U.N. Security Council Orders More Negotiations About the Western Sahara Conflict

Disputes over the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, have followed its 1975 annexation by Morocco in opposition to competing claims by the Polisario Front. In 1991 the U.N. brokered a cease-fire and established a peacekeeping monitoring mission and to help prepare a referendum on the territory’s future that has never taken place. So far the parties have been unable to agree upon how to decide on self-determination. Morocco wants an autonomy plan under Moroccan sovereignty while Polisario wants a U.N.-backed referendum including on the question of independence. Below is a map of the Western Sahara.

Western_sahara_map_showing_morocco_and_polisaro.gif

On April 28, 2017, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2351 extending the mandate of the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 30 April 2018 and calling on the parties to that conflict to resume negotiations under the auspices of the Secretary-General without preconditions and in good faith, in order to facilitate a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution.[1]

Other provisions of the resolution called on the parties to cooperate fully with the operations of MINURSO, to take the necessary steps to ensure unhindered movement for U.N. and associated personnel in carrying out their mandate, to demonstrate the political will to work in an atmosphere propitious for dialogue in order to resume negotiations, to implement the relevant Security Council resolutions, to resume cooperation with the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, to ensure that the humanitarian needs of refugees were adequately addressed.  It also supported an increase in the ratio of medical personnel within the current uniformed authorization, as requested in the Secretary-General’s most recent report to address MINURSO’s severely overstretched medical capacity. Yet another part of the resolution noted that both sides had withdrawn troops from the Guerguerat area of the territory, a vast swath of desert bordering the Atlantic Ocean that has been contested since 1975.

In support of the resolution, U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Michele Sisson, emphasized hat peacekeeping missions should support political solutions, said that postponing the [referendum] had been the key to allowing MINURSO to close out the 2016 chapter in the territory.  The U.S. was pleased with the mandate renewal, which helped in returning the Council’s attention where it belonged — supporting a political process to resolve the situation on the ground.  Emphasizing that the situation must change, she said the Council must look at the “big picture” in Western Sahara, including the absence of any political process for many years, she said.  The resolution demonstrated the importance of the parties working with the U.N. to return to the table.  The Mission must be able to hire the right staff in order to be as effective as possible, and to adjust components that were not working, as well as they should.  The U.S. would watch closely to see what happened on the ground, she said.

Also speaking in support of the resolution were the other Security Council members: Uruguay, Sweden, Senegal, Ethiopia, China, France, United Kingdom, Italy, Bolivia, Japan, Ukraine and the Russian Federation.

Although the resolution was passed unanimously, France, a permanent Council member, backs Morocco, its former colony, while Polisario has been supported by some non-permanent council members and by South Africa.

Afterwards Morocco’s foreign ministry said the kingdom was satisfied with the resolution and hoped for a “real process” toward a solution, which it said should be on its autonomy initiative. Morocco also called for neighboring Mauritania and Algeria, the latter of which backs Polisario and maintains tense relations with Morocco, to be involved in negotiations. Algeria, on the other hand, called the resolution a victory for the Sahrawi cause that put the process “back on track.”

Morocco recently has made at least two diplomatic moves that may be related to enhancing its position in such negotiations.

First, on January 31, 2017, the African Union (AU) at its Summit, 39 to 9, approved Morocco’s request for readmission after having left the AU in 1984 in response to a majority of its members recognizing the disputed territory in the Western Sahara.

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI in his speech at this year’s AU Summit emphasized “how indispensable Africa is to Morocco and how indispensable Morocco is to Africa.” As evidence he mentioned that “since 2000, Morocco has [signed] nearly a thousand agreements with African countries, in various fields of cooperation,” including providing scholarships for Africans to attend Moroccan universities, launching the African Atlantic Gas Pipeline, creating a regional electricity market, constructing fertilizer production plants, creating the Adaptation of African Agriculture program to respond to climate change. These actions, he asserted, demonstrated Morocco’s “commitment to the development and prosperity of African citizens, [who] have the means and the genius; [so that] together, we can fulfill the aspirations of our peoples.”

This readmission, say analysts, also enhances Morocco’s status in upcoming negotiations over the Western Sahara although the King did not mention this in his speech. Instead, he made a modest allusion to this conflict when he said, “We know that we do not have unanimous backing from this prestigious assembly. Far be it from us to spark off a sterile debate! We have absolutely no intention of causing division, as some would like to insinuate!”[2]

The other diplomatic move that can be seen as an attempt to soften resistance towards Morocco’s position in negotiations over the Western Sahara was its re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, as discussed in a prior post.

