We’ve heard the bankers’ stories. The economists have had their say. But what do the opponents of capitalism make of the global financial crisis? Is this the moment they have been waiting for? Stephen Moss and Jon Henley ask high-profile leftwingers for their views on the meltdown – and whether any good can come of it
Student leader in Paris, 1968
This financial crisis is for capitalist neo-liberals what Chernobyl was for the nuclear lobby. It’s a catastrophe. I hope we all learn lessons from it. But am I optimistic that we will? That’s another question. To think that the biggest neo-liberal nation in the world would start nationalising banks … we’re rubbing our eyes in disbelief.
It’s not the end of capitalism because capitalism has always had the intelligence to reform itself. It will be the end of capitalism when it’s incapable of reforming. However, the belief that the market is god is over. It must now be regulated.
We fought for 20 years to bring attention to climate change. It took us a while, but we were right. This crisis will help us in our arguments for sustainable development – that we need a balance between the environment, society and the economy – but I get no joy from it; it saddens me deeply. Ordinary people lose everything, while the big bankers themselves walk away with millions.
· Daniel Cohn-Bendit was leader of the May 1968 student protests in Paris, when he was known as ‘Danny the Red’; he is now a green MP
It’s really nice seeing capitalism getting its comeuppance. It had gone too far: I think most people can understand capitalism when it’s about companies that make real products, but when it’s about organisations that just make money … that’s abstract capitalism, it’s beyond most ordinary people – and I include myself among them. I mean, you see the FTSE index, or whatever, running along the bottom of the TV screen and generally it just doesn’t impinge at all on the way you live your life, and then suddenly you’re told your life is going to take a nosedive. Who understands that?
The truly sad thing is that all this is taking place with a so-called Labour government in power, a government that should have the interests of the majority at heart, but has instead played the role of a pimp.
Maybe a bit of a recession will do us some good. A lot of people have been living beyond their means. We’ve all done it, I’ve done it: you feel a bit depressed, you go and buy something. People might now actually talk to each other a bit more, make their own entertainment, all those other great northern cliches. The tragedy is that it will be the ordinary people who will bear the brunt. The guys who are responsible may have to sell the yacht.
Birmingham City councillor
This crisis opens up possibilities for alternative economic models as the wheels come off this one, but I’m worried about the immediate social consequences. A leaked report from the Home Office a couple of weeks ago referred to a rise in racism and social tensions. My concern is that we’ll now see some ugly racist scapegoating as politicians try to pass the buck.
When the markets were being treated as gods, we were always being promised that there’d be a trickle-down of prosperity. But all that’s trickled down has been a greed-is-good philosophy. The consequence is a more unequal, self-centred, crueller Britain. It’s important that we should reflect on the kind of society we’ve become, but also on the kind of society we want to be. Recently, Unicef reported that Britain’s children are the unhappiest in Europe, and I think that is not unconnected to an economic climate that forces parents to work longer and longer hours. We hear a lot of talk about youth and gangs and guns; what we don’t talk about are the economic policies that would allow families to nurture each other and make young people feel valued.
The very people for whom it was a sacred othodoxy that there should be no government intervention are now coming to the government on their hands and knees begging for assistance. But what about the government intervening on behalf of ordinary people? Why not do something literally concrete on the ground and start building cheaper social housing? Why not put people at the centre of things?
· Salma Yaqoob is a Birmingham councillor and vice-chair of the Respect party
Former Mayor of London
Sadly, I don’t think this will be the end of capitalism. But there is going to have to be a return to a much, much more interventionist state. As a system for the distribution and exchange of goods, you can’t beat the market. But the mistake a lot of politicians have made is to think that because the market was good at that, it could be good at everything: it could train workers, create infrastructure, protect the environment, regulate itself. Quite obviously, it can’t.
So the real issue is, what sort of international structures do we need to ensure this never happens again? Thatcher and Reagan deregulated massively and let the financial markets do as they liked – and they’ve turned into one bloody great big rip-off. The good news is, there’ll now be a realisation – even George Bush sees this now – that we need international regulatory mechanisms that will ensure, for example, that these people and operations actually pay tax. There’ll be a realisation in Britain that while it’s certainly useful to host a world financial centre, it has to rest on a solid, genuinely productive real economy. In China now they make things; we’ve decided we’re not interested in that.
Bob and Roberta Smith
Yesterday, at the same time as Lehman Brothers went belly up and Merrill Lynch was bailed out, Damien Hirst made £70m. This tells us that capitalism is not dead. The rich got richer, and the poor got poorer – and in the evening, the rich went to an art sale and spent the small change in their pockets. This crisis is kind of like the capitalist cat shifting on its cushion.
I don’t buy the romanticism of the left: you can’t kill capitalism, trade is how people operate. But I do think the left’s analysis has to be coruscating and hard. The number-crunching, the smokescreens, that particular flavour of snake oil has to be finished; this has to be about real people now. There should be no self-congratulation, no, “Oh good, they’re getting their comeuppance,” because behind every banker there are ordinary people in bigger trouble.
· Bob and Roberta Smith is the pseudonym of artist Patrick Brill
This is a defining moment; the end of the kind of unbridled, deregulated capitalism of the past few decades. We are going to have to return finance to its role as servant rather than master of the global economy, and we’re going to have to break up financial institutions into smaller units: mega-banks make mega-mistakes that affect us all.
The way forward is the Green New Deal [co-formulated by, among others, Caroline Lucas and Guardian economics editor Larry Elliott]. We have to tackle a triple global crunch. In the face of a credit-fuelled financial crisis, we’re going to have to re-regulate finance and taxation, clamp down on tax havens, split retail banking from merchant banking and securities trading. In the face of accelerating climate change, we have to face up to global warming. And in the face of an oil-price crisis, we’re going to have to find the solutions to encroaching peak oil.
