Si no supiera que murieron casi 300.000 personas y que todavía hoy en día hay 1.200 campamentos de refugiados con casi un millón de personas diría que hoy los haitianos celebran algo. El día en que se cumple un año del terremoto por las calles de Puerto Príncipe desfilan miles de personas vestidas de blanco, cantando y bailando. Cantan a Dios y no se sabe muy bien por qué bailan, pero bailan, incluso muchos sonríen. Hoy en Haití no lloran. Las iglesias están llenas de gente. Muchos cierran los ojos y rezan, otros simplemente agachan la cabeza y parecen meditar en lo que pasó y lo que vendrá.
Un año después del terremoto las calle de la capital parece una imagen congelada de hace un año. Apenas se ha recogido el 10% de los restos del terremoto y las tiendas frente al palacio presidencial están en el mismo sitio que la semana que se instalaron después del seísmo.
A treinta kilómetros al oeste de la capital en Camp Corail—el campamento de refugiados más grande montado por el gobierno haitiano—para Sherline sin embargo hoy es un día como otro cualquiera. Se ha levantado y no tiene nada que hacer, no hay trabajo ni dinero para comprar mercancía que revender. El campamento está situado en una zona totalmente seca, sin árboles, agua, ni mucho menos un pueblo o iglesia cercana donde ir a rezar. Junto a ella viven 10.000 personas. Atendidos por doce ONG´s internacionales y con patrulla de la ONU permanente, en Camp Corail se viven con mejores condiciones de salud y seguridad que en los campamentos espontáneos de la capital—pero sus habitantes pasan el mismo hambre que sus vecinos capitalinos.
Sherline tiene 32 años y está embarazada de su cuarto hijo: un bebé “Goudu-Goudu”, como se conoce a la generación de bebés nacidos después del terremoto. La joven haitiana comparte con sus cuatro hijos una pequeña casa de madera prefabricada a la que se acaba de mudar después de meses en una tienda. “Después del terremoto me sentía sola y tenía miedo. Me enamoré pero cuando me quedé embarazada se marchó”.
The citizens of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, gathered today to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the cataclysmic earthquake that struck the Haitian capital last year, killing an estimated 300,000 people, leaving thousands homeless and causing $8 billion to $14 billion in damage.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who is now the United Nations special envoy to Haiti and co-chair of an Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, responded from Port-au-Prince to widespread criticism that the international community’s efforts to help rebuild Haiti have achieved little in the past 12 months. Mr. Clinton says he was encouraged by the quickened pace of reconstruction in the final months of 2010.
One symbol of the speedier recovery, says Clinton, is the recent signing of an investment agreement between the Haitian government and South Korean garment manufacturer Sae-A, which plans to build a $78 million plant in Haiti that will create 20,000 and make it the largest private sector employer in the country. Outgoing Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive also commented on the deal, saying the ineptitude of the international relief efforts highlight the need for private-sector investment: "This will help Haiti overcome dependence on aid ... we need jobs," Bellerive told reporters.
¿A cuántos aquí les gusta el tango? (Who here likes tango?) asked the emcee of last night’s concert. Amid general cheers from the audience, the loudest response was from the woman behind me, who promptly and enthusiastically yelled, ¡Todos! (“Everyone!”).
Todos is what this concert was all about. Sponsored by the international credit card company Diners Club and held at the Plaza San Pedro Claver, the selection of works and the style of performance were the most modern, accessible and laid-back yet witnessed at the festival. The performance included Argentine harpist María Luisa Rayán-Forero, who interpreted famed Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla’s Otoño Porteño and Libertango with an instrument and style not ordinarily expected of the tango. With the fingers of her left hand slowly plucking strings to create low, sultry, jazz-like chords, those on her right hand danced over the harp to render the tango’s melodies. To keep time, her knuckles occasionally rapped on the instrument itself, and Rayán-Forero’s harp sounded more like an upright bass and guitar with occasional percussion. The effect was hypnotic and seductive, completely transporting the audience to the streets of Buenos Aires.
The program also included violin and flute solos which, although from the early twentieth century, felt much more contemporary. Twenty-five-year-old French violinist Arnaud Sussman played Fritz Kreisler’s Three Pieces with a technique reminiscent of Van Halen on the guitar; extended use of arpeggiation; and quick fluttering of his fingers at the highest notes possible—creating an almost discomforting, but nonetheless enthralling, effect. Colombian flutist Gabriel Ahumada brought new life to one of the most famous and popular pieces in classical music: the Carmen Fantasy. Playing the long solo from memory, the high notes and extremely quick tempo of certain segments captivated the audience, who audibly hummed along.
The most popular—and populist—piece of the evening was the Largo al Factotum aria from Gioacchino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. Baritone Christòpheren Nomura appeared on stage drinking a glass of wine, then ran to the microphone just in time to begin singing, accompanied on piano by the festival’s artistic director, Stephen Prutsman. Within seconds, the audience was laughing. Although the aria is very demanding technically—with its constant singing of triplets, allegro vivace (quick and lively) tempo, and tongue-twisting Italian superlatives (everything ending in –issimo)—you would never know, given the levity and humor Nomura brought to it. Coming close to the end, he rendered the repeated “Figaros” for which the piece is known with especial gusto. At one point, he even called out to the audience, “¡Todos! Fiiii-ga-roooo.”
The audience was only happy to oblige. Todos indeed.
Baritone Christòpheren Nomura. Photo courtesy of Joshua Z Weinstein.
*Nina Agrawal is an associate editor for Americas Quarterly. She is blogging this week from the 2011 Cartagena International Music Festival.
January 10, 2011: "Cartagena Comes Alive at International Music Festival"
A 10-person team from the Organization of American States (OAS) completed a report on Monday that concluded that Michel Martelly won more votes than previously announced in the Haitian presidential elections on November 28, 2010. The controversial election placed ruling-party candidate Jude Celestin in second place, qualifying him for a second round run-off over the popular kompa star Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly. After reviewing the results, the OAS disqualified 17,220 votes for Celestin and 7,150 votes for Martelly, giving Martelly the second-place victory with 22.2 of the vote.
The Haitian government asked the OAS to review the election after widespread protests and violence broke out following the initial release of results on December 7, 2010. The clashes between protesters—mostly Martelly’s supporters—and UN Peacekeepers left at least five dead.
President René Préval and the Haitian Electoral Committee have denied accusations of fraud and ballot-stuffing. Now that the OAS results clash with the Haitian government’s—and cites the strong possibility of fraud—Préval has not yet accepted the OAS report. Whoever is chosen as the second-place finisher will face first place Mirlande Manigat in a run-off that is postponed until February 2011.
Latin America is changing. Do we have the tools and intellectual framework to deal with it?
