Category Archives: Uncategorized

Venezuelan Exodus

The current mass exodus of Venezuelans has generated the largest migration crisis of its kind in recent Latin American history. Over 2.3 million citizens have left Venezuela since 2014 as the country faces shortages of food, medicine and basic goods. Upon seeing the suffering of the Venezuelan people, and the burden this heartbreaking crisis puts upon its neighbors, the NGO’s “Human Rights Watch” and “International Crisis Group” would be best suited for funding by the State Department to work on solving this crisis.

Venezuelans have been fleeing their country for multiple reasons. Under the late Hugo Chávez, a new constitution, paired with numerous elections, placed nearly all the governmental power under the control of the Socialist Party. This concentration of power was only aided by a persistent opposition, which attempted to carry out incompetent and inefficient campaigns and electoral boycotts. Upon the death of Hugo Chávez in 2013, the presidency was taken over by Nicolás Maduro, even less tolerant of dissent than his predecessor. Growing political totalitarianism corresponded with greater dominance over the economy of the country, but government mismanagement, price controls and expropriations have led to a 40% shrinkage of the economy in the past five years alone. Oil had previously accounted for 96% of the country’s export income, as Venezuela is quite rich in oil, and has the largest proven reserves in the world. Arguably, it is this exact wealth that serves as the root of many of the country’s economic problems. Due to its large wealth of oil, Venezuela had never really bothered to produce much else. Venezuela would sell oil to other countries, and with the money it earned, would import the international goods the citizens of Venezuela wanted and needed. However, when the oil price plummeted in 2014, many foreign companies were driven out, production dropped to a 30-year low and Venezuela was faced with a shortage of foreign currency to support its own economy. This shortage, in turn, made it difficult to import goods at the same level it had before, and imported goods gradually became scarcer and scarcer. The resulting financial crisis prompted the government to print more money, leading to hyperinflation and a collapse of the currency. Nicolás Maduro has rejected economic reforms out of loyalty to the Socialist party, and because many government officials are allegedly growing wealthier off the economic disparities, through exchange rate scams, and by selling scarce food on the black market for high prices.

In late 2017, the economy entered a hyper-inflationary spiral, leading prices to rise by over 200 per cent per month. As Venezuela relies critically on imports, the country is now facing acute shortages of food, medicine and many other vital goods. The public health service has completely fallen apart, while the providing of utilities, such as water, electricity and gas is suffering. Malaria, measles, diphtheria and tuberculosis epidemics are currently affecting large parts of the country, despite the eradication of these diseases in the past, and even threaten to spread to Venezuela’s neighbors. With all the problems Venezuela is currently dealing with, The United Nations has stated that Venezuela is on its way to a “crisis point”, comparable to the crisis seen in the Mediterranean in 2015.

Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Watch have both constructed plans in response to Venezuela’s humanitarian emergency. Witnessing the scale and complexity of migration within the region, Human Rights Watch believes that governments should come together to adopt a collective response, including: a region-wide protection regime that would grant all Venezuelans legal status for a set period; a regional mechanism to distribute financial costs, and spread the hosting of Venezuelans fleeing their home country; and joint strategies to address the reasons leading so many Venezuelans to flee their country, including adopting targeted sanctions such as cancelling visas against Venezuelan officials connected with serious human rights abuses, and advertising accountability for human rights violations. International Crisis Group also has a plan in place for the Venezuela’s deepening crisis, including: urgent, additional assistance for countries bearing the burden of the migration, where, in return, those countries should ensure that migrants are eligible for public services and programs of integration; the strengthening of civil society groups providing humanitarian aid within Venezuela and a preparation for a worst-case scenario. These two organizations have formed promising responses dedicated to working on easing this crisis, and should receive sufficient funding by the State Department.

Friends Fighting for the Amazon

The Amazon Rainforest, spanning across nine South American countries, is the largest and most impactful rainforest whose health has worldwide consequences. Both man-made and wildfire deforestation has been threatening the Amazon for decades, but in the recent past, major national and international events are creating an even greater cause for concern. Last year, researchers found that estimations of the Amazon’s carbon emissions from forest fires were only one fourth of the actual output, creating much concern. Paired with the election of Jair Bolsonaro, a conservative politician with support from agribusiness lobbyists , to the Brazilian presidency, protecting the rainforest is becoming an increasingly daunting task.

