Friday, February 27, 2015

President Santos Four-Man ‘Peace Squad’ in Havana

As President Juan Manuel Santos and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) continue peace negotiations, the Colombian chief executive has had to deal with constant criticisms from the far-right and at the same time face the reality that the guerrillas have gained a political advantage have gained by declaring an indefinite cease-fire and then sticking to it. (Read more in this week's edition of NotiSur). This has prompted Santos to seek outside help from a select group of foreign advisors with expertise in peace negotiations.

In early January, the president’s Havana negotiators sat down for a closed-door meeting with four special guests: William Uri, a US mediation expert from Harvard University; Joaquín Villalobos, a former Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN) guerrilla who helped negotiate El Salvador’s 1992 peace accords and has since become an outspoken critic of all leftist groups in Latin America; Jonathan Powell, a former British Cabinet chief who helped broker the peace deal with the Irish Republican Army (IRA); and Shlomo Ben Ami of Israel, an ex–foreign minister who played a leading role in the 1978 Camp David peace agreements with Egypt.

Santos seems to have covered all of the political bases with his four-man team of advisors. The four VIPs come from a very diverse background: a Salvadoran ex-guerilla turned British Foreign Service-sponsored peace negotiator and critic of the left in Latin America; a former Israeli Foreign Minister who negotiated for peace at the Camp David Accords; a former British banker and advisor to the Prime Minister who negotiated with the IRA; and a US author and social anthropologist who’s bestselling books have put him in the boardrooms of various peace talks and negotiations.

We thought it would be interesting to provide a bit more information regarding their biographies and their lifelong journey to the Havana Peace talks.

Photo: Fabrizio León in Observador Juvenil
Joaquín Villalobos: Perhaps the most enigmatic of all four, Villalobos began his career as a commander in the People’s Revolution Army, a left-wing Marxist guerilla army that emerged in El Salvador in the 1970s, eventually merging with other groups to form the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). During the bloody civil war that ensued, Villalobos fought against a US-Israel supported regime and paramilitary death squads. Conversely, he was also accused of participating in the murder of leftist poet Roque Dalton.Villalobos. His entire track record confronts this tension between fighting both for and against the revolutionary left.  Following the 1992 peace agreement in El Salvador, he was sent by British Foreign Service to study in England, and has acted as a major critic of leftist politics in Latin America since then. His main attributes seem to be straddling the line between the feared and ruthless left-wing guerilla commander of the 80s, and the right-of-center peace negotiator of today. Read his article,"La paz: cerca de La Habana, lejos de Bogotá"in El País  

Wikimedia Commons

Shlomo ben Ami:While the Israeli-supported Salvadoran government forces waged war against the guerillas in the 80s, Ben Ami was acting as the Israeli ambassador to Spain. A fluent Spanish speaker who was born and raised in a Mizrahi Jewish family in Morocco, Ben Ami began his career as a historian at Tel-Aviv University, concerning himself principally with studying the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. As Israel’s Minister of Foreign Relations, Ben Ami participated in the 2000 Camp David Summit. Since then, he has publicly supported the Palestinians’ decision to not accept the terms dictated by Israel. He now serves as vice president for the Toledo International Centre for Peace. .


Photo from Uri's Web site

 William Ury: A bestselling author of books on mediation and conflict management that deal with a wide range of topics. See his  official  Web site. “Bill Ury has the remarkable ability to get to the heart of a dispute,” former US President Jimmy Carter recently said. Trained initially as a social anthropologist in Yale and then Harvard, Ury founded and directs Harvard’s Program on Negotiation. He has participated in a wide array of peace talks ranging from family disputes to mediation for the Bushmen of Kalahari and the clan warriors of New Guinea.

from The Guardian
Jonathan Powell: An adviser to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair (1995-2007) and chief British negotiator on Northern Ireland. One of Powell's chief accomplishments was helping the Northern Ireland peace talks to move forward, resulting in the Good Friday Agreement. Powell also had a close working relationship with former US President Bill Clinton, and participated in a US-UK-Israel project that brought Latin American figures such as Joaquín Villalobos to study in England. The diplomat has also had his share of controversies, including an accusation that he might have divulged too much information Russian officials about the activities of the British spy agency M16 in that country. After retiring from government service, Powell became a senior investment banker with Morgan Stanley in 2007. He left the banking sector to create Inter Mediate, an organization that participates in armed conflict negotiations around the world.