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[1] U.N. Security Council, Press Release: Security Council Extends Mandate of United Nations Mission (April 28, 2017); U.S. Mission to the U.N., Ambassador Sisson Remarks at the Adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2351 on the [U.N.] Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) (April 28, 2017); U.N. Security Council, Press Release: Secretary-General Welcomes Withdrawal of Moroccan, Frente Polisario Elements from Western Sahara’s Guerguerat Area, Urging Adherence to Cease Fire (Apr. 28, 2017); Reuters, U.N. Security Council Backs New Western Sahara Talks Push, N.Y. Times (Apr. 29, 2017); Assoc. Press, UN Council Backs New Effort to End Western Sahara Conflict, N.Y. Times (Apr. 28, 2017).

[2] Quinn, Morocco rejoins African Union after more than 30 years, Guardian (Jan. 31, 2017); Morocco Ministry of Foreign Affairs, His Majesty the King delivers a speech at the 28th Summit of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa (Jan. 31, 2017); Abubeker, Why Has Morocco Rejoined the African Union After 33 Years, Newsweek Feb. 2, 2017).

The Importance of a Growing U.S. Population

A Wall Street Journal columnist, Bret Stephens, has demonstrated the importance of a growing U.S. population and the need for immigration to sustain such growth.[1]

“A decade ago, America’s fertility rate, at 2.12 children for every woman, was just above the replacement rate. That meant there could be modest population growth without immigration. But the fertility rate has since fallen: It’s now below replacement and at an all-time low.”

“Without immigration, our demographic destiny . . . [would leave] us with the worst of both worlds: economic stagnation without social stability. Multiethnic America would tear itself to pieces fighting over redistribution rights to the shrinking national pie.”

However, this “doesn’t have to be our fate. [I]immigrants aren’t a threat to American civilization. They are our civilization—bearers of a forward-looking notion of identity based on what people wish to become, not who they once were. Among those immigrants are 30% of all American Nobel Prize winners and the founders of 90 of our Fortune 500 companies—a figure that more than doubles when you include companies founded by the children of immigrants. If immigration means change, it forces dynamism. America is literally unimaginable without it.”[2]

The importance of immigrants for U.S. vitality was an important conclusion of a recent study of 46 Midwestern metropolitan areas conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a nonpartisan organization. In these metropolitan areas immigrants are helping offset population loss and economic strains caused by people moving away and by the retirements and deaths of native-born residents. In at least one of these metropolitan areas (Akron Ohio) immigrants and refugees were filling entry-level jobs for local manufacturing and food-processing companies that have had trouble hiring for those slots. This will become even more important in the future when many of the native-born workers will be retiring.[3]

Another recent study concluded that international immigration is giving a boost to population growth in big urban areas in the U.S. even as local residents flee for places with lower housing costs. The top beneficiaries of international immigration were primarily major coastal cities, led by the Miami metropolitan area.[4]

A more nuanced view of U.S. immigration is taken by Mark Krikorian, the Executive Director of Washington, D.C.’s Center for Immigration Studies, who would “limit immigration to the husbands, wives and young children of U.S. citizens; to skilled workers who rank among the top talents in the world; and to the small number of genuine refugees whose situation is so extraordinary that they cannot be helped where they are.” [5]

He claims that almost all of the arguments for limiting immigration share a common theme: protection. Even those advocating much more liberal immigration policies acknowledge the need to protect Americans from terrorists, foreign criminals and people who pose a threat to public health. Supporters of stricter limits, such as me, seek wider protections: protection for less-skilled workers, protection for the social safety net, and protection for the civic and cultural foundations of American society.”

Krikorian cites a study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine finding that immigration boosts economic growth in the long term and modestly improves the country’s demographic profile as the native population ages while creating a small net economic benefit. But this net economic benefit involves a redistribution from labor to capital.

In contrast to the U.S., Bret Stephens points out, is Japan. Its birth rate is very low. Its life expectancy is very high. Its immigration is very low. As a result, Japan has an aging, declining population. “Japan’s population shrank by nearly a million between 2010 and 2015, the first absolute decline since census-taking began in the 1920s. On current trend the [current] population [of 127 million] will fall to 97 million by the middle of the century. Barely 10% of Japanese will be children. The rest of the population will divide almost evenly between working-age adults and the elderly.”