The situation we’re in now is an opportunity, although it remains an enormous threat also. It’s the chance for us to move forward in a way that’s sustainable economically and environmentally. This is about real people and real jobs, right now. I really wish we’d managed to get that message through before it happened.
This is further evidence, if any were needed, of the fact that the market is not and never can be the answer. (The need to pursue illegal wars is pretty strong evidence too, of course.) You look around the world and you see massive need on the one hand, and massive wealth on the other, and the two never connect. The market is massively inefficient, capitalism is massively unstable and turbulent, and it’s insane that we are all bound to this terrible wheel of instability.
The real left is making a lot of noise about this. There’ll be a convention of the left during the Labour party conference, all the shades of genuine leftwing opinion, and we’ll be hammering all these questions out from a socialist perspective. But if the papers and the broadcasters fail to record it, it’s very difficult for these ideas to penetrate the public consciousness. The media just turns a deaf ear; it chooses not to hear it. It’s a lot more interested in the careerism of whoever’s after Gordon Brown’s job.
Will this be a defining moment for the left? It should be, of course but it’s very difficult to be optimistic given our history of failure. The war against Iraq was a massive opportunity to create a coherent anti-capitalist movement, to find a real socialist alternative, and we let it slip through our fingers. This is another such opportunity, and we must not let it go.
Is this the end of capitalism? Absolutely not. The key feature of capitalism is that it’s malleable. It has been through antiquity, feudalism, the industrial era, it has worn the guise of fascism and now it’s wedding itself to the ecology cause. After this latest event, it will take on a new form. It is indestructible and works like the Hydra of Lerne, cut off one head and another grows in its place. Is this the end of society’s obsession with money and credit? Not at all.
Socialist Workers Party
This is a very, very serious crisis of capitalism: it has been the build-up of private borrowing that has kept the system going, and it’s coming unstuck. The whole system is unwinding; the other day we saw the biggest nationalisation in the history of humanity and that still wasn’t enough. Governments don’t know what to do, and it’s the rest of us who have to live with the consequences. The Labour party is offering no alternative, the Lib Dems are offering no alternative, the Conservatives are offering no alternative.
This could be a big moment for the left. But we really need to stand up and use the “c” word, say this is a crisis of capitalism and that people are suffering. The thing is, all the media coverage yesterday was of the bankers leaving Lehman Brothers with their boxes, but the people who will really be hit are the cleaners, the secretaries – what did we see of them? We have to build resistance. Because so far we’ve only seen the minor problems; people stuck in foreign airports or having a bit of trouble getting a job. Things are going to get much, much worse.
· Chris Harman is the editor of International Socialism (SWP)
It’s only in times of crisis that people are prepared to contemplate taking to the streets. It was noticeable that there were a lot more protests – against road developments, for instance, and against the Criminal Justice Act and other infringements of civil rights – in the wake of the 1991 recession than there were in the mid-90s, when people were feeling richer. Some people, faced with recession, tend to hunker down, but others confront the government and demand a better deal, and that gives the left hope.
A Keynesian solution along the lines of Roosevelt’s New Deal could deliver many of the things that the left is calling for – more public spending, more training and education. I’m particularly interested in the idea of a green new deal, which would employ large numbers of people to insulate homes and carry out major environmental works. Remember that the central plank in the New Deal was the Civilian Conservation Corps, which employed three million people.
It is striking that the left has been slow to capitalise on the situation. There is now a good opportunity to build a common front between trade unions, disillusioned labour voters, greens and people who feel that their economic position is slipping.
· George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist
This is not a blip. It’s extremely significant. We will see a shift in power away from the US, and towards the developing world – to countries such as Brazil and the Gulf states that have commodities to sell, and to China, where the savings ratio is high. We are going to see a new world order. America as a driver of the global economy is finished.
The left has nothing to say about any of this. And because the left has no economic programme, we will see the rise of social unrest. We are already seeing it in the US. The left has no real response to that either.
· Max Keiser is a former broker, and presenter of The Truth About Markets on Resonance FM
Former Labour minister
I remember the 1930s. What the Depression did then was to stimulate antisemitism. I met Oswald Mosley in 1928 when he was a Labour MP. The next time I met him he was wearing a blackshirt. Where there is fear, there is scapegoating, and that is very dangerous.
Blair and Brown based their politics on a belief in the market: the market answered all your needs and the state had to be kept out. That confidence has now collapsed and New Labour is seen for what it is. You can’t, as New Labour believed, nurse capitalism.
I believe a new labour movement will emerge from this with a more realistic sense of how capitalism works. There is a left convention at this year’s Labour conference, a sort of parallel conference. This year’s Labour conference is the first in my lifetime when you will not be allowed to vote, so the left convention will get a lot of attention. At last, after a period when we’ve been told to trust the gamblers, there are many relevant ideas emerging on the left.
Stop the War coalition
This growing crisis will mean misery for working people and shows that everything we’ve been told about the free market has been false. At the same time, it’s a big opportunity. Millions of people will be questioning why this has happened, what’s wrong with the system, is it 1929 all over again? The left needs to put forward answers. People have the right to work; we have a housing crisis, so why not employ people to build more houses? We are facing great challenges, but there is also a historic opportunity for the left to remake itself. Capitalism has had its chance and failed; now it’s socialism’s turn.
· Lindsey German is Convenor of the Stop the War Coalition and Left List candidate in this year’s London Mayoral election
In the late 19th century and also in the 1930s, the impact of depression made people begin to question whether the free market and a completely unfettered form of capitalism was the best form of organising society. In both periods it encouraged on the left the idea of a complete social transformation through revolution, and also encouraged people to devise various schemes for social reform. The problem now – unlike in the 1880s, when people discovered the ideas of socialism, and in the 1930s, when it seemed that communism was the solution – is that the left doesn’t have a coherent alternative vision.
