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The Inside Story of Russia’s Fight to Keep the U.N. Corrupt

How Russia consistently undermines the U.N. in order to keep a multi-billion dollar monopoly on the sales of helicopters and airplanes.

Russia’s zeal for turning back reform has been felt most powerfully in the U.N.’s leasing of aircraft — a $1 billion a year market — that provide transport for the world’s second-largest expeditionary force. An examination of U.N. procurement practices in the air-transport sector — drawing on dozens of interviews with U.N.-based officials and diplomats, as well as a review of internal U.N. communications and audits — suggests that Russia has enjoyed unfair advantages, including contracts that all but demand that the United Nations lease Russia’s Soviet-era aircraft.

The dispute provides a textbook example of the difficulties of implementing basic financial reforms at the United Nations when major powers have conflicting commercial interests in the outcome. As such, the secretary general and key countries have been unwilling to openly confront Russia because its cooperation is required on a wide range of critical issues at the United Nations.

Guatemala declares national coffee emergency

Okay, so you now have all of our attention

Guatemala’s president declared a national emergency Friday over the spread of coffee rust, saying the fungus that has hit other Central American countries is affecting 70 percent of this nation’s crop.

President Otto Molina Perez ordered the release of more than $14 million to aid coffee growers. He said the funds would help 60,000 small farmers buy pesticides and also finance instruction to teach them how to prevent the disease and stop it from spreading.

“If we don’t take the needed measures, in 2013-2014 our production could drop by 40 percent,” Molina said in making his country the third in the region to decree emergencies in recent weeks.

Coffee rust, which can kill plants by withering their leaves, also is affecting plantations in El Salvador, Honduras, Panama and Costa Rica. Mexico’s agriculture authorities said the fungus has been detected there but so far has not damaged plants.

Molina said the pesticides will start being applied to coffee plants in April and two more applications will be needed during the year.
Nils Leporowsky, president of the National Coffee Association of Guatemala, or Anacafe, said coffee is grown in 206 of the country’s 333 municipalities. 

“We have planted 667,000 acres (270,000 hectares) of coffee and of that 477,000 acres (193,000 hectares) have rust, affecting 70 percent of the total,” he added.

Leporowsky said coffee growing generates 500,000 direct jobs as well as 700,000 additional jobs in related businesses each year.”We have lost 100,000 direct jobs already and that will affect millions of people,” he said.

Experts say the fungus has been present in Central American since the 1970s but production hadn’t previously been affected so severely as what is feared this year.

Otto Cabrera, an adviser with Anacafe, said coffee rust arrived in Guatemala in the 1980s.

“The fungus directly affects coffee leaves, initially with yellow spots that later turn orange and reaches around the foliage of coffee, then makes the leaves fall,” he said. “The plant loses its foliage. It’s not able to breathe, so it ceases producing and it eventually dies.”

Cabrera said climate change has brought a rise in average temperatures of about 2 degrees Celsius in Central American areas where the fungus was present, encouraging its growth and increasing the threat of severe damage.

Hama Redux

From the New York Times

The Syrian accounts also said at least 20 soldiers had been killed in the fighting, but said nothing about civilian casualties. Activist groups reporting from Hama — the source of most information about the mayhem there since Syrian forces first besieged the city last weekend — have said at least 200 civilians have been killed by military shelling and snipers. They reported a new round of shelling on Friday.

The resident reached by telephone said that 200 tanks had entered the city before dawn, and that security forces were blocking residents from gathering in the city’s mosques.

“The government has given up its responsibilities and handed everything over to the security forces,” said Louay Hussein, a prominent opposition figure in Damascus. “They have lost their mind. They are acting without any strategic or political goal. The government’s armed gangs are roaming the streets, simply looking for vengeance.”

As the government pressed its crackdown on Hama, military and security forces appeared to prepare for another assault on Deir al-Zour, a city in eastern Syria knitted by the loyalties of extended clans where protests had gathered force for the past month. Those forces shelled the city on Thursday night into Friday morning, residents said.

It’s not the first time it happened.