Moreover, as “Morgan Stanley’s Ruchir Sharma has noted, lousy demographics mean a lousy economy.. . . In 2016, Japan’s growth rate was 1%—and that was a relatively good year by recent standard. . . . The average rate of GDP growth in countries with shrinking working-age populations is only 1.5%.”

In short, Stephens concludes, “Americans may need reminding that the culture of openness about which conservatives so often complain is our abiding strength. Openness to different ideas, foreign goods and new people. And their babies . . . are also made in God’s image.”[6]

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[1] Stephens, ‘Other People’s Babies,’ W.S.J. (Mar. 20, 2017).

[2] Another example is New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, whose father, Wladyslaw Krzysztofowicz, was born in Romania (now Ukraine) and who came to the U.S. in 1952 with the sponsorship of a Presbyterian church in Portland, Oregon after he had been arrested by the Gestapo in World War II and imprisoned in a Yugoslav concentration camp after the war. (Kristof, Mr. Trump, Meet My Family, N.Y. Times (Jan. 2, 2017).

[3] Paral, Immigration a Demographic Lifeline in Midwestern Metros, Chicago Council on Global Affairs (Mar. 23, 2017); Connors, In the Midwest, Immigrants Are Stemming Population Decline, W.S.J. (Mar. 23, 2017).

[4] Kosisto, International Immigration Gives Boost to Big U.S. Cities, Study Says, W.S.J. (Mar. 23, 2017)

[5] Krikorian, The Real Immigration Debate: Who to Let In and Why, W.S.J. (Mar. 24, 2017) The Center for Immigration Studies asserts that it is “an independent, non-partisan, non-profit, research organization. Since our founding in 1985, we have pursued a single mission – providing immigration policymakers, the academic community, news media, and concerned citizens with reliable information about the social, economic, environmental, security, and fiscal consequences of legal and illegal immigration into the United States.”

[6] Therefore, Bret Stephens asserts that Iowa’s Congressman Stephen King was misguided and mistaken in his tweet about Dutch anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders who called his country’s Moroccan population as “scum.” King said: “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny, We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

 

European Union Moves to Normalization with Cuba

On September 22, the European Commission proposed that the European Union member countries adopt the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement with Cuba to normalize relations between the EU and Cuba. According to the Commission, the agreement “opens new avenues to support Cuba’s process of economic and social modernization, to foster sustainable development, democracy and human rights, as well as to seek common solutions to global challenges.”[1]

The next step in the EU process will be review of the agreement by the EU’s European Council, which is composed of 28 heads of state or government of the member countries, before the EU’s official signing of the agreement.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, stressed that this agreement is “the result of a fruitful and constructive work the EU and Cuba have done together and marks the turning point in our relations.” She also said the agreement “creates a clear common framework for intensified political dialogue, increased cooperation across a wide range of policy areas, and a precious platform for developing joint action on regional and international issues.” The agreement also will mean an end to the EU’s “Common Position” on Cuba, adopted in 1996, which has prevented normal ties between the EU and the island.

An editorial in Spain’s El Pais said that this agreement showed European realism and determination not to lose ground to the United States after the U.S. decision to seek normalization of its relations with Cuba. Indeed, said the editorial, the EU Common Position has proven to be ineffective as the Castro regime has not moved a millimeter in its principles and as European businesses enterprises have continued to maintain activities on the island.[2]

Conclusion

This EU decision is not the only effort of other countries to expand commercial and other relations with Cuba, prompted in part by desires to do so before the U.S. wakes up and moves to full normalization. For example, recent visits to Cuba by officials from China and Japan have emphasized those countries’ desires to do just that.[3]

These developments constitute another reason why the U.S. as soon as possible should end its embargo of the island and take other steps towards full normalization with Cuba. Too many of the U.S. opponents of such changes implicitly assume that only the U.S. matters to Cuba and that, therefore, the U.S. has maximum leverage over the island. Wake up to reality, U.S. opponents!

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[1] Eur. Comm’n, Press Release: European Commission proposes Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement with Cuba (Sept. 22, 2016); Prensa Latina, EU proposes normalization of relations with Cuba, Granma (Sept. 23, 2016). The historical background for this agreement was reviewed in a prior post.

[2] Editorial, European realism in Cuba, El Pais (Sept. 25, 2016).

[3] Reuters, China, Cuba Agree to Deepen Ties During PM Li’s Havana Visit, N.Y. Times (Sept. 24, 2016); Reuters, Japanese PM Says Want to Deepen Economic Ties with Cuba, N.Y. Times (Sept. 23, 2016).