The Labour party has always been ambiguous about whether it is trying to make capitalism more efficient, or whether it is trying to soften its harshness. Since the 1970s, the left has been much weakened, as neoliberal ideas became totally ascendent. Under Blair, the idea that the Labour party was committed to any redistribution was pushed to the sidelines. I would like to see a new kind of left – a left that would relate to the present predicament. There is a consensus forming that says an unregulated financial system is a disaster, but whether that new left can be formed is questionable. I’d be very glad to see it happen.
· Sheila Rowbotham is professor of gender and labour history at Manchester University
I think the end of capitalism will be a process, not a single event. But each event we’ve seen so far has gone deeper than people have predicted, and we don’t know how deep this one will go. It could well be that it marks the collapse of at least a major section of the capitalist economy: the financialisation of the economy that has been powering ahead since the deregulation and neo-liberalisation of the Thatcher-Reagan years.
As far as the left is concerned, well, the Liberal Democrats have effectively moved to the right in the face of this week’s events, and New Labour, with a few honourable exceptions, abandoned that territory a very long time ago. Now I would have thought – in fact, I know – that among the public in general there is a much bigger and a much wider audience for progressive ideas than there has been for some time. But what the left still has to overcome is its inability to speak in a language that ordinary people can understand. And to stop arguing about dead Russians.
I’m in New York right now and the feeling here is quite visibly one of panic. I’ve just met, quite randomly, three people who were helping their friends clear their desks. Apparently, 12,000 jobs went, just like that, and Wall Street represents 20% of the city’s jobs and something like 90% its tax base. So there’s a definite sense here of systemic crisis.
A great financial economist and historian called Michael Hudson talks about how the US economy is basically fictitious, based on pretend earnings and pretend values. This will only genuinely become a crisis of capitalism if people generally become aware that much of the growth and prosperity produced by capitalism is a fiction, and if the consensus about where the real global value lies shifts radically. In other words, if people stop believing that apparently wealthy countries actually are producing wealth.
I don’t immediately expect to be living in some kind of Mad Max world. But this could be the death knell of the time when we were all singing the beauties of free-market capitalism.
· Additional interviews by Angelique Chrisafis
Medvedev describes Georgia attack as Russia’s 9/11
· President says US backed assault on South Ossetia
Georgia’s attack on the breakaway region of South Ossetia was unnecessary and unprovoked and was encouraged by the United States, Russia’s president, Dmitry Medvedev, said in an interview yesterday.
“For Russia, August 8 was like September 11 for the United States,” he told a group of foreign journalists and academics. “I would like to see major lessons from it for the world.”
He made clear that the lessons, as Russia sees them, are that the post-cold war “illusion” that a world with one super power is a safe and predictable place is now over.
The 42-year-old president said George Bush had phoned him shortly after he had ordered Russian forces to drive the Georgians back. “‘You’re a young president with a liberal background. Why do you need this?’ Medvedev quoted Bush as saying. “I told him we had no choice,” he said.
The Russian president’s interview followed a day after a similar interview with the prime minister, Vladimir Putin. He seemed to be talking from the same script, though there were important differences between the two. The president was more blunt about his Georgian counterpart, Mikheil Saakashvili, calling him “burdened with a host of pathologies” and alleging he often appeared in public under the influence of drugs.
“Russia had to recognise South Ossetia as an independent state – a move widely criticised in the west – because otherwise Georgia might attack again.
“If he takes this blood once he would try again if he was not muzzled,” he said.
Medvedev accused the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, of blocking a tentative deal made between Russia and Georgia to sign an agreement on the use of force. “Rice met him and the boy changed miraculously afterwards. He started to postpone the agreement. He started preparations for war.”
The Russian president rejected Georgia’s argument that if Nato had given it a membership action plan, as Bush wanted to do earlier this year (the move was blocked by France and Germany), Russia would not have dared to use force. “I can assure you that as president I would not have wavered for a second to make the same decisions that I made back then,” he said.
He was firmer than Putin in disowning any parallels between today’s Russia and the Soviet Union. Putin once described the Soviet collapse as the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century. Medvedev, 13 years younger than his predecessor, said he felt no nostalgia.
“I don’t want to live in a militarised country behind an iron curtain. It’s boring. Been there and seen the movie. I’ve done that,” he said. He took a more optimistic position on the effects of the crisis on Russia’s relations with the US and the EU. “I don’t think this phase of confrontation will be lengthy,” he asserted.
Both men made it clear that Russia was not planning to take South Ossetia into the Russian Federation. Eduard Kokoity, the region’s president, said on Thursday that he wanted his republic to join Russia now that it had declared independence from Georgia. Within an hour he had come under pressure to change his position, telling the Russian news agency Interfax that he had been “misunderstood”.
Nato is to review its relationship with the Georgian and Ukrainian governments at a summit in December and discuss whether to let them start membership proceedings. The issue is likely to sharpen divisions within the alliance and the Russians hope the advocates of delay will be stronger after Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia.
Starting the process of letting Georgia and Ukraine join Nato would be “a seriously destabilising factor”, the Russian president said. “We don’t understand what Nato can gain by drawing in nations that are still at a crossroads, where the elites and people are split, where there has been no referendum, and where there is a major risk of separatism,” he said.
US redeploys troops to Afghanistan
George Bush, the US president, has announced 8,000 troops will be pulled out of Iraq over the coming months and 4,500 sent to Afghanistan by January.
“While the enemy in Iraq is still dangerous, we have seized the offensive, and Iraqi forces are becoming increasingly capable of leading and winning the fight,” he said in a speech in Washington DC on Tuesday.
