Where No U.S. Media Has Gone Before

As in previous years, the U.S. press has largely ignored international news. If you’re not interested in the latest flood, hurricane, drought, earthquake, tsunami, or cyclone wreaking havoc in a small, destitute foreign country, then you’re out of luck, because that’s about all you’ll get. That, and a few other trivial stories.

This year, the trivia included: oil pipeline fires in Nigeria, Osama bin Laden, dead Chinese immigrants in shipping containers, kidnappings in Colombia, Osama bin Laden, Falun Gong detainees, Clinton travels to [insert name of country here], Osama bin Laden, elections in Serbia, nukes in North Korea, Osama bin Laden, and those damn Arab terrorists in Gaza, Lebanon, Egypt, Algeria, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and (have I forgotten any Middle Eastern countries?) Afghanistan.

All these idiotic stories distracted us from what turned out to be a year of brilliance and turbulence throughout the world. Here’s a list, sorted by region, of my favorite ignored international stories of the year–only a few of which I’ve been able to cover in this column.

Africa: African nations lead the fray against U.S. and European domination of the WTO; the adoption of sharia law in northern Nigeria and conflict in the southern Niger Delta send Nigeria down the path of balkanization; African and international human rights groups pressure the UN to track the source of wholesale diamonds and ban the sale of conflict diamonds; the World Bank admits that the money it loaned to Chad was used to buy weapons to fight its civil war; and UN peacekeepers are brutally murdered in Sierra Leone (but nobody notices because they’re all people of color). Asia/Pacific: the Indonesian military goes on a murderous rampage in Aceh Province and West Papua, in an eerie repeat of massacres in East Timor a year earlier; South Korea goes where the U.S. fears to tread, strengthening its ties with North Korea and discussing reunification; China, which survived the Asian economic collapse because of its partially closed economy, emerges as the powerhouse of the region; and East Timor holds its first elections.

Latin America: the U.S. Congress votes to fund drug lords and death squads in Colombia; Peru ditches its dictator (and his puppet-master); the sanctions against Cuba begin to melt; the new Mexican president, Vicente Fox, resumes peace talks with the Zapatistas; Ecuador’s idiotic government votes to accept the U.S. dollar as the national currency, which wipes out most people’s savings and sends the country’s economy down the toilet; and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gladly becomes the bad boy of Latin America by embracing Saddam Hussein, Moammar Quaddafi, and Fidel Castro–all in the same year.

Middle East/Central Asia: Iraq sanctions begin to melt; Ariel Sharon and the Likkud party sabotage the Israeli/Palestinian peace process; Iranian students take to the streets to demand rapprochement with the West and an easing of sharia law; labor unrest continues in India over the IMF-prescribed privatization of public companies and assets; in Afghanistan, the Taliban close the last existing schools for women (including private ones), prevent women doctors from treating women patients, and force the widows of soldiers killed while fighting the Soviets during the Afghan civil war to give up their jobs and starve to death; and the high price of oil gives a new boost to oil exploration in remote regions, including the Caspian Sea.

Europe: the European Union, appalled at the bombing of Serbia and Kosovo, sets up its own 60,000 troop security force to compete with (and eventually supplant) NATO; Mad Cow Disease and its human form, nvCJD, spreads from Britain to Belgium, France, and Germany, causing widespread panic on the continent; British activists make real headway against genetically engineered foods, and the issue of food safety becomes a mainstream concern in Britain; British agribusinesses disclose that they sold animal feed containing ground up bits of British cows infected with Mad Cow Disease to nations in the Third World as late as 1996, raising the specter of a worldwide epidemic of nvCJD (we’ll know for sure in a decade or so); UN Climate Summit collapses because of U.S. intransigence; and Jubilee 2000 decides to close up shop on December 31, 2000, even though meaningful debt relief is still only a dream for most of the world’s poorest nations.

Oh, and there’s the protesters who filled the streets in Australia, Czechoslovakia, Thailand, Ethiopia, Argentina, India, Ecuador, Chile, France, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Mexico … and the list goes on.