Fidel Castro Criticizes President Obama 

Responding to the many congratulatory words celebrating his 90th birthday on August 13, Fidel Castro wrote an open letter published in Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba.

Fidel’s Letter

After remembering his early years with his father in eastern Cuba, Fidel concluded with comments about the risks of nuclear weapons. He specifically criticized President Obama’s May 27 speech in Hiroshima, Japan for failing “to apologize for the killing of hundreds of thousands of people” by the U.S. dropping an atomic bomb on that city.

President Obama’s Hiroshima Speech

Yes, President Obama did not use the word “apology” in his Hiroshima speech. But Fidel’s criticism failed to acknowledge that President Obama did recognize the horrors of that attack and the need for the U.S. and all other countries to eliminate nuclear weapons. Below are photographs of President Obama and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in front of the Memorial Monument for Hiroshima, City of Peace and of Obama’s embracing Mori Shigaki, a Hiroshima bombing survivor.

Obama & Jap Pres

 

 

Obama & survivor

 

 

 

 

Obama opened the speech with these words: “Seventy-one years ago, on a bright, cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed.  A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.”

“We come to [Hiroshima to] ponder a terrible force unleashed in a not so distant past.  We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 in Japanese men, women and children; thousands of Koreans; a dozen Americans held prisoner.  Their souls speak to us. They ask us to look inward, to take stock of who we are and what we might become.”

In “the image of a mushroom cloud that rose into these skies, we are most starkly reminded of humanity’s core contradiction; how the very spark that marks us as a species — our thoughts, our imagination, our language, our tool-making, our ability to set ourselves apart from nature and bend it to our will — those very things also give us the capacity for unmatched destruction.”

“Hiroshima teaches . . . [that technological] progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us.  The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution, as well. . . . [The] memory of [the bombing of Hiroshima on] the morning of August 6th, 1945 must never fade.  That memory allows us to fight complacency.  It fuels our moral imagination.  It allows us to change.”

After the end of World War II an “international community established institutions and treaties that worked to avoid war and aspire to restrict and roll back, and ultimately eliminate the existence of nuclear weapons. . . . But among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear, and pursue a world without them.”

“The world was forever changed here.  But today, the children of this city will go through their day in peace.  What a precious thing that is.  It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child.  That is the future we can choose -– a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare, but as the start of our own moral awakening.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cuban Realities Adversely Affecting Normalization with the U.S.

Underlying Cuba’s desire for normalization with the U.S. and its ability to achieve this goal are two realities that do not receive the attention they deserve. First, Cuba has a rapidly aging and declining population. Second, Cuba has very little cash to purchase goods and services in international markets. Both of these adversely affect Cuba’s desire and ability to achieve normalization.

Aging and Declining Cuban Population

Cuba already has the oldest population in all of Latin America. Experts predict that 50 years from now, its population will have fallen by a third and more than 40 percent of the country will be older than 60.[1]

This is a demographic crisis with both economic and political consequences. The aging population will require a vast health care system, the likes of which the state cannot afford. And without a viable work force, the cycle of flight and wariness about Cuba’s future is even harder to break, despite the country’s halting steps to open itself up to the outside world.

“We are all so excited about the trade and travel that we have overlooked the demographics problem,” said Hazel Denton, a former World Bank economist who has studied Cuban demographics. “This is a significant issue.”

Young people are fleeing the island in big numbers, fearful that normalization of relations with the U.S. will lead to the end of a policy that allows Cubans who make it to the U.S. to become naturalized U.S. citizens.

Over the past two years, an estimated 100,000 Cubans have streamed into the U.S., legally and illegally. Most of them fly to another country in Latin America and then make treacherous journeys by land to the U.S. border with Mexico. Thousands of others obtain family reunification visas and travel directly to the U.S. Those without money or helpful relatives flee Cuba on rafts.

The surge began in 2013 after the Cuban government eliminated the need for exit permits, and got bigger after Washington and Havana announced plans in late 2014 to end 50 years of hostility and re-establish relations.

For the fiscal year that just ended on September 30, nearly 4,500 Cubans reached U.S. soil in rafts, were caught at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard or were otherwise thwarted while trying to flee.

The younger people remaining on the island are reluctant to have children, citing the strain of raising an infant in a country where the average state salary is just $20 a month. Scant job opportunities, a shortage of available goods and a dearth of sufficient housing have encouraged younger Cubans to wait to start a family, sometimes indefinitely. In addition, abortion is legal, free, without stigma and commonly practiced. Cuba’s reported birth rate is one of the lowest in the world while its abortion rate is one of the highest.

