Saturday, February 27, 2010

Latin American Integration

It seems fitting to discuss Latin American integration in this blog since the topic is basically the blog's namesake. Unification and integration have been issues Latin America has grappled with since the Independence period. Whether it was with Simon Bolivar's Gran Colombia which encompassed Venezuela, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, and part of Costa Rica or the United Provinces of Central America there have always been attempts at regional unity within Latin America.

So what of the news that a new Latin American and Caribbean system is being created? The mission of the new bloc is yet to be decided and will be discussed at another conference in Caracas, Venezuela next year. However, the bloc is already beginning to show faint forms of power dynamics. The leader of the bloc was Mexico for most of the proceedings. Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina are generally seen as the most powerful Latin American countries because of their development, resources, size, and wealth. During the meeting the group also restated it's support for Argentina's claims to the Malvinas Islands (Falkland Islands) that the U.K. currently possesses. The United States did not back up the positions of either country which was in stark contrast to the U.S. position the last time the issue of the Malvinas was brought up: President Ronald Reagan openly backed the U.K. and even offered intelligence for the U.K. war effort against Argentina.

While there are already naysayers who are calling this new bloc "toothless," I believe that this is a step that Latin America is taking away from the days of the Monroe Doctrine and rampant U.S. intervention. Latin America, for all of its differences, has a shared history. One of European conquest, domination, and conversion and not to mention the more recent history of U.S. imperialism. So, why not unite to preserve the integrity of your sibling nations? An integrated Latin America and Caribbean would have more power in international trade and would be better prepared to handle disputes between States. Increased political and social integration would also tear down the walls of nationalism, racism, and even ethnicism that exist between Latin American and Caribbean states and could promote shared human rights laws, respect for indigenous claims to land, and decrease dependence on foreign capital.

Latin America divided has been the target of vulture capitalists, politicians, and armies for long enough. It's about time they unite and maintain Latin America for Latin Americans!

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Case of "Amelia" in León

I will be spending the next couple of posts discussing my final days in Nicaragua and special cases I heard along the way. This particular case is about a pregnant woman in León suffering from cancer that has spread through her whole body. Abortion was illegalized in Nicaragua in 2006 by the administration of Enrique Bolaños, in any and ALL cases. The doctors that advise women to receive an abortion, aid in an abortion, and anyone else involved can be fined and sentenced. This case has gained national attention in Nicaragua because the State has been put on the spot. Will they let this woman, "Amelia" whose real name has been hidden to protect her identity, die in the hospital in order to protect a full abortion ban or will the government overturn the full ban and allow some abortions to save her life?

The people who have been representing Amelia in the public and telling her story have been the doctors who are treating her. When I was walking to my Aunt Alina's house on Saturday morning I happened to stumble upon a protest being staged by the group "Feminists of León" in order to bring attention to Amelia's case. I was able to hold an interview with one of the activists at the protest. They created banners and stood outside of the Hospital handing out information on the case.

Amelia's cancer has spread through her entire body and she needs chemotherapy as soon as possible. Amelia's doctors have conceded that the cancer may not kill the fetus but the child would definitely be born with serious health defects. And chemo cannot be started without dealing with the question of the pregnancy, so for now her life hangs in the balance while the politics of reproductive freedom are fought in the halls of power in Nicaragua. This hasn't stopped anti-choice bloggers from claiming Amelia's case to be a hoax of the "international abortion lobby" but I recommend staying on top of the case on your own at El Nuevo Diario and La Prensa.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Rapido, Carajo! (Faster, Damnit!)

This is going to be a quick post since our ride to Leon showed up way too early. I interviewed a female Sandinista Representative (Xochilt Ocampa pictured above) today and a FEMINIST SOCIOLOGIST WHO WORKS AT A WOMEN'S CLINIC, jackpot eh? I'm getting better at the interview process but I still get a bit nervous. It has been an amazing past couple of days. I ate at a legit lechonera and it was sooo good. I feel so out of place walking around in a damn suit with so much poverty around me but it just reinforces my anger and makes me want to keep doing what I'm doing.

