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Diplomacy in Disguise: The Politics of Sport

By Geovanny Vicente Romero, Guest Blogger

The first Olympic Games originated in ancient Greece in 776 BC uniting male athletes from present-day Iberia (Spain) to the west and the Black Sea region (Turkey) to the east. The games were principally to honor religious beliefs and Zeus, the father of ancient Greek Gods. Today’s Olympic Games unite men and women from all corners of the globe, all faiths, and all walks of life.  World sporting events are seen as great equalizers and a showing of national values, pride, and legacies.  Specific countries and regions cultivate national pastimes such as soccer, cricket, weightlifting, martial arts, among others, while world powers such as the United States of America, China and Russia seek imperial dominance and hegemony over the sports arena. International sporting events, like the Olympic Games and World Cup, offer global platforms for rival countries to unite under unprecedented conditions that can improve fraught relations, expose historical divisions, or foresee future conflicts.

It is worth recalling the Berlin Olympics of 1936, held in Nazi Germany under the auspices of Adolf Hitler, which served as a key turning point for the battered country to rebuild its image following World War I on its rise to global dominance.  The games were also a breeding ground for international spies to collect critical intelligence leading up to the next world war. It was at these Olympic Games that the Fuhrer’s theories of Aryan racial supremacy and the lengths the country would go to further this aim, were laid bare. Germany’s newspaper declared in the strongest terms that Blacks and Jews be banned from the games. Although Germany’s athletes won the most medals that year, Black American sprinter Jesse Owens dominated in track and field.  Interestingly, the Americans pulled their Jewish athletes from the games so as not to embarrass host Germany.  Three years later, in 1939, events in Nazi Germany led to the declaration of World War II.

With the balance of global power shifting in 2018, the world has witnessed sports diplomacy take center stage with the historic opening of talks between North Korea and South Korea.  North Korea’s increasingly bellicose nuclear launches were endangering the world, creating great uncertainty about the safety and security of the South Korea games.  Ultimately, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un’s desire to be part of the games was greater than his threat to destroy them. Through intense diplomatic talks with China and South Korea, the historic détente with its neighbor, led to North Korea sending 22 athletes to compete in five sports, including fielding a joint women’s hockey team as a unified Korea.  Since the February Olympic Games, talks between the United States of America and North Korea have intensified, and led to the historic Singapore Summit, which for the first time in history, united a sitting U.S. President with his North Korean counterpart.

Just like in ancient times, the Olympic Games were a forum for political discussions and also the cause of political strife.  While the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) has a policy of banning politics at the World Cup, there have been formal complaints of politics interfering with the Serbia-Switzerland game, and intrigue about the curious role that Chechnya has played in this year’s contest. The divisions remaining from former Yugoslovia were evident in the recent World Cup game between Serbia and Switzerland.  Two of Switzerland’s leading players of Albanian descent—linked to Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008—were fined 10,000 Swiss Francs each by FIFA for making hand-gestures of the two-headed Albanian eagle during the game.  For its part, the Serbian team was also fined 54,000 Swiss Francs for its fans’ discriminatory banners, messages, and conduct during the game.  The impassioned Balkans history played out during the Russian World Cup, and this incident was not the only brush with politics at the 2018 event.

Let’s look closer at the linkages between Chechnya and Egypt, which suggest Russia’s bridge-building between Muslim elements of their own and the Islamic world.  Egypt’s national soccer team, led by star Liverpool striker, Mohamed Salah, stayed in the Soviet Republic of Chechnya during their run at the World Cup.  Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov enjoyed several public photos with Salah, and even granted him an honorary citizen of Chechnya.  This politicization of sports is taking its toll with the Egyptian Football quickly silencing rumors that Salah was bothered by the spectacle and will retire following this event.  Should these claims of Salah’s retirement prove true, and are linked to this crass political stunt, there will be deep resentment on the Arab Street, which could negatively affect any Middle East strategy Russia had been laying the groundwork for vis-à-vis Chechnya.

For Ancient Greeks, sporting events offered the opportunity to discuss politics while reveling in athletic competition.  While modern day Olympic Games, World Cups, and other international sports officially are independent of politics, the strong historical currents run through each and every one of these venues, offering the opportunity for redemption, revenge, and revision.