From Brazil to Mexico, Latin America has found new diplomatic muscle, asserting itself into international issues and all the while deepening ties with new trade partners from China to Russia. At the same time, despite increased rhetoric of regional solidarity and independence from the U.S., the region is at its most divided, ideologically and in its economic trajectories.
All this presents a challenge, not just to U.S. policymakers, but to policy analysts and scholars alike. For the first time, Latin America is becoming a complex international relations topic.
In the past, Latin Americanists (a term I apply loosely to people who work in or on the region) have tended to focus on domestic and development issues. Discussions of U.S. policy, by policymakers and analysts alike, have followed a different path for Latin America than for other regions.
In the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries Latin America was largely seen as the backyard of the United States. During the Cold War, the region was the staging ground for proxy wars between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, in which broader ideological battles were projected onto (and inflamed) internal social, political struggles. With the third wave of democratization and the fall of the Berlin Wall came the heady days of collective action for democracy and the promise of economic integration.
That ended. And with the rise of the anti-globalization governments aspiring to build a multipolar world by cozying up to rogue regimes (read: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez), the rise of China and India with their voracious appetites for natural resources, and Brazil’s aspirations to find a political role commensurate with its size, economic potential and independent world view, we’re no longer dealing with your grandfather or even father’s region.
Latin America has entered the realm of foreign policy in which the U.S. is not the primary axis around which countries define their economic and political interests or defend themselves. That’s not to say that, as one unfortunately titled article in Foreign Affairs said, the U.S. is “losing Latin America.” Yes, U.S. influence has waned in the region, giving political and economic space for these diverse relations in the region. But despite all the talk of other countries eclipsing it in the region, it remains a powerful force in defining the agenda, both positive and negative, for the region.
What is significantly different is that the U.S. now has to grapple with multiple, competing issues, a far more diverse region (in terms of orientation and interests), greater potential for intra-regional friction, and more contrarian countries—even when they may agree on broad points of principle.
Anyone who has ever played on a bad Little League team will recall the age-old wisdom that you learn more from defeat than from victory. While winning prompts celebration, losing demands critical reflection. The same is true in politics: any advocate worth her salt will use defeat as a learning opportunity for future efforts.
Now is just such a reflective moment for the movement for immigration reform, which, after losing the DREAM Act via a Senate filibuster, has come up empty-handed in the Obama administration’s first two years. Advocates must now ask themselves how they could have done better with regards to legislative strategy. The DREAM story suggests that this inquiry should revolve around two concerns. First, were advocates of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) too slow to shift to supporting piecemeal legislation? And, second, did these movement and congressional leaders advance the optimal piecemeal strategy by focusing exclusively on the DREAM Act?
The DREAM Act centered on a path to legalization for undocumented high school graduates whose parents brought them to this country as minors. The price for a path to citizenship would have been attending college or serving in the military. Since its introduction in 2001, DREAM has enjoyed bipartisan support, because it focuses on a highly sympathetic group of immigrants—students—who bear no responsibility for their undocumented status.
But, in the hyper-polarized 111th Congress, DREAM became extremely controversial. First, the bill failed to overcome a filibuster before the mid-term elections. Then, during the lame-duck session, despite majority public support for DREAM, the prospect of another Senate filibuster prompted DREAM advocates to shifting their focus to the House of Representatives.
Nonetheless, the Democratic leadership was unsure if DREAM could pass even the lower chamber. Eventually, Democrats modified the bill to pre-empt Republican objections—they reduced the age limit (from 34 to 29), lengthened the time period for citizenship (to a 10-year wait before being able to apply for citizenship), eliminated DREAMers’ eligibility for certain government benefits during the 10-year waiting period, and increased the fees beneficiaries would have to pay.
Folha de Sao Paulo reported on Sunday that the Dilma administration will invest $6 billion to control the trafficking of drugs and arms along Brazil’s borders with a reinforced police presence and upgraded weapons technology. The Sisfron system (Integrated Monitoring Borders) is part of Brazil’s efforts to boost security in preparation of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic games and is to be completed by 2019.
The majority of drugs in Brazil enter through its neighboring countries, with the largest quantities coming from Bolivia. According to El Pais, narcotrafficking and arms sales are responsible for 90 percent of the violence in Brazil. The Dilma administration has identified Brazil’s porous border as "the number one problem of the country's security.”
Last month Brazil’s Embraer—the world’s third-largest aircraft maker—and eight other private companies sent representatives to Brasilia to explore opportunities to invest in Sisfron. International defense companies have until January 31 to send proposals that will be reviewed by the Communications Center, the Army Electronic Warfare (Ccomgex) and Atech, a company specializing in software development.
The arepas are hot, the micheladas cold, and the music ubiquitous. A thick blanket of humidity hangs in the air, and the sunlight is blinding, even behind layers of fog. This is Cartagena de las Indias, a port city on Colombia’s northern Caribbean coast and the seat of the Festival Internacional de Música (International Music Festival).
Surrounded by beaches, full of colonial architecture and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cartagena has long been a popular destination for tourism, even when insecurity and violence in Colombia were at their height. With the renaissance of the past two decades, however, there has been an explosion of cultural activity. This January and February, Cartagena will play host to three major cultural festivals: the International Music Festival, the Hay Festival for literature and the Cartagena Film Festival.
One might ask how this city of 1 million inhabitants—as unknown internationally as beloved locally—has come to attract the attention of so many international artists. One reason: both the local and national government (i.e., municipal bodies and the federal Ministry of Culture and Tourism) have robust public policies promoting culture. Another, more practical reason is that the festival-as-cultural-commodity has found its optimal space here: Cartagena is beautiful (colonial architecture in the old city, picture-perfect beaches on the islands), strategically important (a port), and sought out by the elite.
In my short time here, I have already witnessed Cartagena—as a festival host—in action. On Friday night, the inaugural concert at the Adolfo Mejía Theater (named after a Cartagenero who composed songs about the city in a local musical style) in the Old City was clearly a place for the Colombian and international elite to see and be seen. Women in elegant gowns attended on the arms of men in white guayaberas, or linen dress shirts. President Juan Manuel Santos and investor, industrialist and philanthropist Julio Mario Santo Domingo (of the Emporio Santo Domingo holdings company) came with their families in tow. The program consisted of Johann Sebastian Bach, Joaquín Rodrigo and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, and was performed by the City of London Symphony and three soloists (one harpist, two violinists). The concert was everything one might expect of an opening night at a festival of international acclaim—dignified, reserved and respectfully yet enthusiastically received by its patron audience.
Audience spillover, mostly Cartageneros, watching on a TV screen nearby. Photo courtesy of Joshua Z Weinstein.