The Women's Clinic was crazy, they had a LIBRARY! I was able to get over 100 pages of documents copied to bring back with me to the states. It's so amazing. Well I have to go now, but I will show some pic love before I go and tomorrow I will post longer as it will be my last night in Nicaragua.

Legit lunch.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

"We Nicaraguans live for Politics"

At about 2 pm Senor Daniel drove us to the home of Evertz Carcamo Narvaez(pictured above). This man is a Deputy in the National Assembly for the National Sandinista Liberation Front. He also happens to own one of the few Nicaraguan owned television stations, Canal 41. This was my first interview and I was terrified through most of it, it didn't help that I was ignored for a brief time either. He was working on some stuff for the channel and who was I to interrupt that? We actually had to wait around for this man for over an hour because by the time we arrived he was on his way out to lunch and he hadn't eaten at all during the day. So, I spent that time talking politics with Daniel and my mother.

After the first interview Daniel called a friend of his over at the National Theater "Ruben Dario" who ran the Public Relations department. After a 20 minute interview with her she showed us around the National Theater. Turns out the theater was one of the few buildings to survive the 1972 Earthquake that destroyed most of Managua. The theater was beautiful and had many statues and busts of the legendary Nicaraguan poet Ruben Dario side by side with images of Augusto C. Sandino, the hero who helped rid Nicaragua of U.S. Marines in 1932. She also told me the story of the three huge chandeliers inside the theater: one was donated by the Spanish in 1972 (a couple of months before the Earthquake) and then Nicaragua bought the other two. When the earthquake occurred all of the crystals fell to the ground from the chandeliers but the structures themselves stayed up. Afterwards all of the tiny crystals were picked up and placed back onto the chandeliers and so that's how they stand today.

It just so happens that at the same time we were there the contests for this year's Miss Nicaragua pageant were practicing upstairs. I didn't have my camera at this point, Senor Daniel did, and he seems to have caught some pictures of can even see the chandelier.

After the interviews we went on a crash course in sight seeing. We went to the Plaza of the Revolution where the National Palace and the National Cathedral stood; now the Palace is a museum and the Cathedral stands shattered from the Earthquake and now the home to dozens of "vagabonds" as the National Police describe them. It's several barrios that have sprung up behind the Cathedral where much poorer populations live. As we approached the Cathedral a National Police guard told us, "If you go past the statue of Sandino (which would begin to take us behind the Cathedral) I can't follow you." So we were only allowed to go so far. I managed to take a ton of photos of the place though.

We then went to see the areas of Managua that were left to ruin after the Earthquake, and it is disheartening how many Nicaraguans still live in poverty, massive poverty. It sickens me seeing my people live in a country where the channels don't belong to them, where foreign corporations squash local enterprises, and where SOO many of them are hired to protect the WEALTH OF OTHERS. You can tell when you are somewhere with money because then the houses are protected with walls and barbed wire. These are signs of a country opened up to the "hand of the market" and the subsequent cultural homicide that comes with unregulated Globalization. We passed at least 3 movie theaters today, and I saw NO NICARAGUAN MADE MOVIES being played at ANY of them. However, they were showing "Valentine's Day," that damn father movie with Travolta and Robin Williams, and they were still showing that damn movie Couple's Retreat. Now I understand why China and Canada require a certain amount of entertainment to be made within their countries.

After we made a couple stops I was only to snap pictures from the car as night fell and it wasn't exactly safe outside anymore. I did manage to get yelled at by the Army, though. As we drove by a military installation I managed to take a picture of the front gates and was yelled at and had guns shaken at me. The people in my car said that wasn't a good idea, I asked "Why not, what're they going to do?" and my mother responds, "Shoot you." It's a very different culture here. This brings me to the quote I used, it was from the Director of Public Relations I interviewed and I believe she is right.

Tomorrow I have interviews with a union leader, another Deputy in the N.A. who happens to be the leader of the Women's Caucus, and then in the afternoon I am headed to Leon. The birthplace of my family.

Calls during breakfast

This is where we had breakfast this morning. They gave us REAL butter. I knew it was real butter because it tasted like something I had never tasted before and it was amazing! When my mother saw my face light up she knew exactly what had happened. "It's not filled with all the shit they put in it in the States," she said. And damn she was right.

