Kids at stoplights offering to wipe a windshield for a few coins, or little ones hawking goods at produce markets: In much of the developing world, it’s common to see children as young as eight or nine hard at work.
And it’s no different in Colombia, where an estimated 1.5 million children between the ages of five and 17 work in such situations for more than 15 hours a week. Nearly nine percent of kids aged five to 14 work, a 2011 government census found. Though the government was able to document the scope of child labor in Colombia, finding lasting solutions to end the practice, which can keep kids out of school and place them in dangerous work environments, has proved challenging around the globe.
But in Colombia, a new smart phone crowdsourcing application is helping authorities and researchers tackle the problem. Whenever users see a child working they can take a picture with their phone and log the location, which the app sends to the country’s child welfare agency.
“It’s a tool that puts the power to report child labor in the palm of anyone’s hands,” says Mauricio García, of the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF), which receives the information, including photos, global positioning system coordinates, and other details, sent by users.
Since ICBF started using the information gathered by the app last February, about 3,800 reports have been filed, and not all of them from cell phone users in Colombia.
“We’ve gotten reports from Asia and Africa, because anyone can download the app from their phone’s app store,” says Claudia Aparicio, head of Fundación Telefónica in Colombia, the organization that spearheaded the crowdsourcing project as part of a broader campaign to fight child labor in Latin America. The organization maps all reports but only in Colombia is action taken at this time.
Colombia is not, by far, the worst country in the region in terms of child labor. Bolivia for example has rates as high as 40 percent. “But Colombia does have a problem and the government agencies here are willing to try different things,” Ms. Aparicio says.
The information is used principally to identify regions or parts of towns that are problem areas, and the times and periods when child labor is most common.
“We’ve discovered that most reports are filed in the afternoons and evening and during school breaks,” says Aparicio.
ICBF takes the detailed information sent by users and sends it to agency social workers and psychologists on the ground who try to verify the information. Once a child laborer is identified, officials verify whether the child is enrolled in school, and may call the parents and children in for counseling.
Children are often expected to work in family businesses that can range from informal trash collection to small manufacturing firms. While often child labor is associated with extreme poverty, it’s not always about putting food on the table. “Many people have the false notion that making a child work builds character and instills a sense of responsibility,” says Mr. García, adding that many parents do not realize that they may be limiting their children’s childhood.
The last resort is taking the children from the custody of their parents, says García. But agency intervention is often unwelcome. García recalls one effort to verify a report sent via the app that showed children working in a produce market.
“The workers there refused to let the officials in because often people see us as the child snatchers.”
Still, the app has helped get more than 60 children across the country off the streets and back in school, according to Aparicio. She says the Colombia experience is a pilot and eventually the app may be used by welfare agencies around the globe to help the estimated 150 million child workers worldwide reclaim their childhood.
Thousands of people dancing in the streets of Haiti’s capital is not that unusual, especially leading up to Carnival. But two days after a somber gathering commemorating the third anniversary of the 2010 earthquake, last night's bumping, grinding, dancing, and singing was far more organic and, some say, purely Haitian than the minimal weekend memorial.
Last night's crowd was gathered to greet a Haitian pied piper parade of sorts, for all ages, sizes, and strengths. From the southern tip of the country to the far northeast, some 435 miles, Haitians are relaying a half-ton piece of wood roped together like a cross.
The locals who dreamed up this quirky initiative refer to it as Kita Nago. Nago is a dance. Kita doesn’t mean anything, but the Creole phrase yon pa kita, yon pa nago means, loosely translated, "I’m not going anywhere, I’m staying right here."
The “why” behind this unlikely phenomenon seems to be a parenthesis. The movement has taken on a life of its own: It's a Haitian pilgrimage of sorts, but doesn't quite fit into one religious category. As the saying goes in Haiti, the country is "90 percent catholic, 100 percent vodou," and that was before the arrival of the evangelicals. In fact, Kita Nago organizer Anelus Jules says the wood by itself means nothing.
