INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE - 26 JANUARY 2012 - PRESS RELEASE OUT OF NEW YORK, 25 JANUARY 2012
On Thursday, January 26, retired Guatemalan general Efraín Ríos Montt stands before a judge in a Guatemalan court to hear the charges brought against him for genocide and crimes against humanity. The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) commends Guatemala for taking these important first steps to bring justice to bear after decades of impunity.
“This is an historic undertaking for the Guatemalan justice system,” said David Tolbert, president of ICTJ. “The crime of genocide is rarely tried in a national court; not only are the investigations very complex, but the political will is often lacking to bring such serious charges against the powerful.”
Judge Carol Patricia Flores will decide whether the evidence presented by the prosecutors is sufficient to order Ríos Montt to stand trial for his alleged responsibilities for those crimes while he was de facto head of state and commander-in-chief of the army from March 1982 to August 1983.
“ICTJ and many other international justice organizations will be following the case as it moves forward in the coming months,” Tolbert said. “With this case Guatemala has the opportunity to be an example to the world of how a national justice system can meet its obligations to investigate, try, and punish actions that offend all of humanity.”
While the Guatemalan army committed hundreds of massacres during the thirty years of internal armed conflict that ended in 1996, the charges in this case focus on the well documented, large-scale crimes committed against indigenous people in one region of the country in 1982–1983. Two other former military officials are already being held on similar charges; Ríos Montt had evaded the charges against him until last week when he lost immunity after stepping down from his position as a member of congress.
Victims’ organizations and non-governmental legal advocates have worked for the past 15 years to develop the case and keep the hope of justice alive, bringing their first complaints against Ríos Montt and others to the Guatemalan courts in 1999. ICTJ welcomes the decision of the attorney general, the prosecutors who have built the case, and the court that has decided to hear it, to promote accountability and work to turn this hope into reality.
MATTHEW BISHOP - REPORTING ON THE PRESS RELEASE
The atrocities in Guatemala have gone largely uncovered by our media and unaddressed by our government. This trial is a step towards justice, but the road ahead is long and winding. If you are interested in learning more on the subject, the following materials were suggested to me in a conversation with ICTJ Director Marcie Mersky:
The Quiet Genocide, edited by Etelle Higonnet
The Center for Justice and Accountability's website
(Spanish-language) CALDH website (CALDH is taping the proceedings of the trial reported above)
ISAAC PLACKE - 28 DECEMBER 2011
At a meeting of the Latin American and Caribbean heads of state on December 2nd, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa voiced a proposition to “change the Inter-American system” by creating an independent commission for monitoring human rights violations that would enable the region to be free from “interference” from the United States. However, while this commission was proposed in the name of Latin American autonomy, Correa’s history of prosecuting journalists and violating international free speech agreements has led international human rights organizations to question whether his proposition has ulterior motives.
Correa’s proposal for the yet-unnamed commission came during the inaugural summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. The summit, hosted by Hugo Chavez in Caracas, was convened with the goal of strengthening hemispheric political and economic unity. This first meeting of the CELAC brought together thirty-three heads of state to discuss the future of the Western Hemisphere, notably excluding leaders from the United States and Canada.
During the meeting President Correa voiced his desire to create a human rights commission that would operate independently from the already existing Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), formed in 1960 as a part of the Organization of America States. Correa said that he proposed the new commission as an effort to place monitoring responsibility in the hands of Latin American leaders, thus removing it from the “too-obvious presence and prevalence of the United States”. Correa has long been openly critical of the IACHR, attacking it as an organism only to “defend private interests” and “persecute the progressive governments of the region.”
Following the proposal at the CELAC summit, the president of Human Rights Watch (HRW), Jose Miguel Vivanco, sent a letter
to the CELAC heads of state in order to address “the unfortunate statements of President Correa.” In the letter, Vivanco asserted that Latin America has “benefited greatly from the Inter-American human rights system” and urged the CELAC “to make the most of this opportunity to promote rights and democracy in Latin America” instead of creating a separate human rights organization which, Vivanco said, would serve “primarily to support and applaud the current rulers.”
Vivanco’s concerns that President Correa intends to replace the IACHR, a human rights ombudsman, with a new organization, which would function as a support for his own government, may seem alarmist. However, these concerns become valid when Correa’s past hostile stance towards human rights, specifically towards freedom of speech, is taken into account.
Rafael Correa, a U.S. educated economist, has enjoyed widespread popularity for his presidency since he first took office in 2007, winning multiple elections and going on to become the first Ecuadorian president to win re-election since 1972. His policies of progressive reform have established a semblance of order in a country that had experienced 7 separate presidents in the 10-year span leading up to the 2007 elections, none of which completed their democratically elected terms.
However, even prior to the CELAC summit, the actions of Correa’s government have raised concerns in the international community. Last month, Transparency International released its 2011 Corruption Perception Index, giving Ecuador’s government a rating 2.7 out of 10, one of the lowest in the region. International organizations such as the IACHR and Human Rights Watch have also expressed concern in regards to Correa’s growing power over Ecuador’s news media and his government’s alleged misuse of arrest and detainment to silence outspoken critics.
