Category Archives: Opinion

Angola: Public transport is The place to be . by Pedro F. Neto

Angola lived of one of the longest conflicts in recent history. For more than forty years, from 1961 to 2002, the country experienced a devastating war. The highly damaged infra-structure, the vast mined territories and the unpredictability of warfare meant that the country remained closed to researchers until very recently. Yet, even nowadays, undertake academic research in Angola may be a troublesome and often dangerous task. The regime seeks to control all aspects of society  thereby nourishing a permanent atmosphere of suspicion. In spite of a decade of peace there is still a long road towards full democracy and to attain certain civil rights, – particularly with regard to freedom of expression and assembly. It is in this context that the Angolan public transport is an interesting case study. In fact, even though the army, the police and its informants, are everywhere, they seem to turn a blind eye on what happens in public transport. 

Although the context and contours may change according to the city or region, the truth is that public transport is a place of a deep ethnographic richness. In the capital Luanda the so-called candongueiros (the Toyota Hiace blue vans for urban transport) are the best way to discover new music in town. Musicians and music producers outside the formal distribution market, with or without a political slant, use the blue vans to promote their work. Along the way, the candongueiros repeatedly play the new hits and the compiled cd’s are for sale on the bus. But the means of transport are not only a way to portray the vibrant culture in Angola, they are moving cocoons where a mass political culture is hatching. In the regions of Moxico and Huambo, intercity public transport, – namely buses, mini-buses, vans (the so-called gafanhotos), 4×4 (the LandCruisers), and trains (the Benguela Railway),- are places of storytelling and remembrance, of acting and performance, but above all they are places of public gathering, assembly and debate. During my long travels within the country, I witnessed people engaging in fierce political discussions presenting their points of view for and against the everlasting government. It is possible to scrutinize some reasons behind its exceptional status. Mobility makes it difficult to the security forces to monitor and control, at the same time, people enter and leave along the way allowing a certain degree of anonymity.  Likewise, G. Pirie* noted that public transport played an important role on fighting South Africa’s apartheid. During the 1980s and 1990s the commuter trains to and from the townships were places of political gathering and mobilization.

Can public transport in Angola be an effective mean for a real political change? Only time can answer that. Yet, in the meantime, for anyone willing to take the pulse of Angolan civil society or only to know which will be the next musical hit in the country, public transport is the place to be.

 —————–

*Pirie, G. H. 1992, « Travelling under Apartheid »;  in Smith, David M. (ed.), The apartheid city and beyond: Urbanization and social change in South Africa, London/New York: Routledge, pp.172-181

PEDRO F. NETO is an Architect and Anthropologist currently pursuing a PhD in Anthropology at ISCTE-IUL (Lisbon) and EHESS (Paris). His research focuses on the relationship between space and identity, as well as on borders and forced migrations, mainly in African contexts. He lives between Lisbon and Paris.

Advertisements

Legalize It?

On the 31st of July 2013, the Uruguayan House of Representatives passed a bill to legalize and regulate cannabis production, sale and consumption, bill that was enacted by the President José Mujica. Hence, it became the first country in the world to have such a measure.

Since then, several United States’ States have also pursued this course, and it is undeniable that the question of legalizing marijuana is one of the hot topics in Western countries. Countries such as The Netherlands or Bangladesh were already known for their permissive laws regarding cannabis, and other States allow its use for medical purposes.

Drug wars – specially in Latin America – are certainly a worldwide problem and unregulated consumption of drugs as well.

Cannabis has been used throughout the centuries, from a spiritual use (particularly in India) to strictly recreational purposes. With the International Opium Convention of 1925 (the first international treaty that deals with drug control), “Indian hemp”, which is another word for cannabis or marijuana, was banned from exportation to certain countries, while in those which continued to import it, there was an obligation to use it exclusively for medical or scientific purposes.

With a growing awareness of the damages caused by drugs, international regulation became increasingly stricter towards the use and sale of cannabis, nowadays being illegal to pass it from one country to another, since the majority of the world maintains repressive legislations.

What arguments can be brought forward for and against marijuana legalization?

One must keep in mind that cannabis is a drug and that it causes psychoactive effects. Current research shows that it even causes brain damages in young adult’s brains. Nevertheless, many claim that it is the most innocent of drugs, since compared to other hard drugs, it causes little dependency and very few physical damages.

