Weekly Briefing

Haiti horror

It's hard to know which is more horrifying: the photographs of traumatised, bloodied Haitians stumbling through the rubble of what used to be central Port-au-Prince, or the sense that disaster is constantly around the corner for the Caribbean state. One of the world's poorest countries, it is
also among the most politically - as well as climatically - unstable.

Hours on from the latest disaster, the US and Britain were among those promising aid. But in Haiti, aid brings its own problems. Often channelled through NGOs bypassing the government, critics argue aid leaves the authorities mistrustful, dependent and even indifferent to Haiti's problems. The infrastructure to distribute aid is also lacking; instead, it often turns up on the black market.

Tackling the latest disaster is now the priority. But solutions to the aid dilemma must be sought.

Orange men

It's a month of anniversaries, for detention camps. Eight years after the first prisoners arrived at Guantanamo Bay, on 11 January 2002, European countries were urged by human rights organisations to do more for prisoners who cannot be returned to their home countries.

As Amnesty International, the legal charity Reprieve and the US Center for Constitutional Rights have pointed out, even avoiding the contentious question of Yemeni prisoners, around 50 of the detainees who remain at Guantanamo are still there purely because they have nowhere else
to go: they are at risk of torture in their home countries.

January also sees the first anniversary of Barack Obama's promise to close Guantanamo before the end of this month. Writing for the NS last January, Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve UK's director, warned how serious a challenge this was; but now even his analysis seems outlandishly optimistic. Then, around 240 prisoners were held at the camp. Dealing with "the first group is the easiest - the 140 or so prisoners who can just be repatriated," predicted Stafford Smith. But one year on, little progress has been made, and about 200 detainees remain.

Censor sensibility

In an English-language blog post, Google announced it is "no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn", after Gmail accounts of rights activists were hacked. Google's departure from China seems inevitable.

But many suspect pulling out is more about business than the company's "don't be evil" motto. Google's Chinese market share, one third, is tiny relative to its dominance outside. And a public blog, in English, was never likely to sway China's government - although it might just make anti-censorship Westerners feel more warmly about the internet giant.

Chávez culture

President Hugo Chávez has waded in at the shallow end of his war against Venezuela's media. In the past, he has likened moguls to the four horsemen of the apocalypse, criticised the media's part in the 2002 coup and, more sinisterly, refused broadcast licences to TV stations he didn't like.

This time he has merely called for more "socialist soap operas". It's happened before: in 2004, Love Inside the Barrio followed a young Chávez supporter and her lover, a journalist whose father hated the president. But the show failed to distract Venezuelan viewers from their usual diet of glossy commercial telenovelas.

Avatar city

Residents of Vatican City are not the only ones to have criticised James Cameron's 3D alien eco-spectacular Avatar for being "bland". Nor are they the only ones to sigh wearily at its distinct whiff of New Age. But they're probably the only ones worrying about "all those pseudo-doctrines that turn ecology into the religion of the millennium"

In a recent speech, the often less than forward-thinking Pope Benedict expressed his concern about climate change and deforestation. But he warned, too, against the dangers of "neopaganism" and turning nature into a "new divinity".

You can almost seeing him now, shaking his head as he reads L'Osservatore Romano's film review section by the light of a burning copy of Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood and thinking, "I told you so."

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