Maggie Alarcón

Archive for the ‘Latin America’ Category

Latin America After Chávez

In CAFE, CELAC, Latin America, Social Justice on March 8, 2013 at 12:09 pm




HISTORY will affirm, justifiably, the role Hugo Chávez played in the integration of Latin America, and the significance of his 14-year presidency to the poor people of Venezuela, where he died on Tuesday after a long struggle with cancer.

However, before history is allowed to dictate our interpretation of the past, we must first have a clear understanding of Mr. Chávez’s significance, in both the domestic and international political contexts. Only then can the leaders and peoples of South America, arguably the world’s most dynamic continent today, clearly define the tasks ahead of us so that we might consolidate the advances toward international unity achieved in the past decade. Those tasks have gained new importance now that we are without the help of Mr. Chávez’s boundless energy; his deep belief in the potential for the integration of the nations of Latin America; and his commitment to the social transformations needed to ameliorate the misery of his people.

Mr. Chávez’s social campaigns, especially in the areas of public health, housing and education, succeeded in improving the standard of living of tens of millions of Venezuelans.

One need not agree with everything Mr. Chávez said or did. There is no denying that he was a controversial, often polarizing, figure, one who never fled from debate and for whom no topic was taboo. I must admit I often felt that it would have been more prudent for Mr. Chávez not to have said all that he did. But this was a personal characteristic of his that should not, even from afar, discredit his qualities.

One might also disagree with Mr. Chávez’s ideology, and a political style that his critics viewed as autocratic. He did not make easy political choices and he never wavered in his decisions.

However, no remotely honest person, not even his fiercest opponent, can deny the level of camaraderie, of trust and even of love that Mr. Chávez felt for the poor of Venezuela and for the cause of Latin American integration. Of the many power brokers and political leaders I have met in my life, few have believed so much in the unity of our continent and its diverse peoples — indigenous Indians, descendants of Europeans and Africans, recent immigrants — as he did.

Mr. Chávez was instrumental in the 2008 treaty that established the Union of South American Nations, a 12-member intergovernmental organization that might someday move the continent toward the model of the European Union. In 2010, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States lept from theory to practice, providing a political forum alongside the Organization of American States. (It does not include the United States and Canada, as the O.A.S. does.) The Bank of the South, a new lending institution, independent of the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, also would not have been possible without Mr. Chávez’s leadership. Finally, he was vitally interested in fostering closer Latin American ties with Africa and the Arab world.

If a public figure dies without leaving ideas, his legacy and his spirit come to an end as well. This was not the case for Mr. Chávez, a strong, dynamic and unforgettable figure whose ideas will be discussed for decades in universities, labor unions, political parties and anyplace where people are concerned with social justice, the alleviation of misery and the fairer distribution of power among the peoples of the world. Perhaps his ideas will come to inspire young people in the future, much as the life of Simón Bolívar, the great liberator of Latin America, inspired Mr. Chávez himself.

Mr. Chávez’s legacy in the realm of ideas will need further work if they are to become a reality in the messy world of politics, where ideas are debated and contested. A world without him will require other leaders to display the effort and force of will he did, so that his dreams will not be remembered only on paper.

To maintain his legacy, Mr. Chávez’s sympathizers in Venezuela have much work ahead of them to construct and strengthen democratic institutions. They will have to help make the political system more organic and transparent; to make political participation more accessible; to enhance dialogue with opposition parties; and to strengthen unions and civil society groups. Venezuelan unity, and the survival of Mr. Chávez’s hard-won achievements, will require this.

It is without a doubt the aspiration of all Venezuelans — whether aligned with or opposed to Mr. Chávez, whether soldier or civilian, Catholic or evangelical, rich or poor — to realize the potential of a nation as promising as theirs. Only peace and democracy can make those aspirations a reality.

The multilateral institutions Mr. Chávez helped create will also help ensure the consecration of South American unity. He will no longer be present at South American summit meetings, but his ideals, and the Venezuelan government, will continue to be represented. Democratic camaraderie among the leaders of Latin America and the Caribbean is the best guarantee of the political, economic, social and cultural unity that our peoples want and need.

In moving toward unity, we are at a point of no return. But however steadfast we are, we must be even more so in negotiating our nations’ participation in international forums like the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. These institutions, born from the ashes of World War II, have not been sufficiently responsive to the realities of today’s multipolar world.

Charismatic and idiosyncratic, capable of building friendships, communicating to the masses as few other leaders ever have, Mr. Chávez will be missed. I will always cherish the friendship and partnership that, during the eight years in which we worked together as presidents, produced such benefits for Brazil and for Venezuela and our peoples.


Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the president of Brazil from 2003 through 2010, is the honorary president of the Instituto Lula, which focuses on Brazil’s relations with Africa. This essay was translated by Benjamin Legg and Robert M. Sarwark from the Portuguese.


Ecuador Grants Assange Asylum Against UK, Swedish Pressure

In ACLU, Ecuador, Julian Assange, Latin America, Politics, Rafael Correa, US, Wikileaks on August 16, 2012 at 1:30 pm
By Tom Hayden


Originally published in Peace Exchange Bulletin



The British has made a “huge mistake” in threatening yesterday to extract Julian Assange from Ecuador’s London consulate after the Latin American country granted political asylum to the WikiLeaks founder yesterday, according to an international human rights lawyer. “They over-stepped, looked like bullies, and made it into a big-power versus small-power conflict,” said New York-based Michael Ratner in an interview with The Nation.

The diplomatic standoff will have to be settled through negotiations or by the International Court of Justice at the Hague, Ratner said. “In my memory, no state has ever invaded another country’s embassy to seize someone who has been granted asylum,” Ratner added. There would be no logic in returning an individual to the very power seeking to charge him with offenses, he indicated.

Since Assange entered the Ecuadoran embassy seven weeks ago, Ecuadoran diplomats have worked to avoid an escalation by private talks with the British and Swedes seeking an assurance that Assange will be protected from extradition to the United States where he could face charges under the US Espionage Act. Such guarantees were refused, according to Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, who said in Quito that the British made an “explicit threat” to “assault our embassy” to take Assange. “We are not a British colony,” Patino added.

The US has been silent on whether it plans to indict Assange and ultimately seek his extradition. But important lawmakers, like Sen. Diane Feinstein, a chair of the joint intelligence committee, have called for Assange’s indictment in recent weeks. But faced with strong objections from civil liberties and human rights advocates, the White House may prefer to avoid direct confrontation, leaving Assange entangled in disputes with the UK and Sweden over embarrassing charges of sexual misconduct in Sweden.

Any policy of isolating Assange may have failed now, as the conflict becomes one of Ecuador – and a newly-independent Latin America – against the US and UK. Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa represents the wave of new nationalist leaders on the continent who have challenged the traditional US dominance over trade, security and regional decision-making. Correa joined the Venezuelan-inspired Bolivian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) in June 2009, and closed the US military base in Ecuador in September 2009. He survived a coup attempt in 2010.

For more details, please see previous coverage of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange here.


In Human Rights/Derechos Humanos, Latin America, Politics, US on June 20, 2012 at 12:16 pm

President of Ecuador Rafael Correa left. Founder of Wikileaks Julian Assange right. (all possible puns intended!)

By Tom Hayden

Originally published in The Nation

In what might escalate into a major setback for the US government, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has taken refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy in London and is seeking political asylum in that Latin American country. Relations between the US and most Latin American countries- and many others  around the world- are sure to be aggravated if the White House reacts negatively or tries to block an Ecuadoran asylum decision. It seems inconceivable that Ecuador will simply turn Assange over to the US or UK  authorities, setting the stage for a showdown with global repercussions.

President Rafael Correa is a progressive and populist economist who already has expelled a US military base from his country, survived an attempted coup and capture by right-wing military plotters, and expelled an American  ambassador in 2011 based on WikiLeaks revelations. Last year an Ecuadoran  court fined Chevron $8.6 billion for damage to the Amazon basin, a decision  which Correa called ³the most important in the history of the country.²  Correa also violated the tenets of US-imposed neoliberal policies by  endorsing Venezuela and Bolivia in refusing debt repayments to the International Monetary Fund in 2008. In a preview of things to come, Correa and Assange participated in a televised question-and-answer session last month on the Russia-sponsored network RT. Moscow has been a strong supporter of Assange, with Vladimer  Putin nominating the WikiLeaks founder for a Nobel prize.

US-aligned NGOs like Freedom House are attacking the Ecuadoran government for its attempts to contain private media corporations hostile to Correa¹s politics and domestic economic agenda. Correa generally is aligned with the  left-bloc of Latin American countries, although he enjoys positive diplomatic relations across most of the continent. In an example of the mainstream media distortion of all things Latin American, Reuters recently described Correa as a critic of US ³imperialism² in quotation marks. Nevertheless, the US has leverage in Ecuador as the country¹s largest trading partner, but with China and Latin American partners rising.

