Tag Archives: Bolivia

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 This was largely due to the US standing firm in its outdated ways while Latin American leaders disagreed with them.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.

The Fight for TIPNIS

30 Nov

My apologies for my lack of blogging recently. I meant to write this blog earlier, while still current, but time got away from me. I still feel it is an important blog to write as its subject summarizes the indigenous conditions and issues in Latin America.

Proposed road through TIPNIS

Proposed road through TIPNIS

If asked a couple of years ago which Latin American leader I preferred I would have answered Bolivia’s Evo Morales. He was a leftist who seemed more interested in Bolivia’s well-being than his own, a unique aspect for a Latin American leader. He seemed to be a leader of the people, born in a working class farming family he also grew up to be a farmer. He is also Bolivia’s first indigenous President, surprising considering the great percentage of indigenous in Bolivia. It seemed that he was the ideal leader for Bolivia and it was presidents like him that were needed across Latin America.

In 2010 Morales’ popularity faced a road block when there were national protests against a decree to cut government subsidies on gasoline and diesel fuels, increasing their prices. Even Morales’ own supporters took to the streets in protests. At the end of 2010 Morales said that he was keeping his promise of listening to the people and had the decree annulled. However, now once again Morales’ popularity is threatened as a result of the recent TIPNIS dispute.

On August 15th, protesters began to march from the city of Trinidad to La Paz, Bolivia’s capital, as part of a campaign against a plan to build a highway through their protected land, Isiboro Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park(TIPNIS). The march was led by the Confederation of Bolivian Indigenous Peoples(CIDOB) and the National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu (CONAMAQ), they were marching in demand of recognition of their right to be consulted over the road construction according to the Bolivian Constitution, ILO 160 and the UN Deceleration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Bolivian government failed to consult the TIPNIS communities before signing a contract with the Brazilian company Construtora OAS to build the road and before the construction started this year. Morales claims that the road is vital for national development because it would connect agricultural and commercial areas. But the TIPNIS communities protest that a road through their land would threaten their way of life and damage an area of environmental importance. Indigenous marchers have said that they would be in favor of a road, as long as it didn’t go through TIPNIS. “It seems a contradiction that an indigenous president rejects the rights of indigenous peoples, and that a president who talks across the world in defense of Mother Earth is now pushing for the construction of a road that will harm the environment,” said Franklin Pareja, a political scientist from the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés in La Paz.

The march consisted of one thousand protesters and was 373 miles in total. Protesters were faced with harsh conditions, and due to the fact that they are Bolivia’s lower class they lacked proper supplies for the march. There was not sufficient water or food and many were without suitable shoes.
Six days after the march began President Morales went on television to attempt to question the credibility of the protesters. He accused the indigenous marchers of having links to the United States, Morales has always opposed the United States and its corporations. Morales tried to validate his accusation by showing call logs between the United States embassy and leaders of the march. While the President’s claims sparked debate the Bolivian government has stilled failed to provide any additional evidence linking the march to the United States government. Morales’ defamation of the indigenous protests did not stop there he has also been reported calling them misled and called them tourists. Through out the march the President was constantly disqualifying the marchers on a daily basis. During the march there was a total of eight attempts at dialogue between the march leaders and the government. Because each attempt failed the government accused the protesters of a hidden agenda and of purposely not wanting to find a resolution. However, the protesters argued that at each attempt to establish dialogue the government said there was no alternative and that the road must go through TIPNIS.

On September 20th when the protesters reached Yucumo, still 186 miles from their destination, they were blocked by police. The blockade seemed to be a result of the failed dialogues, as the pro-government colonizers who reinforced the blockade insisted that protesters resume dialogue. The blockade prevented donated supplies such as food, water and medicine to reach the protesters. On September 25th the police attacked the group of a thousand protesters whom included children, pregnant women and elderly people. Five hundred officers began to use tear gas, rubber bullets and attack the protesters to disperse them. The police wanted to round them up on trucks to bring them back to TIPNIS. It was reported that during the attack that children in the group cried and mothers tried not to be separated from their children, however apparently several mothers lost their children who ran out of fear. It was reported that a three month-old baby died from tear gas fumes. At least 45 people were treated in the hospital and the Director of the Hospital told reporters that police handcuffed doctors to prevent them from treating the indigenous protesters.

The day after the police attacks, Bolivian government minister Sacha Llorenti went on TV to defend the police assault, she later resigned. Defense Minister, Cecilia Chacon, resigned in protest saying that Morales’ government was not elected for this. Morales made a statement of apology, but stated that he did not order the attack. The coverage of the police attack sparked national and international outcry. Demonstrations in support of the protesters popped up across Bolivia, people across the country demanded justice. International Human Rights groups spoke out against the actions of Bolivia’s police. In a show of solidarity, the residents of Rurrenabaque forced police to release hundreds of marchers who had been held in jails and on trucks. Morales suspended the construction of the highway promising a local referendum on whether it should continue.

