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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.


Summit of the Americas

23 Apr

Summit of the Americas

Summit of the Americas

Leaders from the Summit of the Americas

The leaders who participated in the Summit of the Americas

Last weekend the leaders from thirty-three countries in the western hemisphere convened in Cartagena, Colombia. It was a vital political event which was marred by the actions of US officials. Although the scandals of the US secret service is what overshadowed the politics, in the media, what happened at the actual summit is of more importance.

Don’t mistake me, I’m not saying the secret service scandal is not newsworthy. The rumor is that eleven US secret service agents who were in Colombia before Obama, to set up security, solicited prostitutes and then would not pay them afterwards. What this scandal is is embarrassing. These are people who were sent to Colombia not only to secure the president’s safety but to represent the US. They definitely reinforced the ‘Ugly American’ stereotype. Many are calling the scandal a metaphor for US’ government’s treatment of Latin America, which I can’t disagree with. US government officials come in and support sex trade in a country where more than likely these prostitutes were forced into prostitution, are minors and/or have to resort to prostitution to feed their children. (For more information of sex trade in Latin America check out Esclavos Invisibles ) This is a serious situation and needs to be investigated but the policies discussed during the actual summit need more attention then they are getting.

This Cartagena summit was the sixth summit, the first was in 1994. The summit was a critical event for US relations in Latin America. Many political analysts say that the US’s influence in Latin America is steadily decreasing, and after the summit I would agree. The summit ended with no final decisions made. This was largely due to the US standing firm in its outdated ways while Latin American leaders disagreed with them. This is in part due to Latin America’s decreasing dependence on US trade and investment. “It seems the United States still wants to isolate us from the world, it thinks it can still manipulate Latin America, but that’s ending,” said Bolivian President Evo Morales, “What I think is that this is a rebellion of Latin American countries against the United States.”

Relations with Cuba is where divide was most apparent. The US and Canada were the only countries at the summit that were opposed to inviting Cuba to future summits. All the other countries refused to agree to continue to exclude Cuba. In fact, Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa did not attend the summit in protest to the exclusion of Cuba. A crowd outside the summit protested for the closure of US’ Guantanamo base. Many in the United States agree that the United State’s stance towards Cuba is outdated and defected. Many of the Latin American leaders believe that in order to democratize Cuba you must interact and participate with it. Which I agree with, as long as human rights and democracy must be promoted during dialogue.

I don’t believe that the US’s poor showing at the summit was directly Obama’s fault. In fact, many of the Latin American presidents applauded Obama for genuinely listening to concerns and being polite. He was able to break the stereotype of US Presidents being arrogant and authoritative. (Side Note: This stereotype always reminds me of the Billy Bob Thornton scene in Love Actually ) And while I do find Obama’s Latin American policies thus far the most frustrating part of his term I cannot entirely blame him for taking an outdated stance on issues brought up at the summit. Although Obama did make changes to Cuba policy, it was not enough and he still supports the embargo. However, it is election year and Obama needs Florida’s vote and the embargo is strongly supported by the anti-Castro population in Florida. Unfortunately, even if Obama did want to take a new stance on policy he doesn’t have the room to with the election coming up.

Another hot button issue at the summit was the drug war and drug policy. It has become apparent that several Latin American countries have become fed up with the violence plaguing their countries due to US drug demand. Countries like Ecuador, Brazil and Colombia have started the decriminalization of drug possession. The big influence in the drug legalization talk has been Guatemala’s newly elected president Otto Perez Molina. President Santos of Colombia has also agreed that drug legalization should be considered. But the US took a firm stance against legalization or decriminalization. The fact is US drug consumption and US arms trade has made Latin America, especially Central America, increasingly violent and dangerous. Homicide rates due to drug cartels and drug trade is on a steady rise in many Latin American countries. While this is a problem created by the US, Latin America needs to focus on corruption as well as failed policy in order to start reducing drug trade.

The one subject that the US did want to focus on was the newly signed Free Trade Agreement between the US and Colombia. The agreement was finalized while Obama was in Cartagena and will be implemented May 15th. The United States is patting itself on the back for demanding improved labor rights in Colombia before signing the agreement. Colombia is the most dangerous country for trade unionists, labor organizers are constantly being murdered. Labor and human rights groups insist that the promises made in the Labor Action Plan have not been fulfilled and human rights abuses and labor organizers continue to be assassinated. When Obama was first running for president he said that he would not support the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia due to the high violence against unions, however once again the US feels they can put a band-aid on a large wound and ignore the problem.