“It’s the energy it represents, the unity, the sacrifice, and determination for the country to work together – that’s the meaning,” Mr. Jules says.
By the time Kita Nago arrived in the capital last night the crowd had swelled to thousands.
Heavily armed security pushed back the people who came out to welcome the group, whose trajectory has spread by word of mouth, the Internet, and Facebook, where pictures are constantly updated. The cross carriers placed the wood down for the night in front of the famous statue of le Marron Inconnu. The sculpture depicts a runaway slave blowing a conch shell symbolizing his freedom and sits across from the grounds of the National Palace, which was leveled during the January 2010 quake. The distinctive white building's rubble was recently removed from the site.
A man in a grey shirt with RUN on the front and the back agrees that the cross represents Haiti. He’s walked more than 25 miles so far and intends to go all the way to the last stop in Ouanaminthe.
“It’s symbolic,” says Juno Francoise. “We Haitians have to create our own destiny. This is bringing us together to be able to do that.”
So many people standing shoulder to shoulder was reminiscent of the unity felt in the hours and days after the earthquake, a time when people worked together to rescue a neighbor – and a country – from the implosion of some 10 million cubic meters of rubble. Three years later, there’s a sense that the unity itself has crumbled. Lack of progress in reconstruction, political jockeying, and frustration with aid distribution has contributed to exhaustion and a tendency to focus on one’s own needs.
But maybe, just maybe, Kita Nago will be the kindle that reignites that flame of togetherness.
• David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. The views expressed are the author's own.
After National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello publicly complained about a series of 90 second television spots produced and aired by [opposition] news channel Globovisión, the government media controlling agency Consejo Nacional de Telecomunicaciones (CONATEL) ordered Globovisión to stop airing them. It also announced it was opening a new administrative procedure (the eighth opened by the agency against Globovision), that could result in a fine of up to 10 percent of the channel’s gross earnings during the past fiscal year.
According to CONATEL General Director Pedro Maldonado, the timing of the opening of administrative procedure and Cabello’s complaint was a mere coincidence, since CONATEL had already been monitoring the spots during the months of December and January. CONATEL had concluded that the channel was violating article 27 of the Social Responsibility Law which prohibits information that “incites or promotes intolerance for religious or political reasons, for gender differences, racism or xenophobia…generates anguish in the population…fails to recognize legitimately constituted authorities… or promotes the violation of the legal order.”
The four spots (watch them here) present the full text of article 231 of the Constitution together with images of Nicolas Maduro, Cilia Flores, and President Hugo Chávez arguing that the Constitution should be respected at all costs. Article 231 establishes that the elected President will take possession of his post on Jan. 10 of the first year of his presidential period with a public oath to the National Assembly, or if that is not possible, to the Supreme Judicial Tribunal (TSJ). The TSJ recently interpreted this article saying it was not applicable in the current situation since President Chávez was not an elected but a reelected president, meaning there was a continuity of administration.
The day after CONATEL's announcment, the Communication and Information Ministry (MINCI), sent Globovisión a new clip related to Article 231 with orders to air it. Globovisión refused to do so arguing that CONATEL had ordered them not to transmit the previous clip “or any clip of similar content.” According to Globovisión’s description of the MINCI clip, Article 231 appears superimposed over images of a government sympathizer declaring that she voted for Chávez and wants him to finish his term.
On Thursday, Jan. 10 the Alianza por la Libertad de Expresión emited a press release rejecting CONATEL’s actions saying “International human rights instruments and the National Constitution establish the right to free and plural expression and information, which includes the freedom to search for, receive, and spread information and ideas of all kinds.” They called on CONATEL to drop its case. International non-governmental organizations Human Rights Watch and Reporters without Borders also criticized CONATEL’s actions.
– David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.
Already mired in drug violence that has taken an average of 10,000 lives per year in the past six years, Mexico is now contending with another menace: wild dogs.
An alleged rash of deadly canine attacks in Mexico City has appalled residents here – even as doubt grows that the five fatalities announced in recent days were at the jaws of dogs – and provoked a hot debate about pet culture in the country.
