The State Of Affairs In Latin America: A Conversation With Secretary General Of The Organization Of American States Luis Almagro

By Geovanny Vicente Romero, Guest Blogger

A few days ago, I had the honor of joining an event that the Brademas Center and the prestigious New York University (NYU) hosted on its campus in Washington, DC, better known as NYU-DC. The event was titled, “A conversation with the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) Luis Almagro“. This important discussion was held within the framework of the #DCDialogues, a forum that convenes academia, government, the private sector, and the general community in the political capital of the world, Washington, DC.

I posed several questions to Secretary General Luis Almagro about the diverse challenges the hemisphere faces at present in the areas of democracy, citizen liberties and human rights, especially in Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti.

This analysis of current developments in these countries is pivotal to the role the OAS plays in fulfilling its mission for, “more rights for more people,” across the Americas.

Venezuela

One of Gabriel García Márquez’s most famous works is No One Writes to the Colonel. In the case of Venezuela, Almagro has become the voice of those Venezuelans who have no one to write to them, no one to listen to them and no one to protect them from their own abusive regime led by Nicolás Maduro. I pointed out that we all have a lot of concern and hope for Venezuela but it was necessary to know what outcome we could expect in the near future and what is needed to supporting the Juan Guaidó movement and help the brave and strong people of Venezuela fulfill their own destiny. The Secretary began by indicating that making a short-term forecast would not be possible, but it was clear that, “Guaidó is the last hope we have for a peaceful solution. The most violent solution that can be applied to the country is the one that is being applied now. My concern with empty slogans like #HandsOffVenezuela is that meanwhile all the violence in the world is being applied to millions of Venezuelans. Millions of people had to abandon the country because they didn’t have any medical care. Millions of people are starving.”

Cuba

I then transition to the largest island in the Caribbean, noting that after all the efforts to integrate Cuba into the region and bring it closer to the United States of America, we find ourselves back at square one. The only difference is that for the first time in 60 years, the Cuban president is not named Castro. Almagro’s answer could not be more clear, “The Cuban dictatorship is the worst kind of dictatorship you can find in the whole world. They are not tied at all to the needs and the feeling of the people. When this is tied to Venezuela, it makes the failure even more evident. They [Cuba] are the most parasitic country that has existed. He noted, “The Cuban government has been sucking blood from Venezuela. Today, Venezuela is a corpse and they are still sucking the blood from a dead body. It is a severe case of parasitism. They cannot afford to live without Venezuelan oil. It will be worse than during the Special Period. They [the Cuban government] know that any other government will not be able to keep delivering this oil to Cuba.

“The name of the President is not Castro, but the name of power is still Castro,” said Almagro.

Nicaragua

It is imperative to know more about the OAS’ involvement in Nicaragua. From the very beginning, the OAS has been working for democratization, stronger political institutions, rule of law, and the independence of the different branches of government in the country. The OAS has strived to be part of the solution to the political crisis in Nicaragua, since it has been a year since the protests began in April 2018. Almagro said the opposition, although they were not well organized, had an opportunity at the first two months of the protests, as they were strong enough to demand early elections and some institutional solutions. However, this period passed and the government prevailed by force. The government then tried to consolidate the peace they achieved by force through human rights violations.

Almagro shared with us that the OAS acted as a witness in the negotiation process that the government and the opposition carried out. The Secretary General urged the government of Daniel Ortega to release political prisoners as soon as possible, stop the repression on demonstrations, guarantee political freedoms and begin electoral reforms.

Almagro called for maturity from both sides, “We need people to stop lying to us. The needs of the people are too great. We need to deliver solutions. We don’t like when people play political games with this situation. It is not acceptable. We [the OAS] concentrate on the duties of the government, because only they can deliver solutions for the people.” I concluded this portion of the discussion adding that the Nicaraguan government is seeking to buy time so that the current situation becomes the new normal.

Haiti

Our conversation returned to the Caribbean. I started by noting how the international press rarely covers the important current events in Haiti, a country that recently appointed a new prime minister in the wake of protests. The Secretary General expressed his deep respect for the Haitian nation, his concern for the economic and political conditions of the country and his great admiration for all the struggles the country has historically overcome.

“We want the country to stabilize; people to be respected; and the electoral process to be implemented. The country needs a lot of international cooperation for the country to stabilize, and we will provide it. In early May, there will be meetings in Haiti’s Congress to confirm the interim the government. We need to keep clear. We can’t play with fire when we are all in a barrel of fuel. We should help always to stabilize Haiti. We shouldn’t exploit their structural problems. We should be concerned about their needs.”