What the summit was was a reminder of Latin America’s increasingly progressive policies, and the United States’ ancient stance on policies in the western hemisphere. Latin America is breaking away from the traditional way of doing things, becoming less dependent on the US. After the summit it was evident that the US is loosing influence in Latin America. It is hopeful that Latin America is gaining independence from Washington, and is now willing to stand up against the US’ bad policies. My hope is that after Obama wins the election this year he will take a stronger stance against US outdated policies in Latin America. Because even as Latin America becomes less dependent on the US the two regions will always need each other, geography dictates it. Hopefully, the next summit will be much more productive, and with far less scandal.

Women Leaders of Latin America

17 Jan
Las Heads of State

Photo credits to Remezcla

With the shocking news of Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s discovery of cancer in her thyroid last month. And the cheerful news last week that after surgery it was discovered that she did not in fact have cancer. I was inspired to write a blog about the women leaders of Latin America.

I have long been curious why Latin America, the land of machismo, has seen so many women leaders and the United States, where feminism rose from, has yet to have a female president. In fact, the first woman president in the world was in Latin America, in Argentina. And over the past couple of years the number of female presidents in Latin America has only increased. I thought that it would be worthwhile to take a look at the women leaders that Latin America has seen and the impacts they have had.

As mentioned earlier, the first woman president in the world was from Argentina. Isabel Peron took office in 1974 when her husband, and then president Juan Domingo Peron died of a heart attack. A former cabaret dancer she was known to the public as “Isabelita”. But unlike Peron’s second wife, Eva Peron, Isabel did not find popularity in Argentina. In fact, her presidency saw much controversy. During her time in office there were several labor strikes and hundreds of political murders. In March 1976, she was overthrown in a military coup and held under house arrest for several years. She finally moved to Spain and in 2007 Argentina ordered an international arrest warrant for Peron. The warrant was for the forced disappearance of an activist in 1976, which was thought to be authorized by Peron. However, Spain rejected the extradition request claiming there was not enough evidence.

Similar to our own Hillary Clinton there have many former first ladies in Latin America whom have bid for presidency, some of whom have won. Within the past year the first ladies in both the Dominican Republic and in Guatemala ran for presidency. In the Dominican Republic First Lady Margarita Cedeño de Fernandez ran for president last year, hoping to take her husband, Leonel’s, place when he steps down this year. She ran an unsuccessful campaign with the slogan “Llegó Mamá” or “Mom has arrived”. She lost her bid for her party’s nomination and now is running for vice-president with presidential hopeful Danilo Medina. In Guatemala the First Lady Sandra Torres divorced her husband, President Alvaro Colom in order to run for president last year. In Guatemala an incumbent’s spouse in banned from seeking election. However, despite her efforts, Guatemalan courts ruled her bid for presidency unlawful and she was excluded from the running. President-elect Otto Perez Molina took office this past Saturday.

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is one first lady who actually won her bid for presidency. In October 2007 she swept to victory in Argentina’s presidential elections and took the presidency over from her husband, Nestor Kirchner. Cristina and her husband worked closely together and were often described as the power couple of Argentina. Sadly, in October 2010 Nestor Kirchner died of a heart attack at the age of sixty. During her presidency Kirchner has frequently butted heads with Argentina’s large agricultural constituency. Many Argentinians also complain that she is obsessed with her image. She has however been praised for her handling of the economy and her promotion of human rights and women rights. During her presidency Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage. In October of last year Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner ran for reelection and won with more than 54% of the votes, becoming the first woman in Argentina to win reelection.

Michelle Bachelet was the first woman Defense Minister in Latin America, she also was the first woman Health Minister. During the Pinochet dictatorship her father was held under charges of treason. While detained her father suffered a heart attack and died. After he died she and her mother were detained and tortured. They managed to exile to Australia due to their military connections. Bachelet later moved to Germany and finally returned to Chile four years later in 1979. She is a pediatrician and epidemiologist with studies in military strategies. In 2006, Bachelet became Chile’s first female president under the Socialist Party winning 53.5% of the vote. During her term, Bachelet focused on free-market policies and increasing social benefits to close the gap between the rich and the poor. In March 2010 her term ended, Chile’s constitution does not allow a second term. But in September 2010 she was appointed the head of UN Women, a new UN agency dealing with gender issues.

