2006 – Under-Told Stories Project

Under-Told Stories Project


Pakistan Earthquake Recovery

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Kashmir’s vast landscape is textured with the rubble of collapsed buildings, of mountains reshaped by landslides, the fresh graves of 73,000 quake victims and precarious tents for the millions who survived.

This field clinic in the remote village of Katai was set up by a group of Pakistani American doctors. Patients come in by the hundreds. The elderly —

SPOKESMAN: Osteoporosis…

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The young, a baby with a massive ear infection.

Two months after the earthquake, patients are now coming in with chronic long untended illnesses, consequences of poverty more than an earthquake.

But there are still many earthquake victims like this Mansur Kiani.

MANSUR KIANI (Translated): A beam fell on my leg. I was trapped in my shop for four days.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: His wound has been slow to heal, and there’s little anesthesia. It’s a metaphor for the whole region. The waiting area outside is filled with anguished stories.

INTERPRETER: Actually she has lost the little land that she owned because of the landslide. She lost her husband, her son, her daughter-in-law.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There’s been little time to ponder grief here. Survival takes precedence.

In Katai, the doctors’ group has dispensed tents and food. There’s never enough to go around.

RYAN CROCKER, U.S. Ambassador: It remains an acute crisis, an acute disaster. It’s been that since the day of the quake, Oct. 8, and I believe it will continue to be that right through the winter.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker notes this is one of the world’s most militarized areas, bitterly fought over and divided between India and Pakistan.

Today Pakistan’s military has turned its prowess to relief work, aided by many international teams.

Pakistan may be a poor country but it does have a substantial middle class and a large overseas population, among them, 10,000 doctors who practice in the United States and Canada.

The doctors’ group has raised millions in cash, medicines and equipment. Dozens of Pakistani American physicians like this Fareed Sheikh have spent time here bringing much needed medical and language skills.

Cardiologist Abdul Rashid Piracha is president of the Association of Pakistani Physicians in North America.

DR. ABDUL RASHID PIRACHA: The attitude or the passion that our members have shown in this earthquake is just beyond description. We as an organization are hoping that any aid that comes from the U.S.A., that people, experts like ourselves, have some watchful eye on it as to where it is spent and whether it is spent properly or not.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The group wants to be a watchdog not only against corruption but also to make sure aid pledges are collected.

Dr. Saeed Akhtar is a surgeon who moved back to Pakistan after years in Texas.

DR. SAEED AKHTAR: People who have pledged real big bucks to the country in forms of pledges probably will not come through. We need to sort of — I hope I’m wrong. But, you know, the experience tells that’s what it is. And then if you start —

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That means people pledge but don’t actually deliver on it?

DR. SAEED AKHTAR: That is exactly right. Just the examples are in front of us. Tsunami was not too far away. Only one third of the money that has been pledged for the tsunami has been collected so far. It’s a year out now.

RYAN CROCKER: We’re conscious of the tsunami experience. And we will not only ensure that we do what we said, we’re going to do our level best to ensure that others do the same thing.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And come through with their pledges.


FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The U.S. has pledged $510 million to the Pakistani relief effort. Ambassador Crocker said it’s not only the right humanitarian thing to do but it is also important symbolically.

RYAN CROCKER: Pakistan is the second most populous Muslim country in the world. It’s important, I think, as we consider our relations with the Muslim world that we consider how we can make a difference by come to go the aid of Muslims who have suffered.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: American Chinook helicopters have been key to shuttling relief supplies and casualties. Many of them arrive at one of two U.S. military mash units.

This one has become a key medical center for Muzaffrabad, the regional capital. Its hospitals were wiped out in the quake.

For patients, there’s a stark reminder that winter is here, also that this is a theater in the war on terror. No one escapes the metal detector. Some 11,000 patients have come through the two mash units. Today many of their ailments reflect the quake’s legacy: Orthopedic care, tent fires and accidents from the struggle to survive.

Air Force physician Fareed Sheikh:

MAJ. FAREED SHEIKH: There’s a town called Bolicot; further beyond that where they live is a landing zone for the drop-off for the aid. And as the helicopter was landing, it basically — they have artificial tents that are both built from tin. It came lose, and she was standing and it struck her in her back.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The biggest fear now is that a harsh winter could threaten as many lives as the earthquake. Pakistan Army General Farooq Ahmed Khan is still trying to get sturdy shelter for everyone.

GEN. FAROOQ AHMED KHAN: About 500,000 houses were destroyed as per our estimate. As for the World Bank, it was over 400,000. So nevertheless, as of today, we have distributed about 675,000 tents but as you would know that most of these tents are ordinary tents.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Not winterized?

GEN. FAROOQ AHMED KHAN: Not winterized, So winterized is about 12 percent, which is a very small number

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says the army’s priority is to build simple one-room shelters for people living at elevations above 5,000 feet. Many of Kashmir’s fiercely independent mountain people chose to remain close to what property and livestock they could salvage. Gen. Farooq fears winter may force many to lower elevations.

GEN. FAROOQ AHMED KHAN: My biggest worry would be should the weather turn bad and the population decides to come down so we’ll have to have facilities to look after about 200,000 people.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Even now conditions are strained at lower elevations. Many surviving schoolchildren, some who 18,000 perished in the quake, have to study outdoors. Winter could bring their education to a close. Their families have tents, but little else.

NOOR JEHAN (Translated): There are ten people in this tent. The kids have no shoes, no clothes. It’s cold in the tent. We sleep close together under a quilt. We don’t have a heater or anything like that. The children are getting sick.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Noor Jehan is the matriarch of this household live together in a joint family, a common tradition here.

Each day Noor Jehan’s son, Aurangzeb, and a neighbor trek up to their property, about a mile and a half away on almost vertical terrain.

There on the rubble, her oldest son, Aslam, stays in a tent provided by the government. “We had three buildings here,” he says. “They all collapsed.”

MOHAMMED ASLAM (Translated): My wife was standing here. She was washing dishes when the building collapsed. She was thrown down the mountainside and she died. My son here, I was able to pull him out.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In all nine members of this extended family died. Their graves are about the only ones intact in the cemetery just across the street.

MOHAMMED ASLAM (Translated): We’d love to bring the whole family back here but the graveyard has been destroyed, and that scares us. No one’s been by to fix it. The road is gone. It’s too dangerous.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Much of the road leading to their home disappeared in the earthquake. It’s just one of hundreds of massive rebuilding projects this region will face for years. First, they must survive this winter.

JIM LEHRER: Ray Suarez has Part 2.

RAY SUAREZ: This Pakistan earthquake update comes from two officials of the organization Refugees International. A delegation from that advocacy organization spent five days in Pakistan in mid-December.

To discuss the mission we’re joined by Farooq Kathwari, chairman of Refugees International; he’s also the president and CEO of Ethan Allen Interiors. He grew up in the part of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan and is now an American citizen; and Kenneth Bacon, president of Refugees International and a former journalist and assistant secretary of defense in the Clinton administration.