“Attacks by the Taliban have increased over the past two years,” Bush said at the National Defence University.
Bush said Afghan soldiers were “courageous” but “needed help” and that it was important to rebuild educational, agricultural infrastructures in the country.
He said success in Afghanistan was “critical for America and people of the free world”.
Nick Spicer, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Washington, said: “The withdrawal amounts to 5.5% of the troops in Iraq … it’s really not that significant.
“This isn’t the big pull-out some people in the establishment were calling for.”
Decision ‘too late’
Al Jazeera’s Jasim Azawi, the presenter of Inside Iraq, said the decision to “make amends” by removing troops from Iraq was “too late”.
He said: “The legacy, the name, the connection between Iraq and president Bush, is going to be a negative one.
“This is the biggest disaster the United States has committed in the 21st century and it will be a long time before the credibility of the United States and the name of president Bush is mentioned in a good sentence.
“The negative effect of the legacy of George Bush is not limited to Iraq, it has spread all over the Arab world as well as the Muslim world.
“The next [US] president is going to [have to] work very hard in order to ameliorate the image of the United States.”
Any large-scale change in US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan will be left to Bush’s successor – either John McCain, the Republican nominee or Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate – after Bush leaves office in January 2009 following the November 4 presidential elections.
Zeina Khodr, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Kabul, said: “US military commanders have been calling for up to 10,000 troops to be sent … they are facing a resurgent Taliban carrying out bolder attacks.
“The Taliban have not been defeated.”
A reduction of 8,000 soldiers would leave 138,000 US government troops in Iraq and there are currently 33,000 in Afghanistan.
That will still be more than before Bush ordered a “surge” of extra forces in 2007 and also more than in November 2006, when his Republicans lost mid-term congressional elections largely due to voter anger over the war.
Bush’s plan follows recommendations from senior US defence officials, including Robert Gates, the defence secretary, Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq.
Obama has promised to withdraw US troops from Iraq within 16 months and said he would put more resources into Afghanistan and “anti-terrorism efforts” along the Pakistan border, where US officials say they believe Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader, is hiding.
McCain has refused any set any timeline for withdrawing troops from Iraq.
He has said he prefers Bush’s policy of removing them based on commanders’ recommendations and security conditions in the war zone.
‘Fragile and irreversible’
Bush’s “surge” strategy, which sent an additional 30,000 troops to Iraq, has helped stem violence and pulled Iraq back from the brink of civil war, according to White House officials.
The so-called “surge,” which was announced in 2007, was criticised by many Democrats who said the US should be pulling out of the country.
While violence has fallen in Iraq, attacks against US, Nato and Afghan troops in Afghanistan have soared.
Nato commanders there have asked for additional forces for years and say they still need about 12,000 troops.
The US has 33,000 troops in Afghanistan, split between a Nato-led mission and a separate “counter-terrorism” mission run by the Pentagon.
Bush urges Pakistan to ‘take responsibility’ for extremists
President announces withdrawal of 8,000 Iraq troops and shifts military focus to fight Taliban in Afghanistan
George Bush today described Pakistan as a central battleground in the so-called war on terror, alongside Iraq and Afghanistan.
In a barbed message for the new Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari, Bush said Pakistan had a “responsibility” to fight extremists “because every nation has an obligation to govern its own territory and make certain that it does not become a safe haven for terror.”
The remarks are not likely to go down well in Pakistan, which has been in uproar after a raid by US ground troops on Pakistani territory – the first foray of its kind since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Zardari, who was today sworn-in as Pakistan’s new president, is an outspoken advocate of tough action against extremists in Pakistan, despite broad public dislike of US foreign policy in the region.
Bush’s comments came in a speech to the US National Defence University in Washington, where he announced the withdrawal of 8,000 combat troops from Iraq by next February.
But there will be little respite for an overstretched US military as Bush also announced a troop rise in Afghanistan, currently home to 31,000 US soldiers. He said he was sending roughly 4,500 more troops to face a resurgent Taliban.
More than half of Bush’s address was devoted to Afghanistan, which the US president described as “the front where this struggle first began”.
Bush highlighted decisions to vastly increase the size of the Afghan national army, which will grow from its current size of 60,000 troops to 120,000, instead of 80,000.
“Afghanistan’s success is critical to the security of America and our partners in the free world,” he said. “And for all the good work we have done in that country, it is clear we must do even more.”
Bush said a marine battalion scheduled to go to Iraq in November would instead be sent to Afghanistan. One army combat brigade will follow.
The Iraq troop cut will probably be Bush’s last major decision in a highly unpopular war that has seen his ratings plummet. He hinted that more troops could return to the US in the first half of 2009 if conditions improve.
“Here is the bottom line: while the enemy in Iraq is still dangerous, we have seized the offensive, and Iraqi forces are becomingly increasingly capable of leading and winning the fight,” Bush said.
US commanders have been divided on the rate of troop cuts in Iraq and today’s plan is a compromise. General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, had argued in favour of maintaining current levels until next June.
Others, including Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, believed a faster withdrawal from Iraq represented a small risk compared with the gain that could be made by sending reinforcements to Afghanistan.
Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said the plan reflected the concern of US commanders that a rush to reduce US forces could lead to instability at a crucial moment in Iraq.
“This plan does, however, mean continuing stress on both the active and reserve forces,” said Cordesman.
Democrats today criticised the slow pace of withdrawal from Iraq as the troop cut will still leave about 140,000 combat troops – about the same level as before last year’s troop surge.
The party’s presidential nominee, Barack Obama, said Bush’s decision to divert resources to Afghanistan was slow, insufficient and “comes up short”.
“It is not enough troops, and not enough resources, with not enough urgency,” Obama said, adding that he believed Bush did not understand that Afghanistan and Pakistan were the central front in the “war on terror”, not Iraq.
