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Hugo Chavez is Dead. What is Next for Latin America?

6 Mar
Hugo Chavez

Hugo Chavez

Written March 6, 2013

Yesterday afternoon I started getting messages from my friends and family telling me that Hugo Chavez died. I did not believe it until about the third message at which point I went online and saw the headline. “Wow.” Were the words that spilled out of my mouth. Although I knew that Chavez had been battling cancer for a couple years now and I had even written about Venezuela’s need to have a second in command, I never actually foreshadowed his death. If Chavez was good at anything it was making himself seem like this larger than life figure. For that reason I never thought about him dying in the near future. When hearing of the news all I could think about was what is going to happen now, not only in Venezuela but all of Latin America.

I got on Twitter and started tweeting and re-tweeting about what happened. I started browsing news sources for information. I somehow managed on a TMZ article that briefly informed that Hugo Chavez had died, described him as hating the United States, and ended its article by saying ‘Hugo f**k yourself’. Disgusted by lack of class when I got home I turned on CNN to see if I could get a more educated report. I was frustrated to hear Anderson Cooper  focus on Chavez’s hate for the United States. CNN painted him as a dictator that aligned with other enemies of the US. They spoke of  him as being paranoid for thinking the US had tried to assassinate him before. They spent little time on the story and did not once have any sort of remorseful tone. This single event is great evidence of how manipulative and polar media is in the United States. They mold people’s minds to think the way they want them to, only reporting one side of the story, never the whole thing. I am not saying that Hugo Chavez was perfect. But he was a father and had a family. And he has a great percentage of Latin America mourning his death. The media in the United States should be respectful of that.

When it comes to topics like Hugo Chavez opinions do not have to be black and white, and mine certainly are not. While the media in the United States is reporting only the white, that an evil United States hating authoritarian has died. Latin America is reporting the black side, that Venezuela has lost its leader and Latin America has lost a dear friend. I would say that my opinion is grey. I believe that Hugo Chavez did make great accomplishments for Venezuela while he was leader. I think his animosity towards the United States is completely justified. However, I also think that he made many mistakes as leader, not stepping down being one of them.

Hugo Chavez held the seat of power in Venezuela for fourteen years, if he lived through his current term it would have been twenty. During his time as Venezuela’s leader Chavez nationalized oil which allowed him to spread the country’s wealth. He reduced the country’s poverty by half, extreme poverty by seventy percent. He increased access to health care and education. He focused on the country’s ignored population. Venezuela’s poor loved him, they saw him as a man of the people.

On the other side is Venezuela’s wealthy, who mostly hated Chavez and many of whom fled the country. They blame Chavez for the high inflation and crime rate. Many said he was unable to deal with the country’s violent crime population. I see Chavez’s weakness in not stepping down, he let himself become more important than the revolution.  If he stepped down and allowed someone else in the party to run for election the popularity of the revolution would have been tested. Instead, he used his control to hold on to as much power as possible. While he was president no balance of power existed and only until recently did he appoint a second in command.

Hugo Chavez brought the world’s attention to Venezuela, before the was president the world ignored the South American nation. He was the first democratically elected left presidents in Latin America, and the first that vocally opposed the United States’ control over Latin America. Those that criticize him for hating the US do not know Latin American history. The US has an ugly history of starting wars, taking out democratically elected presidents, colonizing nations and trying to hold all power over Latin America. It is a surprise that more Latin American countries do not loathe the US. Hugo Chavez was not paranoid for thinking that the United States was trying to kill him, although Nicolás Maduro was taking it to a new extreme saying the US gave the political giant cancer. Hugo Chavez survived a Washington backed military coup that tried to overthrow him. He believed that the US tried several times to assassinate him, like it has with his ally Fidel Castro. Sources close to Chavez said that he hoped relations with the US would improve under Barack Obama but lost that hope after the 2009 coup in Honduras, which he vocally opposed.

Now the world is watching Venezuela closely to see what happens on April 14th when the country will vote for the new president. Many say that Henrique Capriles, a lifelong politician, will run for the president’s seat again, he ran against Chavez in last year’s elections. Current acting president Nicolás Maduro, a former bus driver, will run under Chavez’s party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. Political analysts expect Maduro to win. Chavez’s party has more than seven million members. Chavez was able to win the elections last year without really campaigning, as he went through cancer treatments during the majority of the campaign. Many of Chavez’s supporters will vote for Maduro simply because that is what Chavez told them to do before he died. If Chavez’s party continues to rule it is unlikely that relations with the US will improve. Maduro will most likely rule just like Chavez, he has even been speaking like Chavez recently.