Geovanny Vicente Romero is the founder of the Center of Public Policy, Leadership and Development in the Dominican Republic (CPDL-RD). He is a political analyst, international consultant and lecturer based in Washington, D.C.  Follow him at @GeovannyVicentR 

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Social Equity in the Americas: Perspectives and Proposals from the OAS

By Geovanny Vicente, Guest Blogger

Betilde Muñoz–Pogossian: “Social Inclusion is the process to achieve Equity in the Americas”
Women’s empowerment, eradicating hunger and poverty, promoting the inclusion of people in situations of vulnerability, many of those often treated as second-class citizens, such as afrodescedants and indigenous people who do not have equal access to basic benefits and services, the LGTBI community, as well as protecting human rights in general. These issues are part of the life and works of Dr. Betilde Muñoz-Pogossian and are also her passion. In this interview conducted in Washington, D.C., Dr. Muñoz-Pogossian, Director of the Department of Social Inclusion of the Secretariat for Access to Rights and Equity of the Organization of American States (OAS) told us about the progress made and the main challenges regarding the equity agenda in the Americas.

 What is equity? What are the key issues in the equity agenda in the Americas?
All human beings, from the time we were kids, understand how situations of inequity feel; those situations in which due to gender, race, age, migration status, ethnicity, sexual orientation or identity, a person cannot enjoy their rights and cannot have access to all goods and services in a society. We are all equal before the law. That is a basic obligation of democratic governments. But equity is something else. Equity makes evident the differences amongst all individuals, of their life trajectories that often impede equal access to opportunities. It seeks to generate conditions to level the playing field so that all can effectively have access to education, health, housing, social protection, jobs, to the benefits of economic growth and development throughout their life cycle, and ultimately, to all their human rights. Because the Americas continues to be the most unequal region in the world, the General Secretariat of the OAS has decided to prioritize its efforts to promote more equity in the region, and to contribute to ensuring more rights for more people.

Apart from eradicating poverty and extreme poverty, the regional equity agenda must be focused on the social inclusion of populations in situations of vulnerability. The emphasis should be placed on promoting and ensuring the enjoyment of the rights of children and youth, afrodescedants and indigenous peoples, LGTBI people, people with disabilities, and to continue moving forward with the gender equity agenda. This is where we have had the most progress, but where there is still much to be done.

This work needs to focus, on one hand, on generating conditions of real democracy where these populations can, on a comparable basis as the rest of the members of society, enjoy their civil and political rights, namely, to elect and be elected, to have influence in decision-making processes, and to have incidence in the political agenda. On the other hand, the equity regional agenda must refine the series of public policies that have been implemented so far to ensure a more equal distribution of the benefits of economic growth and development. But we must also move one step further regarding economic and social rights. More political will is needed to ensure the full socio-productive inclusion of these populations, and to ensure a life free of discrimination for all. This, in the end, has everything to do with their capacity to exercise their civil and political rights. Which person who has to provide for his or her basic needs regarding food, housing or health can effectively enter the political arena and compete for public office? The discussion regarding what to prioritize is a national one. The fact is, however, that the continued existence of socioeconomic inequities that are replicated in the power asymmetries in the political sphere have a negative impact for the stability of our democracies, and on the levels of citizens’ trust in political institutions. This is something that should concern us all.

Which progress should we celebrate? Which challenges should we prioritize?

One of the most important achievements in the last few years has been to have moved the scale in favor of the gender equity agenda. Women’s right to vote is today the norm in all countries of the Americas, and legal frameworks guarantee their right to be elected. According to data from ECLAC, the average number of national female legislators went up from 9 to 25% between 1990 and 2015. Today practically all countries of the region have implemented quota or parity reforms, and some have even legislated in favor of targeted political financing for female candidacies. This has been manifested in greater representation of women in national legislatures, in ministerial cabinets, and although in 2018 we will only have one woman directing her country’s future in Trinidad and Tobago, we have had a number of women as heads of state in a few Latin American countries.

The challenge that we must prioritize is actually a historic debt that we have as a region.  We have about 200 million afrodescedants and 50 million indigenous people in the region. These populations are generally in the most vulnerable situations: 90% of these populations in the countries of the region live in poverty or extreme poverty, and in many cases, do not enjoy universal access to health, education, housing, and potable water. This perpetuates a situation of political underrepresentation. At the same time, this translates into the formulation of public policies that do not consider the ethnic specificities of these populations, which again affects the representativeness of the decisions that emerge from the political system, and people’s trust in democracy.

