THE INDEX — March 24, 2010

Private security guards shot and killed one of several Somali pirates in an attempted hijacking of a merchant ship that was en route to Mogadishu, capital of the country where the pirates are based. This was the first such defensive move by private contractors, according to the European Naval Force. Pirates attempted to board the ship, but were ultimately thwarted by gunfire from an armed detachment on board the freighter. Officials of a European Naval Force gunboat later detained six suspects and recovered the body of a seventh. Although pirates have been killed in skirmishes by international task forces in the past, this is believed to be the first by private security officers, a fact that has created apprehension. Several organizations, including the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), “Have expressed concern that the use of armed security contractors could encourage pirates to be more violent when taking a ship,” reports the BBC. Merchant ships may be becoming better equipped at repelling pirate attacks through private security contractors, but pirates are becoming more aggressive in response, “shooting bullets and rocket-propelled grenades at ships to try to intimidate captains into stopping.” Despite patrol efforts by European NAVFOR and other foreign naval forces, the waters off the coast of Somalia are among the most dangerous in the world. Analysts suggest that attacks on shipping will continue as long as Somalia lacks a strong central government with no power to control piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.
Outspoken critic, Oswaldo Alvarez, was arrested for “crimes of opinion” after criticizing the Venezuelan government for its alleged ties to drug traffickers and terrorist groups. Alvarez’s arrest has fanned fears that freedom of speech in the country is being suppressed. Although the government denies that Alvarez’s arrested was politically motivated, the Attorney General’s office is charging Alvarez with “conspiracy, public instigation to commit crime and disseminating false information.” The investigation began March 9 after a complaint by pro-Chavez lawmakers Manuel Villalba and Pedro Lander, that Alvarez had stated on national television that “Venezuela has become a center of operations for facilitating the drug-trafficking business” and for maintaining that the Chavez government has relations with Colombian FARC rebels and the Basque terrorist group, ETA. "This is a major setback for freedom of expression in Venezuela," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of Human Rights Watch for the Americas. "For years Chavez has sought to intimidate his critics with unfounded allegations of conspiracies and coup-mongering. Throwing someone in prison for criticizing the government is a clear abuse of power.”
In a bid to gain firmer control of the reins of government Nigeria’s acting president, Goodluck Jonathan, announced the new members of his cabinet after dissolving his predecessor’s cabinet last week. Of the 42-members, seven of President Umaru Yar’Adua’s ministers will return to office, while 18 new names have been released so far, including Alhaji Mutallab Yar’Adua, President Yar’Adua’s nephew. The president of the Nigerian Bar Association, Chief Rotimi Akeredolu, approved of Jonathan’s decision to dismiss Yar’Adua’s cabinet, while warning, “Only those who are technically eligible must be nominated for the approval of the National Assembly. Any member of the defunct band whose name may re-appear on the list must owe this singular opportunity to his or her exceptional qualification and nothing else. None of them must be brought back on the ground of sentiments.” Nigeria has been in the throes of a political crisis since November 2009, when Yar’Adua left for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia without appointing Vice President Jonathan acting president in the interim. During Yar’Adua’s three-month absence, political unrest escalated in Nigeria, with the country’s supreme court finally intervening in January to allow Jonathan to assume the duties of chief executive. While Yar’Adua has since returned to Nigeria, the state of his health remains in question, leaving Jonathan to continue serving as president. When Jonathan dissolved Yar’Adua’s cabinet last week, observers saw it as an attempt to cleanse the executive office of Yar’Adua loyalists and assume a less temporary posture as president. For analysis of the transfer, see World Policy Journal commenter Azubuike Ishiekwene on “Nigeria’s acting president and the tough road ahead.”

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