I am most interested to see what happens politically in Latin America. Hugo Chavez started a trend of left governments in Latin America, especially South America. Presidents from across the region are expected to come to Venezuela to mourn his death. Unlike in the US, Chavez was a big deal in Latin America and the region is shaken by his death. He was the leader of left governments and opposition to the US. It will be interesting to see if the trend of left governments continues in Latin America after his death.

The most demonized democratically elected president is dead. The political giant has fallen. Now it is time for a new leader in Venezuela, and Latin America.

2012 in review

18 Jan

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,400 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Force Change

30 Nov

Hello faithful readers! As some of you may have noticed I have been missing from action recently. I have taken up an internship writing for the website Force Change. I have been writing petitions on social change, human rights and the environment. Unfortunately,  the internship is taking up a good majority of my free time. Which makes it extremely difficult to continue to blog here. It appears that I will have to put my blog on hold during the internship, but I encourage all of you to follow me on Force Change. Many of the issues I write petitions on are ones I would normally be writing about here. Please take a look at the petitions I’ve written and feel free to sign some!

Thanks for your support,


Domestic Violence in the Dominican Republic

30 Nov

In the Dominican Republic gender-based violence is the fourth highest cause of death among women. Every two days a woman is killed in the country by an act of violence. Domestic violence is something that is culturally accepted in the machismo society. Now, the congress in the Dominican Republic is going to vote on a bill which would ease punishments for domestic violence perpetrators.

The Dominican Republic recently celebrated the fifty second anniversary of the death of the Mirabal sisters. The Mirabal sisters were killed by the Dictator Trujillo, the anniversary of their death is dedicated to them with the International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women. But despite their efforts violence against women is increasing in the country. The Dominican Republic has a very machismo, male dominating, culture which contributes to domestic violence. In the country there is a higher percentage of women to men unemployed and women who are employed make significantly less than men. This makes many women feel powerless towards their husbands. Women feel like they cannot leave an abusive home because they would have nowhere to go. Women are treated as lesser to men. It is common in the country for employers to require pregnancy tests before hiring women. In this year alone Women’s Health Organization estimates that there has been at least 163 femicides reported. UNIFEM reported that 70% of Dominican women experience violence at some point. In the past six years over 1,300 women have been killed in the country due to violence. Men dominating women and domestic violence are part of the culture, education efforts need to be made to change that.

Many domestic violence incidents never have a complaint filed. Many women are not aware of the resources available. The majority of women killed by domestic violence never file a complaint. The system of filing domestic violence complaints in the Dominican Republic is severely flawed. Of the complaints that are filed only four percent receive judgment and less than half receive convictions.  The agencies that are responsible for helping women with domestic violence do not take it seriously. There are not enough offices in the country and the offices they do have are ill-equipped. Those that work in the office are not trained in dealing with domestic abuse. Many women who do file complaints are forced by their partners to retract them. In order to report domestic violence there are many barriers and prejudices that women have to go through.

Despite the tragic domestic violence situation in the country lawmakers are reviewing a proposed bill that would ease punishments for domestic abuse. Domestic violence went unprosecuted for decades; it was not until 1997 that the Dominican Republic passed its first domestic violence law. The proposed bill would eliminate provisions including gender based violence. One provision in the bill would make domestic violence a serious offense, with a maximum sentence of 30 years, only if the result is death or injury that lasts up to 90 days. The current law on domestic abuse determines severity based on the action, not on the physical result. The proposed bill would also reduce the sentence for sexual abuse of a minor from 5 to 3 years. The bill would also eliminate the maximum sentence for incest. The law would also make all forms of abortion illegal, even if the mother’s life is in danger. The bill is a huge step back in women’s rights.

The proposed bill has sparked outcries from women’s rights and human rights groups. People protested the bill outside of the congress building holding cardboard coffins to represent the victims of domestic violence. If the bill is passed it would severely harm women’s rights, in a country that is already unsafe for women.

Venezuela Election: Has changed finally arrived?

7 Oct
Henrique Capriles at a rally last Sunday

Henrique Capriles at a rally last Sunday

Hugo Chávez at a rally on Thursday

Hugo Chávez at a rally on Thursday









Hugo Chávez has held the seat of power in  Venezuela for fourteen years now. But with today’s election Chávez appears more vulnerable than ever before. While Chávez has been battling cancer, his opponent, Henrique Capriles, has been across the country holding rallies. Today, Chávez seeks another six year term which would put him in power until 2019. While polls differ many expect this to be the hardest election for Chávez and more worry about what might happen after the election.

