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Jodi Liss: Peruvian People Power

This past month, two resource-rich countries saw political protests turn deadly as the people tried to reign in the autocratic dictates of an incumbent government. One country was, of course, Iran—where every day it seems the government strangles a little more life out of the people’s protests. With 24/7 news coverage of that disastrous election, you might be forgiven for not having heard about what happened in Peru, where for a change, the people won. Beginning in 2008, Peru’s president, Alan Garcia, issued a series of executive decrees to open up 210,000 square miles of the Amazon region, including some land legally protected, to foreign oil, gas, logging, and agribusiness investment. Garcia aimed to develop a multi-billion dollar industry to aid Peru’s growth (not in itself a bad thing) and saw the fertile and resource-rich Amazon as a golden opportunity, simply too good to waste. The president oversaw the signings of dozens of contracts with a wide variety of foreign officials and companies. In retrospect, it's easy to see why Garcia underestimated the vociferousness of his opposition. The Amazonian region is home to only 330,000 indigenous people (roughly 1 percent of Peru’s population) arrayed in some 60 tribes. In general, these Amazonians live in remote areas, speak different dialects, are much poorer than the national average, and lack political or social cohesion. But this time around, the indigenous people were organized and determined. They had spent years getting ready for Garcia's assault on their native land. Decades of negative experiences with oil extraction companies had forced them to come together, and to plan ahead. Past protests had not been taken seriously by Peruvian elites and legislative leaders, who merely ignored their claims or temporarily suspended action until the furor died down. Then, as always, they returned to business as usual.

Mira Kamdar: "Our Man in Kerala" — World Policy Journal and India's 2009 General Elections

Mira KamdarLong-time World Policy Journal editorial board member Shashi Tharoor has been elected to India’s parliament in the country’s fifteenth general election.  Running from his home town of Thiruvananthapuram, Tharoor garnered a historic margin of victory of more than 100,000 votes. “I am truly humbled by the extraordinary level of trust the voters of Thiruvananthapuram have placed in me, and I am conscious that now is when the real work begins,” wrote Tharoor, a man on the move, from his Blackberry. Tharoor’s success helped the Congress Party, on whose ticket he ran, win a landslide victory. Trouncing predictions of a fractured and fragile coalition as the most likely outcome of an election in which more than 400 million of India’s 700 million-plus eligible voters cast ballots in five phases over one month, India’s grand, old Congress Party won outright 262 of the 272-seat majority required to form a government. The stunning victory by the party that came to power with the birth of the Republic of India more than 60 years ago has left both India’s Left and Right in tatters.

. Such a clear mandate by a party that has positioned itself as a force for religious tolerance and economic growth tempered by concern for India’s very poor majority has been hailed by business leaders around the world as a welcome outcome. India’s stock exchanges shot up on the news. But as Tharoor points out, Congress has little time to waste on celebration. India is facing a gauntlet of serious challenges, and the ability of the new government to chart a course through a widening wealth gap, a deteriorating environment, a growing water and agricultural crisis, and hemorrhaging cities—while dealing with a region fraught with conflict and insecurity—is not made easier by the current global economic and climate crises.

Jodi Liss: Breaking the "Resource Curse" by Getting Contracts Right

Many countries in the developing world look to energy and mining to bring in foreign investment. The contracts that these countries sign with extraction companies often offer lop-sided terms when it comes to money, transparency, information, or in certain cases, environmental protection to the host country—all of which heighten the problems of the resource curse. The International Senior Law Project (ISLP) is a non-profit organization which volunteers world-class legal counsel globally on economic development, human rights, and access to justice. The group works with governments who need their services but are too poor to pay, and partners with large established non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to bring their skills to developing world civil society groups. They also offer commercial law skills training. They have worked on projects to deal with extraction related problems in several poor countries, including in Mongolia and Liberia. ISLP’s roster includes about 600 lawyers from the United States, Canada, and other countries. Jean Berman, the executive director, says, “We’ve been very lucky in finding the perfect lawyers for the situation.” Joseph Bell is the Secretary of the Board for ISLP.  He is also a senior law partner at Hogan and Hartson, and chair of the Advisory Board at Revenue Watch Institute, an NGO which works to counter the resource curse. His background is in commercial and regulatory practice, focusing on energy and mining. Recently, he led the ISLP team(s) that renegotiated several important contracts between the government of Liberia and interested multinational corporations, resulting in a great improvement of terms for the government. The following is an interview with him on negotiating with extraction companies for the world’s poorest countries. - - - - Jodi Liss (JL): What problems do developing countries face when negotiating contracts with these huge multinational corporations? Joseph Bell (JB): There’s the problem of asymmetry—in knowledge, information, capacity—between the government and the company. Some countries recognize this and hire outside counsel, which sometimes can help. JL: Do these countries have the existing legal frameworks to guide these contracts?

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