He commended the country saying, “Haiti was the first Caribbean country to investigate the corruption in PetroCaribe. It’s a commitment against corruption and puts a lot of stress on the political system.”

Social Inclusion

I did not want to end this conversation without knowing a little more about the steps that the OAS takes to close the inequality gap, taking into account that Latin America is considered the most unequal region in the world. My idea was to address vulnerable populations such as the indigenous peoples, afro-descendents, and the LGBTQ community, among others.

Almagro pointed to the central mission of the OAS, “More rights for more people”. He detailed the social inclusion campaign carried out as an organization and when referring to the LGBTQ community, he said that, “we want each country to resolve the discrimination suffered by the people of this community.” He even indicated that he attended the Vancouver Gay Pride and will attend the Washington Pride. Coincidentally, two days after this discussion, Almagro published a photo in which he is seen receiving the Global Champions Awards 2019 from the Human Rights Campaign, for his leadership for LGBTQ rights and for the work of social inclusion that his organization carries out.

These four countries in the Americas, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti, require the most focus from the OAS and the international community. There are many bright spots within the Americas, but as a region, we are only as strong as our weakest link. For more details on the dialogue with Secretary Almagro, we leave you with this video from the event.

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OAS Electoral Observations Can Prevent Future Threats to Democracy

By Geovanny Vicente Romero, Guest Blogger

In 2018 Latin America faced a number of democratic crises, among them Daniel Ortega’s violent repression of peaceful Nicaraguan protestors and Venezuela’s further fall into humanitarian disaster.

In 2019 the world will grapple with exactly how to confront and combat these situations. A mix of sanctions and aid is the traditional policy recipe. In the case of Venezuela, the United States, Canada and others are now putting increased diplomatic pressure on the Maduro Regime and have formalized support of the young opposition leader, Juan Guidaó1.

But more long-term solutions are needed to combat the crises of tomorrow. Undoubtedly, this involves the overall strengthening of democratic institutions and norms, particularly in places where democracy is already being threatened, but also in places that are traditionally democratic strongholds.

One way to do this is through Electoral Observations Missions. During an interview with GFDD, Director of the Department of Electoral Cooperation and Observation (DECO) at the Organization of American States (OAS), Gerardo de Icaza, explained the utility of such initiatives.

Electoral observation missions, like those of DECO, prevent fraud and guarantee free and fair elections by helping carry out electoral processes at the national or municipal level. Vote counting and keeping polling places safe and free of corruption are among their activities. Such independent missions are particularly important for countries that are developing and do not yet have the technical capacity to ensure free and fair elections.

In the Western Hemisphere, countries possess one of the most formidable electoral observation organizations in the OAS’ DECO. In its more than 50-year history, the regional body has carried out over 240 successful missions in more than 27 countries throughout the region. The organization is extremely transparent, offering complete and easy-to-access reports and data on each of its observations2.

But, many countries in the region do not utilize DECO’s capabilities. Chile, Canada, and Argentina have never had visits from the OAS body. In Venezuela, for instance, there has not been a DECO mission since 2006.

Reacting to disasters like those of Venezuela and Nicaragua are complicated, and as the Venezuela example demonstrates, can potentially worsen an already bad situation. A proactive and simpler way of preventing threats to democracy is to utilize independent electoral observation missions, like those of the OAS.

With more electoral observation missions, Latin America and countries around the world, might experience less democratic and humanitarian crises in years to come.

  1. Wyss, Jim & Camacho, Carlos. “Venezuela now has two presidents. How long will the uncertainty last?” Miami Herald. January 23, 2019. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/venezuela/article224962020.html
  2. “Department of Electoral Cooperation and Observation.” OAS. 2019. http://www.oas.org/en/media_center/press_release.asp?sCodigo=S-015/16

International Observance Day: World Turtle Day, May 23

Today, Monday May 23, we celebrate World Turtle Day!

Started in 2000 by American Tortoise Rescue, World Turtle Day is an opportunity for people to learn more about turtles and help protect them and their habitats, which are rapidly disappearing around the world.shutterstock_408879517

About American Tortoise Rescue

Since its inception, American Tortoise Rescue has rescued well over 3,000 turtles and tortoises of all species with 70 percent being land tortoises and the remainder water turtles! The in-house population “floats” at about 125.