Venezuela is currently at a point where many people are fed up with the poor economy and high crime rate. The rate of emigration in Venezuela has increased, the capital,Caracas, is now nicknamed ‘City of Farewells’. Unemployment is currently around 8% in the country. Government spending is hidden from Venezuelans and there is no transparency in the government. Recently, Hugo Chavez has been an absent leader traveling to Cuba for cancer treatments. Many are saying that he is at the end of his reign. Right when the Venezuelan chief appears to be at his weakest he is facing an opponent who is younger, enthusiastic and experienced.

Hugo Chávez, 58, has solely held the power in Venezuela for 14 years. During his 14 years in power, poverty and illiteracy rates have fallen, but crime and inflation has increased. He has been a political figure that is hard to define. While he has distributed wealth and brought much needed subsidies to the poor, he has also become somewhat of a dictator holding on  to all the power in the country. This past year, Chávez has been more absent than ever before, as he has undergone treatments for cancer. Chávez has never disclosed where he had cancer or what type of cancer he had, but he claims that he is now cured. It is no secret that cancer has slowed down the jugggernaut, as he has been unable to work for long periods of time due to the treatments. In his absence the public has witnessed the weakness of Chávez’s cabinet and his inability to manage. Chávez only appoints people who will not oppose him, not those that could actually help run the government. There appears to be no successor for Chávez, while he has been ailing other government officials appear lost. During this campaign Chávez has been absent from many of the rallies. However, this past Thursday he showed up at the last rally singing and dancing on stage, perhaps trying to show supporters that he is back and just as powerful as ever.

As part of his campaign Hugo Chávez has increased government spending on social programs in order to attract voters. A benefit that Chávez has in te election is that he controls the Venezuela’s airways. On one of the government run TV channels there is a program that shows the government giving keys to new homes or apartments to Venezuelans that are in need. Through this program of government’s giveaways Chávez is able to maintain his popularity despite his absence and the bad economy. His government has pledged to build 200,000 new housing units this year, although the opposition says that those numbers are exaggerated. The program shows Venezuelans receiving keys, crying and proclaiming Chávez’s goodness. What the program does not show is that the government plans to eventually sell the homes they are giving the keys to. Also, in order to speed up the construction of the homes many are not sound and are built poorly. Yet, there are still many Venezuelans that are enthusiastic Chávez supporters and believe he has vastly improved the country.

Running for the opposition is Henrique Capriles, who appears to be Chávez’s toughest opponent yet. Capriles, 40, started his political career at 27 when he became a national congress member. Since then he has also served as mayor and governor. All of the opposition parties came together and voted Capriles as their candidate. His campaign has been a smart, energetic campaign. He has toured the country, oftentimes holding two rallies in one day. Capriles has run his campaign with enthusiasm like Chávez used to. Unlike Chávez, Capriles keeps his rallies and speeches short. Last Sunday, at his closing campaign rally, hundreds of thousands came out to show their support for Capriles.

Henrique Capriles has positioned himself as a centrist. Unlike Chávez, Capriles has a reputation for managerial competence. He has stated that he wants to follow a Braziliam model of business friendly policies. Capriles has promised to continue wealth distribution and social programs, but manage them more efficiently. He has also promised to crack down on the country’s crime. Capriles critics accuse him of having a neoliberal agenda.

Oil is no doubt become a major campaign issue and is key in this election. Venezuela is now number one in the world for oil reserves, the Venezuelan economy is dependent on oil. Whoever wins the election will decide which countries are given priorities to the oil reserves. Although the US says that it is has stayed out of the election, some have accused the US of trying to influence the campaign in order to control Venezuela’s oil. Many oil companies, like BP and Shell, appear to be waiting for the election results to see if they will invest in Venezuela oil. Chávez has promised to continue to reduce Venezuela’s dependence on the US. He also plans to build a pipeline from the Colombia region to the Asian Pacific region in order to distribute easier to Asian countries like China. Capriles has promised to reform all current oil deals, some speculate that he plans of restoring relations with the US. The winner of today’s election will determine which way Venezuela’s oil market goes.

This election is expected to be the closest since Chavez took power. Polling data is Venezuela is manipulated, most of the polls show a wide range of possibilities. Some polls show Chávez ahead, some show the candidates neck and neck. Despite the polls, most US media shows it a extremely close race. Even though Capriles popularity has been rising there are a lot of Venezuelans that are scared to vote for him. Many fear that if they vote against Chávez they could be fired from their government jobs, or lose their government built homes. This year, the government has introduced a new electronic voting system that citizens fear could be used to track their vote. In 2004, the names of those that signed a petition to recall Chávez out of office were made public and some lost their government jobs. Some of Capriles’ supporters have told media that they plan to vote for Chávez because they fear what will happen if they don’t. “The government has sown fear,” Capriles said, “If we can overcome the fear, I believe that we can win this election be a million votes.” Last election, Chávez won by 62%. With discontent for Chávez rising, Capriles has gained popularity. Capriles is most popular in urban slums, while Chávez remains the favorite in rural areas. While it is clear that Chávez won’t win by 62% percent this year, analysts predict a close election but still show Chávez as winning.