RAY SUAREZ: Farooq Kathwari, you’ve just come back from the affected area. Tell us what you’ve seen.

FAROOQ KATHWARI: The tragedy is just enormous. I would just say that for me it’s too – anecdotes were important.

First was when we landed in Muzaffrabad, which is the capital of the Pakistan-administered Kashmir and the epicenter for the earthquake, about 70, 80 percent of the buildings are destroyed or structurally destroyed. There was chaos and destruction all over.

But in that chaos it was amazing to see the amount of cooperation among the Pakistan army, among the United States hospital that was there, the Turkish hospital, the Cuban hospital, and it was amazing to see the amount of cooperation that this crisis has brought about.

The second was when we met the prime minister, along with his major officials, and he said — he said, “I am now the prime minister of a graveyard.”

So that is really the two instances that to me gave the essence of what has taken place, this tragedy.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, Kenneth Bacon, the worldwide relief community watched in horror as the temperatures dropped; it was threatened that a lot of people were going to die from exposure; and as it turns out that wasn’t enough to make things just happen. There are a lot of people who are still out in the cold, aren’t there?

KENNETH BACON: There are, but I have to say that this has been an extraordinary relief effort under extremely difficult circumstances.

We all were appalled in the early days when we saw the devastation, people being dragged half-alive from buildings with their legs broken off, people undergoing surgery without any medication whatsoever.

A lot has happened since then and there is a huge humanitarian infrastructure there.

They started by reaching out to the people in the highest altitudes, above 5,000 feet. And they have done a very good job of getting blankets, tents, food, and winter provisions to these people.

Now, it’s still going to be a very tough winter; they’re still in very insubstantial shelters and tents. But they have reached most of these people — 15,000 separate communities and villages they had to reach by foot, by helicopter, and by truck, when they could. So they’ve done a much better job in the last month than they did in the first week

RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Kathwari, what do they still need to make it through this winter?

FAROOQ KATHWARI: Right now, the most important issue for them is the next three or four months. The winter is already there. They need shelter, especially for those who are still at higher altitudes.

Lots of people who live in these mountainous regions don’t want to give up their homes; that’s the only thing they possess. And also they don’t have the kind of deeds that we have over here, so they’re concerned that if they leave, that possibly they may lose their home.

So the challenge has been to take shelter to them. And that is taking place, but I believe that the world cannot forget that we could have a catastrophe in the next three or four months because now the challenge has just started; the winter has just started.

So I think there’s a tremendous amount of need for the next three or four months. And then of course the reconstruction starts; they have lost 80 to 90 percent of their educational facilities, many of the schools, their teachers have been killed; their main hospitals are destroyed. It was an amazing sight to see a five or six-story hospital come down one story, just the ground just gave in.

And today the students are in tents; the students have no facilities, so I think the most important thing is the world to understand that the crisis is not over; in fact, it is just beginning.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Kenneth Bacon, the local government took a very interesting approach toward trying to jump-start the regional economy. Talk about what they did.

KENNETH BACON: Yes. Basically the Pakistani government made an almost immediate decision to pump cash into the pockets of the survivors. They did this in three ways.

They set up a very generous shelter compensation account. If you lost your house, you got almost immediately the equivalent of $400, which is a lot of money; this is a country where the per capita Gross Domestic Product is $2200 a year, so $440 is a lot of money. Eventually, though, everybody who lost a house will get a little over $3,000 — about $3100.

They have also paid people death benefits. If somebody in the immediate family died, you get up to about $2,000. And they also are compensating people for injuries. If you lost a limb, you would get about $1,000.

Now, there’s, of course, no way to put a price on death; there’s no way to put a price on a limb. But what this has done is give people a sense of confidence and a sense of independence. But it’s also made the recovery owner-driven. People who had houses got the money to repair those houses almost immediately.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, let me stop you right there. Once money is in your hands, does supply rise up to meet demand? Is there something to spend that money on?

KENNETH BACON: Well, in this case there has been. There’s been a huge effort to bring in corrugated iron roofing slabs. And these are shiny things that you put on the top of a house.

So the strategy has been — since most of the houses are built out of rocks and cement made from mud and some wooden beams, those rocks are still there, so they’ve used the beams and the rocks to reconstruct the walls of the house, and then they’ve put these corrugated sheets on top. So they’ve been able to reconstruct the houses very quickly.

Sometimes they will reconstruct — get the roof up — and build — set up a tent under the roof so they can live in that because the walls aren’t reconstructed yet.

But the fact of the matter is that we saw — one of the important aspects of monetizing aid is that it allows the economy to keep going and we saw markets that had risen from rubble. There were people selling building materials out of shops that didn’t have roofs themselves.

And so there is — the entire Pakistani steel industry is devoting its output now to producing these corrugated sheets so they can replace the roofs of lost houses. It’s really quite an extraordinary effort.

RAY SUAREZ: Farooq Kathwari, Kenneth Bacon, gentlemen, thank you both.




Conducting Drug Trials in India

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They hold outpatient eye clinics three days a week at St. Georges, one of the oldest public hospitals in Mumbai or Bombay. Dozens of patients vie for attention from doctors like Yasmin Bhagat.

DR. YASMIN BHAGAT, Ophthalmologist: On an average day, we see maybe about 200 patients, some old, some new, some operated, some with some medical problems of the eye.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: None for more than about five minutes. The Spartan assembly line care may reflect the grim reality of India’s poverty but that’s not how Dr. Vidya Acharya, a clinician and researcher, sees it.

DR. VIDYA ACHARYA, Nephrologist: We are very rich in our clinical materials. So what if we are poor –

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: India, she says, is rich in clinical material.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: What do you mean by clinical material?

DR. VIDYA ACHARYA: Variety of disorders that we see.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Lots of people with a great variety of diseases.

DR. VIDYA ACHARYA: Yes, a great variety of diseases.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That claim has drawn the attention of multi-national drug companies. Clinical trials are a tedious, expensive and critical phase in the development of new drugs and companies from Pfizer to Glaxo have begun moving them to India, drawn by its large supply of scientists, doctors, and most of all, patients.

More than 30 million people in India suffer from heart disease. At least that number are diabetic and tens of millions suffer from various forms of cancer and psychiatric disorders.

DR. VIJAI KUMAR, Neeman Medical International: India can give you one third more patients in one third less time.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Dr. Vijai Kumar, who heads a three-year-old research firm, says not only is drug development sped up but Indian patients make good trial subjects for new pharmaceuticals because most have never taken any other drugs. He says India, unlike developed countries, has more patients with untreated advanced diseases like cancer.

Ophthalmologist Bhagat says the meticulous requirements of trials also helps sharpen doctors’ skills.