But then again, aren’t there other drugs, known for causing much more deaths, such as tobacco and alcohol, that are completely legal in most countries in the world? It is undeniable that if legalized, cannabis surely needs high regulation.

The legalization and regulation of cannabis could help significantly reduce illegal trade, the black market and drug-related crime. Furthermore, if legalized, it would be possible to apply taxes to cannabis consumption, which would definitely represent a big increase in State’s revenues. According to the press, in a State such as California, in the United States, cannabis represents sales of approximately $15 billion per year. In taxes, that would mean that at least $1.3 billion could be raised every year. Could you imagine how this money could be used in a good way, such as scientific research? In Colorado, the tax of 15% on wholesale marijuana has brought 40% more in taxes than initially predicted, and its legal sale is apparently causing quite a success.

Legalize it?

Capitalism and Socialism: a reflection

I can see the warning signs as I prepare myself to write about this. It is, in every way, a complicated topic. However, I would like for you to indulge me, it is nothing more but a short reflection. I will start by saying I have no political ambitions, I am a journalist and my purpose is to be a watchdog for those that do. I would also add that I tend to vote more on the right than on the left but I would say I am right there in the middle. Allow me to explain. I believe in market solutions, in private initiative and in a small State apparatus. However, by small I don’t mean non-existent. I believe the State must protect the weakest and most vulnerable and provide for good education, health and social security. All in all, I believe in balance. Having said that, I believe no such system exists.

We all know about the dangers of socialism and its extremes as we have seen with some communist countries, mainly USSR. It seems obvious that it is impossible for everyone to aspire to the same thing, to be awarded the same wage, regardless of merit. Competition is in itself an incentive for excellence and if there is no visible difference in rewards between a dedicated worker and a lazy one, competition is impossible. Also, in a non competitive environment even the most brilliant minds tend to wane. Successful people would feel the disincentive and the results would be ever decreasing productivity. Adding to that, you can be sure to have some environments that are more equal than the others. Despite its negative side, Socialism did have a social consideration embedded in it, an ideal worth preserving.

Capitalism sits on the other side of the fence. It allows one to take the initiative, a fight for new ideas that can have a real impact in our world. It inspires competitiveness, creativity and, hence, excellence. Economic relations are formed and expanded and a stability is welcomed by the system. It is however an unbalanced system and the disparities are huge. As the international organization Oxfam mentions in a new report, the 85 richest people in the world have the same amount of wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest. I cannot begin to comprehend how this is possible, let alone just, or right. As I mentioned above, I believe in a system that rewards merit, where I would include hard work, inventiveness and entrepreneurship. However, it is impossible to believe that 85 people work harder, are more creative, inventive or entrepreneurial than 3.5 billion people. Even if we exclude the 200 million unemployed worldwide, it still seems ridiculously unfair. This level of inequality is visible at a smaller scale as well, when you witness a growth in the wealthiest fortunes, even if their countries are struggling, a practice that has become common not only in developing countries but in western society as well.

Oxfam’s report states that the wealthiest bend the laws in their favor, guaranteeing that wealth continues to be funnelled to the upper echelons of society. We see them investing in political campaigns, huge lobbying firms, lawyers that help them find loopholes in the law and there is always the good old bribe. There are many examples on Forbes top 10, let alone in the top 85, of billionaires with strong political connections that help them maintain their wealth. They use money to buy support, to make sure their interests are in good hands, to make sure they make more money. It is an endless circle, almost of a feudal nature, with and increasing disparity between the richest and the poorest.

Thus, the current system perverts the very essence of democracy, and the consequences are more than just the concentration of wealth on the upper 1%, as the Occupy movement labelled them. As we’ve been witnessing in the last few decades, the oil lobby has managed to keep alternative power sources that can be as or more efficient from being fully adopted (hydrogen, for example), even if some countries seem to be making real progress. Oil companies and their shareholders need to keep their incomes so they prefer if life altering research is kept hidden or just is not investigated any further. They do so through lobbying groups, campaign donations and all the other mechanisms mentioned above. The point is, it is not just about money any more.