The question is what the outcome of today’s election will bring to Venezuela. If Henrique Capriles wins the revolution dies, if Hugo Chávez wins the revolution will live on, as long as he is alive. Economists say that no matter who wins Venezuela faces a grim economy. Many Venezuelans fear uprise if Chávez wins butalso if the opposition wins. Chávez says that he will accept the results no matter what, but his supporters have said they will protest if he looses. Many expect the opposition to ask for a recall of votes if Chávez wins, some of the opposition says that there will be violence in the streets if Capriles does not win.

Without a doubt this is a critical election for Venezuela and will determine the direction of the country for the next six years. The world holds is breathe for the results as this election will determine what happens to the world’s biggest oil reserve. Henrique Capriles could be the end of Hugo Chávez’s reign, he could take Venezuela from extreme left to more centrist. However, there is no doubt that Chávez still has many enthusiastic supporters who are willing to fight for him. Jonathan Watts said it well, “On a global level, Sunday’s election is about who controls and distributes one of the world’s biggest recoverable oil reserves. For ideologues, it is a frontline battle between Bolivarian socialism and neoliberalism. But for most Venezuelan voters, it is about safety, fairness and a character who arguably inspires more love and hate than almost any other politician in the world.”

Danilo Medina Becomes President of the Dominican Republic

17 Aug
President Danilo Medina & former president Leonel Fernandez, photo via Diario Libre

President Danilo Medina & former president Leonel Fernandez, photo via Diario Libre

President Danilo Medina and Vice President Margarita Cedeño, photo via Diario Libre

President Danilo Medina and Vice President Margarita Cedeño, photo via Diario Libre

Thursday morning at the National Assembly in Santo Domingo, Danilo Medina became the 56th president of the Dominican Republic. For twelve years Medina had been fighting for the seat of power in the country, which he finally won. Medina’s inauguration speech was chalk full of promises many Dominican citizens have long been waiting for. While Medina’s speech left many hopeful, it also left many wondering what he is actually going to get accomplished. His words were good, but now the Dominican public is waiting for action.

In part of his inauguration speech Medina declared, “Today I assume the most significant commitment for a public man, to defend and dignify my country. With a heart full of joy I promise to deliver the best of me for the welfare of my people and the greatness of my country.” Medina kept that same mood of hope and promise throughout his speech touching on subjects such as corruption, education, heath, poverty and tourism. He announced several new programs and plans of reformation.

Part of Medina’s focus during the speech was crime, security and corruption. In the Dominican Republic, as in much of Latin America, corruption is blatant and a big source of corruption comes from public officials, like politicians and police. In his speech Medina promised to put an end to the impunity and create a code of ethics for public figures. He said he would contribute to develop and to fortify the moral and ethical government that he promised during his campaign. With that promise Medina announced the creation of a new program, Vivir Tranquilo (Live Calmly) , the program will fortify police presence in neighborhoods of high crime.

As part of his civil safety policies Medina plans to reform the National Police, including improving agents salaries, getting better equipment and transforming the academy. Hopefully, the National Police improves as they are now unmotivated to protect citizens and regularly stop motorists just to ask for pocket change. Medina also plans to have a center of information with a map of crime in the country in order to start taking preventative action. In the next couple of months he said he will announce the details of the operation to create a 911 system to better attend to citizens during an emergency. “I want to reiterate once more my firm commitment to the life and the security of our men and women.  I do not want a town that is scared to go on the street, I do not want any more of our youth losing their lives, no more homes destroyed by the violence” Medina declared.

During his speech Medina also stated his plans to boost the economy through increasing one of the country’s greatest revenues, tourism. He declared that he set a goal of bringing ten million tourists to the country in the next decade. He plans on doing this by making Dominican tourism more inviting to private investors by the execution of programs and projects that are considered priorities. He hopes that the efforts will encourage the industry of cruises to make the Dominican Republic a home port of the Caribbean.

Energy has long been a problem in the Dominican Republic. Electricity comes and goes through out the days in homes, and those who are not wealthy enough to have a generator have to make do with no electricity for good portions of the day. Medina declared that by 2016 the energy problem will be over. He is creating the Department of Energy and Mines to be “like an organ responsible for the formulation, evaluation and control of the strategic politics of the energy sector of our country.” He declared the energy sector a high priority for the national economic development.

