Tag Archives: Corruption

Danilo Medina Becomes President of the Dominican Republic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Latinoamérica

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.

What the Heck is going on in Mexico?

13 Jul

Last week, I was out having drinks with a group of people when I discovered one of the girls in our group was from Mexico City. I was quick to ask her what she thought of the Peace Movement and Javier Sicilia and then I was shocked when she had no idea what I was talking about. Realizing no one in our group had any idea what I was talking about and seemed slightly curious I immediately dived into my summary of what has been happening south of our border. In retrospect, I should not have been so surprised that no one, not even the girl from Mexico, was informed of Mexico’s politics. After all, many people here in the United States do not pay attention to our own politics, let alone those of other countries. But being a scholar of international affairs, more specifically Latin America I believe that people should be informed.

In California, a huge amount of our population is of Mexican descent and not only do we share a border with Mexico but our beautiful state used to be Mexico. Yet, our news ways are filled with news of the Middle East and not nearly enough with what is happening right near us. The general public appears to be aware that Mexico is currently dangerous due to something about drug cartels, but does not seem to be well-informed beyond this.

To me, the story starts in Ciudad Juarez, a border city that can be seen from Texas. Juarez saw a huge surge of population increase when maquiladoras started appearing in the city. Maquiladoras are factories for TNCs (Trans National Corporations) that exploit Mexico’s cheap labor. Despite the terrible working conditions of the Maquiladoras Mexicans see the work as an opportunity to receive a better income to support their families. In the late 1990s when these maquiladoras started showing up is also when the femicide in Juarez started. Young women, most of who worked in the factories, started being brutally murdered and disappeared. Due to police impunity, investigations into the murders have been a joke and even though arrests have been made the murders have continued. In 2005, the number of murdered girls was close to four hundred and it has only gone up since there. (Juarez femicides could be a blog of its own there is so much information. However, I feel it must be mentioned when speaking about Mexico’s violence. For further information, a good book on this is The Daughters of Juarez: A True Story of Serial Murder South of the Border by Teresa Rodriguez . )

In 2006, Mexico’s current President, Felipe Calderon, was elected and he launched his anti-drug campaign. The Drug War is a military campaign against organized crime, i.e. against the drug cartels. The problem with the Drug War is that it is combating violence with violence and in the process the murder of innocent citizens has increased. Since Calderon launched the Drug War there has been over 40,000 murders and over 5,000 disappearances related to the war. It is not just the cartels who are responsible for the violence but also the corrupt military, hired to protect the people. Even though it is widely known that the military is a huge reason for the violence only one solider has been committed for human rights abuses.

Then in late March, it seems that the Mexican Drug War violence pulled its last straw, at least for one father, who also happened to be a nationally known poet. After Javier Sicilia’s young son, Juan, and friends were murdered because two of the men had reported an extortion attempt, the poet took to national airways. He asked his fellow citizens why as a public they keep enduring this senseless violence, why the Mexican people were not uniting against the impunity. The people who were mourning in their homes, scared of speaking out about their family member’s death he called to the streets to mourn in unity. Sicilia called his fellow citizens to civil resistance and nonviolent action, he called his people to awaken and speak out against injustice. Sicilia quickly rallied several mourning families and soon they started filling public spaces in Mexico. They gathered, all holding plaques of the names and pictures of loved ones who fell victim to the war. With encouragement from Sicilia they were no longer afraid to speak about the injustice murders of their family members. The people organized marches between Mexican cities demanding the right to walk peacefully through the streets of Mexico, demanding the violence to end. Sicilia rallied Mexicans fed up with the violence to push for an end to Calderon’s war on drugs.

In the beginning of June, right as this movement for peace, led by Javier Sicilia, was gaining momentum a peace caravan was planned. The Caravan of Solace, as it was titled, was over 1200 miles that traveled through the cities hit hardest by the Drug War. The caravan, whose numbers fluctuated, stopped in over ten cities. As the caravan traveled they stopped in each city to hold rallies where Sicilia and relatives of victims would speak to the crowd. In these rallies the main goal of ending the drug war was repeatedly emphasized. The Caravan’s last stop was in Juarez, “the epicenter of pain”, as Sicilia called it, where a national pact was drafted. The National Pact was drafted by civil society groups from around the country, hundreds gathered in downtown Juarez to hear the pact’s points being read. Sicilia was criticized by some that what was read in Juarez was just a draft of the pact but he defended it by saying that the pact needs further consultation in order to draft a final, more serious document. Sicilia has said that he hopes the National Pact will be strong enough and backed with enough public strength that the government will not be able to ignore it.

On June 23rd, came a victory for the National Peace Movement when Javier Sicilia and other victims of the drug war met in a public meeting with President Calderon, an event which is rare in Mexican history. Sicilia stated the reasons for the meeting: to ask Calderon for an apology to the nation and victims’ families, to find justice, to end the war, to legalize certain drugs and protection for journalists. Calderon agreed to an apology for the death of innocent victims but not for the death of criminals. In response to Sicilia’s criticism of the Drug War Calderon continued to defend the war saying, “I would rather be judged, albeit unjustly, for having acted than for having done anything at all.” Although Calderon set to his ideas and stuck by his war he was able to hear the victim’s stories and thoughts. One positive outcome of the meeting was the creation of an office for attention to victims, which will use seized money from drug trafficking to install a plaque with the names of victims of the war. Both Sicilia and Calderon agreed the meeting was positive and to have another meeting in three months.