-Jake Sandler

Also in LADB on Feb. 18-20

Follow us on Twitter @LADBatUNM

(Subscription required to read full LADB articles. Click here for subscription information)

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Virtual Museum About Corruption in Paraguay

Their names are Ana Calvo, Dave Mac Cruz, Manuel Rolón, Sara Torres, Edgar Brando Almada,Pau Benabarre. Their task is to use illustrated satire to fight corruption in Paraguay. A more accurate description of what they do is to record instances of corruption in the South American country through their illustrations, which are housed at the non-profit Museo de la Corrupción

Given Paraguay's colorful (for lack of a better word) history of corruption, it seems natural that such an innovative and creative method of retaining collective memory of public corruption cases would emerge from alumni of the Guapa School of Creativity in Asunción. (Read more about reent cases of corruption in Paraguay in this week's edition of NotiSur). Founded in 2013, the school draws artists and students from various sectors of the community, including students at the Bellas Artes de Asunción, urban graffiti artists as well as professionals in graphic design firms.

For their own reasons, the six current artists that comprise the work of el Museo de la Corrupción came to create work for this not-for-profit collective because it offered them the capacity to work toward social and political change in a collaborative atmosphere, where artists from all walks of life come together to create a project with a singular theme. When you look at their body of work, what you see is as much about the actual history of corruption in their country as it is about themselves: born in the 80s and early 90s, tired of hearing the same old stories without seeing any change, and willing to bring their unique, contemporary styles to the table to pursue their collective dreams of seeing a corruption-free Paraguay.

After a turbulent first half of the 20th century in which Paraguay often found itself on the losing end of conflicts, with Bolivia and amongst its own parties, the struggling nation fell into the hands of a dictator, Alfredo Stroessner, who ruled from 1954 to 1989. Although the 70s and 80s were decades of expansion, just like in Chile, Argentina and Brazil, it was also a time of brutal dictatorial violence in which human rights were routinely and grossly violated in the same of national security and suppression of subversives. This environment of post-dictatorial corruption amongst political leaders projecting a supposedly renovated, civilian elected state, which was in plain reality marred by constant episodes of electoral fraud and corruption at the highest levels.

In the first seven hours of existence, the digital museum was visited 38,000 times as online media platforms began spreading the word. El Museo de la Corrupcion was launched in conjunction with the 2013 International Anti-Corruption Day observed each 9th of December.

The site is conceived and designed in line with the movement of social and political movements on social media. The interface is clean, minimalist and very easy to navigate, while the opening images are strikingly colorful, complete with captions that are concise and poignant.

The end effect is a feeling very similar to being in an actual museum, spacious, with the white walls and the room silent contemplation. They expect to have a physical site for the museum up soon, and have launched an app to access the museum and its exhibitions on mobile devices.

David Mac Cruz, one of the Museum’s illustrators, told El Mundo in October of last year that “although some of the crimes brought to life in these works can seem surreal or ironic, the intention of the Museum is not to create humor, as corruption is serious,” but rather to expose how the reality of these crimes are such that an informative portrayal of what has happened can seem exaggerated and abstract.

-Jake Sandler

Also in LADB on Feb. 11-13

Follow us on Twitter @LADBatUNM

(Subscription required to read full LADB articles. Click here for subscription information)

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Political Trajectory of "Sweet Micky"

SWEET MICKY FOR PRESIDENT - TRAILER from Something Kreative Studios on Vimeo.

On the same month that Haiti dissolved its parliament and President Michael Martelly announced some controversial Cabinet appointments, the film 'Sweet Micky for President' received two top awards for Best Documetnary at Park City’s Slamdance festival. What do the two events have to do with each other? They both feature  Michael Martelly as a leading character.

For the news about the political developments in Port-au-Prince, we invite you to read  this week's edition of NotiCen because this blog post is all about the documentary.  In a nutshell, this is what the documentary is all about.
"Music and politics collide when international music star Pras Michel of the Fugees returns to his homeland of Haiti following the devastating earthquake of 2010 to mobilize a presidential campaign for Haiti’s most controversial musician: Michel Martelly aka Sweet Micky. The politically inexperienced pair set out against a corrupted government, civil unrest and a fixed election. When Pras’ former bandmate - superstar Wyclef Jean - also enters the presidential race, their chances seem even further doomed. But despite the odds, they never give up on their honest dream of changing the course of Haiti’s future forever."
As a first time director, Ben Patterson received an abnormally high level of acclaim for the film.  However, the debut of his film at Slamdance last month had  many people in and out of the political world talking about Haiti, particularly about the current president, Martelly. Slamdance  is a ‘cousin’ festival to Sundance that features films which fall outside of Sundance’s elite lineup,

To learn how Martelly came to run for president, it is useful to review some background history. This history is depicted in the documentary Sweet Micky for President. In 2011, following the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti, Patterson accompanied his friend Pras Michel, a former member of the legendary hip hop trio the Fugees, on a trip to the Caribbean nation.

