Media | Zooming In

April 23, 2005

Zooming In 4/23

Gelf highlights overlooked coverage from local newspapers around the world. In this edition: a missing thumb, lots of drugs, and some anti-West backlash.

David Goldenberg

Some of the most insightful writing from outside the U.S. comes from local newspapers. In this occasional feature, Gelf identifies noteworthy stories that haven't gotten much attention outside local borders.

Asia, Oceania

Bangladesh: An article in the Daily Star reports that citizens paid over one billion dollars in bribes to corrupt government officials last year, which works out to about 2% of the impoverished country's GDP. The article was based on a report by Transparency International, which found that 97% of people who bought land had to pay bribes (on average $60) to register it, over 60% of defendants and accusers had to pay bribes to both the police and the courts, and 40% of children had to pay for their supposedly free primary-school education.

India: A huge online pharmaceutical ring that was illegally providing prescription drugs to over 100,000 customers around the globe has been busted, and at the center of it is the Bansal family. According to the Hindustan Times, the father, Brij Bhushan Bansal, an Agra-based physician, sent out 2.5 million units of controlled substances each month—including Vicodin, anabolic steroids, amphetamines, and diazepam—through a ring of distributors including his brother, two sons, and daughter-in-law. One son, Akhil Bansal, a student at Temple University, is alleged to have managed US operations for the ring.

Thailand: While America's tabloids revel in the mystery of the missing fast-food finger (Los Angeles Times), in Thailand there is little doubt as to what happened to Matt Butcher's thumb. Diving off the Similan Islands, Butcher, from England, decided to feed the resident seven-foot-long moray eel. The eel clamped its jaws down on Butcher's thumb, and, upon tasting blood, began twisting its head back and forth until the thumb popped off. Though the thumb wasn't recovered, doctors think they can transplant one of Butcher's big toes to his hand. "I was wearing shorts during this dive," he told the Phuket Gazette, "and I'm just glad that the thing didn't swim up one of the legs and bite something else."

Tonga: In the small archipelago of Tonga, sea turtles are once again fair game for fisherman during the months of March through August (Matangi). The environmental-advocacy group WWF quickly spoke out against the lifting of the years-long ban, saying that the status of the turtle population in the area is unknown, and that the Tongan government has no plan to enforce and monitor turtle hunts. In a letter to the Matangi editor, a Tongan expat told the organization to back off. "So it's only when a small island like Tonga kills turtles that it becomes torture. What happens to sheep, cows and chickens. Oh! maybe turtles have souls and others don't. The WWF, why don't you pick on your own size."


Cuba: Fidel Castro is very angry about the United States' most recent transgression against his government. In the state-run Granma, Castro compared the American asylum offer to Cuban rebel Luis Posada Carriles to the Bay of Pigs Invasion, and said, "this time, they have made the greatest error ever by a US administration." The Miami Herald has a more sympathetic view of Carriles's actions, which included the bombing of a Cuban jetliner, but reaches the same conclusions as the dictator: "Granting Mr. Posada asylum would violate U.S. asylum standards and damage our international standing in the war against terrorism."


Nigeria: Until at least the end of the year, Great Britain has banned all first-time Nigerian travellers aged 18-30 from obtaining a visa to visit the island (This Day). Due to a backlog of visa applications (at 230,000 last year, the highest in the world), a high rate of forgeries, and failure to return among that age group, the British High Commission decided to cut the group out, save for Nigerians studying in the United Kingdom and those on certain kinds of business. An editorial in the Daily Champion decried the U.K.'s apparent discrimination, but added, "It is a sad commentary on Nigerian living conditions that it takes measures like the U.K.'s to bring home the fact that the young and young adults are neglected to the point where they are compelled to emigrate abroad."

South Africa: For the last 80 years, the Nama people of the Northern Cape Province have been dispossessed of their land by the diamond-hungry South African government and its predecessors. Now, using the Restitution of Land Rights Act, the Nama and the rest of the 4,000 inhabitants of the Richtersveld have successfully sued the government for ownership of the land and the mines (Mail & Guardian). On April 25, Cape Town's Land Claims Court will let them know whether they are also entitled to compensation for the diamonds that have already been mined out of the region. In a sly dig at the advertising slogan of the DeBeers Corporation, a company that wields terrific power in the South African government, Richtersveld community spokesperson Floors Strauss told the Mail & Guardian, "We also realise that diamonds are not forever. So what the mine generates we'll use to put in other economic generators, like tourism and agriculture."

Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe's recently reelected government has another crisis on its hands. After pointedly waiving off emergency food supplies during last year's drought, the government is now planning to divert $900 million from the 2005 budget to import maize (Zimbabwe Independent). According to the article, Zimbabwe has only 30,000 metric tons of maize in its depots, less than 1/60th of what the country consumes each year.


Czech Republic: Stanislav Gross, the Czech Premier, has agreed to resign after only nine months in office (Financial Times). Besides for failing to break the deadlock in parliament over ratification of the EU constitution, Gross gained infamy for his shady real-estate dealings and his business relationship with Libuse Barkova, who, among other things, is currently under investigation for insurance fraud and involvement with a brothel. In a contentious interview with the Prague Post, Barkova talks about her business, prostitution, and what she says are frame-ups.

Spain: As waves of hopeful applicants from Africa face longer waits and more hassles from Spain's ever-expanding immigration beaurocracy, many of them are turning to the black market for "official" paperwork to expedite entry. According to the Euro Weekly News, organized crime groups from Eastern Europe have focused on Spain's southern port city of Malaga, and are selling identity cards and passports to would-be residents for as little as 500 Euros.

Ukraine: An editorial in the Kyiv Post warned that the new parliament bill to ban smoking in public places and stiffen rules about tobacco sales is a government intrusion into private citizens' affairs. "Cigarette smoking is stupid, but so are many things that shouldn't be subject to government control," the paper said. "Let's hope this bill fades away, and that Ukraine's legislators don't pick up the meddling habits of so many of their Western counterparts." (Another editorial in the Post suggested that before Ukrainians worry about implementing a smoking ban, they should try a spitting ban.)

Middle East

Turkey: A new study about drug use among 10th graders has found that there's good news and bad news for the youth of Istanbul (Turkish Daily News). While the percentage of smokers has decreased from 58.9% of the study group to 34.1%, other drug use is on the rise compared to those students polled in 2001, including heroin (+100%) and synthetic drugs (+287.5%).

Yemen: After years of ignoring its women prisoners, the Yemeni government has invested $1.5 million in upgrading prison facilities and programs (Yemen Observer). According to the article, women who have been to prison in Yemen are rejected by the rest of society, and many return to jail soon after release. By providing classes and libraries to the women and kindergartens for their children, the government hopes to reduce the rate of recidivism and give released women a chance at rebuilding their lives.

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Article by David Goldenberg

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