DR. YASMIN BHAGAT: For example, a patient with conjunctivitis, I may normally just spend about three to four minutes examining him but when you’re in a clinical trial, we see them in a much, much greater detail. We have to take the swabs, which one doesn’t do for everybody, so it’s very time consuming but it’s quite exciting and we do learn a lot also and it does help the patient also.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But the idea of patients enrolling because it’s the only way they can get good care or any care troubles ethicists like Dr. Jeffrey Kahn at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

JEFFREY KAHN: Certainly it’s not the job in the pharmaceutical industries around the world to provide health care for the masses. That’s not their role. But by the same token, they shouldn’t be going in and taking advantage of the dire straits of people to do clinical trials more cheaply, take advantage of the straits and expose these people to risk in ways that will only benefit people who are in rich countries thousands of miles away..

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A central tenet of clinical research is that it should benefit the larger society. And Kahn says there cannot be two societies, one taking the risks, the other the benefits.

JEFFREY KAHN: There needs to be some assurance that the benefits of it would go to the population from whom the participants come, so that the drugs would be used, say, in diabetics in India if it was a diabetes clinical trial using Indian subjects, and not to develop a new drug that would be used in western Europe and the United States solely.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But the company’s doing clinical trials here say doing the research in India will lower costs and make drugs affordable to everyone, including Indian patients.

Dr. Swati Piramal heads a family-owned conglomerate that’s branched into clinical trials.

DR. SWATI PIRAMAL: In the year 2010 there are going for more diabetics everywhere in the world, most of them will be in India. And I think the drugs which are being developed in India and will not only benefit our country but will benefit people everywhere at an affordable cost and very good quality.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Questions of quality worrisome experts. Will people desperate to enroll just to get health care lie about their medical histories? Will doctors take advantage of patients whose poverty and illiteracy make them especially vulnerable in India?

In November, the Indian government announced plans to register and then monitor all clinical trials in the country, also to create laws to enforce ethical guidelines.

But even with laws on the books, India has seen widespread abuses in medicine. For example, millions of ultrasound scans are done solely to abort female fetuses. Kidneys are routinely purchased from poor people for transplantation.

For their part, clinical trials companies say it is in their business interest to conduct trials cleany, to ensure subjects are protected from undue risk and given sufficient information to give truly informed consent. Many international pharmaceutical companies seem sold. Whether it’s good for the Indian public or not, analysts say as many as 2 million Indians may be enrolled in research trials by 2010. Just three years ago that, number was perhaps 2,000.


South Dakota Abortion Ban

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Just three-quarters of a million people share a lot of space in South Dakota. They share a single area code and a small capital. But lawmakers in Pierre have put South Dakota in the vanguard of a renewed campaign to outlaw abortion.

STATE SEN. JULIE BARTLING (D): There is a movement across this country on the wishes to save and protect the lives of unborn children. As you know, Justice Roberts and Justice Alito were just favorably placed on that board. There is still another chance that President Bush will have to place another justice on that bench. I think it’s time to pass House Bill 1215 and protect the lives of the unborn.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Citing what they see as a more receptive or antiabortion high court, lawmakers easily approved a sweeping ban on the procedure, one that declares that life begins at conception.

South Dakota’s law makes it a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion unless the mother’s life is endangered. There are no exceptions for cases in which a mother’s health may be threatened or cases in which the pregnancy results from rape or incest.

STATE SEN. BILL NAPOLI (R): You know, I we are really think we’re pushing the envelope on that issue. I’m not sure that the Supreme Court is ready for us yet, but what’s that old saying, “There’s no time like the present”?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Veteran State Senator Bill Napoli strongly backed the new ban.

BILL NAPOLI: The most important part of this bill is that, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, states’ rights are returned to us to decide what to do about abortion

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Already, South Dakota is perhaps the most difficult place in the country to get an abortion. There’s a 24-hour waiting period and mandatory counseling to discourage the procedure. The law requires parental notification in cases where the patient is a minor. Only one clinic, Planned Parenthood in Sioux Falls, offers the procedure.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Hail Mary, full of grace.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Often patients must drive past picketers. No local doctor will go near this clinic…so, one day each week, a physician flies in from Minnesota to provide abortions. It’s a cause that drew Dr. Miriam McCreary out of retirement.

DR. MIRIAM MCCREARY, M.D.: I just remember from my practice how desperate women were, and I just wanted to be available to give them a safe abortion. There are doctors who can’t do this, emotionally, possibly. But for me, I put myself in their position, and I want to treat them the way I’d want to be treated myself.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One patient she saw was this woman, probably in her early 20s. She would not reveal even her age. With a low-paying job and two children, she said she simply could not afford a third.

“MICHELLE,” PATIENT WHO TERMINATED HER PREGNANCY: It was difficult when I found out I was pregnant. I was saddened, because I knew that I’d probably have to make this decision. Like I said, I have two children, so I look into their eyes and I love them. It’s been difficult, you know; it’s not easy. And I don’t think it’s, you know, ever easy on a woman, but we need that choice.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She drove here from more than five hours away. Besides legal and social sanction, distance is a big hurdle for many patients, one that will get even bigger if the new law takes effect.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Sarah Stoesz is the Minnesota-based CEO of the Sioux Falls clinic.

SARAH STOESZ, PLANNED PARENTHOOD: This proposed ban is a reprehensible attack on women’s health care in South Dakota and across the country; it makes a bad situation completely intolerable for women.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Planned Parenthood is planning an immediate court challenge. Many antiabortion lawmakers agree the pro-choice group has a good case; that’s why Senator Dave Knudson opposed the ban.

STATE SEN. DAVE KNUDSON (R): Even if recently confirmed Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito do not ultimately find Roe v. Wade to be settled precedent deserving of retention under the doctrine of stare decisis, but rather vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, there is still a 5-4 majority of the court, as presently constituted, to support Roe v. Wade. I do not believe it makes sense for South Dakota to lead the charge on this issue when we know the outcome.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Others said the bill simply went too far. Democratic Representative Clayton Halverson considers himself in the middle on this issue.

STATE REP. CLAYTON HALVERSON (D): In my opinion, the middle is: Allow the amendments we offered, which would include, in the case of rape, the option of abortion should be available; in the case of incest, the same thing goes; and when the mother’s health or the health of the fetus, those are exceptions that I don’t think should be ignored. And I believe that’s the middle. That’s where I think most of the people in our state fall.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That’s not how Senator Napoli reads public opinion in his state.

BILL NAPOLI: My calls have been running 3-1 in favor of this bill.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Napoli says most abortions are performed for what he calls “convenience.” He insists that exceptions can be made for rape or incest under the provision that protects the mother’s life. I asked him for a scenario in which an exception may be invoked.

BILL NAPOLI: A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For his part, Governor Mike Rounds says he’s inclined to sign the new bill into law, despite its dubious legal standing.

GOV. MIKE ROUNDS (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: I firmly believe that the possibility of Roe v. Wade being successfully challenged by this particular piece of legislation today I think is very, very remote.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Rounds prefers a less sweeping approach to restricting abortion; he says it would more likely pass legal muster. Still, the governor said the new law would be a good thing as a rallying cry for antiabortion forces.

