Thursday, June 4, 2009

OAS Opens Its Doors to Cuba

Cuba is now officially welcome to join the 34 nation strong body of the OAS, the Organization of American States. That is, if the traditional pariah can meet American expectations of democracy and human rights. Many Latin American leaders lauded the move as progress for the Americas, a positive step by President Obama to reach out, and fulfill his promises of change. Others pointed out the lack of action and intent with such a move, noting that Obama is unlikely to lift the embargo on Cuba. Just how positive is up to a number of factors, including the decisions of Cuba and other more left-leaning leaders who feel the need for a new organization, one that excludes the United States.

Cuba has already said that it has no interest in joining the OAS, which it feels to be an arm of the US. It is more likely that the OAS decision will be nothing more than a gesture of openness, one that was never expected to be accepted. It may in fact push Latin American leaders to form their own alternative group, a concept first suggested by the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa. The ALBA - the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas - is already one manifestation of this feeling. An association made up of Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, the ALBA represents a breaking away from the grips of American hegemony and deregulated free trade economics. The ALBA is founded on the principals of solidarity, socially-oriented trade, and more favorable terms for the underdeveloped nations of the region.

The Obama administration has many decisions to make in terms of how far they will take their change concept. So far the Latin American left is slightly appeased, as well as many in the United States and abroad who had hoped for something more, something concrete. A lack of action by the United States, will probably mean a more forward movement by the rest of the Americas. As America has ostracized many nations such as Cuba before, perhaps someday the juggernaut will stand on the other side of the mirror.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sonia Sotomoyer Makes History

President Obama named his nominee for the Supreme Court today, federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor. Sotomayor's parents are from Puerto Rico, although she lost her father when she was nine. Raised by her mother in the Bronx, she decided she was going to be a judge when she was still a young girl. With her vision clear, Sotomayor went on to receive an education at both Princeton and Yale, and then built up a thickly laid foundation of judicial experience. She was named a district judge by both President George HW Bush, and President Clinton.

If Sonia Sotomayor is accepted by the Republicans, then she will become the first Hispanic high court justice, and the second female on the Supreme Court, following Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Despite her experience and qualifications, the critics are already out, jumping on comments that she had made about integrating her identity into her decision making. Those in the conservative camp, such as Pat Buchanan, who have even gone so far to call her an affirmative action pick, saying she should be disqualified because she believes that her being a hispanic woman will shape her decisions. The "white man standard" feels threatened. Some opponents to Obama's pick are also trying to paint empathy to be one of the seven sins, something that Sotomayor is supposedly loaded with. Richard Epstein, a professor at the University of Chicago Law says, "My initial reaction to the Sotomayor nomination is one of deep disappointment...I am never quite sure what empathy means anyhow in dealing with a legal dispute." Empathy, the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes, has everything to do with passing fair, objective judgments. The logic is, as a minority and a woman, as well as an American with a humble background, she will be able to care, she will have heart in her judgement. As sacred as "law" may be, the potential of a humanitarian voice can't be all that bad.

Regardless, these are only assumptions and projections. Sotomayer has always been true to what she believes to be her interpretation of the law. As the Republicans and conservatives voice their opposition in the coming weeks, we are sure to be in for a conversation on race and equality in America. As the fastest growing minority, hispanics have both the Republicans and Democrats re-mapping their policies. There is really nothing either side can do but embrace her and embrace another baby step towards fair representation of the people. After Sotomayer, who is next?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

One Small Step for Socialism and Venezeula, but What About Mankind?

President Hugo Chavez continues down the path towards a complete Venezuelan socialist revolution, nationalizing Banco de Venezuela this week. This is a move to give greater control of the county's economy to the government. Banco de Venezuela is the third largest lender. It was purchased for just over one billion dollars from its Spanish owner, Banco Santander, according to the BBC.

Nationalism is one of the foundations of a full socialist government. Major institutions must be government owned, so private industries can't have too much power. This is logical under the precept that private ownership is driven by profit and therefore makes decisions that are contrary to the welfare of the people and the state. The problem is of course, should the government have the power instead? The government is not in itself a concept; it is a group of private individuals, who have their own interests, ideals, and perceptions.

Which mode is the best is the age old question in the Americas. Chavez is examining one option. He has nationalized oil companies, electricity, steel, and telecommunications. Under Chavez the poor have access to health care and education, which are two factors that will only serve to improve the quality of life. Chavez and his policies have been embraced by many, although there is of course opposition. Some question his dance with autocracy. Just this February, Chavez won a referendum allowing him to run as many times as he wants. Perhaps Chavez himself can embrace this opportunity for a life-long Presidency, but what about the leaders that come after him? Creating a successful socialist nation is one path
, but paving the way for a future tyrant to create this route is perhaps a questionable decision.

