brad brace

11/20/2008

OVER OUR BURNING IVORY PIG BODIES

The last time rival political forces fought one another street by street
for control of the Nicaraguan capital was three decades ago, in July 1979,
at the culmination of the Sandinista insurrection that overthrew the
Somoza dictatorship. The streets of Managua were once again aflame amid
the boom of mortar rounds, as the Sandinistas and their rivals battled for
control — but it was the erstwhile revolutionary movement that now stands
accused of being a dictatorship.

An undercover investigation of the illegal wildlife trade in five African
nations led to the seizure of about a ton of ivory along with hippo teeth
and cheetah, leopard and python skins, the Kenya Wildlife Service said.

In Vanuatu, a Chief pleads for forgiveness on behalf of his errant
jail-breaking son in an unprecedented custom ceremony, in the tropical
islands of Vanuatu, in the South Pacific.

The prize, this time, is not control of the Nicaraguan state, but simply
the mayorships in 146 municipalities, which were up for election on
November 9. But allegations of massive vote fraud and conflicting claims
of victory have set off several days of violence between rival political
bands, leaving Nicaragua’s fledgling institutional democracy struggling
for its life.

A four-month investigation coordinated by Interpol, an international
police association based in Lyon, France, led to the arrest of 57 suspects
in the Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Zambia, the Kenyan
conservation agency said in a statement. Undercover agents tracked
suspects and illegal products to local ivory markets, airports, border
crossings and smuggling points.

Vanuatu, a peaceful tropical island nation in the South Pacific, witnessed
an never-before-seen kustom ceremony when, Chief Joshua Batakoro Vanua,
father of Lee Tamata, a high risk escapee, from the local jail,
ceremonially offered ten pigs to the community heads, in a plea for
forgiveness for the misdemeanors of his son.

The Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) has announced a partial recount of
votes from last Sunday’s mayoral polls, in which it has yet to declare
winners in several hotly contested cities, including the capital. But the
mobs of activists of the ruling Sandinista party and the opposition
Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) aren’t waiting idly to hear the
outcome.

The operation, which ended Saturday, was a blessing for countries whose
elephant populations “have declined tremendously over the years,” Wildlife
Service Director Julius Kipng’etich said.

Ten pigs were handed over to the community leaders during a custom
ceremony held at the Chief’s Nakamal. The leaders included the newly
elected Prime Minister of Vanuatu, Edward Natapei. This was the highest
price ever paid for peace, in the traditional custom system of the island
of Pentecost.

Downtown banks and businesses have been forced to close early for several
days and both the British and U.S. Embassies have warned their citizens to
remain vigilant and avoid any large crowds as political gangs clash on the
streets, destroying public and private property and turning parts of the
capital into a virtual war zone.

“Co-operation among countries in East, West and Southern Africa against
wildlife crime has set an inspired example,” said Giuliano Zaccardelli, an
Interpol program director. “Similar operations could also be conducted in
Asia, the Americas and in any other region where criminal interests,
including trafficking in illegal wildlife products, are common.”

Earlier this year, before the general elections, a Pentecost chief
demanded that Jenny Ligo,a woman candidate, pay 10 pigs in a kustom
ceremony for her right to continue to contest the elections. Jenny had
already performed a 10 pig-killing kustom ceremony, just to enter the male
dominated arena of politics.

The violence broke out after opposition leaders accused the Sandinistas of
turning the election into a fraudulent sham in order to take control of
the country’s most important cities, including Managua. The poll, in which
the government refused to allow monitoring by any credible outside
electoral observers, was riddled with alleged irregularities that began
months before election day when several opposition parties were banned
from participating, and continued after the vote, with stacks of ballots
found mysteriously dumped in the woods.

In one case, when Kenya Wildlife Service officers tried to arrest a Kenyan
and a Tanzanian man found with two pieces of ivory weighing 13 kilograms
(29 pounds), the men resisted and a wildlife officer fired in
self-defense, grazing one of the suspects in the head.

When Chief Joshua discovered how much fear and damage his son had caused
to members of the local community in Port Vila, he felt duty-bound to
offer the pigs on behalf of his son, asking for the leader’s forgiveness.

The U.S. State Department this week noted reports of “widespread
irregularities taking place at voting stations throughout the country,”
and said the Supreme Electoral Council’s decision to “not accredit
credible domestic and international election observers has made it
difficult to properly assess the conduct of the elections.”

In another case, a suspect who had been arrested escaped in the darkness.
In two separate instances, officials caught suspected smugglers
transporting several pieces of elephant tusks on motorbikes.

While Chief Joshua spend three months in the capital Port Vila, away from
his island home and family, he counseled his son. Chief Joshua had to sell
kava and taro to raise the funds to buy the pigs for the peace ceremony.

Business groups, church leaders and opposition parties have called for an
internationally audited nationwide recount, and the PLC has threatened to
paralyze the national legislature by walking out and denying it a quorum.

The elephant populations of many African countries were being decimated
until the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
banned the ivory trade in 1989. Since then the elephant population of
Kenya, for example, has grown from 16,000 to 27,000. But that is far fewer
than the estimated 167,000 elephants that lived in Kenya in 1973.

Ten mature pigs are not only highly prized, but a very expensive exercise
for the father as pigs are the wealth of a village. Curled pig tusks are
used as currency in some areas of the Vanuatu islands, with the Tari Bunia
Bank having 14 branches. The bank issues cheque books, has reserves and
gives loans, all on the currency of pig tusks. While there is a vault to
the bank there are no need for locks. “The bank is protected by spirits
and snakes,” says the bank manager.

The day after the vote, despite trailing by five percentage points in the
official count to Sandinista candidate and former boxing champ Alexis
Arguello, the PLC’s Managua mayoral hopeful Eduardo Montealegre declared
himself the winner based on his party’s own tabulation of the vote tallies
released to the parties at each balloting station. Montealegre, a former
finance minister who has adopted the cartoon image of Mighty Mouse after
opponents dubbed him “the rat,” called on his supporters to take to the
streets to “celebrate” the victory and “defend the vote at whatever
consequence.”

A plane equipped with body-heat sensors will be used by the Brazilian
government to locate and protect isolated Indian tribes in the Amazon. The
heat sensors will be mounted on a government plane normally used to
monitor deforestation. It is not clear when the effort will start.

Chief Joshua said “My son has erred and I ask for your forgiveness,” said
Chief Joshua, who spent time counseling his errant son while in Vila. The
Chief will now return home with assurances from his son that he will serve
the full term of his sentence and act with respect towards the law. Lee’s
name means peace in the language of his home island, Pentecost.

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