Poverty and development were also big focuses in Medina’s speech. He announced a new program, ‘Land Without Misery’ that will focus on the most vulnerable populations. The program’s goal is to reduce poverty and social inequalities, to promote and defend the family economy and to contribute to the nutrition of the country. Medina hopes that the new program will break the vicious cycle of poverty in the Dominican Republic. He also plans to revise health care in order to make sure that all impoverished families are incorporated into the Family Health Insurance Program. He hopes that health care changes will decrease maternal and infant deaths. Social issues need to be at the focus of the Dominican Republic’s politics as a great majority of the country lives in poverty.

What I saw as one of the great achievements that came out of Medina’s speech is his promise to focus on education and his acknowledgment of the 4% movement. For over a year the Dominican public has been pleading the government to dedicate 4% of the GDP to education in order to battle illiteracy and the country’s poor quality education, the plea has even become a social movement. In his speech, Medina promised that in 2013 the country will invest 4% of the GDP in education, and he also stated that he plans to restructure the Ministry of Education. Medina said that by 2016 he plans for 80% of schools to incorporate eight hour days, with enriched curriculum and the necessary resources for good learning. (Currently most schools in the Dominican Republic have half days) Medina promised to end illiteracy in the country by September 8, 2014. He acknowledged that education is crucial for a strong society.

In his speech Medina called the Dominican citizens to action. “The time has come, let’s get to work, without weariness, without stinginess and without reservations.” He told Dominican citizens “We are all united in this work. Continue to do what is right, correct what is bad and do what you have never done before.” Medina’s speech was inspiring, it focused on what needed to be focused on and made essential promises. However, while the speech left many inspired, it left many interest groups asking where he plans to get the money to fulfill his promises. Medina is coming into a government that has severe economic problems, with a deficit that surpasses 50,000 million pesos. Many are doubting that he will be able to accomplish much, since there is so little money. Medina himself addressed the worry admitting that he will not be able to fulfill all of his promises, at once. While words are good, and Medina definitely talked a good talk during the inauguration speech, actions hold more value and many are waiting to see just what actions Medina will take. Medina’s former running mate Hipolito Medina said, “My support of Medina will depend on his acts.”

I would love to see everything that Danilo Medina promised during his inauguration come to pass. The Dominican Republic is in need of citizen security, the end of corruption, quality education, literacy, effective electricity and social services. However, I like many, wonder what Medina will actually be able to get done. Much like Barack Obama who came in with high hopes and several promises, poor economy can stand in any politicians way. Medina’s inauguration did bring a new hope to the country, but now it is time for action.


27 Jul

Soy Puerto Rico Independiente Movement

Soy Puerto Rico Independiente Movement

Soy Puerto Rico Independiente Movement

Soy Puerto Rico Independiente Movement

Two days ago Univision congratulated Puerto Rico on its independence. Problem is, Puerto Rico is not independent, July 25th is Constitution Day for the US territory. The colonization of Puerto Rico is something often forgotten by the world, ironically, especially by those in the United States. Many forget that Puerto Rico is still an US territory, an ancient term that does not seem to belong in this century. Puerto Rico does not have the freedom of being its own country, it is unable to self govern or have its own democracy. Nor is it a state, and does not have state rights. While Puerto Ricans are able to vote in primary elections, they are unable to vote in the actual presidential elections, proving they do not hold the same rights as US citizens. For over a century people in the Puerto Rican Independence Movement have been fighting for Puerto Rican’s independence. Now, with social media the movement is getting new attention and drawing support from across the world.

In 1898, after four hundred years of Spanish colonization Puerto Rico received sovereignty with the Charter of Autonomy. Only a few months later, the United States claimed Puerto Rico with the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American war. During the 20th century the Puerto Rico Independence movement, the Nationalist Party, grew. Violent confrontations like the Ponce Massacre and the Rio Piedras Massacre showed the brutality the United States was willing to use to maintain control of Puerto Rico. Many who fought for Puerto Rico’s independence were killed without trial. In 1948, Law 53, better known as the ‘Gag Law’ was passed. The law made it illegal to display a Puerto Rican flag, speak of independence, hold an assembly regarding Puerto Rico’s status, or sing a patriotic song. The ‘Gag Law’ remained in force for nine years. These actions sent a strong message that although Puerto Ricans were US citizens the protections of the US constitution did not apply to them.

In 1952, the US allowed Puerto Rico its own constitution. However, the constitution was subject to US laws and had to be approved by the US government. In 1954, four Nationalists opened fire in the House of Representatives in Washington DC. They displayed a Puerto Rican flag and yelled ‘Long live a free Puerto Rico’. They wounded five representatives and were all imprisoned. Twenty five years later they were released and received a heroes’ welcome when they arrived in Puerto Rico.

