for 32 years, brought 7% annual economic growth to Indonesia, controlled inflation, dropping it from 600% when he assumed office to 6.5% several years ago when he was asked to leave office. He also increased per capita income from $70 to $1,300. ()

 

He set a global model for family planning and insisted on his constituents getting a full education. For these and other innovations, he became the darling of both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, both of which assisted him in opening Indonesia to foreign investment at the urging of his cadre of American educated economic advisors. Most of his advisory team went to school or taught at Berkley, and became known as the Berkley Mafia. Suharto was literally brought up by a dukin, a spiritual leader who is one-half faith healer and one-half fortuneteller. In Indonesia, this is not such a bad thing, and it is rumored that he still consults these folks on a regular basis to augment his wahyu. However, this may have been his problem. ()

 

While in office he made great strides at eliminating poverty in Indonesia and was able to unite an extremely diverse ethnic population into a cohesive force. Indonesia, under Suharto, had become a global example of how free markets can create jobs as well as infrastructure: "Indonesia has made remarkably steady and huge progress," says Ben Fisher of the World Bank and formerly a member of Suharto’s cheering section. Retrospectively, Fisher was wrong as rain.

 

Moreover, there was a lot more to Suharto than met the eye. He was a tough enemy as exemplified by the fact that after he took office in 1965, a coup was attempted against him by a number of his adversaries including the Indonesian Communist Party. In order to properly punish them for their indiscretions against him, Suharto had them locked up in the starkest of prison conditions for the next 24 years Interspersed with a bread and water diet along with occasionally some random tortured. When he determined that he had gotten all the satisfaction he could out of these helpless souls, he had them executed at the end of Ramadan. However, in case Suharto ever tires of the endless torture, he can always drag a few more of these hapless souls out of his prison and execute a few more. However, they are now elderly people and he may not get the same satisfaction that he did when they were younger.

 

Nevertheless, torture aside, Suharto gave the term "crony capitalism" new meaning. With the exception of Fidel Castro, he had administrated a government longer than any other leader in the world today. His popularly elected parliament has never rejected government proposed legislation, and equally amazing, until 1997 the parliament never proposed any legislation of its own.

 

Yet, the people were prosperous by almost any standard, and unemployment until recently has been at a minimum. The government had provided their people with an infrastructure that includes all of the social amenities. The populous had become educated, but ultimately came to the startling conclusion that their ability to succeed had been limited by the cliquish power structure comprised of the Indonesian military and indigenous ethnic Chinese. People began to suspect that there was a conspiracy against them, and started to question whether elections were really open enough. The cry also rose to a crescendo from the people that, although they were reasonably prosperous, their government was not representative.

 

The Chinese population of Indonesia is only 8 million - four percent of the more than 200 million population of this island country, yet this minority is estimated to control as much as 70 percent of the nation’s wealth. The Chinese, even those who are native born Indonesians, are exempt from military service and are not allowed to be active in the government, which results in resentment among the Muslim majority. Whenever something seems to go wrong in the country, the Chinese are automatically picked out as having had something to do with it, and more often than not, become a target for rioting crowds. Once the rioting starts, history has shown that things go from bad to worse. When the Chinese called for police help and rioters were arrested, the callers were imprisoned. In one case, the jail term was "three and a half years for expressing hatred against Islam." The Chinese are not in a good spot, but the money is good, and until recently, that was a tremendous inducement for them to put up with being a hated minority in the population.

 

In spite of leading the better life, people didn’t like the fact that Suharto ruled like a monarch, rather than an elected president. He acquired what he wanted, when he wanted it and from whom he wanted it. This got a little onerous after a while, and some his constituents determined that they had enough. Take the case of the Cimacan Golf Club, which was erected on land purchased from the farmers who lived in around the property. In 1989, the land was deeded to P. T. Bandugn Asri Mulya, one of Suharto’s close associates, for the princely sum of two cents per square meter, or a whopping $634.

 

Now, we are talking about land that had supported scores of families for the previous 30 years. Well, the farmers got their revenge by taking over the golf club by force and then planting the despised cassava plant on the greens, spelling out sayings like "reform" or "We are taking what is ours" in cassava. Members became incensed over the attitude the natives were showing and demanded police action to restore the facility to its pre-cassava brilliance. The police, who were also residents of the neighborhood, were well aware of the Government’s land grab and told the club’s members to take a hike.

 

Suharto’s wife, Madame Tien, who died a short time ago in what some say was a shootout between two of her sons, was a strong believer in the adage that charity begins at home. She made sure that her husband cut the children in on all of the richest deals negotiated in the country. In her own quiet way, she was extremely aggressive, to the degree that she became known as Madam Tien Percent. In spite of her greed, she did it with panache, so that when the pie was divided up, it was done in unobtrusively.

 

When she died, her brood thought that they could do even better than mom had done, and they immediately upped the ante in their negotiations (shakedown) with those craving to do business in Indonesia. Their aggressiveness tainted with large doses of innate greed, made the family look like two-bit politicians or a sideshow at a circus. This was not what the Indonesians thought their President ought to be showing to the world, and they became extremely discontented. The nation had come to believe that Suharto’s wahyu had gone into free fall since his wife's death and that as a leader, he just may have made himself replaceable.

 

The theory of free markets is based on the fact that those who are best equipped to compete should have substantial input into shaping a country's economic destiny. Not surprisingly, in Indonesia, this cadre’ turned out to be primarily comprised of confidants of the President. The top of the pyramid in Indonesia, as in almost all other countries, has room for very few.

 

Among the anointed were Suharto’s three sons, but more particularly, his second son, Bambang Trihatmodjo. Daddy gave the boy’s company, Bimantara, a license that granted it a full partnership with PT Indosat, the state-owned international telephone carrier. Equipped with that ownership, Bimantara requested bids for 25% of their stake in the enterprise. When Deutsche Telekom paid Bimantara $600 million, the lad became so overwhelmed with joy at his business acumen that tears came to his eyes. Suharto himself exalted in his son's business acumen

 

We find it refreshing that Bambang could get so excited over a paltry couple of hundred million, when he is in fact, partners with Hyatt Hotels in everything they own in the country, which is substantial to say the least. You could start to realize what a great deal the lad made when the people finally had enough of the Suharto family’s crony capitalism and graft and began burning everything insight. A full revolt against the government had broken out, and yet the first place the army went to protect was the Grand Hyatt Hotel in downtown Jakarta, where they formed a barrier between the raging mob and the hotel. The lad also has an important interest in Hughes’ operations; he gets a piece of everything they collect on their exclusive satellite network.

 

However, daddy Suharto really loved his little girl. Suharto bequeathed to his daughter, Siti Hardianti Rukmana, Chairperson of the ruling Golkar party, was all of the toll roads in the country. Siti has extracted substantial fees from motorists for using her roads. She was also first in line for the contract to build a 59-mile long bridge, slated to be the world’s longest, linking the island of Sumatra and Malaysia. Sadly, this project was shelved on a permanent basis when Suharto gave up the Presidency. Nevertheless, we should not to worry about Siti’s well being, since she also has a substantial interest in all of Lucent’s and General Electric’s operations in Indonesia, which brings her enough to keep her in pin money.

 

Siti's wealth has been estimated to be in the billions of dollars, so it is illustrative of her chauvinistic nature that during the country's recent currency crises she signaled a strong vote of confidence in the Indonesian currency by offering to buy all of $50,000 in Rupiahs, while at the same time selling dollars. This public relations farce, which seemed to be intended as a gesture of good faith, totally backfired, and rebellious college students asked for her head.

 

Bambang’s brother, Hutomo "Tommy" Mandal Putra, works behind five heavily guarded doors, the last with a combination lock. He was overjoyed when he won the country’s new National Car Project (named "Timor") in partnership with Kia (the South Korean Motor Car Company now in tatters). Tommy, possibly because he is always seen amongst armed guards, is viewed as being a particularly pathetic hands on manager. In spite of his lack of management ability, Tommy was able to secure a $690 million lending package from a 16-bank consortium to build an assembly plant near Jakarta for his ill-conceived National Car Project. The state-owned banks joined the group without a whimper, but the 12 private lenders who rounded out the coalition preferred the obscurity of not being mentioned in the same breath as the scheme. They had to be individually reminded in no uncertain terms by Tommy’s father, the President, that, "the car was an important national project," before they reluctantly committed to it’s funding. Of course, as other events occurred, this money went down the drain.

 

One of the reasons for such reluctance could be the fact that while the most optimistic insiders projected annual sales of only 40,000 vehicles, the plant will have a capacity to produce 70,000 cars. Additional problems for all concerned have been protests by the World Trade Organization, the United States, the European Union and Japan over all facets of the government’s handling of the matter. On the other hand, the Indonesian Finance Ministry ordered that every government agency add the Timor to their car fleets and simultaneously exempted the company from duties on Korean parts and from paying taxes of any kind.

 

These benefits were estimated at several thousand dollars a car, and with this kind of advantage, you would think the project would be successful. Think of a country with 200 million people and every major car manufacturer in the world trying to set up facilities in the country to tap into this market, and lo and behold, the President’s son steps into the sweetest deal of the century by being so smart. Well not exactly, Bunkie.

 

Kia motors tanked; down the drain, as they say, and in a year and a half, Tommy’s factory has produced only 41,000 Timor cars and sold 26,000, most of them to very friendly government offices. Then, the IMF came along and made Daddy issue the following order: "effective immediately, all special tax, customs and credit privileges for the national car project will be revoked." The World Trade Organization has stated that, "the support being given by Indonesia to its fledgling "national car" was discriminatory and breached rules outlawing investment measures conditioned on domestic content." Now that we can kiss the Timor a fond goodbye, what is daddy going to say to all of those bankers whose heads he put a gun to made them cough up 700 big ones. Maybe Tommy is going to need door-lock number six, but he had better locate it on Mars. With deals like this one, we are surprised the entire Suharto family has not already fled the country.

 

Tommy, like his other siblings, probably should have gone into some other line of work, because business is not always fun. As Tommy always says, what is life really about? Tommy was barely shaving when he established the Humpuss Group with older brother Sigit. The kid was prepubescent and already making important decisions, like which actress to date tonight or at which nightclub to spend his unlimited allowance. In any event, he prevailed upon Daddy Suharto to give him the monopoly on cloves, which in Indonesia are mixed with cigarettes and 90% of the population find this is an unbeatable combination. Sounds like a winner; well, not yet Bunkie. The first move the kid made when he got the monopoly was to raise prices. His brothers and sisters applauded his business acumen and indicated that he was a chip off the old block.

 

Even without being an economist, one can well imagine what happened next. With cloves selling at a high price, farmers converted their crops to cloves to get in on the action, thus creating what amounted to an economic black hole. Production increased while prices rose, and then when the economy started rolling downhill, consumption dropped. Adam Smith would have been proud of young Tommy. "But wait, this can’t go on forever," said Tommy’s advisors, "what are we going to do with the excess cloves?" Tommy’s advisors asked. Tommy, still in control, said let’s burn half the crop and give those farmers a subsidy. Bravo, said the siblings and the crop was destroyed. $370 million later, the IMF has called for end to this uniquely unproductive monopoly.

 

This may have been the first time that anyone in known universe has owned the great majority of something that everyone wanted and didn’t have a clue on how to profit from it. Well, it didn't really matter as long as Daddy was running the country. Well, sonny, Daddy isn't running the country any longer, and Tommy increased his staff of bodyguards substantially. One wonders what he might worried about.

 

Just like many of us, Tommy really loves fast cars, but just like many of us, there aren’t a lot of places to race them, especially in downtown Jakarta where Tommy lives. Lucky for Tommy though, he had a spare square mile of property near downtown on which he could squeeze in a two-mile international-standard Grand Prix racing track. Having done that in record time and at the minimal cost of, give or take, $50 million, Tommy now became concerned that there were no racing cars in the country. Noting that the fabled Italian, Lamborghini Company was for sale at bargain basement prices, Tommy hypothesized that this was the ticket that would assure a full race card.

 

Once coming up his brilliant conclusion he plunked down $40 million to buy Lamborghini, a company that had been losing money since it opened. The cars manufactured by Lamborghini sell for about $200 thousand per copy. Now, that’s all right maybe for Italy, Germany, France or the rest of Europe where the average wage is over $20,000, but for Indonesia at a little better than $1,000, people in the know considered this deal a little iffy. As of this date, we are unaware of any Lamborghinis being sold in Indonesia nor does Tommy’s track get any use other than by a family of homing pigeons. Tommy indicates that this is not the criteria by which the deal should be judged, rather, it should be judged on how fast the car goes around his track, and to that we have to say, "right on Tommy!"

 

Talk about conspicuous consumption, Indonesia is a country where people on the outlying islands suffer from malnutrition because they can’t afford the right food, or sometimes, any food at all, and there is Tommy being shown in all the leading Indonesian newspapers riding around that silly track in his Lamborghini with no one to race with because first they don't have the money for the cars and second they couldn't even afford the gasoline. Tommy was betting big that Daddy would never leave office. Tough luck, Tommy.

 

Tommy also owns the country’s largest airline, and sadly for him, it is already in default on lease payments to creditors. Those lease payments are made in hard currency and have effectively tripled since the Rupiah’s recent devaluation, and at the same time Tommy doesn’t have an awful lot cash flow between cloves, the racetrack, Timor and the airline. Wrong, Bunkie, because you forgot Tommy owns the Four Seasons in Bali which charges at least $650 a night and go skyward from there just to spend one night at the place. On the other hand, it is a value because each room has its own private swimming pool. Tommy certainly gets cash flow from there.

 

Wrong again, Bunkie, because you don’t remember the terrible smog created by all those fires that were started all over Indonesia when the farmers played "Amazon Jungle" in a race to be first to clear the land. Well, you can imagine that if those fires were bad enough to kill off the tourist industry in Malaysia, thousands of miles away, it didn’t do a lot of good for Bali, which is right next-door. Tommy had already planned the largest and most costly wedding in the history of Indonesia before things started to go bad. Tommy invited 3,500 of his closest friends and rented an entire theme park for the formalities. When things went bad, he did what he does best: he stiffed the vendors.

 

You can readily believe that Tommy was not overjoyed when the IMF told Daddy that he had to reign in his troops. Tommy gave possibly his only press conference and said, "We give our best to the nation, if we were only thinking of ourselves and our family, we wouldn’t still be involved in business. But because we see ourselves as children of the nation, who give added value to Indonesia, we continue to be involved in business." Well, there we thought that the only thing Tommy couldn’t do right was run a business. Instead of public speaking, Tommy, keep your day job.

 

The President’s eldest grandson, Ari Haryo Wilbowo Sigiit Harjojudanto, now 30 years old and overwhelmed by the largesse awarded his aunts and uncles, embarked on his own mission in business, "how to succeed without really trying," by asking grandpa for a concession that would make him sole supplier of shoes for all children of school age in Indonesia. He also told Suharto that in keeping with the family tradition, the shoes would be sold to these tikes at a substantial markup, which would be shared with grandpa. Touched by the lad’s offer and impressed with his entrepreneurial insight and his previous success in a snakeskin trading business, Suharto saw no problem with forcing Indonesia to become a one-style shoe country. Grandpa indicated that it was a capital idea, but cooler heads prevailed when the currency and stock market collapsed. Suharto’s progeny was requested to go back to the drawing board permanently.

 

But the boy wasn’t done yet. Known in the family as being a stickler for detail, he noted that there was a strange characteristic of Indonesian bird nests: they were relished by the residents of Hong Kong as a delicacy. An industrious group of Indonesian entrepreneurs of Chinese origin started to retrieve the nests, and before you could blink an eye, believe it or not, it had become a nine-figure business. Indonesians, who though the place where birds make their homes was not fit food for a good Muslim, paid little attention to the cottage industry.

 

Not so first grandson. Grandpa generously gave first grandson the rights to all of the nation’s edible nests to encourage the lad. Ari’s cartel, "Mr. Ari’s Birds Nest Association," became the gatekeeper for taxes for exporters of these luxury items, which sold for as much as $600 per pound. Now, Ari wasn’t all that aware of why the birds build their saliva nests where they do, but it is highly technical and requires the just the right blend of feces, stench, dankness and humidity in areas devoid of light. Nest cultivators say that a cow’s head buried under the nests also hastens the "swiftlets" nest building process. We are talking about a high-tech enterprise here, and where Ari thought that anyone could step into the slot, it just was not the case. Just one of those tactical errors we can chalk it up to youth.

 

Almost uniformly, people determined that Ari’s association was illegal and would not pay the penalties initiated by the association. Before too long, "Bird’s Nests" became the prime contraband export of Indonesia with literally everyone skirting the fees, while simultaneously waging a legal battle in court questioning the Association’s legal status. Poor Ari; in a land where Suharto offspring never even lose a round, first grandson lost the war. As the overzealous youth is loath to point out, "You should see those bird-nest farmers, they drive Mercedes-Benzes." Ever the patriot, Ari added, "We did this for the government; our studies showed Indonesia was losing 800 billion Rupiah () a year in taxes." You have got to love a kid like this, always thinking of his country first. Young Ari's foray into bird droppings ended when no one would pay any taxes at all and Ari's people decided against running through the jungle to collect the nests instead the taxes. The desire for eating bird’s nests, while somewhat bizarre by western standards is not the only strange epicurean delight that fascinates the Indonesian palate. Bats too are a delicacy here, they are three inches long, look like small rats and taste like beef jerky. ()

 

Undaunted, Ari bounced back in typical family tradition and soon established cartels controlling beer and tropical-wood and was even awarded the rights to build an adjunct to Jakarta’s water supply which would sell the precious commodity at a rate 25% higher than people were currently paying. This action was not geared to engender a warm and fuzzy feeling from the general populous for this precocious lad. Just envision the local laborer working his normal 14-hour shift in downtown Jakarta, then coming home and getting his water bill, knowing from whence the increase had come.

 

Other enterprises that were on the lad’s drawing board before Grandpa's retirement were modeling and music academies, all carrying Ari’s proprietary "Sexy" label. Also ready to roll was his chain of Sexy restaurants, his Sexy beverages and his Sexy clothes, a can’t miss deal because of the name of the designer involved, none other than Ari Haryo Wilbowo Sigit Harjojudanto himself. In the land where most have only one name, the lad has been five times blessed.

 

His beer concession on Bali also became the exclusive government agent for selling the required revenue stamps that must accompany the purchase of beer for resale. Ari, ever the business man, marked up the tax stamp to three times its face value, enraging almost everyone on the Island, including some of his relatives who owned the hotels where the beverages were sold. This action required Suharto himself to step into what had became a family war, and the concession was voided on the spot. As many in the family later remarked, this was not Ari’s shining hour.

 

Ari was not to be denied. Growing on Sumatra and Irian Jaya is a resinous black root called gaharu that matures in tropical Indonesian forests. This stuff when sold by the pound goes for almost as much as a good birds nest. People in the Mideast are almost cult-like in their ravenous demand for the product as a critical ingredient in incense. Ari saw an opportunity in the gaharu trade because it was first grown, then shipped to Jakarta to middlemen and after that transshipped to the Mideast. He first was able to tie up the marketing rights in Jakarta, which certainly did not ingratiate him to those people he had just put out of business. He next had Grandpa assign him the exclusive collecting and marketing rights for the product in the states of Sumatra and Irian Jaya, the only places where gaharu is cultivated. Moreover, his very low bid surprisingly turned out to be the only one returned when requests were made for tenders. You can image that the lad is not on anyone’s Christmas list from these regions, but so far so good, and the kid may just hit a home run on this one. Couldn’t you just see this boy as President of the country.

 

Fortunately, in Indonesia charity does not end with close blood relatives. Until the IMF stepped in, Suharto’s cousin and foster brother was in the midst of building the world’s tallest structure, a 1,841-foot tower costing almost $600 million, aptly named the Jakarta Tower. The "Tower" would be slightly taller than Toronto’s CN Tower, but would also be totally lacking in economic viability. Considering that Indonesia’s economy was in chaos, their currency was in free fall and their markets were in collapse, most of these projects hardly seem to be the types of things the International Monetary Fund would like to see their money invested in.

 

Suharto’s brother-in-law, Ibnu Hartomom, was in the best business of all. According to the newspaper Republika, it seems that he issued "$3 billion worth of promissory notes in the name of the Indonesian Government." Apparently, these were zero coupon notes carrying interest, and today the notes are worth $4.5 billion. It seems that at that time, Hartomo was deputy head of the National Security and Defense Council and in spite of being in the government, he was not allowed to step on the toes of the Finance Ministry, which already owned the exclusive right to issue these kinds of securities. Moreover, as surprising as it may seem, now that these notes are maturing the lenders want to get paid. However, there no longer is any money to meet these obligation, and Attorney-General Andi Muhammad Ghalib announced the only thing he could. "The notes are illegal," he said.

 

Suharto also had a job for his son-in-law, Prabowo Subianto. He made him a Lieutenant General in the army: "Armed forces chief General Wiranto announced this week that a military board was investigating three high-ranking officers, including Suharto’s son-in-law, as possible suspects relative to their involvement in political kidnappings." Wiranto went on to say, "Suharto, who was highest commander at that time, may have given subtle signals to Prabowo. In the upper circle of the armed forces, instructions may not necessarily come in written form."

 

Interestingly enough, before Suharto's resignation, his authoritarian regime was strongly supported by the military. This was the oil that calmed troubled waters muddied by political party candidates. That is, until recently after the economy had tanked:

 

"Tens of thousands of demonstrators confronted riot police in Jakarta during the campaign. More often, however, popular rage was vented on ethnic and religious minorities. Mobs sacked Christian churches and Buddhist temples and burned and looted stores belonging to ethnic Chinese merchants. The President responded to recent unrest with a mixture of compassion and brute force. He moved quickly to crush demonstrations, particularly on the main island of Java, home to more than half of Indonesia’s 200 million citizens."

 

But that was yesterday. The collapse of Southeast Asia has truly shown once and for all that the "emperor has no clothes". Indonesian stock markets and currencies have collapsed. Kia Motors has been taken over by the Korean Government, and projects sponsored by non-governmental interests are in a state of suspended animation. As if hit by the biblical plagues, the worst drought in almost half a century has further tormented the country. The forests over Indonesia, Borneo and Sumatra have been set ablaze by palm oil plantation owners and pulp-and-paper companies interested in a quick way to expand their arable land holdings. Most unfortunately, these fires can’t be extinguished.

 

The fires have reached underground bogs and coal seams, setting them on fire and spelling long-term trouble to the entire region. The fires have darkened the sun in Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei and Papua New Guinea. But worse, while the fires rage out of control, a $26 billion dollar tourism industry is in disarray as vacationers moved to safer, brighter regions. Thousands of people have already been overcome by respiratory aliments throughout the area.

 

The lack of sunlight has already influenced agricultural production by slowing the growth of fruits and vegetables. Particularly hard hit were corn, rice and coca crops, while birds, bees and insects have entirely vanished from certain regions, thereby affecting future pollinization. People have died, relief supplies are at times undeliverable because of the lack of visibility and food and water are extremely short in certain areas. The countries that have been effected are also bracing from the predicted devastating effects of El Nino. The pollution that we are addressing, though, is a short-term anomaly heaped upon an already polluted region with too many cars and virtually no pollution control regulations. It almost seems that the wrath of God has come down to warn these countries to stop their excesses before it is too late.

 

Along with decimating 800,000 hectares of forest lands, the haze from the fires have caused a lack of visibility that has been blamed as the cause of the crash of the Garuda Airlines plane in Sumatra, bringing with it one of the highest death tolls in aviation history to that region. Only after the fires had been burning out of control for months did it emerge that Suharto’s son Sigit and daughter Tutut are both up to their eyeballs in forestry-oriented companies that were partially responsible for the fires.

 

The shops in Java, not having any locally grown fruits and vegetables, were forced to find produce elsewhere. They imported what they could, but when the currency collapsed, people becoming frightened that their money would become worthless and cleaned the shelves of produce. As the economic crises worsened, prices started to rise, causing riots. In East Java, natives have plundered and re-plundered the local shops, carrying away everything that wasn’t tacked down. They armed themselves with knives and sickles. As the violence reached a fever pitch, the Muslim shop owners played on their ethnicity and began placing signs on their establishments advertising the fact that they were not the hated Chinese, and so some were spared.

 

In Central Java, approximately 800 Islamic students attacked ethnic Chinese businesses. These were boarding school attendees whose Moslem Instructors have no love for the Chinese and can whip up a frenzy among their naive students without even breaking a sweat. Worse was yet to come. The New York Times reported, "Officials and labor leaders say they expect 2 million people or more to lose their jobs in the coming year, in addition to the 4.4 million already unemployed and the millions more who live hand to mouth with part-time work. The number of unemployed could rise even higher. More than two million people leave school and enter the work force each year, and with most economists predicting a deep recession, only a few may be able to find a job."

 

Officials in Jakarta have become so concerned about the unemployed rioting that in the capital's streets indigent workers are being offered almost free passage back to wherever they came from within Indonesia. Excruciating increases in food prices and the prospect of more on the way have not left the masses feeling very sanguine about the situation. Muslim leader Amien Rais put the situation in total prospective when he said, "We cannot underestimate the frustration of our own people; they look friendly, they look innocent, they look patient, but all of a sudden they can transform themselves into tigers and do very destructive things."

 

"An example of what people will do when they are out of work, hungry, bored and generally pissed off at their government is what happened in Moga, Indonesia. This area is the jumping-off spot for ferries to Bali, but that seems to be of no particular significance. Muslim Clerics have been found cut into small parts and dangled from local trees. People who have witnessed the atrocities noted that the killers wore black outfits and masks and looked like Ninja."

 

"The number of murders has reached almost two hundred with no sign of abatement. When police were asked who they suspected, they named communists, the revile political party and the military, along with several local perverts that had been regularly accused of sadistic sex crimes. The East Java military commander, Major General Djoko Subroto, indicated that, "God willing, we will solve this case by early November." This did little to usage the populace and seemed reminiscent of the lines in the movie Casablanca where the police chief announces to his aids after a murder, "round up the usually suspects".

 

El Nino produced a drought at the same time the forestry land grabs resulted in the fires that burned out of control. The smoke and lack of moisture combined to reduce the harvest of farm goods substantially, and there is little money to import the most critical product, food. Riots have become an insurrection, and Indonesia’s army was hard pressed to control the one thing that cannot be assuaged, a starving population. However, there is not much question the world will come to Indonesia’s aid, but we do not think the country will survive in its present state when the country’s population of over 200 million people begins to realize what the crony capitalism of Suharto regime has taken from them.

 

Yet the United State, violently opposed to funding Indonesia problem without the country’s implicit cooperation with the International Monetary Fund, has pitched in to helping Suharto’s military hone their fighting skills. "Under a little-known $10 million Pentagon program called Joint Combined Exchange and Training, United States special forces teach the Indonesians skills that include psychological warfare and urban combat techniques." Looks to us like they are getting ready for an insurrection.

 

Ex-Dictator Sukarno's daughter, Megawati, even wrote a letter to President Clinton questioning, "Who, in the view of the U.S. government, is the target or enemy for this specialized training?" She further indicated that there is no foreign government ready to invade the islands and no revolutionary group threatening to overthrow the government. "The U.S. military is providing training in lethal methods of social control at a time when the Indonesian people are trying to build a more democratic system, it is the explicit policy of the Indonesia security forces to meet peaceful and unarmed demonstrators with force, and thus, military training from the U.S. directly undermines the democratic movement in Indonesia."

 

Megawati had good reason to be concerned, as it was the Army that engineered her fall from power as the chairwomen of the opposition party several years ago. At the same time, the Army has been accused of making opposing politicians disappear from the face of the earth. The Army’s crowning achievement was the massacre of nearly 300 innocent civilians on East Timor, which so angered the U.S. Congress that funds were cut of from the International Military Education and Training Fund in 1992. Megawati saw the passing of the Suharto mantel to his crony Habibie as an opportunity to regain control of the country.

 

Today, Indonesia is run by the International Monetary Fund, and as their price for assistance they simultaneously closed 16 banks. It was an accepted fact that these banks had been overwhelmed with bad loans for a substantial period of time, but until the IMF came onto the scene, it was "inconvenient" for the country to close them. Finance Minister Marie Muhammad stated a news conference, "These banks are insolvent to the point of endangering business continuity, disturbing the overall banking system and harming the interests of society."

 

The Finance Minister’s harsh words were particularly vitriolic, since they related directly to Number 2 Presidential Son Bambang, who along with various other family members seemed to hold interests in many of the closed institutions. "I see this as an attempt to sully our family name in order to indirectly topple my father, so that father won’t be chosen as president again. This is a ‘political movement’ against the family," says Bambang, who didn’t know whether the ban on owners of the shuttered banks leaving the country applied to him as well; but the rule didn’t appear to be etched in stone, as two bankers had already left. Then again, this is Indonesia.

 

Reuters on October 23, 1998, reported that Bambang was earlier in the month named as a subject in an investigation into abuses at his Bank Andromeda, which was shut down the previous November. Poor Bambang, if Daddy was still President, this never would have happened.

 

Bambang-owned Bank Andromeda lent Bambang, personally, substantially more than was legal, and thereby the bank violated Indonesian central bank regulations. When questioned about such improprieties, Bambang was not lost for an answer, saying, "90% of Indonesian banks were guilty of exceeding central bank limits on lending to a single customer." Because of this sensitive reply, sources close to Bambang laughingly indicated that the shy second son of President Suharto was thinking of becoming the spokesman for the Indonesian Government because he had become so fast on his feet. Bambang’s bank may have been closed down, but he got even. Within weeks he reopened the bank under a friend’s license.

 

Bambang was not the only family member caught up in the bank closures. Siti Hediati Prabowo, the President’s daughter, and Probosutedjo, who is Suharto’s half-brother, were also dejected shareholders of some of the banks that were forcible closed. Obviously, there was substantial gloominess regarding Finance Minister Marie Muhammad's actions among the ruling family. It is also readily apparent that this decision was arrived at almost unilaterally without substantive high-ranking input.

 

While Daddy was still running the show, Siti Hardianti Rukmana found out that even in the worst of tragedies there can be a silver lining. For example, during the financial crisis there was an airplane crash, which took 234 lives at run-down Medan Airport. In spite of the closing down of many projects because of arrangements agreed upon with the blessing of the International Monetary Fund, Siti’s group got the go-ahead to build a new airport that will be much safer than the previous one. Suharto’s other daughter, Siti Hediati Prabowo, told Daddy that even if the country was tightening its belt and going through an imposed austerity, it could ill afford not to have enough energy. Daddy Suharto agreed that this was true and certainly he didn’t want to favor one Siti over the other Siti, so he awarded her a contract to erect the largest electrical generating facility yet built in Indonesia. Business as usual, says the sign on the door. But alas, with the demise of the Suharto regime, so went the contract.

 

Indonesia’s "success" has been the most dismal of charades. A corrupt government built around the tenet that nepotism begins at home, run by a president who favored a non-Indonesian culture (the Chinese) and raised them substantially above the rank and file because they could increase the cash flow coming into the family’s coffers. A nation of great riches frittered away by corruption and grandiose projects that achieved little and cost dearly. This was a country where the nation’s industry had been vested in the hands of ruler’s children, and businesses were treated more as playthings, than as economic instruments of production.

 

There wasn’t any real secret about what was going on. Anyone that wanted to look profoundly into what had happened could have seen that under the royal trappings were turmoil, greed and potential chaos. It was in the enlightened self-interest of people at the IMF and the World Bank to hold out this charlatan Suharto as the Second Coming to the emerging countries of the world. This was a superficial case that these institutions created to illustrate that free trade worked, when in reality, the paradigm they were using was fatally flawed.

 

They knew, or certainly should have known, that this was not a democracy, for there were no free elections. It was a port of egress and ingress for the "Royal Family," who took a piece of whatever came in and whatever left. Indeed, this was not a study in free enterprise, for the reason that the bidding was always won by a connected person, and it was not a land of opportunity, as anyone wanting a better life had already moved to the United States, Malaysia or Thailand.

 

Simply put, it was convenient for developed nations to be able to show that at least one country was able to rise above its position and could become a world economic power. The IMF and the World Bank felt that it gave other peoples hope that they could achieve the same result. Furthermore, it palliated the troops. It was superb public relations. With Indonesia down the proverbial drain, which country will be nominated next for the "glorious example of the year" award? Sudan or even Afghanistan would see to be highly qualified, based on the criteria that have been used.

 

To illustrate the point that Indonesia’s senior management was really in this cozy coven for the long haul, in spite of International Monetary Fund agreements to the contrary, on November 7, 1997, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia announced that they would commence the building of a $3 billion bridge linking the three countries. Japan was picked to design and construct the monolithic structure, which will be over 125 miles long. The bridge will consist of a road, a rail link, an oil pipeline and a gas pipeline, but the original plans to reconstruct an exact copy of the Great Wall of China to run parallel to bridge as a scenic event for drivers weary of looking at water for such extended periods of time has been shelved to palliate the IMF because of the perilous economic conditions in these countries. Come on now!

 

Eventually, as the economy worsened and the Suharto family’s intransigence threatened to overcome whatever benefits that the IMF’s funding could be hoped to deliver; a message was sent by world leaders and the IMF to Suharto and his extended family, "get with the program or go down the drain." Suharto, who was at the time running for reelection momentarily got the message. Obviously, his thought process told him to play along, give in a little and then undo the whole thing after the election. So in going through the motions, Suharto announced, that his son Tommy’s National Car Project would lose its special tax and tariff exemptions and his clove distribution monopoly (which threw thousands of farmers out of work while increasing the cost for Indonesian cigarettes) would be taken away. Yusu Habibie, a Suharto crony, who eventually would replace Suharto as a do-nothing president, lost his government funding for his bizarre concept aircraft plane, and Liem Sioe Liong, the richest man in Indonesia and another Suharto confidant, lost his sugar monopoly. Finally, trading cartels in cement, paper and plywood controlled by Bob Hasan and his friends would be terminated.

 

The plug would also be pulled on Siti’s power plant and restrictions on foreign investment would be ended in many retail arenas. When all has been said and done, it is estimated that the extended Suharto family had accumulated over $30 billion in assets by 1989, and these moves, rather than hurting them, actual insured their economic productivity well into the next century. The Jakarta Post summed up Suharto’s most likely scenario as follows: "The risk of a recurrence of corruption, collusion and market distortions is indeed quite substantial with the children and close relatives of so many top officials, provincial leaders, high military officers and retired generals still quite active in business."

 

When Indonesian Government officials were asked whether their additional obligation to build a separate 60–mile long bridge between Malaysia and Indonesia was still going forward in spite of warnings by IMF officials, the officials responded by stating that it was and that they had their "fingers crossed" when they made the IMF Agreement, so whatever they had told the IMF didn’t count. However, you can believe that they will not build that bridge in this lifetime, crossed fingers or not.

 

The quote of the century award goes to Michel Camdessus, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, who must have had a severe hangover when he said that after all of this had occurred, "Indonesia has had the courage to take the bull by the horns and to take very decisive measures. I have full confidence that the government will get the Indonesian economy on the rails for durable growth." This statement was on a par with the one that Ponzi made to the Boston Police Department as they were arresting him: "What are you talking about, this was a totally legitimate operation?"

 

The IMF was not the only agency to hold Indonesia out to be a special country that could be an example to others. The World Bank suggested that Indonesia was a "model for Third World development and held the country out as an example of sound macroeconomics and poverty elimination. At least the World Bank’s James Wolfensohn had the common sense to cut his losses and conceded that, indeed, if anything, Indonesia is a great example of how not to get things done. While we can’t give Mr. Wolfensohn full credit for his retreat, because he told a little fib in the first place, the World Bank certainly gets kudos for retreating when they finally got caught, something which the IMF has not seen fit to do even yet.

 

We are not sure that statements of this kind wash well when they deal with nepotistic, corrupt bureaucracies that favor the few at the interest of the great majority of the population. We understand that without some degree of optimism, psychologically-driven macro-economic problems are hard to correct, and therefore, too much talking up of corruption in these countries only prolongs the enviable and causes the problem come back to bite you at an inopportune time. Thus, Indonesia, was an accident waiting to happen when Thailand collapsed. Globally, though, everyone had been so palliated by the statements issued by the IMF so that no one would have believed that Indonesia would have so quickly followed Thailand's pitiful example. Thus, the IMF was faced with a multi-front economic war that almost sank everyone. They promoted Indonesia because they needed an example of success, but when push came to shove, they just couldn't live with its clay feet.

 

Indonesia’s loans denominated in other currencies cannot be repaid, and instead of a simple restructuring, there is a plain old vanilla default. Effective resurrection of any kind requires a large dose of blind faith to be effective, which is regularly injected by the IMF into the global press. The IMF issued these Godlike utterances, blindly hoping for the best, but knowing that, not only are the statements patently false now, but that they were known to be false when they are uttered. In some places, that can get you a long jail sentence, or even worse.

 

The danger of this approach is the fact that it sacrifices unsuspecting business people who have every reason to believe that an organization such as the IMF has resources and information available far exceeding their own knowledge. After being boiled alive, the IMF and its naïve leader, Michael Camdesus, don’t even acknowledge their mistake. More kindly put, if indeed the man was totally insensitive to what was occurring in the world and just mislead, it would certainly indicate that someone had injected him with some sort of euphoria simulator.

 

The New York Times reported on January 7, 1998, that in late December the IMF sent "President Suharto a strongly worded letter urging his officials to carry out economic changes. Members of the Suharto family and close friends of the President, who held financial stakes in the country’s most lucrative businesses, have sought to dilute or evade such reforms. Twice in one week, the Indonesian military, projecting unemployment of two million workers in the immediate future, said it stood ready to suppress protests that "disturb national stability." On December 24, 1997, the Indonesian Rupiah attained "disintegration heaven" by falling 12% against the U.S. Dollar in one day. This level had not been seen by the Rupiah since the current monetary system had come into existence in 1971.

 

Furthermore, in the Indonesian budget for fiscal 1988-9, beginning on April 1, 1988, and released on January 6, 1988, showed a projected increase of 32.1% in both revenues and expenditures for the coming year, in spite of assurances by the government to the IMF that there would be a move toward austerity. In addition, in spite of the fact that Suharto had "cashed the IMF’s check," Indonesia was only in compliance with a few conditions mandated by the agreement. This immediately caused a further sell off of the Rupiah, creating record lows in the currency market Rupiah and the stock market, while at the same time senior IMF officials reported to the Washington Post that the Indonesian government was not delivering on its promises of reform. "IMF experts hastily packed their bags for Indonesia and began talking seriously to people that weren't listening to a word they were saying.

 

On or about January 12, 1998, Michel Camdessus and his senior aids left for the country and "took the bull by the horns" in an attempt to reason with the intransigent Indonesians. President Suharto’s son who had opposed so ferociously the closing of 16 Indonesian banks because one of those was his, acquiesced and then reopened the bank with a new name, but on the same old site. We doubt that Mr. Camdessus will stand by his statement of how good they are doing in turning the situation in Indonesia around: "Now that is taking the bull by the horns!"

 

Independent sources indicated they had now been able to uncover an attempt by the country to play down the level of their foreign debt, and new information placed that number at $200 billion, about twice as high as the one being circulated in Jakarta. In spite of IMF statements to the contrary, Indonesia hurdled into the lead in the world’s worst performing currency race, having in 1997 alone lost over 61% against the U.S. Dollar. And yet, the bloodbath may not be over yet, as the Rupiah rolls down the Indonesian hills at an ever-accelerating pace. Meanwhile, for every 200 points it drops, another billion dollars is added to its foreign debt. When the number $200 billion was drawn to the attention of Finance Minister, Marie Muhammad, he thought better of addressing it one way or the other, which in Indonesia, speaks volumes.

 

However, the backstabbing continued unabated, and Suharto, did not kept the faith with the IMF. His daughter’s unneeded energy program was rescued from the ashes, and his number one son’s banking empire had been shuttered and then reopened. Indonesia is still not serious about the extent of the their crisis, and in comparison to Korea -- which at that time was literally in the economic sewer and whose economy is twice as large as Indonesia’s -- has almost the same relative immediate problem in total dollars. In spite of the fact that the country is rich in natural resources, it will not get the same bailout treatment afforded Korea, because they are just not taking the problem genuinely enough, but more importantly, Indonesia will not create the massive economic dislocations globally that Korea could.

 

Indonesia’s highly regarded former cabinet minister, Sumitro Djojohadikusumo, stunned the nation when he stated in the Jakarta Post that the Indonesian Government should be replaced: "There has long been a wide gap and dichotomy between macroeconomic policies, which are full of distortions and inconsistencies and marred by corruption and excessive protectionism." The full force of this statement is abetted by the fact that Sumitro is considered one of the top economists in the Pacific Rim, and more importantly, his son, a major general in the Indonesian Army, is married to one of Suharto’s daughters.

 

As the riots increased in intensity, the students began taking to the street to burn Suharto in effigy, and Indonesia inched ever closer to civil war, Suharto needed a trump card to play to take the peoples minds off of their minor irritations of starvation and poverty. Suharto ordered his staff to find him something that he could use to distract the people. Ingeniously, his creative staff came up with the old, "there is someone out to get us ploy." In common, every day terms, this means that there is a plot to "do in" the entire country, and it is those jealous conspirators that want the Indonesians to become a broken people who are to blame, not the honorable government that has labored long and hard to provide what is best for its people. Suharto stated for the record that, "In this kind of situation, there are signs that certain groups are using the chance to achieve their political goals, which they have failed to reach through democratic and constitutional means. " Sounds a little like a page from Hillary Clinton’s primer, "How to Defend A Presidential When the Evidence is on the Dress."

 

The rioters were particularly interested in the largest private bank in Indonesia, Bank Central Asia, as an object on which to vent their rage. Naturally, the raging crowd centered on objects with a Suharto imprimatur and found the bank a convenient target. With two Suharto offspring sharing ownership of the institution, it became a logical candidate. ATM machines were of particular interest to the rioters, who either wrecked or pillaged 1,250 of these devices.

 

Not content with doing in the mechanical money-dispensing machines, the raging mob determined to fix the bank permanently and did enough damage that 122 of the banks offices will take a long time to reopening. If it wasn’t for the fact that Suharto controlled the "game" and was able to have the Indonesian Central Bank pump money into the bank, the riot and the allied run on the institution by frustrated citizens would have done it in immediately. The bank was eventually allowed to fail, because the drain on the Central Bank’s reserves became overwhelming.

 

With an election coming up, President Daddy Suharto could name names, so he announced that the Democratic Order Movement (which in Indonesian is an acronym for "God") was planning to disrupt things around the time that people would be voting. Thus, for the foreseeable future, police would have to ban "mass gatherings."

 

"In accordance with the law, it is forbidden for community groups to have street protests, as a regulation issued by the Interior Minister says demonstrations are forbidden.…The security forces will take firm action in accordance with the law against those who undertake street protests.…" When prompted for more details about this sinister sounding organization and whether or not this wasn’t just a convenient way of declaring "martial law" by calling it something else, a senior government official indicated that they (the Government) had uncovered documents that would convince the population of the enormous danger that this group posed. When the official was asked to show reporters the documents he was referring to, he started mumbling incoherent citations, but most amazingly of all, his nose started to grow longer right in front of his stunned audience.

 

As agreed under the terms of the IMF’s loan, Suharto got rid of the cartels as promised, but they reappeared in another guise. Take the example of Indonesia’s plywood export industry, which at over $4 billion in volume is the worlds biggest. Every facet of it was controlled by presidential confidant, Mohammad "Bob" Hasan, and plywood could not leave the country unless a bounty was paid to Bob. Well, Suharto and Bob got together when the IMF broke up the tidy little arrangement and came up with a new angle, why not create an association which everyone has to pay dues to at the rate of $5 for each meter of plywood exported. In gross volume, they would even come a little ahead of where they were before, and with a name like the "statistical research board," who would even suspect what was going on. Bob owns a company, Apkindo, which is in the shipping business, so as an addendum to the associations dues, it was made a requirement that all plywood leaving Indonesia would have to be shipped on one of Bob’s ships. Bully for Bob, and long live competition.

 

Suharto’s renewed intransigence with the IMF caused the limited revival of the Rupiah to again collapse, abetted by the riots in the cities, including the torching of ten Christian churches by angry mobs, and fires on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. East Java Police gave a sign of things to come when they warned the rioters that they ran the risk of being shot on sight. Inter-city transportation literally came to a halt as bus drivers feared for their own safety when entering riot torn areas. Additionally, with no spare bus parts available, they were doubly concerned that, once they had gotten into an area where there was turmoil, they couldn’t leave.

 

Indonesia committed a medium sized fiasco when they began subsidizing wheat, flour, sugar and soybeans by giving a favorable conversion rates to importers contrary to their agreement with the IMF. This was just another in a long series of violations by the Indonesian Government, and Finance Minster Marie Muhammad confidently predict that the IMF would disburse the next segment of $3 billion on schedule. In an attempt of to "shake down" the IMF, he indicated that any delay would affect investor confidence in Indonesia and "have a negative impact on efforts to strengthen and to stabilize currencies in Southeast Asia."

 

Bad mistake for Minister Muhammad, as the IMF determined to delay their next payment for a least a month to see if things straighten out. Then, a Congressional Committee in the United States approved a bill that would stop any American payments to Indonesia until Suharto straightened out his act. And finally, Suharto indicted that after all of the monkeying around, complying with the IMF’s terms would be violation of country’s constitution, which he indicated was based on "family values."

 

We are certainly aware of Suharto’s feelings about family, but if everyone in Indonesia was as generous with the country’s assets as Suharto had been, we would certainly have no need for IMF assistance. Suharto was setting the stage for a showdown with the IMF in which he believed he could win, even with intransigence, perhaps he does not think that the other countries of the world could afford to have Indonesia in a state of turmoil and revolution. This certainly was high stakes poker, when you realize that the President of the country pushed the envelope to the degree where he could wind up paying for his bet with his life.

 

In clashes with police shortly thereafter, five people died in riots over skyrocketing prices of basic commodities or their total unavailability. In a speech to the governors of all of the 27 provinces, Yogie Memet, Interior Minister of the moment stated, "The dramatic rise in the price of the nine basic commodities (actually 20) needed by the community and the disappearance of these from the markets has become a very sensitive problem this can shake the people’s economy". He went on to say that; "The people who feel most disturbed and bothered are the governors, who I have just met."

 

Now, we have people’s shops being torched, no food for the children, a currency that won’t buy anything, fires raging out of control and giving off a haze that has sickened a good part of the population and churches being razed, yet this moron thinks that the governors, living in their palaces and getting three squares a day, are totally insulated from what is going on and are doing more worrying that the populace. Welcome to Indonesia Disney World.