Two nights later, an open-air, public concert in the Plaza San Pedro Claver was even more lively and impassioned than that on opening night. Maybe it was the open-air environment on a warm evening with a mild breeze, or maybe it was the captivating cello and violin soloists performing works by French composers François Couperin and Camille Saint-Saens.
(Homepage rotator photo: Haitians in Grand Boulage are employed in one of UNDP's watershed management projects that are part of reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts. Courtesy of United Nations Development Programme.)
No es fácil realmente conocer la realidad de Haití y no precisamente porque los haitianos sean desconfiados o no quieran contar su historia. No es fácil conocer Haití porque nadie que no sea haitiano pone un pie en el día a día de la calle.
Hasta mil organizaciones no gubernamentales (ONGs) están trabajando en el país, una gran mayoría internacionales, pero los expatriados no pasean por Puerto Príncipe, no compran en los supermercados haitianos, ni se paran a adquirir siquiera una tarjeta para recargar el móvil en la pequeña tienda de la esquina. Al extranjero los haitianos lo ven montados en pick ups nuevas, circulando con los pestillos de seguridad echados y con la clara directriz de no bajarse del vehículo a hacer ninguna foto o tomar imágenes. El riesgo de secuestro es lo primero que a uno le advierten al llegar al país.
De vez en cuando por la carretera se cruza algún camión de la MINUSTAH presente en el país desde el 2004. Los cascos azules patrullan bajo el capítulo siete del Consejo de Seguridad, toda una operación de paz. Su presencia apoya el trabajo de los 10.000 policías del país garantizando la seguridad de un país de cerca de diez millones de habitantes. El toque de queda para el extranjero es de 11 de la noche a 6 de la mañana, tiempo en que la policía de Naciones Unidas no patrulla.
Cartel del candidato para la presidencia Jude Célestin. Photo by Tábata Peregrín.
Pero, es real la inseguridad que nos venden a los visitantes? Reniteau Ojean, profesor de comunicación de la Universidad de Puerto Prince lo pone en duda. “No nos podemos comparar con un país como Afganistán. El problema es que los mismos haitianos sobreprotegemos al extranjero”.
This Monday (January 10) will mark one year since the tragic night when 20 some Cuban mental patients died at Havana’s national psychiatric hospital due to a cold spell, according to the Cuban authorities. Human rights leaders on the island told Reuters (January 14, 2010) that “the patients were not properly protected from temperatures that dipped into the low 40s during an unusual extended cold snap on the tropical island.”
Granma, Cuba’s official newspaper announced that “the ministry of public health decided to create a commission to investigate what happened, and… the commission has identified several deficiencies related to the failure to adopt timely measures,” adding that “those principally responsible would be submitted to the corresponding tribunals.”
The Granma article was published on January 16, 2010. But nothing else has been heard from Havana.
The story, and the heartbreaking photographs, could not be denied by the authorities due to the courage of human rights activists who took advantage of twenty-first century technologies, sending abroad the dramatic evidence. Granma reported in a small item on January 16 that “during last week there has been an increase in the mortality rate of the patients at the psychiatric hospital of Havana.”
The Cuban government yesterday announced on state television changes in leadership at the ministries of construction and telecommunications. Former Minister of Construction Fidel Figueroa was dismissed due to unspecified “errors” and will be replaced by Rene Mesa Villafana, former head of Cuba’s state water supplier. No indication was given if there was simple mismanagement or malfeasance in the ministry. Former telecommunications Minister Ramiro Valdés, 78, will also relinquish his post to 48-year-old army general and communications engineer Medardo Díaz Toledo.
Mr. Valdés, who fought alongside Fidel Castro and his forces during the revolutions and is also a former interior minister, is considered a close ally of President Raúl Castro. He will retain his title of vice-president and, according to the statement, will have more time to oversee the leadership of both” his old ministry” (Interior) and the construction ministry.
These latest changes follow a series of Cabinet reshufflings in recent months as Cuba tries to revitalize its ailing economy by removing a half million public sector workers and opening up new opportunities for self-employment and entrepreneurship. In September, for example, the government announced the removed the minister of oil and mining, Yadira Garcia, in a sternly worded statement citing "deficiencies" and "weak manner."
The Obama administration took a positive step today toward resolving a long-simmering point of contention for U.S.-Mexico relations. A two-page concept document released by Secretary Ray LaHood and the Department of Transportation (DOT) outlines a series of proposals to revive the long haul, cross-border Mexican trucking program—an issue that has affected U.S. exports to a key U.S. trade partner.
Since March 2009, the United States and Mexico have sparred over allowing Mexican trucks to carry cargo into the United Sates. President Obama cancelled the program after concerns over the safety records of Mexican drivers and carriers as well as their lack of English. The move was seen as anti-free trade and protectionist by both U.S. and Mexican companies.
Soon after the President cancelled the program, Mexico denounced the move citing its violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which called for creating a cross-border trucking program by 2000. In response, Mexico imposed tariffs on products ranging from pork to chewing gum and pistachios. Once an agreement is reached, these retaliatory tariffs would be lifted.
Today’s concept document aims to renew negotiations with Mexico while also addressing concerns that led to the cancellation of the program. The document proposes vetting the information of both carriers and drivers through the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. Additionally, Mexican truck drivers and their carriers must pass a Pre-Authority Safety Audit (PASA) that includes a review of the carrier’s safety record and driver’s record, compliance with EPA emissions standards and a review of the carrier’s accidents, convictions and inspections in Mexico. Mexican drivers must also pass an English Language Proficiency exam and a U.S. Traffic Laws exam (conducted in English) and submit evidence of financial responsibility (insurance) to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
A new session of Venezuela’s National Assembly began official business yesterday in Caracas with a host of new faces. As a result of the 2010 parliamentary elections in September, President Hugo Chávez’ Partido Socalista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) party saw its count of Assembly seats reduced from 139 to 98 while members of the opposition—which had overwhelmingly boycotted the 2005 election—occupied the remaining 67 seats. The agenda was mostly ceremonial as Fernando Soto Rojas, a PSUV representative, was elected the new Assembly president. The first and second vice presidents of the Assembly elected yesterday were also from PSUV. Rojas comes from the state of Falcón and President Chávez nominated him for the post.
But the tone of the session was hardly amicable. After the swearing-in of all new representatives, President Chávez said that his majority party would “crush” the voices from the opposition, adding “I hope that the opposition members respect the Constitution, the laws, and the institutions.” PSUV representative Iris Varela dismissed any possibility of negotiating with the opposition. Competing demonstrations were held in the streets outside the Palacio Federal Legislativo between chavistas and pro-opposition supporters.
The new body takes office in the wake of last month’s Ley Habilitante (Enabling Law), passed by the outgoing Assembly and which awarded Chávez amplified decree powers. It was criticized yesterday by opposition spokesman Alfredo Marquina as a power grab, given the opposition having won over half the popular vote but 40 percent of the seats due to redistricting. This morning U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela referred to the Enabling Law as “antidemocratic” and a violation of the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Democratic Charter.