Patterson initially captured Pras’ frustration with the state of affairs in his native country. The  documentary took a different twist when Pras decided to encourage his friend, a wildly popular Haitian musician, to join the several dozen candidates running in the Haitian presidential race.  Michel Martelly (also known by his stage name “Sweet Micky”) had been a billboard staple in Haiti since the 1980s, and was known for his wild stage-presence. However, he was also known for his pointed, often poetic lyrics that criticized the government. Off of the stage, Martelly had been a vocal figure in Haitian popular culture and politics, speaking out strongly against former leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide and supporting the coup that overthrew him.

Pras drummed up support for Martelly’s campaign not only from his longtime musical partner and Haitian-born friend, Wyclef Jean, but also from Hollywood stars such as Sean Penn and from a powerful US couple:  Bill and Hilary Clinton.

Sweet Micky for President” tells the almost unbelievable story of the rise of a politically-minded pop star to the presidency of one of the world’s most troubled nations. Surely, it is one of those stories that even the most seasoned authors of fictional screenplays could never make up, a story that involves intense poverty, massive international aid projects, American hip hop stars. And let us not forget the role of the Clintons and political rival Aristide, a popular Haitian figure in his own right.  When “Sweet Micky” entered office in 2011, it was the first time in Haitian history that an incumbent president peacefully transferred power to a member of the opposition.

-Jake Sandler

Also in LADB on Feb. 4-6
    Follow us on Twitter @LADBatUNM

    (Subscription required to read full LADB articles. Click here for subscription information)

    Tuesday, February 3, 2015

    The Environmental and Political Reasons Behind the Decision to Halt the Dragon Mart Project

    Transnational project  in Quintana Roo Photo: Jake Sandler
    The Dragon Mart megaproject in Quintana Roo state is on life support.  A couple of weeks ago, the federal environmental protection agency (Procuraduría Federal de Protección al Ambiente, PROFEPA) determined that the project--funded largely by Chinese interests--was causing too much damage to the fragile ecosystem of the area.  In addition to halting the project, developers were ordered to pay a fine and restitution 20 million pesos.  Read more in the most recent issue of SourceMex.

    Quintana Roo’s Endangered Deciduous Jungle
    The actual environmental transgressions cited by PROFEPA have mostly to do with violations of NORMA 059, which protects native Mexican species of flora and fauna. In particular, the Dragon Mart developers have been cited for violating the law’s ‘Anthropogenic’ clause, which evaluates changes in the use of soil and their impacts on human settlement.

    The wetlands, mangroves and swamps most affected on the property known as “El Tucán” are not heavily populated. However, they contain some of the region’s most important and endangered ‘deciduous jungle’ species and ecosystems. Despite the heavy handed environmental protection policies on the part of the federal government, many critics speculate whether or not there is more behind the recent decision to halt Dragon Mart’s development; as articles such as this one in El Economista show, Quintana Roo is the same state where transnational interests in planting transgenic soy have superseded legitimate opposition. Others have sought to prove that a political dispute between Peña Nieto and Vicente Fox is actually what is behind the recent decision.

    A Mexican-owned development?
    Juan Carlos López Rodríguez, director of the Dragon Mart Cancun megaproject, has repeatedly stated that the company behind this project, Real Estate Dragon Mart Cancun SA de CV, is a Mexican company, founded in Monterrey and funded by 90% Mexican capital. A recent article in the daily business newspaper El Economista explains the company’s ownership in more detail: 45% is actually owned by Real Estate Dragon Mart Cancun, while another 45% is owned by Monterrey-Cancun Mart (of which Lopez Rodriguez is partner). Finally, the other 10% is accounted for by Chinese magnate Hao Feng, president of Chinamex, a company interested in introducing Chinese products throughout the world, and the same company that brought the first Dragon Mart to Dubai in 2003. As the name of Feng’s company suggests, ever since its founding in 2000, this Chinese firm has had its eyes on Mexico, particularly those places most visited by international tourists and businesses. That was the first year of Vicente Fox’s presidency, under which Lopez Rodriguez was involved in a China investment scandal while serving as a customs officer.

    Speculation of a PRI power play against PAN
    Reports have surfaced that  individuals linked to Fox are involved in 90% of the investment.  Among the names mentioned are José Luis Salas Cacho, ex-director of Maritime Transportation, and Manuel Bribiesca Sahagún, son of former first lady and Vicente Fox’s wife Marta Sahagún. So, is it possible that President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration is wielding its power via PROFEPA to land a blow in what is actually a decades-old power struggle between the PAN and PRI? However, you consider this situation, it is hard for the public to ignore the incestuous relationship between Dragon Mart investors and former PAN functionaries under Fox. Meanwhile, environmentalists and local community leaders in Cancun are praising the federal government’s decision as a victory for the land and for the rights of the region’s inhabitants.

    -Jake Sandler

    Also in LADB on Jan. 28-30
    Follow us on Twitter @LADBatUNM

    (Subscription required to read full LADB articles. Click here for subscription information)