Tag Archives: Cuba

Week in links – week 44/2011 – restitution in Libya, privatization in Cuba, assimilation in Israel

I’m a little behind this week having been in Cyprus, where I participated in the launch of the paper on property issues I co-wrote with Ayla Gürel for PRIO. The local feedback was very helpful as we are planning to expand the scope of inquiry a bit beyond the fallout of the Demopoulos case in the coming months.

Much of interest from the net this week, including one of the first really good reports on the transitional housing, land and property (HLP) issues in post-revolution Libya from the Guardian. This new article goes well beyond the expensive but relatively tractable reconstruction issues described by BBC last week and enters into the far more fraught territory of what to do about the great transfer of assets that resulted from the Ghaddafi regime’s selective nationalization of property.

Quite a few familiar dilemmas arise, including lurking historical claims (in this case, those of expelled Jews), multiple subsequent purchases by third parties, weak courts, unclear rules, the suspicious 1982 destruction of the land registry, and the fact that the expropriations had (in many cases) a genuinely distributive element, meaning that reversing them would disproportionately worsen the situation of marginalized groups.

In the area of belatedly getting with the times, the New York Times reports that Cuba has now formally adopted a new property law allowing far less restricted transactions in homes than was previously the case (see earlier observations on these developments here). After decades of state control, no one seems to be able to predict where this will go, although some positive economic affects and quick attempts to buy in to the property market by exile Cubans seem like safe bets.

In the area of never getting with the times, the Guardian reports that Israel has proposed a bill to allow the near wholesale resettlement of Bedouin nomads from (what remains of) their traditional territories in the Negev desert to planned new towns. All in the name of modernisation and progress, all undertaken without consulting those affected or paying any heed to the fact that previously forcibly urbanized Bedouins have hardly benefited. Very 1960s. A brief excerpt from the article reads like a compendium of discredited colonial and post-colonial assimilation policies:

Before 1948, the Bedouin tribes lived and grazed their animals on much of the Negev, claiming ancestral rights to the land. In the following decades, the state of Israel took over almost all of the land; the Bedouin lost more than 3,200 land ownership cases in the Israeli courts in the early 1970s, rejected mainly on the grounds there was no proper documentation. Now the Bedouin are claiming ownership of about 5% of the Negev as traditional tribal lands.

Three years ago, the government commissioned a retired judge, Eliezer Goldberg, to make recommendations for dealing with the Bedouin. He advised that many of their villages should be recognised, acknowledging their “general historic ties” to the land.

A committee chaired by the planning policy chief, Ehud Prawer, was tasked with looking at how to implement Goldberg’s recommendations, and proposed the immediate transfer to the state of 50% of the land claimed by the Bedouin, minimal compensation for the remaining land with severe exclusions and the demolition of 35 unrecognised villages. The Bedouin were neither represented on nor consulted by the committee.

As my soapbox is only so big, I’ll leave aside the issue of Israel’s apparently retaliatory expansion of its West Bank settlements this week.

And a last note, the Guardian also reports on the aftermath of the Dale Farm evictions in the UK (see previous WiL)

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Week in Links – Week 33/2011: Ethnic engineering in Osh, privatization in Havana

I should begin by noting that my NRC report on urban displacement in Liberia has now been published in the Journal of Internal Displacement, vol. 1, no. 2. Other articles in the same edition cover the plight of the Sahrawi people in Morocco and provide an assessment of development-induced displacement in the Narmada Valley in India.

A bit of follow-up in the meantime on some stories TN has been following:

– First, the latest Economist (Aug. 13) gives some insights into just how bad things have gotten for the Uzbek minority in southern Kyrgyzstan since the appalling violence last summer that killed hundreds. According to the article (“Kyrgyzstan’s Uzbeks: Weak fences, bad neighbours”), all signs of moderation are now gone.

At the national level, Kyrgyz nationalism is “surging” in advance of October’s presidential elections and the head of the International Commission of Inquiry that found evidence of crimes against humanity undertaken during the pogrom (see TN post here) has been PNG’ed by Parliament.

However, events in Osh, the epicenter of last summer’s violence, are most disturbing. As discussed previously in TN, the Kyrgyz major still appears to have no qualms about using an antiquated master plan as the device for cleansing Uzbek survivors of the violence from their homes and communities in the center of the city: Continue reading

Week in links – Week 30/2011

Discerning TN readers will have noted that the blog has now clearly gone into summer mode (even if its slightly workaholic administrator has, regrettably, not entirely managed the same trick). In any case, I’ve tried to keep track of a few interesting items, below, for what should now properly be called the ‘month in links’.

