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.

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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.

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.

The US backs Honduras’ instability and deaths

28 Mar
Honduran Newspapers display the latest gruesome killings. Image by Nick Miroff

Honduran Newspapers display the latest gruesome killings. Image by Nick Miroff

The last couple years in Honduras have been reflective of Latin American politics fifty years ago. Honduras has experienced a military takeover, an unstable government and blatant human rights abuses. Any opponents of the government or human rights workers are being killed or disappeared. All while, the United States works as an ally to the corrupt government, funding the very police and military that are killing the citizens. And like in most cases in Latin America, the majority of the international community is unaware.

In June 2009, Honduran military stormed the presidential palace and took Manuel Zelaya, democratically elected president of Honduras. They put him, still in his pajamas, on a plane to Costa Rica. It was the first military coup in Central America since the cold war and was triggered by Zelaya’s effort to change the constitution to lift presidential term limits.

The next day soldiers guarded government buildings and tanks patrolled the streets. Electricity was cut off in the country most of the day in what reports suggested was by military order. Zelaya denounced the coup and insisted that he was still the president of Honduras. However, Congress that same day voted him out of office and voted Congress leader Roberto Micheletti as interim president.

The coup was condemned by many western leaders. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales both denounced the coup. The European Union called for the return to constitutional normality. Human Rights Watch called for democracy to be restored and the Organization of American States called for Zelaya’s return and said it would not recognize any other government. US President Obama called Honduran officials to respect democratic norms and the rule of law saying, “Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference.”

The ousting of Zelaya only created a slew of problems for the Central American country. The interim president Roberto Micheletti instituted a curfew for the country. Congress issued an order suspending civil liberties during curfew. Towards the end of June the ambassadors from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua all claimed to be detained and beaten by Honduran military and then eventually released. The military government also shut down the media including TV stations, radio stations and newspaper’s websites. Meanwhile, across the country there were protests in support of and against Zelaya’s removal. Several of Zelaya’s allies and supporters were detained by the military.

In November, the military government of Micheletti continued on with elections trying to maintain an image of democracy. Many international election observer groups shunned the election, so it was hard to prove its legitimacy. The governments of Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela all declared they would not recognize the elections since they were taking place during a coup they were deemed as illegitimate. However, the United States said that it would accept the election as a way out of the crisis. Many critics of the election protested in the streets and were dispersed by tear gas. Porfirio Lobo, Zelaya’s former opponent ended up winning the election.

An article in the New York times calls Lobo’s government ‘a child of the coup’ with most of the same officials as the coup. While the US continues to recognize Lobo’s government Honduras has become a country overrun by human rights abuses and impunity. Honduras is now the most dangerous country for journalists in the western hemisphere with at least thirteen journalists killed during Lobo’s administration. Lobo’s security forces are responsible for violence against political opposition, journalists and small farmers, with no repercussion for their violence. In 2010, Lobo’s first administration year there were 61 politically related killings reported, in 2011 there was 59. According to the UN, Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate. In a poll taken last year seventy-two percent of Hondurans stated they do not feel safe with the police force.

In May 2011, an agreement was negotiated which let Zelaya return to Honduras and let Honduras rejoin the Organization of American States. The agreement was reached by Lobo and the Venezuelan and Colombian governments. One condition in the agreement was the protection of human rights, however the agreement has not slowed down human rights abuses.

In February of this year, an overcrowded prison in Honduras caught fire and killed more than three hundred people. The story brought much-needed international attention to Honduras. It brought attention to Honduras’ government’s impunity with light shown on the fact that the jail was overcrowded, many prisoners had not been convicted and there was no evacuation plan. However, attention soon faded and the international media never focused Lobo’s administration, the murders of journalists and the political killings.

On March 6th, US Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Honduras. The trip did not focus at all on the murder rate in Honduras. In fact Biden stated that the relationship between the two countries grew stronger by the trip, meaning despite the human rights abuses the US continues to support Honduras with a blind eye. Biden’s trip only focused on drug policy.

On March 9th, 94 members of the US House of Representatives submitted a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her to suspend US assistance to Honduras due to the human rights violations. But the letter did not get media attention and was looked over by Clinton and the State Department. In fact, Obama’s administration did the opposite asking an increase to Honduras military aid in 2012.

While I support Obama, much more than any of the GOP candidates, I feel this is by far one of his administration’s hugest mistakes. It pains me to know that my tax dollars are paying the police and military who are killing human rights activists and journalists. People who think like me, who believe human rights should be protected are being killed with my money, only because of their beliefs.

What lies ahead for Honduras is unclear. The human rights defenders on the ground in Honduras definitely need more support. They need stronger backing from other Latin American governments, from international organizations and from the US. Right now, the US government is standing against the human rights defenders. The US needs to stand with them and cut off all aid to Honduras’ police and military until the killings and disappearances stop. As an international community we need to ensure that the murder of a human rights activist or journalist does not go unnoticed. When Lobo’s government feels the pressure of the international community perhaps human rights defenders will be allowed to do their work instead of being killed for speaking their mind. Until then, unfortunately there is little hope for Honduras as those who try to change it are killed.

What can you do? For starters, let President Obama know how you feel.