One of the major issues of conflict between these international organizations and Correa has been the regulation of Ecuador’s news media. Prior to the Correa administration, Ecuador had a single public media outlet: Radio Nacional de Ecuador. Since 2007, as the government has taken over privately owned media, this number has grown to fifteen, creating a state-owned newspaper, television, and radio network. This by itself is not alarming, as it could be taken as a symptom of Ecuador’s economic growth, however, according to an investigation by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), this public media network “serves largely as a presidential megaphone.”
Correa’s influence over private sources of news media has also grown. Under the new constitution, ratified in 2008, an instance of ambiguous wording has left private media open to censorship and subject to legal ramifications for its writers and reporters. Article 18 Section 1
allows individuals the right to “release truthful, verified, timely, contextualized, and plural information without censorship.” However, it is the government that is given the right to determine what is “truthful" and “verified”, which has allowed for the suspension of several media organizations after they aired reports viewed as negative toward the actions of Correa’s government.
One particular instance is in the case of the Ecuadorian media company Teleamazonas.
Teleamazonas is a major media outlet that has openly spoken out against the president. In December of 2009, Ecuador’s Superintendent of Telecommunications used Article 18 to suspend Teleamazonas from broadcasting. This suspension lasted for three days and came in response to a report in May of 2009 that had speculated on the damages of coastal natural gas exploitation on the livelihoods of local fishermen.
Ecuador’s government and Telamazonas have maintained an antagonistic relationship, evidenced by multiple instances of the government requiring Teleamazonas to air presidential rebuttals to reports that the government has called “misinformation”. Mentioned both in a HRW letter to the CELAC and in a report by the CPJ, these temporary seizures of public and private airwaves for the broadcast of presidential messages have occurred on an increasingly frequent basis. Called “cadenas”, these messages are legal under Ecuador’s broadcast law, and have been traditionally reserved for emergency notifications by the president. However, according to Fundamedios, a media monitoring organization based in Mexico, Correa has used these cadenas more than 1,000 times since 2007, broadcasting an estimated 150 hours of government sponsored information.
This aggressive stance towards media companies and broadcasters has also been applied on a more individualized level. Correa has personally filed lawsuits against individual media owners, editors and journalists that he has accused of defamation, which has served to further reduce the autonomy of private media.
In these lawsuits, Correa has used antiquated Ecuadorian “desacato” laws, which under the Ecuadorian Criminal Code proscribes severe monetary penalties as well as lengthened prison sentences for defamation against government officials and other authorities. According to HRW, such laws have recently been abolished in many countries in the region. The IACHR has urged governments to regard desacato laws as detrimental to the freedom of expression guaranteed under the American Convention on Human Rights.
However, in Ecuador, this has not been the case, according to HRW’s Jose Miguel Vivanco. “While other countries in the region are moving toward decriminalizing defamation to comply with international standards, President Correa is taking Ecuador precisely in the opposite direction,” he said.
As a result of using these desacato laws, Correa has been awarded multi-million-dollar settlements from critical journalists and editors, who, in turn, now face several years of prison time. In the most notable case, Correa filed an $80 million defamation lawsuit against a journalist and three directors of the Ecuadoran newspaper El Universo
last May. This came as a result of an editorial article written by a journalist, Emilio Palacio, entitled “No more lies”,
which referred to Correa as “the dictator” and, according to Correa, accused him of ordering troops to fire against a hospital full of people in the attempted coup in September 2010.
After an extended and highly publicized trial, the court issued a ruling in favor of Correa in what HRW called “a serious blow to free speech in Ecuador.” Palacio and the three directors of El Universo
were each sentenced to 3 years in prison and given a combined charge of $40 million in damages to be awarded to Correa. As El Universo
has been valued at only $35 million, this puts Ecuador’s news media at risk of losing another news source independent from the government.
The outcome of the El Universo
trial could have more far-reaching consequences, according to the IACHR, as the ruling “constitutes a grave warning to any citizen or media outlet that has opinions or information about public officials that could be considered offensive.” The outcome of this trial, and others like it that continue to occur under Correa’s administration, could result in self-censorship by the media, as the journalists withhold information or articles critical of the government out of fear of governmental reprisals.
Correa has rationalized these restrictions on freedom of expression by validating them as methods to combat the influence of the powerful private interests that own the majority of Ecuador’s media. In a speech at Columbia University in September, Correa spoke on the media’s role in democracy, answering the criticisms of his actions. “If the media defend, misinform, or slander our governments, it is called freedom of speech. If a president dares to answer back, it is an attack against freedom of speech,” he said.
Lee Bolinger, President of Columbia University, introduced Correa as the speaker by pointing out the United States, too, has a history of repressing freedom of expression in the media. “Such laws, which make criticism of government officials a crime, typically have been adopted by emerging democracies or other societies seeking to extinguish threats to a fragile political structure,” he said. “The impulse to forbid government criticism has always later been understood to be an abdication of our societies pledge to live by reason, to confront dissent with courage and to be temperate in dealing with misbehavior.”
A collaborative effort by the countries of the CELAC to maintain and monitor basic human rights in Latin American and the Caribbean would be a benefit to the region. However, the demonstrated need of the Ecuadoran government to repress private media in order to maintain what President Correa describes as a balanced message demonstrates that a commission that leaves the Ecuadoran government and Correa largely responsible for the monitoring of Human rights within Ecuador’s borders leaves human rights, specifically freedom of expression, dangerously caught between two political groups: private medias and President Correa’s government.