GOV. ROUNDS: For those individuals that would feel discouraged that say, “Gee, we could have eliminated Roe v. Wade, but we’ve never had an opportunity in the last 15 years to do so,” this is an opportunity to say, “See, there it is. The court may or may not, but it’ll take us three years to find out.” In the meantime, let’s continue to work at chipping away at Roe v. Wade one step at a time.

STATE REP. ELAINE ROBERTS (D), SOUTH DAKOTA: We’ve chipped, and chipped, and chipped; now we’re here with this full fledge. What will be next? What will be next?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Democratic Representative Elaine Roberts is one of South Dakota’s few pro-choice legislators. What’s next, she fears, is a host of measures that regulate women’s private lives.

ELAINE ROBERTS: We already have a law that says that pharmacists by conscience could refuse to fill my prescription for contraceptives. There is already a move from some groups who have worked on this to say that there should be no contraceptives, that sexual intercourse is for the purpose of reproduction.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Much of what she fears as an assault on basic rights Senator Napoli sees as a return to traditional values.

BILL NAPOLI: When I was growing up here in the wild west, if a young man got a girl pregnant out of wedlock, they got married, and the whole darned neighborhood was involved in that wedding. I mean, you just didn’t allow that sort of thing to happen, you know? I mean, they wanted that child to be brought up in a home with two parents, you know, that whole story. And so I happen to believe that can happen again.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: You really do?

BILL NAPOLI: Yes, I do. I don’t think we’re so far beyond that, that we can’t go back to that.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO (voice-over): With the governor’s signature, the abortion ban is supposed to take effect July 1st. But legal challenges or a possible petition drive to put it on the ballot could delay the measure up to three years, if it survives.


Minnesota Tackles Tough Immigration Issues

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Worthington, Minnesota, is 200 miles from the nearest big city.

NANCY ANTOINE: Good morning. How are you?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But the students at its newest school, Prairie Elementary, come from around the world.

NANCY ANTOINE: We’ve got about 150 kindergartners this year, so we’ve got eight sections of kindergarten. Obviously, we have English, and Spanish, and Lao. We’ve got a very small — we’ve got a small population that speaks Amharic. And they’ve we’ve got just a small handful that speak Vietnamese and Chinese.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Not since the first settlers in the late 1800s have so many immigrants come to this small town. In those days, they came from Europe to farm; today, the magnet is meatpacking. Factories here depend almost entirely on immigrants. In Worthington, it’s the Swift plant, says Mayor Al Oberloh.

AL OBERLOH: They had 100 openings just recently, did 100 interviews. And of the 100, they had one Caucasian, two blacks, one Asian, and 96 Hispanics.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Most of the new immigrants who make up about a quarter of the town’s 11,000 people are here legally. But some are illegal, using forged documents to hide their status or get jobs.

Stolen or forged identity is one of the biggest immigrant-related crimes, according to Police Chief Mike Cumisky.

MIKE CUMISKY: We’ve had someone that’s been in our jail before, and then all of a sudden the records clerk looks and says, “Well, that’s not the name that this person had the last time.”

A great number of the people that we deal with that are from Latin America and Mexico, Central America, a lot of the people that we deal with, there’s always a question on identity.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Fake IDs increase medical risks and financial losses at Worthington’s hospital, says administrator Melvin Platt.

MELVIN PLATT: Too often, the patients come in using someone else’s identification. There’s a real chance that that patient could be given the wrong medication. We’ve gone from about $250,000 a year for bad-debt write-off up to — I think this year we’re projecting about $550,000 a year write-off. And those are for bills that we just can’t collect.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Worthington officials took their concerns to state political leaders to ask for tougher laws. Currently, it’s not a crime in Minnesota to possess a fake ID. The officials got an especially sympathetic ear from Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, who faces re-election this year.

TIM PAWLENTY: If you look at the effects it’s having on criminal justice, on health care, on social services, on employment, as I said, you really have to have your head under a rock to not see that illegal immigration is a concern in this country, and even in places like Minnesota.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Governor Pawlenty proposed tougher penalties for anyone creating, selling, or even holding fake identity documents. He proposed bigger fines for businesses hiring illegal immigrants.

The governor also wants to set up a team of 10 state immigration officers to crack down on ID crimes, human trafficking, drugs, and terrorism. And Pawlenty asked legislators to overrule laws in the state’s two major cities that critics say provide safe haven to undocumented people.

In Minneapolis and St. Paul, police are not allowed to ask for someone’s immigration documents, unless it directly relates to their investigation. A police officer on a routine traffic stop, for example, can’t ask questions about the driver’s citizenship.

Governor Pawlenty says such laws hinder police.

GOV. TIM PAWLENTY: And, for example, a year or two ago, there was an individual filming sensitive assets and infrastructure in North or South Carolina. He wasn’t doing anything illegal, but they were able to detain him because his immigration status was in violation of the law. It turns out he was a person of interest with respect to terrorism issues.

So I don’t think we want to require law enforcement to go out and ask about immigration status, but I don’t think we should prohibit them from asking, if the circumstances warrant.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But many law enforcement officials, including those in Worthington and the Twin Cities, say they already have the ability to question people acting suspiciously. St. Paul Chief John Harrington says bringing immigration matters into a local cop’s routine would stir alarm among immigrants who are key partners in reducing crime.

JOHN HARRINGTON: Who knows the answers? Who knows the secrets of criminal behavior, whether it’s terrorism, drugs, gangs, or other acts of violence, within a community like that?

It’s the people that live in that community. We know from practical experience that, if we begin knocking on doors and asking people about their immigration status, we will dry up all the sources of information we have in immigrant communities.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Immigrant communities have grown at record levels in Minneapolis and St. Paul in recent years, drawn by a strong economy and the presence of church-based refugee agencies. They include perhaps the largest Somali population outside Somalia, other Africans, Southeast Asians, and Central Americans.

A majority of students in the two cities’ public school systems come from non-white backgrounds, and together they speak at least 55 different languages.

TEACHER: What color do you think that is?



FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A study released by Governor Pawlenty shows that educating the children of undocumented immigrants costs the state about $150 million a year, with another $30 million going to provide health and social services.

But Bruce Corrie, an economist at Concordia University in St. Paul, says that estimate doesn’t include the income and sales taxes paid by undocumented immigrants or the fact that there’s strong demand for their labor.

BRUCE CORRIE: There’s a database maintained by the Center for Immigration Studies of all the firms in the United States that were sanctioned by the old INS for using illegal workers. There were 1,000 Minnesota firms in over 69 counties, so a huge section of Minnesota. There is a demand for this kind of work in Minnesota, and we’ve got to acknowledge that fact.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Governor Pawlenty doesn’t deny illegal immigration has benefits; he says it’s beside the point.

TIM PAWLENTY: Having something be cheap or having something be economically beneficial doesn’t justify illegal behavior. And so that isn’t — it’s a distraction to the debate. You can’t say, “Hey, you know, this is really beneficial economically, so it’s OK to do things illegally.”