Mexico is the second most corrupt country in Latin America. That’s not an award countries usually strive for but it is, according to UNAM’s Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales (the National University’s Social Research Institute, or IIS), the disgraceful situation Mexico finds itself in at the start of 2011.
On January 3, UNAM released a press package in which they declared that according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index and the Latinbarómetro indicators, Mexico is only led by Haiti as the most corrupt nation in the region. IIS’s Corruption and Transparency Research Coordinator Irma Eréndira Sandoval Ballesteros explained that throughout Latin America “Mexicans are considered extremely corrupt in terms of public and private practices.”
TI’s 2010 Corruption Perception Index report explains that 75 percent of people believe that Mexico’s corruption has increased in the last three years. Political parties, police, Congress, and the judiciary top the list of corrupt institutions in our country (considered extremely corrupt), followed by media, businesses, organized religion and NGOs.
Sandoval Ballesteros reported that while the 2003 creation and further strengthening of IFAI (Instituto Federal de Acceso a la Información y Protección de Datos, Federal Institute for Information Access and Data Protection) has been a significant progress in terms to access to information, transparency has done little in battling corruption and has been marginally useful in creating a public conscience. In her own words, “if Mexico is not a leading nation in political and economic terms, it is because corruption has not allowed it and has become an obstacle to possible progress.”
Chile and Paraguay are expected to recognize an independent Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders in the coming weeks, says Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki. Today, the Chilean Senate approved a resolution requesting that President Sebastián Piñera recognize a “free and sovereign Palestinian state.” President Piñera is also expected to travel to the West Bank within the next few months.
President Piñera met one-on-one with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday in Brazil during the inauguration of President Dilma Rousseff. Abbas had traveled to the inauguration to thank Latin American presidents who have recently recognized a Palestinian state. These include the presidents of Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Ecuador—apparently in response to increased efforts by Abbas to seek international recognition of a Palestinian state at a time of stalemate in the peace process.
The recent spate of recognitions has somewhat confounded Israeli politicians, as no South American country has been directly involved in peace negotiations. Chile, however, is home to a population of about 350,000 Christian Palestinians, and like many of its neighbors, has a substantial Jewish community. Nonetheless, Israel has said that the South American declarations are a “highly damaging interference” by countries that were never part of the peace process.
For its part, Colombia has said it will not recognize a sovereign Palestinian state until a two-state peace accord with Israel is reached. And while Mexico has in the past expressed concern over Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, its foreign ministry has not indicated that it would follow suit behind Brazil and others. Spanish President José Rodriguez Zapatero has promised that Spain will recognize an independent Palestinian state in 2011, the only European Union country to do so.
In November, Americans turned on their computers, fired up their Internet connections and gravitated to wikileaks.org. The nation was appalled at coverage by virtually all national media telling the tale of a series of diplomatic cables leaked from different U.S. embassies in the world.
Immediately questions were raised about the U.S. military’s excessive use of force, national security, foreign relations, and a number of other matters included in the first wave of cables reaching the public eye. Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the State Department (with the help of Interpol) set out to try to silence Assagne.
But the response was starkly different in Mexico. Two days after the first WikiLeaks came out communications were released on U.S.-Mexico relations, the violence problem in Mexico and our armed forces’ internal debacles, as well as President Hugo Chávez’ involvement in supporting former presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador in the 2006 elections.
Some U.S. colleagues immediately contacted me commenting on “the hard hit” Mexico was taking from Assange’s open communication and free speech antics. However, Mexicans did not start tweeting or commenting on facebook and other social media sites about this. The usual suspect bloggers were mildly impressed and Mexico’s government reaction to the leaks was as agitated as a couple of turtles taking a nap.
A fire bomb, possibly homemade, exploded on a passenger bus in northwestern Guatemala City on Monday, killing at least six people and injuring 17 more. Witnesses told police that a woman came aboard the bus, placed the bag that presumably held the explosive on the luggage rack, and then got off the bus.
An investigation is underway but representatives of the bus driver’s union said that drivers had received repeated threats of violence from local gangs if they failed to pay protection money. According to Guatemalan news station Noti 7, the gang members were asking for a one-time payment of 60,000 quetzals, or about $7,300.
Attacks on public transportation officials are not uncommon in Guatemala, though past attacks rarely involved passengers. Human rights group Grupo Apoyo Mutuo reported that 175 bus drivers were murdered in 2009 alone. Guatemalan police estimate that bus drivers paid out more than $1.5 million in extortion money to organized crime groups over the course of 2010.
After more than 90 years, Yale University has agreed to return 363 ancient artifacts excavated by Hiram Bingham, who is accredited with discovering Machu Picchu in Peru. According to the Ministry of Culture, the 363 Inca pieces that Bingham excavated will first be exhibited in Lima’s Museo de la Nacion in March 2011, and then will be moved to Cusco’s Casa Concha. The rest of the items will be returned by 2012.
The agreement came after national and international campaigns, a lawsuit and negotiations between delegations. The efforts even sought out help from Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa.
Although a memorandum of understanding was signed between Yale and President Alan García in 2007 for the return of the artifacts, problems arose when former Peruvian first lady Eliane Karp did not agree to the terms. She wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times that Peru would only receive a limited amount of the original artifacts, when in fact the Peabody Museum at Yale University would retain the rest of the artifacts, supposedly numbering 46,332 in total.
Carrying on a tradition begun under former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, President Dilma Rousseff will bring together her principal ministers today for a coordination meeting to define the first steps to be taken by her government. As under Lula, these meetings will be held at the beginning of each week but do not replace full cabinet meetings.
The names of those participating in today's meeting have yet to be officially announced, but if the same posts are represented as during the Lula government, attendees should at least include: Secretary General of the Presidency Gilberto Carvalho, Secretary of Institutional Relations Luiz Sérgio, Chief Minister of the Institutional Security Cabinet José Elito Siqueira, Vice President Michel Temer, and Antonio Palocci, the head of the Civil House.
Before this afternoon’s larger meeting, Dilma is speaking individually with Antonio Palocci, Finance Minister Guido Mantega, Senate President José Sarney, Chamber of Deputies President Marco Maia, and President of the Federal Supreme Court Cezar Peluso
It was a banner year in the history of gay rights in the Americas. Here are the top-20 LGBT-related stories.
20) Open Doors: United States. The law that banned HIV-positive non-U.S. citizens from traveling or immigrating to the United States officially ended. The ban began as policy in 1987 and became law in 1993 (January 2010).
19) The Gay Man and the Sea: Peru. Gay director Javier Fuentes-León’s film, Contracorriente, about a love story between a fisherman married to a woman and his secret affair with a man, wins the Audience Award for World Cinema at the Sundance film festival (February).