SARAH VOLPENHEIN - 24 October 2011
SANTIAGO, Chile--Though regarded as one of the most developed and stable countries of Latin America, Chile has erupted with widespread student protests over the last five to six months. The Confederation of Chilean Students (CONFECH) is demanding
equal access to quality education.
Education protests are not new to Chile. Dressed in their black and white uniforms, students took to the streets in 2006 in what is called the Penguin Revolution. Their demands of “quality education for all Chileans, irrespective of class, ability, or spending power
” have not changed.
The Chilean education model has essentially flipped since Gen. Augusto Pinochet assumed power after the military coup in 1973.
“Chile’s educational model has changed drastically in the last 40 years. Before the Pinochet dictatorship that began in the early ‘70s, as much as 90 percent of university budgets came from the state. Now that figure is around 10 percent,” reported
Al Jazeera’s Craig Mauro.
Advised by a group of Chilean economists called the Chicago boys who studied at the University of Chicago, Pinochet implemented a slew of neoliberal policies during his dictatorship. Neoliberal reforms encouraged free trade, reduced government spending, and privatized government-run corporations.
In particular, the protestors take issue with the high privatization of Chilean schools. About 90 percent of schools are private, and “40 percent of students attend free public high schools” according to an Univision article
. Comparatively, roughly 92 percent of U.S. students attended public high schools in 2007 according to the National Center for Educational Statistics
Chilean high schools are divided into three groups. First, there are private schools, often called “colegios privados” or “particulares”. Second, there are public schools, or “colegios publicos”. These are also called “municipales" because municipalities own them. Finally, there are the half-private, half-public schools called “subvencionados” because the government subsidizes them.
At first glance, privatization appears to be positive because it yields “the best education in the region”.
“In 2009, [Chile] outscored all other Latin American states in the OECD’s PISA rankings,” reported a BBC article
. “These are used to compare educational standards across countries.”
However, on closer inspection, one realizes that Chile’s education system is divided along class lines.
“Of the 65 countries that participated in the PISA tests, Chile ranked 64th in terms of segregation across social classes in its schools and colleges,” said the BBC article citing Chilean Professor Mario Waissbluth.
Private schools are expensive, thereby limiting access to quality education for students from a low socio-economic background.
“If you are poor,” said Camila LeMaster Esquivel, a Chilean student protester and Ohio University undergraduate, “you go to public schools, which don’t really prepare you for college. These students don’t have the education to pass the exam we all have to take, the PSU.”
The PSU, or Prueba de Selección Universitaria
, is Chile’s equivalent of the United States’ SAT, the standardized test that determines college admission.
There are four types of Chilean higher education institutions
. First are the traditional universities, which only accept the highest PSU scores. There are 25 “universidades tradicionales”, all of which were founded before 1980. Sixteen of these are public and nine are private. Second, there are 39 new private universities. Both the traditional universities and the new private universities “focus on long-term (four to seven years) undergraduate programs that lead to the ‘licenciatura’ [translated ‘degree’] and to professional titles”.
Third are the 48 professional learning institutes. These are private institutes that offer four-year programs for professional degrees other than those awarded by universities. Finally, Chile also has 117 private technical training centers, which offer two-year programs.
According to a student activist video
, those students who attend private high schools, on average, obtain significantly higher PSU scores than students who attend public high schools. Consequently, these students get their pick of universities.
Furthermore, the majority of higher education scholarships, over 50 percent, go to traditional universities, which require high PSU scores.
Students argue that, as a result of privatization, Chile’s schools care less about students’ educational development and more about turning a profit. Banners with the slogan “Education is not for sale” can be seen among crowds of protestors.
“Private institutions of higher education...sell you the degree basically,” said LeMaster Esquivel. “My mom was a teacher in one of the technical institutes of higher education. Well, she had some really bad students who offered money to her to get an ‘A’.... The dean told her that she should take the money and give them better grades. He said they had parents who paid both semesters at the beginning of the year so those girls could not fail.”
Meanwhile, many university students who want an education drop out due to mounting debt. An estimated 60 percent of university students finish their studies.
“Chile’s university fees are on average among the highest in the world,” reported Al Jazeera’s Craig Mauro.
The burden of paying these fees weighs mostly on the families. La Otra Prensa reported
that Chilean families provide 84 percent of resources that finance higher education. Conversely, the global average contribution by families is 31 percent.
Since “no more than 20 percent
of the population could finance the cost of higher education with their own resources”, many Chilean students and families take out loans. The lack of scholarships also drives Chilean students toward loans.
Although the government offered to reduce the interest rate on private loans from 5.6 percent to two percent, similar to that of loans from public universities, taking out a loan is extremely risky especially considering that 40 percent of university students will drop out.
“Students must get a loan to pay for tuition and then their parents get a loan to pay for rent and food,” said LeMaster Esquivel.
Since Chilean universities do not have dormitories, students must find the money for housing and transportation as well.