The three separate, suspected dog attacks have taken place in a wooded park in Mexico City’s southern Iztapalapa borough, according to police reports. Authorities say the bodies were found mutilated by dog bites.
Among the victims are two 15-year-old girls, a 16-year-old boy, and a 26-year-old mother along with her 8-month-old son. All were found in the urban national park known as “Star Hill,” a popular spot for morning joggers, weekend hikers, and young couples looking for privacy.
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But swaths of the park are rarely frequented and largely abandoned by authorities. According to news reports, packs of dogs, perhaps left by owners who tired of their pets, live in caves around the hill.
Police rounded up more than 50 dogs and were testing their stomach contents. Twenty-five have since been released, according to news reports.
The news has provoked disbelief among locals, many of whom are strongly skeptical of official reports, and anger from people who live in the area. Authorities only began rounding up dogs after a Jan. 5 incident, although the first victim was reportedly found Dec. 17 and two more were discovered Dec. 29.
“At first, I just didn’t believe it,” says David Bandala, a Mexico City resident, while walking his dog on a recent day. “A gang of assassin dogs? There seem to be pieces missing from the puzzle.”
Although investigations into the attacks are ongoing, relatives of those killed are asking for a more thorough inquiry, while dog advocates have decried the roundup as inhumane.
Judging by the number of pet dogs in the city, which the city health department estimates at about 1.2 million, it might be fair to say that Mexicans love dogs. But the downside of the city’s pet culture – including barking dogs left on their rooftops at night and owners who fail to pick up after their dogs in parks – has been thrown in the spotlight. At worst, dogs are often abandoned.
“Even people who buy fancy-breed dogs get bored after a year and they leave them in the street, where they become wild,” says Mr. Bandala.
City sidewalks are often spotted with feces, even though prominent signs exhort better behavior, and many more owners never walk their dogs at all. It’s not unusual to see hungry-looking dogs on rooftops and balconies, permanently installed there to scare away would-be robbers.
There are thousands more strays. Sterilization is not especially common, although the city this week highlighted its free sterilization clinics.
Edilberto Alvarez works for the city as a park caretaker and laments that, mornings, the park is littered with droppings. Mr. Alvarez says he and his wife clean up regularly after their own two dogs at home. But he admits that he owns them for protection, and they never come down off the roof.
“We never take them for a walk,” he says. “We just keep them locked up.”
• David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. The views expressed are the author's own.
Yesterday the [leading opposition party, the] Mesa de la Unidad, sent a letter (see El Universal article here) to the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) arguing that the government will be violating the Constitution if Chávez is not sworn in on Thursday, Jan. 10. As I said yesterday, I think that is true. Even with a re-elected president, one term ends and another begins at clearly specified moments, and being sworn-in is not a formality.
However, within Venezuela, this will be a losing battle for the opposition in two ways. If it goes to the Constitutional Chamber of the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia the government will undoubtedly get a ruling in its favor. More importantly, in the court of public opinion, this is an issue without legs. Venezuelans tend to think about democracy in substantive, not formal terms.
What your average Venezuelan knows is that Chávez was elected by an ample majority in an election with high turnout. They also know he is sick and in intensive care. The fact that their sick president cannot come for his swearing in generates sympathy for his condition, not rage at the violation of abstract rules. Venezuela is a society in which people will whiz through a red light if there are no cars coming but come to a screeching halt at a green light to let a little old lady cross the street.
When in 2010 the government pushed through a series of laws of questionable constitutionality including an enabling law that effectively allowed President Chávez to bypass the National Assembly many of us in the international community were up in arms. However, the government portrayed these laws as necessary to address the problems created by massive flooding and Chávez’s popularity actually went up.
For the average Venezuelan, the opposition’s taking the issue of Chávez’s swearing in to international institutions makes them look like they are trying to take advantage of the situation. It only reinforces the popular image of them as people who use democratic formalities for their own interests and feel more comfortable abroad than at home.
– David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.
The usually leaky faucet had stopped its perpetual drip. So it didn’t come as a surprise when, instead of a stream of fresh water, I opened the faucet to a gurgling, gagging sound.