For more information link to

For WikiLeaks cables on US-Ecuadoran relations, link to

Mariela Castro and Rea Carey in Conversation

In Blockade, CENESEX, Cuba, Cuba/US, Education, Human Rights/Derechos Humanos, Latin America, LGBT, US on May 14, 2012 at 2:02 pm

LGBT Rights in Cuba, the United States and Beyond

In 2010 the Cuban government began providing sex reassignment surgery free of charge as part of their universal healthcare. This was the result of several years of work by the Cuban National Center for Sex Education under the leadership of Mariela Castro Espín, niece of Fidel Castro and daughter of current Cuban president Raúl Castro. The current developments in LGBT rights in Cuba are remarkable given the discrimination suffered by gays, lesbians, and transgender people in Cuba in the 20th century, as well as comparison with current LGBT movements in the U.S. and abroad.
Please join us on Tuesday May 29th at 7pm in the Trustees Room of the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building as Mariela Castro Espín and Rea Carey, Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, discuss the current international context of LGBT rights, including issues of sexual identity and orientation in contemporary Cuba.
 Mariela Castro Espín is the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX). She was President of the Cuban Society for the Multidisciplinary Study of Sexuality (SOCUMES) from     2000 to 2010. She is president of the Cuban Multidisciplinary Centre for the Study of Sexuality, president of the National Commission for Treatment of Disturbances of Gender Identity, member of the  Direct Action Group for Preventing, Confronting, and Combatting AIDS, and an executive member of the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS). She is also the director of the journal Sexología y  Sociedad, a magazine of Sexology edited by her own National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX). She is the author of 9 books, published in Cuba and abroad, among them Transexuality in Cuba (Havana, CENESEX Publishing House, 2008). In 2009 she was awarded with the Public Service Award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS), and in 2012 she received the Eureka Award for Academic Excellence, given by the World Council of University Academy (COMAU). She is married with 3 children.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, is one of the most prominent leaders in the U.S. lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights movement. Carey, who came to the Task Force in 2004 as deputy executive director, has served as executive director since 2008.  Through her leadership, Carey has advanced a vision of fairness and justice for LGBT people and their families that is broad, inclusive and unabashedly progressive. Prior to her work with the Task Force, Carey worked extensively in HIV/AIDS prevention and in the LGBT community as one of the co-founders of Gay Men and Lesbians Opposing Violence and the founding executive director of the National Youth Advocacy Coalition. She has also served as an advisor to major donors and foundations, and has served on the advisory boards for such wide-ranging publications as Teen People magazine and the Georgetown University Journal of Gender and the Law. She serves on the Advisory Board of the LGBTQ Policy Journal, of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government

What “The Sun” shines on Cuba

In CELAC, Cuba, Cuba/US, Latin America, OAS/OEA, Politics, US on February 11, 2012 at 1:40 pm

From the Financial Times February 14, 2012

by John Paul Rathbone

February is the month of balmy summer days in Latin America, although the season of beach holidays hasn’t stopped a delicious diplomatic storm from brewing.

At the heart of the thundery electrostatic is the perennial problem. Will Cuba attend the “Summit of the Americas” this April?

This is more than recondite politics. It is drama. If Cuba does attend, then the world will enjoy the unique spectacle of a US President sharing the same podium as one of the Castro brothers.

If it doesn’t, well that would be because Cuba again does not meet the democratic requirements of the Organisation of American States.

The stakes – if you can call them that – are growing.

Ecuador – junior member of the Venezuela and Cuba- sponsored regional grouping, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (or ALBA, which recently brought the world these words of support and respect for the Bashar Al-Assad regime in Syria) – has said Cuba should be allowed to attend. Furthermore, if Cuba isn’t invited, then ALBA should boycott the Summit, where 34 heads of state are otherwise supposed to attend.

That would hold out the prospect of a similar fiasco to the 2005 Summit, when a protest rally, partly organised by the Argentine hosts, saw Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez round on a trade deal that was subsequently approved by 29 other countries.

This time round, a similar boycott would produce collateral damage for the Summit’s hardworking but embarrassed Colombian hosts. More importantly, it would be a snub for the US. Why?

Because the OAS is the sole regional forum where the US still has a voice, and a walkout by Ecuador, Venezuela et al would show that even this forum no longer counts. A case of “adios” to the gringos.

There is all sorts of fun to be had wondering how, or if, this thorny issue might be resolved.

One possibility: Cuba does attend, but walks into a firestorm of criticism about human rights and lack of elections. (Forget it: the Castros haven’t remained in power for 50 years for nothing.)

Another possibility: Raul Castro turns up on the beach at Cartagena for his April holiday anyway, and sidles into the meeting. (Unlikely.)