 

In one of the truly bizarre occurrences in this Alice in Wonderland country, the Indonesian Armed Forces ("ABRI") seems to be going ahead with a law suit against Indonesian newspapers and television because the media was inferring that many of the people conveniently vanishing during recent campus food and anti-government riots were vanishing courtesy of the military. The disappearances seemed to have started about the time an older student leader by the name of Lustrilanang escaped to the Netherlands and announced that the military had "abducted, tortured and threatened him with death if he spoke out." In this dictatorship, it is at least refreshing that the army files a lawsuit, rather than causing more people to disappear. On the hand, if they had to cause the entire media industry to vanish, people might have begun to suspect something was amiss.

 

After Suharto was re-ordained President and before he had remodeled his crony cabinet, in a moment of reflection he stated the obvious, "It is not an exaggeration to say our development for the 30 years past has been destroyed by the monetary crisis, the economic crisis and the crisis of confidence which came so quickly." Mr. Suharto did not indicate that that much of the collapse was caused by his family and his friends dipping into every honey jar in the nation and leaving nothing for the populous. After having stolen everything that wasn’t tacked down (and even some stuff that was), we often wonder why he and his gang didn’t just fad away.

 

Although Suharto addressed the fact that country had a 30-year relapse, he offered no real solutions other than a currency board, which will allow his cronies and family to steal away in the dead of night with most of the country’s assets. To assure that his instructions along these lines would be followed to the letter, he named such august trustees of the public good to his cabinet as his daughter, Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, to be Minister of Social Affairs and his dear friend, businessman Mohammed Bob Hasan, to be Minister of Trade and Industry. Obviously these are terrific choices, with Bob’s cartels controlling everything going in and out of the country, he can keep closer tabs over his money and where goes, while the lovely Siti, who owns all of the country’s toll roads, certainly is a logical person to advise on social issues. Finally, economically idiosyncratic Suharto buddy, B. J. Habibie gets tapped as the country’s Vice President. If Indonesia doesn’t enough problems already, we can certainly see this group of financial terrorists adding unpleasant footnotes to the recent bizarre and tragic history of Indonesia.

 

And the worm continues to turn, just as the IMF thought Suharto was going to be a good little boy and fall in line and the creditor international banks were talking about a rescheduling of loans owed by Indonesian corporation, the government threw still another curve ball. You see, the international banks feel that they have a better chance getting something back from a rescheduled debt if there are laws on the books that indicate who gets what in a case of reorganization. It turns out that the last time the Indonesian bankruptcy code was changed was in 1905, and because it is so inadequately written, it turns out to be a hodge-podge of inanities leading nowhere and saying nothing. So, the Indonesian Government said to the International Banks, "If that is what it will take to make you happy, we will rewrite the law." For about 10 minutes, everyone was ecstatic, that is until someone looked at what had been left in and what was left out of the new law.

 

"In theory, the decree should rule out numerous investment projects set up by President Suharto’s children and other well connected businesses that have been targeted by the IMF for gaining preferential treatment and draining state coffers. But advisers said officials had deleted several key definitions, articles and supplements from the original draft that were needed for it to work. The decree leaves out bidding rules, oversight, a dispute settlement procedure for tender applicants, as well as definitions of government support and public-private partnership."

 

In other words, when push comes to shove, the family retains everything and the lenders are screwed again.

 

Indonesia is more a police state than a democracy and does not put up with political decent. The first line defense for the Indonesian government against the coming riots is the army, which although well equipped and well trained, is only 200,000 strong. It is very likely that when the coming riots begin in earnest, substantial portions of the military will be quickly overrun and major parts of the country will be forced into anarchy. Logistically, Indonesia is indefensible and independent enclaves will become the first order of business.

 

Already we are starting to see the dire crop production reports, and rice, the country’s staple, is expected to be produced even less abundantly than last year’s poor harvest. With the currency in the tank, the importation of fresh supplies is either not an option or so expensive in relative terms that we think the country will be more interested in gifts and charity contributions than taking the IMF hard currency loans and using them on the proletariat. The prime problem that caused the shortfall is the worst drought in recent memory, and it is expected that Indonesia will have to import at least 3.5 million tons of rice just to keep most people at a bare bones subsistence level. Two United Nations food agencies filed a combined report that indicated, "Approximately 7.5 million poor Indonesians in 15 provinces may experience acute food shortages during the upcoming dry season."

 

Suharto has stated that he would not run for re-election, and because of what people view as a defect in the chain of succession, he had given the nod to Research and Technology Head, B. J. Habibie. Other than being a trusted crony of Suharto, Habibie has done little to ingratiate him to the country -- or anyone else for that matter.

 

The Wall Street Journal stated on January 21, 1998, "Mr. Habibie’s detractors portray the diminutive engineer as a kind of Indonesian mad scientist who lacks a coherent economic philosophy as well as the military pedigree and political skills that have helped Mr. Suharto manage a country threatened by latent region, ethnic, social and religious divisions. His enemies characterize Mr. Habibie as a spendthrift who has squandered billion of dollars on such dubious projects as building a domestic aircraft industry. Some critics feared Mr. Habibie’s selection would send frightening signals to financial commitments to the IMF program, which slashed state financial backing for the airplane project. The World Bank and Indonesian economic technocrats have long denigrated Mr. Habibie’s pet ventures as a waste."

 

Habibie is also the author of the now infamous "zigzag" theory of economics in which he indicated that high interest rates are the cause of inflation. Not only does Mr. Habibie axiom defy the laws of gravity, but they also illustrate what could happen under his misguided leadership. We could easily be made to believe that this visionary will see that whatever is left of Indonesia’s wealth will be squandered by the crazed ideas of the country’s newly proposed Vice President. The ever-canny Suharto is obviously thinking, "that when they see this guy’s performance next to mine, I’m going to look awfully good to everyone and they are going to want me back." Very sophisticated reasoning for the despotic leader of the Indonesians.

 

Habibie, a most unpopular choice, did in fact became Vice President, which was only a stopgap ploy in Suharto’s grandiose plan. As soon as his own man was ensconced in the catbird seat, Suharto would resign, a deal having been already cut between Habibie and Suharto that once he rose to President, Habibie would keep the wolves away from Suharto’s door. This ploy would have been A-OK if it had not been so obvious. Habibie became President and let no one down when he quickly became catatonic and was unable to make any clear-cut decisions. On the other hand, he was loyal to his patron to the end.

 

"If Mr. Habibie is appointed vice president, "you can turn out the lights, you won’t want to see what’s going on, and it’s not worth the electric bill." said Eugene Galbraith, global research director for ABN Amro Hoare Govett.

 

A viscous spiral raged out of control, company’s had to pay their offshore debts with dollars and yen, and only had rupiah. Thus, they would sell the rupiah and buy what they needed to repay debt coming due, causing their currency to be mired in a permanent downward progression. Indonesia, with almost every major company in the country bankrupt for all practical purposes, had now determined to "reschedule" their debt. Reschedule is a fancy word for not paying it while you negotiate better terms with creditors. For the most part, this action, although severe, is better than sitting around with your thumb in your mouth. More important though, it will give the rupiah time to recover. Overall, this was the first really positive step since the crisis began. When the day was over, Standard and Poors reduced the country’s credit from BB to B, external debt was $140 billion (of which $66 billion was corporate), and the rupiah was 14,000 to the dollar and rising.

 

A recent report issued by the Bank for International Settlements ("BIS") and based on the latest available figures released by BIS shows that the Japanese banks hold a touch under 40% of Indonesia’s total foreign debt, German banks came in second with almost 10% followed by the French with 8%, the American’s with 7.8% and the Brits with 7.4%.

 

"The International Monetary Fund and the U. S. Treasury came again to Indonesia’s defense, supporting Jakarta’s stance that a three-month "pause" in debt payments for some Indonesian companies doesn’t constitute a moratorium. Even Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin joined the fray with his own interpretation of what occurred, stating, "a framework for a voluntary private-sector initiative to help address the debt burden of the corporate sector." Robert, good effort, but no cigar. We still think that Webster is right, unless maybe you want to make a new word for it. It would be fitting to redefine the word "moratorium" using that flexible language, "jumble talk," because that is what seems to be going on.

 

One of Indonesia’s companies liked Rubin’s new definition of moratorium a lot and determined that this was an inspired way in which to hang on to cash. Throughout the economic crisis, PT Matahari Putra Prima has been held out as a shinning example of how Indonesian companies should function. It has tons of cash in reserve, and until recently, it was felt that the company would have no trouble paying the banks when loans came due. Furthermore, it had enough left over to make a sizeable investment in a substantial hotel company, but alas, it too has joined the endless list of companies that have determined not to pay of their debts. We can just hear them at a recent board meeting:

 

Chairman: "We have this debt we owe the bank that is due on Wednesday, and I am about to put it in the mail.

Board: "Well, no one else is making any payments, so why should we."

Chairman: "They are not making payments because of the moratorium on payments by companies that can’t afford it, and we are not in that position."

Board: "We have our notes right here. He said this was, "a framework for a voluntary private-sector initiative to help address the debt burden of the corporate sector." We think that it would be reprehensible for our company to not join our brethren in addressing the debt burden of the corporate sector. We cannot say that Mr. Rubin’s idea makes a lot of sense, because it is difficult to understand how by not paying our lawful debt we are helping the country, but Rubin is a rich and powerful American, and we know rich and powerful Americans are very knowledgeable in these matters. The board feels that it is our duty to default as well. In that way we will continue to be held out as a magnificent example of how business should be conducted."

Matahari withheld its payment, and Standard and Poors dropped the bottom out of its debt rating, lowering to it CC, substantially below investment grade. Many in the investment community also changed their ratings and suggested that the stock should be dumped immediately. The Board, of course, took the position that they were just good and loyal citizens doing what they must to help their country right itself during these turbulent economic times. Our hats are off to them for their willingness to standup to their critics. Incidentally, it is entirely possible that the company is actually broke and has used this "moratorium" as a smokescreen.

 

Our brilliant friends at the World Bank finally figured out what was going on in Indonesia and predicted that not only would 20 million Indonesian’s lose their jobs, but 50 million would return to the poverty that they had only recently emerged from. While these projections are much too optimistic, at least the World Bank is finally waking up to the fact that there just may be a problem here. The World Bank seems to understand that when people don’t have food to eat, sometimes they take it out on their neighbors and at other times, they steal. We cannot fault that perception, but in the meantime, most of the ethnic Chinese have already left town and won’t be around to be beaten up any more. Apparently, without their standard whipping boy, the people may become really annoyed.

 

Habibie was followed by the Muslim religious leader Abdurrahman Wahid, sixty-year-old religious leader that had already suffered three strokes and was in fragile health to say the least. However, he was a highly regarded man, who unfortunately was infirmed, legally blind and especially incompetent; in other words he was a triple threat catastrophe, just what Indonesia needed to pull them up from their lethargy. However, the people in the know in the American State Department thought that his victory was the best thing that had happened in Indonesia since the place had been first been inhabited. As they saw it, this was an opportunity of showing the world that coexistence was possible between the Muslim’s and the West. In Wahid, they had a liberal cleric who was both democratic and knowledgeable, an opportunity for breakthroughs of major proportions they said.

 

Before he became what the Indonesian’s call "an accidental president ()", he was a highly regarded Muslim kyai (teacher). Mostly Wahid showed similarities to the incomparable Erap, the recently former president of the Philippines. While Erap was a highly successful class "B" movie star and a graft ridden government official, Wahid who is equally corrupt, believes that he is living a movie, High Noon, to be specific. He measures his success in terms of the movie but says that what he is doing is real life. Many people in Indonesia have grave doubts about that statement. Wahid got off to a flying start as president by promising everything and doing absolutely nothing. He is now governing an island nation that is one of the most populous countries on earth that is rapidly coming apart at the seams.

 

Little things keep coming up to haunt Wahid, such as the instance where his former masseur was accused of stealing millions of dollars from an Indonesian Government sponsored food agency in Wahid’s name saying that it was "humanitarian purposes". The scandal, called Buloggate, named after the charity, Bulog, brought a belabored confession from the masseur who assumed all blame for his transgressions. The people became so emotionally charged up on both sides of the political fence that the army had to called out in force to avoid a massacre in downtown Jakarta. It was for this and another similar transgression, in which he made misleading declarations regarding a donation from the Sultan of Brunei that has mysteriously disappeared, in which Wahid was thoroughly censored by both his friends and enemies () in the Indonesian Congress.

 

Many say that this censure was only a first step in the winding road to impeachment. However, it is generally believed that Wahid, who has played things very close to the vest and has shown arrogance whenever he had had the opportunity, may finally have run out of time and friends. Wahid believes that all of the transgressions against him are the work "associates of former dictator Suharto –"They have been trying to destabilize his government since his election in October 1999. He asserts they are the masterminds behind the vicious blasts that exploded at numerous Christian churches the night before Christmas." () Wahid was getting a tad nervous and discussed the option of declaring martial law with his generals and this request was rejected out of hand. The military that has thirty-eight votes in delegates in parliament’s upper house had voted unanimously for censure, so the writing was becoming clearer on the wall that he could not expect their support under almost any conditions. There is little question that they would prefer to have Megawati take over the job. Poor Wahid, he was even dunned by the local electric company saying that his palace was $425,000 behind in paying its electric bill and that they were considering their options.

 

The stock market has plunged under his guidance and it is now about half as high as it was when he was installed into office. Wahid has failed to privatize government institutions that are not only a drain on the treasury and probably could turn a profit under reasonable guidance. Forgetting the fact that most of the logical candidates could well turn into tax paying companies instead of drains on the economy, the money that the treasury could get by making the sales would certain help jump start a pathetic economy. The promised reform of the Indonesian banking system has not come close to happening, which displeased the International Monetary Fund no end and they have now taken the dramatic step of withholding substantial promised payments until Wahid or his successor comes to grips with the situation. "Corruption and nepotism remain rampant. One Western diplomat despaired that economically, "the country is rotten to the core." ()

 

Wahid has few advisors and has hunkered down expecting the worst. He talks the talk of trying to forge a consensus but when the chips are down, he only listens to a select few. "…his daughter, Yenni; his brother, Umar Wahid, who is also a medical doctor, and his nephew Syafullah Jusuf, who heads NU Banser, the youth wing of the Muslim organization which Wahid led…Newsweek has learned that, a week before Christmas, an intelligence report warned of possible violence on Java over the holidays. The report was handed to a close presidential aide – who forgot to read the report to Wahid." () These handpicked advisors have about as much business telling anyone how to run a government as a frog. Not one has even a scintilla of experience in anything out of their own fields.

 

It is little wonder that Wahid is digging himself a deeper hole every time he opens his mouth. However, as far as the Muslim’s in his party are concerned, Wahid is still first class. Would you believe that 40 of his clerics had the same dream simultaneously one night and every one of them told it to their congregations the next day. It went something like this, Wahid had climbed a coconut tree and a terrible storm came up suddenly. The storm blew away everything in its path except Wahid and the try he was hanging to. Certainly, that was indeed a vision of consequence. Although the interpretation of the clerics was that Wahid would hang on to the presidency under all conditions, one of the people in audience that day asked a cleric whether or not it could be interpreted somewhat differently. Could it not mean, the cleric was asked, that if Wahid remains president, nothing would be left standing in the country but one coconut tree with the blind president clinging to it? ()

 

He has gone through the motions of trying Suharto for his pilferage with no success, but has been able to send Suharto’s son Tommy into hiding after a court found him guilty of an assortment of economic heists. The country continues to drift with a serious lack of leadership. Problems do not get addressed, any changes are made with glacier-like quickness, and when all is said and done, the same old hacks that did the country in the first time still seem to be pulling the strings. By the end of the 2000, virtually every economy in the Pacific Rim had recovered from the results of the economic maelstrom with two exception, the Philippines, with their own brand of cronyism and incompetent leadership, and Indonesia, who in spite of a big spike in the price of oil and their ability to produce massive quantities of the stuff, doesn’t seem to be helped by anything.

 

East Timor was a Portuguese possession in years passed but in 1975, with implied United States permission it was overrun by Indonesia. It had been forcibly taken from the Portuguese by the Revolutionary Front of Independent East Timor and had declared its independence on November 28, 1976. The Vietnam War had just ended and Indonesia at that time was an American pawn. It was felt by the U.S. Administration that there was a reasonable chance that the Revolutionary Front group that had just conquered East Timor, if left to its own devices could well fall into the communist camp. Once conquered by Indonesia, things quieted down a tad but although never a group of happy campers, the people of East Timor went along with the Suharto Government because things were reasonable good and the country was growing. However, the island is far from the Indonesian Capital, it is dry, agriculturally unproductive and little natural resources of value are to be found there.

 

The Indonesians treated those from East Timor with substantial disrespect and Roman Catholic bishop of Dili, Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and Jose’ Ramos-Horta jointly received the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts on the behalf of the people of East Timor. Belo’s story can give you a mind's eye view of what was going on in East Timor that made the people so resentful:

 

"Belo was ordained a bishop in 1983. As spiritual leader of a territory that is overwhelmingly Catholic, he became one of the primary spokesman of the Timorese people. He denounced the brutal tactics and oppressive policies of the Indonesian government despite at least two attempts on his life, in 1989 and 1991. Following a massacre of peaceful demonstrators in Dili in 1991, Belo successfully campaigned for reforms in the military and the dismissal of two generals. A strong believer in nonviolent resistance, Belo sought peaceful means to settle the troubles in his homeland. In an open letter written in July 1994, he outlined his concern for the people of East Timor and proposed that the Indonesian government reduce its military presence, expand the civil rights of citizens, allow East Timor to hold a democratic referendum on self-determination or barring that, grant Timor special territorial status."

 

Somewhat later, When the Pacific Rim crises occurred, it dawned upon the population that they had been taken for a ride and the Indonesians were just stringing them along relative to civil rights; thus the people determined to secede. Things were not that easy and Indonesia wasn’t about to part with a prized possession without and argument.

 

The Indonesian Government organized militias that were supposedly going to protect East Timor from Indonesian nationals that might be unhappy with their desire to unshackle themselves. The Indonesian Government agreed that East Timor could vote for independence or a continuing loose relationship with Indonesia. The people, by an overwhelming majority voted for independence. This set off a wave of attacks by the Indonesian, police, army and gangs arranged for by the Indonesian government. The United Nations stepped in a separated the combatants. The Indonesian Government offered to send various militia units to help police East Timor. Rape was extremely common and it did not take very long before the lives of women in this part of Indonesia became absolute hell.

 

However, that is only the tip of the iceberg as the people of East Timor have historically held a woman’s purity to critically important. The woman is raped and becomes, impure to them, and is banished from the village through absolutely no fault of her own. An almost equally barbaric reaction as the rape itself. The rapes that were conducted by the military were highly organized with the senior officers getting the younger women and the as rank diminished, the women’s age increased. The rapes and tortures were conducted primarily by militias who also took the possessions of their victim’s personal possession as well, leaving them with no pride and no discernable assets. They were effectively carrying on a scorched earth policy sending the message, the if those in East Timor still wanted to withdraw from Indonesia, things could even get worse.

 

Moreover, thirteen militias popped up, each espousing the theory of helping the East Timor people. When push came to shove though, the cops and army watched as the militias pillaged, raped, murdered and set their houses on fire. The Human rights Watch was there and collected extensive accounts of what was going on:

 

"Human Rights Watch has extensive eyewitness accounts of army officers taking part in militia operations, of militias being backed by lines of soldiers in their attacks, of militias holding meetings in district military commands, on August 30, after the voting, an Indonesian army major from West Timor reportedly carried out a campaign of terror and house-burnings of people associated with the independence organization, CNRT, in Gleno, Ermera, as active-duty soldiers took part in an attack on UNAMET local staff. Indonesian soldiers were reportedly involved directly in the attack on UN personnel in Liquica on September 3. There is no question of the linkage. Diplomatic sources have even better evidence.

Eventually, after substantial bloodshed and international hand wringing but no serious assistance, East Timor became a state. East Timor became independent. Indonesia had done its worst, but in the end, they were ill equipped to deal with these people’s desire for independence.

 

Wahid turned to be inept and things worsened considerably with insurrection breaking out literally all over the country on a regular basis. On March 13, 2001, Exxon shut down in Natural-Gas operation in the province of Aceh, Indonesia because of what they called increasing violence in the area. The next day, the Wall Street Journal ran a story about what was going on in the region:

 

"Natural gas and oil are Indonesia’s leading exports and a major revenue producer for the government, which is already mired in political and economic problems. News that political violence has forced the multinational producer of a key commodity to suspend its operations has rattled Indonesian financial markets and is certain to add to President Abdurrahman Wahid’s woes."

Aceh goes way back when you think in terms of Indonesia and its Muslim background. As an independent country in the 13th century, it became the first Muslim outpost in the Indonesian archipelago. In the early 17th century a fleet of Portuguese warships set to invade Aceh was soundly defeated and sent scurrying home. The Dutch looked at Aceh much as a kid would look at an ice cream cone and in spite of British threats, the Achinese War began and ultimately ended in the Achinese surrender in 1903 to the Dutch. Aceh was absorbed by Indonesia in 1949 but the people were not happy at all and rebelled in 1953. The Indonesian Government gave them all kinds of perks to be good little boys including creating Aceh as an administratively equal district with the country’s other provinces. This did little or no good and there continued to be an undercurrent for independence. There are some excellent oil wells and a substantial amount of natural gas has recently been discovered on Aceh’s eastern coast.

 

Aceh, although primarily Muslim is just one of the many trouble spots where a culturally diverse Indonesian population is looking for ways to break away from the despotic government in Indonesia. Moreover, there are substantial reasons for this, ethnic prejudice, uneven distribution of Indonesian wealth, government graft, corruption and cronyism; inept leadership not paying enough attention to minorities interests as well as a lack of employment. Exxon has been caught in the middle of the Acehnese separatists on a number of occasions when their planes have been fired upon and their vehicles have been stolen. Obviously, Exxon must feel that things have worsened considerably and are in the process of removing their 860 employees from the region entirely.

 

Another problem for the Indonesian Government is Irian Jaya, also known as Papua or West New Guinea, which has also expressed a pro-independence desire. The island was first visited by the Portuguese followed by the Spanish, Dutch, German and English. Ultimately it became a Dutch possession in 1828 and was used a prison for communists after an insurrection sponsored by them failed in Java. Irian Jaya came under United Nations administration in 1962 and was summarily given to Indonesia in 1963 provided they hold an election before the end of the decade to determine the people’s wishes. The population by this time had enough of Dutch exploitation and United Nations blundering and agreed to merge with Indonesia.

 

Papua is located in the far away western half of the island of New Guinea, almost 3000 miles away from Jakarta. Irian Jaya was taken from the Dutch in 1963 and added to a melting pot of numerous unrelated peoples speaking differing languages that were being accumulated randomly by an acquisition minded Indonesian Government. In the over 13,000 individual islands that make up the hodge podge of Indonesia, Irian Jaya is very different; not only is there language different, but so are their customs and religion. These people for the most part are card carrying Christians living in a Muslim world, where everything is geared toward blindly following that religion.

 

In addition, Irian Jaya is not only far from Jakarta but it is also geographically unfriendly and if push ever comes to shove, there is no question that these people will probably be able to walk away from the historically despotic Indonesian rule. In a confused effort, ineffectual Indonesian President Wahid attempted a step toward conciliation and as usually got his tongue into his eye-tooth and couldn’t see what he was saying; in referring to the evolving situation in Irian Jaya he indicated that; "I will allow anyone the right to say what they think, but if these acts are accompanied by violence and preparations for independence, as a man who stands by the constitution and the sovereignty of the country, then inevitably, I have to act." It appears that the Indonesian Government does not take threats of secession unless a substantial number of people start to die in clashes with the government troops.

 

The normal pattern that has been repeated numerous times by the Indonesians in other places and it was carefully followed here, the insurgents from Irian Jaya were tortured, pillaged, raped and murdered by the local police, various militias and the army. As usual, international social agencies are called in, the situation is described and strong admonishes against additional violence against the people are issued having no reality behind them whatsoever. However, once again, the Indonesian Government give the impression that it is comprised of a bunch of unmanageable delinquents seeking to oppress dissenting ethnic groups within their country unreasonably.

 

Any secession of Irian Jaya would be particularly challenging for Jakarta since the province produces a substantial part of Indonesia’s natural resources and the fabled Freeport Minerals plant, which economically espoused the Suharto regime, is located within this territory. The mine at Tembagapura is the largest single concentration of copper ore in the world but this is not all the wealth that is contained on the island. The list is nearly endless but oil, gold, and uranium are found here in abundant quantities and their value as sources of hard currency cannot be defined. However, the people have already created their own flag, which is regularly raised right in the faces of armed government troops and it will not be long before another tentacle of the Indonesian octopus is devoured by the ever circling cod.

 

In addition, Muslim – Christian battles have broken out all over the Malaccan islands and Java has suffered numerous bombing incidents by separatists. As revolts breakout all over Indonesia, many of the reactionaries are taken prisoner and thrown into jails primarily located on the major islands. However, when these jails were originally constructed, it was believed that they would service the usual cadre of thugs, killers and shakedown artists. No one had ever considered the possibility that every single ethnic or conquered group living in within the Indonesia perimeter would all want to opt out at the same time. As these folks continue to revolt and as the Indonesian Government continues to have their leaders collected and sent to jails, the prisons began bursting at the seams without a bunch of very unhappy prisoners. But that wasn’t the only problem; keeping these folks under wraps requires guarding them, clothing them, feeding them and keeping them palliated enough not to cause commotion in the heavily overcrowded conditions. Worse yet, Indonesia was going through its worst economic downturn in history and there wasn’t money enough to pay the police nonetheless feed revolutionaries.

 

Eventually, the most bizarre decision that has ever been made in the history of penal justice came down from on high by Human Rights Minister Yusril Ihz Mahendra. The announcement was made on Christmas day, 2000 in order to achieve maximum effect. Its theory was based, according to Yusril on the fact that a good prisoner was a happy prisoner and basically the only reason that inmates rioted and attempted to flee was due to the fact that they were just homesick and missed their families. Thus he wisely concluded, "They will be given leave so that they can see their families every three months," Moreover, while in a festive mode, he commuted the sentences of almost 3,000 Christians. Somehow, the Indonesian decision seems somewhat anti-productive as far as the government would be concerned. We believe that sending these ringleaders back into their own territories is only like waving a red flag in front of a bull. This will have the effect of hastening the demise of Indonesia as one cohesive unit.

 

With the economy in the tank, the provinces revolting, graft and corruption continuing unabated and the Indonesian stock market making new lows daily, Wahid did what any politician that had no solutions for his country’s disasters would have done in his place. He fired Forestry Minister Nurmahmudi Ismail who was one of the leaders in the attempt to get Wahid impeached. There were differing reasons given for the sacking but it certainly gives the Indonesian people something else to think about and takes their minds off of the concerted attempt to drive the hopeless Wahid out of office. However, Ismail was not a member of Wahid’s party and a coalition cabinet member. The fact that Wahid fired a member of a coalition government certainly doesn’t give a lot of a lot of confidence to his remaining tenure in office, which may be getting hopelessly short.

 

 

 

Borobudur Temple

 

 

Yet, one must realize there is so much more to Indonesia than corruption. It is a country of great beauty, and everyone is aware that the beaches of Bali attract tourists from all over the world. On the Island of Java, near the village of Magelang stands a religious temple called Borobudur that was build somewhere between the seventh and eighth centuries. The temple was a deeply religious place, indeed for a time; it was the spiritual center of Buddhism in Java. Amazingly, this huge edifice vanished from view during the 9th Century and was never seen again by Westerners until the 1800s. Moreover, not only was Borobudur abandoned, but all other Buddhist monuments in Central Java were abandoned as well.

 

The most amazing thing of all was that this temple was even found again at all, at least in a viable state, because the rainfall in the general vicinity was of the monsoon variety, drainage at the temple was non-existent, algae and lichens worked together to erode the monument, the structure lies directly on a major earthquake fault line, temperatures in the area varied dramatically and the structure had no mortar to bind it, for it was totally held together by gravity.

 

Actually, there are three major temples in the area, with Borobudur being the most magnificent. The others are Pawon and Mondut. Borobudur is even more amazing when you consider that it is the largest Buddhist temple ever built. Borobudur is derived from an expression meaning "mountain of accumulation of merits of the ten states of Bodhisattva." Although it is one of the great Buddhist structures ever built, most extraordinary is that it was conceived by Hindu builders who constructed the temple’s lower terraces. The life of the temple as a center for Buddhist worship and pilgrimage was extremely short, considering the magnificence of the structure, probably about 150 years. Javanese culture began to move eastward in Java with the end of the Mataram kingdom, probably explaining the disappearance of the temple for such a long period of time. Moreover, It did not take the jungle long to reclaim the land.

 

The temple was rediscovered in 1814 by Sir Thomas Raffles, at that time the Governor of Java. Raffles treated the site kindly and cleared the brush. Although this was a commonsense gesture, he only opened up the territory to smugglers and looters who proceeded to grab everything valuable in sight before the Indonesian Government could arrange security for this monument.

 

On the island of Java stands a mountain of a thousand statues…surrounded by volcanoes, shrouded in mystery. In 1814, two hundred men cross the lush Kedu plains of Central Java to search out this legendary mountain near the small village of Boro. For six weeks, they slash and burn the chocking vegetation. They clear away tons of volcanic ash. Hidden beneath the debris, they find strange figures carved in stone – thousands of them. The excavation of the monument, known as Borobudur, has been ordered by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the new British Governor of Java. Unlike the Dutch traders before him, Raffles is intrigued by the exotic stories and architecture of the Indonesian islands: "The antiquities of Java have not, till lately, excited much notice: nor have they yet been sufficiently explored. The pursuits of commerce have been too exclusive to allow they’re being much interest in the subject."

 

When Raffles comes to inspect the progress of his expedition, he finds a colossal pyramid, rising to a huge bell-shaped pinnacle. Lacking adequate historical records, Raffles is unable to determine the exact date of Borobudur’s construction, but he does have some insight into the purpose of the structure: "The resemblance of the images which surround this monument to the figure of Buddha, has introduced an opinion that Borobudur was exclusively confined to the worship of that deity."

 

Raffles knew that that the temple was something very special but did not have a clue of exactly what he had uncovered. However, by 1835 Borobudur had been totally uncovered and renamed "Hidden Foot" because it had been totally obscured. But it was not until 1890 that the entire area had been excavated and Borobudur’s magnificent relief panels were discovered. It was at this time that 13,000 square meters of stones were replaced in an effort to restore the temple to its former glory. To give you an idea of the nature of Borobudur, historians agree that this was the model for the incomparable city of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

 

In the 1860s, the Dutch came to realize the religious significance of the temple along with its extraordinary complexities. They mounted a serious attempt in 1907 to restore the edifice under an engineer named van Erp, but because of the fact the temple’s engineering was much more intricate than originally thought, the attempt was less than successful. Further attempts were launched shortly thereafter, but earthquakes in the vicinity once again stopped all progress. The reality of the situation was soon discovered, for the fact that the monument had been buried for all of those years had in fact preserved it. As successive attempts to restore it were carried out, the temple began to decay more rapidly.

 

However, in 1973, Unesco determined that the Temple was of extreme global importance and became caught up in its reconstruction. Enormous resources were put into play, but it was not until ten years after reconstruction had begun that the site was again opened to the public. Unesco declared the Borobudur Temple, a World Heritage Monument, an honor only reserved for extremely significant structures. It is utterly amazing the number of countries that joined Unesco in their efforts at restoration of Borobudur, for twenty-seven countries contributed to the effort, including Australia, Belgium, Burma, Cyprus, France, Ghana, The Federal Republic of Germany, India, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Qatar, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, The United Republic of Tanzania and the United Kingdom.

 

As you peruse the list, the significance of the donations can be gleaned. Some of the countries identified here did not have enough money to save their own monuments, and yet, they realized that in saving the Borobudur, they would be saving one of the real wonders of the world. The restoration employed 600 experts from ten countries. Unesco has called the monument, "a jewel set in a natural archaeological park, a triumph of engineering, of science, of scholarship and of human toil, a symbol of what men can achieve when they work together. "

 

"Finally in 1973, restoration began in earnest, financed by funds from the Indonesian government, private organizations and member states of Unesco. No other archaeological rescue of such magnitude had been attempted since the raising of the Egyptian temple of Abu Simbel in 1966 to protect it from the floodwaters of the Aswan Dam. A technique used at Angkor Wat was employed: the ruin taken apart stone by stone, the stones and blocks numbered, the pieces cleaned and chemically treated, then assembled again. The lower galleries were completely dismantled and rebuilt on a reinforced foundation with adequate drainage."

 

"For years the whole project fell prey to bureaucratic ineptitude corruption, and financial mismanagement, but the work was at last completed in 1983 at a cost of some $25 million. In January 1985, nine bombs destroyed parts of the stupa; the government blamed either Muslim extremists or local people evicted from their homes to make way for the archaeological park. The massive stupa is still in an almost continual state of reconstruction."

 

The structure, which has often been described as one of the seven wonders of the world, is made up of 55,000 square meters of lava-rock and is built in the shape of a lotus, the sacred flower of Buddha. The temple was erected at the pinnacle of a terraced hill having six distinct rectangular levels with three circular levels of terraces above those. Facing in each direction are ninety-two Dhyani Buddha statutes and almost 1,500 relief scenes. These scenes for the most part depict the life of Buddha, Prince Siddharta of Kapilavastu, who was born approximately 560 B.C. and was the founder of the Buddhist religion. When Siddharta began studying what ultimately became Buddhism, he became known as a Bodhi or one of Supreme Wisdom, and somewhat after that he was given the name Buddha, meaning one who has achieved the Bodhi.

 

His teachings were on an eightfold basis, which is reflected in the temple itself: 1. correct view, 2. correct thought and purpose, 3. correct speech, 4. correct conduct, 5. correct livelihood or occupation, 6. correct zeal, 7. correct remembrance, and 8. correct meditation.

 

"One of the largest and most complete ensembles of Buddhist relief’s in existence, Borobudur amounts to a virtual textbook of Mahayana Buddhist doctrine in stone. There are 1,500 pictorial relief panels of Buddha’s teachings, plus 1,212 purely ornamental panels. Once glistening with bright purple, crimson, green, blue and yellow paint, 8,235 square meters of stone surface are carved in high relief, telling scholars much about the material culture of 8th to 9th century Java. There are lessons on history, religion, art, morality, literature, clothing styles, family life, architecture, agriculture, shipping, fighting arts, and dancing – the whole Buddhist cosmos. Sculptors trained in the best tradition of Indian classical temple building poured their abundant talents into delicate, intricate detail."

 

On the very top was an enormous stupa, 15-meters in diameter, and from this location, there was a magnificent panorama of the surrounding area. Although, the view is mostly of impenetrable jungle, the beautiful Merapi volcano can be seen, along with the carefully manicured rice fields of the Plain of Kedu, a most wondrous sight. It has been postulated that in earlier times, pilgrims came to Borobudur in the same way that they may visit a planetarium or museum; by slowly working their way up the monument they were able to get a three-dimensional education at each level of both the teachings of Buddha and how to find enlightenment. There, pilgrims could find the sacred texts, treatises on morality, meditation and the meaning of life on their short trip up the hill.

 

We are told that the temple’s designer was an architect by the name of Gunadharma and that in order to present his edifice in its most magnificent manner, he began the project by flattening the sides of the hill on which the monument is located into the form of terraces. Historically, this was the manner in which the ruling dynasty during the Central Javanese period constructed their monuments. Thus, many historians have been able to pinpoint the date of construction at 850 A.D., plus or minus a few years. "The monument was built by Indonesians themselves under the influence of the Hindu – Javanese cultures. The mixture of cultures commenced with the entrance of Hindus into Indonesian territory. A truly great description of Borobudur was provided by the artist Nieuwenkamp, who saw the temple as "a lotus flower bud ready to bloom, floating on a lake."

 

"From several linguistic peculiarities the conclusions may be drawn that it was the two highest castes, the Brahmins and the Ksatryas that introduced the Hindu culture into Indonesia." Borobudur was the symbol of power and glory of the then ruling monarch. According to the Hindu culture, the proportions of a temple denoted the degree of power of the king. Borobudur also reflected the ardor of the newly converted proselytes. This monument was meant not only as a propaganda medium of Buddhism, but it also exercised a beneficial influence upon Mankind. To the king, Borobudur constituted the fulfilling of his highest plight towards the Creator, or a dharma in order to receive a reward in the hereafter. The larger the temple, the greater the reward would be! Seen in the light, Borobudur was not only built for the benefit of the Buddhist religion, but also for the worship of ancestral spirits."

 

There are no decorations on the top level, but there is a square balcony that has round walls. Inside of the walls are ninety-two Varjrasattvas of Dhyani Buddhas, each tucked into small stupas. They each sit on a Lotus seat while the hands of the statues each point in a particular direction, "east with the mudra of calling the earth to witness, the open left hand rests on the Buddha’s lap with the right hand on the right knee with the fingers pointing downward; south, with the hand position of blessing, the right hand is turned upwards and the fingers rest on the right knee; west, with the gesture of meditation, both hands open and placed on the Buddha’s lap, thumbs touch each other and right hand is slightly higher than the left; north, the mudra of fearlessness, which is meant to dispel fear. The Buddhas differ from each other, based on the direction that they face; these Buddha’s face in all directions because the teaching is the highest symbol of Buddhism, and hence, the Borobudur stupa is also meant to be a replica of the universe.

 

Moreover, Borobudur symbolizes the micro-cosmos, which is divided into three levels: the first is one in which man’s world of desire is influenced by negative impulse; the middle level is the world in which man has control of his negative impulses and uses his positive impulses; the highest level is the world of man no longer bound by physical and worldly desire." The overall symmetrical Borobudur Stupa is in excess of 200 square meters in size. This would be about the size of eight football fields laid out four abreast, an object so mammoth that it is even challenging to conceive of it.

 

The temple was used for worship and meditation by the Varjraykana sect of the Tantric School of Buddhism, which sprouted up in Indonesia around 700 A.D. The temple was erected by feudal Sailendra princes who were highly advanced in the theories of architecture and mathematics, as well as having a profound understanding of their religion. The princes were able to acquire a substantial number of slave laborers to cut and carry the lava rocks up the mountain and into place.

 

There is not much question that this was a work, which required decades, and its critical ingredients required a substantial cadre of carvers and supervisors, along with tens of thousands of slaves. As in several other monuments that have been discussed previously, there were neither beasts of burden, nor the highly critical wheel available for use on this project. On the other hand, these people did have levers, mallets, chisels, ropes and hammers available to carve and lift the lava rocks.

 

It is common practice when visiting this highly devotional monument to walk turning to the left (clockwise), keeping the temple to the right while either chanting or meditating. There are ten levels of a Bodhisattva’s life, which must be attained to become a Buddha, and Borobudur Temple has all ten levels. "The monument represents a Buddhist cosmological model of the universe organized around the axis of mythical Mt. Meru. Starting at the eastern gateway, pilgrims circumnavigate the stupa always in a clockwise direction. Walking through nearly 5 kilometers of open air corridors while ascending though six square terraces and three circular ones, the pilgrim symbolically spirals upwards from the everyday world to the nirvanic state of absolute nothingness."

 

According to experts, the fact that the temple was divided into three parts goes along with the essence of the Buddhist faith, which delineates the three phases of life as follows:

 

1. Kamadhatu: man is still closely associated with the accumulation of wealth;

2. Rupadhatur: man has freed himself from basic instincts but still has the form of a human being;

3. Arupadhatur: man has reached perfection and is more a spirit than a person.

These basic concepts of Buddhism are followed faithfully within the framework of the temple, the lower part representing Kamadhatu, the Sphere of desires, the second stage representing the Rupadhatu, the Sphere of Forms, and the third stage represents the Arupadhatur, the Sphere of Formlessness.

 

Borobudur is unique from all other Chandis in Indonesia in that it is strangely probably not a Chandi, but instead, a stupa. The difference is somewhat obscure, with a Chandi being a place where a deity is housed, while a stupa is defined as a place where relics are kept. Both are highly religious places and there is relatively little difference between the two. It is more a matter of determining the intent of the builder, rather than anything else. As time has past, experts now are convinced that Borobudur is a stupa. Both stupas and Chandis contain relic boxes housing precious stones and seeds, which are meant as mementos of the god, and in themselves are symbolic of divine power. However, no such relics have ever been found at Borobudur, further complicating the mystery.

 

While nearly all authors describing the wonders of the world make significant mention of Borobudur, it was probably one of the least mentioned about architectural masterpieces in existence. The reason for this is exceedingly simple. It is not one of the really accessible places to get to, and for that reason, not many travel agents or columnists have ever been here. It would be nice to say that because of a lack of tourists, this magnificent piece of architecture has survived in pristine condition, but that sadly is not the case. Human looters and smugglers aside, the jungle and the environment were more than enough to take a major toll. The restoration is an ongoing affair, but this will never be the easiest spot on earth to get to, and that is indeed a pity because this a magnificent global wonder.

 

Malaysia

 

 

What is the country that has the tallest building in the world, the third longest bridge, the fifth tallest tower and the world’s first city totally dedicated to high-tech? The answer is Malaysia and the tallest building is the Petronas Twin Towers, the Penang Bridge is the third longest bridge, Kuala Lumpur Tower is the 5th tallest tower and Putrajaya is the first city dedicated solely to high-tech. Malaysia is one of the more interesting countries on earth and is only slightly larger than New Mexico. Their flag was copied from the American Flag and has fourteen equal horizontal stripes of red alternating with white. The country has grown an astounding 9% a year since 1988. Hardly more than a decade from a country that was almost totally agrarian, this small country of twenty-two million people has latched onto technology as their manifest destiny. Malaysia has as its leader, a man that literally invented the meaning of paranoia, he is vicious to his enemies, runs a democratic country as though he were a fascist and believes in forcing Malaysia to progress, churning out world class projects in much the same way you would make the determination about which movie to see on a Saturday night.

 

Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, twenty years as the Prime Minister of Malaysia, could not be accused of sitting on the sidelines as Thailand economically went down the tube. He was one of the prime architects of Thailand’s catastrophic defense of the currency, but in spite of that fact, he remains as the region’s number one cheerleader. In listening to the good Doctor’s pontifications, one could easily be convinced that an evil empire is conspiring against the entire region. In a more restrained moment, he offered the following for the world’s consideration when discussing speculators:

 

"I say openly, these people are racists. They are not happy to see us prosper. They say we grow too fast, and they plan to make us poor. We are not making enemies with other people, but other people are making enemies with us."

Neither was Dr. Mohamad enamored with U. S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright when, after he espoused his conspiracy theory, she treated him as though he had just flunked Economics (101): "She got angry and accused me of being extreme. This shows that they are not tolerant. It is not fair for a big nation to defend a rogue currency speculator." (he is referring to George Soros).

 

He has found fault with such venerable organizations such as the World Bank and the IMF for determining that bribery begins at home (he terms it, "Cultural Imperialism"). He has found fault with "racist" foreign speculators, because they always seem to be selling stocks and currencies short, thus impoverishing the country. Additionally, he has found fault with the rest of the world for allowing this all to happen. () Dr. Mohamad has chosen not to assess any of the blame on those ludicrous policies advanced by both his government and others in the region.

 

Maybe Dr. Mohamad should look more introspectively at some of his own country’s escapades before he sends voodoo signals in a Westerly direction. In 1981, the Malaysian government ratcheted up a company they called Maminco in an effort to corner the London tin market. They guessed very wrong and tin collapsed leaving the government with a $150 million hole. Has he already forgotten that in 1992 the Malaysian Central Bank through their vehicle, Bank Negara, lost almost $4 billion betting on whether the English pound would remain within Europe’s exchange rate mechanism?

 

Tan Sri A. P. Arumugam, described as a close associate of Mohamad's, not only has purportedly been partners with the Prime Minister's children, but has profited greatly from the fall of the ringgit (his own currency) and other Southeast Asia currencies through his little known investments in CAM Catamaran Fund Inc., a currency hedge fund in Luxembourg. It seems strange that the Prime Minister has such bedfellows, when he so strongly believes that the West is subverting his country through these types of dealings. Worse yet, Cam Catamaran Fund often finds itself on exactly the same side of transaction, as is Soros.

 

While the Prime Minister would have us believe that Malaysian and all other nations are all created equal, it seems that some are more equal than others are. An example of this would be the fact the when he determined to privatize the countries blue chip assets in the 80s, including power plants and expressways, it was always those in his inner-circle that were awarded the bounty. Mahathir’s son was also taken excellent care of by his very paternal father. The boy got into the shipping business with some help from various government agencies, and for a while, he was very successful. When the downturn came in Malaysia, the boy’s company suffered like those of everyone else.

 

However, his Dad just couldn’t bear to see the lad go under and arranged for an oil company owned by the state to take over the business, debts and all. In addition of getting the kid out of hock in one fell swoop, the Prime Minister also stiff-armed that government agency into paying fantastic price for the failed business. This kid is probably running around telling everyone what a genius he is, and if he is anything like the Suharto offspring, will probably be headed for trouble again in the near future. In this crony capitalist country, Mohamad just believed that some are created more equal than others: "…Some Malays say the premier has perverted the vision behind the "New Economic Policy" (a plan that was designed to improve everyone’s lot in Malaysia) turned it into a welfare fund for a few politically well-connected – and largely successful businessmen.

 

Among them is tycoon Tajudin Ramli, who bought the government’s controlling stake in Malaysian Airlines in 1994. A farmer’s son, Tajudin was praised in official circles as precisely the kind of person who could create Malay wealth. However, after three years of losses, the debt-laden airline was bought back last month on extraordinarily generous terms for Tajudin. The government purchased his 29% stake for over $470 million –more than twice its market value says P. Ramasamy, a political scientist at the National University of Malaysia: "It took the financial crisis of 1997 to lay bare the true nature of how (the government) has sought to assist individuals and groups with connections to the top leadership."

 

And talk about currencies: Muhammad Taib, one of three vice presidents of the governing United Malays National Organization ("UMNO") and easily one of the most senior people in the country, was wandering through the Brisbane, Australia, airport with over $1 million Australian in his pockets that had not been declared. When arrested and asked what it was all about, he indicated that he had purchased millions of dollars worth of properties in Australia in his wife’s name. After checking what had happened, an investigation was launched by Mohtar Abdullah, Malaysia’s Attorney General. It was found that this was far from an isolated occurrence and that the vice president had been making nocturnal trips to Australia on a regular basis, always with his pockets stuffed with money to invest for his loving wife. This is either one of the great love affairs of all times, or one of the great rip-offs in the history of the country. We are convinced that it is the later. We will see how seriously Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad treats a matter where his own political party is involved.