Obama has advocated pulling all combat forces out of Iraq within 16 months of taking office. John McCain, his Republican rival, has said he would rely on the advice of US military commanders to determine the timing and pace of troop reductions. Both agree on the need for more troops for Afghanistan, amid growing concern that Nato is losing ground to Taliban insurgents.
Sunday September 7, 2008 Star Online
Study medicine for free
By SIMRIT KAUR
The Cuban government offers places to thousands of foreign students in its medical institutions.
What we want in the Latin American School of Medicine is that the students become impregnated with the same doctrine in which our doctors are educated, with that total devotion to their noble future profession, for the doctor is like a shepherd, a priest, a missionary, a crusader of the people’s health and physical and mental well-being.– Fidel Castro
MORE people now know about Cuba’s excellent public medical system, thanks to Michael Moore’s SICKO. In the documentary, Moore takes a group of 9/11 volunteers to Cuba to receive treatment that they had been denied by the United States government.
In fact, the communist country has a unique, government-funded programme to train medical students from around the world.
According to Cuban embassy first secretary Florentino Batista, seven Malaysians joined the programme for the first time last year.
This year, a new batch of five students left for Cuba earlier this month under the medical scholarship programme which was set up in 1999.
In the beginning, the students were mostly from Cuba’s Latin American neighbours.
“We have expanded the programme to include more countries in Africa and Asia. This is our contribution to training their human resources,” says Batista.
There are currently 22,893 foreign students under the medical scholarship programme, including at the Latin American School of Medicine.
Besides training foreign students, the Cuban government has also set up medical faculties overseas, in Yemen, Venezuela, Timor Leste, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia, Equatorial Guinea and Eritrea.
Medical students make up the largest number of university graduates, second only to teachers. Cuba has over 80,000 doctors.
According to Batista, the medical scholarship programme is entirely free as all costs are subsidised by the Cuban government.
This includes tuition fees, food and accommodation.
Under the programme, which spans six years, the students are sent to 14 different faculties of medicine in Cuba.
The first year is akin to pre-university. As the medium of instruction is Spanish, those who are not proficient in the language need to spend an additional 22 weeks to brush up on it. They then spend the rest of the year studying advanced Biology and Chemistry in Spanish before starting their medical studies.
Batista says Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the world after English, “if we discount Chinese which is very localised.
“We do not place students from one nationality or country in one institution as we want them to interact with those from other countries.
“After the pre-university year, foreign students join their Cuban counterparts on the degree programme.”
He adds that all the degrees offered by Cuban medical institutions are accredited by the World Health Organisation. However, the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) does not recognise Cuba’s medical degrees.
Many would be surprised to find out that even students from the United States head for Cuba to study medicine.
“Although the scholarships are meant for students from poorer countries, we recognise that even in rich countries like the US, there are some who cannot afford to go to university,” he says.
Tradition of higher education
One out of seven workers in Cuba is a university graduate, says Batista. Higher education is free for citizens, even up to PhD level, as it is regarded as a right, not a privilege.
To democratise higher education even further, the Cuban government has introduced a new initiative to have a university in each municipality.
“Over 14 different programmes are now offered at 300 municipal universities, with over 600,000 students enrolled,” says Batista, adding that the aim is to bring universities closer to the community. However, these programmes are only available to Cuban citizens.
This year marks the 280th anniversary of Cuban higher education, which started with the establishment of the University of Havana in 1728.
For the 2006-2007 academic year, there were 30,777 foreign scholarship students in Cuba.
They came from 126 countries and 81% were enrolled in medical programmes.
The rest were doing courses in physical education and sports, the technical sciences, pedagogy and music, theatre, dance and visual art.
- For more information about studying in Cuba, contact its embassy in Kuala Lumpur at 03-2691 1066 or e-mail:
Russian troops to stay in Abkhazia and South Ossetia
- Tuesday September 09 2008 12:05 BST
Russia said today its troops would stay in the breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia for a long time to come, a day after Moscow agreed to pull its forces out of other Georgian territory within the month.
Yesterday’s deal, between France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, specifically excluded Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The future of the two enclaves, which Moscow recognised as independent last month, will be discussed at an international conference in Geneva on October 15.
But Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said Russia’s military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia was necessary in order to avert Georgian attempts to regain control.
He said troops would remain for the foreseeable future, though he did not indicate how many soldiers would be based in the area. Russia would sign formal agreements with both regions on the extent of the military presence.
Lavrov’s comments will heighten tensions with Georgia, which regards South Ossetia and Abkhazia as inseparable parts of the country.
In a cautious welcome to yesterday’s deal, Georgia’s president, Mikhail Saakashvili, reiterated his country’s claim to the regions. The Russians, he said, “should get the hell out of the territories they control”.
Describing the deal as “momentous”, Sarkozy said Moscow had agreed to scrap its checkpoints inside Georgia within a week and had promised to remove all forces from areas adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia within a month.
The agreement also envisaged the deployment of a 200-strong force of EU observers to Georgia by October 1, Sarkozy said.
Sarkozy, the current EU president, led yesterday’s negotiations, together with the European commission president, José Manuel Barroso, and the EU’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana.
The deal appears to mark a major achievement for Sarkozy. He was criticised widely after Moscow failed to implement his previous, August 12 ceasefire agreement, which called on Russia to pull its troops out.
“All has not been resolved,” Sarkozy said. “We are aware of that. But what has been resolved has been considerable.” Welcoming the deal, he added that both the EU and Russia had avoided “a cold war that we don’t need”.
In a press conference yesterday afternoon, after four hours of talks, Medvedev made clear that Russia’s withdrawal of forces depended on Georgia’s signing a “non-aggression pact” with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Medvedev said Russia would continue to provide “military assistance” to the breakaway provinces.