Reviewing all of this, some people in the United States might see this as Mexico’s problem, might think that their hands are clean of this problem; yet, this is not at all the truth. The drug cartels are selling their supplies to the US, in order for gringos to continue their addiction. Money from drugs offers Mexicans an opportunity at a lot of money they would most likely not have the opportunity to elsewhere. The United States’ policies toward drug control are all backwards; they are focused on incarcerating drug offenders. As a result, jails in the US are overcrowded with people charged with minor drug violations. The US first needs to focus on the source of the problem and make drug rehabilitation its priority. Instead of spending all of its money in jails the United States needs to divert money to drug rehabilitation programs and campaigns against drug use. I think very little drug users here in the US think that they are responsible for the thousands of deaths in Mexico, but they are just as responsible as anyone else. Perhaps a campaign visually linking the two would be effective, for example, an ad showing a teen consuming drugs next to a dead body in Mexico’s desert. But, instead of focusing on these policies the US is throwing its money to Mexico’s Drug War, which is helping to fund the impunity and corruption.

Another US policy contributing to Mexico’s violence is gun control. Because people here believe that it is their constitutional right to own a machine gun, gun control has been weakened and it is easy to have access to deadly weapons. Almost all of the guns used by Mexico’s drug cartels are from the United States. What gives cartels even easier access to weapons from the Free Trade Agreement between the US and Mexico which not only makes the drug cartels life a lot easier but also hurts farmers in the process. The US needs to revamp its entire approach to drug control and its relationship with its southern neighbor.

Skeptics think there is little possibility of success for the Peace Movement thinking the government will be unwilling to change and move in the right direction. Yet it is important to remember the incredible parts in this story, a poet, and a father, with no prior political background has united an ailing nation to speak out against violence and unite in nonviolent conflict. In no way am I doubting that the Peace Movement has a long way to go, but for only starting four months ago it has made significant progress. It is no secret that it will take a lot of work to change Mexico’s situation, but when the whole society is united it will be hard for the government to ignore their demands for too long. Unfortunately, even if Mexico does change its policies and stops the Drug War there is also great change that needs to happen in the United States. If both countries partner together, both the governments and citizens, to find a lasting, sensible solution to drug violence than perhaps one day Mexicans can walk safely in their streets and no longer live in constant fear for their lives.

Ignorant

19 Jun

I am often told by someone close to me how ignorant I am when I express my dreams and aspirations of changing Latin America. And when I am in the Dominican Republic speaking to my friends about how I want to fight for human rights and end corruption in the country and all of Latin America I am often laughed at and sarcastically told good luck.

Perhaps my aspirations do make me ignorant; I am willing to admit that it is a possibility. However, I am sure that some of history’s greatest visionaries were told they were ignorant as well and often laughed at. When Martin Luther King Jr. was younger and speaking with friends about how he wanted to see a world where all men and women are treated equal they probably told him he was ignorant. They most likely told him he was an idealist dreaming an impossible dream. When Susan B. Anthony told her family that she wanted to fight for women’s suffrage they most likely called her ignorant and told her that women’s suffrage would never come to past. And when Minerva Mirabal told her family and even Trujillo that she wanted to go to law school and become a lawyer she was laughed at and told she was too pretty. When she voiced her opinions against the Trujillo regime people rolled their eyes and told her to be quiet, when she later fought against the regime she was told to stop.

I am not at all saying that these visionaries were the first or the last to fight for what they thought was just, for a fairer world. Nor am I saying that I am the first person to want to fight for human rights in Latin America, or the first person to want to fight against corruption. However, these people made significant gains in their struggle and really changed the world. It reminds me of something my favorite professor told our class his first day as a professor. He had just moved to the U.S. after spending eight years in Latin America fighting tirelessly for human rights. He said, “I am here to teach you all in the hopes that I might inspire a new generation to go and work for what I worked for.” He had been in Guatemala and for years had received several death threats, he told us he was tired of working so long for something that never changed. So yes, perhaps I am ignorant to believe that change is still possible in Latin America but change is truly impossible if no one tries.

I am a person who believes that the Lord marks our hearts with what we are supposed to do. That he gifts us a passion for something. If one does not work in that passion that the Lord gifted they are never satisfied, like a thirst that is never quenched. I believe that the Lord marked my heart with the desire to help people, to fight for human rights in Latin America, to fight for social justice. Yes, I could join the majority of the population and be apathetic to what is happening and assume that change is impossible. Or I could be ignorant, optimistic, and active. So yes I continue to make it my life goal to fight for human rights in Latin America, to fight for a less corrupt Latin America, to unite with the civil societies in Latin America and fight for what is right.

It is quite possible that Latin America may never be completely free of corruption and human rights abuses, even the United States isn’t, but it could be much better. I believe in the potential of the region, the potential of the people, of the campesinos. Perhaps it is better to be ignorant to believe in a better world, to be optimistic. During my lifetime if I am able to help make even a small change or help one person than I made a difference and maybe not that all ignorant after all.