Tuesday, December 15, 2009

An Outward Look...

I'm a person of many, many interests.  From art in all its various forms, to sports in all of its various forms, business, international relations, history, literature, movies, TV shows - basically anything that captures my attention and holds it for more than 10 seconds I count as an interest of mine.  One of my top interests though is international relations/foreign affairs (which is intimately tied to the subject of history - to me, you cannot know much or care about foreign affairs if you don't know the history behind the stories that appear in the newspapers).  In the past 24 hours I've come upon two great international relations related content that I think people should know about.

First is a link, courtesy of my favorite reporter, Kevin Sites.  Back in 2005, Kevin did a project for Yahoo!News called "The Hot Zone" - spend a year reporting solo on the human stories behind some of the world's "hottest" conflicts.  If you ever have an afternoon free and you want to learn about some of the more under-reported conflicts going on in the world, go to the Hot Zone archives and read a few of his stories and watch some of the videos that he shot. Kevin is also the author of the book, "The Hot Zone", which I also highly recommend. 

Anyway, any link that Kevin posts on his Facebook page is worth a read, and this one, courtesy of Foreign Policy magazine about the Top 10 under-reported stories of 2009, is no exception.  It highlights foreign policy issues that need to be watched carefully as they could have a great impact on the direction of foreign policy in 2010.

The second thing that I came across was a documentary on PBS, called "The Power of the Poor", which has brought to light a name in international relations that I had never heard of: Hernando de Soto.  And I am so grateful that I have learned who this man is, because his work brought down one of the most brutal terrorist regimes that has existed - The Shining Path in Peru.  I have briefly heard about the Shining Path before and was only vaguely aware of their importance in Peruvian history, but this documentary shed light on the entire situation.  What a story!  What a history!  The Shining Path, so brutal in its terrorist tactics that it was compared to the Khmer Rouge, was a Maoist organization that counted close to 80,000 members.  Fed up with their impoverished situation and frustrated with the government they turned to violence to bring about "revolution" in Peru.  And the sad thing was that the poor were just as much victims during their reign as they were before the Shining Path existed.  In comes Hernando de Soto - a man who "discovered" how to help the poor achieve prosperity through legal reform, making economic progress possible.  His legal reforms undermined the purpose of the Shining Path, and as such, Hernando and his Institute for Liberty and Democracy were targeted by the Shining Path with car bombing attacks and assassination attempts.  But in the end, de Soto and the IDL got their reforms through the corrupted government.  More than 50% of Peru's poor have been given economic opportunity to start their own businesses and enjoy the economic freedom and prosperity that owning their land and access to credit gives to all who are able to do the same.  

Basically, de Soto defeated the terrorism of the Shining Path through legal reform that allowed capitalism to flourish among the Peruvian poor and give them opportunity that they never had before in their entire history.  There are definitely still impoverished people in Peru - the documentary definitely addresses this - but the opportunity that never existed before to not be poor now exists for the Peruvian people.

This gave me hope, which is not something that I often have when it comes to world conflicts and systemic problems like poverty.  But perhaps if we approached the Middle East, Africa, and former Soviet republics with legal reform that made economic prosperity through capitalism possible, we would disable the power of Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and other "big-name" terrorist organizations.  It is a solution that is rife with hardships, difficulties, and complexities - but isn't that also true of trying to "solve" this problem militarily? 

Anyway, it is a topic that has piqued my interest and once I read de Soto's book, "The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else" I'll be sure to share my thoughts :).

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