In 2007, a bill was introduced in Congress that would have provided a referendum giving Puerto Ricans the ability to decide if it wanted to become an US state or become a sovereign nation. While the bill received bi-partisan support in the House of Representatives it was never voted on in the Senate before the Congress ended. In 2009, another almost identical bill was introduced that again was not voted on before the Congress ended.

In the middle of June of this year an online campaign spread throughout social media and the internet. The campaign led by the group MRC13 inspired people to write ‘Soy PR Independiente’ (I’m Puerto Rico Independent) on their bodies and post the picture online. It was not long before the campaign gained popularity and momentum. People from Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Peru and Chile participated in the campaign.

MRC13, Revolution Movement Calle 13, is a movement compromised of people from various countries that believe that change starts with education. It is a group, a movement inspired by the lyrics of Calle 13, a Puerto Rican music group.

MRC13 started the ‘Soy PR Independiente’ campaign after the vocalist of Calle 13, Rene Perez, met with Uruguayan president, Jose Mujica, and Argentinian president, Cristina Fernandez. At the meetings Perez spoke about how Puerto Rico should be included in meetings and summits of Latin America, such as the recent Summit of the Americas in which Puerto Rico was absent from. Perez also urged the importance of the decolonization of Puerto Rico. “Like Puerto Rico and like Latin America, it is important to not let the decolonization of my land turn into a forgotten subject. On the contrary, we should unite to require compliance of UN resolution 1514 of 1960, that requires the immediate limitation of colonialism, more so when in the 21st century there is only a score of colonies left in the world,” Rene was quoted saying at his meeting with Argentina’s Fernandez. It was these meetings that inspired MRC13 to launch the ‘Soy PR Independiente’ campaign.

Calle 13 at the 2011 Latin Grammys

Calle 13 at the 2011 Latin Grammys

Calle 13 has long been vocal on political issues in Puerto Rico, from Puerto Rican independence, to police corruption and education reform. In November, the group was nominated for an unprecedented ten Latin Grammys , nine of which they won. The group opened up the award ceremony with their song ‘Latinoamerica’. Rene, known for wearing shirts vocalizing political issues, wore a shirt that said ‘Una Sola Estrella Libre’ (Only one star free) with the Puerto Rican flag on it. Back in 2009, Rene was asked to co-host the Latin MTV Music Awards. While co-hosting he wore a shirt that said ‘Viva Puerto Rico Libre’ (Long live a free Puerto Rico). While hosting he said, “Latin American is not complete with out Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico isn’t free.”

What is confusing to me is why the United States does not receive more international criticism for having one of the world’s last colonies. More confusing is why those in the United States, a country that prides itself on freedom and independence, are okay with its country colonizing. I find it hypocritical that the United States has a colony, when it was so against being a colony to Britain and says that it is a promoter of democracy. The surge in Calle 13’s popularity over the past few years and the creation of MRC13 brings hope to the Puerto Rican Independence Movement. Hopefully, through social media more of the international community will recognize the need for Puerto Rico’s freedom and support the movement. Meanwhile, Puerto Ricans continue to fight to maintain their culture and national identity amidst colonization.

Paraguay: Coup or no Coup?

23 Jul

Forty years ago, coup d’etats happened all too often in Latin America. Now, with Honduras’ coup d’etat in 2009 and Paraguay’s recent removal of the President it appears that Latin American democracies are not as stable as hoped. Latin America’s ‘soft’ democracies are proving to be too vulnerable. Paraguay’s recent hasteful impeachment of President Lugo raises concerns of a new kind of coup on the rise. Not a coup with troops and tanks, but a ‘constitutional coup’.

President Fernando Lugo was voted into office in 2008. His presidency brought an end to the six decade ruling of Paraguay’s right-wing Colorado party. Lugo promised land reform and threw his support behind the country’s landless peasants. However, the Paraguayan congress is controlled by Lugo’s opposition, the Colorado party, who made it nearly impossible for Lugo to get anything passed. Today, 2% of Paraguay’s population owns 80% of all arable land.

On June 22nd, Paraguay’s Colorado party controlled congress voted 39-4 to impeach Lugo, accusing him of encouraging land seizures. In April, sixty campesinos occupied land owned by a former Colorado party senator. By June security forces arrived to evict the campesinos from the land. The confrontation that followed left 11 campesinos and six police officers dead. The Colorado party saw this as an opportunity to move against Lugo, they blamed him for the violence that took place and moved forward with impeachment.

Lugo’s impeachment trial lasted less than 24 hours. His request for more time in order to mount adequate defense was denied. Lugo was only given two hours to defend himself. The next day, he was removed from office and Vice-President Federico Franco assumed presidency. Franco, of the Liberal Party, has been a fierce critic of Lugo. Lugo chose him as vice president in order to get the Liberal Party’s votes, however in Franco he did not find an ally.