I made two calls this morning. The first to the Director of UNIFEM, she hasn't returned my calls and then other times the line is busy. I did get in touch with the Movimiento de Mujeres Trabajadoras y Desemplea (Movement of Working and Unemployed Women) Maria Elena Cuadra. I was told to send an email to their Director because she, and anyone else in the office who is to speak on behalf of the organization, must receive confirmation from her that it is ok to hold the interview.

So, that's where it stands now. I'm waiting for mom to get out of the shower, I've got to go print some consent forms, and then write some questions in preparation for seeing that Deputy today. Scared doesn't even begin to explain how I feel.

I also learned something interesting about my mother, she was imprisoned for 5 days while fighting with another soldier during her time in the Infantry (during the Contra war). Learn something new everyday, huh?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Primer dia en Nicaragua (First day in Nicaragua)

The day hasn't been so much hectic as it has been stressful. The flight from Miami to Managua wasn't so bad, we flew over Cuba (can't wait to see it from the ground), over the Caribbean Sea, and over Honduras before flying over Nicaragua. It's such a contrast flying over Latin America because you can actually see green. As the plane took off from MIA all I could see for miles were suburbs, cities, and lands being cultivated for something and it worried me. How much "development" is overdevelopment?

Anywho, we flew into Augusto C. Sandino International Airport which wasn't as impressive as it sounds, and went through customs. As the plane began to descend I saw the lush jungles of Honduras and northern Nicaragua, but as we got closer and closer to Managua everything began to turn brown and looked dead. The piece de resistance was Lake Managua. A large brown pool basically polluted to the point where no one uses it, and nothing lives in it. After witnessing such beauty and then seeing such death I decided that I want to pursue Environmental Policy and Science for graduate school.

We were greeted by some of my cousins Alina, David, Marbelleit and Daniel who is the husband of another cousin of mine. If it weren't for Daniel we would've been definitely lost and probably stuck at the airport for a while. He had his car and helped us find the hotel. He was shy at first but then opened up to us and became talkative, when he wasn't zipping through Nicaraguan traffic. Nicaraguans DRIVE HORRIBLY, I feel as if everyone almost has to be a really good drive to drive this bad. They all go very fast, stop in the middle of roads, whatever they want basically but they still manage to not kill one another.

You can get 20 Cordobas for every U.S. dollar. It's not until you hold the sheaf of different size, different colored paper in your hand that you realize that Nicaraguan money has very little value. When you leave the Airport and see the Pizza Huts, the McDonalds stores, the Suzukis, and the Chevrolet dealers you begin to realize that Nicaragua is a country very much dependent on foreign investment and foreign corporations. My cousin informed me that there are about 6 Nicaraguan channels on television; two of them being news channels. The rest, typically about 40 more, are foreign, and most are from the U.S. It made me wonder about what life would be like in the United States if most of the channels we received were foreign born, without it being our choice.

Here at the Hotel we were checked in without problem and we had a chat with the bus boy outside. This is what I wanted this project to be about. We talked about life in Nicaragua for average people, what those in power are doing, and what's changed since the War. This young man, who is only 2 years older than me, works over 12 hours a day here at the hotel. The boy told us about how the Consejo Electoral Supremo (electoral body in conjunction with Supreme Court) has green lit the re-election of Daniel Ortega even though the Constitution he helped write during the Revolution limits Presidents to one term. They can stand for re-election but not consecutively. Crazy.

My cousin Daniel got me an interview with a Deputado Sandinista (equivalent of a U.S. congressperson) tomorrow, and this is probably the highest profile person I will have. I have to maintain diplomacy in my questions and hope to not offend or show bias. I spent the rest of the evening translating consent forms and trying to think of questions. However, a full day of speaking Spanish, culture shock, and fear of my project have combined to give me a massive headache so I am going to get some rest now and maybe post some more in the morning before I go.

Tomorrow's plan is to make some calls to the Movement of Women Workers and the Unemployed "Maria Elena Cuadra," the director of UNIFEM, and hope they agree to some interviews. Hopefully I will get to see some monuments while I am here, pick up some awesome items for myself and friends, and hope that this experience enriches more than just myself but also my project.

Until tomorrow,
Buen suerte y buenas noches!