And oftentimes, transportation means more than a quick bus ride to school. Many students must travel long distances from rural homes to live in the city where the best universities are located. Indeed Chile’s education system is segregated between rural and urban with less funding, more unqualified teachers, and worse infrastructure in rural schools.
The best schools are located in megacities like Santiago. Living in a metropolis like Santiago is far from cheap. LeMaster Esquivel compared a students’ living costs in Santiago to those in New York City. Thus, student protestors are demanding that the playing field be leveled.
Students are determined to have their demands met. Unlike the 2006 protesters, they refuse to let their movement die. Although Chilean President Sebastian Piñera has stipulated that they must stop the protests and the occupations of the schools before the government negotiates with them, the students refuse. Armed with mastery of social media management, the students are continuing
to mobilize the population for equal, quality education for all.
ISSAC PLACKE - 4 OCTOBER 2011
Guatemalan citizens cast their votes in the presidential, congressional, and municipal elections this past Sept. 11. This was the fourth presidential election since the signing of the 1996 peace accords which officially ended a bloody, 36-year civil war.
The results indicate a right-wing candidate, Otto Pérez Molina, as the victor. However, with 36 percent of the vote, he fell short of obtaining the 50 percent plus one vote majority needed to avoid a run-off between himself and the second-place candidate, Manuel Baldizón.
The run-off between the two candidates will be held on Nov. 6.
Looking closely at the campaign raises questions about Guatemala’s future under either of the two candidates, who have had an increasingly violent, expensive, and allegedly corrupt campaign season.
For Guatemalan citizens, the most important issue of the 2011 election has been finding a solution to the instability, crime, and corruption that have plagued Guatemala’s government since the civil war.
According to a 2009 study
by Human Rights Watch, Guatemala has 6,000 murders annually and a 99 percent rate of impunity for violent crime- the highest rate in Latin America.
Such a high level of crime is associated with drug traffickers operating in what is called the “world’s busiest intersection for illegal drugs” by Javier Ciurlizza of the International Crisis Group. Along with Honduras, Guatemala was added to Foreign Policy’s Watch List
for failed states in 2010, which cited the state’s “utter inability to combat organized crime.”
Remarks from the current president illustrate the depth of the drug trafficking problem: “We had not properly evaluated just how deep the infiltration was. We have confiscated $11.5 billion from the traffickers. Imagine how much money they have at their disposal. $11.5 billion is one and a half times our national budget,” said President Colom in an interview with a reporter from Al Jazeera.
President Colom was forced to declare a thirty-day “state of siege” in Guatemala’s northern Péten region last May after 27 people were found beheaded. A message written using a severed human leg from one of the victims linked the killings to drug gangs.
As the election campaign gains intensity, so has the violence. Drug cartels have an invested interest in preventing a strong, autonomous central government as well as maintaining control of regions key for transporting drugs. By means of bribes, intimidation, and murder, the gangs have attempted to maintain their regional influence by ensuring their chosen candidates are elected to office.
This violence was evident in the 2007 elections, which were marked by 60 attacks against officials and the assassinations of 40 candidates running for municipal offices. Between May and June of this year, 20 candidates had already been killed, according to a report by the International Crisis Group. This extreme violence and instability has enabled both lead presidential candidates to gain strong voter support through their policies of “mano dura”—exercising a “strong hand” in dealing with crime. Mano dura has been a phrase used repeatedly throughout this election, most notably by Pérez Molina who described his policy as “zero tolerance for breaking the law.”
Otto Pérez Molina, now 61 years old, is a retired general and congressman. He ran for president in 2007, narrowly losing to Guatemala’s current president, Álvaro Colom.
In both campaigns, Pérez Molina has used his role in assembling the 1996 peace accords and his long career as an officer in the military and chief of intelligence to assure voters of his ability to bring peace and stability to Guatemala.
His campaign slogan promises “character, decision, and a mano dura.” His policies include a government that works closely with a strong military to implement widespread change and clean the government of corruption. “I believe the army is the only institution that has its own internal processes to implement this purification,” he said in an interview with Plaza Pública.
Although his strong-handed policies and distinguished military service have won him the support of many middle and upper class Guatemalans, they have raised alarm among indigenous groups. In a letter
to the United Nations, the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission asked that the UN carry out an investigation into Pérez Molina’s “involvement in the systematic torture of prisoners of war.”
Pérez Molina served as a major in 1982 in the Ixil region of Guatemala, one of the regions most affected by violence. According to the GHRC, “half of all the massacres occurred during this period and in this region. Between 70 and 90 percent of the villages were razed. Acts of torture, murder and mutilation were daily events.”
Alluding to his role as director of military intelligence in 1992, the International Crisis Group described Pérez Molina as “prominent in a counter-insurgency apparatus responsible for repression and human rights abuses.” He has also been linked to the disappearance and torture of Efraín Bámaca Velasquez, a guerrilla commander and prisoner of war.
No investigation by the United Nations has resulted from these allegations.
Similar to Pérez Molina, Manuel Baldizón, a right-wing populist and congressman from northern Guatemala, has also promised a mano dura against crime and corruption. He proposes an increased use of the death penalty, promising public- even televised- executions in Guatemala City’s central square.
