The Screaming Pen

Providing Global Insight, Context, and Perspective

Sin Padre, Thy Wither

How Venezuela, Iran, China, and Russia are Undermining Human Rights Everywhere

If you’re ever feeling overly happy and want to come down a bit, take a survey of the human condition around the world. Among a sea of rights violators in Africa, you’ll find the worst cases in Darfur, the D.R. Congo, Somalia, Eritrea, and Cote d’Ivoire. Robert Mugabe is systematically destroying Zimbabwe. The Middle East has long seen gross injustice and political repression in Syria, Iran, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Turkey has its Kurdish problem, which flares up from time to time when it feels Europe slipping away. To the north, Russia fights endlessly in the Caucuses and forces compulsory military service on its poor, dehumanizing a generation of young men with beatings and forced labor. Political opponents are jailed and attacked. Andijan and the “Stans” of Central Asia, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Nepal, Burma, and North Korea. Colombia, Cuba, Venezuela, the favelas of Brazil and the poverty of Bolivia and Peru. The folks at Human Rights Watch are depressingly busy.

Depends on How You Look at It

Yet in spite of this dispiriting image and the gruesome confrontations between riot police and protesters caught on tape for everyone see, the news is not all disheartening. To be sure, most of these places were never free, open, or safe. It is only because of modern communication and the existence of vociferous groups like Human Rights Watch and Doctors Without Borders that one can list the egregious examples above. And there are also examples of places where life has improved: autocratic dictators are out in Indonesia, the Philippines, Chile, South Korea, Spain, parts of eastern Europe, and the states of the former Yugoslavia. Something may finally be done about Darfur. And perhaps most importantly, great power war has been avoided for sixty years.


Sportily Taking in a Soccer Match

So between the good news and the bad, what the world needs is a state or organization exerting pressure on countries to uphold human rights. Near-inherent anti-Americanism means that most of the world no longer views the United States as this model, with consequences for both equality and U.S. objectives of every stripe. The United Nations is a misunderstood body that is limited here because it is merely a collection of self-interested states. Europe espouses many of the right ideals but is mostly focused on itself, often has an uncomplicated view of the world, and has its own internal conflicts to settle.

What the world does not need is a provider of money and material through which outcast regimes can sustain themselves in the face of international pressure. During the Cold War the Soviet Union was this source and when it broke apart Syria, Cuba, and other former dependents found it far harder to resist outside pressure. Desiccation of patronage led to the signing of the Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians, largely because of a trickle down effect: without Soviet support Syria couldn’t continue to fund Palestinian resistance on par with American aid to Israel. Syria is weak now for this reason; without oil so too would be Iran and other former Soviet clients.

With Friends Like These

But today there is oil, and there are several antagonists capitalizing on anti-Americanism and spreading their largesse with debilitating effects for human rights. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is using oil profits to destroy institutions within his own country, promote populist movements (see the election of Evo Morales), and reportedly to fund resistance in Colombia. Fidel Castro has found renewed sustenance through friendship with Chavez. Iran – crucially demonstrating that the Iranian issue encompasses more than just the nuclear dispute – is channeling aid to Hamas in Palestine and trying to build ties from Indonesia to Venezuela. In an effort to isolate Taiwan, China is active in Africa (Zimbabwe, Sudan), Asia (North Korea, Burma), and to a lesser degree Latin America. In unison with Russia through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), China helps prop up Central Asian dictators.

Patronage from all of these states allows rights violators to defy international norms while finding support elsewhere and thus avoiding isolation. Minatory characters everywhere find it easy to become eloquent, usurp valid arguments, and draw more reasonable people to their side (see Ahmadinejad’s letter to George Bush). Without a paragon of virtue the debate becomes muddled, the message unconvincing, and gross human rights violations overshadowed.

– DML

 2006. All rights reserved.

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May 30, 2006 Posted by | Africa, Author: DML, China, Darfur, Foreign Aid, Hamas, Human Rights, Iran, Israel, Korea, Middle East, Oil, Palestine, Politics, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United States, Venezuela | 1 Comment

Buying Korean

The Trouble with Entering the South Korean Market

There is perhaps no country with such loyal devotion to its homegrown companies as South Korea. Domestic all-stars Samsung, Hyundai, LG, and others have easily maintained dominance due to the fealty of Korean citizens and, also importantly, favorable relations with government, while foreign darlings from Apple to Hollywood’s movie industry have run up against tremendous difficulty penetrating the market.

While even conservative estimates of the worldwide market share controlled by Apple’s iPod put the figure around 25%, in Korea this plummets to 1.8%; Korean firms iRiver, Samsung, and Cowon are the clear mp3 industry leaders here. In cinema, government regulation mandates that movie theaters run only Korean movies for 146 days a year. From July this number will drop to 73 days per year, yet the reduction will be brooked due to robust demand for domestically produced movies.

 
Not Seoul Tasty

Allegiance to things Korean is found in sports too – from soccer to ice skating – and in health care, with many Koreans living abroad in the United States and Europe preferring to return home for complicated surgeries. Moreover, many Koreans question whether last year’s cloning scandal involving Hwang Woo-suk of Seoul National University, despite his own admission of falsification, was truly worthy of international opprobrium or merely an attempt by foreigners to undermine the nation’s scientific achievement. Foreign brands looking to enter the Korean market should be fully aware of this national mindset, which additionally doesn’t appear to be changing with the generations: young Koreans routinely preoccupy themselves with a firm’s nationality and prefer to “buy Korean.”

Difficult, but not Impossible

American brands looking to make inroads in Korea can take solace, however, in the success made by at least one foreign firm. With over 50 locations in the country as of May 2006, Outback Steakhouse – an American-based (Tampa, Florida), yet Australian-themed concept restaurant – is viewed as fine dining by many Koreans. Outback’s prosperity clearly may relate to its identification with “the lucky country,” a place better liked in Korea than is the United States. Next: Kangaroo-inspired iPods?

– DML

 2006. All rights reserved.

May 7, 2006 Posted by | Asia, Author: DML, Business, Country Profiles, Korea, World Markets | Leave a comment