One possible response to this demographic challenge is for the Cuban government to encourage the vast Cuban expatriate population to come home. But such an effort, in my opinion, would have to be backed by realistic opportunities to thrive and succeed economically, and this does not appear likely in the near future at least.

Another facet of Cuba’s aging population is the dying of those who fought with Fidel and Ché in the Revolution of 1959. In short, “the revolution and its heroes are fading.” According to a journalist, “many younger Cubans feel the weight of the revolution as a challenge to their future rather than as its foundation.” They “have little patience for revolutionary rhetoric, and they are frustrated by the dearth of economic opportunity in the country, despite the diplomatic thaw with Washington. They want to see change in their lives, and revolutionary talk sounds to many like a distraction from their struggles.”[2]

Cuba’s Financial Problems

Cuba is now finding it difficult to purchase goods and services from foreign suppliers. It has little cash to do so. This is resulting from low prices for nickel, which is one of its main exports; the economic crisis in Venezuela, which is one of Cuba’s major allies; and a Cuban drought. These adverse factors apparently are not offset by increased foreign tourism on the island after the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement. State companies are being forced to cut imports and to seek more liberal payment terms from foreign suppliers.[3]

The financial arrangements with Venezuela are complicated. First, Cuba receives oil on favorable terms and refines and resells some of it in a joint venture with its socialist ally, but prices for refined products are down in tandem with crude prices. Second, Cuba sends medical professionals to Venezuela, but experts believe the amount paid to Cuba for their services is tied to oil prices, meaning Venezuela would pay less to Cuba when such prices are down.

Another sign of these economic challenges is Cuba’s recent agreement with Spain to restructure Cuba’s short-term debts. Spain forgave Cuba for its defaulted interest and principal; restructured the residual principal payments for a period of ten years; and granted a three-year grace period for repayment of principal. The total principal of this debt was 201.5 million Euros.[4]

Earlier other countries also wrote off significant Cuban indebtedness: Russia, $32 billion in July 2014; Mexico, $487 million in December 2013; Japan, $1.4 billion in 2012; and China, $6 billion (restructuring) in 2010. Cuba’s debt problem with Japan, however, was not resolved after the 2012 agreement when Cuba failed to make payments thereunder, and this year the two countries are trying to resolve the debt issue as they seek to expand trade.[5]

Conclusion

These two realities, in my opinion, help to explain why normalization is not producing immediate expansion of business between the U.S. and Cuba.[6] Yes, the U.S. embargo, which is still in place, adversely affects Cuba’s foreign trade and should be ended by the U.S. as soon as possible. But ending the embargo does not directly affect these two realities that are major impediments to such trade.

Once again I invite comments of supplementation or correction, especially on Cuba’s foreign indebtedness.

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[1] Ahmed, An Abundance of Love but a Lack of Babies, N.Y. Times (Oct. 27, 2015); Assoc. Press, Historic Surge in Cuban Emigration Divides Families, N.Y. Times (Nov. 6, 2015); Dominguez, What You Might Not Know About the Cuban Economy, Harv. Bus. Rev. (Aug. 15, 2015); CIA World Factbook: Cuba.

[2] Ahmed, Cuban Revolutionaries Hope Their Legacy Won’t Fade Away, N.Y. times (Nov. 7, 2015).

[3] Reuters, ‘There is no money:’ cash-strapped Cuba is forced to cut vital imports, Guardian (Oct. 16, 2015); Three million tourist arrivals: A target in sight, Granma (Nov. 11, 2015) (three million tourists by second week of November, more than 90 days earlier than 2014); Cruise ship tourism expanding in Cuba, Granma (Nov. 9, 2015) (20,000 cruise ship visitors to Cuba so far this year).

[4] Spain agreed with Cuba to refinance short-term debt of the island, El Pais (Nov. 3, 2015)  This agreement may have resulted from a June 2015 Cuban agreement with the Paris Club of 16 wealthy nations, including Spain, that fixed Cuba’s total indebtedness to them at $15 billion (13.7 billion Euros) and that was seen as an important step towards renegotiating those debts. (Reuters, Cuba and Paris Club members agree on debt total of $15bln (June 8, 2015)

[5] Russia writes off 90% of Cuba’s debt ahead of Putin’s ‘big tour’ to Latin America, RT (July 12, 2014); Russia writes off $32bn Cuban debt in show of brotherly love, Guardian (July 10, 2014); Cuba; Mexico: 70% of Debt Forgiven, Global Legal Monitor (Nov. 8, 2013); Russia, Japan and others want to do business in Cuba, Internet in Cuba (May 4, 2015); Forte, Cuba and Japan expanding economic and trade ties, Granma (Nov. 9, 2015); Reuters, China restructures Cuban debt, backs reform (Dec. 23, 2010).