Baldizón has received criticism for his political ambiguity. His campaign rhetoric has included goals of social reform and assisting the elderly and poor families, but his policies to bring about these changes still remain unclear. Even in the last month of the campaign, his foremost promise has been to take the Guatemalan soccer team to the World Cup.
Guatemalan politicians have drawn further criticism for the cost of their campaigns. In a country with more than half the population living below the poverty line, politicians in the 2007 presidential elections spent their way to what was called “one of the Western Hemisphere’s most expensive campaigns ever” by Acción Ciudadana, the Guatemalan chapter of Transparency International.
The Tribunal Supremo Electoral, Guatemala’s electoral authority, places a cap of $6.4 million on spending per party. However, parties pay little attention to these laws and the TSE has little ability to enforce them. Last year, parties were estimated to have spent four times this legal limit, according to a report by Acción Ciudadana.
The parties of Baldizón and Perez Molina have been criticized for the cost of their 2011 campaigns, which have already far outspent the candidates in 2007. Both candidates were estimated to have spent $50 to $70 million each in 2011, according to Damien Cave of the New York Times.
The high cost of these campaigns does not necessarily add high quality candidates to the ballot. “Because of the high costs of campaigning, parties tend to sell places on their candidate lists…to the highest bidder. Shared ideology or genuine links to voters matter less than how much money candidates can contribute,” according to a report
by the International Crisis Group.
“No one believes that the candidates spending that level of money received their contributions from cake sales or raffles,” said Mark Schneider, vice-president of the International Crisis Group. “There is virtually no doubt that drug money reached into political campaigns at almost every level.”
The November Election
One factor that could still play a role in the outcome of the November 6 election is Sandra Torres, ex-wife of President Álvaro Colom. She divorced Colom in order “to marry the people of Guatemala,” launching her candidacy as a member of the UNE-GANA party, the National Unity of Hope.
However, the Guatemalan courts ruled her candidacy to be in violation of a Guatemalan law banning relatives of the president from succeeding him. Torres was removed from the ballot on August 8, leading to a series of marches in the capital city protesting her rejection.
Although Torres’ name will not appear on the November 6 ballot, she could still have an impact on the outcome of the election. Her party has yet to endorse one of the two candidates and she still has the widespread support of many indigenous groups, which could number over a million votes, said Anita Isaacs of the Inter-American Dialogue
Whichever candidate wins Nov. 6 will face a presidential term even more arduous than the campaign season. Neither Pérez Molina nor Baldizón is likely to begin their presidency enjoying widespread popularity and will face unifying a divided and distrustful Guatemalan populace in order to overhaul the government and combat powerful drug trafficking. “Both Otto Pérez Molina and Manuel Baldizón have promised to get tough on criminals, but neither candidate has explained how they plan to do it,” said Javier Ciurlizza. “How to change this dynamic will be the most difficult and dangerous challenge facing the winner of the second round.”
KATIE MITCHELL To what extent, and in what ways, do persistent poverty and socioeconomic inequality affect how democracy functions in Mexico today? What policies would be most effective in reducing such inequality?
Socioeconomic classes have segregated the people of Mexico ever since, and certainly before, 1910 (429). During this great “social revolution,” often considered the first of its kind, “nationwide civil conflict” erupted from the country’s ruling class who “saw their future opportunities for economic and political mobility blocked” (430) by the oppressive government at the time. Note that these social evolutions did not originate with the impoverished or the downtrodden, but instead those who desired the expansion of their own interests. This aside, democratic functions in Mexico have been hindered by the perpetuated inequalities between socioeconomic classes, and while this problem is not new, it is also certainly not going to pass on its own. The Mexican Federal Government needs to instate several strong policies to combat the following injustices.
The first and most blatant injustice in terms of poverty in Mexico is the state of the economy: "The vast majority of Mexicans suffered severe economic pain… …directly attributable to government mismanagement of the national economy. Millions of jobs were lost, real wages were stagnant or declining… …savings and businesses were decimated by inflation and currency devaluations, and government benefits for the middle and lower classes were slashed in the austerity budgets necessitated by the economic crises" (427).
The economy was manipulated, not just mismanaged. By means of poor investments, treacherous gambling, and inadequate planning, Mexico’s financial stability is seemingly nonexistent. In fact, by 1938, the economy was considered to be at its peak and since then, economists have designated it to be in a state of “retrogression” (430). Jobs have been lost, foreign investments have dwindled, and international trade has been stifled, leading to poor living conditions for the majority of Mexican citizens; the bottom 20-percent own a mere four-percent of the country’s wealth.
The true economic crisis of Mexico, however, came in the early 1980s under the rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), in which the prices for Mexican oil fell dramatically, causing the state to default on many of their international loans. As 1982 came to a close, Mexico was $80 billion in debt with approximately 40-percent of their export profits covering the interest payments. In attempts to reduce state spending, the government cut funding to programs of great importance to the Mexican people, including social welfare. Many workers were laid off and the traditionally standard of living was drastically undermined. Economic reform was of upmost importance, while the security and equality of citizens fell by the wayside, along with any semblance of political reform. “When walking in the streets of Mexico City, one quickly becomes aware that there exists an economy that is not recognized, licensed, regulated, or ‘protected’ by the government." This imbalance in power and structure can only divide citizens by their natural socioeconomic status and limit the power of Mexican democracy.