While the rush of the impeachment trial is highly questionable, Paraguay’s legislature insists it was legal. Regardless, Lugo’s ouster has turned into a political crisis for Paraguay. Mercosur and Unasur trade blocs have suspended Paraguay from participation. Several Latin American leaders have declared it a coup d’etat. Uruguay, Brazil, Venezuela and Chile have all pulled their ambassadors from the country. Venezuela has even halted all shipments to Paraguay. On Monday, the European Parliament began a fact-finding mission in Paraguay to investigate the legality of the impeachment. The Organization of American States is against suspending Paraguay saying that doing so would create more problems for the country.

While some are blaming the oligarchic Colorado party, some are raising the question about the United States’ involvement in the political shake-up. While there is not evidence proving the US’ involvement, it was no secret that Washington was not pleased with Lugo. Before Lugo’s presidency, the Colorado government cooperated with Washington’s ‘New Horizon’ program which deployed marines to the country. It is thought that while the ‘New Horizon’ program was publicized as health work its real intention was for the US to have troop presence in Paraguay, which is geographically close to many socially left Latin American countries. However, when Lugo assumed the presidency he cut off US troop presence and deployment in Paraguay, which obviously upset the US. Lugo stated that he wanted to maintain good Paraguay-US relations, but it was no secret that Washington political elites remained bitter. The last couple decades Latin American politics have seen a shift. As the most recent Summit of the Americas proved US has lost much of its influence in the region it once dominated. Also, several Latin American governments have moved left, hurting US corporate interests in the region. The election of Lugo was yet another step in this direction and his ending of the ‘New Horizon’ program proved it.

US transnational companies have already benefited from Lugo’s removal. Within a week of the impeachment US Crescent Global Oil, whose contract had been terminated under Lugo’s administration, met with Franco and announced plans to invest 10 million in new oil exploration. Additionally, US-based soy companies will benefit from Lugo’s impeachment since Lugo’s ban on GMO crops has since been repealed. It would not be ludicrous to think that the US had involvement in Lugo’s removal. In the 1950s Guatemala’s president decided to give land not being used by the United Fruit Company, now known as Chiquita Banana, to landless peasants. United Fruit Company called up its contacts in Washington and a coup d’etat was soon staged, triggering a 36 year civil war.

In April, Paraguay will hold elections. The best hope for the country is that the elections are fair, transparent and that they restore democratic order to the country. Whether or not what happened in Paraguay is a coup d’etat or not, it was unjust. President Fernando Lugo was not given a chance to defend himself, his verdict had been decided before the trial started. This is just further proof that Latin American democracies are still weak and vulnerable.

Los Ranchitos

18 Jul

Here are some pictures from my recent trip to the Dominican Republic

Los Ranchitos

Los Ranchitos

River in Los Ranchitos

One of the creeks in Los Ranchitos

Some of the donated supplies and medicine

The busy waiting room of the clinic

One of our volunteers with Judy’s uncle, a diabetic with amputated legs

A store in Los Ranchitos

Homes in Los Ranchitos

Judy cooking breakfast for us in her home

Two cousins who shine shoes after school to make money to bring home to their mothers

Escape is Often Needed

18 Jul

Two girls outside their home in Los Ranchitos

I realize that I have been missing in action recently, not posting blog posts as frequently as I would like. And while I was having some WordPress difficulties trying to posts updates about the Presidential election, which has since past now that my blog seems to be fixed. I have also been busy with something much more exciting.

Towards the end of May, right after the elections, I headed to the Dominican Republic to start a new project of mine, Mariposa International. As of now, Mariposa International takes volunteers to the Dominican Republic to experience the culture and volunteer. For our first trip we brought five medical professionals who spent a week in the capital taking Spanish classes and going on tourist excursions. The second week we stayed in San Jose de Ocoa and worked in a small town named Los Ranchitos. We brought luggage filled with medical supplies and boxes full of medication to the clinic in Los Ranchitos. A clinic who normally sees about fifty patients a day and is run by one doctor sent from the capital to spend her year-long residency working in Los Ranchitos.Over the course of three days our medical volunteers saw about 120 patients.

While this was the first trip and had the as to be expected hiccups, the trip was overall successful. After the trip, I have even more ideas for Mariposa International floating around in my head than before. While our focus as of now is to take different volunteers from the US to the Dominican Republic to work we have many other projects in mind for the future. In December, we will be launching a new program, yet to be named, bringing Christmas to the kids in Los Ranchitos. We will be taking down toys and clothes that we will distribute to the kids in Los Ranchitos at a holiday party.