What is the OAS doing to promote the equity agenda in the region?
At the OAS Secretariat for Access to Rights and Equity, and its Department of Social Inclusion, we strive to give our support to Member states in their efforts to address inequality in all its forms using an integral, inclusive and sustainable approach. We base our work in the commitments established in the OAS Charter, the Social Charter of the Americas, the Interamerican Democratic Charter, the Protocol of San Salvador, and the numerous interamerican juridical instruments on human rights. The OAS work on the equity agenda is organized along three key strategic lines:

  1. Supporting intersectoral dialogue processes at the highest level to capitalize national capacities, both human and institutional, as well as to promote the exchange of lessons and solutions that contribute to the full exercise of all human rights by the people of the Americas.
  2. Promoting and strengthening efficient cooperation strategies and the generation of alliances amongst countries of the region to promote social inclusion and the exercise of economic, social, and cultural rights, to contribute to the eradication of poverty and extreme poverty in particular, and to revert situations of inequity, and discrimination.
  3. Accompanying countries of the region to fulfill obligations contained in the interamerican normative frameworks regarding development, social inclusion and no discrimination of groups in vulnerable situations, to ensure the effective protection of their human rights.

We at the OAS understand equity as the goal, and social inclusion as the process to achieve it. Promoting more rights for more people is our strategy to tip the scales in favor of equity in the region.

At the end of the conversation with Dr. Betilde Muñoz-Pogossian, it is clear that, although there is much to do, there has been important progress made in our region to ensure more social and political equity. It is also clear that we have the tools to do it. Via legislation, administrative measures, and public policies with a rights-based perspective, we can reverse situations of inequity. The work is monumental, urgent, and difficult because we are dealing with people who are in highly vulnerable situations. The work, however, is worth it because it brings us closer to having better democracies and better societies.

(Opinions are personal. They do not represent the views of the OAS).

Betilde Muñoz-Pogossian is Venezuelan. She has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Florida International University (FIU) in Miami, FL and a Master’s degree in International Relations at the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa, FL. Her more recent publications include the volume Equity and Social Inclusion: Overcoming Inequalities towards more Inclusive Societies (2016), and Women, Politics and Democracy in Latin America (2017) from the “Crossing Boundaries of Gender and Politics in the Global South” series, Palgrave McMillan (NY, NY). Following her tenure of more than a decade in the political-electoral secretariat of the OAS, in 2015 Dr. Muñoz-Pogossian assumed the leadership of the work on Social Inclusion at the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States. Twitter: @BeticaMunozPogo

Geovanny Vicente Romero is the founder of the Dominican Republic Center of Public Policy, Leadership and Development (CPDL-RD). He is a political analyst, international consultant and lecturer based in Washington, D.C. He writes a column for El Diario La Prensa (N.Y.), La Opinion (L.A.) and El Nuevo Día. Reach him on Twitter @geovannyvicentr

International Women’s Day: Five Women Leading the Way in the Americas

By Geovanny Vicente, Guest Blogger
The previous decade saw a wave of women serving as presidents from every corner of Latin America and Caribbean, such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, and Trinidad and Tobago. For the first time in recent memory, there will be nearly a week in March 2018 without a female head of state in the position.  On March 11, Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet will hand over power, and it is not until March 19 that President-elect Paula-Mae Weekes will take over Trinidad and Tobago.  The unifying theme underlining these recent electoral victories point to women who continue playing strong leadership roles throughout government at the international, national, state, and local levels.  In honor of International Women’s Day, here we highlight five women representing their countries and regional governments in each of these categories.

  1. Isabel Saint Malo de Alvarado – Vice President and Foreign Minister of Panama

Saint Malo has the honor of being the first woman elected Panama’s first vice president in the country’s history.  Panama typically combines the vice president and foreign minister positions, and Saint Malo’s 15 years of experience with the United Nations Development Program has been a huge asset for Panama’s leadership in implementing the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Saint Malo frequently represents Panama on the world stage as a leading democratic country committed to economic development, social equality, and facilitating dialogue.

  1. Margarita Cedeño de Fernandez – Vice President of the Dominican Republic

Vice President Cedeno has been in the public spotlight as First Lady of the Dominican Republic from 2004-2012 while her husband, Leonel Fernandez, served as President.  Cedeño has led internationally recognized programs in education, childhood development, nutrition, family planning, and technology.  Cedeno is the second woman to become Vice President in Dominican Republic, the first being Milagros Ortiz Bosch in 2000. Before the elections in 2012, Margarita was the latest example of Latin American first women vying to become President. She is very popular in DR where many people greet her singing some slogans, including “Llegó mamá” or “Mom has Arrived,” a popular expression among her supporters.