 

As in the much of the rest of the Pacific Rim, ethnic Chinese make up a minority of the population, but they control a substantial amount of Malaysia’s wealth. The Prime Minister was not happy with that and soon embarked on a program to separate the Chinese from their money. Fundamentally, native Malaysians have been agriculturally oriented and for that reason, they have been called bumiputras ("sons of the soil"). Almost from the very beginning, the Prime Minister saw to it that these sons of the soil were financially subsidized and had been given most favored nation treatment. Effectively he created subsidies that were only to be awarded to native Malaysians. Government contracts were freely rewarded to keep businesses run by the buiputras alive that otherwise should have been long gone.

 

The Chinese easily got around the discrimination by creating companies and having native Malays run them to order to qualify for the government’s largesse. (Called "Ali Baba Companies"). Thus, nothing really changed, except a lot of poorly managed; government-subsidized companies existed when the currency collapsed. These companies quickly went bankrupt, and the entire financial, ethnic-cleansing process collapsed. Malay-controlled banks took stock in businesses they had financed and realized they were left with a banking system that was close to defunct, with nothing but scraps of paper to show for their troubles. However, the government seeing that this ploy did not work determined to try something different. This time they engaged in a war of words such as the statement by Deputy Health Minister Suleiman Mohamed who told 3,000 people at a rally that the Malay race was seen to be weak. He went on to say that "We must strengthen our position so that we would not be belittled. I urge you all to unite to boost Malay political supremacy.

 

He was followed to the podium by Deputy Information Minister Khalid Yunus who started off his tirade by revisiting the May 1969 riots with the Chinese and attempted to explain them with the statement that Malay dignity had been challenged. He rapped up his diatribe with "Today our dignity is being challenged again…our faces have been spat at, can we still continue smiling? We want the Malays to continue to be masters of this country." Mazian Harun, another speaker caped off a bad hair day by saying that Chinese extremists and foreigners were taking advantage of Malay disunity and said the community would lose out if it were continually weakened. This is awfully strong rhetoric in a situation where the Chinese have only been substantially more industrious than the Malays, however, this may be a crime when you are listening to Doctor Mohamad and his conspiracy theories.

 

On January 21, 2001, the Malaysians put their money where their mouths were. The Malaysian government began closing Chinese-language primary schools. It appears that this move is only a small douse of psychological warfare in a more bizarre plan that the government has in mind. It appears that the Malaysian Government intends to set up what they call "vision schools" the three main races, the Malay’s, the Native Indians and the Chinese will all go to school together but be taught in different languages. The logic of this move escapes us but it may have something to do with propinquity. The Malay Government may believe that if their under-performing students share a common environment with the Chinese, something will rub off. However, who knows?

 

Once closed the government determined that all of the temporary teachers that worked in Chinese schools had been overpaid. If this wasn’t bad enough, they determined that the overages had occurred literally every month since 1985. So when the announcement came out that the Government was expecting the teachers who were not particularly getting rich in their jobs anyway to return what amounted to a very substantial amount of money, and worse yet, there weren’t going to be an terms, this money would be due the government as of March 13, 2001 and must be paid on or before June 30 of that year.

 

The penalties for non-compliance were severe, if the teachers were late in paying up, any number of very bad things would happen to this group of mostly Chinese teachers. They could either lose their jobs, be forced to pay an enormous interest rate on the unpaid amount, their assets could be confiscated or all of these afflictive methods could be used simultaneously to force the unsuspecting teachers to pay up. This move serves to create chaos in a Chinese community educational already short, almost 4,000 teachers and already requiring 2,818 temporaries to keep above water. This form of discrimination serves the purpose of causing any temporary teachers to avoid working in Chinese schools and has the effect of literally forcing the closure of these understaffed educational establishments. If these folks don’t get you one-way, they get you another. ()

 

A the Malaysian Government sought to strip the Chinese of an ever increasing number of their rights, they fought back with a demand for equal rights However, Malaysia’s Defense Minister Najib Razak told the Chinese that their actions could Malay outrage and firmly pointed out that the rights being given to the Malays were constitutional in nature. "It was the foundation in the formation of Malaysia, a quid pro quo understanding reached as a package concerning citizenship for the Chinese and special privileges for the Malays to safeguard their position. Any attempt to change this status will be strongly resisted by the Malays. My advice to these Chinese association is not to play with fire." () I guess that some citizens are created more equal than others.

 

And should an Indian, Chinese or foreign company go bankrupt in Malaysia, they would find that the Marshal had sealed the property and an auction was held in spite of the fact that it had only happened the previous day. However, should the failure befall a company owned by a Malay national, instead of the Marshal appearing suddenly appearing suddenly, a local banking materializes with his pockets filled with money to bail out the business. Sometimes this type of selective bailout is extremely unhealthy for the banking industry. Often the company going under has little or no tangible assets, and if it is minority owned (Not Malay), there is no saving the company while at the same time, there are little or no assets to recover for the lender. However, if the same fate befalls a Malay owned company, the banking situation becomes in more dreadful, more money has to be given to a business that has proven to have bad management and does not generate assets.

 

Because of these forced bailouts, if the company is owned by Malay’s, there is no particular insensitive to run the business well, because no matter what happened more money will be supplied to bail the company out. In addition, this creates a lot of unethical maneuvering and just plain bankruptcy fraud. If a Malay sees his business going under, he can declare himself a substantial salary, pocket the money and then go back to the well once again. This process also is the government way of redistributing the country's wealth. If a non-Malay company fails, the assets are auctioned off to the highest bidder, with Malays getting a number of bidding advantages including a lower price and financing to purchase the non-Malay business out of bankruptcy. In the meantime, often these are public companies, the major investors in which are primarily Chinese, thus when these assets are transferred to Malays, it penalizes shareholders and assures the fact that the assets will fail into more ethnically acceptable hands.

 

"It is now three years since the dark days of 1998. If Malaysia does not take immediate steps to correct the irregularities in the economic foundations in the market, there is little prospect that a similar fate (to which America suffered in 1929) can be avoided. The untruth and secrecy that is the present policy of the party in power, exemplified by its prime minister, if pursued, portends a protracted period of picking apart pieces of a pulverized plaster pottery pinch by pinch." ()

He has also been the architect of some of the strangest infrastructure developments on record, most of which have shown no economically redeeming features. His espousal of building the twin towers in Kuala Lumpur have made them both the tallest buildings in the world and simultaneously the most underutilized. He was also the champion of the unaffordable and uneconomic $4.9 billion Bakun Dam, one of the biggest on earth and containing the world’s longest undersea power-transmission cable (the "longest building in the world"). Linear City is a 1.2 mile, 10-story high building complete with a monorail scheme located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur built over a river; and its nearby sister project is the creation of two new cities, a $1 billion airport to be created over a series of man-made islands in close proximity to his home state (which has no particular need for an airport this size).

 

No one can accuse the Prime Minister of being anything but a world-class paranoiac, and he has psychosis that seems to have no bounds. He has said so many controversial things in his speeches that he has been asked to shut up on many occasions, so of course, he took the opportunity of venting his anger at an early June 1998 meeting in Tokyo attended by regional leaders who were invited to discuss the area’s future. He started his tirade by taking the IMF to task for delaying money for Indonesia, went after the European Union and the United States for criticizing Indian and Pakistani leaders who were setting off atomic bombs and predicted that non-Asian foreign corporations would take control of the Pacific Rim and subjugate their peoples. But he was just warming up, for then he started talking about waging regional guerilla warfare to regain their economies from the despotic multinationals, because he indicated these foreign devils were able to take control of the region’s destiny by having control of the media.

 

At times he has attacked kids with mod haircuts, homosexuals, Jews, the West in general and Western media in particular (), New Zealand, Internet (), Sunnis, Shi’ite’s, The Far East Economic Review and Asiaweek (), for showing the Doctor looking awful (), George Soros, Malaysian "girlie" magazines (), The United States (), England, Australia, which he will not let into ASEAN (), and Singapore that had the nerve to reject his leadership. He has also attacked Thailand, the Ashaari cult in his own country, and a "third country" who in a conspiracy was aiding Sabah, a part of Malaysia, to break away from the country as well as Indian movies, Malaysian cabbies (), "filthy" rap music () and Japanese firms exploiting Malaysian trainees (). It is obvious that his is using his professed, "love of his country " to promote the bigger lie theory which Hitler originally expounded. He has even taken on Long Term Capital Management, the Connecticut hedge fund that eventually tanked when they ran out of liquidity.

 

He then took on the IMF with the following diatribe, "Well, although we didn’t ask for any loans from the IMF, the IMF kept on coming here and telling us that we must do what they wanted us to do, which means that in order to stop the currency traders from getting hold of our currency, we must raise interest rates. We must squeeze credit. We must force companies to go bankrupt by shortening the period for non-performing loans, and because at that tie the IMF had a lot of Influence of the then-Minister of Finance (Ibrahim) and the central bank, they followed IMF conditions; and as a result, the economy just went into a tailspin. Our companies and banks were going bankrupt. …And as I said just now, we were going to go bankrupt—the whole country would go bankrupt—if we were to wait for the IMF to curb currency trading…and the IMF insisted we open up our country, then they can come in and pick up all the companies at rock-bottom prices. So we had to decide to do thing for ourselves, because we cannot expect the international community to do anything for us." ()

 

The following illustrates his international conspiracy theory in a most telling fashion:

 

"It seems to me that more people now are realizing that this is, in fact, a new kind of imperialism where the weapon used is capital – capital that can be used to impoverish countries to the point where they have to beg for help and when they beg, then you can impose conditions on them, and then one of the conditions, of course, is that you must open up the economy and allow all the foreign companies to come in a and operate freely. And these foreign companies are huge companies, huge banks. They will come and they will compete with the small firms and small banks, and these banks will eventually fail and be absorbed by the big foreign banks, and we will have no more banks of our own." ()

 

Not finished he went after the World Bank after saying that they have more understanding than the IMF:

 

"Unfortunately, the World Bank seems to link their loans with something that is happening internally in Malaysia, and they do this on the basis of their friendship with certain people, and not on the basis of what is right and what is wrong." ()

He stated as follows: "You see, we consider that their experience is different from our experience. We were the subject of the attack. What happened to the rich countries is that the instrument that they used for attacking us got into trouble, and they lost money." () Another recent casualty of the Doctor’s regime is Ezam Mohammad Noor, the head of the youth wing of the National Justice Party. He made the horrific mistake of exposing the misdirection of public funds by government officials to private businesses to pay off their debt. The Malaysian Government has put him in limbo by holding him in prison without charge for this terrible act. "But many Malaysian lawyers also think the country’s judicial system is badly flawed and subject to political pressures, "Never before has the generally conservative population been confronted with such harsh examples of abuse, incompetence and corruption," the Kuala Lumpur Bar Committee said in a memorandum submitted to the government last month." () "He (Ezam) says he was misquoted by the mass-selling Malay-language paper and that he spoke only of planned peaceful protests against alleged corruption and cronyism in Mahathir’s administration. Opposition leaders have complained that the outspoken Ezam, who already faces a battery of other charges, was set up." Lim Kit Siang, chairman of the Democratic Action Party indicated that the Malaysian police never bother to even check the authenticity of the newspaper story and have made themselves a laughing stock in front of the world.

 

For the most part, Justice in Malaysia is not particularly fair or swift. Agence France-Presse on December 7, 2000 had some extremely telling information regarding the Malaysian Court System. They reported the following:

 

"Malaysian courts had a backlog of almost 700,000 civil and criminal cases as of August including some 488 rape cases, parliament was told Thursday. (By Noh Omar, parliamentary secretary in the Prime Minister’s Department when reporting to the Malaysian Senate.) Last month, a bribery case, which took 16 years to pass through the legal system, was finally dropped because one of the two accused had died. Earlier this year the saga of a sacked policeman who sued for wrongful dismissal but waited 23 years for justice prompted the government to consider setting time limits on settling court cases."

Malaysia also created a city without doing any city planning. The Prime Minister is big on creating projects and then leaving the nuances to a bunch of bumbling, incompetent bureaucrats. Thus, too many fingers are mucking up the pie, and in the latest catastrophe, a city was built without even the thought of how much water it would need or how that water would be supplied. It seems that the final say in taking action fell into the hands of the Selangor State Government, the Federal Works Ministry, the Federal Waterworks Department and last but not least, Puncak Naiga. The New Sunday Times put it best, "...But having all that (the skyscrapers and international events) without first working out how to have a reliable water supply is like donning a designer gown but not bothering to change your dirty knickers (underwear)." It may be that multinational corporations will not be scared off by the smog, and it may be that they will not be bothered by the collapse of Malaysia’s currency, but you sure can’t build a high-tech country in the middle of a desert without water, yet that is where they seem to be headed.

 

When multinational corporations identified the Pacific Rim as an exciting place to invest, Malaysia welcomed their money with open arms, but little did these companies realize that the country’s laws were subject to change without notice. Mohamad created a methodology that has some very interesting aspects to it. He has banned foreign short selling, guaranteed indigenous investors against loss ($20 billion worth, which represents almost half of Malaysia’s gross domestic product), which had the effect of creating a market with literally two sets of prices, and established a fund to purchase securities and drive them higher. With one fell swoop, he has assured the world that during his administration the country’s theories will be held up to ridicule and that investing in Malaysia has become subject to caveat emptor.

 

The Prime Minister wanted to bring in the multinational corporations, but then went after currency traders who are their life’s blood. In his first action against foreign currency traders, he charged the much-maligned Credit Lyonnais' Singapore unit of short selling securities, something done just about in every civilized place on earth. While the potential fine is modest at only $300,000, the attendant jail sentence of 10 years behind bars in a trendy Malaysian jail, where even bread and water is a luxury, is fairly stiff. Not only would we expect that the guilty securities trader will not be extradited from Singapore, but also we would believe that by taking on one of the largest banks in the world, the Prime Minister has placed another nail in Malaysia's coffin-like future.

 

Now, it should be noted that Dr. Mohamad is an academic, not a military man, and he is someone who should know better than to deliberately send the message that Malaysia is not a safe place for foreigners to invest while simultaneously trying to gloom on to their money. This type of action sends confusing actions and is unreasonably counterproductive. In fact, we can only interrupt these actions as from someone who has secret economic information unavailable to the rest of the world, such as the catastrophic effects that additional stock market declines will have on their already underwater bank loans.

 

If that wasn’t taking laissez-faire a step or two over the line, the Prime Minister strongly suggest that, the "state pension funds" prop up the market when they went into a tailspin. This becomes especially difficult to understand when you realize that in Malaysia, companies can print stock at their own discretion and that stock can be hypothecated for loan purposes at the country’s banks. He is performing the miracle of having his people bailout both the banking and corporate sectors with the use of their own money. What an unfortunate state of affairs, and in these situations, there is always a piper to be paid; it is only a question of when he will come calling.

 

It was seen by foreigners that the steps being taken by the Prime Minister would eventually lead to chaos, but probably after he had left office. The U.S. intelligence community had organized a conference to look into the long-term prospects of Indonesia and the conclusions of that meeting were published in an article in the Far Eastern Economic Review. In a general sense, they seemed to indicate that Malaysia was becoming swamped with debt due to the fact that they were throwing money at troubled companies without restructuring them. Thus, these companies were coming back to the well over and over again. The conference indicated that this would lead to some form of economic chaos in Malaysia in three to five years after Mahathir retired. Naturally, the Prime Minister had some kind words for everyone: "I think that is what they are expecting, they would like. Any country that is stable, they will try to destabilize." He went on to say that when Western countries bailed out their companies, that was all right, so what was wrong with Malaysia doing the same things? "So it must be good for also because we are copying them."

 

We are convinced that the Doctor’s chauvinism is caused by extreme case of myopia, and thus it is the primary basis for his unconscionable decisions. Yet, he has not even attempted to explain how these economic machinations will be put into effect, literally an impossibility. His Castro-like diatribes seem to lay blame on Malaysia's problems on everyone from currency traders, hedge funds, the West and even the Jews who are hardly present in this country at all.

 

"U.S. Representative, Gary Ackerman, senior member of the House International Relations Committee today blasted the Prime Minister of Malaysia for making anti-Semitic comments where he blamed the "Jews" for his country’s economic problems. In a letter signed by 17 other Member of Congress; Ackerman demanded that Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad issue and immediate retraction and apology or risk damaging U.S. –Malaysian relations. The Prim Minister recently accused "sinister forces" and "a Jewish Agenda" of plotting to topple him and undermine Malaysia’s financial markets, implying that Jews are behind his country’s economic problems and currency crisis. The Prime Minister was quoted as saying that Jews had "an agenda" to undermine the Malaysian economy because they "are not happy to see the Muslims progress." ()

While Malaysia is definitely a Muslim country, it has several substantial ethnic groups that are also important. The second largest minority is the Chinese who in 1969 entered into literally a civil war with the ethnic Malays. Naturally, the Chinese were brutally carved up but eventually coolly heads prevailed and before irreversible damage had been done. The two sides eventually made peace and the Government has pointed to internal peace between ethnicities ever since. However, a bitter change has been taking place lately concerning Malaysia’s second largest minority, the ethnic Indians.

 

Historically they knew their place so that there had been little trouble, but lately, they have also unpleasantly for the Malaysian Government started demanding their rights as well. It seems that the ethnic Indians live in squatter heaven on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur and having been showing indications that they wanted better. The Malay’s did not like the fact that the Indian’s were getting uppity and demanding their inherent rights and were looking for an excuse to make trouble. They got their wish in spades when on March 10, 2001, "an Indian who had been attending a funeral accidentally drove into the corner of a tent at a Malay wedding Party. It may have seemed a minor dispute among neighbors in the 100,000-strong Kuala Lumpur community of Taman Medan, but it quickly degenerated in racial rage. Toughs armed with long knives and iron bars rampaged through the neighborhood for four days, attacking Indians at random." ()

 

The violence continued as armed attackers beat people to death while the police refused to let anyone come to their aid. And worse yet, there is a Malaysian law that prevents any media dissemination of comments that could incite racially motivated ill-will, could not disclose that this was a totally ethnic hate related incident. And who were these toughs that bore so much hatred for their neighbors? They were the same people that in earlier years, they had gone to school with and had in their homes. And do not look to see any changes in the highly biased Malaysian political system soon. Mahathir Mohamad wrote a book in 1970 called "The Malay Dilemma" which telegraphed his thinking in the same way Hitler’s "Mein Kampf" did decades earlier. Hitler made it very clear in his book exactly where he stood on racial issues but people did not take him seriously enough. Mahathir did exactly the same thing, a the Chinese and Indians are just now waking up to the fact that they were forewarned and just did not believe it could happen here.

 

The attackers have for the most part been Malays carrying machetes and the police had stood by watching the carnage of the uppity Indians. Doctor Mahathir Malaysian Nationalism sadly does not include anyone that is not Malay even if they arrived in the country first and continues to breed revolution with his very words. When the police seemed to have felt that the Indians had been properly put into their place, they stepped in and stopped the fighting. Doctor Mahathir then went into and incantation that he had exposed in public many times before:

 

"Here in Malaysia we have people of every different kind of religion. We have Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims – everybody is here but we live at peace with each other. We do not have any religious riots in this country, or racial riots in this country. I don’t see why the rest of the world should have." ()

Others saw it differently. "After 20 years of Mahathir’s rule, the country seems as deeply divided as ever along racial lines and by social class. A study late last year at the University of Malaya shocked the nation when it revealed that only 10% of students see themselves as Malaysians first. The rest identify themselves as Malays, Chinese or Indians. " ()

 

Malaysia has historically had a large contingent of nomadic labor that has migrated from other countries. Their conscripts of choice had been the Indonesians who lived in close proximity to Malaysia. The provided Mahathir a talented labor pool at a price that was too good to turn down. Unfortunately, when the Pacific Rim went into a tailspin, there was not enough work for Malaysian citizens and the Indonesian’s were sent packing. The trouble with this inescapable logic was that the Indonesians just did not want to leave in spite of not being wanted. There was a revolution going in the part of Indonesia that they were from and government troops were killing just about everybody they could find.

 

One particularly galling aspect for primarily Muslim Filipino women working as domestics in the homes of Malaysian ethnic Chinese was the fact that they were forced to cook pork by their employers. This was something that they could not stomach and when they disobeyed their masters, more often than not, they would be beaten. Thus, when secretary-general, Jamalludin ahmad Dmanhuri reported that 30,000 foreign maids had fled their jobs in Indonesia in their first three-months of employment, no one was particularly surprised. Many Indonesia officials chalked the massive departure up to so sort of conspiracy.

 

A pre-arranged deal of sorts with a foreign maid recruitment agency that would arrange to get them into the country on a visa from a legitimate source and then move them within a short time to a higher paying but illegitimate position. Jamalludin indicated that 175,187 foreign maids were registered with the Immigration Department so that the indication is that approximately one-sixth of all foreign domestic help leaves every three months giving Malaysia a turnover of almost 70% a year. These people marry, get better jobs and phony identification papers and then blend into the population. It may be that if the Malaysians don’t want to be overrun by Indonesian women, they better stop making them cook pork.

 

If that wasn’t enough to make the Indonesians want to stay put, economic conditions in their country were about 100-times worse than those in Malaysia and jobs were just plain, not available. The Government’s heavy-handed approach led to a major confrontation between the million-plus Indonesians and the Malay Army. After substantial bloodshed, the Indonesians were sent packing. When the Malay economy started picking up the country was forced to once again send out their recruiters looking for a more docile group to deal with. The Filipino workers were out because those already in the country were demanding living wages, something that the Malaysian Government found not to be in the cars.

 

In any event, the recruiters found a willing group of workers in the world’s hellhole, Bangladesh. These folks were so poor that they would work for literally anything and the Good Doctor like that a lot. In meantime, they weren’t big troublemakers like the Indonesians and the Filipinos and they knew their place. However, those from Bangladesh soon developed an intolerable habit. They were so concerned about being sent back to their native country that they started intermarrying with Malays.

 

This sort of society blending was not acceptable to the Government and the Home Ministry suddenly banned the import of Bangladshis for work patrol. Higher wages, not wanting to go home and inter-marrying, were all absolutely intolerable traits to the Doctor’s Government. However, at the rate he is going, there soon will be nobody left to import and the Malays will be forced to do the work themselves. One of the major countries where Nike shoes are manufactured is Malaysia. It has been said that while Michael Jordan was playing basketball, he made more money than all of the Nike factory workers in Malaysia combined.

 

"Some trade unionists, who see foreign workers pulling down the wages market, regard the move to bar Bangladeshi workers as positive. "The immigrant labor was actually contributing to a lot of undercutting of wages," said A Navamukundan, executive secretary of the National Union of Plantation Workers. "There are a lot of problems managing them – a lot of social problems because they are single males," he added." Why doesn’t the good Doctor just have the Bangladeshi workers neutered? However, the Government’s prejudice doesn’t seem to end with non-Muslims because, for the most part, the Indonesians and Bangladeshi are exactly that, Muslim.

 

I guess the fact is that they don’t like anybody but themselves or could it be something even more sinister. Because multinationals don’t like to hire foreign workers in any country that they operate in, they hire contractors who in turn hire the workers. These contractors work hand in glove with agents in the various countries from whence the laborers are recruited. The agents are paid relatively large amounts of money to get these people the jobs that will allow them to escape their otherwise dismal fate. By banning groups from working in the country and replacing them with others, the agents and the contractors are able to once again charge an employment fee for their efforts. Currently heavy recruiting is going on in Nepal and Myanmar, but where will they go next?

 

However, the Malaysians didn’t get off to a swift start with the aliens from Myanmar according to the people from Human Rights Watch witch indicated that Malaysia’s treatment of the group was "bad and betting worse". Human Rights Watch went on to say, "after fleeing, systematic discrimination, forced labor and other abuses in Myanmar, ethnic Rohingya (native people from Myanmar) face a whole new set of abuses. These include beatings, extortion and arbitrary detention. Myanmar refugee’s children could not attend school or receive medial attention, Malaysia has no asylum system and treats refugees as illegal immigrants.’ The Human Rights Watch report concluded with the general statement that; "Malaysia has no asylum system and treats refugees as illegal immigrants."

 

However, in spite of Malaysia’s not being too happy with the Indonesians in particular, they manage to come and go as they please. Indonesia at certain points is extremely close to Malaysia and at one point there was talk about building a bridge connecting the two countries. Indonesians line up in Sumatra and Batam and are ferried in at night by jitney type boats that can make several trips each evening. Interestingly enough, these rickety boats that cross the Malacca Strait have no navigational tools and use the control tower lights of Kuala Lumpur International Airport to guide them towards Selangor, one of the many drop off places. Others are Malacca, Negri Sembilan and Johor.

 

Worse yet for the Malaysians, Borneo is shared by not only Brunei but Indonesia as well. The borders are extremely porous and Indonesians pass through almost at will. Illegal Immigration is particularly heavy at this point because it appears that Indonesia is falling apart, both economically and as a country. Regional conflicts have caused civil disturbances and may well lead to revolution before it is all over. In addition, Indonesia is going through a disastrous economic period and is headed by a president who appears unable to accomplish anything. However, as fast as the Malaysian’s collect their recalcitrant Indonesians, they send them off to repatriation camps at Semenyih in the central state of Selangor.

 

However, the Indonesians are currently logistically able to process 200 to 300 illegals at a time and there are between 1000 and 2000 detainees that have to be shipped out on a regular basis. On a daily basis, 200 more illegal immigrants arrive at the detention camp then can be shipped home. This has created a string of unusual problems for the Malaysians and maybe Indonesia has planned it that way. Rights groups that visited the camp indicated that it was so overcrowded that there was literally no room to lie down and if one could, there was no bedding. Nasir Ahmad the enforcement director at the camp had all the right answers that must have been supplied by Prime Minister Mohamad’s public relations firm:

 

"We have one of the best detention camps in the region and Suhakam (the right group) should check out the centers in other countries first. In addiction, it is impossible to provide bedding for all detainees because the detainees, who are desperate individuals, may burn the place down using these materials."

 

This guy know all the right words and how to put them together in a cohesive format. I would worry a lot if he was running my prison camps. However, according to the Malay paper, Berita Harian, an estimated 18,000 Indonesians a week are arriving illegally in Malaysia with the help of boat skippers. Agence France-Presse in their issue of August 14, 2000 indicated that Bintan Island had become a transit point since last month. It said a ship from Jakarta arrived at Kijang port in Bintan with a least 6,000 people on board over the weekend…They were ferried by a convoy of vans to another small jetty for their journey into Malaysia, normally by speedboats which can accommodate up to 80 people for the hour-long trip." It would seem to me that Malaysia better start building substantially bigger detention camps with this kind of influx.

 

Nevertheless, it appears that the Malaysians are not too interested in working hard for a living. Abdul Rahman Mohamad is the department director of fisheries in Terengganu, Malaysia. He indicated that because he was unable to get any Malaysians to apply for jobs as crew on the fishing boats, he was forced to bring in 2,000 Thais. He went on to say that the presence of the Thais created social problems among the local community. It would appear that any foreign national working in Malaysia is going to be viewed as a social problem. It seems that at the time, Malays were more interested in eating Belachan a dried shrimp paste that comes in the shape of a brick, than they were in working. While Belachan is not unpleasant to the palate, it does have a tendency of stinking up the surroundings and insuring that the smell will not permeate the entire neighborhood can be a full time job.

 

"A word of warning, make sure you are in a well ventilated room when you open it. Try to shut off the kitchen to other parts of your house. Another few hints:

    1. You want to make sure you seal off the kitchen from other parts of the house. The smell is very potent.
    2. Try to open all windows, doors and so on, in your kitchen to make sure the smell goes out.
    3. Belachan can be stored in the fridge. Just keep it wrapped up in the paper it came in, put a layer of plastic bag and so on, on top and shut it tightly. A nice place would be an air tight container." ()

 

 

The Kuala Lumpur International Airport had become a way station for illegal immigrants to sneak into the country. It seems that customer service officers, contractors, cleaners along with Sri Lankans posing as airport employees were giving their passes to illegal immigrants when they got off the plane, thus there was no requirement for them to go through customs. Once outside, the aliens would give back their passes and pay their benefactors between $150 and $300 as the price of admission. This was probably a massive operation as security officers at the airport indicated that the illegals came from multiple locations with Sri Lanka, China, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Pakistan as being the most frequent. The Malaysian Government does not have a clue relative to how many aliens are in its midst. Talking about airports, Japan’s All Nippon Airways announced on February 28, 2001 that it would no long fly to Malaysia because it just can’t turn a profit on the route. It was indicated by the airline was losing money on the route and that passenger load was extremely low. In addition, British Airways, which had been flying to Malaysia for fifty-years announced that it would also suspend, flights for much the same reasons. Qantas and Lufthansa gave the same reasons as well.

 

And guess what else? The Malaysians had real honest-to-god pirates streaming in and out of their waters. It turns out that the "Strait of Malacca located between Malaysia and Indonesia is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes used by 600 vessels a day and is also the most pirate-infested channel. The Kuala Lumpur-based Piracy Reporting Center has said the number of attacks in the strait is at "an all-time high" this year due to political instability in Indonesia. Malaysian marine police have reported 52 actual or attempted attacks in the strait in the first 10 months, up from only five for the whole of last year…In November of 2000, one Japanese expert warned that rampant piracy in East Asian waters – often organized by international syndicates – could undermine the region’s economic development." ()

 

On alternative Tuesdays, his rallying vaults from blaming his problems on the fact the country is Muslim to claiming the West wants to keep his people in servitude. He is adept at prognostication, however, for often before a speech he has correctly predicated that his stock market will crash when he is done. If God had given anyone that type of power to see into the future, would we think we would want to use it for something more than creating poverty for our people. In reality, he knows that what he is going to say will rile investors, speculators, multinational corporations and most foreign governments, isolating his country a little bit more with every speech. This bizarre attitude is the reason that the multi-nationals have had second thoughts of whether this country has really got its act together. Many in the Malaysian Government are no taking about the President leaving office at some early date before the obviously senile leader really put the country into a jackpot.

 

Ultimately, his maniacal ranting and raving has caused serious repercussions, with death threats becoming common against Americans and other objects of his vitriol that are living in Malaysia. This was probably a chauvinistic reaction to the move made in the U.S. Congress, which voted to have the Doctor retract his anti-Semitic statements or resign. Congress should have known that this would not be constructively received. The last time anybody ever noted the good Doctor to retract anything was when he ingested a swarm of mosquitoes "in heat", to which his open mouth looked like the Nirvana of breading grounds. This event, which had happened many years earlier and almost resulted in a tragedy.

 

Most of what the good Doctor has had to say has been merely uncontrolled rhetoric that apparently had as its purpose an intense desire to alienate commercial interests from ever setting foot in Malaysia again. On December 14, 1997, he raised the ante by determining that American International Group, a major United States insurance carrier would have to disgorge 49% of a Malaysian subsidiary. This came on the same day that of a 102-nation World Trade Organization conference in which the great majority of those present agreed to open up their financial markets to anyone and everyone with unlimited ownership available. The attack on an American company, coming as it does in the midst of the downward economic spiral in the region, is heresy at best and insanity at worse. The United States had already indicated that it would take away Most-Favored Nation Status from any that did not back the WTO entirely.

 

For the good doctor to speak his mind seems only fair, but when it comes to free speech for the population in general, he has not always been so fair. In the last several years, tourism has replaced petroleum as the country's largest source of foreign exchange, an almost $5 billion industry. However, when the Indonesian fires blotted out the sun, it caused a drop in occupancy rates in tourist facilities of over 50% in many areas. Perhaps the government felt that it was an oxymoron to have transparency when you are covered with soot, therefore Malaysian scientists and environmentalists were ordered by the government to cease and desist talking to the media and to not make any public statements of their own regarding this problem. As some of us will recall, the last time a fire caused this type of censorship, Hitler was burning Germany's books.

 

It wasn’t too long ago that Prime Minister Mohamad was in a festive mood relative to welcoming the new year when he extended his joyous thoughts to all of his subjects and said, "The country faces further sacrifices in 1998 in order to prevent the nation seeking help from international institutions, which would leave the people jobless and suffering." As the good doctor sees things, foreign powers would impose conditions that would make the people worse off, force the government to increase taxes for an already impoverished population, force up interest rates and close down most banks and finance companies. If that wasn’t enough, "They would also insist that foreign conglomerates come, take over local banks and companies and implement policies designed to optimize their profits. We'll no longer be free. The people will be left jobless and to suffer. This is the choice that we have, if we are not prepared to sacrifice a little."

 

However, once in a while Mahathir Mohamad was on the receiving end of viscous diatribes. His own party took him over the coals for the beating that they took in the recent election and Shahrir Abdul Samad, one of the senior people in Mahathir’s party said that: "he was the reason the government had suffered a humiliating by-election defeat just days before." Reports have it that Mohamad took the medicine like a good little boy.

 

In spite of the Prime Minister’s maniac ravings, the show goes on in Cyberjaya and in the Multimedia Super Corridor. It is the Malaysian Government’s thinking that this must be the answer to Malaysia’s problems, and the project that will bring the country to the forefront in the 21st Century. In spite of the almost maniacal ravings of the Malaysia’s Prime Minister, the call of the Doctor has been heard by corporate leaders from among other companies, such as Oracle, IBM. Lucent, Nock, Acer Motorola and Hewlett Packard, whose officials make up an International Advisory Panel. With Malaysia offering them, a package rich with incentives, including tax breaks and high-speed fiber optics, some very serious high-tech company’s had indicated a willingness to play. However, that was only at first blush.

 

From the Cyberview Hotel to the Cyber-university and Cyber-hospital, everything is super-high tech. Even the buildings are intelligent and ecologically friendly, and with so many now out of work in the region, labor is plentiful. Kenneth James, a reporter for the Business Times, put it in prospective: "In Kuala Lumpur, the mood is really tense. There have been a lot of business failures, and more will be announced. It’s really no longer that the Super Corridor is an experiment, and if it doesn’t work, what the heck...Now, this is a thing that has to work." In spite of these sentiments, the Doctor made the near suicidal move of restricting his currency so that the speculators couldn't attack it. Well, he certainly did get rid of the currency speculators, but he also knocked every company that was sitting on the fence about investing in Malaysia into the no-play zone. What good is making money, having a great environment and having the ability of hiring sophisticated labor at a reasonable price when you can’t take your profits out of the country? In effect that was the scenario that Mohamad had unthinkingly created.

 

The result of Dr. Mohamad’s bizarre behavior was best illustrated when Time dotCom, a unit of Time Engineering was ready to go public. Time Engineering was one of those companies that was too politically connected to fail and in spite of a dismal performance over the years; it was kept alive primarily with government loans. In any event, Time Engineering proposed to sell stock in Time dotCom to the investing public and were offering a very substantial deal, at least by Malaysian standards, 572 million shares at a tad under a dollar a share. When the glorious day of the underwriting came, no one was there. Only 25% of the stock was subscribed to leaving the underwriters holding a very large empty bag. Victor Wan of Mercury Securities said, "The under-subscription is a big dent to the country’s efforts to restructure some of its ailing companies as it shows the lack of faith in some of the proposals to turn around debt-laden companies. Time dot Com’s earnings forecast was "way, way to optimistic with an astronomical compounded annual growth rate of almost 130 percent projected for the next five years." For the most part, the financial community viewed this disaster as a condemnation of the government crony-capitalism and its often-intertwined relationships.

 

Malaysia seems to be going south in a hurry. In 1999, Malaysia recorded a trade surplus of approximately 18 billion dollars; last year the country recorded a trade surplus of 16 billion dollars and this year in the first quarter the surplus sank by an astounding 16.7 percent. With economists almost universally believing that much worse is yet to come. Exports have dropped substantially as the United States’ economy has slowed down. Moreover, Malaysia as a result of their recovery from the Pacific Rim fiasco has also been importing more. However, Cici Leung, from the Singapore investment-banking firm of IDEAglobal is not so sanguine. "For sure, it’s going to be a smaller trade surplus in 2001…Malaysia’s exports of electrical and electronic products will be hit as more than half are sent to the US."

 

Anwar Ibrahim, the Prime Minister’s heir apparent and Malaysia’s Finance Minister was making waves and seemed to be saying that the Doctor had lost touch with reality and would eventually screw up the whole country with his harebrained ideas. Although to most people this seemed to be an accurate statement, the good Doctor took substantial offense to anything or anyone that attempted to subvert him or his ideas. Naturally, Anwar was arrested, a phony trial was staged, and the world press was invited to what rapidly became Mohamad’s traveling one-ring-legal -circus.

 

The Doctor arranged for snake-oil infected testimony that was tainted beyond comprehension, for if you believed what was testified to in court, you would have been led to believe that the finance minister had sexually perverting the entire male population of Malaysia, a rather large undertaking. Outlandish as it may seem, it only dawned on the Doctor that his minister was a sexual deviate when the finance chief started to make waves about his boss’s brain cells. The Prime Minister apparently had two visions simultaneously and his second concerned Anwar’s adopted brother, Sukma Dermawan who received six-years in the Malaysian slammer and four lashes with a rattan cane for good measure for jus t hanging out.

 

Naturally, it was an open and shut case, so the police carted Anwar off to jail, where he was charged with the kind of everyday crimes, common in New York City, sodomy, sedition and corruption. This seemed to be enough to cause the arresting police officers to kick the stuffing’s out of him while he was in handcuffs and leg irons; but the brutish Malaysian police found it safer that way. Naturally, when Anwar next appeared in court, he had bruises all over him, and immediately charged the Malaysian with police brutality, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad indicated that the damage had been self-inflicted by the Finance Minister when he fell on his face trying to be first in the chow line.

 

An investigation was called for and a doctor, Ahmad Shukri Mohamed in his report indicated, "In my expert opinion.…Anwar Ibrahim was assaulted over the left forehead and neck and received blunt trauma that resulted in residual bruises of the left and lower eyelids." When Amnesty International heard the doctor's report, it too issued a statement, "Anwar's treatment at the hands of the police shows the government's blatant disregard for basic human rights; if a high-profile figure can be subjected to such treatment, we fear for the safety of these who are not so well known and who continue to be denied access to lawyers and their families." () They further let it be known that that the group believed that the charges of sodomy and corruption were politically motivated and had no basis in fact. Naturally this enraged the Prime Minister and it was as though they had taken away all of his toys.

 

"Anwar’s prosecution was widely viewed inside and outside Malaysia as a case of political revenge by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad against his most prominent critic. His two trials were marred by heavy-handed tactics and irregularities. Key witnesses recanted their confessions and alleged that they were extracted through police coercion and physical abuse. The judge admitted into evidence a contested confession that interrogators had obtained from co-defendant Sukma Dermawan while he was held in incommunicado without access to counsel, and that he subsequently retracted. Prime Minister Mahathir repeatedly stated publicly that Anwar was guilty before the court delivered its verdict. Defense attorneys Zainur Zakaria and Karpal Singh were prosecuted for statements made in court in the course of Anwar’s defense. Finally, the court permitted the prosecution to twice change the dates of the alleged crime. "

In spite of the fact that the two men who confessed to being sodomized by Anwar have retracted their statements, the former Finance Minister rots in jail. World Bank Economist, John Stiglitz joined the global uproar and stated, "There is a lot of concern right now throughout the world on their attempt to suppress open discussion and their treatment of former government officials who may disagree with their policies. Just like the world community took very strong actions against apartheid in South Africa, there is a growing sense in the international investment community that they don't want to be in countries that engage in certain kinds of undemocratic actions and their shareholders won't tolerate it."

 

This was fast becoming hardball at its very best as Anwar’s principal counsel, Karpal Singh was charged with giving a speech having a "seditious tendency," when he stated that Anwar might have been poisoned in custody and he suspected that "people in high places " were responsible. "Former Inspector-General of Police Abdul Rahim Noor was convicted of "causing hurt" to Anwar for beating him in custody after his arrest." In spite of a lengthy sentence, it is more than likely that Malaysia’s ex-head cop will ever spend a day in jail and was more probably than not rewarded substantially for his crime by a totally corrupt Malaysian Government.

 

The World was galvanized and outraged by the judicial process in Malaysia and impeccable international organizations took the Malaysian Government to task for the frame up. The International Commission of Jurists, a Geneva organization had a number of statements on the matter; "The ICJ deplores executive manipulation of the judiciary and use of the criminal justice system to launch politically motivated prosecutions and muzzle dissent," It is also a matter of grave concern that Malaysian law criminalizes consenting sexual acts in private. This is contrary to international human rights standards including freedom from discrimination and the right to privacy…Mr. Anwar’s mistreatment, including his beating during detention, was contrary to international human rights standards. The sentences imposed are disproportionate to the alleged offences committed. The comments by Prime Minister Mahathir during the trial were…prejudicial and entirely inconsistent with a free and independent judiciary."

 

The World Bank President James Wolfensohn who rarely gets involved in domestic politics was horrified and indicated that: "Anwar is not only a friend and valued colleague, he was a distinguished chairman of our Development Committee and a man who believed in speaking his mind…This sentence is very troubling, My thoughts are with Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, and his family." Highly regarded Singapore

 

Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew joined the chorus of those outraged by the Malaysian Prime Ministers actions. "I felt more sorry for Dr. Mahathir than I did for Anwar…I think Dr. Mahathir paid a very heavy price and I feel sorry for him. He made several errors of judgment, which I felt were most unfortunate…I said, Why did you arrest him under the Internal Security Act? How can he be a threat to national security when only four weeks earlier he was your deputy?… I thought that was the beginning of a series of blunders that cost him dearly. It should never have been that way, it should have been a straightforward criminal charge…My sympathies are with him. I am sorry for Anwar too because he had so many things going for him. He was set to take over and all these things now have happened, damaging both of them, It’s just sad."

 

The people knowing a "red herring" when they saw one started demonstrating and asking the Doctor to step down. In spite of these activities, there was no letup on Anwar, but for whatever reason, Malaysia held a public inquiry into alleged human-rights abuses, which opened for business in December of 2000. It was created by the Government and called the Suhakam in Malay, or the Malaysian Human Rights Commission. This was a first for Malaysia due to the fact that while inquires into abuses had been held in the past, in this case, the Suhakam had substantial power to determine those investigations that it wanted to take on and what to recommend the government do about any infractions of the country’s constitutional violations.

 

It was only fair that the first case to come before the commission was that of the alleged police brutality at a demonstration in Kuala Lumpur on November 5, 2000 by people favorable to Anwar Ibrahim. The witnesses appeared and testimony came hot and heavy. Doctors told about the numerous abrasions and fractures that they had to treat, women talked about the fact that they were forced to strip and do knee bends by perverted cops, everybody indicated that they were inundated with substantial tear gas and all asked what would have occurred if the demonstration had not been peaceful?

 

As you can expect, the police did not want to testify at all and it took the power of Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to get their cooperation. The people and human rights activists felt that this was a big step forward for a country where adverse demonstrations would have been punished by long jail terms only a short time earlier. However, in truth, while this token has temporarily appeased an angry population, the Suhakam has no powers of its own and can only recommend what it believes are the right steps to be taken in correcting injustices. The betting is over 5 to 1 in Malaysia, a betting country, that while everyone will be able to get a much needed catharsis, no one will be punished for anything unless it is in the government’s interest to do so. Maybe Mohamad will find another enemy to through to the wolves and give him to the public as a sacrifice.

 

"Suhakam has no powers to prosecute but can recommend government action. All the inquiry’s recommendations are made public. Still, activists such as Elizabeth Chin aren’t holding their breath. "If nothing comes out of this, then it’s no different from, say, writing a letter to the newspapers," says Chin, secretary-general of the Human Rights Association of Malaysia, a non-governmental organization. "We may have to look for other options, like taking our case to the streets."

 

As we can plainly see, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is not exactly the kind of person that you want to challenge, at least in his own country. He has a record of acting as though he was running an isolated banana republic, while telling the universe of his world-class plans. He has alienated everyone, and if it was not for a strong police force controlled by an absolute demagogue, the Doctor would have been history a long time ago. His minions were doing his dirty work all over the world. Mohammad Kamal Yan Yahaya, ambassador designate to Cuba said: "Cuba and Malaysia have a lot of common interest…we have spoken up against Western domination and have the same thinking on globalization. There is also the potential to enhance trade ties…the embassy can facilitate a bigger Malaysian business representation in Cuba." With friends like these, we don’t need any enemies. However, we will see the last of the good doctor in the near future. He has been stubbing his toe a little to often of late even for the patient Malays.

 

 

Cyberjaya

 

 

Cyberjaya (Jaya means "success" in Malaysian) is a brand spanking new town located not too far from Kuala Lumpur. It is part of what the Malaysians grandly call "The Multimedia Super Corridor Initiative." The corridor is a strip of land approximately 300 square miles in size that will hopefully be completely wired with high-speed fiber optics. "At one end are the Petronas Towers, the world’s tallest buildings. At the other tip is the $2.3 billion Kuala Lumpur International Airport. In between is located Putrajaya, the new $5.3 billion federal capital, and Cyberjaya." It is called a "smart city" because already wired, "Really wired". In theory, the Prime Minister wants to create an environment in which multi-nationals can operate all over the globe using the most sophisticated communications of equipment. The city is modeled after Silicon Valley, and before any major commitment from a multinational had been received, constructed was started on a massive city with a projected population of 250,000. Being a government project, the people will eventually have to foot the bill, and we are talking about a serious number of billions of dollars here in a country where a high percentage of the population is out of work.

 

The Prime Minister has gone ahead with his plans in spite of serious glitches in the economy during the construction phase. He has held the project together by his strong will and his continuing obtuse habit of not listening to anyone, no matter how good or well meaning the advise. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the United Nations have continually discussed with the Malaysian Government the questionable feasibility of some their projects; their tortoise-like attitude toward world trade, their intolerance to minorities and indifference to the majority, the failure of their legal and judicial systems, among a host of other subjects. In spite of this, many multinationals listened to the Prime Minister’s plans and liked what they heard for a awhile.

 

Naturally, the government would grant tax advantages for a period of time. Currency conversion rules would be eliminated for new occupants (), and the equivalent of a free trade zone would be created in Cyberjaya. A good start, said many. Even Microsoft’s Bill Gates paid a visit to the "smart city " but while making a commitment to donate $2.6 million over the next five years to Cyberjaya’s Malaysian Multimedia University, he indicated that it was crucial for Mahathir’s government to let market forces determine the kind of software projects and high-tech initiatives that would be implemented. "You don’t want the government to be picking. You want the marketplace to do it," he was quoted as saying.

 

There are many dissenters who question the potential success of the project. Asia Week, in its November 10, 2000, issue carried the following:

 

"During a recent seminar at a Malaysian university, three panelists – all top managers at information technology companies – agreed that the government has gone wrong in its attempt to take the country into the Information Age. Instead of investing in human resources, the government is spending a great deal to develop a high-tech township, Cyberjaya, anchor of the Multimedia Super Corridor ("MSC"). Cyberjaya offers real estate so expensive that few I.T. companies are willing to set up there, although officials reckon 88 of some 380 I.T. companies approved for the MSC will have moved in by year’s end. Right now, the desolation at Cyberjaya makes one think it should be renamed Cyberia. And the MSC, some say, is becoming like a huge property project."