[6] E.g., Reuters, U.S. Companies Drawn to Cuba, Unsure if Profits Will Follow, N.Y. Times (Nov. 6, 2015).

The Art of Fact: Weaving Your Personal Story into Historical Context

Kristen Iversen

On February 17th this was the topic of a talk at the 7th annual San Miguel de Allende (Mexico) Writers Conference. The speaker was Kristen Iversen, Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at The University of Memphis.

She said setting your personal story in a broader historical context makes it more interesting and more meaningful. You should identify moments in your own life that are important for you and develop them in writing as fully as possible. Then think about what was going on in the world at the same time and research local, national or world events that appear connected to your story and weave those facts into your story. Consider writing your story in the present tense to make it more immediate.

Iversen then talked about how she did this herself.

As a young girl, she and her family lived in Arvada, Colorado, which was close to the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant, which secretly produced more than 70,000 plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs and contaminated the environment with toxic and radioactive materials. Over the last 10 years or so, she conducted research into what happened at Rocky Flats. She read hundreds of pages of documentation, including oral history interview transcripts at the University of Colorado, newspaper articles, photographs and previously classified information. She also conducted extensive interviews of some of the workers at the facility.

In late February 2011, after the prior year’s San Miguel writers’ conference, she finished her book about growing up near this facility.

She read a section of her book about the “Mother’s Day Fire” at the facility in 1969. While she and her family were having brunch at a restaurant, a fire broke out in the production line at the facility, and only two guards were on duty with limited knowledge about how to fight such a plutonium fire. Her present-tense account of fighting the fire was gripping. After the reading, she added that the roof of the facility almost exploded in this fire. If it had, it would have been a Chernobyl-like disaster for the entire Denver metropolitan area.

Iversen hired an agent to get the book published. Then on March 11, 2011, Japan was hit with an earthquake and tsunami that created the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant with radiation leaks into the air and contaminated water spilling into the sea. Now there was intense interest around the world in nuclear disasters.

Her book was now a “hot item.” it was auctioned in New York City by her agent with publishers’ representatives calling Iversen with questions at her office in Memphis. It was eventually sold to Crown Publishers and is to be published on June 5, 2012. A subsequent auction in London sold the rights to another publisher for the U.K. Iversen added that Angelina Jolie had expressed interest in the movie rights to the book.

The tentative title of the book is “Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats.” I told the author that I did not think it was a good title because most people and I did not know what “Full Body Burden” meant. (I found out later it means the burden on a human body of nuclear radiation or other toxic chemicals.) Nor did I think most people would recognize the term ‘Rocky Flats.” In addition, I thought the tentative cover of the U.S. edition of the book did not help to sell the book.

Naomi Wolf, the noted author and public commentator, was another speaker at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference and afterwards published an article in The Guardian in London titled “From Rocky Flats to Fukushima: this nuclear folly.” Wolf reported that as Iversen grew up, she became aware of the growing incidence of bizarre cancers being diagnosed in local children. Thirty years later, cancer rates remain elevated in neighborhoods around Rocky Flats (plutonium has a half-life of 24,000 years), and recent tests confirm there is still contamination in the soil. Yet purportedly to “save” the high costs of cleaning up the site, most of the Rocky Flats has been designated a “wildlife refuge” to be open to the public in 2013. Wolf uses these facts to argue that it is folly to plan any expansion of nuclear power as the U.S. is  planning to do.

Iversen discussed many of these same issues as well as her new book in last Sunday’s New York Times‘ “Sunday Review.”

“Full Body Burden” will hit the book market at about the same time as a new book by physicist and historian Spencer Weart. His book, The Rise of Nuclear Fear,”  is reported to argue that scientists do not know about the physical impact of radiation. On the other hand, the psychological impact of radiation exposure is evident. Precisely because physical damage from very-low-level radiation cannot be detected, exposure leaves people in great uncertainty. Many believe they have been fundamentally contaminated for life. They may refuse to have children for fear of birth defects. They may be shunned by others who fear a sort of mysterious contagion.

I recommend Iversen’s forthcoming book on what should be a fascinating approach to an important public policy issue.