It’s also my pleasure to announce an upcoming guest-posting by Veronica P. Fynn, the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Internal Displacement. Veronica will introduce the journal and highlight some of the property issues covered in its first edition (full disclosure: my recent NRC report on Liberia is under consideration for reprinting in a forthcoming edition).

And now, some HLP highlights from July 2011:

– Beginning with UN Special Mechanisms, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter has published an article in the Harvard International Law Journal on “The Green Rush: The Global Race for Farmland and the Rights of Land Users“.  Mr. De Schutter introduces the piece with a nice summary in Opinio Juris, in which he suggests the need to move beyond decrying the global land rush phenomenon to seeking ways to minimize its negative impact on local communities. However, Katharina Pistor’s response in OJ highlights significant obstacles to such approaches, both at the level of politics and of theory.

– Meanwhile, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing Raquel Rolnik recently followed up on her report on the right to housing in the wake of conflict and disasters (posted on here) with a trip to Haiti in which she appealed for an end to forced evictions and endorsed a proposal by UN-HABITAT for a “comprehensive strategy for reconstruction and return”. A further report on post-disaster housing issues is said to be shortly forthcoming.

– UNHCR recently called for the creation of “new tools” to address the effect of climate change-induced displacement. The agency also released a report noting the 80% of the world’s refugees now find themselves in developing countries and that protracted displacement is becoming the rule rather than the exception.

– Although the most recent coverage of Kyrgyzstan on TN related to the defensive and unconstructive reaction of the national government to a critical report by an international Commission of Inquiry on last summer’s violence in the country’s south, the local response apparently continues to deteriorate as well. EurasiaNet now reports that the authorities of the city of Osh, where the violence against ethnic Uzbeks reached its peak, have rediscovered their infatuation with an urban master plan from 1978. The failure of the authorities to stop a heavily armed mob from demolishing centrally located Uzbek neighborhoods, while regrettable, now presents an opportunity to build  high-rise housing, and reconstruction – even with the prospect of Asian Development Bank funding – is not on the agenda.

– Keeping on the theme of bad behavior, Israel gets the latest award for innovations in forced evictions (previous honors went to Cambodia for the use of dredging machines). BBC reports that Bedouins in the Negev Desert now not only face regular demolition of their homes but will also be expected to foot the bill for this important public service.

– On a more positive note, BBC has also reported on a recent decision by the Cuban government to allow open sales of homes and cars in Cuba. In a follow-up piece, the BBC described the pressing need for such reforms in a setting where the previous system of exchanges with government approval and without money changing hands fostered informality and corruption. As noted previously on TN, BBC coverage has not addressed the issue of historical claims by exile Cubans that may exist against some of the properties involved. Thus, it is only possible to speculate on whether Cuban privatization now may serve a similar dual purpose to Cambodian privatization in the late 198os, where investing current users with greater rights also served to dilute the claims of exiled historical owners.

Week in links – week 17/2011

A somewhat abbreviated WiL this week as the family is on Åland for an extended Easter break.

BBC coverage of this week’s Communist Party congress in Cuba leads with the news that private property rights will be allowed again, though the details have yet to be released. The main rule at this point appears to be that “concentration of property” will not be permitted. One is tempted to wonder if part of the motivation is to cut off restitution claims by Cuban exiles. As a stratagem, this worked rather well in Cambodia, but that was the Eighties…

– The European Journal of International Law (EJIL) has released its latest issue online. The focus is on the ‘human dimension of international cultural heritage law’, with quite a lot on the restitution of cultural property but also a number of interesting articles on indigenous peoples’ rights, including to land.

– The New York Times reports that scientists met in Aleppo, Syria this week to develop strategies for combating new diseases afflicting wheat. Let us hope that they are not hit by any stray bullets from the strategies the Syrian security forces have developed for combating new diseases afflicting authoritarianism.

– Tim Dunne and Jess Gifkins do a nice job in OpenDemocracy of pushing along the debate on how the current Libya intervention may both support and undermine the new concept of ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P).

– Finally, the New York Times reported first on the pending collapse of a promising flurry of regional cooperation over damming the Mekong in Southeast Asia – and then its actual collapse.