18) An alternative Bolsa Escola: Brazil. Escola Jovem LGBT, Latin America’s first “school of gay arts,” as principal Deco Rebeiro describes it, opens in Campinas. The school was spearheaded by a Brazilian NGO and is financed by the state’s secretary of culture and Brazil’s ministry of culture (March).
17) Wings for all: Chile. LAN Airlines becomes an official sponsor of the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, the first time a Latin American airline sponsors a U.S. pride celebration (June).
16) La niña bonita: Cuba. Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuba's President Raúl Castro, marched along with hundreds of activates in an LGBT march celebrating the International Day Against Homophobia in Havana (May).
15) Negative campaigning: Chile. The government’s National Service for Woman launched a new ad campaign to fight violence against women with the slogan: “Faggot is he who beats a woman [maricón es el que maltrata a una mujer].” The largest LGBT organization (MOVILH) approved the use of the word faggot in the ads, arguing that in Chile the term refers mostly to a “non-transparent” person rather than to a homosexual and thus, using the term is not homophobic. Others thought the campaign was homophobic. Shortly after the campaign started, variations of the expression (e.g., “faggot is he who photoshops his picture") were widely tweeted across the country (October).
14) Good words: El Salvador. President Mauricio Funes issues a presidential decree banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the public service (May).
13) Beyond words: Brazil. Government creates the National LGBT Council, a specialized agency to protect the rights of the LGBT community.
12) In the dark: Vatican City/Santiago, Chile. The Vatican's second-highest authority, Cardinal Tarciso Bertone, says during a news conference in Chile that the sex scandals haunting the Roman Catholic Church are linked to homosexuality and not celibacy among priests. "Many psychologists and psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relation between celibacy and pedophilia. But many others have demonstrated, I have been told recently, that there is a relation between homosexuality and pedophilia.”
11) Fit to a T: Costa Rica. The Supreme Electoral Court publishes a resolution allowing transsexuals to appear on their national ID with the image they “frequently display” to society. This victory for the LGBT community was a reply to a demand from a male transsexual citizen, Andrey Porras Araya, to appear in his photograph as a female.
10) Evo-lutionary science: Bolivia. Speaking at an environmental conference, Evo Morales claimed that both homosexuality and baldness can be caused by the humble chicken. Chicken producers injected fowl with female hormones and insisted that "when men eat those chickens they experience deviances in being men."
Samuel Moreno, mayor of Bogotá, and his predecessor Luis Eduardo Garzón are under investigation by Sandra Morelli, Colombia’s Controller General, for corruption in the awarding of contracts for Bogotá’s TransMilenio public transit system. Ms. Morelli moved Tuesday to freeze the financial assets of both the incumbent and ex-mayor.
The TransMilenio dilemma began when Mr. Garzón paid Grupo Nule, a Colombian contracting firm, approximately $36 million in late 2007 to construct a route from downtown Bogotá to El Dorado International Airport, which serves the Colombian capital. Grupo Nule did not adhere to mandated specifications for the project’s insurance policy and subsequently went bankrupt in 2010 during Mr. Moreno’s administration, leaving the Colombian taxpayers with the roughly $104 million bill.
Mr. Garzón is being investigated in part because Grupo Nule was paid only three days before the end of his mayoral term, which has raised suspicion. The Controller General’s investigation includes Moreno for what it quotes as “passive behavior” in not proactively monitoring irregularities that arose during the TransMilenio project that was mostly engineered during his term.
Mr. Moreno has professed his innocence and has thus far rebuffed calls to step down from office.
Chávez in Charge
The Venezuelan National Assembly granted to President Hugo Chávez on December 16 the power to rule by decree for the next 18 months, in what El Tiempo calls legislators’ “fourth instance in 11 years of hari-kari.” The “Enabling Law” comes two weeks before the new National Assembly takes office, after which Chávez’s party will lack the needed two-thirds majority to enact new legislation. A Venezuelan archbishop came out against the law, saying it will turn the country into a “constitutional democratic dictatorship.”
Legislators also approved on December 20 other laws extending Chávez’s power, including two that tighten regulations on the internet and telecommunications. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) warns these lawscould promote further censorship. “The reforms,” argues CPJ senior program coordinator for the Americas, “passed without any debate, are a clear attempt by the Venezuelan government to further its clampdown on critics and independent media.”
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s administration and Alberta’s regional government have pledged to develop a plan to correct “significant” flaws in the environmental oversight and pollution monitoring program of Canada’s vast oil sands within 90 days. The announcement follows a report from the federal Oil Sands Advisory Panel, which highlighted “significant shortcomings in the monitoring system as a whole” and forced Environment Minister John Baird to acknowledge that the administration has failed to adequately monitor the impact of oil sands exploitation on air, water and land resources.
The oil sands industry plans to expand production to 3.4 million barrels a day by 2020. The proposed expansion of production in Canada is also meeting some opposition in the U.S. as environmental groups lobby to block the expansion of the pipeline that carries Canadian crude oil to refineries in Oklahoma and Illinois.
Critics of the oil sands project and expanded production contend that the Canadian government should take a stronger role in protecting the environment under existing legislation, instead of leaving responsibility to regional governments that have thus far failed to adequately protect the environment, according to the report.
The long-running debate over how to deal with the irrational and impulsive strongman, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, has reached feverish pitch this winter. The latest casualty in this war of words has become U.S. Ambassador Larry Palmer, the Obama administration's nomination as ambassador to Venezuela. Worse yet, Chávez ultimately got what he wanted out of this latest battle: his choice of who will not be our next Ambassador in Venezuela. On Monday, Venezuela formally told the U.S. to not bother sending Larry Palmer as the next ambassador since he would be asked to return the moment he landed in Caracas.
How did this all go down?
Like Cuba, any U.S. move regarding Venezuela involves egos, politics and fortunately, some policy. Naturally, when Palmer went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee over the summer, the career diplomat—characterized by some at the U.S. Department of State as "not a Washington man"—he already faced an uphill slog.
Our domestic debate over Venezuela generally falls into two camps: engagement and confrontation. There are, of course, shades of gray and nuances between the two sides—though such voices are so often overpowered by the more extreme views.
On one side, you have those espousing "strategic engagement," keeping in line with the Obama administration's stated foreign policy and national security objectives. In short and broadly speaking, these proponents might argue, with an irrational state, you shouldn't turn your back. Look where that got us with North Korea, Iran and Syria. Instead you want a seat at the table to start a dialogue based on mutual respect and to build on areas of mutual interest. You raise concerns discretely and express disapproval quietly or through third parties. As one person said, engagement should be “subversive," because you seek to assert positive influence by being present and through cooperation on areas such as business development, financial opportunities, or culture and sports. Indeed, Palmer was the right guy to carry out this mission.