The point I am trying to make is that, even though communism was an ineffective economical system, capitalism seems to be showing some of its flaws as well. Just as we realized socialism was not the best way to move forward, I believe we will soon realize capitalism is not the solution either. At least as it is right now, with disregard for communal interests, a lack of a social conscience and lawless markets. A mix between the two ideals may be the answer, I honestly do not know. However, I do know that, as we are today, we are at risk of falling prey to populist rhetoric, anarchy and we endanger our future.

Fractured Venezuela: An example of Latin America’s bipolarity? . by Stefano Badalacchi

The ghost of the Cold War seems to continue walking the streets of Latin America.

Since the beginning of the student and political demonstrations in Venezuela, which were strongly repressed by the regime, countries like Uruguay,Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil have expressed their unconditional support for Nicolas Maduro, emphasizing the values ​​of democracy and condemning the alleged incitement by the U.S. to popular insurgency. While Latin America’s dogmatic left and some frustrated revolutionaries applaud the radicalization of the regime in the face of the rise of “fascism”, others, like me, denounce the big irresponsibility of these illustrious hominis politici.

In fact, without any compelling evidence confirming the involvement of Leopoldo Lopez in an alleged coup engineered by the government of Barack Obama, Latin American leaders would be tacitly supporting the totalitarian excesses of Chavez’s regime, accepting the numerous cases of media censorship, participating in the political persecution of the opposition, approving the creation of chavist paramilitary militias and justifying the deaths of students during the protests that massively erupted on February 12 throughout the country’s main cities. Eventually, Latin American leaders would almost become pathetic. Could someone enlighten me, because I do not see it: where is the democracy they so much defend?

However there is an even more disturbing aspect. What motivates countries like Paraguay, which fought until a month ago against the entrance of Venezuela in the MERCOSUR – given that the Venezuelan government did not recognize the new President Federico Franco – , to lean on the side of the Bolivarian Revolution? The answer is simple: fear and dependence. And while the neighboring nations are victims of the oil-diplomacy and prefer to be silent in front of injustice – i.e. subject to Venezuela’s soft-power -, in the country of Simón Bolivar, the shortages of food and other first necessity products have created a great social instability allowing for the proliferation of the underworld in the streets and for massacres in broad daylight. In Venezuela, protesting became a necessity in front of the abuses of the armed forces, against the corruption of institutions, against the lack of independence of the judiciary system. Although it might be hard for us to accept it, protesting is also a necessity when confronted with the joke of having Nicolas Maduro as President, whom, without any solid argument to stay in power, goes on incessantly designating scapegoats to cover the disaster caused by just one year in office.

In my continent, many will say that advocating for the Venezuelan opposition immediately turns a person into a pro-American right-wing capitalist, but I would emphasize that denouncing the abuses that have occurred, are occurring and will continue to occur in Venezuela does not mean having a defined political position. It means having a conscience and a bit of intelligence while facing the facts. The problem is that since Venezuela is a regime which acts under the moto of the eradication of poverty (actually impoverishing all the population) and that encourages the popular struggle against the elite (Which elite? The diaspora of Miami or Bogotá?), we have to shut our mouths before the alleged moral superiority of the so-called revolutionary left. Yes, the same revolutionary left that ended the yoke of dictatorship in Cuba 55 years ago while making it automatically enter another, or the one that today walks through several countries in the region mixing politics with cocaine and terrorism.

Saying that the defence of the fundamental freedoms of the opposition and of the Venezuelan students is an attempt to destabilize democracy, is equivalent to accept that ruthless wars like the one currently waged by Bashar al-Assad might continue. On February 19th, this latter sent a warm and affectionate note of support to Nicolas Maduro praising the “path of peace” that he had initiated.

As such, and by enlarge, after a reiteration by the MERCORSUR of its support for the Venezuelan regime, we enter another vicious circle of two blocks. Just as in the times of the Cold War, we see the countries which back up the Western powers and those which do not. Thus, no matter what is the cause, the idea is always to go against the flow.

Ah, yet, we must not forget: the Yankees are still our main trading partners.

STEFANO BADALACCHI is an Italo-Colombian who has been studying political sciences and international security in France, and is currently working as a risk consultant. He lives in Paris, France and comes from Bogotá, Colombia.