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The governor drew charges that he was anti-immigrant; he insists he’s not. And days after his proposed crackdown on illegal immigration, he proposed measures to help legal newcomers become citizens and start businesses. Despite that effort, columnist Nick Coleman says the issue has become muddied.

NICK COLEMAN: Minnesota has far less than the average number of illegal immigrants. It has — half of the foreign-born people in this state are actually refugees or asylum-seekers, and I think that there is some, on the street level at times, there’s confusion between asylum-seekers, and illegals, and naturalized citizens, and the rest.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s that confusion between legal and illegal immigrants that worries many in the immigrant communities, including Professor Corrie, himself an immigrant from India.

BRUCE CORRIE: Because of the nature of immigration, most of immigrants that come to this country are from Asia, or Latin America, particularly true to Minnesota. So how are you going to find out who is legal and who isn’t legal? And so someone like me, who might be walking down the street, is painted among this, in the formative perceptive of the public eye, as an illegal person.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: As state lawmakers debate the issues, Worthington’s mayor and police chief seem a bit taken aback by the attention the governor’s proposals on illegal immigration have drawn.

MIKE CUMISKY: People keep calling us and asking us questions. I said, you know, “We didn’t do anything.” I said, “We’re just the two knuckleheads that told the emperor that he didn’t have any clothes on.” Our immigration policy is not keeping up with the economical needs of this country.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They also insist that immigrants should not be fearful. Mayor Oberloh says immigrant-run businesses have been key to Worthington’s revitalization.

MAYOR AL OBERLOH: I think, last count, 25. And they’re thriving, and they’re frequented by people that have been long-time citizens of Worthington. So I think, as far as that goes, there’s an acceptance. I don’t think there’s any rationale — at least I’ve never heard, “Let’s move ’em all out.” That’s not the case.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Worthington may be reconciled to changes brought by immigration, but there are indications that illegal immigration is becoming a concern.

For example, school officials called this meeting recently to ask the public’s help to balance their budget, because voters last November rejected a ballot measure to raise property taxes. One factor, the school superintendent said, is a perception the money would be educating children not legally entitled to be in this country.


Restoring Fertility in India

FRED DE SAM LAZARO, Correspondent, Twin Cities Public Television: Relief camps now dot the area where the tsunami hit India hardest, the impoverished villages near Nagapattinam, on India’s southeastern coast.

About 2,000 children perished, a third of all victims in this region. What’s especially painful is that many of the parents who survived them had already been sterilized. Sterilization is one of India’s most common forms of birth control.

Fishing communities like this would typically be prime targets for India’s family planning program. Women are urged to become sterilized after the birth of their second or third child. They usually agree, if at least one of those children is a boy.

Beyond basic food and shelter, the challenge was how to deal with post-tsunami depression. Parents were wracked with guilt, says district collector J. Radhakrishnan. He’s the top government official here.

J. RADHAKRISHNAN, District Collector: They have guilt that they couldn’t save their children. This gets compounded by the fact that, you know, because of the sterilization, they cannot even start to have a kid.

Government offers fertility surgery

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Radhakrishnan convinced the government to make an unusual and generous offer: free surgery to bereaved parents to restore their fertility.

Reversing sterilization might seem a strange decision in a nation of 1 billion people, a third of whom live on less than a dollar a day, but many tsunami-hit nations expect a small baby boom as couples deal with their grief.

In Nagapattinam, children are a measure of one’s self-worth.

NIRMALA PALANISAMY, Public Health Nurse (through translator): Fishermen don’t consider things like boats and houses important; they don’t have any aspiration for these things. To them, children are their real property.

RANJINI RAMADOSS, Public Health Nurse (through translator): In these fishing communities, boy children are important. They go out to sea and assist the family at earning a living.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So public health nurses, Ranjini Ramadoss and Nirmala Palanisamy, who’d long coaxed women to become sterilized, began doing just the opposite.

The surgery reconnects a woman’s fallopian tubes, which have been severed to block the passage of her eggs to the uterus. The procedure, called recanalization, is major, intricate surgery with a success rate of 50 percent, at best.

Despite the risks and pain, dozens of bereaved mothers signed up. Geetha and husband Bhaskar lost their only two children in the tsunami.

GEETHA, Lost Children in Tsunami (through translator): It is difficult. It’s very painful to look at other children running around the camp, because it makes you think of the ones you have lost.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Geetha underwent her sterilization reversal surgery last April. Her case in particular was watched closely by Nurse Ranjini, since Geetha had chosen sterilization even though she had no sons.

RANJINI RAMADOSS (through translator): What’s different about Geetha and Bhaskar is that most people would never undergo the family planning operation with just two children, especially if they are two girls. But Geetha and Bhaskar, they said, “No, two girls are just fine with us.”

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Today, Geetha and Bhaskar’s one-room shack is the first stop on Nurse Ranjini’s rounds at the refugee camp. There’s nothing like starting the day on an up note. As of January, Geetha was five months along in a healthy pregnancy.

RANJINI RAMADOSS (through translator): The child is fine. Your weight could be more. You need to eat well, be calm and happy. Eat vegetables, eggs and fish.

Encouraging people to move on

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Uplifting as her first stop was, there’s no escaping the lingering grief around this camp, particularly among those near or past reproductive age. Ranjini urged people to move on.

RANJINI RAMADOSS (through translator): Balakrishnan, your wife died in the tsunami. You haven’t remarried again?

BALAKRISHNAN, Lost Wife in Tsunami (through translator): No, I haven’t.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She often tries to forge new families from those torn apart.

RANJINI RAMADOSS (through translator): Many people in the camp have found people who are widowed and got married. Why have you not married?

BALAKRISHNAN (through translator): Because I love my wife; I could not marry again.

RANJINI RAMADOSS (through translator): But what about the children? Are they in school? Who feeds them?

BALAKRISHNAN (through translator): I look after them.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The most challenging visits are to women like 30-year-old Shanti. She and her husband Mahendran lost all three of their children in the tsunami. Nine months after recanalization, she has yet to conceive.

Nurse Ranjini took Shanti to the crowded, busy camp clinic. “Don’t worry,” the doctor said, “many people conceive much later.” Of course, there’s a 50 percent chance she’ll never become pregnant, but that wasn’t mentioned.

District collector Radhakrishnan says that’s OK.

J. RADHAKRISHNAN: Immediately after a tragedy, the person is what we have to tackle. This offers them hope. And in a psychosocial angle, that’s a very important hope for them to continue to return to normalcy.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: As for those couples who, despite surgery, can’t have children, he says it will take time for them to realize this and that time itself could heal their pain, and perhaps they’ll consider adopting some of the 128 tsunami orphans.

Adoption is not common here, though; there’s strong cultural preference to have one’s own.