In the beginning of October protesters regrouped and started to march towards La Paz again, proving that they were determined to stop the highway through TIPNIS. As the protesters neared La Paz they had to pass through the Andean highlands where they were faced with high altitudes, a difficult situation for the indigenous native to lowlands. On October 19th after two months of marching through Bolivia the protesters finally made it to their destination, La Paz, to face the government with their demands. The marchers were greeted in La Paz by thousands of supporters who welcomed them with food, water, flowers, Bolivian flags and signs of encouragement. As they made their way to the capital’s center supporters yelled “We are with you,” and “You are not alone.” The protesters finally made it to Plaza Murillo, in front of the Presidential Palace in anticipation of a meeting with the President. Many of the children marchers were taken to hospitals in La Paz for pneumonia after the trek through the Andean highlands. The marchers did not meet immediately with Morales, they waited outside the Presidential Palace that was guarded by police who set up barricades.

Finally, on October 21st after days of waiting, Evo Morales announced that the government would approve a law stopping the road through TIPNIS. Protesters continued to camp in the main square until the law was signed on October 24th.

This is an unquestionable victory for the Bolivian indigenous community, a great example of the power and unity of indigenous communities. It shows the power of social movements and the effectiveness of protests. It is a stirring example of a civil society movement, the power of the community to have their voice heard and taken seriously. However, the fight is not over. Leaders of the march are still seeking justice for the police brutality on September 25th. And you have to stop and wonder how protected TIPNIS really is, even after all of this. This happened even though the indigenous communities had international law on their side. Even with an indigenous President in power their land was still threatened. The world will be watching to see if President Morales keeps his promise to the TIPNIS communities. This victory is one step of progress in a long struggle for indigenous communities.

Welcome in La Paz

Welcome in La Paz

Who was Ernesto Guevara?

30 Jun

A couple of weeks ago I finished reading The Motorcycle Diaries. Soon after I finished I was on Twitter and realized it was Che’s birthday. If he was still alive today he would have been turning 83. I am not sure if it was the birthday realization or the book slowly sinking in but I really started to ponder Che Guevara and his life.

Sometimes people in the United States are scared to discuss Che or really take the time to study him. I think too often he is brushed off as a dead communist, which leads me to wonder why we still have this stigma in the United States about communism. While Che was trying to liberate the people of Bolivia he was killed by the CIA. I am so utterly disgusted by this; the US had no right to kill him, no right to be in Bolivia. Throughout my studies of Latin America I am too often appalled by the things the CIA has done.

Che was someone who from the start of his life wanted to help people, which is why he became a doctor. But throughout the Motorcycle Diaries you can hear his soul and destiny change as he observes injustice throughout his journey. Later in life Che left his career as a doctor because he felt a calling to something bigger. Che saw an unjust world, he observed his brothers suffering, which he was unable to be content with. He believed in a better, more just world. He believed that change was possible. These were his main ideologies. Are these the same ideologies that the CIA killed him over? If so then I believe I am guilty as well. For I too am unsatisfied with the injustice in the world, I too am pained over the suffering which my fellow humans are enduring daily. I too believe that change is possible and will dedicate myself towards a better world. So I too must be guilty to the CIA.

What I do not understand is why gringos are so quick to brush Che off as another communist, yet also so quick to throw on a shirt bearing his face. I feel that very few of us take the time to truly learn who he was and what his true ideologies were. I am not claiming that I agree with everything he ever said. One huge difference between my ideologies and Che’s is that he believed justice should be obtained through battle, where as I believe in nonviolent conflict. Neither am I proclaiming to be a Che expert. However, after reading Motorcycle Diaries I do feel like I know him better. I now know of his true intelligence, the brilliant way he described his thoughts and the scenes around him. I can relate to the emotions he felt as he witnessed the poverty and injustice in Latin America. I am also now excited to read more of his literary works, in fact another one of his diaries was released in Cuba on his birthday.

Often when studying historical figures I try to imagine them in today’s world. I wonder what would have come of Che if the CIA had not brutally murdered him. Would he have become like Castro, becoming a dictator of a country he was trying to liberate? What would he have thought of the corruption and poverty that still plagues Latin America today? How different would Latin America be if he were still alive, would it be better? Unfortunately, these are only questions which we can ponder, ones we will never know the answer to.

My main point, besides how repulsive it is that the CIA not only thought they had a right to take his life but went ahead and ended it, is that Che is worth studying, is worth trying to understand. His beliefs were solid and his words were inspiring. His words can be applied to today’s Latin America, where poverty, corruption and political instability are still very existent.