India 2014 – The three Faces of Power . By Rosa Perez

Note from the editors: From the 7th of April to the 12th of May 2014, the Indian general election will take place, which with nine different phases is the longest election ever to be held in the country! It is also the world’s second most expensive round of elections, after the United States’ elections of 2012.

The members of the 16th Lok Sabha (the lower House of the Indian Parliament, which means House of the People) will thus be elected (which happens every five years or when the Parliament is dissolved by the President), in what is so far turning out to be a steaming event in one of the world’s most populous countries.

There are two major alliances which will compete in these elections: the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), driven by Rahul Gandhi (member of the Indian National Congress Party [INC], one of the parties that compose the UPA), and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by Narendra Modi (member of the Bharatiya Janata Party) who is a candidate to become the next Prime Minister of India. 

The current Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh (who is also a member of the INC) has already completed two mandates and, so far, the UPA does not yet have a true candidate for Prime Minister.

If Modi were to win (which could happen since, according to The Economist, 70% of Indians are dissatisfied with the INC), for the first time in a decade, the INC would not be at the head of India. This could represent a massive change for the country!

The announcement by the Election Commission, on March 6, of the Lok Sabha polls to be held between April 7 and May 12, 2014, has set the stage for one of India’s most stirring elections to be battled by the Indian National Congress – UPA (United Progressive Alliance), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The formalization of poll dates led to the political activity climaxing as parties look to seal alliances with powerful regional leaders and assign party tickets. It will be India’s first Lok Sabha election to have the NOTA (none of the above, allowing voters to cast-off all fielded candidates) and “others”, which will permit the transgender community to vote under this category. Above all, these elections will have the upmost number of first-time voters in the history of Indian elections since 1947, the year of independence.

The political landscape of India has changed dramatically since the last elections, won by the Congress Party, which has ruled the country for the last ten years. Indeed, a political lethargy that culminated with inflation, the accusation of immune corruption, and the economic decline of the last years with the economy yet to show signs of a sustained revival led an exhausted Congress to the worst opinion polls in the history of the party. The Prime Minister (PM), Manohan Singh, who was the mentor of India’s policy of liberalization launched in 1991 under Rajiv Gandhi, has been assessed by Simon Denyer, the Washington Post’s former India bureau chief, as “silent but tragic”, and in his last book Denyer used the words of an old Elvis Costello song, “A Man out of His time”, to describe him. His selected successor, Rahul Gandhi, appointed by his mother Sonia the vice-president of the Congress, shows a fragile political preparation and inability to attract the electorate. This is why more than a party, the Congress will oppose the controversial Narendra Modi, leader of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), “India’s People Party”, who is tipped as front runner on the basis of opinion polls. Coming from the backstage of the BJP, Mody has been the chief minister of Gujarat for four consecutive terms, raising the state to one of the more developed of India – a fact that conceals the divide between this development and the enormous mass of people under the poverty line. A severe accusation still impends on Modi, despite having been recently absolved by the High Court:  the fire on the Godhra train, in 2002, which ultimately led to the harshest communalism in the state between Hindus and Muslims and the subsequent social segregation of the latter.

Another event has broken up the former polarization of Indian politics: the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), “Common Man Party”, formally launched in November 2012, directed by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. The party has congregated an unexpected number of supporters all over the country, mainly in urban areas, and in January polls was signed as conquering a remarkable number of seats in the Lok Sabha (“House of the People” of the Parliament of India). The AAP was molded on the claim of equality and justice for all Indian citizens, first and foremost “the unheard and unseen common people of India”, and has adopted a (re) formulation of the Gandhian principle of swaraj (“self-governance” or “self-rule”) as a warrant that the government will be directly accountable to the people, not to administrators. However, notwithstanding the expectations that the AAP stimulated among intellectuals, artists, and a vast, drained segment of the Indian society, Arvind Kejriwal has generated an enormous controversy from tweeting that the country is “stuck between a moron Rahul Gandhi] and a murderer [Narendra Modi]” to branding himself an “anarchist”.

The “Third Front”, a blend of small parties lacking a structured organization and a common agenda for governance, is unlikely to form government. Yet, it will be central to endorse either the BJP or the Congress to cross the 180-seat barrier.