However, in a sign of continuing tension with Russia, the US administration said it was cancelling a much-heralded civilian nuclear cooperation deal with Russia, which the US president, George Bush, sent to Congress for approval in May after two years of tough negotiations.
The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, said in a statement yesterday: “We make this decision with regret. Unfortunately, given the current environment, the time is not right for this agreement.”
Earlier, in Moscow, Medvedev bitterly criticised the US, which he said had encouraged Georgia’s “aggression” against South Ossetia, as well as its attack on August 8. The US was also “actively” rearming Georgia, he claimed, adding that Russia would no longer accept a “unipolar model” of world affairs in which the US decided “the rules of the game”.
Asked whether the Kremlin planned to invade any more of its neighbours, Medvedev looked irritated. Referring to Georgia, he said: “This is an individual situation. Everything else is just plots … Some people are trying to look at Russia like the Soviet Union. Russia is different. But Russia needs to be taken into account.”
Assuming Russia fully withdraws its forces, talks could resume in October on an EU-Russia cooperation deal, Sarkozy said. EU countries suspended the talks last week in protest at Russia’s actions in Georgia.
According to Russia’s Kommersant newspaper, Moscow plans to establish diplomatic relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia today.
Russia to leave Georgia after EU deal
* Luke Harding in Moscow
* The Guardian,
* Tuesday September 9 2008
Russia last night agreed to pull all of its forces out of Georgia within a month, after an agreement in Moscow between France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev.
Describing yesterday’s deal as “momentous”, Sarkozy said Moscow had agreed to scrap its checkpoints inside Georgia in a week and had promised to remove all forces from areas adjacent to the breakaway enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia within a month.
The agreement also envisaged the deployment of a 200-strong force of EU observers to Georgia by October 1, Sarkozy said. Additionally, international talks would take place on October 15 in Geneva on the future of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which Moscow recognised as independent late last month.
Sarkozy, the current EU president, led today’s negotiations together with the European Commission president, José Manuel Barroso, and the EU’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana. The deal appears to mark a major achievement for Sarkozy. He had been widely criticised after Moscow’s failure to implement his previous August 12 ceasefire agreement, which called for Russia to pull its troops out.
“All has not been resolved,” Sarkozy said. “We are aware of that. But what has been resolved has been considerable.” He hailed the deal and added that both the EU and Russia had avoided “a cold war that we don’t need.” In a press conference yesterday afternoon, after four hours of talks, Medvedev made clear that Russia’s withdrawal of forces depended on Georgia signing a “non-aggression pact” with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The pullout does not include Abkhazia and South Ossetia where, Medvedev said, Russia would continue to provide what he termed “military assistance”.
Sarkozy flew to Tbilisi last night to hold talks with Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, who yesterday wrote a letter accepting a non-aggression pact.
However, in a sign of continuing tension between Russia and the US, the Bush administration said it was cancelling a much-heralded civilian nuclear cooperation deal with Russia, which Bush had sent to Congress for approval in May, after two years of tough negotiations. The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, said in a statement yesterday: “We make this decision with regret. Unfortunately, given the current environment, the time is not right for this agreement.”
Earlier, in Moscow, Medvedev had bitterly criticised the US, which, he said, had encouraged Georgia’s “aggression” against South Ossetia and its attack on August 8. The US was also “actively” re-arming Georgia, he claimed, and made it clear that Russia would no longer accept a “unipolar model” of world affairs in which the US decided “the rules of the game”.
Asked whether the Kremlin planned to invade any more of its neighbours, Medvedev looked irritated. Referring to Georgia, he said: ‘This is an individual situation. Everything else is just plots … Some people are trying to look at Russia like the Soviet Union. Russia is different. But Russia needs to be taken into account.”
Assuming Russia fully withdraws its forces, talks could resume in October on an EU-Russia cooperation deal, Sarkozy said. EU countries suspended the talks last week in protest at Russia’s actions in Georgia.
According to Russia’s Kommersant newspaper, Moscow plans to establish diplomatic relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia today.
US air power triples deaths of Afghan civilians, says report
- The Guardian,
- Monday September 8 2008
Civilian deaths in Afghanistan from US and Nato air strikes have nearly tripled over the past year, with the onslaught continuing in 2008 and fuelling a public backlash, a leading human rights group says today.
The report by Human Rights Watch says that despite changes in the rules of engagement which had reduced the rate of civilian casualties since a spike in July last year, air strikes killed at least 321 civilians in 2007, compared with at least 116 in 2006. In the first seven months of this year at least 540 Afghan civilians were killed in fighting related to the armed conflict, with at least 119 killed by US or Nato air strikes, such as this July’s attack on a wedding party which killed 47, says Human Rights Watch.
“There has been a massive and unprecedented surge in the use of air power in Afghanistan in 2008,” the report says. It found that few civilians casualties were the result of planned air strikes on suspected Taliban targets. Instead, most were from air strikes during rapid response missions mostly carried out in support of “troops in contact” – ground troops under insurgent attack. Such strikes included situations where American special forces – normally small in number and lightly armed – came under insurgent attack.
“In response to increased insurgent activity, twice as many tons of bombs were dropped in 2007 than in 2006,” the report says. “In 2008, the pace has increased: in the months of June and July alone the US dropped approximately as much as it did in all of 2006. Without improvements in planning, intelligence, targeting, and identifying civilian populations, the massive use of air power in Afghanistan will continue to lead to unacceptably high civilian casualties.”
“Mistakes by the US and Nato have dramatically decreased public support for the Afghan government and the presence of international forces providing security to Afghans,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. The report criticises the response given by US officials when civilian deaths occur. Before conducting investigations, US officials often immediately deny responsibility for civilian deaths or place all blame on the Taliban, the report says.