  1. Maria “Mayita” Melendez – Mayor of Ponce, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico’s second largest city (Ponce) elected Maria Melendez Mayor in 2009.  Following an extended economic crisis and the devastating hurricane in 2017, Melendez has emerged as an internationally acclaimed leader that Puerto Rico can rely on to help rebuild the island. A staunch defender of Puerto Rican rights as United States of America citizens, Melendez has designed a campaign called, “We are Americans too,” that has helped her city gain an audience to advocate for a more sustainable future and urgent response to energy needs with U.S. senators, other state officials, and business leaders.

In January 2018, Melendez was awarded the Antonio Villaraigosa Leadership Award as a Tribute to Mayors during which she was described by the Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as a “True American Hero.”

  1. Paula-Mae Weekes- 6th President of Trinidad and Tobago

Paula-Mae Weekes is a Trinidadian legal professional and a Judge of the Turks and Caicos Islands Court of Appeal, who is the President-elect of Trinidad and Tobago, due to take office on 19 March 2018.  Weekes will become the first woman to hold the office of President in Trinidadian history, as well as the nation’s second female head of state overall, after Queen Elizabeth II.  Weekes follows in the footsteps of Trinidad’s first woman Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar who served in the role from 2010-2015.

  1. Patricia Espinosa – Executive Secretary of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

Patricia Espinosa has been a career diplomat since 1981. She is fluent in four languages and in 2015 was appointed to Ban Ki-Moon’s high level panel on sustainable development. In 2016, she succeeded Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica and became Executive Secretary of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNCCC).  Espinosa brings to her new appointment more than 30 years of experience at the highest levels in international relations, with a specialization in sustainable development, gender equality, climate change, global governance, and protection of human rights.  Before leading UNCCC she was serving as Mexico’s Ambassador to Germany (since 2013 and from 2001 to 2002). She also served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2006 to 2012.

The achievements of these five women are well worth celebrating.  However, much progress still needs to be made in integrating women and their leadership talents into our societies, governments, and businesses. There are many women working everyday making valuable contributions to their jobs, their communities and their families. International Women Day is about honoring these women so that they can pave the way for more successful role models at every level of society.

Investing in the Future, not in the Past: Green Business as Key to Tackling Climate Change

By Geovanny Vicente, Guest Blogger
“Invest in the future, not in the past,” is the battle cry for green business to win the fight against climate change, according to the United Nations’ Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who opened the One Planet Summit in Paris with these words on December 12, 2017.

At this international event, held under the leadership of French President Emmanuel Macrón, the World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, and the Head of the United Nations Guterres, decided to reject the fatalist and defeatist theory about climate change and instead issue a call to action to world leaders and committed citizens across the globe. Only through collective action does the world have a chance to confront the major challenges of this environmental emergency that are growing increasingly harder to ignore.

The importance of this meeting led by these three leaders was the launch of an ambitious project to address the principal effects of climate change.  The leaders agreed upon 12 initiatives and created the One Planet Coalition.  This trilateral leadership will secure that these commitments are kept, and to achieve these goals over the following months they have been working diligently toward their implementation prior to their next meeting to measure progress at the 2nd One Planet Summit.

This is a $2 billion initiative with the goal of deepening local capital markets, as well as expanding and releasing private funds for climate-related projects.  To-date, more than $1 billion has been committed to the fund.

These efforts have motivated global leaders today more than ever to create alliances between and among governments, civil society, the private sector, and foundations that can identify and fund solutions to this global threat. The private sector is already seeing that, green business is good business.  To this end, Antonio Guterres pointed out that in dozens of developed and developing countries, renewable energies are now cheaper than energy from carbon sources, and as a result, it is critical to invest in the world’s future energy sources, rather than its past.  Traditional heavy oil and gas sources can emit harmful pollutants into the atmosphere if not utilizing the latest technological advancements to reduce their environmental footprint.

For example, in the Dominican Republic, a Caribbean island vulnerable to climate change, a local power generator (EGE Haina) recently completed the groundbreaking of the construction of its 4th wind energy farm, called Larimar 2, located in Enriquillo, Barahona, in the southwest of the country.  The wind energy farm Los Cocos in the southern Dominican province of Pedernales, was the first, followed by another in the nearby province of Bani, along with another in Montecristi, near the border with Haiti.  This company EGE Haina generates 18 percent of Dominican Republic’s energy, a growing percentage of which comes from wind turbines.