The swing states of UP, Maharashtra, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andra Pradesh can be decisive to who eventually will be the PM. Whoever he will be, the stakes are huge. In order to be effective, the central leadership must be inclusive, taking into account the needs of the 29 states of the Union, with their diversity of languages and religions, and a federal structure that has promoted strong regional leaders. Above all, it must take into account the rural-urban cleavages calling for social and economic symmetry, the fragmentation of the social system, and particularly the country’s subalterns, Dalits, tribes and, to a very large extent, women.

ROSA PEREZ is an Anthropologist, a Professor at ISCTE and Visiting and Institute Chair Professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Gandhinagar, India. She lives between Lisbon, Portugal, and India.

What is happening in Venezuela?

Mass anti-government protests in Venezuela have gripped the country over the past two weeks, claiming 10 lives and injuring at least 100. Angry with President Maduro’s government, demonstrators have taken to the streets in what are the biggest protests since Chavez hand-picked successor was elected by a narrow margin last April. But why did the protests erupt in the first place, and where do things stand now?

The unrest kicked off on 12 February with a student-led rally on the streets of San Cristobal, in the state of Táchira (where Internet access has recently been cut by the government). Students started by demanding that the Maduro administration tackled safety concerns, following the sexual assault of a freshman student at ULA university. Despite attempts to crack down on crime, Venezuela has one of the highest crime rates in the world, with one person murdered every 21 minutes (the death business is thriving as a result of that).

The protest quickly turned violent, killing three people and escalating to other cities, including Valencia and the capital Caracas, where tear gas and rubber bullets have become the norm. Opposition leader Leopoldo López soon has become as the main face of the movement, especially since he turned himself in to the authorities this week. Maduro accused López of training gangs of youths to incite violence as part of a coup to bring down the government. Undeterred, the former mayor of Caracas’ Chacao district urged demonstrators to stay on the streets. The president has also threatened to imprison other opposition members and protest leaders, called the anti-government protests a “fascist coup plot” backed by the US and financed by Colombia’s former president Álvaro Uribe.

Crime is far from being the only problem in the deeply divided and oil-rich country. Inflation is at a startling 56% and the bolívar currency has devaluated drastically. And constant shortages of basic commodities such as sugar, flour, toilet paper and even newsprint paper, have added to the discontent (the government has accused distributors of leaving supermarket shelves empty as a way of fuelling unrest). Tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators appear to have had enough of empty promises and of the ineffective and authoritarian policies seemingly incapable of solving a series of crises. Their clashes with the state police and with colectivos, pro-government citizen militias, have turned some municipalities into authentic battlefields.

The government accuses distributors of orchestrating the shortages as part of an “economic war” to fuel unrest.

Another major issue and one of the opposition’s accusations is that the government’s worsening crackdown on free speech and freedom of the press. The government controls most of CANTV, the state-owned internet provider, which provides more than half of broadband connections in the country. That near-monopoly makes it very easy to block its citizens from uploading and viewing pictures on Twitter, for example, as it did last week.

“Venezuelan broadcast media showed very unflattering signs of self-censorship, restricting its transmissions to telenovelas, interviews with athletes or obligatory government messages, rather than live coverage of events in the streets,” David Smilde, a Caracas-based analyst with the Washington Office for Latin America, told the Financial Times.

On Friday, Venezuela revoked the accreditations of CNN reporters covering the country’s crisis for allegedly “fomenting violence”. A few days earlier, Bogotá-based cable news network NTN24 was taken off the air in Venezuela following coverage of anti-government demonstrations – just to name a couple of examples. One of the regime’s arguments is that reporting of violent acts could violate broadcasting law. Here’s a good summary of the situation. In the meantime, personal accounts of torture in the hands of the authorities have been picked up in several international publications.

So what happens now? As with other insurrections, it’s hard to predict an outcome. Judging by the tone of Maduro’s latest speeches, where he called the street demonstrations a “fascist plan” that he plans on eradicating “as one eradicates infection”, it seems unlikely that he will make concessions any time soon. But with public demonstrations now approaching their third week, it also looks like protesters won’t budge, even if structural change comes at a high price. While Maduro still holds a strong support base in the country, if he keeps crushing his opponents, be it citizens or politicians, that might fuel his people’s anger further.

