Breaking Bread with Violence: Connecting the Dots Between Conflict & Hunger

Fatima Shooie sits between her 85-year-old mother and 22-year-old daughter who are both receiving treatment for cholera at a crowded hospital in Sana’a. Credit: WHO/S. Hasan

Fatima Shooie sits between her 85-year-old mother and 22-year-old daughter who are both receiving treatment for cholera at a crowded hospital in Sana’a. Credit: WHO/S. Hasan

By Herve Verhoosel
GENEVA, Nov 30 2018 (IPS)

Last week I met with Aamir, a 29-year-old Yemenite, living in Geneva since October 2018 and waiting for his application for asylum to be finalized.

We met outside a café on a brisk, overcast autumn day, where I offered to treat him to a coffee or a tea in exchange for the chance to listen to his story, one that he was worried to share. Worried for his family back in Yemen.

We took a small table amongst the quiet chatter of the café. Although I insisted, he politely declined my offer for the coffee or the tea. He paused for a moment, shifted his eyes away from mine, and began to share his story. A 16-month journey from Yemen to Geneva, via Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Greece – for 14 months in a camp in the Island of Chios – and Italy.

In Yemen, before the conflict Aamir was an electrician by apprenticeship. Now, he is starting over again, beginning first with French classes. Only if his status is fully granted, he will start a 4-year program so he can eventually gain the credentials to practice his trade in Switzerland.

Aamir left the country that he loves. Alone. “People have no food, no job, no more money, and of course no security. The war created all this” he told me. “How can I stay without work, without food, and unsure each day if I will live to see the next. I decided to leave my country, to leave my family and take my chance, far away from that violence…”

Hundreds of millions of people around the world caught up in armed conflict are living stories similar or much worse, having been pushed into hunger because they are stuck in the middle of a fight that is not their own. Some, like him decide to leave the country. Many others stay hoping for help. Your help, our help.

The fact that conflict fuels hunger is no secret. Today, there are 815 million hungry people on the planet- roughly 100 times the population of New York City. 60% of these people (489 million) are living in conflict-stricken areas.

That is almost half a billion people that are more than twice as likely to be undernourished as those living in countries at peace are.

In 2018 conflict and insecurity were the primary drivers of hunger in 18 countries where 74 million people require urgent food aid (Africa: 11 countries (37m) Middle East: 4 countries (27m), Asia: 2 (8m), and the Ukraine).

There is a growing understanding that hunger may also contribute to conflict when coupled with poverty, unemployment or economic hardship. People who have no other options to earn money and thus nothing to lose may be more easily convinced to join armed groups that they otherwise may not have.

This is the reality in Somalia where a study by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) of why people joined Al Shabab found that economic reasons were the biggest single factor. For some people the financial incentives may be the only way they can feed themselves and their families.

In Nigeria, Boko Haram is reported to pay up to US$600 to recruit members to its movement and in recent studies by ISS, economic incentives have been demonstrated to be a stronger driver of recruitment than religious extremism.

I met some of these youths involved in armed groups or violence during my two years living in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic while working for the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSCA).

Most of these young people are, in fact, very positive and kind parents, sisters, brothers, who unfortunately reached a point where they have no other way to feed their families- a situation that can be exploited by armed groups.

At times, parties to a conflict may also exploit conflict-induced food insecurity, and attempt to leverage the threat of famine to their advantage – and target farms, markets, mills storage sites and other infrastructure needed for food production and distribution – an act that is condemned and may constitute a war crime.

Once this vicious cycle gains momentum, humanitarian agencies like the UN World Food Programme and partners face increased challenges in stopping it. As conflict-affected regions slip further into violence, access to deliver vital supplies is often severed, leading to more people suffering from hunger, disease, and societal collapse.

Prevention must be at the heart of development. Earlier and longer-term interventions to improve food security and invest in agriculture is one way to address the growing connections between conflict and hunger. In a world where we have the finances and technology to ensure that nobody goes to bed hungry, this goal is more realistic today than it has ever been before.

The final battle against hunger and conflict will occur in the minds of people – our political leaders – and involves tackling the fundamental factors that fuel hunger and conflict.

Until then, WFP will continue to operate every day in Yemen, Somalia, Central African Republic and many of the world’s toughest active conflict zones, delivering food and saving lives. However, it shouldn’t have to be this way.