Finally, the recent Mexican drug war plays a large role in the imbalance of power and the inequalities permeated throughout society. Cartel leaders use valuable resources not only to push drugs, weapons, and money, but also to create war with the government. While Felipe Calderon did begin a major crackdown in 2006 on the drug cartels and those politicians involved in drug scandals, backlash from the gangs has been just as severe as ever. That is not to say there is not hope for change. Just as Venezuela has made a significant transition from a party-dominated, corrupt, drug-laden country, Mexico too can take strides to better discipline its government, police, and citizens so as to eliminate the extrapolation of basic resources from the middle and lower classes, as is often done. While divided socioeconomically, democracy does not have to suffer and poverty does not have to flourish. The following strategies can further aid Mexico in its quest to repair democratic functions.
In reducing these many inequalities, Mexico must put into place several long-overdue policies and take significant steps towards a more legitimized, stable system of government. Firstly, they must catch-up with international trade markets (428). China has risen exponentially as a major competitor in the global markets and if Mexico wants to compete, especially within the North American Free Trade Agreement, they must “deal more directly with the global economic system.” Additionally, they must modernize to continue to compete with the United States and Canada, especially within their agricultural sector (428); Mexico needs to make their agricultural goods cheaper and engage in more effective methods of production, much like their NAFTA partners have already done, if they hope to stay afloat in a fluctuating international market.
Secondly, Mexico needs to revamp its “antiquated and inefficient labor law[s]” (428) in order to spur greater amounts of job creation as well as more equal worker protection. These changes of law are especially needed in the energy sector, an ever-expanding industry. When dealing with oil, natural gas, and electricity, either government spending on their expansion should increase or private and foreign investment should be considered. While this may call for specific and tedious constitutional changes, some of which not all citizens may agree with, they have the potential to be vital policies aimed at reducing the significant economic inequality Mexico is facing today.
Thirdly, the Mexican Federal Government desperately needs to “expand the tax base to provide the resources needed to address all of these issues” (428), namely socioeconomic inequality. In adapting this tax base across the widely diverse wealth gap, those in poverty will have the opportunity to benefit from a government with money to pump back into the economy in a fiscally responsible manner. Persistent poverty can only be remedied by putting money into a social welfare system so that it can in turn be spent on imperative resources to assist in one’s daily life.
While a not a change in policy by nature, the accountability in political campaigns should also be reevaluated (428). Many “loopholes” exist in terms of government-backed financing for reelection campaigns of the party in power’s candidate of choice. These loopholes should be closed, by which would create a more responsible, transparent, and ultimately democratic electoral system. This more true form of governance would go a long way in terms of proving the legitimacy of the Mexican Federal Government and its ability to eliminate inequalities among its people; if the legislators can spend their money in an unbiased manner, those policies are more likely to carry over into their own legislation.
The Mexican government undoubtedly has problems. Not only are they fighting a major drug war, but they have also previously been heavily impacted by economic crises, political instability, and a deep wealth gap among their citizens. These are not simply problems to rectify, but by following the aforementioned strategies, Mexico can see considerable improvement in the management of the economy, can stimulate both internal and international growth, and put an end to the socioeconomic injustices felt by so many of the Mexican people. In this way, the opportunity for true democracy can flourish.
Works cited: Wayne A Cornelius and Jeffrey A. Weldon, "Politics in Mexico." In G. Bingham Powell, Jr., Russell J Dalton, and Kaare Strom (eds.), Comparative Politics Today: A World View (Boston: Longman, 2012), 426-469.
The Mexican Federal Police have discovered 11 more bodies strewn alongside a main road in Veracruz on Thursday. This news is reported after 35 bodies were found inside several trucks in a shopping mall parking lot earlier last week near Boca del Rio.
The Attorney General of Mexico claims that these killings originated from dealings in the Mexican drug war and suspects the 11 additional bodies are indeed related. “The state cannot, must not and never will allow these types of cowardly actions to go unpunished,” Marisela Morales stated
All victims related to this incident had criminal backgrounds, as research as uncovered, and two minors and a police officer have also been reported missing. The investigation is ongoing, though only scant evidence has been collected, including some security camera footage on the vehicles in question.
The coastal state of Veracruz has certainly seen its fair share of drug-related violence over the years, though has not seen any isolated event as large. This may indicate that the drug war is migrating farther south along the Gulf Coast.
Some reports estimate that 40,000 have already been killed due to the Mexican drug war since the government crackdown, led by President Felipe Calderon, in late 2006.
SARAH VOLPENHEIN - 2 July 2011
Restaveks: Haiti’s Invisible Children
As we flip through the pages of history books or visit a house along the Underground Railroad, slavery seems to be a thing of the past. However, as the saying goes, “history repeats itself”¾or simply lives on. Today slavery is no less a reality than it was 150 years ago when Americans warred over emancipation or when, over 200 years ago, Haiti’s slaves revolted and succeeded in creating the first black republic in the Western Hemisphere.
Today, an estimated 300,000 Haitian children are “restaveks”, or child slaves. Restavek is a Creole term originating from the French words “reste avec”, meaning “to stay with”.