Not a drop.
It was the third occasion in roughly a month when the water at my apartment in a middle class Mexico City neighborhood disappeared without warning. The city government frequently alerts residents a day or two in advance when there will be a shutdown, but in the most affected neighborhoods, it’s easy to get caught unawares.
There was no announcement, no time to fill the washing machine with water to divvy out for cleaning dishes, flushing toilets, or taking a meager bath with a pot of water heated on the stove.
With 20 million-plus inhabitants in the metropolitan area, Mexico City’s water woes are hardly surprising [read more about water in Mexico City in our recent megacity series].
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Every day, the city repairs 50 to 60 broken pipes, says Ramon Aguirre Díaz, director of Mexico City’s water system. There are so many fixes needed that sometimes those repairs, which require the water to be shut off, are made without first notifying residents.
On New Year’s Day, the city announced it would suspend water for two days to 126 neighborhoods – including five hospitals – while it did work on pipes delivering potable water from an aqueduct in nearby Mexico State. This cut affected the city’s far north borough Gustavo A. Madero; yet a similar announcement was not made for the cuts on Dec. 31 to the Benito Juarez borough where I live.
While consecutive center-left governments have been lauded internationally for their attention to environmental issues such as reducing traffic and improving air quality in Mexico City, the water issue has largely fallen by the wayside, says Guillermo Velasco, coordinator of environmental studies at the Centro Mario Molina, an environmental research center.
Former Mayor Marcelo Ebrard’s government built a new metro line, added three Bus Rapid Transit lines to the public transportation system – the Metrobus system has cut carbon dioxide emissions by 100,000 tons annually – and launched a bike-share program.
“There was a lot of leadership in the environmental sector," says Mr. Velasco. “But on the water issue it was more of the same. New concepts are needed instead of having the idea that everything can be fixed with pipes.”
Mr. Aguirre Díaz, the water system director, concedes as much. He says that, as a government agency subject to political whims, the water department isn’t set up to think long-term. As a result, he says, most large cities decentralize the water department to run as a public, private, or hybrid company – a plan Mexico City is currently contemplating.
“There is no long-term solution that can be proposed because administrations change,” Aguirre Díaz says. “Right now it’s a controlled problem and what we need is to prevent a crisis.”
Aguirre Díaz defines a “crisis” as a situation in which a drought causes the aquifer that supplies much of the city’s water to run low. If that was to happen, more than 30 percent of the city could go without water, affecting millions.
In the meantime, the city controls the shortages and the repairs and truly drastic measures haven’t been needed – yet.
But I’ve learned my lesson. With the faucet running again, I started filling up jars and buckets, saving water for a “rainy” day.
Venezuela arrested a group of suspected cocaine traffickers, among them four Nigerians, further illustration of the importance of drug smuggling routes from South America to West Africa, and then onto Europe.
Venezuela’s National Guard and anti-narcotics police reported detaining the six suspects during two separate operations, according to Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional. The detainees were found smuggling cocaine on public transport, traveling from the city of Maturin to the eastern state of Delta Amacuro. This region is well known as a departure point for illegal flights heading across the Atlantic, as well as ships.
Venezuela reported seizing 45 tons of illicit narcotics in 2012, including some 27 tons of cocaine.
InSight Crime Analysis
United States officials have said that Colombian and Venezuelan drug traffickers are increasingly reliant on smuggling routes that move drug shipments to Europe via West Africa. In 2010, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Andean regional director, Jay Bergman, said that the majority of drug flights that land in West Africa depart from Venezuela. In an apparent acknowledgement of the problem, last year Venezuela signed an accord with Nigeria, agreeing to cooperate in the fight against drug trafficking.
Nigeria, West Africa’s largest country, is an important transhipment hub for both cocaine and methamphetamine. One indication of the increased involvement of South American criminal organizations in trafficking narcotics to Nigeria came last year, when Argentine customs agents discovered a 530 kilogram cocaine shipment on a cargo plane bound for Nigeria. In another troubling sign of the growth of the South America-Nigeria connection, between 2011 and 2012 Nigerian officials reported discovering two methamphetamine production laboratories inside the country, as well as arresting several Bolivian nationals in connection to one lab.
