The Leatherbacks of Trinidad

By Namit Arora

Grande Riviere, a tiny village on the northeastern coast of Trinidad, is one of the few beaches in the world where the leatherback turtle comes to nest. It lies near the end of a serpentine road that hugs the palm-fringed Atlantic coast for miles, then cuts through the lush rainforest of the Northern Range. A river, for which the village is named, and the rainforest—abuzz with the sound of crickets and birds—tumble onto its Caribbean sands, giving the place a remote and sensual air.

Cacao plantations once flourished here but the few hundred people of Grande Riviere now rely on fishing and ecotourism. All three or four of its pricey tourist lodges are near the beach; a village bar, a couple of provision stores and eateries, and a post office are on the main road further behind. The star attraction, and the primary reason for our visit last month, is clearly the leatherback.

My partner, Usha, and I arrived in the early evening with Ulric, our gentlemanly guide of Afro-Carib ancestry, whom we had hired in Port of Spain to drive us to a few places on the island. After we decided to stay at the Le Grande Almandier (the LP guidebook called it “the best value”), he left to spend the night at a friend's place in a nearby town. Being the kind who love their work, he had gone out of his way to bring alive the island and its people to us, not the least through his own personal history. All day his Trini English had grown on me. Dinner consisted of vegetarian pickings from a Creole-French menu, a legacy of the plantation era culture in these parts. At the Visitor Center, we secured our permits to see the turtles, saw a documentary film on them, and waited.

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The Struggle For Middle East Democracy

Shadi Hamid in The Cairo Review:

It always seemed as if Arab countries were ‘on the brink.’ It turns out that they were. And those who assured us that Arab autocracies would last for decades, if not longer, were wrong. In the wake of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, academics, analysts and certainly Western policymakers must reassess their understanding of a region entering its democratic moment.

What has happened since January disproves longstanding assumptions about how democracies can—and should—emerge in the Arab world. Even the neo-conservatives, who seemed passionately attached to the notion of democratic revolution, told us this would be a generational struggle. Arabs were asked to be patient, and to wait. In order to move toward democracy, they would first have to build a secular middle class, reach a certain level of economic growth, and, somehow, foster a democratic culture. It was never quite explained how a democratic culture could emerge under dictatorship.

In the early 1990s, the United States began emphasizing civil society development in the Middle East. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the George W. Bush administration significantly increased American assistance to the region. By fiscal year 2009, the level of annual U.S. democracy aid in the Middle East was more than the total amount spent between 1991 to 2001.

But while it was categorized as democracy aid, it wasn’t necessarily meant to promote democracy. Democracy entails ‘alternation of power,’ but most NGOs that received Western assistance avoided anything that could be construed as supporting a change in regime.

The reason was simple. The U.S. and other Western powers supported ‘reform,’ but they were not interested in overturning an order which had given them pliant, if illegitimate, Arab regimes.

More here.