US support for reformists in Iran may actually hurt them

I write in response to the March 12 Opinion piece by Nazenin Ansari and Jonathan Paris, "Iranians should engage one another before the West engages Iran."

I encourage the current split between the camps behind conservative Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and former reformist president Hashemi Rafsanjani.

But we should be aware that the former's "militaristic fundamentalists" are quick to deny exit visas to people who are leaving the country on projects that the fundamentalists do not like.

They're also quick to take passports from returnees who have criticized the regime abroad and even jail ones who persist.

If in doubt, just look at how the government jailed women activists earlier this month and released them only after an international outcry.

Why would the militaristic fundamentalists even allow anyone to leave the country to pursue such an overtly antiregime program? They conducted the most successful revolution in the post-1945 era and, as a result, know how to stop a revolution.

Engage and manage the Iranians – as the US administration finally seems to be doing – but don't endanger Iranian intellectuals and professionals.
Charles Buell
Oil helps global power, hurts citizens
Norwich, Vt.

The argument in the March 6 article, "Oil fuels more independent Azerbaijan," is well-taken. Oil revenues have allowed the country "unprecedented independence in dictating its own affairs."

Nevertheless, the article focuses mainly on the corruption of the oil industry. It doesn't pay enough attention to the implications of oil money on domestic policies, an area of growing concern in the international community.

As with many countries, oil has largely been a burden in Azerbaijan. The wealth has led to rampant domestic corruption and has allowed the regime to tighten its grip on power, exemplified by the growing number of political prisoners, most prominently former Finance Minister Farhad Aliyev.

Oil revenues might help Azerbaijan today geopolitically, but repressive internal policies will only lead it on the road to becoming another Iran, its neighbor to the south.
Oleg Svet
Associate director, Azeri Democracy Initiative

Celebrate fair trade!

In response to the March 13 article, " 'Fair trade' food booming in Britain": How delighted I was to see the article on fair-trade products in Britain.

We live in a lively community of about 2,000 people on the edge of the English Lake District. On March 3, we celebrated becoming a "fair trade" town, one of hundreds in the UK. There was much jubilation, thanks to a dedicated team of ladies and their determination to see this happen.

Now all our cafes, restaurants, pubs, and food shops offer fair-trade products, and our soccer team has just ordered 100 fair-trade balls.

In a packed village hall we listened to a coffee farmer from Uganda who had come to tell us, and show us using slides, how fair trade has helped his community.

The local choral society treated us to a feast of African songs, and then we all enjoyed a piece of the wonderful cake baked entirely with fair-trade products. What a happy occasion!
Gina C. Woods-Jack
Kirkby Lonsdale, England

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