US investigations have been “unilateral, ponderous, and lacking in transparency, undercutting rather than improving relations with local populations and the Afghan government”.
Last night the US military announced it would reopen its investigation of an air strike last month in which the Afghan government says 90 civilians, mainly women and children, were killed. An initial US inquiry found that up to 35 suspected insurgents and seven civilians died in the attack on Azizabad in Herat province, but General David McKiernan, the senior US officer in Afghanistan, announced a review in the light of “new information”. Afghan and western officials say that videos of the bombing’s aftermath shows dozens of dead civilians.
David Paul Kuhn Sun Sep 7, 3:52 PM ET Yahoo!News
John McCain has overtaken Barack Obama in the Gallup daily tracking poll and has his highest level of support in that poll since early May.
McCain leads Obama 48 percent to 45 percent among registered voters, by Gallup’s measure. McCain has so far earned the same convention bounce as Obama, though at a more rapid pace.
Obama peaked at a 5-point convention bounce in polling published last Tuesday. He was ahead 49 percent to 43 percent in the Gallup poll conducted before the Republican convention. He then soared to 50 percent for the first time of the election, by Gallup’s measure, while McCain fell to 42 percent.
McCain’s 5-point to 6-point bounce so far, like Obama’s, remains at par with historical expectations. In the 22 major-party conventions since 1964, the nominee walked away with, on average in most years, a 5-point to 6-point uptick in Gallup’s polls. The presidential polling will likely remain in flux until the middle of next week.
Today’s Gallup report continues to include some polling conducted prior to McCain’s acceptance speech. Tomorrow’s report will be the first to include interviews solely conducted following the close of the GOP convention.
Rasmussen’s daily tracking poll also reported today that when “leaners” are included, Obama and McCain are now tied at 48 percent. That means that, by Rasmussen’s measure, Obama’s 6-point bounce has been erased. CBS News polling had shown the same outcome midway through the GOP convention.
McCain’s resurgence in the polls comes as Nielsen Media Research reported that the Republican convention earned more television viewers than the Democratic convention. Republicans earned an average audience of 34.5 million, while Democrats earned an average viewership of 30.2 million.
Obama, McCain and GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin all earned a similar and record audience for their convention speeches, each nearing about 40 million viewers.
Asif Ali Khan Zardari
‘He doesn’t read much, it’s true. But you don’t necessarily need to be a bookworm type to be president of Pakistan’
The controversial widower of Benazir Bhutto likely to take the top job tomorrow
o Jason Burke
o The Guardian,
o Friday September 5 2008
o Article history
To some, Asif Ali Khan Zardari is a corrupt, bullying chancer who was a political liability for his late wife, Benazir Bhutto. To others, the 53-year-old politician is a likeable, experienced and sharp-witted middle-aged man who finally has his chance. For a few, he is all these things at once. One thing is sure: Zardari, who is expected to be elected Pakistan’s new president tomorrow, is a highly controversial figure and seems unlikely to be the man who can unite 175 million fractious Pakistanis.
“His first approach is always to make friends – but you wonder when the fist might come out,” said Najam Sethi, editor of several newspapers. “He has a kind of natural intelligence and is very charming,” said one neutral observer who has known Zardari since childhood. “But it is difficult to know whether his charm is a highly effective act or quite how bright he actually is. He could just be doing a good impression of both.”
Such contradictions seem an integral part of the man. Zardari grew up in Karachi, Pakistan’s southern port city, son of a landlord and unsuccessful cinema owner. As a teenager, he was known primarily for his skill at polo and driving fast, though his disregard for risk sometimes had a positive side. When riding one evening in the mid-1980s with an elite equestrian club on the outskirts of Karachi, a foreign diplomat’s daughter rode into a dangerous swamp. “About 50 people stood around watching as she sank into quicksand,” a witness told the Guardian. “Zardari waded in and hauled her out. He’s brave.”
His arranged marriage in 1987 to Benazir Bhutto, the daughter of former Pakistani prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, surprised many and brought him into the central current of his nation’s turbulent political life. A year later Bhutto led the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to victory in elections after the military dictator Zia ul-Haq died in a mysterious plane crash. She promised “food, shelter and clothes” for the masses. Two years later, her administration was dismissed amid allegations of corruption and incompetence. Zardari was imprisoned on charges of blackmail.
Over the next 14 years, Zardari alternated periods of liberty and incarceration. When the PPP regained power in 1993, Bhutto made her husband minister of investment, a controversial decision given the reputation for graft Zardari had acquired during the party’s first stint in office. Through the early 1990s he collected a breathtaking range of allegations of corruption, implication in murder, attempted embezzlement and even drug trafficking.
After a second, lengthier stint in prison following Bhutto’s second fall from power, Zardari was released after lengthy negotiations between the PPP and General Pervez Musharraf, then in power, in 2004. Zardari dismisses the various charges as political smears and, now that Swiss magistrates who seized millions in accounts linked to Bhutto and her husband have dropped their investigations, there is not a single outstanding case against him. “All through his time in prison he showed an incredible resilience,” said one journalist who interviewed him repeatedly. “He always seemed sure the tide would turn.”
No one doubts that Zardari is a survivor. Released in 2004, he kept a low profile, undergoing medical treatment in America and only getting involved in active politics shortly before his wife’s return to Pakistan in October last year. His reappearance at strategy planning sessions in London dismayed many PPP stalwarts. Power has earned him more supporters, however. “He’s an older and wiser man. He’s got health problems, he watches his diet, he doesn’t drink any longer,” said a Pakistani political activist. “He and Benazir were both very young when they came to power. They made mistakes.”