Schools are scarce in the rural regions of Haiti, and families are often desperately poor, with too many mouths to feed. Consequently, rural families often send their children to stay with an urban host family in the hopes that their children will be cared for and educated. However, these children are rarely nurtured and just as rarely sent to school. Rather, they become enslaved; they become restaveks.
One such child was Jean Robert Cadet
, whose impoverished mother died when he was four. He was sent to live with a wealthy prostitute named Florence who raised him as a restavek. Cadet awoke every morning at 5:30 to complete such chores as cleaning the chamber pots and sweeping the yard. The first to wake up each morning, Cadet was also the last to fall asleep.
In addition to being exploited for his labor, Cadet was beaten for even the slightest infraction. Once, after Cadet accidentally broke a glass, Florence struck him across the face with a heeled shoe, causing his eye to bleed and swell shut for several days.
Perhaps more egregious than such physical violence, however, was the denial of any love or affection toward Cadet. Barbara Mustard, a French teacher and friend of Jean Robert Cadet, describes the isolation that Cadet faced as a child: “Jean did not have friends growing up and he never had adult conversation. He had never experienced a hug...before age 16.” As a restavek, Cadet was not allowed to speak out of turn. Because of Cadet’s abject social status, he was denied the privilege to interact, to make personal contact.
Such physical and emotional violence is commonly committed against restaveks. The stigma of inferiority is ingrained into their consciousnesses. For example, restaveks are forbidden to eat at their host family’s dinner table and are afforded only scraps.
In a BBC interview
, Cadet describes the sense of inferiority that shook him years after his life as a restavek: “This particular friend invited me to his home for Thanksgiving, and we were sitting at the table. I broke into a cold sweat. It was my first time at a table with a family, and I faked an illness...just to excuse myself.”
When Cadet was 15 years old, Florence decided to move to the United States, and Cadet followed her to New York. In accordance with New York law, Florence enrolled Cadet in school. He graduated from high school, served in the U.S. military, earned a college degree, and wrote a memoir
Today, Cadet is married with a child of his own. Driven by a vision of love, he now campaigns for the rights of all of Haitian children, for their freedom, for their chance to have a childhood. Through the Jean R. Cadet Restavek Organization
, Cadet works toward the ultimate goal of eliminating the restavek tradition.
However, the deep institutionalization of the restavek tradition in Haiti impedes Cadet’s progress. Firstly, children are not required by law to attend school. Consequently, restaveks have no means of escaping the self-perpetuating cycle of poverty.
Indeed, about 80 percent of Haiti’s population lives below the poverty line
, scraping by with less than two dollars per day! According to a 2009 UNICEF report
, half of Haiti’s school-eligible children are not in school. Furthermore, only 18 percent of primary school students attend government schools. In addition to limited federal funding for education, expensive school supplies and other costs prevent children from attending school.
Secondly, although Haiti ratified UNICEF’s Convention on the Rights of the Child
, Haitian law has yet to implement provisions that would ensure children’s rights. Although in 2003 the Haitian government repealed the provisions of the 1984 Labor Code that permitted child domestic work, child labor laws are not enforced
. Lack of resources is the reason cited for The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs’ failure to enforce regulatory legislation.
The recent January 2010 earthquake only exacerbates the situation. Having decimated the delicate infrastructure of Port-Au-Prince, the earthquake left more children homeless and vulnerable.
Finally, the restavek tradition is so entrenched in Haitian daily life that it no longer fazes most Haitians. Many, especially those who were raised by restaveks, are desensitized to the practice. Cadet comments, “Everybody sees it, and yet those kids remain invisible.”
To confront these barriers, Jean Cadet’s organization raises international awareness, conducts national sensitizing campaigns in Haiti, and develops and implements school curriculum that empowers Haitian children.
In a current project, Cadet seeks to dispel social acceptance of the restavek practice through Haiti’s musical tradition: “What I’m trying to do right now is to change the mentality that is perpetuating the problem, to start a tradition, to have a national singing contest...with lyrics that condemn child slavery.”
Jean Cadet is also pushing for a law that would mandate education for children and lobbying
the U.S. government to exert political pressure on the Haitian government.
Not only does Cadet raise awareness among government officials but also among community members in his current home of Cincinnati. As a guest speaker at schools, he recounts his experiences for high school and college students. Of these students, Cadet says
, “Maybe one or two of them will stand up and say, ‘You know, I remember this story that was told to me fifteen years ago. Maybe I should do something because I’m in a position to do it.’”
Meanwhile, Cadet continues to pursue the mission that he has chased for nearly 12 years, awaiting the day when someone stands up on behalf of Haiti’s children.
SARAH VOLPENHEIN- 16 June 2011Ollanta Humala, Peru’s Next President
On Sunday June 5, 2011, Ollanta Humala defeated
opponent Keiko Fujimori in the Peruvian presidential elections. However, many Peruvians and international observers, including U.S. investors, are uncertain of what Humala’s victory means for Peru.
A populist and a nationalist, Humala belongs to the Peruvian Nationalist Party (PNP). Many investors and right-wingers fear a return to the nationalistic policies that originally dominated Latin America from the 1930’s to the 1950’s and that are currently implemented by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
During this period, nationalist leaders denounced foreign capital in Latin America as imperialistic. Nationalists also promoted protectionist economic policies, such as implementing tariffs on foreign exports and encouraging government ownership of utilities like railroads and of industries like mining.
