How the Elimination of U.S. Special Envoys Impacts Foreign RelationsRecently, U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, outlined his elimination of U.S. special envoys in order to reorganize and expand upon other positions. Many of these special envoy positions that are being eliminated are integral to global health initiatives. They include the U.S. Special Representative for International Labor Affairs and the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change. Further, senior representative and special coordinator positions for impoverished areas including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, South Sudan, Burma and Syria are being eliminated.

Tillerson’s plan prioritizes other special envoy positions that reflect the current administration’s focus on topics including business and the War on Terror, and the reorganization plans to place a heavier emphasis on positions within the commercial and business affairs and anti-Islamic State military coalition.

In his statement, Tillerson noted that his choice of elimination of U.S. special envoys was based on whether or not the positions have “accomplished or outlived their original purpose.” In response, Column Lynch, diplomatic reporter to Foreign Policy, stated that Tillerson’s plan, “downplay[s] African peacemaking and outreach to the Muslim world.”

Special envoys are important positions to fill in order for the U.S. government to reach out and help global communities, because the presence of U.S. representatives in underdeveloped countries contributes to development and growth. Lynch fears that many of the positions being eliminated by Tillerson are considered unimportant to the current administration.

However, special envoys exist in order to represent the U.S. government on issues like climate change, food insecurity and water resources around the world, which are issues that are critical and impact global health. The removal of special envoys in positions that aid such issues in underdeveloped countries impacts U.S. foreign relations in a number of different ways.

Namely, according to Ngaire Woods, Global Economic Governance professor at the University of Oxford, the health of a country has been found to be directly correlated to the functioning of its government. Thus,  a lack of special envoys and foreign assistance in underdeveloped countries, which may ultimately have negative impacts on health outcomes, has the potential to intensify political instability in such countries. Political instability is a large predicator as to whether or not a country poses a national security threat to the U.S.

On the other hand, many additional positions will remain intact by the current administration, and some will be expanded upon. The special envoy for the Office of Global Food Security will be moved to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Tillerson stated, “I believe that the department will be able to better execute its mission by integrating certain envoys and special representative offices within the regional and functional bureaus,” and so, many positions will receive better funding and direction under specific entities that are reflective of each position’s respective values.

Emily Santora

Photo: Flickr

Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act
The ‘Global Magnitsky Human Rights Act’ is a bill currently in the Foreign Relations Senate committee.

Sponsored by Senator Benjamin Cardin (D), the bill’s intent is to “impose sanctions with respect to foreign persons responsible for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, and for other purposes.”

Having been introduced in January of 2014 and then reintroduced in January 2015, the bill has yet to reach the senate floor. However, it has earned the sponsorship of Senators like Marco Rubio (R) and John McCain (R).

This bill would give the president the power to impose sanctions on any entity or government who abuses the rights of people. The definition of these abuses is in accordance with the “internationally recognized human rights.” These abuses include human trafficking and extrajudicial killings. The bill would not only serve to punish governments who are actively participating in the abuses, but those who are providing financial assistance to the individual or entity reeking havoc.

Earlier this month, the Human Rights Watch testified in front of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, urging Congress to pass the bill.

In their testimony, they mentioned the fact that, in many countries (especially those affected by Arab Spring), “conflict and repression” were unexpected consequences, affecting large quantities of people. During their testimony, they also spoke of how the US and other Western democracies rarely speak harshly of the atrocities taking place.

Because of the lacking dialogue taking place in mainstream media, and in the interest of the people being affected by the negative choices made by people in high positions of power, the Human Rights Watch supported the passage of this bill so that it is “harder for authoritarian rulers, dictators, and kleptocrats to recruit and maintain a coterie of supporters.”

Erin Logan

Sources: Human Rights Watch, Congress
Photo: Sputnik

US and Cuban Relations: A New Future for Cuba
After 54 years of severed diplomatic ties, the United States and Cuba, once bitter Cold War enemies, demonstrated their newfound diplomacy by reopening each other’s embassies this past Monday.

It is the most concrete example of the diplomatic thaw since President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced last December that US-Cuba relations would be restored.

In an interview with MSNBC, President Obama said he believed that Proclamation 3447, the embargo signed by President Kennedy in 1962, has served neither people well, and that it was time to go in a new direction.

Although Congress has to pass legislation to formally end the embargo — something that will be very challenging to do — Obama is using his executive power to ease travel and trade restrictions.

For the first time in half a century, the United States is able to transparently see the type of living conditions Cubans have been in for the past 50 years.

There is poverty in Cuba, but it’s not traditional poverty. When Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, the government became Socialist, and then reformed to become the Communist party of Cuba. During this time, all aspects of Cuban society became nationalized. For the past 50 years, Cubans have enjoyed access to a free healthcare system that has produced a very healthy populace.

Today Cuba ranks 61st in the world for life expectancy. Its citizens live roughly to the same age as their American counterparts. This statistic is even more surprising considering that per capita GDP is almost ten times higher in the United States than in Cuba.

Economists have coined this phenomenon the ‘Cuban Health Paradox.’ Normally, countries with low per capita GDPs also have low life expectancies.

Cubans also have access to free education and the government has tried to make housing and nutrition a priority for its citizens.