The sixth woman to be elected president in Latin America and the first in Costa Rica is Laura Chinchilla. She received her masters degree in public policy from Georgetown University. She served as the Vice-President to Oscar Arias Sanchez. In February 2010 she won her campaign for presidency with 46.76% of the vote. She is considered a social conservative, she emphasizes anti-crime legislation and free trade policies. She is opposed to abortion and opposes gay marriage but has stated the need for a legal frame to provide fundamental rights to same-sex couples.

Dilma Rousseff served as former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s Energy Minister and then later as his Chief of Staff. Rousseff also helped found the Democratic Labor Party. At a young age Rousseff joined a Marxist guerrilla group that fought against Brazil’s military dictatorship. She was captured and jailed from 1970 to 1972 and was reportedly tortured. On October 31, 2010 she was elected the first female President of Brazil a country which is expected to move from seventh to fifth largest economy in the world. She has pledged to continue the social welfare programs started by the Lula administration.

In Nicaragua, Violeta Chamorro came from a wealthy family and was educated in the United States. She took over the controversial newspaper, La Prensa, after her husband Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, who had been editor, was assassinated. In 1990, she ran for president under the National Opposition Union, an anti-Sandinista party. She beat incumbent Daniel Ortega and became president. She was in office for seven years and was credited for bringing peace and stability to the country. However, now Ortega rules the country once again.

In the late 1970s Lidia Gueiler Tejada was the second woman in Latin America to become Head of State. She was chosen as the interim president of Bolivia after temporary president Walter Guevara was ousted and there was an inconclusive election. However, she herself was overthrown in a military coup. In 1997, the vice-president of Ecuador, Rosalia Arteaga, served as interim president for two days. When the former president, Abdala Bucaram was declared unfit to govern by Congress. Arteaga later ran for president in 1998 but lost the election.

In 1999, Mireya Moscoso, a trained interior designer, became the first female president of Panama. Her late husband, Arnulfo Arias served as president three times. She campaigned to reduce poverty and improve education but was accused several times of corruption. She was responsible for the handover of the Panama canal to the U.S.

So how is it that the land of machismo has seen so many female heads of state? I myself continue to struggle with a sufficient answer to the question. One suggestion that political scientists have made is that thirteen Latin American countries have created electoral gender quota laws that require female political representation. It has also been suggested that women have a special vision that is critical to solving social problems, which voters in Latin America see as a pressing concern. I see each case as being different, some have been the country calling for change, some cases have been the country calling for continuation and seeing the predecessor’s wife as a continuation in policy and some have been the country recognizing that the candidate, be it a woman or not is the best. There is one thing for certain, Latin America is far ahead of the United States in female presidents.


26 Oct

Calle 13

Calle 13 at the Fillmore in San Francisco

For those of you not yet familiar with Calle 13, they are a band, whose leaders are siblings from Puerto Rico. They categorize themselves as independent music. They constantly switch up their musical style and sing about social issues in Latin America. Rene (Residente) busts out lyrics that are brutally honest, satirical and intelligent. Eduardo (Visitante) composes music that breathes the soul of Latin America, amazingly intricate and unique. While Ileana (PG13) brings harmony and feminism to the group. Calle 13 sings about social issues from violence, to education, to immigration, to corruption, to poverty. They encourage their listeners to take action and fight for their rights, to unite together for a common cause. They do not sing about these issues in an obvious manner but rather skillfully, intelligently and most of the time upbeat.

I was fortunate enough to be able to go to their concert this past Saturday in San Francisco, where they killed it. They had the whole audience jumping, singing and most importantly thinking. That same day they posted the English translation of the lyrics to their song Latinoamerica. I felt it fitting to turn it into a blog post, one because it is from this song I got the title for this blog, ‘vamos caminando’. Also, because Latin America is one of the central themes of this blog and this song captures the essence of Latin America. It magically captures the beauty, heart, pain and uniqueness of Latin America. This is by far one of my favorite songs and the video is amazing. A beautiful aspect of this song is that instead of choosing some top billboard artist to sing the chorus, that would no doubt have earned them attention from teeny boppers, Calle 13 decided to go the more authentic route. They chose Toto la Momposina(An indigenous Colombian singer), Susana Baca(A prominent Peruvian singer and now Peru’s Minister of Culture) and Maria Rita(A Brazilian singer whose comes from a famous music family), which helps make the song more authentic by having at least four Latin America countries contributing to this song. Obviously, the song is much more powerful in Spanish and more meaningful. The song doesn’t translate over perfectly to English, but the English translation allows those who don’t speak Spanish, to better understand the song and what is being said.