Costa Rica is another country utilizing its natural resources for energy security. The country’s high precipitation rate allows it to increase the amount of water in its hydroelectric dams.  Increasing its capture rate of the rain is helping to make Costa Rica’s energy grid derived from renewable sources by 2021, when combined with solar and biomass. Costa Rica is close to becoming the first Latin American country to power all of its energy from renewable sources, and lead the way for the hemisphere.  With the increase in extreme weather events, collective action is needed to harvest the surplus waters, winds, and heat as smart sources of energy.

Imagine a future emergency power-generator fueled by winds and water that can help places like Dominica and Puerto Rico recover more quickly from the devastating hurricanes, like those seen this year.  Well, that future is upon us, through forums like the One Planet Summit and public-private sector partnerships, such as that between the government of Puerto Rico and Tesla Motors.  The Puerto Rico-Tesla relationship began years ago when the island tried attracting new jobs and has been strengthened in the wake of Hurricane Maria and the offer made by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, to restore power on the island through the solar energy micro-grids. Musk and Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello connected after Hurricane Maria and restored the energy in a children’s hospital in San Juan as well as 6 similiar energy projects that scale-up Puerto Rico’s solar energy potential.

Tesla’s Elon Musk was among the 164 prominent figures at the One Planet Summit in Paris.  Tesla and many others in attendance are helping countries think creatively and act expeditiously to maximize local and global impact that improves our chances against climate change.

The Economics of Climate Change: Challenges Facing Latin America and the Caribbean

By Geovanny Vicente, Guest Blogger
Latin America and the Caribbean contribute barely 9 percent of air pollutant emissions globally, according to data from the Economic Commission of Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).  However, Central America and the Caribbean are considerably vulnerable to the impact of climate change. The region has begun to feel the direct effects of climate change and is threatened by the resurgence of diseases that were already considered eradicated, as well as the prevalence of other tropical diseases such as dengue and malaria.

Climate change also significantly impacts the region’s economic trajectory. While the world continues to work toward eradicating poverty, we must ensure that the agricultural production of Latin America is not unduly affected by harmful emissions. On the occasion of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, I asked the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, how to end this problem. Clark, through her official Twitter account @HelenClarkNZ replied, “Use of cash transfers, job creation and free education.” To that equation of three, I would add investing in food security—a critical source of future growth for Latin America. The region plays a large role in securing global food security due to the vast expanse of arable land and water—a quarter of the agricultural land on the planet and a third of global sources of fresh water.

International organizations have long advocated for the need to act immediately to reduce the effects of pollutants on the planet. The effect generated by emissions is already causing higher temperatures, colder winters and hotter summers, floods, droughts, hurricanes of unpredictable and more dangerous trajectories, as well as the disappearance of some beaches.

According to ECLAC data for 2014, if the temperature increases by 2.5 degrees Celsius compared to the historical average, the economic burden of climate change could represent between 1.5 percent and 5 percent of GDP in Latin American and the Caribbean. However, the costs generated by adaptation measures to climate change could represent below 0.5 percent of the region’s GDP. Thus, preventing the costly risks that rising emissions present makes good economic sense. With the knowledge of these data, a greater investment in renewable energies and sustainable infrastructure is urgently needed, together with the fulfillment of the commitment assumed in the Paris Agreement for a sustainable development model.

Climate change presents a crosscutting challenge to all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established by the United Nations; insufficient action to combat the negative impact jeopardizes the achievement of the proposed 2030 Agenda. Sustainable Development Goal #13 calls for action to help the environment, while SDG #6 calls for clean water and universal sanitary best practices.  Similarly, SDG #7 urges investment in affordable and clean energy, while SDG #9 advocates for innovation and infrastructure, and SDG #12 promotes responsible production and consumption. The Paris Agreement provides an excellent model and lesson learned related to the 17th, and final, SDG: without a strategic alliance, it is impossible to achieve the 16 previous objectives.

In Fiji, within the framework of COP23, the name of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change 2017 (UNFCCC), an initiative was launched that will provide resources and technical assistance to small, developing islands. This is an alliance between the World Health Organization (WHO), the COP23 and the UNFCCC.  The Director General of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom, indicated that, “they are launching the initiative for these small, developing islands because they are the ones that will disproportionately bear the burden of climate change.” The objective is for these islands to learn to understand, manage, and prevent the negative effects on health and the economy.  Islands such as Puerto Rico and Dominica are prime examples of the region’s vulnerability to natural phenomena, such as hurricanes, which have massively disrupted the economies of both islands.

More international and regional programs, such as the UNFCCC, focused on developing local solutions to shared challenges that multiple countries face can help effectively pool resources to invest in new technologies that will mitigate the long and short-term economic impact of climate change on Latin America and the Caribbean.