In fact, the 2011-2016 government plan entitled The Great Transformation written by Humala’s party, the PNP, espouses many ideas reminiscent of mid-1900’s nationalistic rhetoric: “[Peru’s] current approach to development only emphasizes foreign markets” and “[Peru’s] current opening to the world is dependent and subordinate”.
However, nationalist policies did not serve most Latin American countries well in the 20th century as massive spending on social projects and reliance on underdeveloped domestic economies ran their economies into the ground. During the second half of the 1980’s in Peru, President Alan Garcia drove wages up and held prices down, a tactic that resulted in inflation reaching 7,500% by the end of his term in 1990.
Perhaps for this reason, a more radical Humala slinging an anti-capitalist platform lost the presidential election in 2006. Conversely, during this year’s election campaign, Humala has adopted a more moderate tone, promising to keep inflation low and promote a suitable environment for foreign investors. His platform has revolved around a theme of economic growth and social inclusion.
Nevertheless, some are still worried that Humala will pursue radical leftist policies and widespread nationalization once he assumes office in July. Humala did announce, for example, in early April, that he would nationalize Camisea gas if elected. Investors and right-wing citizens worry that Humala’s shift from radical left to left/moderate center was merely a campaign strategy designed to hook centrist voters.
In response to cries of financial and ideological ties to controversial Hugo Chávez , Humala says, “The Venezuelan model cannot be applied in Peru; we won’t because it’s a different reality. We are coming out of a dictatorship, and we won’t return to an authoritarian government where the executive manages the economic policies.” Humala references here the dictatorship under candidate Keiko’s father, Alberto Fujimori, who was sentenced to 25 years in jail following a conviction of human rights violations including kidnapping, murder, and the forced sterilization of tens of thousands of Peruvian women and men.
What Humala does with his presidential power has yet to be seen. If he follows through with his campaign promises, how he negotiates the balance between foreign business interests and domestic social interests will truly be something to witness.
JUNE 14, 2011
In northeastern Mexico, drug traffickers have begun building custom-made “narco tanks” in hopes of expanding their trades farther into the United States. These armored “monster trucks”
serve several purposes: not only have they been built with the intention to transport drugs into the States, but also to return with various weapons to utilize in the Mexican drug war.
These trucks, first utilized by Los Zetas – a cartel based out of Jalisco – are weapons themselves. Built on a three-axle truck bed, each is spacious enough for as many as 20 men inside, complete with benches and air conditioning. Not only are they built with inch-thick steel plating, protecting occupants from 50-caliber weapons and grenade explosions, but they also contain peepholes for snipers and rotating turrets for 360-degree shooting. A battering ram, reinforced with steel, is attached to the front of each truck, allowing for easy demolition of cars and walls. To destroy one of these monster trucks, a military spokesperson stated, one “would have to use anti-tank weapons.”
The Mexican army seized two of these three-ton trucks on May 24 in Tamaulipas – a Gulf Coast state south of Texas – and discovered a covert workshop in Camargo, the town in which they were being built. Two more were in the assembly process and blueprints for 23 additional monster trucks were also found. They were discovered in a drug trafficking raid. Two were arrested and three were killed. To date, 20 monster trucks have been seized in northeastern Mexico, though other secret workshops are suspected to still exist. While these trucks have been used within Mexico’s borders, there have been no attempts at crossing into the United States as of yet.
One must consider the implications weaponry such as this may have on the ongoing drug war in many parts of Mexico; while the entire country is not a dangerous place, parts of it should certainly be avoided at all costs. Let’s be honest: these trucks are not concealable. While illicit drugs and “dirty money” are driven across the U.S.-Mexico border every day, these enormous steel-plated tanks do not exactly blend in with your average motor vehicle. To bring these into the United States, as well as various states in Mexico, would immediately raise suspicion at the border. How do these drug traffickers then intend to pass through security? By force? With their battering rams and sniper hatches? In no way is this an efficient, secretive method of drug transportation across country borders.
Yet internally, this is a huge development in the drug trafficking war for Mexico. In a country where many police and government officials have engaged in corruption and where the war against drug trade has not been particularly effective, these monster trucks, if not contained and eliminated, could be a valuable and very destructive resource for these gangs. Not only would we see an increase in drug and weapon transportation, but we would almost certainly see more deaths of gang members, gang leaders, policemen, and innocent citizens caught in the crossfire. By engaging in combat and potentially bypassing security enforcements, these trucks demonstrate the total autonomy under which the Mexican drug cartels operate.
While “Cleanup Operation,” initiated by President Felipe Calderón in 2008, has had some success in purging corruptible police members from their squads, several high-profile arrests, such as that of Chief of the Federal Police Victor Gerardo Garay Cadena, indicate that this problem is rooted more deeply than many could even imagine. U.S. policies in combating these gangs and the Mexican drug war have also miserably failed in Latin America, leaving these drug cartels to continue to engage in violence, destruction, and illicit drug trade between nations. With these monster trucks, one can only imagine the damage that could be done if not controlled by the Mexican Federal Police.