Based on government numbers, Cuba ranks 48th in the world for poverty. The island nation is one of the least impoverished countries in the developing world

Although 15 percent of the population still lives in extreme poverty, most of the country is poor. Reports of living conditions are less than ideal. The Cuban peso, which hasn’t been convertible since the revolution, has suffered from inflation. In US dollars, the average Cuban worker earns $17 to $30 a month.

Cuba also scores at the bottom of Freedom House’s annual report on civil and political freedoms. Freedom House’s describes Cuba as ‘not free.’

Since the Castro family has been in power, Cuba has been relatively isolated. This is has led to the country’s lack of overall wealth. The fall of the Soviet Union worsened matters as the country lost the financial support it used to have from Moscow.

The country has persisted; however, this has usually caused Cuba to become more self reliant, therefore poorer.

Recently, Cuba has tried to reform its economic system to open up investment to other governments and private companies to accelerate development.

The United States reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba presents a great opportunity for this to happen. The United States can expand trade markets to one of its closest neighbors, while the influx of capital will raise living standards in Cuba.

Kevin Meyers

Sources: Procon, Geoba, MSNBC, New York Times, Poverties, Reuters, Rural Poverty Portal
Photo: USA Today

Corruption Kills Millions, Steals Trillions - The Borgen Project
In a report released by ONE, an anti-poverty organization, it is estimated that corruption causes 3.6 million unnecessary deaths and costs poor countries $1 trillion each year.

Using three different methodologies to calculate the cost of corruption, all three measures indicated that the loss was either $1 trillion or $2 trillion.

In what is called a “trillion dollar scandal,” corrupt business practices, “anonymous shell companies, money laundering and illegal tax evasion” all serve to severely reduce the effectiveness of poverty relief efforts.

While extreme poverty has been reduced to half its original level over the past 20 years and has the potential to be completely eradicated by 2030, corruption is putting much of that progress at risk.

While corruption is damaging in almost all countries, it is especially dangerous in poorer and developing countries and mostly affects children. It is estimated that millions of deaths could be avoided if corruption was combated and recovered funds were reinvested in essential fields.

Furthermore, the money that is siphoned out of poor countries is not from international development aid, which has helped make a considerable improvement, but rather directly from businesses in these countries. The money is generated by domestic businesses and illegally extracted out of the country. The largest source of financial drain is the illegal manipulation of cross-border trade.

The organization found that even recovering a small amount of the money lost to corruption could dramatically affect development. In Sub-Saharan Africa, a small amount of recovered funds could provide an education to an additional 10 million children each year; pay for an additional 500,000 primary school teachers; provide antiretroviral drugs for more 11 million people with HIV/AIDS and buy nearly 165 million vaccines.

The report stresses action that serves to end the secrecy that allows corruption to thrive. If specific policies were implemented that increased transparency and combated corruption in the four areas of “natural resource deals, the use of phantom firms, tax evasion and money laundering,” developing countries could considerably stem the financial drain.

Natural resources in particular can provide a vital source of funds that could greatly increase economic growth in many developing countries. Corruption concerning natural resources is particularly bad, with approximately 20 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa rich in natural resources but receiving few benefits from these reserves.

Specifically, One calls for mandatory reporting laws for the natural resource sectors and publish open data so citizens are able to track where travels from and to, ensuring that the funds are not lost to corruption.

Published in anticipation of the G20 meeting in Brisbane, Australia in November, the organization stresses the importance for the G20 nations to address the issue. Now that the cost of corruption has been defined in real terms, the fight against corruption can become more directed and effective.

— William Ying

Sources: ONE 1, ONE 2, ONE 3, BBC, The Guardian, ABC News, Yahoo News
Photo: Blogspot

Diplomacy saves lives. Not only can good foreign relations prevent the outbreak of war and violence between and within countries, but it also allows for the trust and respect necessary for global development initiatives to work.

In 1988 UNICEF and the Rotary Club International joined forces to eradicate polio across the globe. The project was shockingly successful and, as a result, the number of estimated polio cases decreased from 400,000 to 7,000 between 1980 and 1999. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contributed to the cause and helped immunize 2.5 billion young people in 200 countries with the help of almost 200 million volunteers. By 2003 only 784 cases of polio remained on the planet.

Yet as promising as these numbers appear, the goal stated in 1988 was to eliminate polio by the year 2000. This did not happen. In 2003, the number of polio cases dwindling, a conspiracy theory transpired. In a primarily Muslim region of Nigeria, a few imams surmised that the polio vaccine contained sterilizing agents that would make their daughters infertile. The life-saving vaccination was conclusively dubbed to be a CIA plot. As this rumor spread to Afghanistan and Pakistan, groups such as the Taliban spoke out against the previously well-received shot. The number of polio cases in children grew to 2,020 by 2006. In 2008 only Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan still had polio circulating through water supplies and infected children.

In 2013 polio cases of the same strain found in Pakistan were discovered in Somalia and Syria. Both countries trained their military’s in Pakistan. Iraq reported its first polio case in 14 years this March 2014, and the United Nations has branded Syria’s climb to 38 reported cases of polio “the most challenging outbreak in the history of polio eradication.” Fears are skyrocketing that the dreadful disease is spreading throughout the Middle East.

Many claim that violence and displacement are primary causes of the setback in Iraq. Polio, an incurable disease, spreads quickly in overcrowded regions prone to poverty and malnourishment. It is preventable, though, and it’s a shame that less than favorable political and ideological relations contributed to its present resurgence.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: Foreign Policy, The Guardian, IRIN
Photo: CNN