SHANTI, Lost Children in Tsunami (through translator): With older children, 1 or 2 years old, they’ll always wonder about their real parents. They’ll ask, “Where’s my mama and my papa?”

A ‘brighter’ future

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Still, Shanti says, it’s impossible to contemplate her future without children. And she’s determined to follow the advice to stay positive.

SHANTI, Lost Children in Tsunami (through translator): I know others who had the operation the same time as I did and have become pregnant. I’m happy for them, but I feel that, if they did it, we can do it, too, in the future.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Looking ahead, the future does seem brighter for babies being born here and, to some extent, for their parents, thanks to government and private aid that’s come in.

A new auction hall and better refrigeration and drying equipment for fish should bring better prices for fishermen. Some women have trained in small-scale businesses, and more children are in school.

Despite the hopes for a better life ahead, it all seems muted, even among those who feel lucky, like Geetha and Bhaskar.

GEETHA (through translator): I was very happy when I learned that I had conceived, but I am still grieving for the children that I lost.

BHASKAR, Lost Children in Tsunami (through translator): One’s name was Jodya; the other’s name was Sociya. These photos were in my sister’s house. It was a group photo, which we had re-done with our girls. They help keep their memory alive. They’ll be in our memory until we die.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They never had a preference, never minded having girls. But having lost them, Geetha and Bhaskar say, they really hope the new baby is a girl, a child who, either way, they insist, will get an education.

RAY SUAREZ: For the record, the couple, Geetha and Bhaskar, gave birth to a healthy baby boy.


Pakistan Quake Update

Correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on the aftermath of a deadly earthquake and how the U.N., U.S., European Union, and Pakistan have been working to bring home the millions displaced by the quake.

No transcript is available


Uganda Works to Reduce AIDS Cases

FRED DE SAM LAZARO, Correspondent, Twin Cities Public Television: It’s a painfully familiar story across Africa. Fatuma Namata struggles each day to feed the household she heads of 10 children; four are orphans of her two sisters who died of AIDS. She, too, is HIV-positive.

Yet unlike most other Africans, Ugandans like this family live with less stigma from AIDS and more hope. For example, although two of Namata’s children are HIV-positive, both receive the once prohibitively costly antiretroviral drugs.

FATUMA NAMATA (through translator): They are aware. They understand about HIV and AIDS, and in the future they’re hoping that maybe there will be a cure. In fact, the younger one expects to grow up. He wants to be a pilot.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Uganda had Africa’s earliest campaigns to urge love and support for those in need. In the 1980s, when most African governments seemed in denial, Ugandans readily acknowledged the AIDS epidemic and encouraged programs to deal with it, including a network of community support groups called TASO.

Through dance and drama groups, TASO taught how HIV is and is not spread. They also helped launch a unique prevention campaign called ABC. It was described in this 1995 interview by TASO’s founder, Noerine Kaleeba.

Abstinence, Be faithful, Condoms


NOERINE KALEEBA, Founder, TASO: Abstinence. Be faithful. Condom use.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Acting Health Minister Dr. Samuel Okware says ABC made no value judgments. It just offered options for everyone, whether they were ready to abstain, be faithful, or use condoms.

DR. SAMUEL OKWARE, Acting Health Minister, Uganda: Even in the same individual, in the morning you are on mode A. In the evening, you’re on mode B. And maybe at night, after a small drink, you’re on mode C, and vice versa.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The results were impressive. A key measure of the epidemic, HIV prevalence among pregnant women, dropped dramatically from 30 percent to 6.5 percent by the early 2000s. These achievements won praise and more international aid.

President Bush visited Uganda in 2003. He cited the ABC program as a model when he increased AIDS assistance to African countries that year.

But with increased American aid came a new emphasis on abstinence. Critics, including U.N. AIDS officials and the General Accountability Office of the U.S. Congress charged this is distorting the ABC program.

Under a provision mandated by Congress, the U.S. now requires that a third of all prevention money be used to promote abstinence. The number of such programs has grown.

GROUP (singing): Jesus, I want to be close to you.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Many are led by evangelical Christian groups, modeled after American counterparts that lobbied for the abstinence requirement.

UGANDAN CITIZEN: I signed my abstinence pledge card last year.

Young people sign abstinence cards

Edward Baligonzaki
Ugandan Pastor
Condoms are for the condemned. Condoms, C, for C, condoms for the condemned. But for the righteous, it is A, B.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Young people are asked to sign abstinence pledge cards at rallies, which are held regularly at Uganda’s largest university.

UGANDAN CITIZEN: A, abstinence; B, be faithful; and C, redefine that C to change company.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: If condoms are mentioned at all, it’s to question the morality — or the effectiveness — of using them, even though almost all scientists say condoms do help contain the spread of the AIDS virus.

The campaign worries Pastor Edward Baligonzaki.

PASTOR EDWARD BALIGONZAKI: I had one problem one time with one of the pastors, who said condom use is for those condemned.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For those condemned?

EDWARD BALIGONZAKI: Condoms are for the condemned. Condoms, C, for C, condoms for the condemned. But for the righteous, it is A, B.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Baligonzaki counsels young people at this Kampala church. He says some of them simply will not be able to abstain. He’s concerned condoms are becoming less freely available and less socially acceptable, and he fears this will lead to more unprotected sex and more HIV infections.

EDWARD BALIGONZAKI: We are talking about young people who are having a body, who have feelings. We are bound to lose the war the moment we turn physical health and the realistic issues into moral issues.

Moral issues are paramount

Road sign

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But to abstinence educators, moral issues are paramount.

STEPHEN LANGA, Executive Director, Family Life Network: This word here, “morality,” is a word that is not politically correct.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Stephen Langa heads a group called the Family Life Network, which conducts abstinence workshops for youth and teachers. He says studies show casual sex, especially among young people, has decreased in recent years. He attributes this to what he calls improved morality.

STEPHEN LANGA: We are working towards the restoration of family values and morals in our society.

Condoms are a necessary evil

Dr. Jonathan Mermin
U.S. Centers for Disease Control
[The U.S. government] now has increased activities with youth, increased activities with faith-based organizations, increased activities with indigenous, nongovernmental organizations.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Groups like Langa’s appear to have the support of Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni. He’s spoken critically in recent years of what he feels is an overemphasis on condoms. At the 2004 World AIDS Conference, President Museveni mostly credited abstinence and marital fidelity for his country’s success and seemed to call condoms a necessary evil.

YOWERI MUSEVENI, President, Uganda: It may not be optimal, but it will be safe sex. It will be better than dying. I look at the condom as an improvisation, not a solution, an improvisation.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: To some observers, it’s a sharp reversal from his leadership earlier one.

Beatrice Ware has counseled HIV-positive women for several years.

BEATRICE WARE, AIDS Activist: I think Uganda is simply trying to be politically correct, to say what would please Bush. And I think for me, as a human rights activist, it is a big shame that our government is putting the United States’ agenda before the needs of its citizens.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ware became an advocate after contracting the AIDS virus from husband. She says the American-inspired abstinence and faithfulness campaigns do not protect women, even those who are married. Forty percent of newly-infected Ugandans are married.