"What’s happening with the MSC is typical of many things in Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s Malaysia. The obsession with appearance and building glitzy monuments is diverting resources away from undertakings that are critical to the country’s stated goad of becoming a key play in I.T. The paradox is evident in some decision. For example, the government says it wants to move into high-tech, but education is treated as a stepchild. In 1996, the Ministry of Education reduced the number of years for undergraduate degrees to three from four, except for medicine, dentistry and pharmacy. It also reduced the minimum units for basic pure science and arts degrees to 100 from 118-120, though this affects only electives."

"But Malaysia should be adding content, or at least improving it. Another example of misallocated resources is the billion spent on the new administrative capital Putrajaya and its twin, Cyberjaya. This at a time when there are still 470 schools in Malaysia without electricity. One boon of I.T. is its potential to lower the barrier for the underprivileged in moving up economically. One doesn’t need a university degree to learn programming or acquire the know-how to produce graphic designs for multimedia application. In the Information Age, it is never too late for some to leave the cattle or shovel and learn to use the keyboard and motherboard. Kids in rural Malaysia would benefit most from a well though-out and implemented I.T. program, yet it is they who are being denied such opportunities…John Lawler of the University of Illinois says Asian values, with their emphasis on hierarch and collectivism, are ill-suited to the development of a work environment that will engender creativity. This emphasis breeds conformity. Change, when it happens, tends to be slow. The I.T. industry demands nimbleness and radical changes. Malaysia is doubly handicapped."

"Not only is it a very hierarchical society, it is hamstrung by Mahathir’s notion of Asian values. In a nutshell, they see authoritarianism as good for development. His Asian values also mean a justice system that lately has been criticized within and outside the country. Malaysia may have all kinds of cyber law, but will the investor have confidence in the justice system to enforce it? Foreign I.T. companies interested in investing in Malaysia have many alternatives. They can also consider India, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Why should they choose Malaysia? It has a young and relatively inexpensive workforce, which is also hardworking and very trainable. But these companies will also see that Malaysia has a leader who uses foreigners a decoy to deflect attention from his own flaws. Dissenters are labeled foreign agents. And they will see that while Malaysia has invested hugely in modern physical infrastructure, its socio-psycho infrastructure remains stuck in the Medieval Age. The Information Age should provide Malaysians with the potential to soar to new heights, but this leadership doesn’t have what it takes to seize the opportunity."

 

Business Week also had their doubts about where Malaysia was headed and specifically discussed Cyberjaya in its November 13, 2000, story by Fredrik Balfour: "…the quiet of Cyberjaya is downright eerie. This planned community is meant to be the heart of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), Malaysia’s much hyped answer to Silicon Valley. Already, $3 billion in state funds have already been sunk into the MSC, which extends 30 miles from the airport all the way to the Petronas Towers. The only hotel in Cyberjaya, the Cyberview Lodge, hasn’t been busy since it hosted a reception for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders in 1998. Its "view" surveys a bewildering patchwork of six-lane highways leading nowhere and bridges that don’t bridge to anywhere. Nor are there any private houses yet, though ads proclaim that Cyberia townhouses should be ready for occupancy soon."

 

The above sentiments seem to be parroted by an article that appeared in U.S. News & World Report by Thomas Omstad on September 25, 2000. In referring to Cyberjaya’s chance of attracting world-class clients to their crapshoot said the following: "The question is, of course, will it work?"

 

Doubts abound, though backers counter them with upbeat pronouncements. Cyberjaya’s marketers report leasing out office space as fast as it is built. A total of 362 companies have won MSC status, entitling them to an income-tax holiday for up to 10 years, exemption from import duties on multimedia equipment and no-hassle approval of work visas for foreigners. Japan’s giant Nippon Telegraph and Telephone and U.S.-based accounting firm Arthur Andersen are here, and Shell Services International will move in with a 150-person tech center after December. Yet most of the giants in the information technology industry have hesitated at making any big investments in the zone. Dr. Mahathir has courted Silicon Valley, getting corporate leaders like Intel’s Craig Barrett and Microsoft’s Bill Gates to join the MSC advisory panel. Microsoft considers itself a "strong supporter," says Salwana Ali, who directs the company’s Cyberjaya training facility for software developers. But its venture, launched in July, is quite modest: seven employees and a $2.6 million commitment over five years. Sun Microsystems closed an earlier MSC operation for lack of software developers; it now envisions a three-to-four person office here.

 

Why the apparent reluctance? One reason is Mahathir himself. He is the MSC’s tireless champion. In power for 19 years, Mahathir has made the MSC a top national goal. But the prickly, 76-year-old Mahathir, with a string of controversial actions behind him, may be the project’s biggest liability:

 

"We’ve had real shockers in Malaysia the last couple of years," says Bruce Gale of Political and Economic Risk Consultancy in Singapore. After the Asian currency crisis of 1997, Mahathir slapped controls on capital flows and pegged the Malaysian ringgit to the dollar. He blamed foreign financiers, particularly George Soros, for the Ringgit’s fall, which terminated a decade of 8-plus percent annual growth and triggered a recession. Mahathir also sacked his one-time protégé, Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, a potential rival. Anwar was then jailed, beaten and convicted of corruption and sodomy in a trial that struck many Malaysians as a vendetta through the courts. Meanwhile, Mahathir, an advocate of "Asian Values," stepped up his warning about globalization and purported Western plans to recolonize developing nations. His resentment may be one reason he is bent on making Malaysia a high-tech bastion. ’Enough of us must be assigned to the acquisition of the necessary knowledge and skills of the information age so as to enable us to catch up with our detractors and enemies.’ he told officials from Islamic countries in June."

 

 

"Siliclones." Some foreign investors have been scared off. A major international bank considered basing its electronic money transfers in Malaysia, but opted for Singapore instead out of concern that Malaysia might try to regulate Internet access, according to Gales. Indeed, Malaysia faces competition from rival "Siliclones." Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand and India all are promoting high-tech districts. Finally, (there is) some question whether the MSC’s huge bet on fiber-optic cables will pay off, given advances in wireless technology. "The way the Internet is going suggests there’s no particular advantage in being in one specific location, " concludes Yeoh Keat Seng, CEO of a start-up provider of financial information."

 

This is a story of massive real estate projects that have succeeded, at least for a time. Many of those come equipped with the same baggage that the current Prime Minister of Malaysia is carrying around: an ego that is too big for the country he is running. His priorities are confused, and he remains, oddly a bigoted person in an enlightened world, preferring to take vengeance on his enemies and turn on former friends. He rules like a despot and thinks like someone on uppers. He jumps before he analyzes the total situation and more often than not, plants his foot, squarely in his mouth.

 

These monumental projects are not being designed to help his country; if that were his concern, all the schools would have heat and electricity. They are like building a pyramid or mausoleum to his own memory while he is still alive. The colossal nature of these architectural achievements are even gaudy for a day in which most anything is possible. But development of MSC was not similar to any of the others we have discussed, except for the size of the total expenditures. The technology to accomplish what the Prime Minister has undertaken is not Malaysian; rather, it comes from throughout the world. This is a story of something that was not unique; it is just an attempt at monument creation, a heady expense for such a small country. He has not even reinvented the wheel, but just copied it. This is a story of a man who would have been comfortable years ago when he could really have been the king; but the king of what? Multimedia Super Corridor is a failure just waiting to happen.

 

 

Jordan

 

 

Jordan does not have much of a history, because it hasn’t existed in its present form for very long. On the other hand, there is a farming town near the Ain Ghazal Spring, near Amman, Jordan’s capital that dates back over nine thousand years. At that time, it already had 2,000 inhabitants who were prolific in making statues from limestone and plaster, many of which now reside in the Amman museum. About 5,000 years later, Jebel al-Qala’a, a hill above Amman, was fortified for the first time and a village was created there. Moreover, this was an area where a lot happened in biblical times. Lot, the guy whose wife turned to salt, was from this area, and so were Ammonites. King Og fought in these hills, and even King David had his messengers deliver condolence cards to relatives of people who died in the neighborhood. Indeed, this was the land of the Old Testament.

 

There was a lot of fighting that went in these parts during these many thousands of years, but we can say with some authority that Alexander the Great conquered everything as far as the eye could see in 323 BC. Ptolemy II, who succeeded Alexander, rebuilt Rabbah and named it Philadelphia. The Romans followed the Macedonians into the area and named the general vicinity Syria. Philadelphia continued to prosper, and under the Arabs, it became a major regional center in 635 AD, when Philadelphia’s name was changed once more to Amman. By this time, Amman’s influence in the region was at its height, but then a series of deadly earthquakes almost sent the entire area back into the Stone Age. The Ottoman’s hung out in these parts for hundreds of years and didn’t real pull up stakes until they were forcibly thrown back north to Turkey by the end of World War I.

 

One of the truly extraordinary places on earth is the country of Jordan. It is an outgrowth of the partition of the British Protectorate of Trans-Jordan. It would be difficult to identify any place on earth that is literally so bleak, and yet, the country has been competently administered by a caring government controlled by a royal family put on the throne of Trans-Jordan by none other than Lawrence of Arabia.

 

The country of Jordan has literally nothing going for it. Moreover, what would you do if you ruled a nation consisting of primarily transplanted Palestinians who don’t do much other than sit around all day and complain about their lot in life and what they left behind. However, that isn’t the whole problem, because your neighbors are such friendly nations as Iraq, Syria and Iran, along with the omnipresent Israel, so your only way to survive may the palliation of your larger neighbors.

 

In spite of the current government’s consistently doing a great soft shoe routine, Jordan has consistently seen attempts to carve them up, first by the British and then by Syria, while their very best friend in the region, Egypt almost destroyed them with lies about what had happened to their air force during their war with Israel. Having lost faith in its neighbors and their being no one else to depend upon in the region, Hussein even took up with Iraq before the Gulf War. Now that they have exchanged ambassadors with Israel, Jordan has made the bet that they can accomplish economically, what they couldn’t come close to doing militarily.

 

Not that they don’t have a great army and not that it isn’t well equipped; its just that it isn’t a match for countries who have oil as their prime natural resource, such as Iraq and Iran Neither are they a match for countries that have substantially larger populations and are client states of Russia such as Iraq, or little Israel who could send them to Nirvana in an instant by pressing the red button that releases its atomic bomb. Indeed, Jordan with the majority of its population being highly militant Palestinians, they are a land that has been in trouble from their inception, both from within and without.

 

For the time being, this little country is stuck with an uneducated labor force, an indigenous population that has little interest in education or bettering themselves, an economy that does not manufacture literally anything of consequence and exports nothing of quality and an agricultural industry that produces little more than the barest necessities for the feeding of its population. The country is now, and has been for the last several years, suffering one of the worst droughts in its history. It has no supply of fresh water and is constantly getting into confrontations over the subject with both Syria and Israel. Its population is revolutionary in nature, and if it wasn’t for the fact that the Jordanian police are very effective, the country would long ago been overrun by its majority population, the Palestinians. One would think that a country such as this would have had a succession of leaders as their predecessors were dispatched, the hearty family running the country seems to have unbelievable resiliency and longevity.

 

The dawn of modern day Jordan began in 1916, when the British and French determined that it was in their best interests to carve up the Middle East from the rapidly receding Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman’s it appears, had made the grave error of going to war on the side of Germany during World War I, which pretty much sounded the death knoll of its empire. The "Great Arab Revolt" began in earnest when, on June 10, 1916, the British agreed to support the Arabs in their bid for independence in exchange for their help in defeating the Ottomans. In the trade for Arab help, Sharif Hussein was to get a mandate over what is now Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine and Jordan, a tidy enough parcel of land.

 

However, in typical underhanded British and French fashion, they signed what was called the Sykes-Picot Accord, effectively giving the French, Syria and Lebanon, while Britain acquired Iraq, Palestine and Jordan. In an even more traumatic move, the British Government in 1917 signed what they called the Balfour declaration, which effectively called for a Jewish State to be created in Palestine. In one fell swoop the Brits hung their friend Sharif Hussein out to dry in exchange for his help on their behalf, then hung the Zionists out to dry with the Balfour declaration, a document that is worth about as much as a wooden nickel. The British theory was that you can say whatever you want publicly and sign whatever documents you want privately, but the only thing that means anything lasting is, what is the best interests of England when the chips are down.

 

Knowing that the British were more than a little kinky in their international deals, the Emir Abdullah, Hussein’s second son, met with Churchill in Jerusalem and secured recognition of the state of Trans-Jordan. The Balfour Declaration, corrupt to begin with, now became utterly worthless because Trans-Jordan, which contained Palestine, was to be excluded from the agreement. Pretty cute, those British, and they fancy themselves to be statesmen. Abdullah became the first ruler of the Trans-Jordan, but it wasn’t until after the end of World War II that it became a sovereign nation, with full independence being granted on May 16, 1946. Naturally, the Emir was overjoyed with his appointment and logically nominated himself to become the country’s first king, and since no one seemed interested in disputing the point, he promptly anointed himself as the country’s monarch. Especially when they saw those bearded people with muskets and carbine rifles sitting on horses right behind him. Yes Sir, King!

 

Almost simultaneously, the displaced Jews from World War II were lobbying for a homeland, and naturally, their first pick was Palestine, where someone seemed to remember that they had been promised their own country by the British three decades earlier. In the meantime, the area now called Israel was a Protectorate of the British, and although they diligently worked at keeping the Jewish war victims from even reaching the shores of that country, many were successful at entering and most came with loaded weapons.

 

It didn’t take long for the Jews to start giving the British the time of their lives in Israel. At the same time, the United Nations was becoming very serious about partitioning the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and handing a piece of it over to the Jews. This didn’t sit well with the Arabs, the Palestinians or the despised British, who were now becoming desperately worried about where their oil would come from if they kept their word to the Jews. In spite of the fact that no one seemed to care about these folks that had gone through the horrors of World War II in frightening fashion, in 1948 the United Nations ceded the territory for a Jewish homeland. This action, incidentally, was the last time that the United Nations voted favorably for anything having to do with Israel. Israel was never even given the right to become a member of the Security Council, something ever other nation belonging to the United Nations had as an inherent right, because they did not belong to a particular block, a prerequisite.

 

By this time, the British, who had been shot at, blown up and kidnapped, had enough of this hellhole and pulled out, and the Jewish settlers moved right in. Two things transpired next: first, one million Palestinians grabbed their belongings and headed for Jordan, creating one of the most unnatural exoduses in modern history and a major hardship on this poverty stricken country, which literally didn’t have a dime in its treasury. However, if you thought this was bad, things soon got even worse for Jordan, due to the fact that the Arab countries declared war on Israel and Jordan was elected by proxy to lead the charge. Jordan’s army was literally shattered in that action, and as the victor, Israel now laid claim to Galilee, the Negev Desert, the Mediterranean coast and almost all of Jerusalem. Other combatants gave up no ground, and Jordan was the only loser in terms of land, lots of land.

 

If that wasn’t bad enough, on July 20, 1951, as King Abdullah was entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem for Friday prayers, a shot was fired at him. His grandson, the future Hussein, flung himself in front of the bullet, which hit one of the numerous medals on his chest and was deflected right into the heart of his grandfather. Hussein achieved the throne when both of Abdullah’s children (Hussein’s father and uncle) had to be ministered to for serious physical aliments. He was just eighteen years old at that time and a student in England. Some initiation for a kid that age, and now how was he going to hold this thing together? If that option had been available to me at that age, I think I would have opted for the Peace Corps or the Taliban instead.

 

Hussein had over the years survived assassination attempts, coups against his family, wars against his kingdom, droughts, plagues, famine and disease. Clearly, he was a genius, both militarily and in terms of being able to successfully govern and survive in this very difficult place under these harrowing conditions. The mere fact that he endured forty plus years as king should attest to his intelligence, his guile and maybe, most important of all, the esteem in which he was held by the people he ruled.

 

Nevertheless, while he was still a young monarch, another crisis lay just around the corner. In 1964, at a summit in Jerusalem, the Palestine Liberation Organization ("PLO") was formed. Its sole reason for existence was publicly stated as the liberation of Palestine from the Zionists. With the majority of their population being Palestinian, Jordan signed an alliance with the PLO, but this really annoyed Israel and caused them wreck more havoc on Jordan. On the other hand, what was this poor king to do, since he was cooked if he did, and roasted if he didn’t sign on with the PLO.

 

The next crisis for Jordan occurred in May of 1967, when the highly unreliable and egocentric President Nasser of Egypt on a lark ordered the United Nations Emergency Force from the Sinai, where they hadn’t been doing much of anything anyway for the last 10-years. While on a roll, he also took a shot and banned Israeli shipping from the Straits of Tiran, the mouth of the Red Sea. Moreover, Nasser looked tough to Hussein, who was still a bit wet behind the ears, and he signed an alliance with Nasser agreeing that each country would come to the other’s aid, should they be attacked by Israel. The kid never saw it coming and had been sold a whole bunch of snake oil.

 

Israel was definitely not pleased this time, and they attacked Nasser’s pride and joy, his air force. They hit all Egypt’s warplanes on the ground, and the war was over for all practical purposes before it even began. The only trouble was that the sadistic, Nasser figured that since he would be taking all these lumps, he would see to it that his friends the Syrians and the Jordanians got beat up a little as well. He told his allies that everything was fine and that his air force was dealing with the Israeli’s air force in fine fashion. Israel proceeded to hold the Syrians and Jordanians in place while it literally carved up the entire Egyptian army and crossed the Suez Canal. If it wasn’t for threats from the Russians and cooler heads in Washington, there was a straight path for Israel to be in downtown Cairo the following morning with no one standing in their way. On the other hand, the Israelis were well aware of the fact that if they captured Cairo, they would have to feed all of those Egyptians and didn’t believe that this was their problem.

 

Having dispensed with Egypt, the Israeli’s turned their highly mobile army on the intransigent Jordanians and the Syrians. When it was all over, thanks to Egyptian leader Nasser, the Jews now controlled the Golan Heights and all of Palestine sending another unwanted exodus of refugees scurrying across the Allenbe Bridge into exile in Jordan. Here was a country that did not have enough money to feed its own people and now was getting its second major inhalation of poverty stricken refugees, about 200,000 who fled with only what they could carry on their backs. Jordan lost 6,000 brave men, thanks to being totally misled by their good friends in the region, but who was Hussein to argue when Egypt was 10 times Jordan’s size and the unquestioned leader of the Arab Block. Hussein, always the diplomat, kept his temper and never said a bad word about the man who had caused so much hardship for his country.

 

This came at the most inopportune of times for the Jordanians for other reasons, for what little agriculture they were producing was coming from what now is called the West Bank and had fallen to Israel. Their agriculture stopped dead in its tracks. No agricultural production, no manufacturing and no money, the Jordanians were in some pickle. Moreover, they had just started to cultivate somewhat of tourist trade. War breaking out on a regular basis in the area, with Jordan seemingly always losing, curtailed most tourism. Once again, they had shot themselves squarely in the foot.

 

Hussein grew up and started to become very wile very quickly and was able to extract himself beautifully when the PLO hijacked four planes with their passengers and crew and set them down at Amman’s airport. A younger Hussein might have been tempted to storm the planes, kill the PLO and then worry about the passengers and crew; but the more mature Hussein negotiated the hell out of the PLO, and before it was over, he looked like, pardon the expression, Solomon. He had gotten the PLO and Egypt to sign an agreement that either the PLO would conform to Jordanian laws, or they would release the planes, crew and passengers and pack up their tents and leave. The PLO did some tent folding and left.

 

The rapidly evolving King Hussein was also smart enough to stay out of the October war with Israel in 1973. The Arab League cried foul. Nevertheless, while they were once again having their heads handed to them, Hussein was not even being bloodied. Well, that wasn’t quite true, because he had the foresight to have sent a small force to help his enemies in Syria fight the Israelis. Not big enough to annoy the Israelis, mind you, and not too big to be of much help to the Syrians. The Syrians and Egyptians tried to turn public opinion in the neighborhood against King Hussein, but over time, Hussein was able to convince his Arab brethren that his heart was in the right place and surely must have been temporarily out of his mind to not declare war on Israel. After a series of open confessionals, he was once again allowed back as a card-carrying member of the Arab Coven.

 

Hussein had now learned how to deftly play two ends against the middle by sitting on his hands and talking the good game. However, his skills became seriously tested, when Iraq invaded Kuwait. This didn’t just annoy the Western countries, it enervated them. The largest force in Saudi Arabia since the Second World War was assembled to defend the West’s friendly oil pipelines. In case you didn’t know it, it was Hussein’s relatives who were in charge of Iraq, so he should not be faulted for being a tad overly friendly with his wacky cousins. Besides, his Baghdad relatives were sending some extra oil now and then to Jordan in exchange for his good wishes, and nobody else seemed to really give a damn. It seemed like a good port in a storm, but how could Hussein know that Iraq would invade Kuwait.

 

Just picture the King of Jordan finding out about Iraq’s transgressions in Kuwait from his top aid and saying, "They did what?" This clearly must have sent the poor King, who was now getting up in years, into trauma. He had become craftier than a fox in his old age, but his Baghdad cousins had really gotten him wading up to his ankles in alligators this time. With nothing better in mind, the King put on his traveling uniform and spent the next several years telling everyone that would listen how sorry he was about everything that those people in Iraq did while continuing to accept their largesse in oil. Eventually they listened, not because they believed that he was one bit sorry for anything, but because he had done for his country what he had to do, but because he had just picked the wrong side. The Western Countries were willing to forgive him because without Hussein, there would probably be a revolution, and who in their right mind including the Arabs would want a real Palestinian state sitting in their midst anyway.

 

Jordan’s next move in 1993 was to recognize Israel, in what; at the time was one of the really weirdest scenes in history. On the White House Lawn were Yaser Arafat, King Hussein and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shaking hands. Hard to believe, but that really happened. In 1994, a formal treaty was entered into with Hussein logically believing that he had tried his best to become a good Arab, but he had been screwed by his supposed friends just about enough. Any more help from his Arab brethren and Jordan would become the only Stone Age country on earth. This time, of course, Hussein was looking to work out an economic arrangement with Israel that would put his people to work, calm the region, bring back tourism and pacify the PLO. Some of this worked and most didn’t but nobody was worse off for the deal but the intransigent Syrians.

 

However, not all of the Jews were excited by an alliance with Hussein, and Yitzhak Rabin was soon murdered for his efforts by a Jewish radical. Eventually though, negotiations began with Yaser Arafat and his friends at the PLO that could lead to statehood for the Palestinians if the Sun was positioned correctly in the sky. Talks didn’t make much progress under a right-wing Israeli Government, but when that government fell, a more charismatic Israeli leader, Barak, thought he could make some serious headway with the Palestinian Statehood issue. He received a Parliamentary mandate to take certain very aggressive initiatives, but in the midst of what looked like an historic breakthrough, orchestrated riots broke out on the West Bank and Gaza, temporarily breaking off talks. Hussein, suffering for some time with cancer, died during this crisis, and his meticulously groomed son Crown Prince Hassan ascended the throne.

 

In the meantime, disaster almost struck again when the usually reliable Mossad botched a hit-job in downtown Amman. It turns out that Khaled Mishal, an official of a radical group of Palestinians, Hamas, was in town for a social event, or so he said. The Mossad believed that dead men don’t tell tales and determined to do away with this fanatic. The hit was bungled and Khaled screamed bloody murder. Jordan once again was put in position where they had to extract something from someone to survive because they had allowed the Mossad on their territory, an unforgivable event in Arab lore.

 

Through adept negotiation, they got their newfound friends from Israel to release the hated spiritual leader of the Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, from a jail where, under normal conditions, he would have rotted for the next 200 years whether he lived that long or not. This was purely done as the price for continued diplomatic relations. Some well informed people say that in reality, Amman told the Israelis that if they really wanted to maintain diplomatic relations with Jordan, in the future, they had better carry out their hits in the dark of night and leave no evidence when they go after the Hamas. They punctuated their remarks by indicating to the Israelis that they should not send amateurs to do a man’s job anymore. No country knows better how to get out of town quietly after totally screwing up with more panache' than the Israeli intelligence unit and the skulked inaudibly away.

 

Shortly thereafter, many of Jordan’s newspapers were forcibly closed so that the coming elections could be conducted without adverse propaganda to the reigning government. In this instance, the government did the intelligent thing of closing on opposition publication, a really smart move. However, this enervated the Human Rights Watch, which issued a damning report on the state of human rights in Jordan, and especially the treatment of women. Naturally, all of the opposition candidates were soundly trounced in the election, as were the nineteen ladies who had run for office. The Human Rights Watch claimed a psychological victory because they had been right but that didn’t do them any good.

 

Interestingly enough during the same period, the old guard in both Morocco and Syria also passed the mantel to a younger generation by passing away. Hussein’s son is showing that he has many of his father’s charismatic traits, and he has been going out among the population in disguise to see learn more about them and find out about their needs. Nevertheless, while there is no question, he already knows what they need, but it never hurts to mingle; you get to look like a regular guy. He has already become both a prince among men and a king of his country, something that few ever achieve. In Morocco, new leadership is already bringing major changes to that country, which because it is the breadbasket to the Arab countries, this new leadership is going to prove very important in terms of regional considerations.

 

Syria may or may not be a different story. This young man has followed an uncharismatic father who basically did what he had to do to survive as a member of a minority tribe in a backward country. He was obliged to rule with an iron fist, or he would soon have soon become chopped liver. Hating the Israeli’s was only a smoke screen to give the people someone else to loathe, other than their totally despotic leader who was known to destroy whole villages because he woke up with a stomach problem. In addition, he came from a minority party in Syria and from a small town. Not a great forum to build from.

 

There is hope in the Middle East that with this new highly educated and enlightened leadership, things will improve, but some problems just won’t seem to go away. No one ever said that peace will necessarily bring prosperity, and it sure won’t make the Palestinians disappear, at least anytime soon, especially with their having one of the highest birthrates in the world. Sadly, in this region everything is a game of show and tell, and your neighbors must be made to believe that what they think they see is what they are going to get. Hopefully, this region’s leaders may soon be able to see beyond this haze; then again, who knows, nobody has been able to make it work before? However, there is currently a bill before congress that would put Jordan in a special category, at least as far as the United States is concerned. If the bill is enacted it will give Jordan the same status that has been awarded, Israel, Canada, and Mexico; a total free trade treaty. That would really help and at the same time, repay Jordan for being one of our staunchest allies in the world.

 

 

Petra

 

 

When we were vocalizing about the tourist trade and how it could affect Jordan, we were really discussing the future effects on the economy of the ancient city of Petra. Petra, which means "rock" in Greek, is located several hours drive ride from Jordan’s capital, Amman, and could well have hoards tourists streaming into the territory, if only the regional and internal difficulties would calm down for long enough. Petra is something very special in the annals of the world ‘s architecture.

 

Petra was a highly traveled oasis in ancient times, conveniently located among rose-colored sandstone cliffs, and geographically positioned at the focal point of critical trade routes that stretched through this part of the Middle East. Because of this fact, Petra became one of the wealthiest towns on earth because the inhabitants were able to extract an enormous toll from travelers needing right of way, shelter, food and water on their way to their various destinations.

 

These caravans were carrying valuable myrrh, frankincense (at the time, worth more than its weight in gold) and numerous other metals, exotic foods, building materials and the like. Mind you, not that these people were in the extortion business, they were just gatekeepers, and they charged what the traffic would bear and would add a substantial surcharge onto the this, because they controlled the only road that lead anywhere in this part of the civilized world. Keyed by their splendid success in shaking down everyone within a massive geographical area, the Nabateans, as the inhabitants of Petra were called, rolled out their economy and entered sea born piracy as well.

 

Being, basically desert nomads, they were not as adept at handling large ocean going craft and they also were not very good at boarding commercial ships at sea. These were basically landlubbers who had egos as big as the whole outdoors and they had indeed, for once, over-reached themselves. The Egyptian Navy becoming concerned that these strange folks from Petra would soon control not only the there critically needed land routes but their sea routes as well. The authorities in Egypt could not countenance eventuality and soon dismembered the Nabatean’s naval activities. The Nabateans did not cotton to being brought to heel and upped the tariff on all products headed to and from Egypt from that point forward and there was nothing that the Pharaohs and their minions could do about it.

 

However, their land based toll-collection activities permitted Petra’s citizens to engage the finest artisans to create for them all of the amenities that anyone of that age could ever require. It is also well accepted that the Petra City Fathers had significant talent in delicately carving solid rock. It is interesting to note, however, that there is no evidence available that would indicate what, if any, tools were used in one of the most sophisticated remodeling jobs in history making this accomplishment even more outstanding. But they didn’t just make pretty objections with their advanced carving techniques; they created a way of life. The mountains surrounding Petra were remodeled from the top down rather that the bottom up. The process was painful but successful. Groves were carved into the sandstone, and then moistened wood was placed into the groves and allowed to dry. As it dried, the wood expanded allowing the artisan to create shapes and figures that would make up whatever masterpiece he was currently composing.

 

Eventually the resident’s of Petra lived in homes gracefully carved out of the mountains that surrounded the city. When a traveler first gazed upon this amazingly unique spectacle, they were typically thunderstruck by the magnitude of what they saw. As their wealth grew, the inhabitants of Petra wanted to demonstrate that in spite of their origins as desert cowboys, they had some class as well. They wanted to show the world how far they had come but having no natural resources available they were stymied. Ultimately the city fathers came to the conclusion that they would carve magnificent edifices right out of the mountain cliffs surrounding the city. And carve they did, creating theaters, homes and burial grounds out of solid sandstone. Not only that, but they were able to do with an elegance that startled the world. The Nabateans imported materials for their city from all over the world with most coming from Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece. When all the carving and remodeling was completed, over 800 monuments and buildings had been created with the city’s walls.

 

From a military point of view, the town of Petra was quite impenetrable. Since there was literally only one way in and one way out, if you weren’t an invited guest, you couldn’t come. The road didn’t allow more than one or two people to comfortably pass through the town’s entrance simultaneously. In addition, Petra was built into the surrounding Shara Mountains that encircled it, creating a most magnificent panorama. Weary travelers must have believed that they had found the kingdom of heaven when they arrived. On either side of the narrow entranceway were artisan-produced massive waterfalls surrounding what looked like a magic city, whose face was one of incredible beauty.

 

The reason the city’s buildings were carved out of the surrounding mountains is simple enough, for the people that settled here saw the advantage of location, location, and location. There were no trees or quaryable rock in the near vicinity, and hence building their living quarters by conventional means was not an option. By chiseling their way into the solid rock that abutted the city, they addressed a number of issues simultaneously. The sandstone of the area was rather soft and permeable, which made it easy to shape it into the desire configuration; on the other hand, anything built into the rock walls would be virtually indestructible. In addition, this type of construction would afford maximum protection against the elements, mainly storms, floods and earthquakes, and the invading hordes that would inevitably surge through the region.

 

Moreover, the people of Petra were great irrigation managers. They developed the ability to store vast amounts of water during the winter wet periods and then have it available for drinking and their crops during dry times. In addition, the town was built on a flood plain, so when it rained for any prolonged period and the ground had absorbed everything it could, a tidal flood would develop capable of wiping out all life it its path. However, because of the technical skills of Petra’s inhabitants, they created an ingenious solution to this problem: whatever water came cascading out of the mountains or up the narrow Siq was absorbed in massive cisterns surrounding the city for its eventual use. This allowed the creation of gardens, vineyards and olive groves. When completed, the city of Petra contained an extremely intricate system of aqueducts, water tunnels, natural springs, clay pipes, and cisterns that for its time was far advanced for anything heretofore seen on earth.

 

Through a complex system of aqueducts and water storage structures, the people of Petra were even able to create indoor plumbing. In addition, a technically advanced system of irrigation allowed the simplified maintenance of a system of farms along with gardens, which supplied all of the produce consumed by the population.

 

"Water in the Middle East has always been a primary resource, and part of the success of Petra was because the Nabateans were excellent hydrological engineers. They constructed an intricate matrix of dams, cisterns and clay pipes to not only supply the city with water, but also to provide the city with protection from the flash floods which are common in a semi-arid environment during the rainy season (November to April in Jordan). Ultimately, their expertise would also be their downfall, as it was by capturing their sole water source on which the city was dependent at the Spring of Moses and holding the water supply hostage that the Romans finally conquered the city."

 

While water was the Nabateans salvation, so it eventually was the potential demise of the city in any number of respects. The first problem was the fact that the Romans were able to cut the water supply and, thus, take over the city. The second problem is far more complex:

 

"One of the causes accelerating decay was the Nabateans themselves. Their hydraulic system carried collected water to cisterns, underground galleries, gardens and irrigation systems. Today, water flows unhindered, naturally, and because it is not managed and stored today as it was when occupied, the water table of the area is actually much higher at the dawn of the 21st century than it was at the dawn of the last millennium. As water runs throughout the site, it often pools and sometimes floods, as (it) therefore has for over 1,500 years given a rich mineral bath to the stone structures at the site. Given the relatively porous and conductive nature of sedimentary rock, the minerals in solution in the water travel deep into the stone, where they are deposited and crystallize as the water eventually evaporates. These crystals are the cause of spalling, the "shedding" of layers of stone. 1,500 years of baths is a great deal of accumulated crystals, which work to breakdown the stone from the inside. Then there is the abrasion factor. Water and wind have worked very diligently over the years to scrub away particles, which have reached their goal of again becoming sand and which once loose and carried by wind or water are additionally abrasive."

Some biblical scholars articulated that it was just above Petra where God ordered Moses to produce water for the Israelites by speaking to a rock. Many say that it was this water created by Moses that caused the cavern cut between the rock formations, called the Siq. If it were not for a water bypass being construction by the Jordanian Government, the Siq would be downright dangerous. Twenty tourists were drowned in flash floods in the 1960s.

 

Moses’ brother Aron is supposedly buried on the mountain overlooking Petra, and King David took the place over lock, stock and barrel in a battle. His son Solomon diverted the money that had been flowing to Petra from the trade routes into the Israelite’s own treasury. When the Israelite kingdom retrenched, the Nabateans moved in. Instead of robbing the tourists as others had done, these folks legitimized the business and called it the collection of tolls, much in the way that the State Highway Commissions charge tolls on highways built with taxpayer funds.

 

The Nabateans, until this time, had historically been nomadic and traveled between Syria and Arabia during the 7th Century BC. Ultimately, they turned south and, during their journey, they were able to gain converts and weapons, making them much more of a factor in the area. Eventually, in their travels, they ran across the Edomites in what is now Southern Jordan and dispatched them with aplomb. The Edomites resided in the land that included Petra, and that city at its zenith had trade routes that covered a distance almost as vast as that of the Roman Empire, which bothered Rome endlessly but for a time they couldn’t figure out what to do about it. Indeed, the Nabateans were the only people on earth that Rome had to pay tribute to. This was because of the fact that when Roman goods went through Petra, they were forced to pay the same toll as anyone else.

 

Diodorus Siculus, a Roman Historian of the time, reported that the Seleucid ruler of Syria Antigonus tried to capture Petra in 312 BC. However, would you believe that when his soldiers arrived, no one was there? The town was unoccupied except for a few women and children, who were easily dispatched. Once that task had been accomplished, the Seleucids loaded as many valuables as could conveniently carry on their beasts of burden and then proceeded to cart most everything off. When the Nabateans returned, a short time later, (someone must have accidentally tripped the electronic alarm) and they were really infuriated. They mounted their waiting horses and just like in the old westerns; they caught Antigonus’s men at the pass, slaughtered most of them and recovered their booty.

 

Having more brawn than brains, the Nabateans attempted to rub a little salt in the wounds; a messenger was sent to Antigonus apologizing for all of the bloodshed. A short time later, Antigonus sent them back a message of his own, a slightly larger force, which was also badly mauled by the Nabateans. Antigonus was now really fit to be tied and ordered a national conscription, something that had not been heard of in these parts for years. However, cooler heads eventually prevailed because it was generally agreed that Antigonus could do the Petrans in if really had a mind to. The Nabateans realizing that they had overplayed their hand backtracked and asked Antigonus what it would cost to pay for his loses. Antigonus asked his accountants to prepare a statement of damages, both actual and punitive, another concept that was unheard of at the time, but which made sense under the circumstances. A large sum was named, a deal was struck and Antigonus felt much better (also much richer). This was indeed capitalism at work in its truest sense.

 

The Nabateans did not seem to believe in god in the same sense that other organized religions of the time practiced it. The people of Petra seemed to have attempted to have their religion feed to them in an artistic blend of whatever might have been in at the time. Their people were travelers and they brought back stories of the Greek, Roman and Egyptian civilizations. They all eventually left their mark in some manner on Petra. On the other hand, as in the rest of the region, at least until the first century A.D., sacrifice, human and otherwise was practiced and the Nabateans seemed to prefer boys and girls. The Nabateans created carved monuments throughout Petra but there purpose seems to have been obscured by time and today no one is sure of their meaning.

 

In the meantime local combatants, Syria and Egypt were going at each other hot and heavy. While their neighbors were otherwise involved, the Nabateans started grabbing a little land here and little land there. Before you knew it, they had gained control of Damascus and points north, a far piece from their roots. To give you an idea of what was going on at this time we give you someone else’s learned opinion:

 

"The Nabatean capital grew fabulously wealthy on its profits from trade, standing at the pivot between Egypt, Arabia and Syria, and between East Asia and the Mediterranean. Traditional commodities, such as copper, corn and Dead Sea Bitumen (used for embalming in Egypt), were losing ground to spices from the southern Arabian coast – myrrh, balsam and frankincense, the last of which was central to religious ritual all over the Hellenistic world. Pepper, ginger, sugar and cotton arrived from India for onward distribution. Chinese documents even talk of imports of silk, glass, gold, silver, henna and frankincense from a place known as Li-kan, taken to be a corruption of "Reqem." Nabatean power seemed limitless, and even when Pompey sent troops against Petra in 62 BC, the Nabateans were able to buy peace from the Roman Empire for the price of three hundred talents of silver. Petran prosperity grew and grew."

"From then on, Petra was at its zenith with a settled population of perhaps as many as 30,000. The Roman author Strabo describes it as a wealthy cosmopolitan city, full of fine buildings and villas, gardens and watercourses, with Romans and other foreigners thronging the streets, and a democratic king. "The Nabateans", reported Strabo, "are so acquisitive that they give honors to those who increase their possessions, and publicly fine those who lose them." However, the writing was on the wall. The discovery of the monsoon winds had begun to cause a shift in trade patterns: overland routes from Arabia were being abandoned in favor of transport by sea. In addition, Rome was sponsoring the diversion of inland trade away from the upstart Petra, instead directing it into Egypt and via the Wadi Sirhan into Syria, presaging the rise of Palmyra. Pressure on Nabateans to come to heel was inexorable. The last Nabatean king, Rabbel II, tried moving his capital from Petra north to Bosra, but eventually had to strike a deal with Rome. On his death in 106 AD, the entire Nabatean kingdom passed peacefully into Roman hands."

 

Petra was never the same after that, although it continued to play an important part in regional economics for some time. Their leaders socialized with all of the right people and still had money enough in their treasury to buy pretty trinkets, but the city-state’s time had come and gone. Over the a following centuries, a sizeable earthquake or two took a chunk out of this and chunk out that, and finally at 9 P.M on May 19, 363 A.D, the mother of all earthquakes struck Petra fully destroying most of the city that was still standing. The Nabateans sadly determined that Petra was no longer habitable and pulled up stakes. By the 7th century A. D. the area was only populated by wandering nomads and the mystique had died. The Crusaders thought that the mountains surrounding Petra offered cover and built a couple of small forts in their occasional forays into the vicinity. In 1276, Sultan Baybrs the Mamluke, who was on his way to suppress an uprising in Karak, proceeded to enter Petra, "amidst most marvelous caves, the facades sculptured into the very rock face." When he left the city, he was probably the last person to visit it for the next 500 years.

 

In 1812, Jean Louis Burckhardt, a Swiss explorer became the first Westerner to visit the city in centuries. At the time, this was still piece of the Ottoman Empire, and the nomadic inhabitants were not exactly friendly to strangers. Jean was forced to disguise himself as an Arab in order to get into the city. He made copious notes of his trip and reawakened the western world to the magnificence of this most unusual metropolis. British Navy personnel visited Petra a few years later, but Leon de Laborde in 1826, along with British artist David Roberts in 1839, both thoroughly scrutinized the city, and both brought back sketches that were soon grabbed up by wannabe explorers from Europe.

 

In spite of the hardships involved, Petra soon became somewhat of a tourist attraction, and the Ottoman’s were all too happy to oblige. To a minor degree, they spruced up the city and made neighboring accommodations available. From that time forward, it has been the number one location on every traveler’s wish list, at least those who did not need deluxe transportation and accommodations. However, any hardships in getting to Petra are a small price to pay in exchange for viewing one of the most amazing monuments man has ever created. Can you imagine what would happen if Jordan could just get some positive public relations going:

 

"Michelangelo said that when he looked at a block of marble, he saw a figure trapped within it. Nabataeans of southern Jordan were a bit more ambitious. Two thousand years before Michelangelo ever picked up a chisel, the nomadic Arab tribe looked at the cliffs of stones and saw and entire city. Without tractors, jackhammers or even picks as fine as the Italians, they set upon the hillsides and began carving deep into them, hollowing out two-story temples propped on Corinthian columns, tombs bedecked with obelisks and statues of gods, courts, reservoirs, staircases, aqueducts and homes of stony grandeur. More than 800 examples of their towering handiwork sprawl across 36 square miles of a hidden valley in Jordan’s desert that attracts thousands of tourists every years."

 

Jordan determined to make tourism in the area work and immediately started out on the wrong foot by telling the Bedouins who dwelled in the caves surrounding Petra to gather their belongings and leave. These folks had been making a subsistence living, selling polished stones, camel rides and postcards to the visiting tourists. The Jordanian Government didn’t believe that it was good for the tourists to believe that Jordan had people living in caves in the 20th Century. Nevertheless, in 1984, the government built them modern housing near the site so that the visitors wouldn’t talk. The Bedouins still sell the same garbage to tourists as they did before, but they do from nearby garden apartments that have the most modern accoutrements.

 

This area is certainly not for the faint-hearted, and that was exactly what the early citizens of Petra had in mind. While one may not have any trouble getting into to Petra, getting home may be something else again. A tourist would pick up tickets in the nearby town and then start walking to Petra, as for some time it was the only way to get there. The walk wasn’t too bad because, although one wasn't aware of it, it was downhill. It is not a bad grade when walking the approximately two miles and simultaneously descending about 350 feet. On the other hand, after one has spent the day searching the city’s many secrets, on the walk "home," the grade is now ascending and one is required to walk uphill for two solid miles. Although it would totally destroy the landscape, a tram or monorail would probably make life a lot easier for senior citizens. In addition, Petra’s buildings are spread out over an area of nearly 40 square miles; thus, it could take a substantial period of time to visit everything of great importance. While one can be awed in a day, a week’s stay could be overwhelming.

 

As one eases along the narrow pathway, there comes what some call the lunar landscape of white rock domes and horizontal sandstone cliffs known as the Gate of the Siq, or Bab as-Siq. The Siq is an impenetrable area that anyone wanting to attack Petra was forced to navigate. There was really no egress unless no one was home; that happened once, but that wasn’t going to happen again:

 

"The bed of the Wadi Musa, carrying water during the winter and early spring, curves along side. In all but the bleached-out midday hours, the light is soft enough to pick up earth tones of browns and beiges in the rock, but it’s only with the last rays of the sunset that there’s any hint of the pink that Petra is famous for. Almost immediately, you can see evidence of Nabatean endeavor: three huge god-blocks, six to eight meters high, loom next to the path just round the first corner, carved probably to serve as both representations of and repositories for the gods to stand sentinel over the city’s vital water supply. Twenty-five such god-blocks exist in Petra, deemed by the locals to have been the work of jinn, or genies, and so also termed jinn-blocks; another name is sahrij, or water-tanks (i.e., tanks holding divine energy next to flowing water). The middle one has a shaft graves cut into it, implying that it may also have served as some king of funerary monument. Opposite the god-blocks are some additional carvings, one of which has an obelisk carved in relief, representing the soul, or nefesh, of a dead person. Such carved shrines abound in every corner of Petra’s mountains, and for those with time to explore, the small side valleys off this section of the Bab as-Siq are filled with tombs, water channels, niches and shrines: behind the blocks, the area of domes known as "Ramleh" is cut through two parallel wadis (one of which is Wadi Mathlim) and are equally explorable."

 

"If there is one place on this planet that is guaranteed to make a person feel like Indiana Jones, it’s the Siq – the knife-blade-narrow canyon that leads into the ruins of ancient Petra in the desert wilderness of southern Jordan. The Siq also will convince you that the Nabateans – the vanished people who were sovereign here 2,000 years ago – had Hollywood beat when it to special effects. Some places beg to be described in clichés, and this is one of them. Petra is breathtaking…it is like stepping into a cathedral: The Siq simply feels silent. Light sifts from above like dust, and you want to lower your voice in respect, if not flat-out awe."

 

The change of instantly going from sunlight to shadow, from the intense heat of the desert to the coolness the morning is part of Petra’s captivating charm. For those that are claustrophobic, the narrow passage between the two hundred foot cliffs can be more than tantalizing.

 

From here, it is on to the tombs, which are carved into the rock face, also known as the King’s Wall. The first tomb is called the Urn Tomb, a well-preserved mausoleum that faces a double row of vaults. This in turn fronts on an ornate room measuring an enormous 70 feet in each direction. The walls had the most beautiful of hues from the carefully laid sandstone and the precision molded corners. However, there is nothing within the room, no bodies, no coffin, no nothing.

 

Continuing on from tomb to tomb, one finds some are badly damaged by the elements and some are so protected by the rock surfaces that they appear as virginal as the day they were created. The tombs themselves, along with the countless stories each has to tell, would make a fascinating story. Even the Roman governor of the city who ruled Petra during the time of Hadrian in 130 AD, Sextins Florentinus, is buried within the confines of the city. Somewhat further out there is a badly needed reconstruction of the city’s defensive walls taking place.

 

Upon arrival into the city proper, the first building that gets one’s attention is called the Treasury. It played a prominent roll in the Indiana Jones movie, "The Last Crusade." It was the building that was carved right into the cliff that absolutely stunned the audience during the picture, so now easily hundreds of millions of people have undoubtedly seen this building. The name "Treasury" was picked because on the top of the building is an object that looks like a giant urn. The urn according to legend held a vast treasure. The only treasure in the "Treasury" is its awesome beauty; in reality, it is just another tomb, as are most of the buildings left in Petra."