Whatever the future holds, where would Venezuela be without Chavez - and even the whole of the Americas? Where many nations have been exploited for centuries for their rich natural resources, President Chavez has drawn the lines around his nation at least, and set an example for developing nations around the world.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mexican Drug Cartels Continue to Evolve

The Mexican drug cartels continue to evolve. They change with the times, transcending their past to ensure a secure future, expanding to meet a growing demand, changing location when necessary, becoming violent, then scaling back again - and, of course, networking. The drug cartels are masters of our modern day phenomena, our 21st century key to success. They know how to integrate the authorities, government officials, and young men looking for a job into their fold - all this takes is money. They work seamlessly with the US weapons market, sliding weapons across borders with ease. How deep their reaches go, nobody really knows, but they are powerful entities, and more and more, looking like unstoppable entities.

The northwestern Mexican state of Durango, traditionally run by fugitive Joaquin Guzman, is now being overrun by competing cartels, such as the Gulf cartel from northeastern Mexico. With 235 deaths this year, the murder rate has gone up by 600%. Durango is asking for more troops, but can Mexico supply them? Basically, when Mexican President Felipe Calderon sends troops to one area, the cartels spread to another area. They would rather fight each other than the army, at least at this point. The military becomes over-extended, and the cost of the drug war increases. This puts Calderon and other leaders of Mexico in a predicament - face this battle head on, or do what they can to appease the cartels, quiet the violence, and let things return to how they were before.

The death toll in Mexico last year was 6,300, this year it is already at 2,300. Right now much of the killing is between the cartels, but Mexico is becoming more and more dangerous for civilians, and the economy is suffering. Don't the people deserve a higher quality of life? That's the question - why has this issue only recently become a major international issue? WIth the casualty numbers dwarfing the US deaths in Iraq in Afghanistan, this is literally a war. But who are the players, and where do interests lie?

Mexican Senator Ricardo Monreal had to step down temporarily for an investigation into ties between his family and the drug rings. 14.5 tons of marijuana were found in his brother's house, according to the Los Angeles Times. This is not surprise to a jaded public, used to corrupt politicians. How else could the drug cartels have risen to such a hight of power? Which brings us back to networking - they have mastered a perfect balance between meeting American demand, supporting the US weapons industry and working with Mexican power-players, that the only real opposition they've ever had, is each other.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Guatemalan President Accused of Murder

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom has been accused of murder, by a man already dead.  Attorney, Rodrigo Rosenberg made a video tape, days before his assassination, saying, that 'If you are watching this message, it is because I was assassinated by President Alvaro Colom with help from Gustavo Alejos" (the president's secretary).  Colom, the first left-of-center leader of Guatemala in half a century, an ordained Mayan minister, and a voice for the indigenous populations and working class, of which many live on $2 a day, is now being heavily challenged.

35,000 signatures were brought before the Congress today, asking for Colom to lose his immunity status, and be tried in court.  Many are calling for the leader to step down, with protests all weekend.  There is a danger of this becoming an issue between the rich and the poor, as those that want Colom impeached are business owners, and the more wealthy portion of the population.  His supporters, those that democratically elected him in 2007, are the poor.  They also staged demonstrations this weekend, in support of the President. 

Colom campaigned on a platform of social justice, and a crackdown on crime in Guatemala.  The country is only ten years beyond a three and a half decade long civil war, in which leftist groups fought against the US-backed government forces.  Hundreds of thousands were killed, or disappeared, many of them Mayan Indians.  In the aftermath, corruption and violent groups took hold of some of the nation's power structure, so that today organized crime is still an serious issue.  In 2007, the same year that Colom was elected, the UN set up the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to address corruption.  According to the group, 98% of crimes in Guatemala go unpunished.  

Now the same man who promised to crack down on crime, is accused of being the criminal.  Rosenberg claims that he was a marked man because of his ties to Khalil Musa, a Guatemalan industrialist who was also murdered with his daughter earlier in the year.  Musa was supposedly working on exposing government corruption when he was killed.  Rosenberg says that Colom also was behind these crimes.  The President has asked the FBI and the UN to investigate, and clear his name.  Meanwhile, the political structure is at risk, potentially leaving a power vacuum in Guatemala.  

Does President Colom have anything to do with the murders of Musa, his daughter, and now Rodrigo Rosenberg?  Is he the people's false prophet, or a victim of his position?  If Rosenberg's accusations turn out to be true, where does that leave hope in one of the most beautiful and forgotten countries in the world?