Other countries in South America have also reported increased evidence of drug trafficking ties with parts of Africa. Last year Brazil made several large arrests involving traffickers attempting to smuggle cocaine from Sao Paulo to Angola.
By some estimates, 13 percent of global cocaine flows now move through West Africa.
Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner relaunched her offensive over the Falkland Islands today, a move that coincides with the 180th anniversary of Britain’s allegedly illegal usurpation of the South Atlantic archipelago.
Ms. Kirchner published an open letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron in British newspapers imploring him to respect a United Nations resolution that calls on the two countries to negotiate sovereignty of the Malvinas, the name for the islands in Spanish.
Britain has repeatedly refused to enter into talks, and a spokesman for Mr. Cameron responded by saying he will “do everything to protect the interests of the islanders.”
But Kirchner's move forms part of a broader leadership pattern that has seen the nationalist president take on so-called vulture funds, demonize the International Monetary Fund, and echo Hugo Chávez’s anti-neocolonial discourse.
'National and Popular'
Though Britain may take the view that Kirchner is beating a dead horse, the Falklands are a longstanding national cause for Argentina and are written into its Constitution. Today's letter represents what are described here in Argentina as "Nac & Pop" policies.
"Nac & Pop" stands for national and popular, the way Kirchner defines her government. She casts reclaiming the Falklands, over which Britain and Argentina fought a short war in 1982, as a South American struggle against neocolonialism.
Britain recently named a slice of Antarctica over which Argentina also has a claim "Queen Elizabeth Land," a move branded by a source at the Argentine presidential palace as “provocative and childish.”
“If it occurs to the British Empire to attack the Falklands, Argentina won’t be alone this time,” Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said last year. With Chávez’s future uncertain due to recent health concerns, Kirchner could be trying to position herself as the leader who replaces him as the resounding voice of the South American left.
Kirchner also made a stand over the Falklands at the UN’s decolonization committee last year, and sanctioned a controversial TV commercial showing an Argentine field hockey player training for last summer’s London Olympics in Port Stanley, the islands’ capital.
The populist methods sit well among her supporters, who parade “The Malvinas are Argentine” flags at government rallies. And given that Kirchner's approval rating has dipped to roughly 35 percent – a decline of about 30 percent – in opinion polls since her reelection in October 2011, playing the Falklands card is viewed by some analysts as a way to halt that slide.
Beyond the Falkland Islands
Aside from the Falklands, Kirchner’s debt-reduction plan – accompanied by interventionist economic policy – and push for social inclusion are the pillars of her national and popular policies.
Next week, the Fragata Libertad – a ship embargoed in Ghana by an American-based holdout creditor that is demanding payment after having rejected debt exchanges on the back of Argentina’s 2002 default – will arrive at Mar del Plata, a city in Buenos Aires province.
Kirchner will be there to receive it. In her bid to reestablish Argentina’s economic sovereignty, she accused an American judge of “judicial colonialism” after he recently ruled that the holdout creditors should be paid.
The economy and the Falklands are both essential to Kirchner’s "Nac & Pop" strategy, and are likely to continue to be used for political gain.
- Ecuador had seven different presidents in the decade before President Rafael Correa and the current president faced his own odd coup attempt in September 2010. While President Correa remains popular, the tensions within the political system have led to protests and tension among the branches of government.
- After several years of coup threats and rumors, Paraguay controversially impeached President Fernando Lugo last year. It sets a bad precedent that the first post-Colorado [the political party which ran Paraguay for six decades] president failed to finish his term.
- Honduras had its coup against President Manuel Zelaya in 2009. President Profirio Lobo has had his share of institutional turmoil. The country is also hit hard by corruption, organized crime, and violent crime.