 

The strangest part of the place is that with all of these tombs one would think there would be some bodies. While occasionally the remains of someone who went to his final resting place here is found, for the most part it is a massive cemetery without any dead. The "Treasury" is 130 feet high, and the magnificent columns that surround the building are only a tad smaller. Within the building’s chambers, the sandstone walls have been well worn by the ages, but it has a peach red look, as though the color had been purposely painted on.

 

This building was created in the Second Century, AD, and took almost 100-years to finish. Gertrude Bell, an early visitor to Petra, almost a century ago, described what her impression was upon first seeing the Treasury:

 

"We went on in ecstasies until suddenly between the narrow opening of the rocks we saw the most beautiful sight I have ever seen; imagine a temple cut out of solid rock, the charming façade supported on great Corinthian columns…and carved with groups of figures almost as fresh as when the chisel left them."

 

Around the corner from the Treasury is the area of town where the rich folks lived. This was the city’s best neighborhood. The entrances to the houses are well above the ground, which afforded the inhabitants some protection against robbers and flooding. On the other hand, this created quite a problem if a resident had been at the local pub a bit too long. The only way in or out was through the use of a ladder. The last person into the house pulled up the ladder. Thus, if no one was in the house, a "safekeeper" would stow the ladder for the resident, but if the little woman was waiting up until 3 am, but the man of the house stumbled up to the house at 4 am, well, she might not let down the ladder.

 

While these folks did not have locks and keys, they had the next best things: doors that couldn’t be reached without the right implements. Once up the ladder, the elevated sidewalks allowed the townspeople convenient access to their neighbors. A friendly neighbor could help you out of tight spot now and again by letting you go up his ladder, but that meant waking the poor soul in the middle of the night. Inside the homes were a swirl of colors from rose to cream to black and blue. It must have been as though a great artist was regularly redecorating the décor, and it never rubbed off no matter how rowdy the kids became.

 

Not too far from where the rich people lived was the amphitheater, a massive structure seating over 8,500 people. It was built in the first century AD using a Greek design under the Roman influence, but not by their government. The Romans must have had something in mind when they assisted in its construction, since they took over Petra in the next several years, and they didn’t have a lot of fixing to do to make it to their liking. Up to this point, Petra stuck out like a thorn in Rome’s side because it was the only place they hadn’t conquered in the region.

 

Seats in the amphitheater went onto the stage, and it was the largest structure of its kind in that part of the world, dwarfing the theater in Amman by a wide margin. The fact that many of the seats were right on the stage did create some problems for the Romans, as the high-ranking dignitaries from Rome were always afforded the seats nearest the stage. When starving wild animals were released from the dungeons beneath, the first people that they went after were those in the best seats. Visiting dignitaries soon became happier sitting in the rear, where they couldn’t become a hungry animal’s lunch. The theater was also grafted right out of the mountain as well, probably making it among the best acoustical auditoriums in the world. Beyond that, the backdrop of the surrounding mountains above the performance must have been an awesome experience.

 

The "High Place of Sacrifice" is the next spot on our tour of Petra. It is exactly what it sounds like, a spot overlooking the town where the priests killed animals during their sacrifices:

 

"The High Place itself has been carved flat, and drainage channels have been cut into the rock to allow the blood of sacrificial animals to drain away. To the right, you can look down on the King’s Wall and the Royal Tombs, while looking straight ahead, there is an impressive panorama of the whole site. The Kane and the amphitheater are behind you, and to your right as you look north. The highest point is surmounted by an obelisk, and the path then continues downwards past this. As the path turns and descends – in some places quite dramatically – it passes some smaller tombs, notably the Garden Tomb and the Tomb of the Roman Soldier. The trail finally emerges onto the level ground of the Wadi Farasa, an area of sand and scrub crossed by barely-distinguishable paths. Along the way, some of the rock outcrops harbor rock dwellings, which are still inhabited by local Bedouin. From this area, a path leads north towards the center of the city in the Wadi Musa."

 

After the Romans took over Petra, the trade routes gradually began to shift and the city started going into a state of decline. The Romans had added their flourishes to Petra, the colonnaded street, the expansion of the theater and the baths, and for a time, this had indeed become a city fit for a Roman. However, Petra had seen its finest days and was no longer a critical component of the Roman Empire. Eventually, the Romans pulled up stakes; they in turn were replaced by the Byzantines who added their own flourishes to the area including several churches. (which are currently being restored).

 

Wrecked by earthquakes, marauders and a lack of travelers to gouge, in about 363 AD the people just up and left. As far as any historians are presently aware, this was about the end of Petra. When they up and left, the Nabateans didn’t leave a lot behind to tell us much about themselves. However, while Byzantine churches on the site were being excavated, a number of burned scrolls were found and were sent to the West be deciphered. They are now being worked on by teams from the University of Michigan and the University of Helsinki and the results should be forthcoming shortly.

 

Petra was named as a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1985 during the Ninth Session of the UN Committee. The driving force behind this designation was Queen Noor of Jordan, who has a most interesting background. She graduated from Princeton with a degree in Urban Planning and Architecture and lobbied long and hard for protection of Jordan’s historic landmarks. The number of hotels in Wadi Musa, the jumping off spot to arrive at Petra stood at two in 1990, while today, there are 65 with a total of 1700 beds. The average stay has gone up as well, but the fact is that Jordan’s tourism industry is sadly tied to dismal conditions in the region, along with the country’s basic economics. However, Jordan’s peace with Israel brought some immediate results, and in the year the agreement was signed, over 200,000 Israelis visited Jordan, almost all of them headed for Petra. Hussein’s successor, King Abdallah, shares his mother Queen Noor’s vision for Petra and other Jordanian monuments, and he is a firm believer that tourism is one of the answers to Jordan’s economic problems.

 

If international assistance teams working on various projects concerning the restoration of Petra were added to the number of tourists, the overall statistics would be startlingly higher. Nearly everybody is concerned about the restoration of Petra, and the list of countries and charities involved in its reconstruction are significant. In the years to come, it is said that "Petra is one of the endangered sites of greatest importance, ranking with the likes of Pompeii and the Taj Mahal."

 

Most of those working on the city’s restoration believe that by restoring the original water system, the rate of erosion will diminish and the gardens that once flowered on this site will once again make the desert bloom. Petra could become the first stop in international tourism. Experts have said that only 2% of the city has been seen, but there are countless antiquities awaiting discovery. However, there soon may be some answers forthcoming, during a recent dig in the area, a church was uncovered. A Christian Church, as a matter of fact and apparently this church was destroyed by fire, which in turn carbonized scrolls that were uncovered. These written works are being painstakingly pieced together and it is hopped that some clue as to the lives of these people will emerge. Sadly, so far, the scrolls only seem to talk about the church’s budget. Simultaneously, Boston University is attempting to recreate Petra through a system of highly advanced computer graphics.

 

We can take the word of Lawrence of Arabia, a highly traveled explorer and adventurer, who in 1914 stated, "Petra is the most wonderful place in the world." Hopefully, that will economically save the day for Jordan, but then in this part of the world, who knows?

 

Pakistan

 

A country of anomalies, Pakistan has averaged an increase in gross national product of 6% a year for over fifty years. This is by far the greatest increase in the region and places Pakistan among the world’s elite in terms of growth. Pakistan and India both received their independence from England simultaneously, and at the time, Pakistan’s per capita income trailed that of India. Yet today, the average Pakistani receives 75% more than his India brethren, an increase of more than triple in just the last two decades. Pakistan has approximately 130 million people, of which 97% are Muslim. The overall literacy rate in the country is low, with only about 36% of the population being able to read and write, and of those, women are far less educated and literate than men. Disease is rampant, childhood medical problems permeate the nation and longevity is modest.

 

Strangely, though, the nation’s economic advances have not discernibly benefited anyone other than that small percentage of the population who do not pay their taxes, corrupt bureaucrats who skim off tens of billions of the country’s currency every year and the feudal lords who have no obligation to contribute funds to the government at all. Poverty is increasing at an alarming rate, and the number of truly poverty stricken citizens has risen from 24 million to 42 million in just the last five years, accounting for fully one-third of the population.

 

In order to correct the quagmire of tax collection, the government determined that rates were too high and they were lowered, setting the new rates from a minimum of 10% to a maximum of 35%. When you have gotten into the habit of not paying anything at all, this change did not inspire anyone who wasn’t paying to contribute to the state coffers, and collections from those who did pay taxes decreased accordingly. Even more devastating is the fact that the projected government tax collections were less than a third of the forecasted amount. Taxpayers used a most intriguing reason for not disclosing what they were earning, saying that if they did, they would become "targets of witch-hunts by corrupt tax officials". () So the government did the unthinkable: it fired the government bureaucrat running the tax department and appointed an apolitical ex-banker to the post of chief tax collector.

 

One of Pakistan’s largest domestic products is the creation of Garbage. There are no particularly good rubbish collection frameworks, and if this refuse could be turned into something of value, it would simultaneously cut down on disease, improve sanitation, make the city more attractive and eliminate rodents which out-populate people in the of Karachi.

 

In this city where rubbish overflows on almost every street corner, it came as a bombshell that a fertilizer factory had to be shut down for lack of garbage. This factory had been the focal point of what seemed to be a coherent effort in 1984 to make use of some of the 6,000 tons of garbage produced every day in Karachi. The brains behind the project, a Briton of Pakistani origin named Farooq Saleem, said at the time that the idea was a "win-win" situation. On the one hand, garbage would be eliminated from the streets; on the other, demand for compost, which Pakistan was importing, would be met domestically.

 

What the project did not take into account, however, were Pakistan’s legendary bureaucratic hurdles and the need to deal with employees of the state-owned Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC), who saw the project as a threat to their livelihood. Clearing garbage in Pakistan is a sensitive issue. Not everybody does it. The work, considered by Muslims to be the "lowest of the low", thus, it is left to Christian sweepers. These men and women, mostly illiterate and unable to work in any other job, sweep streets, clean gutters and burn garbage on street corners. "That’s the way our forefathers have done it and that’s the way we will do it", said Iqbal Masih.

 

Iqbal heads a gang of five workers who are employed by the municipal authorities to look after a city block comprising about 200 houses. Instead, however, Iqbal and his team pay their supervisor half of their salary and moonlight for the very houses whose street they are supposed to clean. The supervisor turns a blind eye and residents have no option but to pay up if they want their refuse removed.

 

With the entry of Farooq Compost and Fertilizer Corporation in 1984, all that was set to change. Under an agreement with the KMC, the company hired 200 of the city’s sweepers, put them in smart uniforms and gave them second-hand trucks imported from Scotland to collect garbage and transport it to the company’s factory in North Karachi, next to the city dump. The plan was to slowly expand to all parts of the city. The fertilizer plant, which has the capacity to process more than 150,000 tons a year, was financed by a local financial institution.

 

But the plan never worked. Employees, afraid of losing their cozy arrangements, made sure the garbage never reached the factory. They burned it or dumped it in deserted areas. Truck drivers sold the fuel meant for transporting the garbage and put the trucks to other uses. A sweeper recalled how one driver took his truck to his wedding and used it as the bridal car. "It was a memorable sight for us," he said.

 

"The facility been closed and things are now continuing as usual." ()

 

"Some consider Karachi to be the most dangerous city in the world. About five to ten people die every day as a result of political violence in Karachi. Karchi is a dirty, bustling port town, with a population of more than 5 million people. Robbery and kidnapping are often carried out with the distinct intention of creating terror and instability among the populace. Bombings have occurred at Pakistan government facilities and public utility sites. Vehicular hijacking and theft by armed individuals are common occurrences. Persons resisting have very often been shot and killed. Overly detailed and gory reports of murders, bombings, robberies and assassinations fill the papers every day. The bustling port of Karachi is a war zone, thanks to the MNM, the name means Refugees National Movement and is led by Altaf Hussain (who conveniently lives in sedate London). The Urdu-speaking Mohajirs feel that they are discriminated against (which they are) by the Sinhis. There is also a lot of banditry, drug feuds and Sunni/Shiite violence that is blamed on the MNM…" ()

 

Basically, this story tells you three critically important things about this country: the first is that people are so concerned about their jobs that they will do just about anything to keep them, the second is that people are totally corrupt down to the most menial employee in the garbage industry, and finally that the infrastructure is totally unable to deal with lawlessness at even the most menial level.

 

Pakistan ranks at the bottom of the global barrel in just about every measurement that is available. According to the recent report on Human Development in South Asia, 43% of the population lacks basic health facilities, 48% live without clean drinking water and nearly 64% do not have basic sanitation. The only international sweepstakes in which they are not a clear winner is that of bribery, where Transparency International was forced to place them behind Nigeria, a crushing defeat, no doubt.

 

It is a country where conditions for business are so dismal that last year there was virtually no foreign direct investment. Foreign exchange is almost nonexistent, the populace is on a perennial tax strike and the fiscal deficit is running at the rate of 6% of GDP. Pakistan’s sacred tax cows include anything within the agriculture sector that comes from a farm. Currently there are 1,723 corruption inquires at advanced stages involving senior government officials, but each investigation takes up to ten years, and during that period, the suspected party is able to negotiate with his accuser. At times, the investigator dies of old age, retires or goes on to work elsewhere, bringing the investigation to a halt. Having so little to fear, the process goes on.

 

Nevertheless, making money and getting rich in this country was not a daunting task if you knew the right people. "In the know" Pakistanis, follow a proven prescription for economic success by borrowing as much as possible from the bank, never paying it back and retiring to the countryside – or even better, across the border. Leaving the country is not necessarily a critical option for crimes such as bank fraud and tax evasion, as there is little or no enforcement of any white-collar misadventures. Banks are theoretically following Islamic thinking, which does not allow the payment of interest, yet plainly, the entire population wants to accept it. Thus, deposits are made into accounts denominated in foreign currencies and passbook holders are paid their interest in that fiat. The same type of merry-go-round economics exist when interest is charged by renaming it "mark-up," which seems to placate the mullahs.

 

"Pakistan is a special place when it comes to crime. There are three levels of crime. The first is the friendly constant pressure to relieve the unwitting of their possessions. Just as the wind and rain can erode granite mountains, the traveler to Pakistan will find his money slowly slipping from him. Perhaps this is not a crime, since the victim is consensual, but it nevertheless is not an honest transfer of funds. The second level is petty crime, the fingers rummaging through your baggage, the wallet that leaves your pocket or the camera that disappears from the chair next to you. Everyone will caution you on petty theft. Here, theft is an art, almost a learned skill. These crimes happen to the unwary and unprepared. Lock your zippers. Do not leave anything of value in your hotel room, and do not tell people your schedule. The luggage of most airline and bus passengers looks like a Houdini act with locks, rope, sewn-up sacks, and even steel boxes used to keep out curious fingers. Mail must be sent in a sewn-up sack to prevent theft. Naturally, thieves love the many zippered, unlocked backpacks of foreign trekkers. …The third level is where Pakistan outshines many other areas: The cold calculated art of kidnapping, extortion and robbery. There is little any traveler can do to prevent this crime in certain areas. People who have regular schedules and who travel to crowded markets, along well-known paths, or do not have good security are at risk…"

Stability is not a long suit of Pakistan. In its 50-year history, half of which has been spent under military rule (somewhat of an anomaly for a democracy), Pakistan has had 17 Prime Ministers and 8 presidents. There have been three military insurrections, one successful secession and five dissolutions of Parliament. The only military victory that the country has ever recorded was the seizing of their own government by its own armed forces. In celebration of its 50th anniversary, Pakistan’s Lower House passed a bill, which soon became law that allows security agencies to arrest, search and hold suspects without obtaining search warrants. A wonderful gift for the populous of this proud democracy on this most auspicious occasion.

 

The West utilized facilities in this country as a buffer to communism during the "Cold War," and for such loyalty to the West, the Pakistani’s were well paid. These funds, along with repatriated money from citizens working abroad, was neither used for infrastructure development, nor was it saved. As much as 40% of Pakistan’s budget goes for military arms (justified because of their constant state of war with India) and another 40% is spent on servicing foreign and domestic debt, () leaving literally nothing with which to reconstruct decaying cities. The West considered Pakistan expendable after the Berlin Wall toppled and used the country’s continuing pursuit of atomic weapons as a logical excuse to cut off their aid.

 

The United States had used Pakistan as a base for locating drug smugglers over the years. In that capacity the U.S. government worked closely with the Pakistani government by employment of indigenous people to help in its counterespionage work. Each person that the United States recruited was evaluated with Pakistani assistance, and both sides were kept apprised of events as they occurred. Ayyaz Baluch, a chubby, good-natured Pakistani with a gift for languages was one of these employees. Baluch had worked for the Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") from the United States Embassy in Pakistan for 15 years. He held the dual jobs of both investigator and interpreter for the princely sum of less than $10,000 per year. He was loyal, smart and dedicated to his mission.

 

The district of Pakistan in which Mr. Baluch had particular expertise, produced almost 20% of all heroin that found its way into the Untied States, but sadly, he did his job too well. While working as an indirect representative of America’s Drug Enforcement Agency, he was responsible for the seizure of $160,000 worth of heroin that had been smuggled by two corrupt Pakistani Air Force pilots. Baluch was overjoyed, he felt that not only had he helped his country, but he had also aided his employer. Mr. Baluch was justifiably proud of his achievement.

 

For his well-meaning success, Mr. Baluch was taken from his home under the cover of darkness by the Pakistani military intelligence, which then held him incommunicado. He received the usually interrogatory treatment, no sleep, cattle prods, injections and was beaten almost to death while the line of questioning only seemed to dwell on the fact the United States was out to overthrow the Pakistani Government, and if he would sign a paper to that effect the electricity would be turned off.

 

One of the chief witnesses against Mr. Baluch, who eventually was handed a sentence of 10 years at hard labor for inducing the military men to become involved in heroin smuggling, was his cellmate. While Baluch was held in chains and was out of his mind from lack of sleep and the effect of drug injections, he was asked to appear at a press conference in which he would state that he was hired by the United States Government to spy on Pakistan nuclear installations.

 

However, Mr. Baluch didn't fit the normal Pakistani mold. He didn't talk about the sensitive information that had been entrusted to him. He was unapproachable as far as bribery was concerned, and when it came time to set an example about people that don't play ball with the Pakistan military, he was chosen as a sacrificial lamb. The Air Force could not bear to have their own personnel caught in the act, and by putting Mr. Baluch away for good, they made a face-saving move, highly typical of the Pakistan Government.

 

The United States has had no luck in negotiating a release for their retainer who had performed so loyally. As a matter of fact, the trial was held in secret and no witnesses were allowed to testify for the victim. The United States could have sprung him had they chosen to apply substantial pressure on the Pakistan Government, but that would have just caused an even greater loss of face for them in the region. Meanwhile, Baluch rots. The United States, for its part, finds it more convenient to pretend that its agent never existed, instead of risking losing Pakistan's friendship.

 

With friends like these, who needs enemies? As in all things Pakistani, everyone usually loses, but the bad guys. The U.S. agent rots in jail, everyone know that the Air Force personnel were moving drugs, but no one cares, the U.S. looks like a paper-tiger and Pakistan once again is able to convey the degree of corruption within the boundaries its country to the entire world.

 

Mahbub ul Haq, the president of the Human Development Center in Pakistan and the country’s Finance Minister between 1982 and 1988, in an editorial appearing in the Financial Times, 8/14/1997, had the following harsh comments about Pakistan’s efforts, "But one sobering truth can be stated bluntly. Pakistan often dreams of becoming an Asian tiger. But no illiterate, feudal society has ever become a tiger of any stripe or color." To that, we may add another truth: when the economy prospers, but ordinary people do not, it is only a matter of time before there is a social explosion.

 

Globally, there is a big movement afoot to attempt to locate the money stolen by dictators that have pilfered national treasuries. It seems that the international community has had enough of watching people starve to death, while their leaders maintain palaces in exotic global locations. Even the banks, such as those in Switzerland, are becoming more cooperative in looking for assets belonging to the people ripped off by these dictators. It is self-evident that if the rewards for graft vanish, then graft itself will dry up. While this may be true in the rest of the world, Pakistan is still a very special place.

 

Benazir Bhutto was the previous Prime Minister and was thrown out of office by the country's current President, who was convinced that substantially more was going into Ms. Bhutto's and her husband's (Asif Ali Zardari) pockets, then was going into the treasury. They were probably correct; but then again, who ever held that office didn't rob the treasury? Bhutto and her husband have been indicted for "wrongdoing in awarding a contract to a Gulf-based company for the import of gold and silver. The government says the treasury suffered a loss of 1.8 billion rupees ($39 million) under the contract that granted a company called ARY Gold a monopoly for the import of gold and silver into Pakistan." Her response, after being indicted, was to state that the case was politically motivated and that one of the sitting judges was upset with her because she would not promote him during her reign as Prime Minister. We would have to agree on all counts.

 

In another case, arrest warrants have been issued for Benazir because she did not appeared to face court charges in this other case. This is a case where she has been charged with receiving money under the table for letting a consortium illegally bring in Polish Tractors into the country. Bhutto's husband has recently been indicted in Switzerland for money laundering, and the Swiss have blocked Bhutto's, her mother Nursrat’s and Zardari's Geneva Bank accounts. Zardari has additionally been charged with corruption under Pakistan's accountability laws and charged with income tax evasion by another court because his holdings exceed the income he reported. This though is only the bottom of the iceberg.

 

The Government of Pakistan believes that former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her family misappropriated a billion dollars and took it from the country illegally. Furthermore, Pakistan has done a workman like job in locating a good deal of it and has determined that nine countries are holding over $1.5 billion. Having isolated its location, authorities are now requesting help for locating the assets so that they may be frozen and returned to Pakistan. The Government has officially filed corruption cases with the country's accountability commission against Benazir, her husband and her mother. Senator Saifur Rehman, head of the Government's accountability commission, said that these cases "reveal accumulation of tremendous wealth by the Bhutto's through commissions and kickbacks."

 

It seems as though the government has really caught Bhutto in the act, because Pakistani Officials have purchased for $1 million a locker full of documents that purportedly were stolen from Ms. Bhutto's family lawyer of many years. These documents are said to contain enough information to send Ms. Bhutto and her family away for the next millennium or more. Strangely, with all of the incriminating evidence that has surfaced, none of the Bhuttos has raised the defense that the documents may be phony or forgeries. Even Mrs. Bhutto's mother seems to have benefited substantially from her daughter's position, which allowed her husband to extort both local and international firms that wanted to business with Pakistan. Jet fighter contracts, customs fraud and precious gem monopolies only scratch the surface of this family's greed.

 

The New York Times devoted three months to an in depth investigation of the documents and in an article released on January 9, 1998, reported that, "Officials leading the inquiry in Pakistan say that the $100 million they have identified so far is only a small part of a windfall from corrupt activities. They maintain that an inquiry begun in Islamabad just after Ms. Bhutto's dismissal in 1996 found evidence that her family and associates generated more that $1.5 billion in illicit profits through kickbacks in virtually every sphere of government activity - from rice deals, to the sell-off of state land, even rake-offs from state welfare schemes." The institutions through which money was channeled read like a who's who of international banking, including Citibank, Union Bank of Switzerland and Barclays.

 

Nevertheless, in spite of stealing everything that wasn't tacked down, the Bhutto family returned to their society substantial sums of money. Why, in 1996 alone, almost $7,000 in taxes was paid by the couple, a sum that the New York Times suggests was less than the weekly interest income from the Swiss accounts. During that period though, only a few $100 million circulated through those international bank accounts. What about 1993 and 1994 taxes? How much did they pay then, one might ask? Well, they didn't pay anything, but it was probably just an oversight because she was busy running the country as Prime Minister, and we all know how much time that takes.

 

There are still several comical punch lines that bear repeating to show the real nature of these virtuous people. When the investigation of the Bhuttos first got under way, it was soon determined that the family had purchased a small property near London for $4 million, before extensive renovation costs. Although caught red handed, in spite of offshore corporations having been set up to disguise the transaction, Bhutto's husband, Zardari said, "How can anyone think of buying a mansion in England when people in Pakistan don't have a roof over their heads?" Bully for Zardari, but he certainly enjoyed living in the mansion.

 

Not to be outdone by her husband's unfettered wit, Ms. Bhutto determined to take on none other than the President of the United States, Bill Clinton as a butt of her humor. She determined that Clinton was devoting too much time worrying about what was going on in Burma, and not enough worrying about her personal affairs and stated, "This is the most horrendous human rights record, what is happening to me, it is shocking to see that the Clinton Administration talks so much about Burma, when this is happening to a woman who leads the opposition here." The Harvard-educated former Prime Minister added that the "Bhuttos have suffered so much for Pakistan," while shedding a tear at the right instant. We certain feel that her sense of humor is the equal of her husband's.

 

Pakistan has a long record of blocking access to bank accounts of international criminals. Additionally, Pakistan has been an historic refuge for witnesses in cases where other governments have requested their extradition. Furthermore, Pakistan has never signed a bilateral agreement in which it agreed to assist another country in instances where crimes have been committed. So what has happened is a form of "the chickens coming home to roost." Although there is nothing that the nations of the world would like more than to have the funds stolen from Pakistan returned, they are somewhat restricted by the lack of cooperation agreements. Eventually, something so important to all concerned will be compromised to everyone’s satisfaction. It is interesting to note for the record that the countries sheltering international criminals are the same nations that will eventually have to deal with Pakistan’s problem.

 

If this did not complicate Benazir Bhutto's life enough, there is the small matter of the murder conspiracy case against her husband, who has been charged with executing Bhutto's own brother. The former Prime Minister's brother was gunned down in Karachi shortly before Bhutto was thrown out of office on the corruption charges. The place where the assassination occurred is not Bhutto territory, and the potentially politically motivated trial has moved the case along a pace that any "police state" would take great pride in. They are asking for the death penalty and, considering the extent they have gone to rig the trial, they may well receive that verdict.

 

The Pakistan Government was ultimately successful in getting aid from Great Britain in determining the facts. Naturally, the Bhutto family attempted to delay the proceeds by stating that one of their attorneys had been prevented by the Pakistan Government from leaving the country and the fact that he would not be available to help them in this case would cause them irreparable harm. It ultimately became known that there was a long running battle between Farook Naek, their attorney, and the Pakistan tax collectors and that there was a substantial amount of income that he had overlooked when filing his tax return. When the English Judge heard that the matter had nothing to do with the dynamic duo, he ordered the proceedings to commence relative to the determination of just how much of the Bhutto’s stolen money they had secreted away in jolly old England.

 

Not every one in Pakistan plays their cards from the top of the deck, even though the matter in England was a strange coincidence. Consider that Bhutto’s successor Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif comes from Punjab, and in his home province he can do no wrong, and in fact can just about do whatever he wants. That was bad news for Benazir Bhutto, since it seems that the High Court of Lahore, which is the capital of Punjab, had some serious questions to ask the lady about her finances. Naturally, Bhutto has applied to have the case moved to the High Court in her hometown of Sindh, a motion that she certainly has no chance of winning. If she shows up at all, they will probably throw her in the pokey and lose the key, and if she doesn’t show up, she is in contempt of court, and they will throw her in the pokey and lose the key. Poor Benazir Bhutto.

 

In spite of all this, Benazir Bhutto remains the leader of the opposition party. Not happy with efforts by the party in power to take away all of her hard earned graft and to execute her husband for such frivolous activities as murdering her brother, Ms. Bhutto is able to get in her licks against her enemies every now and then.

 

But it appeared that as hard as Ms Bhutto fought back, the Government had more ammunition. On March 27, 1998, and an arrest warrant was issued for her by the Special Accountability Court, which charged her with making more than 1,000 illegal appointments to the Pakistan International Airline, which is owned by the government. Not only did Ms. Bhutto publicly admit that the charges were true, but she indicated that this was only the tip of the iceberg and that she would shortly be indicted on other more serious charges. Then she accused the government of wasting millions of dollars on a witch-hunt to get her.

 

 

It seems that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was not happy with the way the country's Supreme Court was functioning and went public with his disgust. The Supreme Court for its part, hit Sharif with contempt charges, which if allowed to stick would have forced his resignation and have sent him to jail. Unrepentant, Nawaz, who had won his office with one of the largest majorities in Pakistani history, twisted Parliament's arm and had a law passed allowing Nawaz and eight other members of Parliament, along with three newspapers, to appeal the Supreme Court’s decision, should they be convicted. Not yet satisfied with his sterling performance, he began rewriting the constitution to de-fang the power of the judiciary, while proposing legislation that will allow the Parliament to charge sitting judges with contempt citations.

 

Sharif was only warming up, for he determined that the Chief Justice's appointment was not constitutionally correct and petitioned the remaining fifteen members of the court to have Saajjad Ali Shah removed from his position. In reprisal for Sharif's attack on the Court, the justices went on strike and closed the court down. Furthermore, Shah obtained a legal opinion, which determined that any session of Parliament that took place to question his appointment would be illegal on its face. The other justices of the Supreme Court have already determined that, at the very least, Shah should not have been appointed Chief Justice because he had little or no tenure. On the other hand, they were all passed over for the position, and most of them have been smarting about that for some time.

 

This decision has created the additional turmoil of causing campaigning among the justices for Shah's Office and has destabilized the entire court. In the meantime, Shah dismissed the current session of his own judges as illegal, and headed off to see President Leghari. Shah had indicated to Leghari what was going on so, the President had the Army Chief of Staff on hand when Shah arrived at Leghari's residence. These talks went nowhere, and predictably the warring Supreme Court justices divided themselves into two adverse factions and were placed under armed guard. If it is possible, the government continued to disintegrate, and the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Abid Hasswan Minto, told reporters that he could no longer be sure who the Chief Justice of was and he was not particularly sanguine about when or if he would ever find out.

 

Sharif still had some other ideas about how to win the political war. He organized a substantial number of his constituents and had them invade the Supreme Court Building while the contempt hearing was on the docket. This caused a hasty postponement and closed down the Court for the day. He also took on President Leghari and blamed him for conspiracies as well. The Muslim League, of which Sharif is the senior member, prepared impeachment papers to have the office of the presidency eliminated.

 

This civil war started when Nawaz alleged that he was the victim of a conspiracy, but his actions brought about a constitutional crisis, which then paralyzed the Pakistani Government. The Supreme Court has become engaged in a hearing to determine what it will do about the legislation Nawaz had enacted, and after they have ruled on that, the high court will determine the penalties for his contempt actions. The betting has been almost 100% on the side of the Supreme Court overturning his constitutional changes and then sentencing him to jail. Meanwhile, Ms. Bhutto cheers from the sidelines.

 

But there was a wild card still in the pack. What all three sides feared the most had now come to pass, and the Army went on alert and canceled all leaves. The Army took the additional ominous precaution of canceling a trip by the head of the United States Central Command to Pakistan. It has exposed a power vacuum between the opposing political parties, and many experts on Pakistan believe that the Army have already made a deal with one side or another. The political parties have called on their followers to take to the streets of Islamabad in protest over one thing or another, but they have yet identify what their followers are supposed to be demonstrating about. The obvious danger was that massive simultaneous demonstrations by these opposing groups will not help construct a peaceful resolution of the political differences. Clearly, the country was headed for some form of martial law or civil strife.

 

The bickering ended when President Leghari resigned under duress and Shah was bounced out of the Supreme Court. The speaker of the Senate has become acting President, a successor to Shah has been appointed Chief Justice and a new election to name a new President has been announced. The stock market rallied on the changes, which were expected to restore calm to the troubled waters. However, one must recognize the system that promoted these changes is constitutionally flawed, or the incident could not have occurred in the first place. Now, with Pakistan's economy even in worse shape than before, no matter who comes out ahead in this battle to the political death, the country will be the big loser, not the politicians.

 

Thus, as we have seen, the Pakistani Government is handling their business in their usual manner: the opposition leader is investigated for corruption and graft, her husband is on trail for murder, the Prime Minister is on trial for contempt, as are his highest ranking cohorts, the President has been removed from office, the Supreme Court is in chaos and the Army is about to make everything else a mute issue. This is "business as usual" in Pakistan.

 

The Prime Minister became deathly afraid of what the Army could do, so when the chief of the military flew into the nation’s capital for a meeting, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif allowed the plane to circle, but not land. The plain became extremely low of fuel, and at this point, people in the control tower indicated that landing permission would not be granted, signaling a death sentence for the head of the military. However, he had grown up among these people and was ready for almost any contingency, so he just had the army take over the airport. His place landed safely, but on gas fumes:

 

On 12 October 1999, the Pakistani army led by General Pervez Musharraf ousted the civilian government headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a coup. The overthrow of a legitimately constituted civilian government by the army for the fourth time in Pakistan's 52-year history has underscored the question of political stability and viability of democracy in the country.

From an arms control and nonproliferation perspective, the military takeover raises significant questions about nuclear stability in South Asia. Concerns within the arms control community have centered around five issues: the removal of civilian filters in the nuclear decision-making process; reported divisions within the higher echelons of Pakistan's armed forces that may impact on the custody of nuclear weapons; whether the replacement of a civilian government with military hardliners will result in the intensification of the sub-conventional war between India and Pakistan in Kashmir, with risks of escalation to the conventional and nuclear levels and nuclear crisis stability; whether the imposition of additional economic sanctions on Pakistan by the United States and international financial institutions will weaken the Pakistani government's commitment to export controls on nuclear, missile, and other dual-use technologies; and finally, Pakistan's commitment to arms control measures such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty."

 

Sharif was taken prisoner, tried for treason and sentenced to death. The military has taken over the country, and Pakistan is now in a state of martial law. The political warfare continues on all fronts, and instead of two warring factions, there are now three:

 

"The Pakistani police, carrying out a clean-up of high-level corruption for the country's new army rulers, have accused ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif of graft worth 100 million dollars, newspapers reported today. ''According to official sources, Nawaz has been charged with money laundering to the tune of 40 million dollars, tax evasion of over 60 million, forgery of 10 million dollars and misuse of public funds and his office for personal benefit,'' the English-language daily The Nation said.

"It said the Federal Investigation Agency had submitted a report to the army rulers, who ousted Sharif on October 12, as part of a vast crackdown on top-level corruption for which Pakistan has become notorious. Sharif has been held in protective custody since the bloodless takeover brought the army back into power. Charges made against Sharif include non-payment of tax on several luxury flats in London's exclusive Mayfair area, defaulting on massive loans made to the family's Littefaq Business Group and profiting from sugar sales to neighboring India."

"Various members of Sharif's cabinet, including his anti-corruption officer, Senator Saifur Rehman, face allegations that they used their power to avoid import taxes and to get huge government contracts at bloated rates. Irshad Ahmed Haqqani, former Information Minister in the caretaker government set up in December 1996 after the ouster of Benazir Bhutto, and also a well-known columnist, wrote in Jang newspaper: ''The accountability of corruption should be quick, ruthless but transparent... a slow, ineffective, accountability setup would not meet people's expectations, nor fulfill national needs.''

"Every government since 1985 has taken power pledging a clean administration and promised to get the rich and powerful to pay tax in a nation of 135 million, where less than two per cent of people pay any income tax at all. The Urdu-language Jangdaily, the country's largest circulation newspaper, wrote in its editorial: ''The people want that the accountability of the corrupt should be meaningful and impartial.''

"Pakistani newspapers again carried large advertisements from banks urging the nation's elite to meet a November 16 army deadline for repayment of bad debt worth more than 200 billion rupees (four billion dollars). ''Pay your loans before the hand of the law forces you to do so with a penalty. Settle your debt before time runs out,'' said one quarter-page insertion by the state-run Habib Bank.

"Allegations of corruption by Sharif are not new, but during his rule the government brushed them aside as lies fabricated by opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and focused its own graft probe on her financial dealings. Benazir Bhutto was convicted this year, with husband Asif Zardari, of massive graft, but she repeated her denials in a BBC interview and said she would be cleared by any independent probe. But she still faces re-arrest on return from exile in London, where she was on a visit when she was convicted for taking kickbacks from a Swiss-based company employed to counter tax evasion."

As we bid fond farewell to Pakistan, we are obligated to revisit some of their statistics. Economists indicate that the relatively GDP high growth rate turned in by the Pakistani economy over the years is more a figment of some bureaucrats fertile imagination. The industries that account for substantive parts of the year-to-year increases are in sectors that cannot be easily tracked, such as small-scale manufacturing. In reality, due to the unrestricted growth of Pakistan's population, the per capita gross national product actually fell by 0.4 per cent in the most recent period. This fact, coupled with a negative growth rate in the major agricultural areas, the government’s seeming inability to collect taxes, declining exports, spiraling inflation brought on by excessive government borrowing and a collapse in large scale manufacturing driven by political instability, are grave causes for alarm when viewing the overall outlook for the country.

 

Not satisfied with the troubles that the country already faces, Pakistan is planning to replace a constitution that has as its foundation the British common law with one based on Islamic Law. The Associated Press quoted human rights worker Asma Jehangir as saying: "In the name of Islam, Nawaz Sharif is trying to perpetuate a fascist rule." Blasphemy, which has only been a potential life sentence will become a mandatory death sentence under the new regulation. The death penalty is now applicable to the possession of illegal weapons. A stop was put to that program when Sharif was forcibly removed from office, but the replacement alternative of martial law is not a much better alternative.

 

The Paris Club was considering the rescheduling of Pakistan's' $2.4 billion debt until Standard and Poor's announced that they had again lowered Pakistan's rating to the abysmal "selective default" category. This was a tad lower than the double "C" rating that the country had been awarded previously. This came in spite of the fact that the IMF had determined to go ahead with a planned release of $575 million that month. If Pakistan's ratings drop any further, they will disappear from sight altogether.

 

The country has been at war with its neighbor, India, since they gained independence and also it has so much internal strife that it cannot deal with its day-to-day affairs, freedom of the press is literally non-existent, as are normal civil rights. People either disappear or are sentenced to death for the flimsiest of reasons, and things are not too likely to change any time soon. The quality of Pakistan's goods continues to be inferior and the working population does not have the training to do better, making exports of manufactured goods impossible. The rich and the farmers pay no taxes, so that the tax burden is shifted disproportionately unto the urban poor and uneducated. Pakistan is no longer a strategic asset in the Cold War and now finds the West uninterested in their affairs.

 

Completing this most unpleasant equation is the fact that the Pakistanis have turned to Afghanistan for comfort, since there is no one else. The Taliban, who are religious fanatics, control almost all of Pakistan's neighbor Afghanistan, and between the two, they have turned the country in the largest cultivator of heroin. Pakistan, though, has kept the drug distribution rights and for the most part the factories that turn the poppies into drugs are located on their side of the border. Pakistan believes that by cultivating this relationship they will have an ally in their ongoing fight with India and they will be able to increase their gross domestic product through the sale of drugs. So far, both concepts have been successfully implemented by Pakistan’s new military government, which has lent a strong hand in both logistics and marketing.

 

Moreover, on one side is the potential oppressive rule from the religious right, while on the left are those that have made an occupation of dipping into to the treasury for their personal gain. Any movement for change is met with arrest and jail time, and the independent press has been effectively muzzled. On the other hand, some serious talks have been conducted by Pakistan leaders with officials from very large and powerful countries who are getting tired of what is going on.

 

Pakistan reacted to that firm message by releasing Sharif, his jailed brother Shahbaz Sharif, former chief minister of Punjab Province, Sharif’s father, his mother and 19 other relatives. Saudi Arabia was willing to take the group upon their release. Sharif had to give up just about everything he owned to the Pakistani Government, and it is possible a deal is just about to made with Bhutto and her husband along the same lines.

 

 

Moenjodaro

While Pakistan is a bit of a mess today, things weren’t always that way. The Indus River System formed one of the richest agricultural producing areas in the world, an area that now makes up both Pakistan and some adjoining countries. Moreover, it is not illogical that this area, which had ample fresh water, rich soil and superb climatic conditions, would attract early settlers to the region. Approximately 3,500 years ago, one of the nomadic tribes based the Indus Valley found the region now called Moen-Jo-Daro ("Mound of the Dead") to their liking and settled in:

 

"The Indus Valley Civilization flourished from 15,000 to 3,000 B.C., making it contemporary with the ancient civilization of Egypt and Mesopotamia. At its height, it comprised at least 400 cities and towns along the Indus and its tributaries, covering most of the present-day Pakistan and stretching northwest as far as modern Kabul and east as far as modern Delhi. The waterways were the main highways connecting the empire, and flat-bottomed barges almost identical to those still in use today plied the rivers from city to city. Few of the cities have been excavated."

The city of Moen-Jo-Daro was not rediscovered until 1922 A.D., which is difficult to believe, considering how populated the valley is today. On the other hand, much of the city was buried under a good deal of earth. When uncovered, it became clear that this was a city of 3½ miles in circumference and was divided into two parts. The first is the hill or mound area, which was man-made, on the western side, and to the east the city proper where the people lived, the artisans worked and the merchants had their stores. The city’s rulers lived on top of the mound so that they could look out and see everything that was going on in their domain. The people, on the other hand, always lived with the knowledge that their leaders were omniscient because of this arrangement.

 

The city proper was surrounded by 35-foot high walls that ran around the entire circumference. These walls were wide enough to support a series of parapets and watch towers. Between these structures was a narrower walkway encompassing the entire length of the wall, on which the soldiers could observe anything that was going on in their vicinity.

 

The largest building on top of the mound was the granary in which the food was stored. It was also kept under the watchful eye of the leaders, and when one of the villagers required food, he was obligated to make a presentation to those on the hill who were running the show. Very rarely would the people be turned down, but it was in this fashion that the chiefs maintained jurisdiction.

 

Located next to the granary were the baths, which were reserved for higher-ups and included a special room just for priests. "Moenjodaro’s residents appear to have practiced a religion similar to Hinduism. They engraved a bull on many of their customs seals, may have worshiped water and sculpted phallic symbols resembling those associated with a Hindu god, Shiva." The baths were superbly constructed, considering the times, and water was delivered into the system by a complex series of elevated water pipes. Moreover, the baths were perfectly waterproof because the early builders used gypsum mortar between the fired bricks and then sealed the compound with bitumen. A most unusual achievement thousands of years ago.

 

There was also an Assembly Hall, where the rulers would call the world’s first "town meetings." Although this wasn’t operated like anything close to a democracy, the people were extremely intelligent and matters of importance, such as their share of the annual grain harvest, were discussed openly. Moreover, the Palace was also located on the mound and was, of course, where the Moenjodaro royalty hung out. There is not much that remains of this structure, but it must have been quite significant, considering the large number of rooms that have been unearthed.

 

Moen-Jo-Daro’s lower city, where the people lived and worked was quite an architectural achievement as well. The municipality was one of the earliest examples of complex urban planning, with the infrastructure meticulously devised in advance. The city proper consisted of twenty-seven square blocks filled with brick structures. All of the streets ran in a straight line and were 9 meters across. At intersections, the opposing arteries ran precisely at right angles to each other. Between the wider lanes were what had to be walking paths that were between 1.5 and 3 meters in width and intricately laid out. The town was divided into equal rectangular blocks, each measuring 360 meters by 240 meters.

 

The shops were separated from the housing so that they could be considered to be one of the world’s first shopping centers, but the reality was even more complex than that. Each different type of business had its own particular location within this business district, so that there would never be a question where something was located. There were shops for metal workers, potters, millers and jewelers. The street corners had small buildings that probably housed either traffic police, sanitation people or the military, and it appears that there was always someone on guard. Once again, this was unquestionably the world’s oldest planned city.

 

All of the homes were surrounded by outsized walls for privacy, and these walls were made of a fired brick. The home’s internal walls were constructed of plaster with bitumen once again used to keep out the elements. Most dwellings had both a courtyard and a second floor with stairs leading to the elevated living quarters; windows were small and in most instances looked out over the courtyard at the rear of the home. These windows were protected against the elements by a wooden or stone grill. All of the residence’s rooms were built to differing dimensions, and it almost appears that they were constructed to order, relative to the size of the family that would be occupying the quarters. The homes were also built with bathrooms that contained complex drainage systems and fresh water. The bathroom floors were constructed of brick, as were the walls. The houses also contained rubbish bins, and it is believed that municipal workers made regularly scheduled pickups of refuse. Almost all of these concepts were unique to the people of Moen-Jo-Daro.

 

‘The town’s women were most elegant and, "Women wore short skirts, dressed their hair in high and sophisticated coiffures and adorned themselves with jewelry – hair pins, earrings and many strings of necklaces made of carnelian, agate, faience, ivory , cowrie shells and gold."

Excess rainwater was collected by a series of brick drains that at times of heavy rainfall could be blocked due to floating debris. Cleaning out this occasional mess may have been another of the odd jobs that were assigned to the men in the small houses at the ends of the blocks. However, the city’s drainage system, which also contained a system of pipes, was probably was the envy of everyone in the neighborhood. Even by today’s standards, this collection and removal system was incredibly efficient, and it was undoubtedly substantially before its time, relative to the entire rest of the world.

 

The people of Moen-Jo-Daro had many skills, and one of their preeminent talents was making pottery. Their craftsmanship was outstanding, and they used materials unique for their time. The coloring they used had an extremely bright quality and were skillfully used to paint images of contemporary life. The vases and other art forms were baked over low heat for long periods of time, with quality of workmanship being far more important than mass production. These artisans sculpted models of birds, steatite seals, vessels of metal, earth and stone goblets, clay figures of humans and animals, as well as toys and games.

 

Moreover, these people were innovators in the field of weights and measures, having created an advanced standardization system. As incredible as it may seem for such an ancient time, it appears that all materials used in construction had to meet certain requirements. The town’s royalty insisted that everything employed in these structures follow intricate quality control measures, and the artisans that did not follow the criteria to the letter were ostracized. The most fascinating part of their use of weights and measurers was the fact that the system was both binary and decimal, something unheard of in the world until our very own 20th Century.

 

Furthermore, these people were excellent seamen, and they had a fleet of flat-bottomed boats (which were best for traveling the Indus River) on which they plied the nearby rivers and oceans with agricultural and manufactured products for trade with their neighbors. It was this trade that brought substantial wealth to the Moen-Jo-Daro Empire. Their flotilla also provided a simple method of re-supplying outlying outposts of the country without having to make an overland trek, something that was usually very difficult. In addition, many of them excelled in hunting, going after such game as the indigenous gazelle and rhinoceros. Both of these animals presented extremely difficult targets, especially considering the small choice of weapons available at the time. We are not aware of anything heavy and agile enough to make a dent in a charging rhino, nor the bows and arrows that would be required to bring down the smaller and fleeter game. Obviously, to have become accomplished hunters of game as difficult as these must have required weapons that we have not uncovered yet.

 

A process that must have been most interesting to watch would have been the city’s merchants loading their products onto two-wheel carts, which took them down to the waiting boats where they loaded their goods. These boats, in turn, had probably just pulled in and were in the process of unloading cotton and grain. The sight, at least at that time, must have been an awesome experience. In addition, based on analyses of coins and pottery from the archaeological site, most people involved in the restoration believe that substantial trade and cultural links were firmly in place among Moenjodaro and Mesopotamia and Egypt.