Fighting to save the Amazon has been an international effort, but perhaps the most noteworthy frontrunners aren’t far from home. Indigenous groups have been some of the greatest advocates for protecting their home. One year ago, indigenous leaders, nicknamed “Guardians of the Forest”, met with UN members to offer their support for the Paris Agreement. They discussed how Native Americans have been setting the example for humans giving and taking from the Amazon, creating a mutually beneficial relationship. In fact, deforestation in the lands that they control is eighty percent lower than outside their areas. The Rainforest Alliance, a non-governmental, non-profit organization, recognizes the important role that indigenous groups play in saving the rainforest, and has provided them guidance to participate in the global economy. Ensuring the survival of indigenous peoples in turn ensures the survival of the Amazon.

Another group is turning away from inconsistent policy makers and turning to loyal advocates- the Amazon Aid Foundation. The NGO focuses instead on using the arts and humanities to spread awareness worldwide. They have even gained fairly powerful attention as representatives met in the Vatican. There, they screened films produced by the non-profit, and Pope Francis himself commented on the Catholic Church’s duty to the Amazon. Their primary goal, however, is to encourage artists and musicians to work for change. They do not stop with professionals, though. The Amazon Aid Foundation wants children to get involved, building a generation that speaks out against environmental injustice and petitions their governments. The group collaborated with teachers to create lesson plans that will fit into Common Core Curriculum and show how the humanities and liberal arts can be used to make change. The Amazon Aid Foundation is bringing forth new methods for protecting the rainforest because relying on governments has had inconsistent success.

Governmental power in South America, like the rest of the world, is shifting. Despite policy changes, governmental volatility continues and the problem in the Amazon only worsens. What is needed is a change in culture alongside legislation. The Rainforest Alliance and the Amazon Aid Foundation are taking on this challenge. They are making deforestation a worldwide issue because it has worldwide consequences. Indigenous groups have strong relationships with the Amazon that spans over hundreds if not thousands of years, and ensuring that their insight is shared with international leaders is a great step in creating realistic regulations. Raising a generation that understands their role in the environment and calling for people across all fields to advocate for the rainforest creates a social expectation of environmental justice.

As of now, the agrobusiness economy is lining its pockets with industries relying on the Amazon’s destruction. Once the rainforest is gone, its funds will be depleted, so even currently profitable businesses will suffer. These organizations are working towards much needed cultural change and should receive funding from the US government. Currently, the these businesses based in the Amazon benefit from worldwide consumption. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the world to join the movement. A shift toward a long-term mindset is required and that is what the Rainforest Alliance and Amazon Aid Foundation need help promoting.

Oh No, Canada!

           Holding 20% of the world’s fresh drinking water, one would not think that pollution, lack of access, and the commoditization of water has plagued Canada’s Indigenous people for more than 5 years. Without clean and easily accessible water, the people of Canada’s “First Nations” have to endure hardships every day to take advantage of such a necessary resource as water. For example, in Ontario’s Indigenous Reserves, people have to pay to have water delivered to them, boil their water every day, or travel to only two fill up sites with clean water. The conditions these people are living in are being described as “third world”, vs. first world.

         Blue algae, E. Coli, and other bacterial coliforms are the primary contaminants of pollution in Canada’s water. Drinking, bathing, and cooking with this water is very dangerous.  A single mother in Ontario used a reverse osmosis dispenser to bathe her son. When it became a hassle to take him to the dispenser every day, she thought it would be safe to bathe her 4 month old son using the tap water. The mother claimed “his face got swollen. I was told he has eczema. I want to bathe him every day, but it has to be every two to three days. When we travel to Thunder Bay, his skin isn‘t like this when I bathe him in the water there.” These are just some of the struggles that Canadians go through every day when trying to access water.

          The people of Canada have taken notice and are banding together to put a stop to the water problem that indigenous Canadians face every day. Warren Brown, a paramedic turned water treater who spends his days travelling across the Ontarian reserve lands, inspecting and maintaining water treatment facilities has been a game changer for the crisis. If an advisory needs to be issued, Brown is the one who makes the call. Brown was one of the leaders behind a group who connected with RES’EAU-WaterNet, a research network at the University of British Columbia which specialises in small, affordable water systems. Without the help of the government, they have single handedly set up a small water treatment plant for themselves.