Once again, let’s talk about Syria

We have often written about the war in Syria, pointing to the fact that for the past three years this country has been devastated due to the greed for power of some and the inaction of others. Taking into account all of the consequences of the war, human casualties are definitely the biggest horror. Apart from the death toll of at least 140 000 people, there are more than 2 million Syrian refugees shattered around the world, in particular in neighboring countries (Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq…).

In the latest two months we have witnessed the failure of the Geneva II peace talks, which aimed at finding a peaceful and favorable outcome for the Syrian war. As once again the international community displays its lack of an unique voice, today we focus on refugee camps. These latter are often the stage of terrible living conditions, amounting to yet another humanitarian emergency apart from the war.

In Lebanon, there are very different camps, but some of them host hundreds of refugees in outside tents. The severe winter cold that has lasted since early November is life-threatening for many people who, in general, don’t have proper and hot clothes. Food and health relief lack in many camps, in which the population is ultimately living in isolation from the rest of the country in which the camp may be located. The living conditions of refugee children are, rightly, a source of preoccupation for human rights advocates, since they represent Syria’s future generation and Syria’s hope.

In Jordan, the Zaatari refugee camp is considered one of the biggest in the world. In that country, refugees account for around 10% of the current population. But this comes with problems. Some jordanians accuse refugees of being responsible for a rise in criminality and for making prices of basic goods rise. Another dramatic consequence of these displacements is featured in The Guardian’s recent piece “Syrian women in Jordan at risk of sexual exploitation at refugee camps”. It seems that one tragedy never comes alone…

From a totally different perspective, one can look at the Palestinian camps that are located in Syria. Once, they represented a safe-harbor for hundreds of palestinians escaping their own conflicts with Israel. Today, they are engulfed in the middle of a war which is not theirs, but which affects and harms them everyday. Indeed, many of these camps such as Yarmouk, are plagued by hunger and cut off from the rest of the world due to the war.

It is sometimes hard to believe that the simple will of our politicians is not able to fix everything. There is not a perfect solution for the Syrian conflict and there is a lack of political braveness and attitude. Nonetheless, this means that there is a big space for the civil society to act in the international arena.

If there is not a political or popular mobilization at the international level to help Syrians, will we not bear a collective responsibility for our inaction in the future? As Stephen Hawking recently wrote,

What’s happening in Syria is an abomination, one that the world is watching coldly from a distance. Where is our emotional intelligence, our sense of collective justice?

 

The injustice of this Syrian conflict is monstrous.

Still, as we do not want to leave our question unanswered, we thought about possible solutions to help Syrian civilians.

Writing about it is one way. People are not allowed to get tired of reading about Syria. How many times have we, part of the global civil society, closed our eyes before major atrocities? If we keep on writing, on reading, on sharing, on posting about it, maybe, and just maybe, for the first time in our collective History, civil society might be able to pressure world leaders.

On another note, and although, personally, we are not major fans of defending a cause through giving money, this and the donation of some specific goods (CNN has a pretty fair list of different structures for you to donate), remain one of the best means to help the people on the ground in Syria. For instance, we could even think about organizing  fundraisings in our communities.

As Samantha Nutt, founder of the aid group War Child, puts it, there is a risk that we progressively forget how to help as the war drags on. But the war is far from over and there is still a lot that we can do as individuals.

What is happening in Ukraine?

One of these days we met Anna, an Ukrainian woman who had lived in Lisbon for almost thirteen years. She actually spoke such good Portuguese, that a distracted person would not even hear her subtle and lovely accent. Honestly, it was one of the first Ukrainians we had ever met. It was a great opportunity to hear from a direct and young source what is really happening in her country.

In November 2013, mass protests quickly escalated to violence in Kiev after president Viktor Yanukovych – under pressure of the Kremlin – announced that the historical agreement with the European Union was not going forward. Despite the violence and repression in the government’s first response to the protests, the opposition grew stronger and hundreds of thousands walked to denounce governmental corruption and Russian influence in politics.

By December, Ukrainians were told that Moscow had approved a $15 billion bailout with President Yanukovych. Again, hundreds of thousands of protesters continued to march in the freezing temperatures.  Although it is not clear how many protesters have died, the simple fact that civilians have been killed by governmental forces is scandalous and is giving much impetus to the opposition demands. This month, in January 2013, Ukraine’s prime minister submitted his resignation. For now, Ukrainians will have to wait for elections.