 

"The economy was based on irrigated cultivation of wheat, cotton and other crops, as well as extensive trade with other Indus cities, Mesopotamia and Egypt. A customs house, perhaps the word’s first, used stone seals to stamp shipments. Because the script on the stamps has not been deciphered, much mystery surrounds the identity of Moenjodaro’s inhabitants, where they came and why after 700 years they abruptly abandoned the city in about 1800 B. C."

 

There were a great many unique characteristics of this civilization, as they had developed a technically advanced form of the wheel, were able to domesticate animals for farming, had created harnesses by which to control the beasts of burden pulling two-wheeled cart for riding and transporting merchandise. These animals and vehicles were also used extensively in plowing the fields, planting the crops and harvesting produce in the late summer and early fall. The granaries were built on the high ground at the wish of the rulers, and if it were not for that decision, the occasional flooding of the fields would have wiped out both the crop and the city’s grain reserves. If it were not for the beasts of burden and the carts, it probably would have been too immense a job to reach the elevated granaries manually.

 

Because this was a city of great wealth, nomadic peoples started to encroach on Moenjodaro’s once massive empire. Many of these nomads were warlike and toward the end of this civilization, it seemed always to be caught up in one battle or another. In order to protect its flanks, Moen-Jo-Daro pulled in and established smaller and more defensible positions.

 

In earlier times, the Indus River actually ran beneath the city’s walls. Because of that fact, it abetted the flooding hazard during periods of extended rain. In order to insulate the city against this potential, a one-mile long embankment was erected, insuring that the river could not overflow its banks and inundate the city. Over the years, the river changed its course and now is found nearly three-miles away.

 

In spite of the best efforts of the city’s builders and a highly complex drainage system, in later years, monsoons and hurricanes inundated the city. This also tended to destroy, bit by bit, the complex and delicate infrastructure. Apparently, as this occurred on each occasion, the city was rehabilitated, but less care was taken in it’s rebuilding. These events, in turn, ultimately led to the demise of the city.

 

It appears that a severe blockage finally occurred, preventing the Indus River from running into the sea. This was caused by exceptionally violent rains, which in turn carried large objects into the river blocking its progress. The Indus River blocked up and then backed up into the entire valley, flooding and causing a great loss of life. This was probably the cause of Moen-Jo-Daro’s demise, and the people left alive after that catastrophe, moved out in approximately 1,500 B.C. Thus, people had lived in this one area for almost 2,000 years before the elements eventually got the better of them.

 

There is an incredible effort underway to restore the city to its past brilliance, but as has happened in other cases, the restorers face different challenges than those conquered by the builders. The city’s artisans were extremely adept at sophisticated flood control techniques, but those technologies tend to back up on you when the engineers have pulled up stakes and moved out to other areas. The water table in has risen dramatically (it is now just about six or seven feet under the land’s surface), and the entire excavation stands a serious risk of becoming a tributary of the Indus River. Work on alternative drainage techniques has stumbled, mainly because of bureaucratic incompetence. Before proper controls can be installed, this ancient city could well be history. This historically high water table has already taken a substantial toll on the city that was found buried in the first place. The metallurgical residue is left on these monuments, but encroaching and receding water has probably taken more of a toll than these aged frescos can bare.

 

As it should have been, the quickly aging archaeological remains of Moenjodaro have been listed by Unesco in their World Heritage List and remains their prime example of town planning and flawless drainage and water supply schemes.

 

"The Authority for Preservation of Moen-Jo-Daro (APM), which was created after a thorough study and under the recommendations of some of the reputed international experts in 1972, was misguided by these trainee foreign archaeologist who received fame due to their experience on Moen-Jo-Daro, the local archaeologist said. The APM was dissolved in 1997 because of its failure to produce the desired results. ‘The APM ignored its ‘actual’ task of conservation, as all its attention was focused on making the spurs, digging the drain and sinking the tube-wells which further ruined the monuments,’ said Dr. Muhammad Rafiq Mughal, a former Director General of the Department of Archaeology. The fired-brick structures of the remains have been facing danger of depletion since their excavation in 1992 because of continuous rise in underground water which caused saline action on bricks."

"To save the already opened structures from this natural calamity, the Pakistani Government, in collaboration with Unesco, had chalked out the Master Plan for implementing it, and an autonomous body-APM-was created in 1972. Besides this, an international campaign was launched to collect funds from all over the world. This foreign-funded APM has ceased to work since September 1997, and the Master Plan has been shelved without achieving its target. All 27 tube wells around the monuments have been closed, and most of the APM staff has been sacked because the funding agencies like Unesco and a Japanese Trust Fund have refused to further fund the project under APM."

From this, it is obvious that Unesco thought the Moenjodaro project was of substantial importance, and they and a Japanese Trust Fund sunk substantial amounts of money into trying to save the site. The Pakistan Government, which of course exercised control over whatever went on in their country, picked the folks that would run the project. They seem to have selected their archeologists and engineers the same way they picked their government officials. They sent bureaucrats instead of experts, they sent children instead of grownups and they made what was an already deteriorating situation a hundred times worse.

 

Indeed, the Pakistani’s screwed up this project so badly that, in spite its historically and archeological significance, they lost the support of the rest of the world in preserve this truly incredible edifice. The world community has no interest in pursuing this restoration as long as the bumbling Pakistani’s continue to be involved. We certainly hope that the Pakistan Government gains control of their senses before this archeological garden becomes part of the Indus River.

 

In the meantime, there doesn’t seem to be a charge for visiting the site, and there are no guards on the property. Pits currently being excavated containing 5000 year-old artifacts are literally there for the picking. There are Pakistani people around in charge of cleaning up the grounds after the tourists depart, but there are no guides and no one seems to give a hoot. There is no transportation to and from the site, and though this is one of the most outstanding examples of early civilization in the entire history of the world, no body is minding the store.

 

Morocco

 

Of all of the places on earth, Morocco must be rated as one of the most interesting. The country is blessed with multiple climatic zones and wondrous cities, beautiful mountains and sand filled beaches. For the most part, the government is benevolent, and the country to a large degree has prospered. Located in northern Africa and with the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean on its western and northern borders, respectively, Morocco is strategically situated directly across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain and next to Algeria and Mauritania on its eastern and southern borders. It has a land area just slightly greater than California. The population is more than 30 million people, based on the most recent estimates, and almost all of them are Muslims. There is reasonable literacy, and the form of government is that of a constitutional monarchy.

 

The capital is Rabat, located near the fabled city of Casablanca, and until March 2, 1956, Morocco was part of the French colonial system. For almost forty years, the country was ruled by King Hassan II, who became king upon the death of his beloved father, King Mohammed V, who was considered the first modern ruler of Morocco. Hassan II died only recently, and the torch passed to his highly educated and even more liberal son. Although Hassan had many positive attributes, he could not tolerate any reservations relative to the absolute power he exercised. You might call it a rather short fuse. The instance of Fatima Oufkir and her family received international attention:

 

"The Oufkirs are victims of vengeance at its most perverse. Fatima Oufkir’s husband, General Mohammed Oufkir, was Morocco’s Defense Minister when air force leaders unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate King Hassan II on August 16, 1972. General Oufkir was accused of complicity and the next day was found shot dead. Four days later, Fatima, now 54, the six Oufkir children, who now range in age from 21 to 37, and Fatima’s cousin, Achoura Chenna, 54, were put under house arrest and have been held since then without explanation, charge or trial in various houses and farms. From 1974 to 1977, the family was reportedly kept in almost total darkness. For the next ten years, they were held incommunicado in separate, windowless cells. In the past few years, the conditions of the family’s detention have improved. In 1987, King Hassan agreed to let them immigrate to Canada but then reneged on the deal." ()

 


Morocco has a Prime Minister and a bicameral Parliament, which consists of an upper house called the Chamber of Counselors. This Chamber consists of 270 members elected for nine-year terms and are more like the House of Lords in England, as the members are appointed and not elected. The Chamber is more of a brain trust than anything else and is made up of the top professionals in the country. Additionally, there is a Chamber of Representatives consisting of 325 seats, and this Chamber resembles our House of Representatives in that they are elected by popular vote from various districts for five-year terms.

 

While the legislative portion of the government has a realistic tinge of democracy in its actions, the judicial branch does not. The country’s top court, naturally, is called the Supreme Court, and the judges are appointed on the recommendation of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary, presided over by the king. In this instance, the king always gets his way, and there is no oversight regarding the Council's decisions.

 

Morocco is the world’s largest exporter of phosphates, but the country is primarily agrarian with a gross domestic product of $107 billion and a per capita income of $3,500 in 1997. It is the world's second largest exporter of citrus fruits. Although growth has been steady and adequate, it has not been explosive; thus, the unemployment rate has been an inadequate 16%. The country’s unemployment is directly tied to the fact that modernization is taking place throughout the agricultural area, and far less people are needed to manage the farms. As a result, there has been an exodus from the farms to the country’s large cities, and such places as Casablanca are just about ready to explode.

 

The primary recipient for Moroccan exports is the European Union, and Morocco imports the majority of their domestic needs from the EU as well. The currency, called the dirham, is freely exchangeable and has been relatively stable over the last several years.

 

Moreover, Morocco will be the first nation in North Africa to have a nuclear power plant, thanks to a trade deal worked out with the Chinese Government. The entire transaction will encompass cooperation within the fields of textiles and fishing. This nuclear plant will be a modest 10-megawatt facility and will be used primarily for desalinization of seawater for agricultural purposes. Khalid Alioua, a government official, told a concerned news conference that, "It will be a small nuclear plant to generate electricity and will be under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

 

China is beginning to make major investments in Morocco and has already put money into seventeen fishery joint ventures deploying a total of sixty-four fishing boats. Moroccan Ambassador to China, Mimoun Mehdi, when asked about this sudden interest that China is showing in things Moroccan, said, "Great potential exists in the Sino-Moroccan economic relationship. My ambition for Sino-Moroccan economic links is as big as the dimensions of the friendship between the two countries." What Mehdi was referring to was the fact that relations between Morocco and China date back to the 12th Century, and it is believed that China will be concentrating next on the underutilized Moroccan mining industry, especial phosphate production. It should be noted that China is one of the world's largest users of fertilizer, and phosphate is the key ingredient.

 

 

Probably the longest running war in the world today is the one where opposing armies have starred each other down in the sweltering heat of the Western Sahara. The opposing parities are the Moroccans, with 100,000 fully trained, well-equipped and sitting in the "high ground" behind heavily fortified positions, and the Polisano Front, with 20,000 guerillas that are armed with literally nothing more than small arms. Because of this insurgency problem in the Western Sahara, Morocco has devoted a relatively large amount of the government’ budget (almost $1 billion per year) to military spending to fight the Polisano Front rebels in that area. In recent years, there has been some optimism that this situation is cooling off and under United Nations auspicious could even be solved. Morocco’s new leadership will probably bring a more flexible bargaining position to the negotiating table.

 

The difference between the two is that Morocco's 100,000 soldiers do not like to be where they are one bit and the Polisano rebels call the Western Sahara home. They have been able to fight everyone that has come at them to a standstill for over 24 years and indicate that if they must do it for another 20 years, then that it Allah's wish.

What is at stake in this land that is twice the size of England is a lot of phosphate and substantial deposits of oil. The only thing keeping the two sides away from each other are the troops supplied by the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). The United Nations has held these two sides at bay for an uneasy eight years.

 

Spain had attempted to exert control over the area since 1884, when they claimed parts of the Western Sahara as a protectorate, and as the years wore on, the Spanish extended their claims in what is a now part of Morocco. It wasn't until 1934 that Spain did move into most of the region they claimed, but were meet by fierce resistance by the people that populated the territory. The French, who had their own reasons for seeing the region pacified, came to Spain's aid. The two countries were able to occupy the strategic points in the interior. Spain, in spite of promising the United Nations in 1966 that they would allow self determination in the Western Sahara, pulled out of the area in 1975 and invited Morocco and Mauritania to assume control.

 

Naively, both countries believed that Spain say it was so made it fact. However, when the two nations attempted to exercise control over the Western Sahara, the Sahawari people (the "Polisario") rose up as one to defend their land against the "invaders." Both sides fought each other to a standstill with substantial bloodshed being the result. Mauritania grew tired when they determined subjugating the Polisario was a hopeless cause when the Polisario fighters threatened to disrupt critical rail and road links inside Mauritania.

 

Thus, Morocco moved into the territory that the Mauritanians evacuated and were left to fight the battle alone. By this time, King Hassan II had been the subject of several coup attempts and saw this situation as a method of distracting the army. He proceeded to make the incorporation of the Western Sahara into Morocco a national issue. Being a great public relations expert, he gathered a force of 350,000 civilians and marched into the Western Sahara. He called his parade the "Green March," but in spite of this terrific public relations ploy, the International Court of Justice voted in favor of independence for the Western Sahara.

 

The Polisario fighters declared themselves independent at that point and were surprisingly recognized on a formal basis by more than half of the members of the Organization for African Unity (OAU), of which Morocco was a member, and when they were formally inducted into the organization, Morocco left in protest. Ultimately Morocco determined that it could not dislodge the Polisario and built a fortified wall or "berm" the entire length of the field of engagement. When the United Nations stepped in, the Moroccans just hunkered down behind their protective enclosure and there they sit.

 

The Sahawari People believe firmly that this is their God-given territory, and Mohammed Abdelaziz, the President of the Sahawari Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), said recently, "the SADR has the legitimate right to take up arms again to defend its inalienable rights and its national sovereignty in the Western Sahara." Finally, Morocco agreed to leave it to the inhabitants to decide who should ultimately rule the territory and allowed for a referendum under the auspices of the United Nations.

 

Sounds simple doesn't it; well, think again. With unemployment running close to 20% in Morocco, the wily Interior Minister, Driss Basri, began moving extraneous Moroccans into the territory in preparation for the vote. The SADR was limited to just under 80,000 votes, because that was the population when Spain evacuated, so it appears the Moroccans could pack the deck against the SADR. The vote was simple, for the voter either voted for independence and self-rule, or they vote to become part of greater Morocco. Morocco has been stacking the deck for a while, pushing the referendum forward in time as they move settlers into the region.

 

Morocco has been able to defer the Sahawari's since 1992 and if wasn't for the U. S. Secretary of State, James Baker’s cajoling of both sides nothing would be even happening now.

 

Morocco deferred the Sahawari’s since 1992, and they have used every cease fire to add to their already prodigious fortifications, occasionally dropping a bomb or so on a few hapless Sahawari's or torturing the one that accidentally wound up behind their lines. For the most part, this has not changed the Sahawari's resolve, and they have remained determined adversaries in the face of overwhelming material and personal odds.

 

The Sahwari are indeed an interesting race, being descended from a number of various tribes and containing a bit of Bedouin Arabs (Beni Hassan), a touch of black African slaves and a dash of Sanhaja Berbers. In the midst of a furious war, they have raised their overall literacy as a group from 5% to 95%. While the United Nations and other relief agencies have contributed immeasurably to the Saharawi cause, they have been able to make the desert blossom and are rapidly becoming self sufficient. The children attend schools of advanced education throughout Europe and they even have set up institutions of higher learning in their own territory. They have erected underground hospitals and have created a free healthcare system for all of their people.

 

Although fiercely Muslim, women have been allowed to take part in every part of society, including the military. The women have the same rights as their men when it comes to marriage and divorce. There are no formal places of worship, and the people are more interested in liberation than religion.

 

 

Another thorn in Morocco’s side is Spain, which controls five different areas on or near the northern coast of Morocco. Morocco believes that all these properties belong to them, but have indicated repeatedly that they will not go to war with Spain over their possessions. Because of its strategic location, Morocco has also become an unwilling transit point for hashish and cocaine destined for Western Europe. The country has had to divert substantial resources to deal with this problem as well.

 

As the years progress, Morocco will become a tourist Mecca, simply because it has all of the accoutrements. The "Imperial Cities" of Marrakech, Rabat, Fez and Meknes are all delights, and one needs not do anything more than spend a day in any of their town square's to see an endless procession of interesting spectacles. Accommodations have improved dramatically over recent years, and one of the lesser known highlights of a trip to Morocco has become the proverbial "dig" in the relic and gem fertile Atlas Mountains. Numerous important ecological finds have occurred in recent years, and it is a standard jumping off place for archeological teams from all over the globe. The Atlas Mountains have also been popular for hiking and camping.

 

Many of the Moroccan people are tri-lingual, with Arabic being the national language, French being the historic language and English being the language of commerce. The land that is now Morocco was originally inhabited by the Berbers, but in 681, the Arabs invaded the country and used it as a foundation to spread both the Arab language and Islam throughout sub-Saharan Africa and Europe. Using Morocco as the logical strategic jumping off point, they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and occupied both Spain and Portugal. However, in life turnabout is fair play, and both Spain and Portugal returned the favor in the seventeenth century by occupying parts of Morocco. In 1912, Morocco became a French protectorate, while Spain continued to occupy parts of both the north and south of Morocco. France granted Morocco independence in 1956, and most of the land that Spain was occupying was also turned over to the Moroccan government.

 

Morocco has also had problems with other of its neighbors, and its border with Algeria has been closed for over ten years with an estimated loss to the Moroccan economy of approximately $2 billion per year. The newly elected president of Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, came to call when King Hassan II died. With fresh leadership in both countries, it may be possible to resolve tensions between Algeria and Morocco. The possible resumption of relations between Algeria and Morocco would eliminate a major Saharawi ally, and with their other major benefactor, Libya, becoming more conservative, it looks like an excellent time for compromise.

 

However, the referendum is not the answer, and face-to-face negotiations between the parties will be the only way to settle the issues. It is just possible that the young king is just the one to pull it off. One of the major problems facing both sides in this conflict is the fact that the peacekeeping mission is costing the United Nations a fortune, while nothing is happening to move things forward. The United Nations patience is getting thin, and if their forces are withdrawn, the war will undoubtedly start again. This time though, with Morocco's new king in the saddle, the outcome may be very different then it was before.

 

 

Other problems may not be so easily addressed. Morocco was a major beneficiary of Western aid over the years since it gained its independence, primarily because of its strategic position at the mouth of the Mediterranean. But instead of using the money to create infrastructure, the country used it for defense outlays. This was viewed as a necessity at the time, considering the restless nature of Morocco’s neighbors. However, because of that fact, today some 85% of Moroccan Government outlays cover salaries and payment on foreign debt, which is among the highest in the Arab world.

 

With little infrastructure development and not considered as strategic as it once was, Morocco has recently been placed in the difficult position of having to fend for itself. While certain funding was promised by friendly countries as grants when the new King ascending the throne, the amounts are miserly when taking into account all the catch-up that the country has to do. Morocco is also caught in a viscous circle with the long serving Interior Minister, Driss Basri, holding the key. He is second in command after the king, but he has not been a believer in increased democracy and is paranoid about internal security.

 

Basri can be blamed for the lack of transportation, good roads and new schools because of his belief that the country’s enemies were hiding under every rock. Thus, if history is any gauge of the future, Basri, a dyed in the wool hard-liner, will continue to stand in the way of Morocco taking their rightful place in the democratic global society. Driss Basri has a firm grasp of the situation in Morocco and his views have held the country back. Should young Mohamed break with Basri, he will lose a powerful right arm but in the process; if he is good enough, Morocco could well become the leader of the Arab world. We will await events. It is unlikely that the young king will oppose Basri’s anti-diluvium ideas, so the manifest destiny of Morocco will have to await his demise.

 

In the meantime, Morocco does offer free education to all of its people for as long as they wish to stay in school. The country may soon be faced with an internal power keg as this more educated class, which has by in large gravitated to the larger cities like Casablanca, determines that they do not want to wait until the next generation to have a better life. If Morocco continues to make concessions to the old guard without addressing the concerns of the young, they will soon be facing the exact self-fulfilling prophecy that Basri is so concerned about.

 

The recently deceased King of Morocco was his own man and ran the country in his own way. Although the country appeared nominally democratic, whatever advances accomplished, were made at the sole discretion of the King. He dealt with countries that were ostracized within in his Arabic-oriented world as he pleased, and his relationship with Israel was curious to say the lest. He had been a very important factor in attempting to bring peace to the Middle East, and he was well aware of the dangerous potential consequences of his actions.

 

At times, he was frivolous with his generosity. Mobutu Sese Seke literally had become a pariah once he was dethroned, wandering from country to country looking for a place to take him in. By the time King Hassan II found him at his doorstep, Mobutu had an advanced case of prostrate cancer, and in spite of world opinion, he took made sure that Mobutu got the best of care. Mobutu died several months later in Morocco.

 

When the King died, in honor of his death, almost 8,000 prisoners were pardoned and released and another 40,000 are having their sentences substantially reduced. The Moroccan prison system has not gotten any kudos from international welfare agencies for either their humane treatment of inmates or the number of reformed citizens they turn out. In addition, many of the freed prisoners are from the outlawed Islamic group, Adl Wal Ihasan ("Justice and Spirituality"). This group represents hope for the common man and because such a high percentage of Moroccans live under the poverty line, this group, which gives them hope, has attracted a substantial number of converts. Releasing many of the leaders of this was both gutsy and dangerous, particularly when you consider that one of their mandates is overthrow of the government. The young King has made a valiant beginning, and in his first address to his people, he said that he wanted to continue to build a free and open country, "So that (can) we achieve the things we all aspire to, we must work together hand in hand."

 

Many foreigners were also released from jail, for the most part contraband and drug dealers who are now back on the streets of Morocco’s large cities peddling their wares. As we pointed out earlier, because of Morocco's strategic geographical location, it has become an ideal spot to transship hashish and cocaine into Western Europe. We hope that in his exuberance to honor his father, the young King didn't open Pandora's box. While his gestures played well in the press, the chickens will probably come home to roost in the not to distant future.

 

Although Morocco did not start out as a place where the population used drugs, the enormous proliferation of cocaine, hashish and kif (marijuana) for transshipment has taken its toll. On many of the country's highways dealers stand alongside of the road openly selling their wares. Enforcement has been lax, and a substantial portion of the money paid for transshipment has wound up in the nation's coffers. Thus, there are few arrests, and drugs for the most part are dealt in openly.

 

The Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs of the Department of State of the United States in March of 1997 released the following report, which should be of interest to all:

 

"Morocco is a major producer and exporter of cannabis. Although statistics vary widely, it is estimated that over 2,000 million tons are exported annually to Europe, where it is consumed as hashish. In recent years, considerable international publicity has highlighted Morocco's status as one of the world's primary producers of cannabis. To combat this negative publicity, the Moroccan Government (GOM) devoted significant resources to interdiction efforts in 1996. During a campaign to eliminate corruption, contraband and drug smuggling, the GOM claims to have broken up 12 drug networks and arrested several of their leaders. Despite the campaign, producers and large-scale traffickers still operate due to budgetary constraints on enforcement and widespread corruption. Morocco is a signatory to the 1988 UN Convention.


Morocco is among the world's largest producers of cannabis. Its cultivation and sale provide the economic base for much of northern Morocco, where up to 85,000 hectares are devoted to cannabis production. Most of the cannabis produced in Morocco is processed into hashish, resin, or oil and exported to Algeria, Tunisia and Europe. Estimates of the portion of the crop consumed domestically range from 15 to 40 percent. Cannabis from Morocco does not enter the US in sufficient quantities to have a significant effect. Cannabis is typically exported in motor vehicles that cross into southern Spain and France on ferries. Small fishing boats are another common means of transportation. European authorities report that between 70-80 percent of all cannabis seized on the continent is of Moroccan origin."


While cannabis (known locally as "kif") is the traditional drug of choice for Moroccans, there is also a small but growing domestic market for harder drugs, such as heroin and cocaine. In addition, these drugs reportedly enter Morocco for transshipment to Europe. Newspaper reports on Morocco's role as a major producer and exporter of drugs indicate a connection between local drug traffickers and international cartels such as Latin American cocaine rings. However, there are few seizures of hard drugs to substantiate these reports.


The proceeds from narcotics exports are easily repatriated. The Government of Morocco makes no serious effort to trace drug or contraband money; in fact, there are no laws against money laundering that would enable the Government of Morocco to prosecute offenders effectively. Much of the revenue is invested in real estate, especially in northern Morocco, where drug money is an important source of income and has supported a construction boom. However, as increasing numbers of office and apartment buildings sit unoccupied, drug traffickers are reportedly searching for new investment opportunities."

 

Early in the year, the Government of Morocco launched a clean-up campaign to combat corruption, contraband and drug smuggling. Although the government claims to have broken up drug rings and prosecuted several leaders of drug networks, authorities have not taken serious action against producers, and the campaign ended in the fall. During the first half of 1996, the GOM arrested and prosecuted over 300 suspects on narcotics charges and seized 15 million tons of cannabis resin. During the summer, the government created a development agency for the northern territories, which produced an action plan for economic development and crop substitution. The agency plans to use funding promised by the European Union (EU) and others to finance its programs. However, the Government of Morocco has not yet met EU requirements that would allow the funds to be released. In January, the GOM created a Coordination Unit for the Struggle Against Drugs (UCLAD), which, as part of the Ministry of Interior, is charged with coordinating anti-drug efforts. The Parliament created a fact-finding commission to investigate narcotics-related issues.


As part of an anti-drug initiative launched by King Hassan in 1992, 10,000 police were detailed to drug interdiction efforts in the north, especially the Rif mountains. Two hundred checkpoints are scattered throughout the region. Royal Army soldiers staff hundreds of observation posts along the Mediterranean coast, and the Navy carries out routine sea patrols and responds to sightings by the observation posts. In addition, Morocco expanded its cooperation with European law enforcement, increasing the number of foreign drug enforcement officers working with Moroccan counterparts.

 

Most Moroccan cannabis is cultivated by small farmers in the northern Rif mountain region, although some is also grown in the Souss Valley in the south. Unofficial sources estimate that from 80,000 to 85,000 hectares are devoted to cannabis production and that this number has increased by a factor of ten in the last decade. European experts report that, due to record rainfall in 1996, the area under cultivation increased by almost ten percent. The average hectare of cannabis produces two to eight million tons of raw plant. The government has stated that it is committed to the total eradication of cannabis production. Given the economic dependence of the northern part of the country on cannabis, however, eradication is only feasible if accompanied by a highly subsidized crop substitution program. Unfortunately, the GOM has not yet made a serious attempt at eradication.

 

 

On the other hand, local residents for the most part do not have the money necessary to purchase anything from the roadside dealers, so their customers remain primarily tourists on holiday. The government has promised to clean up this problem, but as of this date, no results have been apparent and of the few drug dealers in Moroccan jails, most were released by the new King on his assumption of the crown.

 

For whatever it was worth, the situation continued to deteriorate and the Abderrahim Benmoussa, Morocco's representative to the United Nations told the 42nd Session of the UN Drug Commission in Vienna in March, 1999, that Morocco is dedicated to reducing and ultimately eradicating the growing of illegal drugs. He said all of the right things and talked about making life tough on drug dealers, adopting the right kind of laws and the creation of drug addict detoxification centers, along with shelters for homeless children caused by the drug trafficking. He also discussed the creation of development projects and activities to substitute for the drug culture in Morocco.

 

In spite of the fact that drug production and transshipment in Morocco has been on the rise, he deplored the fact that Morocco has received no international recognition for their results to date. He praised France and Spain for swapping Moroccan debt to finance development projects in northern Morocco and invited all Morocco's creditors to convert some of Morocco's debt into investment projects in areas where the drugs are harvested. Morocco may be asking for forgiveness of debt and investment in exchange for dropping their hash dealings, which is like saying, "If you start lending money to us, we will stop robbing your banks."

.

 

While Morocco certainly isn't the most troubled country in the world, it certainly isn't the least troubled either. Unemployment, drug smuggling, drought and religious fanaticism all are constant concerns. Thirty-five year old Mohamed the VI (also known as "Sisi Mohamed") did not get a lot of on-the-job training from his dad, and many are now wondering whether he is up to the very difficult task lying ahead. His interests were no different than others his age that had money, including women (Mohammed is unmarried), fast cars, nightclubs and literature took up much of his time. We would think that his interests were no different then that of his father's at the same age. He showed little or no interest in become skilled at the process of running the country while he was growing up, and his dad, not one to share power, spent little time showing him the ropes. To some degree, this is a most unusual transition, especially in a part of the world where leaders take succession very seriously. A visionary in so many respects, Hassan II may have screwed up in the most important area of his country's future by not grooming his successor.

 

Interestingly enough, Mohamed and Jordan's King Abdullah are close friends, and both are going to be getting a lot of on-the-job training on a rush basis in the near future. On the other hand, Abdullah's father knew that he was going to die and was able to pave the way in many important areas for his son to ascend to power. At the last minute, he removed every conceivable obstacle from Abdullah's path. This will make a world of difference as the transition evolves.

 

Mohamed is no dummy though, and he speaks French, Arabic, English and Spanish and earned a law degree from a French University. He was an intern at both the European Commission in Brussels and the United Nations. It is hoped that he will be able to determine which of his father's advisors can most effectively help him guide Morocco into the 21st Century. In the meantime, Mohamed's first official correspondence upon taking the thrown was to review a memorandum from Amnesty International that asked the King to improve his country's human rights record by moving to restrain illegal detentions and torture.

 

The memo referred to the fact that Amnesty International was aware of 900 people who had disappeared during recent years while in custody and of a high number of deaths that occurred while prisoners were in custody, as well. Although Amnesty International didn’t say it, these people usually died as a result of various forms of torture being performed on them. The Islamic Observation Center's International Commission on Human Rights, a London-based organization, appraised the Moroccan Government that people seemed to be disappearing from Moroccan Jails and were never heard from again. The organization called for, "International pressure to force Morocco to declare the names of those responsible for human rights violations and bring them to public trial. A commission of inquiry composed of Moroccan and foreign groups should be set up to investigate the conditions of prisoners in Moroccan detention centers. "

 

These two organizations are not the only ones crying for justice, as nearly every international human rights agency has found something wanting in the Government of Morocco’s conduct. Among the problems sited were the treatment of women, the treatment of prisoners and the treatment of religious leaders. Rights groups have come out against torture in Moroccan jails, as well as the conditions that existed in them.

 

Before King Hassan II died, he appeared to be making an attempt to rectify some of these problems. He set up the Consultative Council for Human Rights (CCDH) to look into these claims and vowed "once and for all" to clear Morocco's human rights record. The King gave instructions to CCDH to start looking for those that had vanished, but before many answers had been received, he died. The world can have some hope that his son will carry on with this worthy cause.

 

Hassan II as a young man accompanied his father, the late King Mohammed V, to the Allies’ Casablanca Conference in 1943, where he meet with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, with whom he established a warm relationship. During this period, Morocco was a French Protectorate and, therefore, strongly in the allied camp. For a brief period, Morocco came under Vichy domination, but King Mohammed V rebelled against Petain’s directives to install anti-Jewish regulations, and much to his credit, caused Petain to back down.

 

Interestingly enough, Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States, which they did in 1786 by signing a treaty of friendship authored by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. The warmth between the two countries continued, and in 1820 the United States Government was uniquely presented with an opulent palace in Tangier, which has been in continuous usage by the American consul in that city.

 

Moroccan women must deal with a Koran that is fairly strictly interpreted. Women are treated in Morocco as though they are inferior to men and only can inherit a half share in share of an estate (they are treated as minors for this purpose). Moreover, they need permission from a close male relative to marry and can be dismissed (divorced and thrown out of the house) by their husbands at any time. Divorce by repudiation is always an ominous threat that hangs over every Muslim marriage. The man can dissolve a marriage at any time and must only give his wife three months to find a new place to live.

 

But these are your normal Moroccan women, what about those that get pregnant out of wedlock either by their own volition or because of rape? These women are usually disowned by their families, the babies are not allowed to take the family name, the police have little or no interest whether they were raped or not, there are no abortions and there are no social services for the children or the mother

 

Thus, Moroccan women have been trying to find a middle ground when it relates to religious customs and practices, but the movement is fragmented. For every "modern" woman, there is one who would rather have the Koran interpreted conservatively. One of the other problems where there is no consensus is the Muslim position on polygamy, which is permissible in Morocco..

 

 

The fate of the country now resides in the hands of the new young King. The country's problems are numerous, but its assets are substantial. The country has the potential for nearly unlimited expansion in mining, agriculture, fishing and tourism, and if its problems with Algeria and the Polisario can be resolved, Morocco should be able to take their place as an example of modernization to the rest of the Arab world. The hurdles that cannot be anticipated at this time are the problems of drought and import restrictions within the EU, restraining Morocco's ability to export. On the other hand, China could probably use all of the phosphates Morocco can produce, and the only hindrance to trade with China is the long distances that shipments have to travel.

 

Morocco has the opportunity of taking their rightful place in the modern world, but they must move aggressively to secure it.

 

Fez and the Medina

Fez was the capital of Morocco for more that 400 years, and even to this day it is the country’s leading religious and cultural center, and its medina is home to the oldest world’s oldest university. A wealthy woman refugee from Tunisia, Fatima el Fihri al Kairouani in 859, founded the university, known as Qaraqiyin. In addition, Fez is home to the world’s oldest hydraulic clock, the largest medina in Morocco and, to top it off, is the largest active medieval city in the world. The Medina, or medieval city, is externally in the same general condition as it was hundreds of years ago and has been earmarked as a World Heritage Site by Unesco.

 

The city proper is entirely surrounded by "castle walls," which take in a prodigious area of about seven-square miles. "The Fez Medina is world-renowned as an Islamic city of exceptional cultural, historic, spiritual and architectural significance. Its designation as a World Heritage Site, in accordance with an international convention administered by Unesco, attests to the global consensus regarding its importance. The historical and architectural character of this medieval city comprises two distinct parts, the Fez al-Bali (or old Fez) and the Fez J’Did (the new Fez). Both include outstanding individual edifices embedded in a dense ensemble of domestic and commercial structures built according to the medieval Islamic urban settlement pattern." Historians of the time held the city in great awe and considered it, at least for a number of centuries, the most civilized Western outpost of the Semitic world. It produced scholars that introduced both medicine and astronomy to the West.

 

The city was founded in 789, and the Medina section looks much the same today as it did a decade of so after it’s founding. "In 818, eight thousand Muslim families, together with a number of Jews, were forced to leave Al-Andalus in order to settle in the district, which was to bear the name of origin: "the Andalusian quarter." Six years later, in 824, several thousand additional Arab families were in turn forced to leave Qairouan after a revolt made to settle in a district, which was also to bear their name "the Qairouan quarter." At the time, Cordoba (Andalusia) and Qairouan were major Moorish cultural centers, and these two groups made a significant, original contribution to the development of Fez."

 

The fabled Karauiyine mosque was constructed in 862 and was named after the many refugees from Kairaouan that were formerly residents there. It is the oldest university in the world, and its library claims to have one of the best collections on the sciences, philosophy and theology in this part of the world and perhaps the best collection of Islamic manuscripts in the entire world. Qarawiyin University is now highly renowned for its teachings of Islamic law and theology and attracts students from all over the Muslim world. They come here for further education, as they have been since the Middle Ages. This is one of the few places in Fez that non-Muslims may not enter, in spite of the fact that the enormous building can hold 20,000 people.

 

One of the major structures of the city was the al-Andalus Mosque, built in 859 with a gate made of hand-worked and engraved cedar and a magnificent carved wooden pulpit. Even in that time, the Mosque became a tourist destination, as well as a house of worship. The mosques of al-Qaraouiyyine and al-Andalus became the major mosques of the two districts in the city in 933, and both buildings were in turn rebuilt and extended under ensuing reigns.

 

Fez was a prize for many different warring tribes in the vicinity and was captured repeatedly during the 11th Century by the Almoravids. Having had enough, the people of Fez united the two bickering districts, put the city’s entire defense parameters under one roof, built a gigantic fortification wall around it and then were promptly captured by the Shi’ite Almohades. After working out of that embarrassment, Marinades came to power in the 13th Century and at that time, a Jewish quarter was added to the Royal Capital. It was not long thereafter that Fez achieved what has been called its Golden Age. "This city, the great capital of the empire, is crowded with travelers from many countries; it is the destination of many caravans. Its inhabitants are wealthy and enjoy every manifestation of luxury and the commodities of life."

 

The city’s medieval section is highly concentrated with buildings rising one on top of the other. In spite of these crowded conditions, many of these structures are outstanding examples of early Arabic architecture. However, world environmentalists have recently been galvanized because time and civilization have begun to take their toll, and this monolith from another age has recently begun to deteriorate and lose economic viability as well. This is a near fatal combination when attempting to combat intellectual and physical erosion.

 

In the Seffarine Square of the Medina, it would seem that the same metal workers that were there 600 years ago, are back at their jobs pounding metal today, the same way they did it in the Middle Ages. The artisans beat pieces of copper with massive hammers until the pieces become enormous cooking pots. The process seems to take forever, but these workers do not seem to be in any hurry. However, while the noise is deafening, no one seems to complain. The clamor has been similar for hundreds of years, and by now, everyone is so used to it that to other artisans and residents the banging appears as an ancient rhapsody.

 

There is a wonderful description of life in this city in the Year 1000 in a piece written by Marlise Simmons. She makes us feel that we are walking through the medieval town, 10 millenniums ago:

 

"Nestled in a high valley, it was resplendent with its domes and minarets. Smoke rose from pottery kilns and public bath houses. There was the banging of the metalworkers, the whirr of the weavers, the wailing of the muezzins as they called for prayers and drowned out the shouts of the beggars and traders. Along the narrow alleys, smells oozed from the wood-stoked bread ovens, from the pots of lamb stew and from the hair of the mules, lugging their loads. Down by the river, where the tanners worked, an overwhelming fetor surged from the pigeon dung and the fermented chaff that they used to treat goat and camel hides."

"There were some quiet spots, to be sure: the spaces around the sacred fountains and the halls of the mosque-university, which was famous for its wise men, with students flocking here from afar. That was the Fez 10 centuries ago. Remarkably, it is a description that remains valid today. The city’s astonishing chemistry of the medina is still intact."

Interestingly enough, the Fez that we know today is not exactly the same one that was founded in the eighth century. In reality, the original Fez was located some distance away, and its original location was only established recently by examining silver coins minted in the eighth century and utilizing modern forensic analysis to determine the original site. The coins contain the markings of Idriss 1, the founder of the Idrissi dynasty, and his successor, Idriss II, devoted a substantial amount of his energies to building and energizing the city. He is credited with being responsible for the walls that encircle the central city, or Medina, along with construction of the Palace, a large military base, a market and the movement of part of the town's population to the left bank.

 

Idriss II also got lucky during this period when political refugees from across the Strait of Gibraltar in neighboring Andalusia asked for asylum, which was granted, and then embarked on assisting Idriss II in putting the finishing touches on the city. He had the most incredible luck, as these people were highly experienced craftsmen and intellectuals. When Idriss II died, the magnetism that he brought to the scene seemed to die out, and the city went to sleep.

 

Fez was once again was revived when Prince Youssef Ibn Tachfine took charge of the city in the 11th Century, and by uniting bickering special interest groups, he was able to put the town back on the track to greatness. The prosperity continued through the 13th Century, when intellectuals and religious leaders moved to the city and began to call Fez home. In the 14th Century, trade was at its height and produced great wealth and homes of artistic masterpieces. During this time, the Sahrij Meedera was created next to the al-Andalus Mosque with one of the most beautiful ablution pools in all of civilization. This was meant to be a place of mediation, and because all of the buildings in the immediate vicinity had rounded surfaces, a tranquility and warmth existed here that was not available anywhere else in the city.

 

"In the mid-thirteenth century, Fez became the political capital of Morocco once again. The Merinids, the new rulers of the country, took advantage of its celebrated sanctity and considerable influence and chose it instead of Marrakech, the capital of their predecessors. They therefore settled there and became actively involved in its development. Abu Yusuf Yaqub (1258-1286) built a new city, Fez al-Jedid, or al-Madina al-Bayda (the White City). Built according to a plan devised by the sultan himself, the city was encircled in 1276 by a wall two meters thick and eight meters high, fortified with square towers. It thereby protects the palace and dwellings of the leading members of the Merinid family, housed the administration and provided barracks for the army, as well as the sumptuous gardens of al-Mosara, irrigated by one of the effluents of Fez Wadi, which competed with the gardens of Marrakech and even Cordoba. "

"The king divided the city into three separate parts. The first was reserved for the palaces for the king, his sons and brothers. He had vast stables built in the second part of the city for the horses he road personally, and several palaces were built for the most distinguished members of the court. The third part of the city was to provide accommodation for the king’s personal guard. Fez thereby became a dual city, with the merchant and trading quarter on the one hand, Fez al-Bali (ancient Fez), and on the other hand, an administrative and military city."

Fez began to look the part of a city that was the capital of a powerful empire, and during the reign of the Merinides dynasty, Fez achieved regal status. In 1666, Moulay Rachid, an ancestor of Morocco’s current monarchy and the founder of the Alauite dynasty, became sultan, and Fez was re-established as the capital of the kingdom. One of the buildings that was constructed during this period was the Attarine Medersa, which was built during the reign of Sultan Abou Said and was originally designed to be a place that would house students attending school at the nearby Karauiyine Mosque. This is unquestionable the most elegant Medersa in Fez, and its name is derived from the word "attar," which means "spice trade."

 

Sultan Abou Said built a new palace with all of the accoutrements not far from the old one. Monuments and buildings were spruced up, massive bridges were erected and the already thick walls were reinforced, as the city took on the trappings of not only the capital, but also that of a fortress. However, he died, and the brother who succeeded him was not fond of Fez; he moved himself, his entire entourage and the capital of the monarchy to the city of Meknes.

 

As you walk through the streets of the Medina in Fez, you will run across many unusual sights. Start down the main drag, and you will come fist to the souk occupied by the:

 

"traders and potters, and in the grocery stores you will find henna in all its forms, but also the black Greg, or colored khol, which has emphasized the eyes of Moroccans for centuries. Fez pottery, famous for its quality, motifs and colors, particularly blue, has experienced a downturn in production because of the arrival of modern materials on the market. Fortunately, customers now once again appear to be able to appreciate a salver or a plate, which can be either objects of art or decoration."

"The dyers’ souk is really just a narrow alleyway flanked on both sides by small dark stalls in which the dyers pursue their business, bent over blocks of dye. The rinsing is always done in the street, where the pavement takes on different hues according to the time of day. The great tanning work affords a marvelous spectacle. Small round or square cubes cut into the floor are filled with a thousand and one different colors. The hustle and bustle around these cubes of colors is constantly kept up by men who devote their energy to cutting animal hides in their bare feet, a spectacle of rare beauty."

Next door is the Nejjarine quarter, where cabinetmakers work their wood as skill fully as tradesmen did a millennium ago. The air in this quarter is filled with the smell of cedar, which permeates everything. Across from the wood working area is a square that contains a magnificent fountain, the Nejjarine Fountain, known throughout the Middle East for its magnificence.

 

Next to the fountain is the Bouanania Medersa, the last Medersa built by the Merinides and it took seven years, from 1350 to 1357, for its construction to be finished.. Because of its extremely important historical significance and its architectural elegance, the faithful flock to this location from all over the region to pray in this spot of beauty and reverence. Down the street, you can find the unique Observatory Tower of the Great Qarawiyin Mosque. It was built in 1348, but it was mostly destroyed by fire about 20 years ago. This building is one of those being restored to its former magnificence by the current Unesco project, and when it is finished, it will also be the home of an astrolabe museum.

 

Michael de Larrabeiti tells an interesting story of a modern walk through the Medina, you can almost feel the hustle and bustle in this well orchestrated piece:

 

"…Before long, I was in streets where every inch of space was occupied by a shop or a stall; everyone busy trying to sell something. As I advanced, I passed low arches that led into murky dead ends and mysterious courtyards, where I dared not enter. At every step, there was someone to offer their services or their merchandise, bugging at me until the relay was taken up by someone else. Children were in on it, too, their staying power more than that of the adults, and, when they did abandon their hounding of me, their cousins sprang from the ground in mythological numbers. I was fair game."

"I wandered further. There were slices of coconut for sale; tools, tailors cutting suits, tiny open squares from the 1,001 nights, where the sellers of satin planned caftans with women in robes. Old men lounged in barber shops, and I found a stable yard packed with donkeys and horses, trembling with fatigue, dreading the toil to come, their bodies thin, their faces haunted, the tails too limp to swat the flies. And through a window, a man sold cement by the paper bag full, shoveling it up from a hundredweight sack. And everywhere the noise; the hooves of the horses, the warning cries of their riders, the hammers of the metal workers, the saws of the carpenters and the siren song of the vendors, "Come look mister, you don’t have to buy, no problem, come look, come look."

I had dropped into the Middle Ages, and they stretched away for ever. It was bedlam and all was bustle and business; the jellabas flowed and floated, the colors clashed, the smells lay over all; wood fires and oil in ancient lathes as they turned; cedar and sandalwood; animal excrement and human; honey and nougat; dates and coffee; perspiration and freshly baked bread; meat and mint tea; the reek of hot blood from slaughtered chickens."

"I stood and watched the butchery for a minute or two; a finger was pointed, the chicken was chosen, and the man with the bloodstained apron reached into the open-topped cage and seized a victim, never mind its struggles and squawks. In a second, the bird’s wings were dislocated, terrifying it into a silent immobility. Its eyes bulged as the bright knife was drawn across its throat. Then it was upended and bundled into a metal container the size of a large flowerpot. Its feet quivered and jerked, as it tried to right itself, the scuffling pitiful, but the lifeblood was going, and soon it ceased to move. The whole operation, including plucking, was completed in the twinkling of an eye, the butcher’s hands as deft as a sorcerer’s. And sly and sulking, down on the uneven surface of the street, stepping lightly through a dangerous, shifting forest of human legs, skeleton cats gobbled up the leavings."

Whether you like it or not, if you sleep in Fez, you will arise at 4:00 A.M. The reason is simple, as this is when people go to their morning prayers and no one in the medina is exempt. There is a bustle about the place as movement commences before the light of day, and one can feel an electricity in the morning air. Soon after morning prayers, the bustle moves from the mosques to the Medina, as the workmen get the city ready for the today’s onslaught of tourists. "Fez remains a complex, vibrant, intense city where each neighborhood (originally organized around craft groups, such as carpenters, leather workers, jewelers and potters) still maintains its own mosque, madersa (religious residence), water fountain, public bath and bakery. Beneath it all runs a sewage and spring water system that was the marvel of 13th Century urban design. Yet more intriguing than the intricacy of ancient architecture is the intricacy of mind that enables the young and the old, the artisans and the hawkers, to glide between the centuries as gracefully as they dodge donkeys in the corridors."