         The commoditization of water by the government has shown the government’s failure in protecting these people as they continue to sell water treatment plants to companies, instead of townships at need.  Recently, in a small town called Elora, Nestle outbid the town commerce system to purchase a well on the town line. The other two wells in Elora are so unstable that they both can’t be pumped at the same time. Seeing that the government prioritized wealth and commerce over the basic needs of its people, local Canadians realized they had to make a stand. This led to the start of different campaigns and boycotts towards Nestle in Elora, “Save our Water” is a group that allows people to express how they feel peacefully through a means that supports others in need.Many upcoming events are schedules against Nestle, including a march organized by an indigenous student, and a “Putting a Stop to Nestle” event on November 24, 2018.

        To solve their water problem, the Canadian government is working alongside indigenous government and organizations to push new bills that  repeal the provisions of the Northwest Territories Devolution Act that would restructured the four land and water boards in Ontario’s provinces. These are just small steps in the Canadian government’s actions towards remedying the crisis. If Canada truly wants to solve its water problem for indigenous people, it needs to stop commoditizing water and turning basic needs into business, and focus on the needs and safety of all its people.

 

Not a wall, but an echo chamber at the border

A confrontational, manipulative populist? No, I am not referring to Donald Trump. While these words certainly apply to Mr. Trump, you may be surprised to learn that they also apply to the frontrunner in the current Mexican elections, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, commonly referred to as AMLO. Many believe that Obrador’s election would create a similar effect in the Mexican system as Donald Trump’s election created in the United States. Like Donald Trump, Obrador garners very mixed reviews from the Mexican people. Some people consider him a savior and are drawn to his honest and raw oration, whereas others are offended and fearful of both him and his rhetoric, quite often comparing his narcissistic and authoritarian tendencies to Hugo Chavez.

Obrador was the former Mayor of Mexico City from 2000-2005. He proceeded to run for the presidency in 2006 and 2012. Obrador returned to the political sphere as a result of Trump’s election in 2016. Trump’s overwhelming anti-Mexican immigration plans and threat to abandon NAFTA have caused the Mexican election to turn into a contest of anti-Americanism. Realizing the threat Trump’s United States posed on Mexico, Obrador quickly began campaigning, traveling and holding rallies around Mexico and the United States. Obrador lost in his two previous campaigns for president. But this time seems different. Presenting himself as the only politician who can and will stand up to Trump, Obrador is convincing many people to buy into his plan. Trump’s threatening language towards Mexico is, ironically, empowering Obrador, another vociferous populist. Many Mexican voters are drawn to the idea of having their own alpha male on Mexico’s side of the border.

Obrador’s strategic populist rhetoric gives him an iron-grasp on Mexico’s poor. The more ignorant population is deceived by his impractical promises and view Obrador as their savior. It is simple. He makes people believe him. Obrador uses the democratic inexperience of poorer Mexicans to his advantage. His evident conviction and accommodationist language draws a huge following. His presence creates an electric pandemonium and his promises inspire excitement for the future among his followers.

To his supporters, he is eternally the hero who gave pensions to the desperate elderly and helped address Mexico City’s traffic problems as the mayor of the city. They are willing to turn a blind eye to his more questionable actions, such as refusing to accept the outcome of the 2006 election and declaring himself the “legitimate president” of Mexico.

One rally attendee stated that he rarely even voted in Mexican elections let alone participate in a rally. He further states that he firmly believes that Obrador is the only person who can protect Mexico. His belief harkens back to the “savior” element of populists. During the 2006 election, Obrador made promises to cut government waste, and expand welfare programs, promises which appealed to the millions of Mexican who live on less than $5 per day. While Obrador’s strength is definitely this connection to the poor, his weakness lies in his lofty promises and utopian plans. These could spell his downfall.

Obrador promises new schools, roads, hospitals, oil refineries, improved electricity, clean water, health subsidies for the poor, scholarships for the young and most importantly jobs. Yet Obrador is completely incapable of explaining how he will make good on his commitments. Does this remind you of a certain plan for a wall? Critics find his economic plans unrealistic as the magnitude of funds Obrador would need to finance his programs simply do not exist. To the informed eye, Obrador’s economic program is clearly too ideal and optimistic. But his millions of supporters do not all possess this “informed eye.”

Ultimately, some Mexicans are enchanted by Obrador, while others remain disillusioned and scared. While poorer Mexicans tend to be excited by Obrador’s promises to improve their lives, wealthier Mexicans hear this message as a threat to enterprise, institutions and the elite business class. To some, he is the champion of the common man. To others he is an arrogant, power-hungry threat to Mexico. Obrador is currently the favorite to win the election. If he does finally prevail, it will set up quite an interesting showdown. It all comes down to July 2018.