But, the engagement policy, as it is practiced with Venezuela, seems more like "appeasement," say people clamoring for a tougher approach. After all, for years now, we have witnessed a democracy's death by a thousand cuts. This past week, Hugo Chávez got one of his Christmas wishes with the approval of new decree powers, thereby further eroding the country's once well-established institutional checks and balances. Chávez threatens more than human rights and democratic norms; the U.S. has legitimate national security concerns, such as nuclear proliferation, terrorism and narcotrafficking. Yet, as Chávez runs roughshod over international norms, is the U.S. working to halt the downward spiral?
A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, released yesterday, documents violence and a climate of intimidation in Honduras in the aftermath of the 2009 military coup. The 65-page report, titled “After the Coup: Ongoing Violence, Intimidation, and Impunity in Honduras,” identified 47 cases of threats or attacks—including 18 killings of journalists, human rights defenders and political activists—since the inauguration of President Porfirio Lobo in January 2010.
According to the report, the lack of accountability has negatively affected freedom of speech and political participation in Honduras. José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at HRW, said that “until Honduran authorities take concrete steps to reduce impunity and stop the attacks, it will be very difficulty to restore trust in the country’s democratic system.” The report’s recommendations include the allocation of funds for the Witness Protection Program and the establishment of an International Commission of Inquiry to carry out thorough investigations into abuses committed after the coup and into ongoing attacks and threats.
The June 28, 2009, coup that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya was denounced by much of the international community, including the United States. In the weeks after the coup, the OAS suspended Honduras’s membership.
Last November, in an unprecedented display of force, the Brazilian authorities performed a spectacular crackdown on criminal gangs operating in the Complexo de Alemao, a big system of favelas in the northern area of Rio de Janeiro. Such display of force is by no means excessive: some of the gangs in Rio's favelas are well-armed, equipped with assault weapons, rifles, and in some cases with anti-tank and anti-aerial rockets. All of those, of course, bought with the proceeds of the drug business.
An interesting feature of this operation was the involvement of several agencies and forces. In addition to local police and the famous BOPE (portrayed in the acclaimed movie Tropa de Elite), military forces, including even the navy, participated in the crackdown. Reports say that the Army has been given the mission to preserve law and order in the favelas in the aftermath of the operation.
The Haitian Electoral Council decided on Sunday to postpone the publication of the results of a recount of the November 28 presidential election. The recount, conducted by the Haitian government with the supervision of the Organization of American States (OAS), was a response to widespread allegations of fraud and ballot stuffing. In a statement, the council chose to "postpone publication of the results of the first round of voting until the contentious phase of the electoral process is over and an OAS mission requested by President René Préval finishes its work.”
Responding to calls for a recount, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "If you ignore the legitimate questions raised about the election, you create conditions for longer-term instability.” The U.S. embassy in Haiti also expressed their concerns about the electoral disenchantment: “The United States, together with Haiti's international community partners, stands ready to support efforts to thoroughly review irregularities in support of electoral results that are consistent with the will of the Haitian people,”
A run-off is scheduled for January 16, 2011. According to the preliminary electoral results, former first lady Mirlande Manigat and ruling party candidate Jude Celestin would face each other, leaving third-place candidate Michel Martelly out of the running.
El paisaje es desértico y frío. Sopla el viento y sólo oyes, apenas, la paja brava crecida en esas tierras sin agua. Lo único que se ve, con suerte, son llamas y alguna vez un campesino. Así es el altiplano en la región de Potosí y Oruro, cerca de Orinoca, allí donde nació Evo Morales. De regiones como aquéllas cada año llegan a las ciudades de Bolivia cientos de indígenas en busca de dinero, ropa y regalos para sus hijos pequeños. En sus tierras sólo hay pobreza, miseria y ancianos.
Las llaman simplemente “potosinas”. Son mujeres. Los hombres se quedan en el campo, trabajando la tierra. Las mujeres parten con sus hijos de pocos meses cargados en la espalda, o con chiquillos de menos de 10 años a los que les enseñan a estirar la mano para pedir dinero en las calles de la ciudad. Sus rostros están ajados por el frío, parecen viejas y mastican coca como único alimento. Algunas son ancianas de más de 70 años. Algunas enseñan a sus hijos o nietos a cantar o bailar quizás para paliar un poco la vergüenza de andar mendigando.
Y es que Potosí es, hace demasiados años, el departamento más pobre del país más pobre de la región (después de Haití). Una triste paradoja si pensamos que Potosí le dio al mundo las inmensas riquezas de aquél cerro rico que está hoy al borde del colapso de tanto horadar sus entrañas de plata. Ahora mismo, Potosí, donde se encuentra el Salar de Uyuni, explota para el país y el mundo el preciado litio como alternativa energética del futuro. Y por si fuera poco, hace algunos meses Potosí entró en seria disputa con su vecino Oruro por la propiedad de un retazo de territorio donde se prevé explotar uranio con la participación de Irán.
Mientras tanto, Potosí continúa expulsando a su gente hacia las ciudades del interior del país, e incluso a países vecinos, en busca de mejores días. Hay comunidades en las que quedan menos de una decena de ancianos. Nada más.
Earlier this week, Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas was awarded the European Union’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Mr. Fariñas, however, was unable to accept the award in person after Cuban authorities denied him papers to leave the country. In his place, the presenters of the Sakharov Prize left Mr. Fariñas chair empty with just a Cuban flag draped over it and his prize.
The Sakharov Prize is awarded to each year to “exceptional individuals who combat intolerance, fanaticism and oppression.” In awarding this year’s prize to Mr. Fariñas in absentia, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek noted that the purpose of the prize was to eliminate exactly the situations that prevented Mr. Fariñas from traveling to the award ceremony. “Even though activists like Guillermo Fariñas are persecuted and are imprisoned, their voice cannot be silenced. The role of the European Parliament is to amplify that voice,” President Buzek said.
Mr. Fariñas was able to address the attendees at the award ceremony through a recorded video message in which he urged the EU to “not allow themselves to be deceived by the siren songs of a cruel regime practicing ‘wild communism.’”
This year’s award to Mr. Fariñas marks the third time in the past eight years that the award has gone to Cuban citizens. Mr. Oswaldo José Payá Sariñas won the prize in 2002 and the Ladies in White won the award in 2005.
The European Parliament awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Guillermo Fariñas, a psychologist and independent journalist from the City of Santa Clara in central Cuba. Fariñas has been imprisoned 11 different times for his advocacy for a peaceful transition to democracy and the rule of law on the island. He received worldwide attention after the death of Orland Zapata Tamayo, a political prisoner who died during a hunger strike calling for better treatment for Castro's political captives. The Cuban authorities denied Tamayo water during the last 18 days of his life.