 

The French took control of Morocco and Fez in 1912 and ruled it as a protectorate until 1956, when the country finally gained its independence. The French were not into archaeology or history and had no interest in the old city, but they did much to advance commerce in the city and build up the new section. However, the medina contained the great majority of the population, and its infrastructure was not kept up with population and tourist growth. Roads and sanitation were inadequate, and the Medina, with its 64 monumental fountains and 143 mosques and 7 madrasahs, was put on a severe downhill slide.

 

Unesco become involved with the problem in 1980, but it took almost a decade before plans were in place to start restoration, a project expected to take a score of years and to cost upwards of $600 million. Over fifty of the Medina’s biggest and best works of art are scheduled for restoration under Ader-Fes, a Moroccan state body set up to co-ordinate the rescue program:

 

"Ader-Fes is using the best local craftsmen, the Maalem, keepers of the city’s traditional skills, to reconstitute the original architecture of the buildings using time-honored techniques. It is also setting up a training institute in traditional building crafts and a rehabilitation and restoration laboratory. On the ground, the work is proceeding slowly, however. The streets of the medina are so narrow that all the materials have to be brought in by donkeys. The general need for protracted and meticulous work is well illustrated by the case of Mesbahiya, a madrasah of which only a few terraces and ceiling and a handful of decorative elements have survived. The foundations of the madrasah have now been stabilized, and the next step is to reconstitute the architectural details in all of their refinement."

The Medina of Fez has a population of 181,000 in two separate districts. These two groups are divided into ethnic origin, and the Andalusian Sh’ite immigrants are on one side, and the immigrants from Kairkuan are on the other. The demographics of the area break down as follows: "Changing lifestyles, the deterioration of the infrastructure and the transformation of traditional handicraft activities into partially mechanized small-scale manufacturing have contributed to the degradation of the urban environment. Today, the Medina, which encompasses 13,500 parcels with approximately 31,600 separate dwelling units and close to 10,000 business, offers a striking contrast between areas of thriving economic activity and overly-densified residential quarters, whose buildings are deteriorating steadily."

 

Marlise Simons in the following description gives us an update on what you would see today when walking through the crowded medina:

 

"The way into the medina passes through a bab, on of its great gates. It can take hours to cross this great maze of more than 600 acres (about three-quarters the size of Central park), packed with some 250,000 people. But the rewards are instant, for here an intricate and grand human engine is in perpetual motion. Under the lattice mats that filter the sun are street stalls selling goats’ feet, entrails, fresh cheese, quinces and piles and piles of mint. Workshops the size of walk-in closets hold tailors, woodcarvers, engravers, weavers, embroiderers, calligraphers and just about any other trade. Professions usually cluster in the same alley. Here and there, weighers offer the services of their large iron scales. You are pressed against walls and stall as porters and mule drivers shout, demanding the right of way. Going deeper inside the labyrinth…There were men with bellows firing the hearths for the copper workers. A stream of blood gushed down one passage. It turned out to be the alley of the dyers who had just finished dunking big skeins of silk and wool into a deep wine color and were now emptying their vats."

The World Bank gave us an idea of the problems they faced in restoring Fez in the following except from their overall report:

 

"Over 48% of households in Fez-J’did are classified as below the poverty line, while this figure amounts to 34% in Fez Al-Bali. Population density surpasses acceptable standards, thus straining services for water and sanitation, which have long been constrained by the inaccessibility of modern transportation. In-migration of rural poor has exacerbated the outflow of middle class Fassi residents, leaving building stock, including some once-magnificent homes, to be cut up into small rental units. The animosity between these two classes of generally different ethnic backgrounds exacerbates these trends."

The restoration work is now moving along masterfully, as even the city’s population is becoming involved in self-help, fix-up oriented projects. Schools have been set up for teaching the inhabitants basic carpentry, stone masonry and glass cutting. There seems to be a renewed vigor in the air. Some major improvements have been made by the Government as well, and the great sport of tourist-chasing, for whatever reason(whether for hustling, selling or even acting as a guide), has been severely restricted.

 

The Government of Morocco discovered that it was difficult enough for tourists to transcend the endless crowded streets of the Medina, but to be hustled, screamed at and degraded during every inch of what otherwise would been a magnificent experience, caused most tourists not to want to come back, even though this was in its own way the Disney Land of Arabia.

 

The government clamped down on these practices by sending offenders to the dismal jails in the vicinity so as to give the offenders time to assuage the hustle devil from their systems. It has been reported that an almost total cure has been achieved, and the Medina can once again be traversed without the fear of being attacked, either verbally or otherwise, a substantial achievement.

 

One must be enthralled by Fez, a city of medieval fascination, but brisling with a air of confidence and achievement. The Medina is a wonder of the ages, and it is comforting to know that someone of significance feels that this slice of Morocco is worth saving for our children and their children to see. This may eventually turn out to be the most encompassing restoration work ever attempted, and players from all over the globe have joined the project, for which all of us should be grateful.

 

Spain

 

Spain is the size of Arizona and Utah put together, but with a population over 40 million. The country is a constitutional monarchy, with a President nominated by the monarch and elected by the Congress of Deputies. The Congress of Deputies and senators are all elected with a view toward the equivalent popular vote putting into office a fair share of those who will govern. While the country is more than 90% Catholic, the constitution, written in 1978 disestablished the Roman Catholic Church as the official state religion and left Spain with no official religion.

 

Spain's economy is the seventh largest in the OECD and has a Gross Domestic Product in 1996 of $582 billion, with gives the country a per capita income of $14,500. Spain's natural resources are plentiful and include iron ore, uranium, pyrites, fluorspar, zinc, lead, gypsum, copper, tungsten, kaolin, lignite and coal. Hydroelectric power is plentiful and agriculture products include grains, vegetables, citrus, wine, olives, olive oil, sunflowers, livestock and deciduous fruits.

 

Imports exceeded exports by a about $20 billion in 1996, with petroleum, oilseed, aircraft, grains, chemicals, machinery, transportation equipment and fish being the largest imports. The other countries in the European Union get most of the business. Exports are primarily automobiles, fruits, minerals, metals, clothing, footwear and textiles, and again most of the exports go the other countries in the European Union.

 

Spain occupies most of the Iberian Peninsula, which has been populated possibly as long as man has lived on this planet. Because of the length of time that the Peninsula has been occupied, many famous prehistoric landmarks are to be found here, including the famous caves at Altamira, containing spectacular paintings that go back as many as 25,000 years. The Basques are the first identifiable people of the peninsula and are the oldest surviving cultural group in Europe. The Iberians, who came to the Peninsula from North Africa, did not arrive until much later than the Basques and were supplanted by waves of migration from all over Europe.

 

Spain was considered fair game for just about anybody that had territorial aspirations and was occupied by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Celts, Romans, Visigoths and ultimately the Moors of North Africa. By approximately 1512, all the pushing and shoving between the various conquerors and established villains had ended by the victory of the Catholic kingdoms over the Islamic Moors, and the geographical and social structure became fairly fixed.

 

While Spain rose to its maximum glory in the 16th Century due to the enormous riches taken from the Americas, ego caused the monarchy to believe that they were invincible, and they engaged upon a number of wars that could generously described as imbecilic and over-reaching. Ultimately, they had their heads handed to them by the British in 1588, which made the "Invincible Armada" look like rubber ducky in a bathtub. As Spain began slowly to sink in the east, succession to the throne became their most insidious enemy. Every contender to the throne said they should be king, but nobody could pass the muster; it’s the one time the term "pretender to the throne" really meant something. While everyone was bickering about this, a young man from France of the name Napoleon decided to occupy Spain, and he did so with little resistance in the early 1800s. Of course, that peeved his major adversary, Great Britain, who sent the young Wellington to harass him in a long and bloody fight.

 

Spain’s extensive colonial system began falling apart in the 19th Century culminating in the Spanish-American War, the result of which was the lose of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines to the United States. While there was not much left to write home about in Spain, dissention ruled the country until the pot boiled over in 1936 in the form of the Spanish Civil War, a particularly nasty civil war. The smoke didn't clear until 1939, when the forces of Generalissimo Francisco Franco gained control of a totally debilitated country. The country wasn't worth much to either side during World War II, and Spain was allowed to remain neutral during World War II. However, Franco was clearly a fascist and, if anything, covertly supported the Axis during this period. Spain was disciplined at war's end by not being allowed into the United Nations until 1955.

 

In 1959, under the guidance of the International Monetary Fund, Spain made a middling effort to rejoin world affairs and began to liberalize trade and capital flows, while starting to accept foreign direct investment. Nevertheless, Spain remained the most closed economy in Western Europe until tourism, more by accident than on purpose, started to revitalize the country in the early 1970s.

 

As this progress became genuine, Franco had the good grace to die. But also, he had the good sense to provide for his succession in a way he could not have contemplated fully. He designated as his heir Prince Juan Carlos de Borbon y Borbon, the direct descendent of the Spanish monarchy. The government was reconstituted, and the first election to be held since 1936 took place on June 15, 1977. In 1978, a new constitution established Spain as a parliamentary monarchy. Apparently, for this reason a coup was attempted in 1981 that was quickly put down, and the government became even more solid than ever because of it. Spain now began to prosper.

 

However, there was a constant turnover in governments during this period as first one government and then another took office. In spite of the political game of musical chairs, the economy continued to grow with privatization becoming an important part of revitalization. Membership in NATO, the European Union and ultimately the European Monetary Union were all put on the plate. Spain, in spite of all of their historic problems, became one of the first countries to qualify under the stringent regulations of the Maastricht Treaty.

 

Spain has developed good relations with the Arab world from whom they import the majority of their energy needs. In return, Spain has received substantial Arab investments within its country and has returned the favor in the United Nations by becoming an "automatic vote" where Arab Issues are involved, voting along the lines of the Arab Block. Moreover, the Arabs were often invited to Spain to enjoy, good food, entertainment and the senoritas. It was at one of these soirees that their Arab guests were served the very best of Spanish delicacies. Criadillas or prairie oysters. However, the Arab guests were only told that the Criadillas came from the meat of a prized bull that had been killed that day by Spain’s top matador in Madrid’s bullring. When their Arab guests were finally informed that the meal consisted of bull testicles, the Arabs immediately withdrew their aid packages and were not seen in Madrid for a number of years.

 

In the meantime, the Basque's have become increasingly restless. Under the name of the Basque Fatherland and Liberty Party (the "ETA"), Basque radicals founded a party dedicated to the separation of from Spain and the creation of a separate state, even if terrorism dominated their actions. Ultimately, the ETA joined with GRAPO, a communist-led organization with many of the same aspirations as the ETA, and the combined group was involved in a series of bombings, murders and robberies, It wasn't until Spain joined with France (who had a similar problem) in combating these groups that there was an serious erosion in their success. On the other hand, neither organization has been extinguished, and murders in Spain by the ETA continue on a regular basis.

 

Recently the Basque newspapers carried a story in which the ETA warned tourists that they would be targeting "Spanish touristic-economic interests" in an escalation of their efforts for greater rights. This announcement came on the heals of several explosions that they took credit for at Spanish beach towns. Spain receives substantial income from tourists and is the number three destination for travel in the world, following on the heels of France and The United States; while processing almost 50 million travelers a year. While, the ETA is constantly threatening to do the worst, their threats are far from idol. "ETA has been linked to 800 killings in northern Spain and southwestern France." ()

 

The prize for victory in war has been mainly spoils or territory, but in 1704, England's prize for defeating Spain was just a sliver of land called Gibraltar and, oh yes, free reign in North America. The conquest was ratified by the two countries in 1713 by the Treaty of Utrecht that ended the War of the Spanish Succession. This treaty ceded Gibraltar to Britain absolutely and in perpetuity with the only entitlement given to Spain being a right of first refusal if Britain should tire of owning the place. This could have been a distinct possibility, because Gibraltar has no real economic value (it produces absolutely nothing), but maybe because this little sliver only dominates the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, Britain has held fast and seems most satisfied with her acquisition.

 

From a standpoint of population, Gibraltar has only 30,000 people and several small communities of apes on its territory. These people make up a hodge-podge of races and come from Britain, Spain, Genoa, Sicily, Malta, India and – in dribs and drabs – from the rest of the Mediterranean region. Since nothing grows in Gibraltar, the country survives on tourism, drawing four million people a year to view mostly what are its military fortifications, a spectacular show which keeps them coming back. In viewing the depth of these ramparts, it is not hard to see why Spain has been unsuccessful in achieving a military victory to recover it.

 

Gibraltar is best described as a dependent territory of Britain with a large measure of self-government and financial self-sufficiency. The people of Gibraltar are members of the English Commonwealth; the country itself has been for years a member of NATO and is even a non-voting member of the EU. Its European Union credentials are derived from the fact that under Article 227(4) of the Treaty of Rome, which applies to any European Territory for whose external affairs a member state (in this case, the UK) is responsible, they are a member. Some anomalies occur, and these are best expressed by Chief Minister of Gibraltar, P R Caruana in an address to the European Atlantic Group, House of Commons, England:

 

"Not unlike other EU territories, Gibraltar enjoys certain derogations from the application of certain very limited EU measurers. The Coal and Steel Treaty does not apply, since Gibraltar produces no coal. The Common Agricultural Policy does not apply, since we have no agriculture, and thirdly, Gibraltar is not included in the Customs Union."

 

The Spanish have wanted Gibraltar back since they lost it, and they have been increasingly upping the price of poker recently in their effort to get their way. Why on earth would anyone want this God-forsaken piece on property that is mostly rock and on which literally nothing will grow? The reason is two-fold: the first is that Gibraltar is probably the most strategically placed piece of real estate on earth, guarding the approaches to the Mediterranean and having tendering facilitates to re-equip and dry-dock a substantial number of naval vessels. It was the British control of Gibraltar during World War II that had such a beneficial effect on the British control of the sea-lanes so vitally important to it and its allies.

 

The second thing that makes Gibraltar so valuable is just plain ego. The Spanish have never given up muttering about losing this part of what they consider is their own soil. Gibraltar rests at the apex of Spain, and is like the tip of a finger that has a large blister on it that just won't go away. The Spanish have tried through military conquest to win Gibraltar back for over two centuries and have not even come close. Gibraltar is fortified in rock like no other place on earth, and from the high ground, those that were defending the territory could just pick off the opposition at will, without even raising a sweat. Foiled in its attempt to conquer Gibraltar in war, the Spanish have resorted to other tactics to retake what they believe to be their property in what may be both the longest and the quietist conflict on earth. Spain has quietly resorted to the following:

 

    1. Refused to allow maritime and air links between Gibraltar and Spain and refused to allow Gibraltar airport to benefit from the Single Market in air services.
    2. Even making due allowance for Spain's right to operate passport checks and Customs checks, Spain operates the frontier with Gibraltar in a most Un-European manner. There are no red and green channels at Customs. Every car is examined. There is only one single file passport control for vehicles, manned by a solitary official, regardless of the volume of traffic. This has resulted in severe queues and delays at the frontier.
    3. Spain refuses to recognize Gibraltar’s telephone International Direct Dial geographic area code (350). Spain is the only country from which you cannot dial Gibraltar via satellite.
    4. Spain refuses to recognize identity cards issued in Gibraltar and has, in the recent past, sought to question the validity of British passports issued in Gibraltar by the Governor in the name of Her Majesty, the Queen.
    5. Spain constantly seeks the exclusion of Gibraltar from EU Directives and refuses to recognize Gibraltar's courts or legal system.
    6. Spain systematically seeks to deny Gibraltar membership in International Sporting Associations and Federations and participation in international sporting, cultural and political events.

 

 

Spain subjects Gibraltar to an incessant barrage of media abuse and allegations of money laundering and nefarious activities calculated to stifle the development of finance and impeding the economy.

 

Spain has forced the government of Gibraltar to be confrontational with Spain and indicates that it has good reason for its position. One instance published by News and Reports indicated, "Officials in Madrid ordered the tighter border controls after a Spanish policeman was killed in April when his helicopter crashed while chasing a Gibraltar-registered speedboat loaded with hashish." What seems to be left out of the story is that if the helicopter crashed and the Spanish policeman was killed, how does the Spanish Government know what was on the boat or where the boat came from?

 

The daily newspaper El Mundo added insult to injury when it said, "Gibraltar, a British colony at Spain's southern tip, is a base for traffickers trying to sneak hashish, cocaine and ecstasy into Europe via Spain and is a haven for the laundering of illicit drug profits." While this could possibly be true, one important point seems to be missing, since we know that the hashish, cocaine and ecstasy could not be home grown in Gibraltar. Admittedly, Gibraltar is incapable of producing agriculture products and there is only two square miles of land there. It could be that what is happening is that drugs are first dropped off in Gibraltar and then transshipped to Spain. One would wonder why they are shipped to Gibraltar at all, if they are going on to Spain. This would require the danger of two customs searches, instead of one, and Gibraltar does not have any deserted spots where counter-band could be off-loaded. There are more believable stories in Alice and Wonderland.

 

Not satisfied that they were getting enough attention from the world press, which totally ignored this story because most media thought it was a pitiable fabrication, the Bank of Spain and the Madrid Weekly reported that that, "the amount of incorporation in the colony had mushroomed to 60,000 by late 1998, two times the total number of inhabitants of the Rock of Gibraltar, which is home to around 30,000." The Bank of Spain, still undeterred, further stated that these were front companies, which used Gibraltar, "to recycle the money proceeds from criminal operations." It should be noted that the laundering of dirty money derived from the sale of drugs or other illicit activities is just as easily accomplished in Spain, as it is in Gibraltar.

 

The report continued that 120 lawyers lived and worked in Gibraltar, making their livings almost exclusively from their associations with foreign investors, and that last year $2 billion in investments initiated from Gibraltar were registered with Spain's General Office on Foreign Transactions – nine times the 1995 figure. Spain should consider itself lucky that these funds think enough about the future of Spain to invest in it at all. If the money was not based in Gibraltar, it would be based somewhere else. Spain does not make a similar case for taking over Luxembourg, the Virgin Islands, the Isle of Man, Bermuda, Vanuatu or the Bahamas, who all advertise that this is the business they are in.

 

Spain has not won a war of any consequence in its history (unless you count the destruction of the Moorish Dynasty in the 15th Century), and the only reason the country had ever been successful in the force of arms was when a bunch of heavily armed Spaniards, pushed around a bunch of Stone Age natives in the Americas and stole their gold. This made the Spanish think that they were macho and was the cause of their demise.

 

Given Spain’s position on Gibraltar, it would seem reasonable for Spain to ask the United States to return Cuba (perhaps a trifle complicated), the Philippines (but why would they want that burden) and Puerto Rico back? All were seeded to the United States within the last hundred years. Gibraltar was awarded to the British over three centuries ago, before the United States of America existed. Now that is really holding a grudge.

 

Spain learned many lessons from the Inquisition; among other things, it found out is that there must be laws on the books that protect people, no matter what government is in power. The people that Spain expelled or murdered constituted their intellectual elite, and their loss was the beginning of the end of Spain’s role as an Empire builder. Spain’s public relations have been catastrophic, and history books seem to universally believe that they always picked on countries smaller than they were and that they were in the business of robbing, pillaging, raping and murdering. They destroyed their own country by expelling some of their finest minds during the Inquisition, and when they came against an adversary of equal size, they got their heads handed to them. Getting macho on a two square mile piece of rock, where nothing grows, is pushing the envelope.

 

However, maybe world opinion is about to change. Through the efforts of a fearless young prosecutor in Madrid, aggressive indictments were made in a 285-page opinion handed down by Judge Baltasar Garzon against Chilean General Gugusto Pinochet. He was charged for crimes against humanity and a freeze was requested on his worldwide assets. Moreover, he was charged with genocide, torture and terrorism in the deaths or disappearances of more than 3,000 people. This one action, taken on by two crusading Spain civil servants, did more to put fear into the hearts of despots and out-of-control military leaders than any single act in the history of man. This one decision by these two people of conscious has accomplished in one motion what the United Nations and all of its members could not come close to in its over fifty years of existence.

 

The fact that this decision originated in Spain is even more startling. The Spanish have historically sided with despotic regimes throughout its entire history, and their own revolution in 1936 brought to power a fascist government that believed people’s rights were a figment of the government’s imagination. General Franco was a maniacal despot who ran the country with an iron fist, and only recently has there been any evidence of the Spanish government having any interest at all in anyone’s civil rights.

 

General Pinochet was in London when the indictment was presented to the British authorities. They didn't really know how to react at first, assuming it was only a bad dream and wasn't really happening in England. After the House of Lords had substantially reduced many of the charges against Pinochet, Home Secretary Jack Straw, the top law-enforcement officer in England, ultimately announced that he would allow the extradition proceeding to go ahead. He stated that; "the remaining allegations of torture and conspiracy to torture satisfied the European Convention on Extradition and imposed an obligation on Britain to permit the Spanish request to go before British court." In addition, he stated that; "The Spanish request was legally well-founded and properly drawn up, that the offenses were not of a political character, that no statutes of limitation had run out and that it would not be unjust or oppressive to expose the general to the charges now."

 

Pinochet quickly assembled a legal team that countered with the issue of immunity. They also raised the point that if there were to be a trial it should take place where the purported "crime" had occurred. Professor Fernanco Barros, one of the lawyers on Pinochet's team, told BBC radio when asked about location, "This should take place in Chile. No one else is authorized to make a judgment about our democracy, our institutions, which have been working for 200 years."

 

The British Government did not real desire to take over the world’s moral leadership and they allowed Pinochet to skulk away in the middle of the night. Unpleasantly for him, there had been a change in the thinking of the folks at home, and instead of going home to cheers, he was met with indictments. We can’t be certain today what will ultimately happen to this once absolute dictator, but when the chips were down, the Spanish hung tough and the British retreated with their tail between their legs.

 

 

La Sagrada Familia

"It is said that humanity only produces original architecture capable of epochal change every seven or eight centuries. One feels this is true when confronting the work of Antoni Gaudi, the most prestigious figure in Catalonian and Spanish architecture." Gaudi, christened at birth, Antonio Pacido Guillermo Gaudi I Cornet, was born in 1852 in an area of Spain called Catalonia to a family of metal workers. Gaudi set up shop in Barcelona at a time when it was already having a cultural and political renaissance. This, indeed, was the atmosphere most conducive to a young architect with revolutionary concepts.

 

Gaudi’s early background can give substantial insight into the making of the man:

 

"Gaudi was inscribed in the School Maestro Berenguer at the Monerols Street in Reus, where he met Edward Toda Guell, who would become one of his life-long best friends. By the time he was eleven (1863), Gaudi attended his secondary studies in Franciscan convent, which was run by Pairists, and spent his summers at Mas de la Caldereta de Ruidoms. He was afflicted many times by rheumatic fevers, and this maintained him in solitude from the youthful games; during these long period of time, he spent observing nature. By the time he was seventeen, he attended the College of Sciences of Barcelona, at the Regional School of Architecture. With his best friend Eduard, they sketched a project of the restoration and usage of the ruins of the monastery of Poblet. He lived in the Casa Lonja de Mar at the old convent of the Carmen between 1873 and 1877. Gaudi continued with his studies at the same time he did his military service in the infantry (July 1874 through January of 1879). Eventually, Gaudi moved to the 2nd floor of the new building of the University in the Gran Via – which became the school of the Master Pieces and was the M.A. Studies School of Architecture until 1862."

 

While in school, Gaudi was called up by the military a number of times, but he did not see any service where there was actual fighting. At school, he seldom attended classes and spent his time in the library studying the philosophical writings of authors such as Llorens, Barba, Mila’ and Fontanais. He graduated as a master architect in 1878, and then he traveled the region extensively. It was while touring the general vicinity that he developed an awesome respect for medieval architecture. While he proposed to at least one woman, he was extremely timid and for most of his life was celibate. However, Gaudi was a religious fanatic and almost died by prolonging an Easter fast a tad to long in 1894.

 

On the other hand, the lad didn’t have a nickel, so it was terribly important for him to find a patron that would subsidize his concepts. Eventually, Gaudi was able to strike it rich by finding a patron of great wealth who believed in his ideas. Young Gaudi was soon in the chips and was able to concentrate on getting the nuances of his craft together. In order to accomplish that end, he became an inspired reader of gothic art, illustrations of Oriental structures, organic shapes in nature and medieval books.

 

Gaudi by the age of thirty-one had reached a high degree of architectural maturity and was already the leader of Barcelona’s modernist architectural movement. This faction created much interest at the turn of the century. In spite of his young age, he was chosen by his peers to take over the construction of El Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia, which in English translates to Expiatory Temple of the Sacred Family. The church was planned to be a massive basilica with an enormous base of 370 feet by 280 feet. In addition, it was projected to have spires that would transcend the tallest buildings of that time. The year he took over this project was 1883, and by 1908 he had become totally obsessed with his mission. He decided he would create not only the most magnificent cathedral that had ever been built, but also a monument that would carry the insignia of Barcelona’s intellectual and artistic growth throughout the world. He refused to accept any other commissions and immersed himself totally in this project.

 

His unfortunate death at the hands of a Barcelona streetcar in 1926 was the only thing that stopped this dedicated man. At that time, Gaudi was 74 years old and had become highly eccentric. He rarely allowed himself to be photographed and was totally celibate, believing that this was a requirement in order to dedicate his life to his religious faith and this religious work. He despised publicity, and as the years went on, he cared less and less about his physical appearance, eventually looking like a street-beggar. Moreover, in almost a final act of tying himself to his project, he moved into a shed on the construction site of the church and lived in this featureless building with no amenities while construction continued around him.

 

There were numerous work stoppages over the years, with the first serious one occurring during World War I, when the project temporarily ran out of money. Work on the project was again halted in 1936 when Gaudi’s drawings were destroyed, and it was not resumed again until 1952 because of the Spanish Civil War and World War II. His drawings were never fully reconstituted, and that has caused a series of arguments among the current supervisors of the project over exactly what the "old man" had in mind.

 

There is no question that the man was a genius, but whether he was a mad one or not is open to question. There seems to be no question that he was totally involved in every facet of the church’s construction, and if deadlines were not met or if he felt that the workers were not being dedicated enough to the project, he would become moody and almost despondent. In spite of these moods, Gaudi designed the blueprints, oversaw the construction and planned the layouts of the mosaics and metal sculptures, while still having time to build the church’s furniture. He would often tell the workers that his client in building of this church was God, and although he would like the structure finished, if the laborers wanted to dilly-dally, God was patient. You can get some idea of Gaudi’s motivation by realizing that he really believed that God was in some ways the managing engineer overseeing the project.

 

"…The inspired architect wanted to create a "20th Century cathedral," a synthesis of his architectural knowledge, using a complex system of Catholic symbolism and a visual explication of the mysteries of faith. There would be facades representing the birth, death and resurrection of Christ with eighteen towers symbolizing the twelve Apostils, the four Evangelists, the Virgin Mary and Christ. This latter, the tallest, would stand 500 feet tall. He wanted to give the edifice a spectacular vertical dimension by way of an effusion of pinnacles and high, spiral-shaped towers which would be covered in abstract patterns of Venetian glass mosaic crowned by the Holy Cross. Gaudi became so involved with his project that he set up residence in his on-site study, although he never expected it to be completed in his lifetime."

Naturally, he was buried within his masterpiece, Sagrada Familia, now in its incomprehensible 115th year of construction. Many say that the structure will require at least another two hundred years to finish, and point to the fact that the engineers have not even begun to put on the roof. On days of inclement weather, the building becomes a magnet for the elements.

 

"Plans for the immense, unfinished and possibly unfinishable church were created by Gaudi as the ultimate orchestration of his architectural knowledge, design philosophy and spiritual faith. Woven into the iconography of church is the idea of resurrection, expressed through the soaring verticality of its towers."

Even though construction still has a long way to go, Sagrada Familia is the most visited site in Barcelona, with over three million visitors a year gawking at this magnificent church and its open ceiling, its eight 450-foot-high spires and its absolutely dazzling architecture. However, this project is now becoming mired in arguments concerning what Gaudi really had in mind when he created this grand plan. "What is being done now is not how Gaudi would have proceeded, and it is catastrophic," says Manuel Gausa, editor of Quarderns, the architectural journal published by Catalonia’s prestigious College of Architects. "If it were left unfinished, it could still be visited as an architectural phenomenon and remain a strong tourist attraction."

 

"The controversy is rooted in the fact that most of the drawings and models Gaudi left were destroyed in 1936 when a mob sacked the site during an anti-church riot at the outset of Spain’s three-year war. Only a few plans survived. ‘The design was a great puzzle that we had to solve," says Jordi Bonet, the Barcelona architect currently coordinating work on the cathedral. Bonet’s father was the chief architect of the project during the 1950s. We are carrying out Gaudi’s project with an extraordinary faithfulness to detail,’ he says. ’We are respecting his designs, even if we alter some of them.’ Gausa and his colleagues particularly objected to the figures sculpted during the past 10 years on the Façade of the Passion facing the street. These are the work of Joseph Subirachs, one of two sculptors working on the church. They are chunky, squared-off figures at odds with the building’s flowing lines and the lifelike angels sculpted on the Façade of the Nativity at the rear."

"Bonet states: ’Gaudi clearly intended that the Façade of the Passion, representing the Crucifixion, would be completely different from that of the Nativity representing Christ’s birth,’ he says. ’He wanted the Nativity to show great joy, while the Passion was terrible and painful, and Senor Subirachs has followed this idea.’

"Gausa disagrees. He says if work must continue on the Sagrada Familia, it should be in the hands of someone chosen through an international competition. ’I would like to see someone working on it in a wholly contemporary and useful style, rather than have people try to re-create Gaudi’s ideas and failing, and have the whole thing taking hundreds of years.’"

"Etsuro Sotoo, the second sculptor working on the Sagrada Familia, says it is normal to take 500 years to build a world-class cathedral. ‘The work must be continued, regardless how long it takes, and it must be done following Gaudi’s ideas,’ says the 39-year-old Japanese sculptor, whose six angels playing musical instruments have been received with critical approval. ‘Gaudi was a genius, but not a genius like Picasso or Dali, who did work that no one else could do. Gaudi knew the work would not be finished in his lifetime and left behind a form that could be followed. The key to understanding it is study and patience."’

Gaudi left a hard act to follow; his plans included four massive, but delicate, spires shooting skyward toward heaven, each 45 stories in height, along with three facades representing faith, hope and charity, each façade having four towers that collectively represent the 12 apostles. To some degree, he felt that combining immensity with subtleness, his design would become one of the great architectural masterpieces ever created by the hand of man.

 

Eventually, the central dome would be lofted into place at the very highest point of the cathedral, 500 feet in the air, estimated to be the highest church dome in the world. The building is best described as looking like a delicate castle made of sand after the tide has first washed over it. The almost ghost-like designs, matched with delicate accoutrements, create an overwhelming feeling of nature and power. Part of Gaudi’s grand plan was to have the reflection of light on the structure create unearthly hues, shimmering rather than reflecting the structure’s supremacy. When first encountering the structure, the impression is that its essence is fundamentally unworldly, and that is probably exactly what Gaudi wanted to convey.

 

The church is now only half finished, but the endless lines of tourists attest to the fact that the half that has been completed is almost mystical in nature. The mosaics resemble pinwheels and balloons, but it is the brilliancy of the colors that stuns the onlookers. There is even an elevator ride all the way up to the pinnacle of one of the spires, from which there is a breathtaking view of length and breadth of Barcelona. Indeed, there is a lot of construction left to do, but a lot has already been done.

 

Luckily for the Spanish, two things exist in the Barcelona region in large numbers, first are the trained construction people (because Barcelona has become the in-place in Europe to be), and second are the artisans necessary to finish the church. Many people comment that today there are more artists in Barcelona than anywhere else in the world. If enough money could be put together, this vast resource could be utilized and construction could be finished in almost no time at all. But the arguments over Gaudi’s intentions go back and forth, and many believe the church will never be finished. One has to wonder whether the people of Barcelona really care. Perhaps they get some kind of strange satisfaction out of having this magnificent work in progress continue in their midst, with teams of laborers and artisans toiling hundreds of years in the future. Since it was characteristic of Gaudi that he never completed any of his works, it would seem that he didn’t break the mold on this one.

 

In another salute to Gaudi’s brilliance of, Toni Meca has spent the last four years "virtually" completing the Sagrada Familia. By utilizing sophisticated 3-D computer modeling software, Meca’s team of more than 100 people is constructing in three-dimensions a movie entitled "Glory Day," which will bring to life what they believe the church should look like when it is finished. Meca’s group has also determined that at the present rate of funding for the church, which is largely financed by tickets sold to tourist to visit the facility, it will take no less than another 150 years to finish the project, without making any adjustments for inflation. Four hundred models of the structure were created by hand before being digitized and integrated into the computer model. The fact that this digitalized model of the church has already taken four years gives an idea of the magnitude of the physical project.

 

When completed, the church will have galleries in place capable of holding 1,500 singers, 700 children and 5 organs. The length of time taken to complete the construction of the church is far longer than to finish any other currently standing building in the world. It was agreed when Gaudi took on the job that the church would be funded by charitable contributions, because it was planned as a reconciliation church (thus having to be built without help from the Catholic Church). There were times during construction that Gaudi had to go from house to house in Barcelona begging people to contribute in order to keep to Sagrada’s time schedule. Then, as more parts of the church were completed, the number of visitors paying money to visit the site increased dramatically, substantially adding to the funds available to complete the work. As a result of this new inflow of money, many of the church’s components will be completed sooner that originally anticipated.

 

Within the next year, it is expected that the last foundation of the interior columns will be finished and that the roof over the apse will be complete. Bonet, the architect, has pointed out that, "by the end of the year, when all the vaults are finished, we will be able to see the interior of the temple, free of scaffolding and work surfaces and as if it were finished, in an area of 1,500 square meters, even though the pointed roof fixtures, which, for the time being, will not be built in order to maintain flat work surface."

 

The Sagrada Familia is getting a series of unexpected breaks, especially that Barcelona has become a mecca for tourists and intellectuals, dramatically increasing the number of people visiting the city each year. Currently over four million people are visiting the city every year, and Barcelona has become a destination of choice for many Europeans and others from around the world.

 

This will bring this magnificent structure more international attention and substantially decrease the time necessary for the church’s completion. If enough money were made available, the building could probably be finished in a few short years. It is becoming evident to the Barcelonan leaders that a finished Sagrada Familia would immediately become one of the wonders of the modern world and make Barcelona an even more popular destination for travelers. We are betting that the structure will be completed within the next decade, when it will immediately assume its rightful position as a world-class monument to man’s ability to create.

 

 

Mexico

Mexico, America's neighbor on its southern border, is known for beautiful women, sand beaches, tropical climate, fabled resorts and grisly corruption. Theirs is not just the run-of-the-mill kind of corruption, but rather a variety of world-class corruption that may well be unequaled the history of man. It is the kind of corruption in which government officials, especially those that are about to leave office, have no fear about how much they stole because they have been historically protected by their successor, who in turn is protected by his successor. Then again, what else could happen with a one-party political system? This then is the story of economic bungling and collapse, driven by incredible greed and greased by insurmountable corruption. It has happened before, and sometime in the not to distant future, it will happen again.

 

As recently as 1995, Mexico had financially tanked. It was about to take a good part of the Western World with it when the United States finalized a $20 billion loan package to help bail them out. This loan coupled with $30 billion from other sources seemed to stem the tide and ultimately saved the day. Interestingly enough, only one year earlier, multinationals were pouring money into Mexico as though it were going out of style and people from all over the world were investing in the Mexico stock market. After, wasn’t the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a literal license to steal, going to make Mexico’s dream of financial independence come true?

 

However, a series of unexpected events caused the economy to derail. The Mayan Indians living in Chiapas revolted against the central government for any number of highly logical reasons, some of which were the facts that most of them were earning less than $3 per day, the minimum wage in the country, most of them were not allowed to own land, they had either no roads or the ones that they had were so poorly maintained as to make them impassable most of the time, they had no regional health system, water if available was of such poor quality that it was hardly drinkable, little or no educational facilities and the government would not issue credits to these people against their agricultural production, something that was universally done in the rest of the country.

 

Along with this literally revolution, banks went bad, drug trafficking had increased and lawlessness became a growth industry and political extortion and cover-ups extended over the length and breadth of the country. People suddenly became concerned even more concerned when the stock market started going south and a mad scramble ensued with everyone trying to get out of a narrow door at the same time. Hard currency left the country in droves and Mexico, just plain ran out of foreign exchange. The peso was devalued once again but it broke through every support area that the Mexican economists had envisaged.

 

After it dropped over 50% in dollar terms, the rush to get out of Mexico became a torrent. Interest rates were substantially increased to bring in hard currency and taxes were escalated as well. In addition, many felt that Mexico was incapable of addressing the gnawing problem of the government’s continuing support of inefficient industries that well should have been privatized and that were substantially contributing to the nation’s negative balance of payments. In addition, the fact that Mexico would not address the issue of the needed elimination of the country’s "public sector debt." Over 1 million people were soon out of work and the country was headed into a depression, that many felt would endanger global economics if not halted.

 

Mexico was apparently heading in the direction of being permanently on the American dole which was something that no one wanted to face, However, after two tragic collapses in a short span of years, Mexico needed a fresh start and thanks to two big bailouts and some aggressive legislation passed by their loyal neighbors in the United States Congress, this was accomplished. This super-preferential treatment came in the form of a bill called NAFTA, which bestowed upon Canada and Mexico special trade treatment previously unknown in the civilized world. The legislation ran the gambit, from soup to nuts, in a potpourri of largesse so generous that it almost caused a civil war in the United States. The political logic evidenced by the legislators was indisputable, for they clearly felt it would be politically less expensive to bail out the Mexican economy with a form of continuing special treatment, rather than having to pony up $40 billion or more each time their economy went down the tube.

 

The ink was hardly dry on the agreements when, in order to return the favor, Mexico’s drug lords stepped up their output of drugs heading into the United States and currently account for two-thirds of the total amount of cocaine consumed in the United States. The situation has become so invasive within our borders that the U.S. Government secretly planted their own agents in Mexican banks to keep track of money laundering, and then in a stroke of shear brilliance uncommon to our bureaucratic public servants, they used the ruse of holding a symposium for the laundering of drug money to lure the guilty parities into the United States so that they could be arrested.

 

This was not a particularly far-ranging operation, as only 12 of the 19 largest banks in Mexico had officials that were actively involved in money laundering, () but the total number arrested was well above 100. The fact these banks were up to their eyeballs in the laundering mess came at a particularly bad time for both the banks and the government. In usual fashion the Mexican Congress was in the process of whisking along a bill that would have had the national government absorb the entire loss caused by the 1995 bailout of their banking system (Fobaproa), which would have taken the banks off the hook entirely. Whenever something goes wrong in Mexico, the guilty party never pays (their money goes to pay off corrupt judges and government officials), it is the people who pay.

 

The populace was already in a semi-crazed state over what they considered an attempt by the government to cram down a taxpayer bailout of the still rich bankers, many of whom were already in jail for embezzling money from depositors. The importance of the sting, code-named Casablanca, can be measured by the fact that it was conducted by units of the U. S. Treasury, the Customs Service, the Justice Department and the Federal Reserve. Publicly, Mexico applauded the action, but behind the scenes, notes were being exchanged at very high government levels complaining that the undercover sting had taken place on Mexican territory and without the knowledge of Mexican officials.

 

High-ranking American’s involved in the covert operation knew that if one word of these activities was ever leaked to the Mexicans, the entire operation would have been jeopardized. Recognizing the fact that almost the entire Mexican bureaucratic structure was so riddled by the drug cartel’s highly paid informants, not only would the operation have collapsed, but many of the Americans involved could have lost their lives. As it was best put by Jorge Castaneda, "It’s obvious the Americans don’t trust the Mexicans. They were never going to share something like this with Mexico."

 

As the magnitude of what had happened penetrated the Mexican rank and file, a hue and cry went up that Mexican sovereignty had been impugned. Relations then went from bad to worse; Mexico even advised the United States that it will criminally prosecute all of those involved from the Mexican informers to the American customs agents. Mexico’s Foreign Secretary even went as far as presenting the American Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, with a list of particulars relative to the laws that had been broken, which included money-laundering and entrapment.

 

The U. S. "front" company that ran the sting for the American Government, Emerald Empire Corporation, lured Mexican suspects into the United States to be arrested. According to Mexican Law, this type of entrapment is illegal. Secretary of State Albright took the "high road" and told her Mexican counterpart that she had never been informed about the operation. This may explain the American Secretary of State’s history of absurd statements about Mexican cooperation relative to their drug trafficking. Something like the three monkeys that see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil.

 

No sooner had the Mexican’s indicated that they were going to go after the people that participated in the American drug sting that it was sheepishly announced that maybe, just maybe, they had been informed in advance. The Mexican Attorney General’s office (PGR) announced that they had been informed of the operation very early in the scenario:

 

"On January 16, 1996, Mexico’s then deputy prosecutor for judicial and international affair, Rafael Estrada Samano, received a visit from two U.S. customs officials...to inform him of the operation later named Casablanca."

Furthermore, the PGR stated that:

"U. S. Justice and Treasury Department officials contacted Mexico’s Finance and Foreign Ministries, as well as the PGR."

Estrada when interviewed indicated in an interview that he had then informed Attorney General Antonia Lozano Garcia and the head of the Attorney General’s office in Baja. This operation seems to have left out only a number of high-level Mexican officials and U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright. Obviously, the success of the sting speaks for itself. Internationally, poor Ms. Albright always seems to be left out when something important is happening. Then again, she is only Secretary of State. Alternatively, maybe her memory conveniently failed her; after all, she totally forgot about her Jewish roots when that became convenient.

 

In spite of the truth, Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon , who wanted to prove how macho he was, continued to berate the United States. He was able to transfer the blame in one masterpiece of eloquence: "An overwhelming proportion of world (drug) demand comes from countries with the highest economic capacity, (but) it is our men and women who first die combating drug trafficking, our communities are the first to suffer from violence and our institutions are the first undermined by corruption."

 

Wow! Holy Molly! You just can’t fight that kind of logic.

 

He really stuck it to the U.S. What eloquence! Upon hearing Zedillo’s speech, the U. S. Congress passed a non-binding resolution approving the drug sting by the surprisingly close margin of 404 to 3. In throwing additional oil on the fire, U. S. government officials indicated that they would issue no guarantee not to run a similar operation in Mexico in the future, should the facts warrant it.

 

American’s losing their lives in Mexico is another story. So many tourists and business men have been murdered in the formerly peaceful, South of the Border tourist Mecca that the U.S. State Department has issued a bulletin stating that the crime rate has spiraled out of control and that taxis, ATMs, nightclubs and bars should either be avoided or are to be frequented with caution. In Mexico City alone, almost two hundred violent crimes and three murders a day occur that are officially noted; but these impressive statistics are meaningless when you consider that the great majority of crimes in Mexico go unreported.

 

Moreover, if you aren't murdered or kidnapped, robbed or beaten, Mexico has other much more sophisticated ways of ending your stay in this beautiful country. In a land of remarkable statistics, one of the most interesting is that every single day of the year, two-thirds of the entire population, that means men, women and children, eat their food at a street vendor’s stand. This means that 60 million meals a day are served under the brightly colored umbrellas that display the vendor’s wares. Whether it be a taco, a tortilla or a tomalley, it is nothing less than a tradition to go out for lunch and have something to eat under the umbrella, while taking in the beautiful weather and talking to one’s friends. Sounds idyllic, does it not?

 

Another Mexican delicacy is called Menudo or soup of boiled tripe. The Mexican’s believe that by downing this ugly tasting dish, they will be able to kick a bad tequila hangover in a short period of time. Usually, Mexican tripe is so terrible tasting that the imbiber is almost instantly relieved of everything that he has downed recently including the alcohol and soon feels better. Another equally good recipe used by Mexicans for relieving a hangover is the ingestion of very hot Jalapeno Peppers. This seems to have the same result as the tripe but for pure torture, take a good helping of their first cousin, the Habanero pepper that is considered to by many to be the hottest dish on the planet. It is suggested that Westerners have a fire extinguisher handy when even getting near this lethal concoction. Dan Day when writing about this incendiary morsel that, "Sure, just like a forest fire is "much hotter" than a summer’s day. I have an Habanero pepper plant, and they’re best treated like plutonium." ()

 

There is an independent consumer group in Mexico that goes by the name of "The Mexican Association of Studies for the Defense of the Consumer" (Amedec). For whatever reason, these spoilsports are out to ruin our fun. They say that there were 192 million illnesses last year in Mexico directly attributable to these vendors and the unsanitary conditions under which these luscious delicacies are prepared and served. Checking the math, this comes to an unbelievable three illnesses per person () eating this umbrella food during a given year. Worse yet, Amedec states that these are not just any old little illnesses, but are in a league with the big enchiladas, like dysentery, hepatitis and cholera, among other unsavory bugs.

 

Well might you say, "What’s a little dysentery among friends? Well Bunkie, 60,000 people a year are carted off and given the last rights because of the food they get from the lovely stands with the brightly colored umbrellas in Mexico. "Why doesn’t the government do something about making these folks clean up their act, , you know, like make them more sanitary?" If something like that was going on in the United States, the American officials in charge would have been boiled in oil, just for starters.

 

Consider that these people have been cooking food and serving it this way long before Columbus discovered America. Furthermore, one out of every four Mexicans makes his living serving up this brand of poison. Do you think Zedillo and his crew were about to legislate these folks out existence, when every politician in the country needs this bloc of votes to be elected?

 

Medical treatment for those that get sick eating this stuff runs into a massive amount of money, and when almost $2 billion in lost productivity is added to the economic cost, you are starting to talk about real money. One Mexican we knew said he had a solution to all of Mexico’s problems: make the politicians and drug dealers eat three meals a day at any outdoor stand of their choice, and Mexico would have the highest standard of living in the world within 12 years. Two things are for sure, for Mexico would have far fewer corrupt politicians and the people would be a lot better off.

 

Americans are still under the impression that Mexico is a tourist’s delight, but the State Department is well aware that if the kidnappers, robbers and murderers don’t get you, the food will probably rot out your gut. When Americans return from Mexico and become sicker than dogs, they talk about only drinking bottled water, but they forget the ice cubes in their drinks didn’t come out of a bottle and food from the umbrella vendor isn’t as clean as one gets from the New York City street vendor. The best-kept secret in the world is that Mexico doesn’t have anyone policing the health habits of vendors, and little things like washing hands after going to the toilet are not part of the health inspector’s agenda. Clearly, these unsanitary conditions are what is causing the rampant food poisoning in the country.

 

In one breath the American government says that the Mexican government is doing a good job keeping the lid on a difficult situation, and at the same time the U.S. Congress has authorized an experimental bill that would literally turn the Mexican-US border into an armed camp in order to stop the drug flow. This is not a realistic option.

