Tag Archives: Human Rights

Domestic Violence in the Dominican Republic

30 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Colombia: Students Organize Against Law 30

4 Jan

Student kisses police

Student kisses police as an alternative to violence

Colombia's Hug-A-Thon

Students hug riot police

Last year was one of action in Colombia. Not because of anything to do with the FARC or drug cartels. No, what Colombia saw last year was students uniting together for a common cause. If any of the Occupy protesters in the US want a lesson in creative, effective, nonviolent protest they need only to look to Colombia. Colombia joined Chile in student protests when the first draft of the proposed reform of Law 30 was announced.

March of last year, President Juan Manuel Santos announced the need to reform higher education. He proposed a reform of the 1992 law, Law 30, a law which deals with higher education. The reform attempted to privatize education by encouraging private investment and by creating for-profit schools.

The students are against the reform of Law 30 for several reasons. The law would allow private investors to fund public universities which would force students to acquire debt and decrease public resources. Some students say that private funding is a step toward corporate control of the education system. Sara Yaneth Fernandez, vice-president of the Association of Professors for the University of Antioquia, was quoted saying, “Public education has a social interest. Private organizations have personal profit interests,” adding, “We are against changing the essence of the public universities in Colombia.”

The law would also increase the number of students in the classrooms which would mean the student to teacher ratio would increase and students would have less access to supplies. The students call this a ‘promotion of mediocrity’ by threatening the quality of education. Students also protest that the law reform would discourage education to develop skills for innovation and self-transformation. They say that they would be taught ‘to push the button, not to create the machine that made it’. Students are also concerned that subjects like humanities would be seen as ‘unprofitable’ and be dropped. The law would turn education into a product rather than a right. Justifiably, this proposed reform made students across the country irate and they took to the streets to voice that anger.

On April 7, thousands of students and teachers took to the streets of Medellin, and even more nation wide, in opposition to the education reforms. They closed down several main streets in the city. As a result of the protests the Minister of Education, Maria Fernanda Campo, said she would open a national debate with students. Later in August, after much public unrest regarding Law 30, President Santos promised to withdraw the for-profit section of the proposal of the reform. However, on September 7th thousands of students took to the streets in Bogotá to continue protesting Law 30. The students stated that the Law was still an attack on education.

President Santos presented the bill to Congress on October 4th, however, the bill seemed to not reflect any prior deliberations or debates, it only exhibited the government’s interests. That week the President addressed the student protests and reaffirmed the government’s commitment to the proposal of reform of Law 30. He criticized the students who continued to protest saying, “there is no worse deaf person than one who doesn’t want to hear.”

Following President Santos’ actions, on October 12th, there was a huge nationwide protest against Law 30. In Bogotá, 30,000 marched in the streets to Plaza Bolivar. Riot police clashed with protesters and used tear gas to attempt to disperse the protesters. In Medellin, 10,000 marched in the streets, nationally over 250,000 students took to the streets. Tragedy found the protests that day when a medical student in Cali fell down during the protest and activated a potato bomb which killed him. While a small minority of protesters resorted to violence and vandalism, the majority of the protesters across the country remained nonviolent and peaceful. The students gave the government the deadline of November 10th to completely withdraw the bill or they would block major streets in all participating cities.

By the end of October students nationwide were on strike and not attending classes or school activities, instead they were on the streets trying to defend their right to education. They did so peacefully and creatively by having a hug-a-thon where they hugged police instead of confronting them. They had a besatón where they blocked major city streets by kissing each other. They organized flashmobs in malls and open canelazos, a national beverage used to gather people around the fire which incited public deliberation. There protests were peaceful, creative and persistent.

On November 9th President Santos offered to withdraw the proposal of Law 30. Still it was no enough for protesters who were out on the streets in protest the following day. Bogotá saw over 20,000 students on the street protesting, despite the rain. The students said they would continue to protest until the law was actually withdrawn.

Then in the middle of November, after students had been on strike for five weeks, the Congress voted to withdraw reform of Law 30. Students and activists hailed the vote as a victory. The National Alternative Education Board said in a statement, “there were three conditions – first, that this reform package was withdrawn; second, that the government showed a willingness to build a new reform package, and lastly that there were guarantees regarding finishing the semester. All this has been accepted by the government and so we will end the strike right now.” While students vowed to return to class, and ninety percent did, there will still some who did not view this as a victory. Students at University of Antioquia, for example, felt that there were more demands to be met.

For those of us that study social movements or even those of us that have been following the failing ‘Occupy’ protests, Colombia’s students were victorious. Despite what the Colombian government may say the protesters had clear demands, they were persistent and despite a very small percentage they were peaceful and nonviolent. The government met their demands and the protesters ended their strike and returned to school. Yet, no social movements are ever completely over, there is always a next step. With this movement the protesters must make sure that the government does not try to implement the proposed reforms in another matter. Regrettably, I believe that Colombian students will have to take to the streets again in order to defend their education, but hopefully not in the near future.

Guatemala and Nicaragua’s Elections: What’s Next?