On December 10 the Cuban government refused to permit Guillermo Fariñas to travel to Strasbourg, France, to receive the award. An empty chair draped in a Cuban flag was placed on stage to represent his absence. Fariñas recorded an acceptance speech in Cuba, which was played for members of the European Parliament at the ceremony. According to Fariñas, the Cuban government's refusal to let him travel was "the most irrefutable witness to the fact that unfortunately, nothing has changed in the autocratic system ruling my country...In the minds of Cuba's current rulers, we Cuban citizens are just like the slaves from whom I am descended, kidnapped in Africa and brought to the Americas by force. For any other ordinary citizen to be able to travel abroad, I need a Carta de Libertad, that is a Freedom Card, just as the slaves did; Only today it is called a Carta Blanca, a White Card."
Last week, thousands of poor families (13,000 people according to initial government counts), mostly non-citizens from bordering countries, took over a huge Indoamericano park nearby the Buenos Aires city town of Villa Soldati, and began constructing makeshift homes. The lack of immediate government response to the public park squatters, led angry neighbors to attempt to forcibly kick them out. The result was dramatic civilian riots and clashes reminiscent of 2001 that led to three dead, two Bolivians and one Paraguayan. More than just an embarrassing scene for both national and city governments, the act, which has led to a propagation of similar take-overs, reveals major socioeconomic deficiencies and highlights real concerns over political extortion and sabotage.
Shortly after the Villa Soldati riots, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner acquiesced to demands to send the Gendarmerie and Navy Prefectorate to control the park. The president, however, refused to clear the park and decided instead to erect barricades to protect the protestors as the government conducted a census. Somewhat ironically, televised reporting revealed caged, angry squatters demanding provisions like food and water from the government as if they were being held prisoners.
If he had the equipment and manpower at his disposal, the city´s conservative mayor, Maurcio Macri, would have cleared the park, but his newly created metropolitan police force does not have mob control capacity. In the initial stages of the fiasco, the mayor argued that the national government is responsible for maintaining public order. But the president refused to treat the squatting as illegal, referring to it rather as a protest and demanding that the mayor provide suitable housing for the masses.
The episode was so dramatic and disturbing, that shortly thereafter that President Fernández de Kirchner ordered the creation of a new security ministry and appointed the acting minister of defense since 2005, Nilda Garré, at its helm. She then appointed the former governor of Santa Cruz Province, Arturo Puricelli, as the minister of defense. Most of the political opposition criticized the move as rash decision-making, but most agree that the country is in desperate need of a clearly defined security policy. According to the local media, the first mission of the newly created ministry will be to purge the federal police and create strict government control of the forces to ensure a focus on human rights and transparency. Ms. Garré has also announced the creation of a “citizen participation” commission to incorporate representatives from civil society to control security forces.
Power sharing, coalition, divided, or minority government are usually terms associated with democracies in Europe or Asia. Left- or right-wing coalitions usually dominate the political alignments in those countries. In North America, political parties are usually broad-based coalitions with progressive, moderate and conservative wings. Even the Conservative Party and Liberal Party in Canada represent a more divergent scope of views than their labels suggest. In the U.S., Democrats and Republicans have similar characteristics that have evolved over time. But trends, as observed in recent elections, indicate that democracies in general are witnessing wider electoral coalitions and consequently greater power sharing in their governance.
In Canada, the parliamentary system is currently composed of four parliamentary party caucuses including the ruling Conservatives, the official opposition Liberals and third parties such as New Democratic Party and Bloc Québécois. Canada is now entering a sixth year of minority rule under Conservative Stephen Harper’s leadership. The last period in Canadian history with such a long run of minority government occurred in the 1963-1968 period under Liberal Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson.
Having personally served in successive majority governments in Québec (1985-1994) and worked in a minority government (2007), I concede that a majority government has obvious advantages in terms of pushing its agenda. However, with party allegiances more fragile than ever in Canadian history, one can expect to have more minority governments or power-sharing arrangements. The latest polls indicate that Canadians seem at ease with the current minority government situation.
Venezuela’s National Assembly announced this morning that it is prepared to pass the Enabling Law, (Ley Habilitante) that will award President Hugo Chávez the power to legislate by executive decree once the new Congress convenes on January 5. The Assembly’s declaration is a nod to Chávez’ stated intention to seek such authority.
President Chávez insists that he needs to bypass typical legislative procedure to respond swiftly to the recent national floods that have resulted in 40 deaths, 130,000 displaced persons and tens of millions of dollars in damages. He has previously indicated that he will use his expanded decree to further regulate the Internet and increase the national value-added tax. Analysts also suspect additional measures that will precede the 2012 presidential election, for which Chávez has already announced his candidacy for re-election.
The current Assembly has entered a lame-duck phase after parliamentary elections in September saw a large shift in voter preferences. Chávez’ party, Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), lost 41 seats while a coalition of opposition parties—under the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD) label—gained 61. Although the PSUV will remain in the majority come January, a two-thirds consensus is required to pass sweeping reforms. The MUD will occupy over 40 percent of seats in the next Assembly, effectively blocking such measures.
From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Come Again: Recount or Revote in Haiti?
With concerns running high about electoral fraud in Haiti’s November 28 presidential vote, some observers—including former U.S. President Bill Clinton—have called for a ballot recount. But third-place finisher Michel Martelly believes electoral officials should take it a step further and hold a revote on January 16, the date slated for a runoff between Mirlande Manigat and Jude Célestin. Martelly finished less than 7,000 votes behind Célestin, who was endorsed by current President Réne Préval. PBS NewsHour spoke with Joel Dreyfuss, native of Haiti and editor of TheRoot.com, about a potential recount and suspicions about the neutrality if Haiti’s electoral commission.
Read an AS/COA Online analysis about the Haiti’s disputed presidential vote.
With the House passing the DREAM (Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act last Wednesday and the Senate set to vote on it as soon as this Friday, now is a good time for a personal account of what’s at stake with DREAM.
Gaby Pacheco, a 25 year-old undocumented immigrant whose parents brought her from Ecuador to the United States at age 7, has been an outspoken advocate for DREAM since 2004. In addition to her work with Students Working for Equal Rights and the Florida Immigrant Coalition, she joined three other undocumented students on the Trail of Dreams earlier this year—a four-month walk from Miami to the nation’s capital—to call attention to the plight of the roughly 2 million undocumented people brought to this country as minors. We spoke about her experience as an undocumented child, her involvement in DREAM advocacy and some of the difficult compromises involved in getting the DREAM Act through the Congress.
Altschuler: I was hoping you could start out by telling me a bit about your personal story and how you became aware of the immigration issue.