 

Mexico's problems stemmed from the fact that most government officials bought their way into office and were only given a brief period of time (one term) to steal as much as they could comfortably fit into their knapsacks. A tacit agreement has historically existed between the incumbent and his predecessor that if the former office holder doesn't tell everyone how easy it is to loot money from the national treasury and how it is done, the incumbent won't have the former official arrested for theft.

 

In spite of the hue and cry arising from the United States and every do-gooder in the rest of the world, senior Mexican officials have only learned to hide their tracks more successfully. Since 1929 all eleven presidents of Mexico have named their own successors in what is called in local parlance, "Dedazo," or in its English translation, "The Big Finger." When someone anoints you, he is hardly a person you want to throw in jail for criminal conduct while in office. That is, until the most recent Mexican national election that, for the first time in modern history resulted in the election of the opposition candidate.

 

"Corruption extended into the electoral process as well. In the 1994 election, Zedillo and the PRI struggled to overcome allegations of past election fraud. In the 1988 presidential election, for instance, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas Solorzano of the Party of the Democratic Revolution lost after holding a comfortable lead over Salinas. As the vote count neared its end, the election computers mysteriously went down. Government officials blamed the crash on "atmospheric conditions." When the computers came back on several days later and election officials announced the final count, Salinas had made a miraculous comeback to win. Most observers concluded that the PRI had simply stolen the election after it became apparent that they were about to lose the presidency." ()

Well, not much has changed in Mexico since then. Officials continue to embezzle money from the treasury, but because of the substantial privatizations that brought additional billions of dollars into the Mexican government coffers, the amount of money available for the taking by government bureaucrats has increased significantly. Since Mexican government officials learn the art of official theft so well from their predecessors, we are not particularly sanguine about the future of this country.

 

In Mexico, nearly everyone is sacrosanct, unless of course you happen to be a peasant, especially an indigenous Indian peasant. The untouchables are leaders of the government, the army, and the police. Each seems to operate independently with only one common thread: invincibility. There is no crime substantial enough to bring these people to the bar of justice. The general who was acting as Mexico’s anti-drug czar actually was working for the drug lords, even placing his troops at their disposal. ()

 

An interesting example of this was the recent case of police torture in Mexico City. The bodies had been so badly mauled as a result of police brutality that the local newspapers went on a crusade. It turns out that, unknown to virtually everyone, the police unit in question was independent even from other police units and operated in vigilante style. In a most unusual move, three senior police officers were arrested for their attempted cover up the unspeakable brutality. The unit rebelled; police officers are not arrested in Mexico, and especially not those of an elite unit, no matter what the crime. The police barricaded themselves in, as the army and the rest of the Mexico City police department readied for an old style Wild West shootout. Ultimately the internecine warfare died down, but the status quo remains and the citizens of Mexico are the losers.

 

One has to look no further than then the Mexican Police Academy for the answers. According to Gerlind Younts of NBC in his report of May 19, 1998:

 

"Because of years of allegations of police corruption and collaboration with criminals, a Mexican university decided to put some students undercover to investigate the training of police recruits at a Mexican police academy. After two years of study, the results were discouraging. Many of the young recruits had little or no education, and they were selected by family members who were already on the police force. Students were encouraged to pay money for better grades in the school. Moreover, during some of the courtyard breaks, students bonded with each other by smoking pot. Some police instructors at the academy were teaching students how to rob from citizens. "Rob with professionalism," a police academy instructor was quoted as saying. "You don’t have to ask for money, just wait; people are going to give it to you automatically, so you don’t have to say anything."

According to Ogara Hess & Eisenhardt Company De Mexico, a company that is in the business of demographizing Mexico City crime, they estimate that, "The city last year had, one million muggings, 70,000 car thefts and 21,000 truck thefts." () The Wall Street Journal put those numbers into perspective, "The bigger problem, of course, is that the cops and the criminals are sometimes one and the same. The government has fired a long list of corrupt police, but it turns out there are lots more where those came from. Worse, the fired cops now have all day to spend on the streets. Crime is not only pervasive, it has a business-like efficiency to it...."

 

On June 2, 1998, the Mexican Government charged ten police officers and public servants with corruption after they allegedly accepted $2.4 million in cash to let a suspected Colombian drug trafficker go free. When they grabbed the police culprits in the State of Sinaloa, they were able to confiscate almost $2 million in cash, along with a number of cars. Sadly, in Mexico extortionists are not only passive, but at times they can get rather aggressive when trying to make a buck.

 

Mexican judges are either on the take or afraid to make tough decision when their lives could be at stake. You really can’t blame them for having concerns about their personal safety. An interesting view of the Mexican judicial system can be garnered when analyzing the arrest of Luis and Jesus Amezcua, known as the "kings of methamphetamines" (Speed). The brother’s organization, the "Colima Cartel," is known as Mexico’s fourth largest drug gang. American DEA chief Thomas Constantine in analyzing the situation stated that, "The Amezcua brothers run the largest methamphetamine and chemical trafficking organization identified by U.S. law enforcement, and the arrest and removal of these two key leaders should significantly disrupt the established methamphetamine trade."

 

Mexico announced the collaring of the two with great pride and indicated that it was a "major blow against the Colima Cartel." In spite of their being caught red handed and support for a conviction from the Central Government, a judge could not be found for some period of time in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, who was willing to hear the case and willing to press charges against the brothers. After a number of calls, a judge was finally found that was willing to sit in the matter. Therefore, in Mexico we find that the army, the police, the bureaucrats and the judiciary tend to be either corrupt or easily intimidated, and it is the Wild West all over again.

 

Nevertheless, that wasn’t the end of the story by a long shot. The judge in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city, was pressed into service and did not require a lot of thought before clearing both of the Amezcua brothers of all charges immediately, sending into oblivion any hopes of a quick change to Mexico’s arrest and release syndrome. Although the two still face charges on a lesser charge of money laundering, that shouldn’t present much of a problem to their attorney, mainly because the law didn’t even exist when the crime they are accused of took place.

 

Well, at least it will give the Mexican Government the opportunity of saying that it did its best in spite of two bits at the apple. Now, the only thing that these lovable characters have to fear is extradition to the United States, but with the current climate between the nations growing colder by the minute, this seems about as likely as finding a judge that would have convicted them in the first place. In Mexico, kidnapping is the norm rather than the exception. Kidnapping is so common that most regions have a special police brigade aptly labeled the anti-kidnap police just to deal with the numerous instances of this crime of holding people hostage in exchange for substantial sums of money. The leaders of these specialized units are well-trained, incorruptible professionals, dedicated to the eradication of this blemish on Mexico’s reputation. Furthermore, even senior politicians are afraid of moving around their districts unescorted, because even they are "marks" for vicious gangs looking for their next victim.

 

Mexico has the distinction of achieving the number two slot in world kidnapping, just a tad behind Columbia in this dubious, through significant art form. Although everything in Mexico has become bizarre, the situation now has deteriorated to the point where one can’t tell the good guys from the bad buys without a scorecard. In Mexico, officers of the law engage in the act of kidnapping and shaking down citizens, heads of police departments are kidnapped and held for ransom and criminals disguise themselves as policemen and then go out and kidnap people.

 

As you can well imagine, none of the kidnappers are ever apprehended except for an infinitely small number that are, for the most part, found innocent by Mexican trial judges, usually because of a "lack of evidence" against them. In effect, the more police the system turns out, the more kidnapping that occurs, and the better the bribes for the police officers. Thus, Mexico has created one of the most unusual vicious circles in criminal history. Authoritative mathematicians have estimated that if the police departments all over Mexico were disbanded, mathematically speaking at least, kidnapping would drop so substantially that it would no longer be considered a problem.

 

Daniel Arizmendi Lopez is easily ranked at the top of the Mexican kidnappers, and he brings a touch of class to an otherwise straightforward occupation. By employing only the most trusted of his own relatives and using contract criminals for carrying out his orders, he has been able to keep a distance between himself and the law for many years. His operation is both extensive and sophisticated, and its consequences are unparalleled. Early in his career, Arizmendi learned that cutting off various body parts of victims and having them hand-delivered to hysterical relatives was very effective in causing a acceleration in slow moving negotiations.

 

However, Arizmendi has also created one of the best networks of "friends in high places," though not through his sterling personality or good looks, but by paying out a substantial part of his revenues in bribes to key officials. Only after Arizmendi became recognized as the leading kidnapper in Mexico did the hue and cry cause President Zedilo to do anything about him. When government forces finally got the message, they acted in almost overwhelming fashion by grabbing seven safe houses in Cuernavaca and Mexico City, arresting not only his wife, but also his son, daughter and daughter-in-law and grabbing a spare $5 million in cash that just happened to be laying around one of the apartments. Shockingly, no one knew how the money had gotten there or where it went thereafter.

 

Arizmendi’s specialty was breaking into armored cars, summarily dispensing with objecting bodyguards and immediately removing victim’s ears to make them for flexible. In one action quoted by the New York Times (Sunday, May 31, 1998), a victim stated, "They throw you on the floor with your eyes blindfolded, then one of them jumps on top of you, and you think it’s your last hour. It’s a relief when you realize it’s only a mutilation." Arizmendi has indicated that he chose this gory profession because it offers substantial paydays with little downside risk, since almost no one is every arrested for kidnapping in Mexico. So far, investigators have arrested a Federal prosecutor and a federal police agent, as well as the former chief of the Morelos State police anti-kidnapping unit in this affair.

 

To give you an idea of how bad this dude really is, Luis Reynoso, Roman Catholic Bishop of Morelos State and a harsh critic of any capital punishment in Mexico, indicated that his charity did not extend to Daniel Arizmendi Lopez and that in his case an exception ought to be made. Mexican President Zedillo called him despicable and the usually docile people of Morelos suggested that his family's body parts be severed one by one until he turned himself in. Mexicans all over the country are using this case as a rallying point for bringing back the death penalty, which was eliminated in Mexico in the 1920’s.

 

Armando Martinez Salgado was the chief of one of the finest anti-kidnap squads in the country. His reputation as a no nonsense officer of the law was legendary, and his knowledge of the field made him a constant source of information for other less informed heads of comparable squads. That is, until a highway patrol squad picked him up with the mutilated body of 17-year old Jorge Nava Avila, five ski masks, adhesive tape and blood-soaked bandages in his car.

 

When asked to explain his action, Armando informed the arresting officers that he was on a secret mission, the details of which he was not allowed to divulge to anyone. In an attempt to ferret out what had occurred, police officials began an investigation of the entire anti-kidnapping squad. The unit had thirty-eight members, and by the time fifteen had been questioned, the remaining twenty-three had left town and were in hiding. Moreover, by this time, Armando had been fingered by several witnesses who declared him their abductor. Ultimately, as the people sheepishly came forward to testify in the investigation, witnesses have implicated him in almost forty kidnapping cases in Morelos.

 

They have confirmed that the anti-kidnapping czar was the recipient of substantial amounts of cash paid by hysterical relatives for the return of their loved ones. Armando Martinez Salgado, not wanting to swing for this all by himself, has named people up to and including the Governor of the State of Morelos, Jorge Carrillo Olea, as his co-conspirators. For some strange reason, we don’t really doubt the man. The whole story is so bizarre that it must be true.

 

Mexican Presidents have a great deal of power over State Governors with good reason. President Ernest Zedillo was extremely embarrassed over the entire situation down in Morelos. The way that Governors are removed in Mexico is usually through a simple call by the President to the offending politician, stating that he should pack his bags and be out of his respective state house, now! That certainly is something that doesn’t happen every day, one would think. Well, one would be quite wrong. During the Salinas years, he removing about three governors per year and a total of 16 during his six-year term. President Zedillo seemed to have picked up the pace as his term came close to exploration.

 

When can we recall a governor in one of the fifty United States resigning because the President was annoyed at him. Picture Bill Clinton calling up George Pataki and telling him his term as Governor of New York State is at an end:

 

"Hello: George, this is Bill Clinton, you know, the President of the United States calling, how are you today.?"

"Bill, I’m doing just fine, and I want to take this opportunity to tell you that what I said about you and Hillary was just political talk and you shouldn’t take it too seriously. We’re still friends, aren’t we?"

"George, I’ve been around politics too long not to understand what you are saying and we are from different political parties, but what is great about America is the fact that when the day is over, we can put aside our differences and go about our business without any hard feelings. And, by the way George, don’t take this personally, but I think that you should resign as governor."

"Bill, I know where you are coming from and with all due respect, you have as much chance of seeing me resign as you have of getting your wife to shut up."

"George, I must tell you that unless you pack your bags today, I will call in the army."

"Bill, call in the army but remember that we have the best National Guard in the United States, and I will instruct them to fight to the last man to save New York’s sovereign soil."

"George, you are talking about civil war, come to your senses man, just leave quietly and we can still be friends."

"Bill, you know what you can do with you resignation crap. With all due respect, I must say, " Stick it!"

In Mexico, the old axiom, "with police officers like Armando, we don’t need any criminals." Obviously, this still holds true and is certainly an incentive to not plan your next vacation around the balmy breezes of the Mexican State of Morales. Since Martinez was arrested, Mexican police have made a rather attractive haul, including Carlos Peredo Merlo, the Attorney General for the State of Morelos, the former state police chief Jesus Miyazawa Alvarez, and his top deputy, the chief of detectives, and two other senior police officers, all of whom have been accused of giving Commander Armando Martinez Salgado the assignment to dispose of the body of Nava Aviles.

 

The national Attorney General explained the arrests with the following statement, "The house arrest was motivated by the alleged participation in the acts that gave rise to the investigation into the crimes of torture, murder and illegally disposing of a body." Merlo and Alvarez are now comfortably ensconced in Almoloya maximum-security prison, charged with torture and murder. It may be only be a matter of time, however, before they are released on some technicality.

In a turnabout, both the chief and deputy chief of the Mexico City police's highly regarded anti-kidnapping section, not only have been kidnapped, but have not been heard from since this event occurred. Senior officials in Mexico are not sanguine about the recovery of either officer and believe that it was an action done in revenge for the activities of that unit. Residents of Mexico City that were previously afraid to venture from their homes are now nearly berserk. Comments such as, "If the police can't even take care of themselves, how are they going to take care of us?" have become common.

 

In an equally remarkable chronicle, the son of the Mayor of Mexico City would have us believe that his car was stolen by armed bandits while his bodyguard was at the wheel. And what about the time a police unit in the resort city of Acapulco got into a dispute with a cab driver, tied him into his vehicle, doused him with gasoline and set him on fire, burning him to death. He later described it as a result of the cab driver’s bad attitude. ()

 

People have became so fearful of kidnappers that travelers are warned by their governments to seek police protection at the slightest indication of trouble. A group of Australian women, aware of the problem and when traveling near the resort town of Guadalajara, witnessed an automobile accident in which the participants and members of the crowd became unruly. Without hesitation, they asked the local police on the scene for protection. Well, it turns out that this was a big mistake, because the five women had not found the police, they had run right into a kidnapping gang disguised with the uniforms of local officials. As you might well expect, these women have never been seen again, making the old Mexican axiom that the police are the worst place to go if you have a problem accurate again.

 

Even Don King, America’s untouchable king of boxing promotion, in Mexico City for a boxing match found out what life is like in the world’s most populated city. While on his way from the airport to his hotel, his car was pulled over by four men, who put guns to the heads of King and his companions. King got away lucky, as they only took his watch, which he valued at over $100,000. King, although shaken up, indicated that he was "grateful to God" for escaping alive. The last we heard, King’s insurance company was unable to find a watch company that manufactured a $100,000 watch.

 

So when Mexico City got a new Mayor who ran on a ticket of law and order, the people believed he would make the city safe for them after so many years of rampant crimes of terrorism. In 1987 alone, almost one hundred banks had been robbed, almost one thousand crimes a day were recorded and scores of wealthy people had been kidnapped, many never seen again. Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the first opposition Mayor since the 1920s, didn't get a lot of time to savor his victory. Stepping into the one of the most contaminated political systems in the world was not the worst problem facing the new mayor, as Mexico City with a population of 18 million is also the world’s most polluted city on earth by almost any standard.

 

At an elevation of substantially over a mile, yet surrounded by mountains, the air on many days does not seem to move at all. Combining this with "gas guzzling" ancient four-wheeled machinery and the endless traffic jams have raised the sulfur dioxide and nitric dioxide particulate matter in the air to critical levels. In spite of an infant mortality rate that is among the world’s highest, catching a breath of fresh air can require a trip of over one hundred miles. Pollution is not the new mayor’s priority.

 

While he ran on a virtually anti-military ticket, his first appointee to the police department was an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel who got the top slot. One of the Colonel's first moves was the appointment of a former military man as his top aid, thirty-seven year old Jesus Carrola Gutierrez, who was immediately was accused of being involved with drug traffickers. In addition, it was charged that he had been involved in killing, brutalizing and torturing suspects and extorting prisoners.

 

The new Mayor followed up this success by eliminating Christmas bonuses for government officials just before the holiday and capped municipal salaries at $100,000 per year in a country where the average worker is paid about $3 per day. Then, his chief of staff no less, Jesus Gonzalez Schmal, who with great fanfare and in an effort to attack the Zedillo faction, released a list of 2,500 hundred names purportedly on phantom payrolls. The newspapers soon made chopped liver out of Schmal when it turned out that the names on the list had either died or legitimately resigned from their positions.

 

Undaunted by this succession of disasters, Schmal followed it up by accusing Mexico City’s ruling political leader of espionage without furnishing a shred of evidence against him. Gratefully for Cardenas, Schmal resigned, giving the reason that he had to defend himself against intimidation and defamation by unknown political enemies. Hey, at least Cardenas is giving it his all, and we award him our "Good Start of the Year Award" for the substantial efforts he has already made. We know that we will be hearing from the Mayor in his other endeavors in the near future.

 

The Mexico City Chamber of Commerce ("Canaco") in a highly intellectual pronouncement stated, "What foreign investors are very worried about is the lack of personal safety." They indicated that a mind-boggling one-third of all stores in the city were robbed or broken into, just during the third quarter of 1998. Even more telling was the Canaco follow-up report, which stated that forty percent of those victimized did not even both to call the police because they considered them too corrupt to bother with. In official statistics, there were over a quarter of a million reported crimes in the city alone, and less then one-percent of the criminals were arrested. Contrary to the campaign promises of Cardenas, crime has not only failed to decline, but is rising sharply since he took office.

 

We salute Cardenas, but just as we were about to award him the "Good Start of the Year" award, we were informed about yet another foul up. It seems that an American businessman, Peter Zarate, a Cushman & Wakefield real estate executive, was kidnapped and then murdered by a gang of five men, lead by "El Chucky," who proceeded to confess to the crime. The Mexico City Judge, Maria Claudia Campuzano, called El Chucky, Guillermo Rojas Hernandez, a fugitive from justice wanted for robbery, battery, homicide, kidnapping and 50 taxi holdups, a modern "Robin Hood," as she promptly authorized the papers authorizing his release.

 

Her mystifying statement seemed to stem from the fact that, while El Chucky admitted to police that he had taken $100 from the victim, he had also confessed to disbursing $101 to his partners in crime. Obviously, this made so little sense to the judge that she determined that the murderer’s confession was coerced. Once out in the street, Robin Hood's Merry men wasted little time in finding a Venezuelan tourist to beat and rob. He is expect to be released from the hospital after the various breaks heal. What makes this case even more confusing is the fact that Judge Maria was not even in the city when the release order was signed, but was on holiday some distance from Mexico City. Hey, why should that be mystifying?

 

The American State Department, upon hearing of this grotesque example of Mexican justice, determined that a line must be drawn and requested Mexican officials to conduct an investigation into the matter. Authorities have been at a loss to explain the judge’s actions, while the judge herself seems to be able to shed little light on her glorification of such common criminals. She has given no indication of any logical reason for her strange behavior. But in spite of stirring up an international incident, when the case was remanded to the Supreme Tribunal, they took the judge to task for comparing El Chucky to Robin Hood, but as they saw it, her judicial decision was correct. Hey, why should that be bizarre?

 

The Supreme Tribunal was not overwhelmed, it seems with Mr. El Chucky’s generosity to his gang, but they had to admit police probably were too enthusiastic in questioning gang members, who still had severe marks all over their bodies after interrogation. This and other similar experiences have caused the U.S. embassy to issue a high level warning to tourists, and among other warnings, they have notified tourists that Mexico City’s green and yellow Volkswagen taxi cabs could pose a major risk to visiting American’s health.

 

Ultimately, justice triumphed, or more realistically, gringo pressures triumphed. The judge who compared Mr. El Chucky to Robin Hood was suspended without pay for committing no less than five procedural errors in determining the outcome of the case. Moreover, the case was remanded to another judge for rehearing. The State Department was ecstatic and were convinced that Judge Hernandez would see that justice would finally be done, but to their surprise he seemed afflicted by the same insect that bit his predecessor. Mr. Chucky will walked once again.

 

Because of folks like Mr. Chucky and his merry men, Mexico City is not a very safe place for anyone, that is, other than people in the "North Jail," which is reverently spoken of as the only place in the city where you do not have to worry about being mugged. There are many creature comforts available its shielded walls, and well-connected inmates can partake of drugs, liquor, women and restaurant deliveries while being incarcerated. Furthermore, certain of the prisoners can enjoy Jacuzzis, gardens, a maid (with her own private bedroom), private gymnasiums and even a children’s playroom.

 

The people of Mexico City did not really understand why powerful criminals had no fear of jail until Francisco Wesson Munoz, a senior drug dealer, was sequestered in the prison. A local newspaper, Reforma, did a piece on his terrible prison ordeal in which they pointed out that he was able to control drug smuggling within all of the jails in Mexico City, and in his spare time, he set up new joint venture criminal projects with drug operatives of the Medellin and Cali Cartels. Besides enjoying all of the amenities outlined above, the story reported that Munoz, not only charged the other inmates rent in the prison, but also he had a menu disturbed to his fellow incarceraties that provided a list of available amenities and the charge for having them provided. Apparently, this was not much of a secret outside the country, as both the Washington Post in 1997 and Reuters on 3/2/98 ran stories about this home away from home for criminals who needed time to be alone with their thoughts.

 

Cardenas, having committed one mistake after another, determined to set the record straight and did the one thing he knew would get his constituents attention. He audited the city’s books. He found that the previous administration stole $625 million from the city in 1995 alone. Now, this could be very serious, and according to knowledgeable Mexican sources, for stealing that kind of money, one could be banned from public service, or in extreme cases, even be ordered to pay back the stolen funds.

 

It should be no stretch of the imagination to anticipate that as long as the clowns running Mexico both condone and participate in graft on a world-class scale, there is literally no hope for this country. As long as these thugs stay in office, the nation will be "taking the gas pipe" by tanking approximately once every decade. Thus, in spite of NAFTA's ongoing cost, Uncle Sam will be forced to once again dig even deeper into the taxpayer’s bag of goodies and provide Mexico with yet another shot in the arm.

 

Knowing that America's temper was getting a little short, Mexican officials determined they would show the world they knew how to handle financial criminals. Jorge Lankenau ran a banking operation called, the Abaco Group in Monterrey. Being a smart lad and aware of the fact that the country does not prosecute financial crimes, Jorge in one uninterrupted motion sold the bank to Citibank, raised substantial additional funds and dipped his fingers into the whole ball of wax and walked into the sunset with about $200 million dollars of his shareholders money tucked into his jeans.

 

He had created a company called Scottie Holding Corporation, which was registered in Montevideo, Uruguay. Investors were advised that Scottie would buy high yielding bonds, but in reality the Montevideo company took most of the money and allegedly purchased real estate in Atlanta, Georgia. Alas, as with so many Mexican transactions, once the money has been invested, it becomes impossible to trace the assets that were purchased. In this case, search as they will, no one in either Mexico or Atlanta has been able to locate the missing assets. Poor Jorge, he didn't know that that the country was looking for a scapegoat, and because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, he was going to be it. He offered officials the usual retainers and to his shock, they refused. Not believing that he had heard correctly, Jorge made another offer, an even greater amount, only to be turned down once again.

 

The police and prosecuting attorney told Jorge that they were really going to be harsh with him for stealing so much of the bank's money. Thus, Jorge was incarcerated within his mansion in suburban Monterrey and firmly told not to leave the general vicinity. Jorge was a step ahead because he had been tipped off by the locals that he was going to be the fall guy for all the countless others that had stolen money and walked away. Jorge was able to devise a plan that would work to his advantage, no matter what officials did.

 

Sometime between August 29, 1997, which was the date of his incarceration, and October 26, 1997, when authorities went to Jorge's house to see if he was being a good boy, they discovered that he had disappeared. Our industrious offender had dug a tunnel at his bank's expense that ran from his basement to a spot some distance from the residence where he could catch a cab to freedom. Jorge did not even leave a note. He just left with all of his money. Mexican Officials were sanguine about the affair stating that, "Well, at least we tried to put someone under house arrest, and that will certainly show the rest of the world how serious we are about corruption!"

 

The story does not end there. Incredibly, Jorge was caught and returned to Mexico. The police and prosecutors in Monterrey, who were concerned that the local administration was too lenient on murders and bank thieves, dragged him forcibly in front of a tough Mexico City Judge. Unbeknownst to them, though, Jorge had many of the best friends money could buy. The judge indicated that he didn't know what everyone was so riled up about, after all, Jorge's bank, Confia, which, after Jorge had conveyed most of the bank's assets and records to Uruguay, was estimated to only cost taxpayers about $1 billion, and that was just to reconstruct the records. What was everyone doing getting so riled up about, when a small sum like this was involved?

 

The judge indicated he felt an injustice was being done to poor Jorge, and he remanded him back to his mansion in Monterrey, where Jorge’s real friends lived. Arguments by the prosecutor that Jorge would attempt to join his money and records in Uruguay, a country that – surprise, surprise – has no extradition, fell on deaf ears. But the game wasn't over yet, for the family of Fernando Canales Clariond, Governor of the state of Neuvo Leon, wasn’t happy over the $30 million the family had invested with the errant banker. He indicated the family would prefer that Jorge rot in jail, or if possible someplace worse.

 

By this time, Mexican senior officials were getting involved because the case was starting to stink up the place. Government officials called American giant, Citibank, on the phone and indicated that they had a deal that the big bank could not turn down. Many knowledgeable people suggested that in order to put this theft to rest, Salinas offered Citibank a deal that they couldn’t turn down. Odds maker’s figure this could have had something to do with the investigation of Citibank which had been going on for more than a year over money laundering, undertaken at the behest of Salinas, Mexico's former president. However, the Mexican people were incensed that a foreign bank could come into Mexico and steal the king's jewels. They figured that even though this deal would cost Citibank $400 million or more before the dust settled, the Mexican people will be the big contributors, having to put up more than $1 billion.

 

After all, why should the citizens of Mexico contribute to a bank bailout with the beneficiary being an American Gringo Bank? The facts are that in the 1990s, 18 banks were sold to Mexican buyers in liquidation by the government, and of that number, only eight remain in business today. Selling to Mexican citizens resulted in a double hit to them, the first when the government aids or subsidizes the acquirer, and the second time when the acquirer goes belly up. They should know by now that a bailout isn't a bailout, for when the indigenous population buys it, it is a best a tax loss.

 

Whether Jorge Lankenau is allowed to stealthfully leave the country in the darkness of the night or in the day's transparent rays makes little difference in the global scheme of things, because it looks like another Mexican bailout scenario is about to happen all over again. This time, though, there is a modicum of warning from the powers that be. After setting up a $2.5 billion dollar credit facility, the Finance Ministry said, "With this operation, the federal government succeeded in reducing the risk in financing its debt, obtained protection against international volatility, reduced the risk of external shocks on Mexico and maintained orderly access to international capital markets." Sounds like someone is battening down the hatches for one hell of a storm!

 

After the first U.S. bailout of Mexican banks, these institutions became a license to steal for their owners and, indeed, anyone else with light fingers. Carlos Cabal Peniche, a $14 million donator to Zedillo's election campaign in 1994, () seems to have made off with almost $1 billion by looting Banca Union and Banca Cremi, a bank delivered to him by Guillermo Ortiz, Zedillo's Finance Minister and then the head of Banco de Mexico. When he had finished plundering the bank’s assets, he transferred the money offshore, and that was the last seen of him, until, that is, he turned up in Australia with his wife and four children. Cabal was also responsible for laundering a substantial amount of Raul Salinas's drug funds.

 

Jorge Lankenau’s purchase of Confia Bank cost the Mexican government over a billion dollars (U.S.), but he was a piker compared to Angel Rodriguez, "El Divino," who was recently shipped back to Mexico from a Spanish dungeon after lengthy extradition hearings. It seems that the "Divine One" acquired Asemex-Banpais Banking Group and used it as his personal piggy bank by having the bank lend to companies he owned. A little over a billion dollars latter, he was found by authorities on his yacht, Moon Dance, off of coast of the Spanish resort island of Ibiza. ()

 

The Mexican laws do not really look at bank robbery or for that matter any other white-collar, blue-collar or black-collar crime as something that can be satisfactorily prosecuted. () Thus, instead of putting the handsome thief in jail, he usually winds up hanging out in the lap of luxury in a Mexican mansion. It seems like a very strange form of justice when a man literally breaks the bank for his own purposes, flees the country, winds up in a Spanish jail and then is released to return to the scene of his crime. Instead of wearing leg-irons, he dresses in a tuxedo for cocktails at the most elegant bistros in Mexico City. His crimes of embezzlement and breaking of federal banking regulations are iffy at best. Officials have indicated that it may have been a mistake by extraditing such a fine upstanding gentleman. In effect, the Divine One has was set free and has not yet been punished for ruining the lives of countless citizens.

 

At best, Mexico is still a very strange place. One look at El Divino’s defense against Mexican charges should be enough to send prosecutors fleeing for cover. He stated that even if he stole hundreds of millions of dollars, it would only amount to a miniscule percentage of the $65 billion that it cost Mexico to bail out its banking system. How could anyone think of prosecuting a person whose share of the spoils was so small, he asks? He casually shifts the blame for his problems onto Fobaproa (the deposit guarantee fund used for the bailout), saying that while he only is responsible for a small percentage of the fund’s losses, their incompetence and corruption are responsible for infinitely more. "I believe I am being made a scapegoat to hide the negligence and incompetence of the people who were doing what they say was their best to manage Fobaproa, and they say the best they could do was leave us with a debt of $65 billion." Sadly, the truth of the matter is that the Divine One is on the right track with this argument.

 

El Divino has particularly annoyed a Fobaproa’s chief, Eduardo Fernandez, when he accused Fernandez of taking over a perfectly healthy bank and wrecking it. Fernandez responded that El Divino sometimes distorts the truth and stated the he is a "financial delinquent devoid of moral qualities." Among the more bizarre charges in this case is the one that charges El Divino of taking out a loan at his bank to buy a plane that did not exist in the name of a company that was imaginary. But wait, before you condemn the Divine One, please note he has submitted a picture of the non-existent plane, but can’t seem to come up with the company that borrowed the money. For Mexican justice, this sounds like an unbeatable argument.

 

Just so you won’t become convinced that strange deals only take place in Mexico City, we take you to Jalisco State where they have had a long-term governor by the name of Flavio Romero de Velasco. Velasco was known for running a safe and peaceful state where his electorate was able to live carefree lives. On the other hand, unbeknownst to the citizenry, Romero was in bed with the major drug traffickers in the country and traveled throughout most of the world in their company. The former governor, now 75 years of age, was running a banking business on the side that laundered the money his travel companions would collect on their trips.

 

Romero also was also trafficking in major government positions by making substantive cash payments to the most powerful people in the central government. The scam came to an screeching halt when Raul Carranca, an attorney, was charged $60,000 to be installed as Mexico’s Attorney General and was never appointed. Although, Romero explained to Carranca that a minor oversight had been committed, and he would straighten it out, Carranca got emotionally involved and turned in the highly traveled banker.

 

Then let us consider the strange case of Fernando Antonio Gastelum, a heavy-duty guy from Baja California Sur, who in addition to his other titles, was the chief of the State Judicial Police. Fernando was known in the region as a stickler for law and order and, if anything, was believed to be too tough on those that were imprisoned within his domain. Imagine the people’s disbelief when he was arrested for masterminding the delivery of over ten tons, of cocaine into his district for local use, yes, local use – not transshipment to those corrupt Norte Americanos. According to the Attorney General’s office in La Paz, where Fernando is now cooling his feet in a jail cell, he was in charge of all of the delivery’s details, including the arranging, preparing and directing of how and where the contraband would be delivered. In addition to arranging for the drop point and for a warehouse to store this prodigious amount of drugs, he also arranged for a fleet of small planes and ancillary equipment to take the merchandise directly to the purchasers. What a through and competent businessman!

 

Or better yet, let us consider the case of Rafael Munoz Talavera, a world-class drug dealer who set the American record of having 21.4 tons of cocaine confiscated in one raid in California in 1989. Ultimately, Munoz was arrested by police in a hotel room that had been rented by the police department a week earlier. He was hauled off to a jail cell that was so elaborate that it contained an entirely stocked bar, including all of the drug leader’s favorite brands. Mexican authorities did Munoz a favor by trying him in Mexico, while their American counterparts were screaming for extradition.

 

U.S. Government authorities, somewhat palliated by what appeared to be a real trial in which the prosecutors were asking the judge to send Munoz away for sixty years, were lulled into complacency. In a bizarre twist, Munoz received an amparo, a writ that allows the holder to avoid jail under any circumstances (similar to diplomatic immunity) and was declared innocent of all charges. The American’s awoke with a start and found out that the prosecutors, the police and the judge had all been well taken care of by Munoz.

 

The American’s wanted justice, and they finally got it in a second trial that handed Munoz a 20-year vacation in the slammer. However, while the Americans were out celebrating, the judge’s verdict was summarily overturned by a higher court and Munoz walked once again. As we write this story, Munoz is happily ensconced in his home in Ciuddad Juarez, doing what he has always done, dealing in drugs. The judges that heard his case, the police that made the arrests and prosecutors who could never win a case against him are now for the most part, gone from office, but all much wealthier for having know him.

 

In reference to the problems of police and judges accepting payoffs as well as a general participation in the importation of drugs, Celia Toro, the head of international studies at Colegio de Mexico, said that, "The cost for Mexico has been the near total destruction or dismantling of our police and judicial systems." This is certainly a change from the historic Mexican attitude that bribery payments helped augment low salaries for high echelon police and judicial officials and represented a substantial inducement for them to compromise God and Country for the better life. By eliminating their ability to engage in criminal activities, some wags have suggested qualified people would no longer be interested in these types of positions.

 

Maybe they should start dismantling operations in the office of Sergio Mejia Sanchez, a former crackerjack deputy attorney general who gained a fearsome reputation as a persecutor when working with the Mexican Federal Judicial Police. Sergio, who came from an underprivileged family, always prided himself on his roots and indicated that he could barely get along on the pay in the prosecutors office, but he loved the work and enjoyed helping the poor. He told the people that the good he was doing for them made up for his financial shortfall, and he was pleased he could be contributing something back to the country that had given him so much.

 

Sergio was also frugal with his money, and in spite of low wages during a ten-year period was able to open a bank account containing 42.8 million pesos, or $6 million (U.S.). Not only that, he had acquired 28 properties and had countess other bank accounts. This massive accumulation of assets by a person whose income over his entire life was just above poverty levels drew the government's prompt attention. Wags suggested that instead of prosecuting Sergio, prosecutors should ask him to handle the Mexican Treasury shortfall and see if he can’t be helpful in balancing the country’s budget.

 

Some of the drug dealers asked a logical question, "Why are were acting like mules transferring drugs for the Columbians, when we could be growing the stuff right here and helping our own people to a better livelihood. We are located closer to the United States, our people will work for less and transportation costs will nosedive. Indeed, you just couldn’t argue with this unassailable logic. Soon, Mexico became an important growing and way station for the transport of the product, and savvy drug dealers were also able to create a substantial market for their products in Mexico as well.

 

The United States became furious with the blatant drug dealing and raised the threat to Mexico of pulling their "certification" as an ally in the fight against drugs. Mexico’s President Zedillo, became alarmed and personally appointed a national hero to conduct a typical Mexican investigation into the matter. General Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo had received numerous commendations and international awards for his no nonsense cleanup efforts, so his appointment was quite credible. His immediate commander, General McCaffrey, described him as a soldier, "of absolute, unquestioned integrity."

 

The bald-headed General did have some character flaws though, and upon hearing of appointment made the minor blunder of moving into the Mexico City apartment of drug lord Carillo Fuentes. As if that wasn't bad enough, it was brought to light that he had a bizarre fondness for collecting armaments, no matter who owned them. He seemed to believe that everything within his purview was his, so he stripped the Mexican Fifth Military Division in the State of Jalisco of as many of the weapons in their arsenal as he could cart off to his office. Once he had control over this substantial munition's store, he went into business with Carrillo Fuentes, a Mexican drug lord who was the head of the Juarez Cartel in Northern Mexico. Fuentes was well aware of the arsenal that his general had made available, and he was thrilled to give a fat slice of the take in return for this touching demonstration of friendship.

 

When word of this unholy alliance and Rebollo’s now fabled arsenal being put at the disposal of Carillo Fuentes reached officials in Mexico City, the anti-drug agency, the INCD, was disbanded and the General, his army officer assistant, Javier Garcia Hernandez, and five other generals were thrown in jail. While experts have estimated that the generals facilitated the transshipment of billions of dollars of drugs at street prices, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright indicated that Mexico should remain certified because of its "strong cooperation" with the American Government. We know Ms. Albright can see the forest from the trees, but she can’t seem to separate cooperation from desecration.

 

Well maybe Mexico is cooperating, but the military certainly isn’t. The armed forces themselves have prosecuted more than half a dozen generals on drug-related charges in the past year and another thirty high ranking military personnel have been placed under arrest. Worse yet, American officials have indicated that at a meeting set up by lawyers on President Zedillo’s military staff between Eduardo Ganzalex Quirarte, second in command of the Fuentes Drug Cartel, and four Mexican Generals bribes of over $60 million were openly discussed. Where was Secretary Albright when this news was announced?

 

Ultimately, Rebollo got himself a lawyer who proceeded to accuse other Mexican general’s and relatives of President Zedillo of partaking in the drug payoffs. Tomas Arturo Gonzalez Velazquez, Rebollo’s lawyer who came up with this bizarre defensive ploy predictably died a natural death a short time later, natural in spite of his body having been riddled with high caliber bullets and his fingerprints having been rubbed away. Some put the exact time of Arturo's demise almost simultaneously with his statement in open court that President Zedillo’s brother-in-law" had formed ties with a major methamphetamine trafficker." Although the people named by Arturo went ballistic when they heard about Arturo’s charges, a report was forwarded to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno that was rumored to have given substantial credibility to his charges. Even before he was shot, Arturo might have suspected something when he was arrested by military police and accused him of being behind an attack that occurred on a witness scheduled to testify in Rebollo’s trial.

 

Some military officers (not to many) are good guys, and some (most) aren’t. Brigadier General Jose Francisco Gallardo Rodriguez is a good guy, and being such a good guy, he wrote an article for a Mexican magazine in 1993 in which he accused the army of rescinding the civil rights of both soldiers and civilians. Naturally, the general was thrown into jail for defaming the military.

 

This action caused the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, an affiliate of the Organization of American States, to became egregiously outraged, and they issued a report that the Mexican military had committed an "abuse of power" by its actions regarding the good general. So much pressure against the military was brought to bear that these early, minimal charges were pushed aside and new ones hastily submitted. It seems that the General was in charge of the army horse stables and was selling government horse feed to private industry. If that wasn’t enough to have him incarcerated for five years, prosecutors then charged that he had burned the government records that would have been incriminating him. Essentially, the Government's case rested on the foundation that they had no evidence against him because he had destroyed it.

 

The government brought in scores of witnesses that had observed or were aware of the general’s illicit activities. Among the extraordinary testimony was that of a colonel testifying on behalf of the prosecution, who indicated that it was a former Mexican Defense Minister who had given orders to send the government horse feed to his own private ranch, not Jose as the Government was charging.

 

With evidence of this kind, naturally Gallardo was convicted on the charges and sentenced to an additional 14 years and 8 months in jail for misuse of public funds. It did not end there, and two months later the general was sentenced to 14 more years in jail for illegal enrichment. The moral of this story is that 14 is a very lucky number in Mexico for everyone but Gallardo. Amnesty International has taken the position that all the general had done was to defend human rights. They went on to say that, "The Mexican government should immediately and unconditionally free General Jose Francisco Gallardo who has been jailed in an arbitrary manner just for expressing his ideas about the need to set up a people’s defender in the armed forces to investigate accusations of human rights abuses. We consider him a prisoner of conscience and therefore demand his release." Mexican Government Officials responded to this with a resounding, "Amnesty who?"

 

Now wait just a minute, these do gooders have overlooked a major aspect of this case. In Mexico, arguing against public policy by a government official is considered an act of treason, and it can be punishable by as much as life in prison. By getting all of these people all riled up, who knows, the general could get life or even the firing squad for his offense. Maybe Amnesty International ought to fold its tent before something really serious happens to this poor guy. Haven’t they already done enough?

 

Carlos Salinas was the President of Mexico just prior to Zedillo. Just before leaving office, he arranged to have his loyal brother back up his truck behind the country's treasury and stick everything in sight into the truck. He left on the next plane to Ireland, where he lives like a monarch and has not been back to the country of his birth since.

 

Brother Raul Salinas preferred the Mexican climate and was certain that the lenient rules governing dictators raiding the treasury would also apply to dictator's brothers. Wrong, hombre; an aggressive young prosecutor had him convicted of murder, and investigations continue over his alleged shakedown of drug leaders while his brother was in office. While Raul denies the accusations, evidence has shown that his valet, Justo Ceja accumulated an estate of over $3 million in just the last few months of Carlos Salinas’s rule as Mexican President. As an interesting addendum to Justo’s incredible good fortune in earning so much money in so short a time, Proceso, a Mexican magazine, was running a front-page picture of Justo and Francisco Arellano Felix, Mexico’s most notorious drug lord, having drinks together.

 

Raul was sent up the river after being convicted during a fair trail, although his jail cell looks more like the Taj Mahal than your standard Mexican fare. Lo and behold, the prosecutor who had made the miscalculation of going after a crime committed by a member of such a politically powerful family was arrested, convicted and sent to jail for fabricating evidence against Salinas. You might have guessed that this young prosecutor has a standard type cell, which he shares with a substantial number of other criminals along with an assortment of rats, bugs and other vermin.. In a cry for justice, Lozano Gracia, a former Mexican Attorney General has stated publicly that the only thing the prosecutor was guilty of was, "solving a case that was too sensitive for Mexico's society."

 

Patricia Paulina Castanon, Raul Salinas’s wife, and her secretary Ofelia Calvo attempted to coerce a former employee into falsely testifying that calls from Munoz Rocha to Raul Salinas were just a figment of his imagination. It seems that the Raul's delicate wife was busy shaking down witnesses while he was being tried for murder and then committed perjury when called on the carpet by officials to explain her actions. Now the reason this stirred up a fuss was because that it was Mr. Rocha who hired the confessed assassin. Patricia fled Mexico and was soon arrested in Switzerland for using a phony passport in an aborted attempt to illegally make a small withdrawal from the Swiss Bank where Raul kept a portion of his retirement funds. The withdrawal notice, which read $84 million, received a bit of attention at the bank. When the lovely lady was asked to confirm her identity, she produced a forgery so amateurish, the fastidious Swiss were literally required to arrest her on the spot.

 

Mrs. Salinas was able to get a court order that protected her against arrest in the matter and is not expected to face any jail time for her Swiss indiscretion. Patricia has been vocal about her husband having his jail television set taken away. She has totally infuriated everyone in Mexico, because no one was supposed to know that he had a TV in a jail cell to begin with. Furthermore, she did not seem to know anything about social custom in Mexico that it is verboten to grumble about treatment in a Mexican jail. Why, one could lose regular caviar delivers and happy hour privileges. One must have great respect for this little lady for being able to twice defy justice and stare down prosecutors threatening jail terms in two countries.

 

Now mind you, Raul never held a job other than as his brother's assistant. This just goes to show you the power of compound interest and a solid Christian work ethic. Not having a day job, he was kept very busy with affairs of state, primarily those of the sovereign state of Columbia with their ad hoc capital in Cali. But Raul was not one to make the playing field unleveled for anyone with a buck; the Mexican Gulf Cartel headed by Jose Rodriguez Gach also utilized Raul’s services. Miguel Rodrigeuz Orejuela’s personal accountant, Guillermo Pallamari turned himself into American DEA Officials and has become a protected guest of the United States Government. As such, he has provided an interesting insight into Raul’s operations.

 

It seems that Mr. Salinas’s job description included arranging for the release of seized drug evidence and free passage for air shipments of contraband material of any kind. On one occasion, he was able to recover for his associates 3,000 kilograms of cocaine that had been confiscated by government authorities. Aside from the tens of millions of dollars of cash, which he was paid, laundered courtesy of City Bank, () Raul also received recompense in the form of "watches, paintings and diamond jewels for his wife." () Don’t get the opinion that Raul was pushy in his demands, but he was referred to by the Cali drug lords as Chupa Sangre, "Bloodsucker."

 

Among Raul’s illustrious clients were members of the Cali drug cartel from neighboring Columbia. Some Mexican’s believe that Salinas only took on the assignment as a good will gesture on behalf of his brother, the President. The $80 million in bribes that has been substantiated by the former Cali accountant, now spilling his guts in Switzerland, is illustrative of what hard work can do. Here was a person trying to do a good deed for no personal gain, yet those marvelous Cali folks were so grateful to him that they coughed up 80 big ones. It shows you that if you do nice things for other people, in the long run, you will be rewarded.

 

The Swiss, having opened the Salinas’ Pandora’s box, decided there should be a trial, albeit in absensia, under the terribly Swiss theory that if they find money earned in dishonest ways on deposit in their banks, they can seize the money and forever include it in their coffers. Thus, they seized somewhat in excess of $100 million from Raul's various accounts housed in Switzerland. The New York Times ran a blurb by Julia Preston on what the Mexican authorities came across while looking in the matter:

 

"Federal prosecutors disclosed today that they are investigating 289 bank accounts in Mexico, the United States and Europe controlled by Mr. Salinas or his accountants, with deposits totaling $119 million. Those funds are separate from the Swiss accounts, the investigators said.

 

"The Mexican Government had also earlier seized an account in Britain holding $23.5 million. In addition, investigations have turned up 123 properties that authorities say belonged to Mr. Salinas, from homes to horse ranches, including 37 outside of Mexico.

 

"...In a secret, unreleased 369 page report on their inquiry, parts of which became available last month, the Swiss police investigators asserted that "a cautious estimate" of the money Raul Salinas obtained from drug traffickers during the 10 years before his arrest would be "a total of at least $500 million."

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