Some key facts about tortoises and turtles

  • All turtles and tortoises are reptiles that go back about 220 million years; they vary in size from fitting in your hand to about 817 kilograms!
  • Turtles spend most of their lives in water while tortoises are land animals;
  • The largest sea turtle species is the leatherback turtle which weighs 272 to 680 kilograms and is about 139 to 160 centimeters long, according to the World Wildlife Federation (WWF). It can dive up to 900 meters below the ocean surface!
  • The Galápagos tortoise grows up to 183 cm long and can weigh up to 260 kg.

For more than 100 million years’ marine turtles have covered vast distances across the world’s oceans, performing a vital and integral role in marine and coastal ecosystems. Over the last 200 years human activities have tipped the scales against the survival of these ancient mariners.

Today, three of the seven existing species of marine turtle are critically endangered.

Conservation efforts in the Dominican Republic

Several conservation efforts have been put in place in the Dominican Republic to protect the green sea turtle, given its status as an endangered species.

shutterstock_422223721Despite the existence, since 1962, of Dominican laws for the protection of sea turtles, species such as hawksbills are frequently captured for the use of meat and carapace for the tortoiseshell trade.

In 2000, the General Law of Environment and Natural Resources was passed, introducing several articles for sea turtle protection including prohibiting egg take and capture of juveniles and adult turtles. However, implementation of this legislation remains problematic given that funding and logistics are an issue, particularly as illegal take of eggs and captures at sea are frequent. The development of beach tourism over the last decade has also increased construction in coastal areas and degraded many nesting beaches.

Laws themselves are therefore not always a sufficient deterrent for poachers, and urgent conservation action from NGOs and government representatives is clearly needed.

Dominican NGOs acting against poaching

Hunting and egg collection for consumption are major causes of the drastic decline in marine turtle populations around the world. Green turtles are caught for their meat, eggs and calipee.

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On August 20, 2013 a rescue operation was put in place by the ministry of the Environment at the Gri Gri Lagoon in Rio San Juan, which is part of the María Trinidad Sánchez province. The focus of the operation was to save green sea turtles that had been captured by local residents to be used as mascots or attractions for local tourists in the freshwater lagoon.

This endangered species which depends on the saltwater of the ocean to feed itself and complete its lifecycle, faced a very grim future before the government stepped in.

Indeed, having been carefully removed from the lagoon and reinserted into the Caribbean Sea, the sea turtle can now return to its long migration route which extends from the Caribbean Sea all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

This is what happened during the green turtle rescue:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhel8r-RNHU

Social media

shutterstock_423583426Please help spread the word about this important observance day using the hashtag #WorldTurtleDay or by liking the official Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/WorldTurtleDay/

 

UN Observance: Nelson Mandela International Day – July 18, 2015

13-1For most human beings, life is to live in this world for a certain period of time. For others, to live is to be born, grow up, learn, work, eat and reproduce, without living the illusion of falling due to a materialistic life.

Humble people accomplish their mission in life. They worry for other people and are aware of their life is related to everything that exists. A great example of this is Nelson Mandela.

Who was Nelson Mandela?

Nelson Mandela was born in the village of Mvezo , in South Africa. He lived from 1918 to 2013. He was a great politician and philanthropist.  He is someone to be remembered as a great winner of the Nobel Prize, among other awards. Nelson Mandela was a great human being who was willing to die to create a free and democratic society.

Nelson Mandela was in jail for 27 years, and fought for equal rights for people of color and had the courage to be the first black president of South Africa. He was a great activist who eliminated the Apartheid in South Africa to reconcile racial differences and help eliminate poverty.

mandela_johanesburgo_homenaje_reuters2 (1)Secretary-General’s Message:

Nelson Mandela once said: “It is in your hands to create a better world for all who live in it.” He was a leader who acted with a steadfast belief in justice and human equality. Let us all continue, each day, to draw inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life-long example and his call to never cease working to build a better world for all.

Nelson Mandela gave 67 years of his life to the struggle for human rights and social justice.

How the day came about to be a memorable international date

In July 18, 2009, the Nelson Mandela International Day was launched via unanimous decision of the UN General Assembly, in recognition of the birthday of someone who was a legendary president in South Africa, who lead by example and showed the importance of peace and freedom for all, like the global village we live in.

It is not a coincidence you are reading this message, you have the opportunity to help people. Start making a difference right now:

http://www.un.org/en/events/mandeladay/takeaction.shtml

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