A third: Cuba attends as just an observer, like Spain and Portugal, which would annoy both Havana and Washington in equal measure, but might give everyone else a laugh.

The problem with this meaningless membership debate, diverting as it might be, is that it masks the real question, and hijacks the real issue. Indeed, it is a diversion.

The real issue the region should be talking about is regional integration – which indeed is the Summit’s main theme. And the real question is why Cuba doesn’t meet the OAS guidelines? (The answer is not just because the US wishes it so: when Cuba was invited to enter negotiations with the OAS in 2009, Havana said it didn’t want to.)

Still, the best defence against criticism is often attack. Indeed, looking at it all from London, the affair is somewhat reminiscent of News International staff’s protests about the heavy-handedness of the police investigation into its Sun newspaper about possible phone-hacking. The Sun’s protest may be valid but is really just a smokescreen for the bigger question: why is there an investigation in the first place?

Sound & Fury…signifying Something

In Cuba, Cuban Americans, Education, Latin America, Politics, Social Justice on January 13, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Poster for La Primera Tricontinental, by Alfredo Rostgaard, 1969


Margarita Alarcon Perea

A few years ago I had the pleasure of lecturing to a group of students from UC Davis who were down here on a 10 week academic study program. The teacher that had brought the group down asked all the students to write an essay at the end of the trip which would in turn be part of their grade for the semester. Each student had to pick a topic and a lecturer to hand over the essay to. One part of the grade would rest on the lectures opinion and the other on the Davis teacher.

I was presented with 12 papers to read.

They were all good, some more decent than others but there was one which caught my attention more than the rest and it was not just the writing or the thesis behind the essay but the pupil and how he had arrived at the topic.

For the purpose of anonymity I will refer to him as “John”. Turns out that John had never really heard about Cuba or the Revolution and it was not until a song by Rage Against the Machine that he heard of “Ché”. He told me that on a poster of the band he noticed one of the members wearing a “really cool t-shirt of a guy with a beard and beret” and liked the image so much he decided to look him up. And he did. All the way around Latin America.

Turns out John, read so much about Ché, Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, that he took a trip similar to the one Ernesto and his friend Alberto Granados took back in 1952 right before graduating from medical school.

John learnt a lot about the continent and this in turn paved the way for his years at UC Davis and taking the trip to Cuba.

Here on the island he continued his quest for more information on Ché. He went to Santa Clara to visit the site where his remains are; he wandered around town and would every now and again bump into posters, signs, billboards with the man’s face and a phrase uttered at one point or another in history. He saw the huge metal structure in front of the monument to Jose Marti in Revolution Square, and he asked questions.

By the time he handed in his essay he knew all there was to know about Ernesto “Ché” Guevara, but he had one last question which he left unanswered at the end of the piece.

How was it possible that the country to which a  man like this one, a man who whole heartedly and selflessly had arrived to help in the creation of a better world and in the liberation of its people, one who gave his life to help mankind and his continent, how was it possible that this island was brandishing his good name and his history and all that he stood for by allowing that the face of this person become an icon stamped on all sorts of t-shirts with or without glitter, ashtrays, cigarette lighters, wrist watches, beach towels and who knows what else?

John came to me with the question before finishing the piece and I had no answer to give him. Did I agree with him that Ché would indeed be furious if he were alive to see this? Yes, of  course, but then the contradiction lays in the fact that were he alive, there wouldn’t be a reason for the iconoclasms. Is it a contradiction that the Cuban Revolution allow this to happen? Yes, it is. In my view. Then by the same token it is also true that by murdering him the way the CIA did in Bolivia and then sending out the picture of his lifeless body out into the world, all they accomplished was to turn him into a Martyr and one that lives on today as the symbol of the true revolutionary.

Was it wrong when Absolute Vodka used the image of his face taken by Alberto Diaz “Korda” to promote the sale of its 40% proof elixir? Yes, it was, and Korda made sure they knew it and put an end to the phantasmagoric escapade.

Is it inappropriate for a company like Mercedes Benz to use the image of this man who by his own right and due to the circumstances in history has become larger than life? Yes, it is.

So I must agree that the use of the iconic image to help boost a publicity move for Mercedes Benz is an incorrect use of the man and his raison d’être, but not for the reasons expressed by some in Miami in today’s piece in the Sun Sentinal. Ché deserves better than a car dealership and a quick alcoholic fix, he wasn’t killed for that. He deserves, as John  put it, that young people read his work and study his life and use him as an example of the true revolutionary, the true man of the future, a future he with his example is helping make possible in the hemisphere that gave him life the same way it took it away.