BEATRICE WARE: We know that, for most women now, marriage is not a safety net, that infections in marriage are on the increase. And we also know from, again, evidence based from research that, for women, negotiating safer sex is really a big challenge. And however faithful you might be, like I was, you cannot control the sexual behavior of your husband.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Fatuma Namata also knows that firsthand. She says her husband frequently saw prostitutes, resisted condoms, and left her two years ago for another woman.

FATUMA NAMATA (through translator): He used to say, “We don’t have a prostitute in this house, so there’s no need to have condoms in his house.”

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For its part, the government, despite criticism, insists it has not changed the ABC approach.

DR. SAMUEL OKWARE (through translator): The thrust of the national program is to take care of all the three components. So irrespective of the policies that come from anywhere, the resources or the inputs, our policy has remained the same.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: U.S officials here acknowledge there’s more emphasis on abstinence. But Dr. Jonathan Mermin with the Centers for Disease Control says there’s also more U.S. aid in total, meaning he insists more condoms than before in Uganda.

DR. JONATHAN MERMIN, U.S. Centers for Disease Control: The U.S. government’s activities have tended to be expansive from the very beginning. We now have increased activities with youth, increased activities with faith-based organizations, increased activities with indigenous, nongovernmental organizations. So there’s a chance to infuse all of these activities with an ABC approach.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One part of the Bush plan that wins praise all around is treatment: 38,000 Ugandans receive antiretroviral drugs with U.S. funds. A similar number are funded by other international donors.

But even in Africa’s most successful country in combating AIDS, there’s no escaping the gravity of the epidemic. Some one million Ugandans are HIV-positive, and there isn’t enough money to provide drugs to all.

HIV prevalence, instead of continuing downward, has plateaued around 6.5 percent. Because there’s still so much AIDS, the average life expectancy for Uganda’s population today is 43 years.


Mission Aviation Fellowship

This story originally aired on Religion & Ethics Newsweekly on July 11, 2006. Correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on a missionary groups efforts to spread that gospel and humanitarian aid by connecting remote and difficult to reach parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo by small planes.

No transcript is available.


Congo Prepares for First Free Elections

DAVID JACOBSON, Missionary Pilot: It’s amazing.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO, Correspondent, Twin Cities Public Television: David Jacobson spends much of his job for a missionary air service flying over Congo, in landmass, Africa’s third-largest country. In natural wealth, he says, it’s likely first.

DAVID JACOBSON: Just where we’re flying now, there’s some places you fly that it even messes up your compass in the airplane, there’s so much gold and other minerals in the ground, believe it or not.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Amid its vast timber forests, Congo has some of the world’s richest deposits of gold, copper, diamonds and coltan, a substance essential in cell phones. But most Congolese can barely afford food, let alone a cell phone.

The picture in this cell phone ad — a miner calling in his big find — could not be farther from the real lives that thousands of people lead. The more realistic scene is played out daily, as scores of freelance miners work from small holes more than 50 feet below ground.

Clay-like soil is hauled up in small bags, then down to the river bank. The soil is sifted. The yield, if any, is tiny industrial-quality diamonds. Theodore Bechmanga leads a team of miners.

THEODORE BECHMANGA, Miner (through translator): You can see I’ve been working from morning until now. I don’t have any money. I don’t know how my kids are going to eat today. I’ve been working four months now and have earned less than $100 — less than $100.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The diamonds they do find are sold through a chain of middlemen that begins in a market near the mines. Eventually, some stones reach bigger dealers, like Alphonse Kassanji, one of far too few Congolese playing in the big leagues, he says. Kassanji says most miners, even the lucky ones, are vulnerable to being cheated.

ALPHONSE KASSANJI, Diamond Dealer (through translator): They can have a stone valued at $100,000, for example, but they’ll end up selling it to whites or Lebanese dealers for $30,000. Those people take that money to their countries. They don’t contribute to building roads here, and it doesn’t benefit the local population.

Elections reverse years of despair

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In fact, Congo’s history is filled with rape and pillaging, by foreigners like Belgium’s King Leopold and homegrown dictators like Mobutu Sese Seko, who pocketed billions and changed the country’s name to Zaire. More recently, there have been the rival warring factions and invasions from neighboring countries.

Warfare in Congo has claimed, by some estimates, as many as 4 million lives in the past decade. Many have died directly in fighting, many more as a result of war’s consequences, from disease and deprivation. Today, 2.5 million people live in camps, displaced from their homes and fields.

Despite an internationally-brokered and -enforced peace treaty, which installed a transitional government in 2002, about 1,000 people still die every day from fighting, diseases and treatable illnesses.

The U.N. says it’s critical that elections, which are called for under the treaty, be held to reverse decades of despair. On July 30th, some 33 candidates will be vying for the presidency, another 9,000 for the 500-seat parliament. A second round of elections will install local representatives, including governors in 11 provinces.

Retired U.S. diplomat William Swing is the U.N.’s chief administrator here.

WILLIAM SWING, U.N. Special Representative: In a way, the elections are the beginning. Up to now, we’ve been in a transition, trying to achieve a modicum of reconciliation that would allow the people to close ranks and say, “We’re all Congolese. Let’s go forward together.”

People are now, frankly, tiring. They’re really fatigued from the transition.

Misgivings about political process

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Diamond dealer Alphonse Kassanji agrees it’s time to move forward. He’s running for governor of Kasai Province. His goal: to make what’s above the land more reflective of the wealth beneath it.

ALPHONSE KASSANJI (through translator): We don’t have roads. We don’t know how to bring food here from the countryside, and vice versa.

And the other issue: no jobs. Seventy percent of the people are jobless. We need foreigners here, but we need them to invest so that people have decent jobs.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At the national level, the country has had a transitional government since 2002, led by Joseph Kabila, son of the assassinated dictator Laurent Kabila. He serves with four vice presidents from rival parties.

Kabila is expected to win the presidency this time. Miners, like Theodore Bechmanga, aren’t sure elections will bring any difference to their lives or any difference from the current transitional government.

THEODORE BECHMANGA (through translator): I don’t really care who wins. As they say, whoever marries my mother becomes my father. I think we’ve been dealing with thieves.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Some political parties and the influential Catholic Church have also expressed misgivings about the process and called for postponing the elections. One leading party, the UDPS, is boycotting them.

Spokesman Valentin Mubake says it’s a deal that rewards corrupt warlords, and he suspects the motives of the international community. He says they’re after Congo’s soil or wealth.

VALENTIN MUBAKE, Spokesman, UDPS Party: Why people are so running to Congo? Is it for Congolese people? No. Is it for Congo? No, it’s for Congo’s soil.

“We don’t want election rigged”

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: “Tshisekedi or nothing,” chant the UDPS supporters, invoking their leader, Etienne Tshisekedi, a democrat long revered across the country.