Pacheco: I’ve been in the United States for 18 years. I was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, but I was raised in Miami, Florida. I started in the 3rd grade, and I scored really high in math and science, so I was put in a gifted program. That gave me confidence to believe in myself, and my teachers instilled in me a great desire to achieve and persevere, with the idea of achieving the American dream—that if we work really hard, we can achieve anything that we set our minds to.
At elementary school, I was in the choir, and I would stay after-school helping the teachers grade papers. I guess you could call me a teacher’s pet, but I just really loved school.
In middle school, I started getting into honors classes. In high school, I took AP classes, and I was part of the cross-country, basketball and the track-and-field teams. I was part of the ROTC program with the Army and the Navy and was one of the top students in the school.
The first time I started finding out that there was something wrong was in the 8th grade. One of my two sisters had finished high school, but she wasn’t able to go to school and continue her path—she wanted to be a nurse. It shocked me, so I started working even harder. And then in 10th grade, I took Drivers Ed, and I took all the paperwork that they’d given us. They told me, “All you need to do is fill out these papers and they’ll give you your learner’s permit.” So I did do that, and I was really happy, but then I got turned down. And then my dad said, “That’s OK, we’ll just go to another office.” But then I kept getting turned down. I was missing a paper that was going to stop me—not only from driving, but also potentially from going to college.
In 12th grade, when I graduated from high school, I confronted that issue. But, thankfully, Miami-Dade College opened the doors to me and other students. I was able to excel. I was student government president—not just of my college, but of the 28 colleges in the whole college system in the state of Florida. In 2006, I was representing 1.1 million students and had the opportunity to meet with the governor and senators and promote legislation that actually became law. I was really proud of myself. When I graduated from college, I thought I had proven everybody wrong, and maybe there was some way that I was going to be able to somehow find a reprieve. But I went to lawyers, and they told me that wasn’t going to happen.
Altschuler: How did you get involved in advocating for the DREAM Act?
Pacheco: I became an advocate for the DREAM Act in 2004. And now, more than ever, it’s crucial that we get the DREAM Act passed.
I’m formally connected to Presente.org, which does online organizing. And I came from the Florida Immigrant Coalition, and I was one of the founders of Students Working for Equal Rights in the state of Florida. From four of us that used to meet to try to pass the DREAM Act, we now have 16 chapters throughout Florida. Students Working for Equal Rights is part of the United We Dream network, which is led by students and represents 26 states.
This year, along with Felipe, Carlos and Juan—we walked from Miami to DC. And last week, I was able to witness passage of the DREAM Act from the House gallery. This week, we’re looking forward to talking to our senators to try to get a favorable vote either this week or next week for the DREAM Act.
Altschuler: Could you share with me your position on the DREAM legislation in its current form, after negotiators opted to reduce the age limit (from 34 to 29 years old) and the extension of the waiting period for citizenship (10 years before one can apply for citizenship) to get the bill through the House?
Pacheco: For me, it was really tough to see the DREAM Act change, and change in such a dramatic way. Now it will leave out my sister, for instance. The reason I’ve been fighting so hard has been for her. Actually, December 14, is her birthday—she turned 31. And so I thought that the legislation would have passed by now, and I thought that if the legislation changed, it would be for 30 or under. She was fighting so hard, is so bright—she wants to be in the Air Force—and now will be left out, unable to do anything.
But at the same time, it’s still good legislation, and it would still allow potentially 1 million students to fulfill their dreams.
Altschuler: Can you tell me about the discussions between the pro-DREAM groups about the compromises that were on the table?
Pacheco: For us, the compromises and the changes came at a high cost. But, at the same time, we understood that they were needed to push forward and have the bill where it is today. For us, that was the bottom line. We don’t want the legislation to change anymore, because we don’t want to lose any more students.
So, as a collective, at all the different stages, we did have a call where we discussed it, and everybody took a vote. The majority—and it was almost unanimous—felt that this was what we needed to do, and that we needed to move forward. But making sure that we are keeping our leaders responsible—making sure that these changes would allow more senators to vote for it.
Altschuler: How concerned are you about the possibility of there being further concessions to DREAM—for instance, on enforcement provisions—to get it passed in the Senate? Would you and other pro-DREAM groups stay on board?
Pacheco: There are definitely concerns about what might get attached to it. And I think a lot of people are aware of where the limits are going to be. But, because we haven’t seen the language yet, we’re just worrying about pushing it forward. At the same time, we respect the decisions that the organizations from border states make. They’re the ones that will be most affected, and their voices will be crucial in how we want to move the legislation forward. Because we do not want to hurt people in the process of helping others. And that’s one of the beautiful things about being united—that we can have these conversations and say, “Arizona, how do you feel about this? Texas, how do you feel about this? California, how do you feel about this?” Because we’re a family, we’re a community, and we need to make sure that everyone’s going to be OK. So there will probably be a time when we have to talk if the legislation comes with extreme things that we cannot allow. And I think we’ll stand together if it does have things that are unacceptable to our community.
Altschuler: Can you tell me about the recent activities in which you’ve been involved to promote DREAM?
Pacheco: Tuesday was an incredible day. We had faith leaders from all different religious backgrounds and states come to DC. In the morning, we had a press conference, and the different religious leaders had the opportunity to speak to say why it’s important for DREAM to pass. We had organizations that represent millions of people saying that this is something they want. Also, the faith leader who was leading the press conference said, “If the senators don’t pass this, they’re going to have to deal with us, and all the Christians, Muslims, and Jews that are represented here. We’re going to open our universities and colleges, and we’re going to go against the laws, because they’re going against the will of God.” And it was really amazing to see older preachers saying, “We’re going to do civil disobedience and they’re going to have to go through us to get to these students.” It fills our souls and our hearts. Having people from the faith backgrounds supporting us is really key.
There is also the Jericho Walk around the Senate by the students. And the faith leaders joined, and they went to every single one of the buildings and the Capitol, where they had the students in the middle and the religious leaders praying around them. And, before that, all the students got together and sang the national anthem. And after that, we walked into the Senate Hart building, where there were prayers, and then the religious leaders did pray-ins in Senate offices with the students. We went to the offices of Senators Sessions, Lemieux, Hutchinson, Landrieu, McCaskill, Brownback, and many others.
Altschuler: One final thing—assuming the DREAM Act passes, what would becoming a citizen mean to you?
Pacheco: It would be a golden key for success. It would be the ability to use the talents and gifts that I have to give back to this country. The DREAM Act would mean the realization of the dreams that I have, and unleashing the potential of hundreds of thousands of students throughout the United States.
*Daniel Altschuler is a contributing blogger to www.AmericasQuarterly.org. He is a Copeland Fellow at Amherst College and a doctoral candidate in Politics at the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. His research focuses on civic and political participation in Honduras and Guatemala.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.