By reading the headlines of our Western newspapers, it seems that the Ukrainian government is repressing a vast majority of its people. Its seems that the vast majority of Ukrainians desires to be closer to the EU and profoundly despise the Kremlin’s influence. Yet after chatting with Anna and doing some research, we realised that these protests are far more complex than a minority oppressing a majority.Ukraine politics are and have been starkly divided between the East and the West. In Southern Eastern Ukraine, there are numerous Russian speaking industrial regions and there, the majority voted for Yanukovych in 2010 – whose party is closer to Putin (in blue). The other half  of Ukraine (in pink) voted for Yulia Tymoshenko, who strives for Ukraine’s integration into the EU.

800px-Другий_тур_2010_по_округах

Although we do not think that our ‘Western’ media is exaggerating the events, reading articles that do not explaining the historical and social inheritance of a country is an easy way for the media to sell more newspapers. It’s important not to picture Yanukovych as an evil Tyron: at the very least he represents half of the Ukrainian vote. The country politics are extremely polarised and in our opinion, this stark division makes the situation even more dangerous. Build your own opinion and take a look at this piece from Time and this article from Forbes.

Mexico’s Missing People

The war against drug cartels has been at the hearth of Mexico’s contemporary history. In recent years, specially under Felipe Calderon, the number of murders, kidnaps and disappearances, rose to unprecedented levels, terrorizing the mexican population. Women and journalists seem to be the main targets, but the violence is mostly generalized. The problem comes also from the fact that many authorities collaborate with these disappearances, having deals with the cartels. This highly complicates the process of finding missing people.

Nevertheless, under the Peña Nieto government there seem to be some efforts to resolve this afflicting matter. Contrary to its predecessor, the new government acknowledges that just under Calderón there were at least 27,000 disappearances, and has been trying to build up a database to account for those who disappeared and who continue to disappear daily. Moreover, it has created a special prosecutor to pursue the people who are responsible for these crimes. However, as Human Rights Watch points out, the government has to try harder to complete the list of names, despite the difficulty of this task, and to engage in real efforts to find the people, instead of just “registering” them as missing.

An interesting blog, known as “El Blog del Narco”, created in 2010, tries to tackle the misinformation that the media and the government convey, by having recourse to the civil society. Indeed, it relies on people to send them informations about murders, violent sequestrations or disappearances. The images displayed and the stories that are told, are for the most of them brutal and gruesome. But it is interesting to think that the society has had the ability of mobilizing itself when the authorities close their eyes or at least, are not able to respond to a problem that affects the core and every layer of the society. Nevertheless, the risks this encompasses are not negligible.

In the beginning of the month of November 2013, a conference was held by the International Commission of Missing Persons at The Hague to discuss the problem of missing people around the world. As it was pointed out several times, missing people is a traumatic event for a society and more efforts have to be done not only in Mexico, but at the international level so that these people can be found. Indeed, the endeavour of the relatives of these disappeared people is not enough, and all governments ought to bear a greater responsibility.

The Positive Power of Fame

We often minimize  when a celebrity is photographed in a poor country posing to campaign against poverty, or AIDS, or whatever cause of his. Nevertheless, one does not have to be a genius to figure out that celebrities do draw attention from the media. They have in their hands, the power to shift the world’s attention into needs of those who more deprived. UNICEF was one of the first to acknowledge that with the help of celebrities, an image would be worth even more than it already did.  In 1954, American star Danny Kaye (1913-1987) was UNICEF’s first Goodwill ambassador. A goodwill ambassador is a person who works on behalf of the United Nations Children’s Fund, and who acts as an international, regional or national ambassador. These people have to dedicate some of their free time to travel to troubled regions, raise funds, make speeches etc, with the goal of drawing public attention. From Audrey Hepburn’s trips to Ethiopia in 1992 during the terrible famine, to David Beckham’s travels to Sierra Leone to highlight the country’s child survival conditions. From Mia Farrow’s visits to Sudan to bring attention to the continuous violence on women and children, to Angelina Jolie’s exhaustive work to disclose the terrible life conditions of refugees and forcibly displaced. You can see who has done what here.. Bottom line? Fame has clearly some benefits and we should cheer celebrities who use it positively.