The future and possibility of Mariposa International excites me. It was a lot more work than expected but I’m so excited for the growth of the organization. But for me, just being in Latin America is a breath of fresh air. Here in the United States we are so obsessed with living the ‘American Dream’. We live a life driven by consumerism. We always want the latest clothes trend, the newest shoe, the hottest hairstyle. We are unknowingly focused on ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ (or nowadays the Kardashians) as we want our homes filled with the nicest items to impress our friends. This drive of consumerism turns us into hoarders. In order for us to keep this hoarder lifestyle we become obsessed with work. We are like animals pushing down others in order to get what we want, success and promotion. We spend five days a week tied to a desk, glued to a computer in order to get the paycheck we so desire. We give ourselves only two days a week to do want we want, which normally turns into errands we can’t get done the rest of the week. Most of us are convinced that this is just the way of life, and that finding a job that you love is as likely as winning the lottery. This is the reason I need to get away to the Dominican Republic, or Latin America in general, to remind myself that this consumerism, work obsessed gloom is not life.

Los Ranchitos, the town we were working in, is a small town bordering the road that connects Ocoa to the capital. Almost none of the homes in Los Ranchitos have running water and many do not have electricity. The common house has a cement floor, tin roof, wood walls, curtain doors and outside kitchens and bathrooms. Most people in the town, if not tradesmen like a father taught mechanic, work on local farms and orchards. What Los Ranchitos lacks in fortune it makes up in beauty. Los Ranchitos is naturally beautiful surrounded by lush green mountains and a river with creeks running through. The people in Los Ranchitos are not consumed by the desire to buy new things, they are not obsessed with having the new trend. They are happy if they go through a full day without the electricity going out, they are happy when they have some extra change to buy a cold Presidente, the national beer. One thing I’ve always loved about Dominicans is that they do not need a good reason to get together with their friends. They leave their job stress at the office and meet their friends still in their work clothes, they don’t put their life on hold during the week, only allowing themselves fun on the weekend. Even when I have visited offices in the Dominican Republic people often seem to be having fun, joking around with co-workers. Being in the Dominican Republic always reminds me of what life is really about, not being stuck in an office, not being obsessed with having the latest trend, not about keeping up with anyone. Life truly is about family, friends and being happy.

While the American Dream is perhaps false there is something that we benefit from in the United States which is our healthcare. While our healthcare system isn’t as accessible as it should be it is better than in most countries. Most of the patients we saw in Los Ranchitos were in the clinic for routine, non grave issues. However, some of the patients definitely stuck out in my mind. Judy, the woman who opened her house to us and cooked for us all week brought as to see her uncle and aunt. Her uncle is a diabetic who has amputated legs and is in a wheelchair. His wife was recently hit by an automobile and is now also in a wheelchair. Another patient who stuck out to me is a twelve-year-old boy who came in for a common cold. He was so sweet but so shy. When the nurse I was working with left to get medicine the woman he was with started to explain to me that she is not his mother. She explained to me that both of his parents were hit by a truck and killed, leaving him an orphan. The woman who was with him was the local pastor, who had since taken him in and has been raising him. Right after him a mother and her fourteen year old son came in. The doctor who works in the clinic pulled me aside when they were coming in to explain to me that the mother is HIV positive. They are Haitian which means Spanish isn’t their first language and the boy is unable to go to school. The mother’s health is in poor condition, she had bad rashes and scabs up and down her legs and pneumonia. Although the Dominican government provides free AIDS medicine to those who cannot afford it, the closest place for the mother to go to get it is Ocoa. When we asked her why she had not been going to get her monthly medicine she said it was because she did not have the money to get to Ocoa, a trip that costs about $1.25. We considered giving her the money to get to Ocoa, but realized that she probably would end up spending the money on her children not herself, also it is a regular treatment that she needs. Without proper treatment, that we were unable to provide, this mother will not live for very many more years, leaving her now fourteen year old son to take care of the family. Throughout the appointment it was obvious the shame that this mother felt, she did not make eye contact and sat in a submissive manner. In the Dominican Republic, Haitians are treated as outcasts, I could not imagine being a Haitian with HIV in the Dominican Republic. I hope that Mariposa International will eventually be able to help these patients more, by a scholarship program or some other way. These patients made me realize just how lucky we are, even for the little things. The kids were so amazed by the toothbrushes we gave them, and the mothers so thankful even for soap. To be healthy, to have a healthy family is more than enough.

Even for me, someone who has been traveling to the Dominican Republic for ten years now, each time is a new experience. A new reminder to be thankful for what we have, a reminder that life is not work, that life is not about what you own. I am excited to continue to bring volunteers to this country I love so much, to open their eyes to a new world outside their own. I hope that future Mariposa International volunteers will develop a love for the country and people and realize what is truly important in life.