A former close associate from the early 1990s spoke, with no obvious irony given the frequent charges of egregious nepotism levelled at Zardari, of how Bhutto’s widower “always goes out of his way to help out his friends and even those who somehow reach him for help for jobs, financial help etcetera”. But others describe an arrogant, uncultivated and often impatient man ruthless with his enemies. Some accuse Zardari of frequent personal abuse of subordinates. An ally who preferred to remain anonymous said: “He is not a man you want to be on the wrong side of.”
Twenty years’ experience has taught Zardari much about the brutal game of Pakistani politics. When his wife died, he moved swiftly to secure control of the PPP, sidelining his son and skilfully assuming the Bhutto mantle. However, Zardari is far from an intellectual and does not share his late wife’s profound interest in geopolitics or economics, nor her education, eloquence or charisma.
“He doesn’t read much, it’s true,” said an ally. “But you don’t necessarily need to be a bookworm type to be president of Pakistan.” In the Zardari camp there is quiet jubilation. Few predicted this victory. Zardari will savour it.
Born July 26 1955 in Nawabshah, Pakistan
Family Married Benazir Bhutto in 1987 (she was assassinated in 2007), three children, Bilawal, Bakhtwar and Aseefa
Political career Member national assembly 1990-93 and 1993-96; federal minister of the environment 1993-1996; federal minister of investment 1995-96; transformed the power sector by encouraging investment opportunities. Architect of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. Senator 1997-1999; co-chairman, Pakistan Peoples party from 2008
Other posts Director, M/s Zardari Group (Pvt) Ltd
|Hundreds buried in Cairo rockslide|
Up to 500 people are feared to have been buried in their homes after a mountain landslide crushed a town on the outskirts of Egypt’s capital.
At least 30 people have been declared dead and 35 injured after at least eight rocks, some measuring 30m high, buried more than 50 homes in the poor district of Manshiyet Nasron on Saturday, officials said.
A six-storey building was reduced to rubble by the rockfall, one witness said.
Hassan Ibrahim Hassan, 80, whose house escaped the destruction, said: “It was horror.
“The power went out, we heard a loud bang like an earthquake, and I thought this house had collapsed.
“I went out and I saw the whole mountain had collapsed.”
Relatives and neighbours dug with their hands among the rubble for survivors or bodies, while police brought in sniffer dogs to locate those trapped.
Soldiers from the Egyptian military used heavy machinery to lift the rocks, some weighing between 60 and 70 tons.
Locals were enraged at what they said was as an inadequate response by the government.Witnesses described hundreds of weeping and screaming family members cursing the local authorities and saying they had relatives and friends trapped beneath the rubble.
“You’ve just got your hands in your pockets, you’re not doing anything!” one man yelled at police nearby.
Another said: “If it were the Shura council [Egypt’s upper house of parliament], you’d have had the army in by now,” in reference to a fire at the parliamentary building in August.
Hussein Abdul Ghani, Al Jazeera’s Egypt bureau chief, said: “Rescue teams and civil defence employees do not know what to do or how to rescue those trapped under the debris”.
Abdul Ghani said the cause of the landslide could have been from a contractor who was carrying out construction work at the top of the mountain.Al Jazeera’s Lina Ghadban in Cairo, said the fallen rocks and narrow streets were hampering the military in its rescue attempts.
“They have to do it delicately so they don’t add to the destruction through the use of any heavy machinery that could bring down more rocks from the mountainside”.
Manshiyet Nasr residents had informed the authorities a year ago that there was a split between the rocks which posed a potential danger to the homes below.
A similar landslide had occurred in 1994 in the area when 30 people were killed by a falling rock.
Manshiyet Nasr is a small village regarded as overcrowded with most families sharing a single room in apartment buildings.
The town’s buildings are cramped at the base of the Mouqattum hills next to a main highway into Cairo.
In a survey carried out by UN Habitat, a human settlement programme, Manshiyet Nasr is described as “the largest squatter, informal area in Cairo. There are 350,000 persons living in this area on about 850 acres with a gross residential density more than 400 persons per acre”.
“The area is suffering from poor living qualities, inadequate services, lack of infrastructure, and deteriorated environmental conditions,” the survey said.
In 2003, the housing ministry, under the auspices of the Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of the Egyptian president, launched a campaign to provide housing for some of the poorest Cairo residents, including in the affected town.
Cairo rockslide search continues
A man combs through the rubble in Cairo
Many residents have been scrabbling at the rocks with their bare hands
Rescuers in Cairo are continuing their search for survivors after a rockslide crushed dozens of houses in Egypt’s capital, killing at least 30 people.
Dozens of houses in a shanty town in the eastern Duwayqa area were hit by huge boulders and rocks on Saturday.
At least 40 people were injured and dozens are said to be still trapped in the rubble.
A six-storey building below the Muqattam hills had been completely reduced to rubble, residents said.
It was not clear what had triggered the rockfall but local residents were blaming construction work on the hill for causing the disaster.
At least eight boulders – each estimated to weigh about 70 tonnes – fell from the towering cliffs overlooking the district at about 0900 local time (0700 GMT), reports said.
Rockslide in pictures
“The power went out, we heard a loud bang like an earthquake and I thought this house had collapsed. I went out, I saw the whole mountain had collapsed,” said Hassan Ibrahim Hassan, 80, whose house escaped the destruction.
“It was horror,” he said.
Witnesses described seeing hundreds of distraught people gathered around the site of the destruction, saying they had relatives and friends trapped under the rubble.
Some were scrabbling at the rocks with their bare hands.
Rescue teams were forced to wait for the arrival of cranes and heavy lifting equipment to allow them to move the huge rocks, but as night fell the help had not arrived.
A BBC correspondent says there have been previous landslides in the area.