Ignoring the Murder of a Journalist in the Name of National Interest

By Jan Lundius
Stockholm/Rome, Nov 30 2018 (IPS)

A foreign citizen – well-known journalist, author, university lecturer and regime critic – with residence in the US is abducted by a group of professionals employed by a foreign Government – depicted as a stout US ally – and subsequently tortured and killed. In spite of the case being thoroughly investigated by both the CIA and the FBI, which verified that a crime had been committed, the US Government did not take any steps to rebuke the rulers of the allied country.

This is not a description of the Khashoggi case. It is another story commencing 10 PM on March 12, 1956, when Jesús de Galíndez Suárez, lecturer at Columbia University, entered the subway station at 57th Street and disappeared forever.

Galíndez, a Basque nationalist who after supporting the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, had in 1939 fled to the Dominican Republic. Galíndez became legal adviser to the Labour Department and befriended members of the almighty Trujillo family, though Trujillo soon found that Galíndez carried out discrete investigations about his dictatorial rule.

Self-proclaimed five star general and Benefactor of the Fatherland, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo had the Dominican Republic´s capital and highest mountain peak named after him. Trujillo´s power and influence was not exclusively enjoyed by himself, he shared it with his entire family, which controlled almost 60 percent of the fertile land. Trujillo´s bust could be seen everywhere, while every hotel room exhibited a Bible and a Trujillo biography. All published books were dedicated to him, every religious celebration blessed him. All Dominican homes had a plaque declaring: “In this house Trujillo is the boss (El Jefe)”. Trujillo´s influence was not limited to his small island nation. He spent much money to foster goodwill within allied nations.

When Trujillo learned about Galíndez´s inquiries, the Dominican Republic had for 25 years been subdued by his feared secret service, Servicio de Intelligencia Militar (SIM); torturing, jailing and killing opponents, including massacring at least 20,000 immigrants from neighbouring Haiti. Trujillo´s power was maintained by fear, nationalism and racism.

Galíndez fled the country, settled in the US and was going to submit his investigation of Trujillo´s power abuse as a Ph.D. thesis at Columbia University. It was practically finished when Galíndez was abducted by SIM, drugged and in an ambulance brought to a private airfield, where a US pilot and a privately hired plane waited to take him to the Dominican Republic.

Arriving in Ciudad Trujillo, Galíndez was brought to Trujillo´s private residence where El Jefe received his victim, dressed in riding habit and with a whip in his hand. He lashed Galíndez shouting: “Pendejo! Pendejo!” Asshole/idiot. Then he stuffed Galíndez´s mouth with pages from his thesis. “Eat it!” shouted Trujillo before delivering Galíndez to his executioners. Rumours have it that Galíndez was either boiled to death in a cauldron at a sugar plantation or, like many others of the Regime´s victims, was fed to sharks in the sea by Ciudad Trujillo´s biggest slaughterhouse.

In the US, concerns about Galíndez´s fate were raised by the press, but the interest soon died down. However, when Gerald Murphy, the US pilot who had brought Galíndez to the Dominican Republic, where he later settled, proved to be too outspoken and was murdered by SIM, members of the US Congress demanded further investigations of the case. When it was proved that the Trujillo regime had ordered both murders, severe US sanctions were demanded. Trujillo countered these threats by having Murphy´s friend, the hot-blooded Captain Octavio de la Maza, accused of killing Murphy after being subjected to homosexual advances. de la Maza denied all accusations and was as a result found hanged in his cell. Authorities claimed it was suicide. Protests from the US Government forced Trujillo to allow an FBI investigation, which found that de la Maza´s and Murphy´s deaths were a cover-up for the Regime´s murder of Galíndez.

The Galíndez affair resulted in dual disgrace. First, Galíndez´s disclosure of the abuses of the Trujillo regime proved to be accurate. Furthermore, the murder of de la Maza caused a schism within the Trujillo family, since the victim had been a good friend of Trujillo´s oldest son and chosen heir, Ramfis. It was also a disgrace for the US Government, which in spite of vociferous opposition refused to condemn a regime considered to be an important ally in the struggle against Communism. A nation where influential politicians had made investments and which dictator spent vast amounts on public relations, bribes to US policy makers and made generous contributions to electoral campaigns of US presidential candidates.

Similarities with the Khashoggi murder might serve as a reminder that a blatant attack on free speech may prove to be fatal. During his long reign of terror, Trujillo had planned and ordered several murders, though with his wealth and PR machinery he had been able to smoothen international criticism. The ruthless killing of a regime critic, its cover-up and the reluctance of a powerful ally, like the US, to acknowledge a horrendous crime, ignore evidence from its own intelligence agencies, siding with a dictator to protect national interests, resulted not only in the loss of the dictator´s credibility, but also in an erosion of the US´s moral stance in the Western hemisphere.