So here is Latinoamerica translated into English:

Verse 1
I am, I am what’s left, I am what’s left from what was stolen from you
A town hidden in the summit, my skin is made of leather that’s why it endures any climate
I am a smoke factory, the hand of a farmer’s labor for your consumption
In the middle of the summer, love in the times of cholera My brother!
I am the sun who is born and the day that dies, with the greatest sunsets
I am evolution in the flesh, a political discourse with no saliva
The most beautiful faces I’ve known, I am the photograph of a missing person
The blood in your veins, a piece of land that’s worth something
A basket(filled) with beans
I am Maradona (soccer player) scoring 2 goals against England
I am what holds my flag together, the spinal cord of my planet, in my mountain range
I am what my father taught me, one who doesn’t love their country doesn’t love their mother
I am Latin America a town without legs but that walks still

Chorus 2x
You can’t buy the wind, You can’t buy the sun,
You can buy the rain, You can’t buy the heat,
You can’t buy the clouds, You can’t buy the colors,
You can’t buy my happiness, You can’t buy my pain

Verse 2
I have lakes, the rivers…I have teeth for when I smile
The now that adorns my mountains, I have the sun that dries my skin and the rain that bathes me
A desert drunk from peyote, a ‘pulpque’ drink so I can sing with the ‘coyotes’ (smugglers)
Everything I need!
I got my lungs breathing clear blue
The altitude that suffocates, I am the molars of my mouth chewing cocoa (leaves)
Autumn with its loose leaves, the verses written under starry nights

A vineyard filled with grapes, a sugar cane plantation under Cuba’s sun
I am the Caribbean sea that watches over the small houses, performing rituals with holy water
The wind that brushes my hair, I am all the saints that hang from my neck
The juice of my struggle is not artificial because my land’s fertilizer is natural

Chorus 3x (Third time in Portuguese)
You can’t buy the wind, You can’t buy the sun,
You can buy the rain, You can’t buy the heat,
You can’t buy the clouds, You can’t buy the colors,
You can’t buy my happiness, You can’t buy my pain

You can’t buy the sun, You can’t the rain
Let’s go walking
Let’s go walking
Let’s draw the path
You can’t buy my life
This land isn’t for sale

Verse 3
My work is rough but I do it with pride, here we share…what’s mine is yours,
This town won’t drown in a rip current and if it crumbles I will rebuild it
I also don’t blink when I look at you, so you can remember my last name
Operation Condor invading my nest, I forgive but I never forget!

Walk with me, here we breathe struggle
Walk with me, I sing because I get heard
Let’s draw the path!
Walk with me, here we are standing on our feet
Long live America!
You can’t buy my life

For me, the chorus addresses the overwhelming corruption in Latin America. In Latin America, monopolies exist and are very apparent. I remember when I was in Nicaragua someone explaining to me that one family owned the major banks, the oil and the major crops. In the Dominican Republic, one family controls all of the sugar production, the major crop there. It is like that all over Latin America, if it is not a family monopoly it is a multinational corporation. And these people who are filthy rich think that they can control whatever they wish, if someone challenges them, or speaks out against them, they have them killed. They buy their influence in politics, the police, whatever they want. However, in this song, while the verses address all of the unique details of Latin America the chorus focuses on standing up to the corruption, saying that they can’t buy everything like they think they can. Somethings are priceless and even out of reach of the most corrupt.

The very end of the song is the most powerful. I believe it is Calle 13 calling the people of Latin America to come together, to progress, to fight for social justice and not give up. While with my blog title I use ‘vamos caminando’, like let’s go on a journey you, my reader, and I. I think here, Calle 13 uses it as let’s move forward, let’s progress or something more like we move forward together.

I want to leave you with Calle 13’s music video for Latinoamerica. That way you can hear the words in Spanish, how beautiful they are, even if you perhaps do not understand them and so you can see how powerful the video is. When I first saw the video I was almost in tears, with the lyrics, the music and the video I’m in aww of how Calle 13 was able to capture what Latin America is, a place that is so dear to so many of us. Calle 13- Latinoamerica

If you are interested in learning more about Calle 13 I encourage you to buy their music, or their documentary Sin Mapa, or better yet go to one of their shows. If you are interested in Latin America my best suggestion is to visit it with an open heart and mind.