So three countries that have had one or several irregular power transitions in the past decade are all going to hold elections this year. An optimist might see these elections as a big win for democracy. Indeed, the fact that the hemisphere now expects a quick return to regular elections, even in the face of coups and quasi-coups, is a victory over the trends of decades past.
But democracy has its bookends in an election and inauguration on one side and a peaceful, normal power transfer while stepping down on the other. The ability and normality of handing off power to the next elected leader may be a bigger symbol of democracy than the elections. Given their recent histories, there should be doubts whether all three of the presidents elected will make it to the finishing point of their democratic term.
I'm sure various international organizations will send observers to the 2013 elections in these countries and declare them free and fair and wonderful victories for democracy in countries that have faced so many problems. Then those observers will leave and the real questions about democratic stability will begin.
Editor's note: The photo caption has been edited for clarity.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, cuba.foreignpolicyblogs.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
Fidel Castro’s long-declining health and the high average age of his successors are well-worn topics in Cuba discussions. As we turn the page on 2012, Cuba watchers and Cubans alike are now discussing the health of the leader of a different country: Venezuela. Hugo Chávez recently suffered still new complications from his cancer surgery, and he has taken a surprising step in flagging his vice president, Nicolas Maduro, as the person he would like his followers to vote for should he be unable to carry out his duties as president. President Chávez won a new six-year term in October, but if he has to step down during the first four years of his next term, a new election must be called within 30 days.
Experts suggest that a change in leadership in Venezuela could have huge consequences for Cuba. The two countries have a partnership that is rooted deeply in the personal relationship between Chávez and the Castros — particularly Fidel, whom Chávez considers to be a mentor. Business with Venezuela consists of 40 percent of all Cuban trade, and Cuba receives 60 percent of its energy needs on preferential terms from Venezuela. Such a high level of dependency leaves the island vulnerable to the political and economic swings of its partner.
A victory by the opposition in Venezuela would have the greatest impact for Cuba: during the recent campaign, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles told voters that with his election, the distribution of oil to Cuba and other countries at reduced prices or in barter deals would end. But this is an unlikely outcome. In the short term, there are essentially three possible scenarios for the Cuba-Venezuela relationship:
First, Chávez may indeed continue to govern in Venezuela and see the same arrangement with Cuba continue.
Second, Chávez’s health may decline, in which case his Vice President Maduro would almost certainly win a new election and maintain the special relationship. Maduro has been a close collaborator in the relationship with Cuba and affirmed a line used many times by Chávez himself: that Cuba and Venezuela are two countries as one.
Third is the most unsettling scenario for Havana, but it is also highly unlikely: the Venezuelan opposition could come to power in a new election and change the tenor of the relationship with Cuba, as Capriles promised during the campaign.
However, even if this final scenario ends up being the right one, Havana has some forces working in its favor. In its bilateral deals with Caracas, Havana returns the favor of preferential terms for its energy supply with a steady stream of 30,000-50,000 Cuban technical personnel working in Venezuela as physicians, teachers, and other instructors, many in impoverished areas that depend upon the social services and training they provide. A newly elected opposition — whatever its campaign rhetoric — would be foolish to do anything to endanger the continuity of these services to large swaths of the Venezuelan population. Changes in the relationship between the two countries would therefore have to be gradual and mutually negotiated in order to protect the assets provided by each side to the other, which are of great value to the receiving country.
Still, Cuba in the coming year must continue to prepare for eventual changes to its relationship with Venezuela: such an arrangement cannot continue forever. Diversification of foreign partners will ensure that instability in one will not in turn destabilize the Cuban economy. Diversification of Cuba’s own production will lessen its vulnerability to external price shocks for commodities like nickel. And actively enabling the current economic reforms that have been slowly moving Cuba from a centrally planned economy to a model more friendly toward private enterprise will augment the number of Cubans that are independent of the government payroll.
We can expect to see more on all of these fronts in 2013.
– Melissa Lockhart Fortner is Senior External Affairs Officer at the Pacific Council on International Policy and Cuba blogger at the Foreign Policy Association. Read her blog, and follow her on Twitter @LockhartFortner.