The Political Stage in the Dominican Republic

27 Jan

Hipólito Mejía

Hipólito Mejía

Danilo Medina

Danilo Medina

The world of politics in the Dominican Republic is one which is overrun with blatant corruption. Where knowing the Head of State will secure your finances as long as they are in office. Where being appointed to a government position has nothing to do with your experience or educational background but rather who you know and who you are friends with. Where there has been more constitutions, thirty-eight in total, than any other country, an indicator of the political instability. Where people are murdered for trying to expose the truth or change the system. Where political events rarely receive international attention. And now where the country is gearing up for an exciting presidential election this May.

Political discussions in the Dominican Republic sound nothing like those here in the United States. Rarely do they consist of whose policies are better, but instead they focus on who will feed the family more. In the campos, the rural countryside towns, it is a long-standing practice for a campaigner to go and hand out money, bags of rice and liquor to those in need in order to secure a vote. In the capital it consists more of which candidate a family has connections to, because those connections will lead to paychecks. In the Dominican Republic a person can go from living on a dirt floor to living in a huge mansion all based on who they know in the government. But Dominican voters also make it no secret that they are tired of the corruption dominating their country.

Democracy is still very new to this small Caribbean nation. A democracy which political scientists would call a ‘soft democracy’ meaning still very vulnerable and new. The early 1900s saw US occupation in the Dominican Republic. In 1930 began the rise of the ruthless, brutal dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. Trujillo was finally assassinated in May 1961 after more than thirty years of forced disappearances, torture, terrorist methods against opposition and genocide. In 1966, after five years of unrest and military rule Joaquin Balaguer, the last puppet-president of Trujillo, won the presidential election. Balaguer remained in power as president for twelve years, his presidency was filled with human rights abuses and repression of civil liberties. In 1978 the Dominican Revolutionary Party(PRD) rose to power with President Antonio Guzman Fernandez (who is suspected of committing suicide while still in office) and then in 1982 with Salvador Jorge Blanco. During the rule of the PRD the Dominican Republic saw restoration of human rights and a more liberal style of government. However, Balaguer regained the presidency in 1986 and held the position for the next decade. But Balaguer’s victory in 1994 brought on strong international criticism of fraudulent elections so Balaguer agreed to serve only two years of the four-year term. Mind you in 1994 Balaguer, who had ruled the country for several decades, was now eighty-eight years old and completely blind.

Leonel Fernández won the 1996 presidential election as a result, many say, of Balaguer throwing his support behind him. Balaguer supported Fernández once his vice president lost the primaries. Leonel of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) focused on economic reform and participation with Western hemispheric affairs. In 2000, PRD candidate Hipólito Mejía was elected president when he beat PLD candidate Danilo Medina. Mejía campaigned on the platforms of education reform, economic development, increased agricultural production and poverty alleviation. He also worked to increase relations with Central America. In 2004, Leonel Fernández of PLD won the presidency again.

On May 16th Dominicans, both in the country and abroad, will vote for their new president. Leonel has now been in office for eight consecutive years and is unable to run again. Leonel’s wife, Margarita Cedeño de Fernández, ran for president in the primaries with the slogan ‘Llegó Mamá'(Mom has arrived) but lost. She is now running on PLD heavyweight Danilo Medina’s ticket as vice president. Medina’s campaign slogan is ‘Lo Mejor Para Todos'(The best for everyone). The other main contender for president is PRD candidate Hipólito Mejía who is running under the slogan ‘Llegó Papá'(Dad has arrived). From what I gather from my long political discussions with my friends from the Dominican Republic is PLD is more right-wing while PRD seems to be more left-wing.

Supporters of Danilo believe he will continue Leonel’s policies and keep the country developing. Leonel supporters have credited him with advancing the Dominican Republic’s technological and infrastructure development, such as the metro train, and for keeping monetary stability. Danilo supporters also believe he will keep crime under control, during Leonel’s presidency he started enforcing clubs to close at 12am. But PLD’s critics worry that if Danilo wins it will just be another four years of Leonel ruling. Many criticize the multimillion dollar a month budget that Margarita apparently has and the many others on Leonel’s payroll.

Supporters of Hipólito believe that he will help small businesses, agriculture, adequate housing and education. The last couple of years in the Dominican Republic there has been a movement demanding 4% of the GDP go to education, a movement which Leonel’s administration has ignored. Hipólito supporters believe that with him the movement has a greater chance of success. His critics, however, say that he will ruin the economy like he did during his last presidential term, where the country found itself in one of the worst economic crises, with three major banks collapsing. Also during Hipólito’s last term drug trade and other illegal activities rose.

As for me, I’m not sure which candidate is better, or rather which one is less worse. What I believe is that the Dominican Republic needs is change, true change. Both of these candidates have been the faces of their parties for a long time, they are old news. I would love to see a fresh face rise up in politics in the Dominican Republic. One with fresh ideas and passion for the people, one who the Dominican public could enthusiastically throw their support behind. As far as the high level of corruption, I think it is so expected that unfortunately even if a new candidate rose up who was against it they would be forced into nepotism and paying people off, if not they would most likely get death threats.

I believe the real hope for the Dominican Republic lies in its youth. If the Dominican Republic really started focusing on quality education, and if children were taught the importance of social justice, democracy and fair politics the country would have a better chance. Dominican children need to be inspired to change their country, change their circumstances, make opportunities for themselves and taught not to accept corruption as the norm. New life needs to be breathed into the youth in the Dominican Republic in order for the country to progress. While there may not be much hope for change or progress in the Dominican Republic’s current political setting by investing in the youth there could be hope for the future.

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.