CONGOLESE CITIZEN (through translator): This is the message of the Congolese people: We don’t want the election rigged. The election is being run from Belgium. There really is no choice in who to vote for.

We don’t want this, because the people are sovereign. We’re going to burn all you white people, because you’re running this election without us.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In Congo’s war-ravaged eastern region, there seems greater support for the electoral process. About 90 percent of voters registered; maybe, they say, the election process will bring peace and a return home for more than 2 million displaced Congolese, refugees like Kialo Kasamani, from unspeakable horror.

KASAMANI KIALO, Congolese Refugee (through translator): We’ve been here for three years. I left Bunia three years ago. We fled when a neighbor, a young man of 18 years, was killed. The dogs were eating him. We fled by foot, me and my five children. We walked here, took 10 days. There was no food, nowhere for us to sleep.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Laurent Paluku heads the electoral commission office in the eastern town of Beni. A recent car accident left bruises on his face.

LAURENT PALUKU, Electoral Commission (through translator): I don’t want to play the prophet. I do have hope for these elections. For more than 45 years, we have had an illegal regime. Me, I think personally that at least, after the election, we will have designated people directly responsible for this country. We will have elected leaders, even if they’re not good leaders. And I think that’s a lot.

Results released mid-September

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But U.N. Chief Swing says international assistance, already more than $4 billion, will have to continue for years to achieve a stable, truly Democratic Republic of the Congo.

WILLIAM SWING: There is a tendency to see the elections as the exit strategy. I think we have to be more focused on what I would call a sustainment strategy.

First of all, there will not be a formed, integrated army. There will not be a new police force. You will still have these 10,000 foreign-armed elements there. You will still have armed local militia forces that will need to be disarmed, and you will still have a need for the state authority to be extended to all parts of the country, which hasn’t happened yet. So there’s a lot of work to be done.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Assuming no last-minute delays in the elections, official results will be released in mid-September.


First Muslim Elected to Congress

FRED DE SAM LAZARO, Correspondent, Twin Cities Public Television: Newly elected members of Congress don’t take office until January, but they gathered in Washington this week for orientation. Among this largely Democratic group, one stood out: Keith Ellison from Minneapolis, his state’s first African-American and the nation’s first Muslim member of Congress.

Minnesota’s 5th District has voted strongly Democratic since 1963, but some voters in our random survey weren’t aware they’d made history when they elected Ellison.

MINNESOTA CITIZEN: For Congress, I voted for — actually I voted all Democrat.

JOURNALIST: You did. So you voted for Keith Ellison?


JOURNALIST: And did you know who he was before you voted?


JOURNALIST: Did you know much about Keith Ellison before you voted?


JOURNALIST: Did you know that he was a Muslim?


REP.-ELECT KEITH ELLISON (D), Minnesota: Oh, how are you? Is this your son?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But in the Muslim community, Ellison was no stranger. In fact, one reason he won a tough primary race against three well-known opponents was the outpouring of support from this community.

Minneapolis’ Muslim population isn’t the largest in North America, but it’s grown substantially in recent years. The city, for example, has the largest Somali population in North America. These new Americans haven’t been political active, but were galvanized by Ellison’s candidacy.

Ellison was a frequent campaigner in places like this Somali shopping center in Minneapolis and in other gatherings of local Muslims. He said he understood their concerns about being treated differently.

KEITH ELLISON: They are looking for their representatives to just really stand up for the due process and the rule of law. The whole idea of profiling people because of what they look like, or the countries they come from, or their accent is something that I think the Muslim community is concerned about.

And I’ve been concerned about racial profiling for many years and introduced bills on it in the state legislature and advocated to have it prohibited even before I was in the state legislature. So that will be something I’ll be trying to work to make sure that we put the focus on…

Islamic identity

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The 43-year-old Ellison was raised Catholic in Detroit. He converted to Islam in college before moving to Minnesota to attend law school. Though he’s grown in his faith and is observant, Ellison says he was first attracted to Islam almost as a political statement. His early political statements included some writings in praise of Louis Farrakhan, the often-anti-Semitic leader of the Nation of Islam.

For Alan Fine, Ellison’s Republican opponent who is Jewish, it was a major campaign issue.

ALAN FINE, Republican Congressional Candidate: Keith Ellison wrote articles praising Louis Farrakhan in the early ’90s. Is that true, Keith? Did you write those articles?

KEITH ELLISON: Yes, I did. But I also…

ALAN FINE: Did you…

KEITH ELLISON: But I also explained that those — that I’ve come about a new point of view on this issue when more information came to my attention.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ellison denied he was ever anti-Semitic. He said his only association with the Nation of Islam was as an organizer of the group’s Million Man March in 1995.

KEITH ELLISON: I think that I was definitely a frustrated younger man. I think I definitely felt a strong urgency for social change around issues of rights and human rights, and equality, and opportunity, and inclusion.

And I think I stated my views in more strident terms. And I think, you know, hopefully, we all grow up a little bit. I mean, I’m 43 years old. I have four children, a mortgage, a wife of 20 years. Hopefully we all, you know, learn to express ourselves a little bit more effectively, a little bit more diplomatically.

Policy issues and diplomacy

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Political peers credit Ellison’s diplomatic skills with smoothing out his relationship with the Jewish community. One of its leaders is Phyllis Kahn, a colleague in the state legislature.

PHYLLIS KAHN (D), State Representative: Firstly, he went right to the Jewish community. He immediately met with people in JCRC. He didn’t step away from going to forums at Temple Israel and things like that, and I think showing that he had nothing to hide.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Kahn says Ellison was careful to present himself as a candidate who happened to be Muslim, not a Muslim candidate. She observed one television interview he gave an Arabic-language television channel.

PHYLLIS KAHN: The question that she asked him was — this was supposedly going to a totally Arabic audience — they say, “What is your election? What are you going to do for Muslims now that you’ve been elected?” And his answer was so good. He said, “I am going to be the best possible congressman for all of the people in my district.”

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: On policy issues, Ellison favors a quick withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and a single-payer government-run health care system. He also supports gay rights and, during the campaign, spoke at the Lynndale United Church of Christ, which strongly supports the rights of gays to marry.

KEITH ELLISON: Just like we should not make laws and enshrine in the Constitution a law that says that people of different colors can’t be married, the state should not decide who gets married based on sex, either.

Support for gay rights

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says his visible support of gay rights has sometimes prompted concern among conservative Muslim supporters. He has an answer for them.

KEITH ELLISON: I said, look, you know, as a Muslim, you’re getting visits from law enforcement officials even if you haven’t done anything. You heard about relatives being stopped at the airport. You feel vulnerable at this time. Do you want to be the one to say who should not have rights, if you understand what I mean?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In Washington, Ellison seems to be already following his own path. At orientation for incoming congressional freshmen, he decided to skip dinner at the White House with President Bush and went instead to a reception given by labor leaders. That decision, he said, wasn’t even a close call.