2 Dec

Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala

Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala

Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua

Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua

Guatemala and Nicaragua are two Central American countries that have painful pasts. Guatemala had a thirty-six year civil war and Nicaragua also experienced a civil war and dictatorship. Both are currently faced with extreme poverty and violence. In early November both countries held controversial elections which resulted in controversial results.

In Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega was running for reelection, which does not seem out of the norm, except for the fact that he was running for a third term, which is illegal according to the Nicaraguan Constitution. In late 2009, the Supreme Court decided that the Constitutional ban on reelection did not apply to Ortega. Call it a coincidence if you like, but only the judges of the Sandinista party, Ortega’s party, were told of the session. The other three judges were replaced by Sandinista replacement judges when they did not appear, because they were never told. The other judges said that they feel powerless, that the Sandinistas control everything and there is nothing they can do. Many say that the decision should have been taken to Congress because it deals with Constitutional re-form, but to no surprise Ortega said the ruling was unchangeable.

The Guatemalan elections also started out with high levels of controversy and dispute when the First Lady, Sandra Torres, ran for President in March. However, close relatives of the President are constitutionally not allowed to run for president, so days after entering the race the First Lady filed for divorce. Torres argued that the divorce was not a political move but the Guatemalan public was not convinced. In late July, the Guatemalan Supreme Court voted against the First Lady’s bid stating that “legal fraud” was committed. The First Lady argued that not allowing her to run was violating her human rights, but the Court stuck to its vote. With Torres out of the running this left Manuel Baldizón, a wealthy businessman, and Otto Perez Molina, a retired right-wing general, as the frontrunners.

In early November it was announced that President Ortega won the election in Nicaragua. It seemed perhaps voters were pleased with Ortega’s efforts to stimulate the economy, most notably his partnership with Venezuela which brings $400 million loans each year to Nicaragua. Ortega has set up social programs during his presidency and helped citizens gain legal titles to their land. Despite all of this however, before the elections even concluded there were accusations of fraud. The opposition party accused Ortega’s party of denying identification cards to citizens opposed to the government, but granting them to Honduran citizens. Supporters of Fabio Gadea, Ortega’s opponent accused Ortega’s party of stuffing ballot boxes and preventing Ortega opposers from voting. There were also several reports that polling stations were burned in the north and central provinces. The Organization of American States said that its election monitors were kept out of polling stations. When Ortega’s victory was announced crowds took to the street in protest, it was not long before protesters and Ortega supporters clashed and four people were reported dead as a result. Ortega and his supporters continue to call him the victor as civil society organizations call for investigations into the election.

Also in early November, Guatemalan voters showed that they favored the ‘mano dura’ and voted Otto Perez Molina for president. Political scientists were taken back a bit by the popularity of Perez, a retired general from a brutal and long civil war. Did Guatemalans really want a strong military leader as president only fifteen years after the three decade long war had ended? A war in which the military killed, tortured and raped the citizens; and now human rights groups fight to charge these former military leaders and bring them to justice. Perez’s role in the war has never been fully investigated, although he denies involvement in the massacres. Why would Guatemala want a former military leader whose campaign declares him the ‘iron fist’? Perhaps it is because more than sixty percent of registered voters are between the ages of 18-30, for them the brutal civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans is a shadow of the past. Guatemala’s failing education system does not teach about the country’s civil war. The majority of registered voters don’t remember the brutal genocide conducted by the military, what they are concerned with is the violence which now plagues the country. They perceive their war is against crime, drug cartels that have taken over the country and control northern border towns. Violence attributed to Mexican drug cartels is on a steady rise and many police officials and politicians are on the cartel’s payroll. Perez’s solution is a forceful one similar to Mexico’s Calderon’s failing drug war. While experts say that Guatemala’s solution should be police reform, a stronger justice system and a security tax on the rich. The public is eager for a quicker solution which Perez seems to be promising.

So what lies ahead for these two countries? Nicaragua will continue to see both citizens and NGOs call for investigation into the election. Ortega’s government will most likely feign investigation but will remain in power. Ortega will probably keep his popularity among his loyal supporters. My prediction is that we will see left-leaning Ortega become more and more like his ally, Hugo Chavez, as he will most likely continue to ignore democracy as it provides his prohibitions and take sole control over Nicaragua. Guatemala will probably not see the decline in drug cartels with el ‘malo dura’. If Perez takes the violent approach to drug cartels like he’s promised, battling them with military we will most likely see the same results we are seeing with Calderon’s drug war, steady flow of violence and civilian murders as the cartels stay in the country. For someone who has studied Guatemala’s civil war extensively I sincerely hope that Guatemala does not go into another war if the military gets too powerful and corrupt once again. But, it is not certain with a President who has been accused in human rights abuses and most likely had a hand in the genocide of the civil war. It has been speculated that Guatemala will see human rights and civil liberties threatened as the government takes a forceful approach to drug violence. One thing is for certain, the political action in these countries is just beginning and the world needs to keep a careful eye on these 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