• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, centralamericanpolitics.blogspot.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
A Guatemalan court found former dictator and US Cold War ally, Efrain Rios Montt, guilty on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced him to eighty years in prison. His intelligence chief, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, was found not guilty on all charges. It's a historic day for the people of Guatemala. Here's Will Grant with the BBC's take:
When the Guatemalan Peace Accords were signed in 1996 after a civil war in which 200,000 people were killed, very few ever thought this moment would be reached. In blisteringly critical language, Judge Jazmin Barrios said that as de facto president it was logical that Rios Montt knew of what was happening in the country, but did nothing to stop it.
Hunger, systematic rape and forced displacements were all used as tools of war against the Ixil people for whom merely being a member of the indigenous group was a "mortal offence" in the military government's brutal pursuit of left-wing guerrillas.
Judge Barrios's summary and subsequent sentencing of Rios Montt was everything that human rights organisations and victims' families' groups in Central America had been hoping to hear for decades. Now the 86-year-old former general is facing the rest of his life in prison, though he is almost certain to appeal on the grounds of his age.
From a July 2011 post of mine on Dos Erres:
I know that it probably sounds like I go back and forth about this, but that's not really the case.I think that all those who committed human rights violations during the war (and the postwar) should be held to account for what they did. However, not everyone is equally responsible and not every should obviously suffer the same punishment. And while it is right that these four men from the Dos Erres massacre have their day in court, I am uncomfortable with the fact that the people who trained, ordered, and rewarded them for their behavior will not.
Now, the courts have finally brought the man most responsible for the genocide of the early 1980s to justice. There's more work to be done.... Judge Flores tried, once again, to annul the trial and send it back to the beginning [Friday] morning. Rios Montt's attorney, Francisco Garcia Gudiel, argued after the verdict that they have already lodged four constitutional challenges and eight amparos which have not yet been ruled upon.
Judge Barrios said that the attorney general's office still has the responsibility to continue to pursue justice. For many, that seems to mean going after President Otto Perez Molina who was tied to the genocide during witness testimony. Mr. Perez Molina can't be brought before a court right now as he has immunity while president. The president, by the way, issued a statement supporting the court's ruling. [Though he told CNN that he personally did not believe a genocide occurred.]
However, I'd like to know more about why Rodriguez Sanchez was found not guilty. Legally, why wasn't he found guilty? And what does the prosecutor's office learn from that? The lessons should influence who, if anyone, they pursue next.
Charges have also been filed against a former ORPA guerrilla for a massacre of twenty-two campesinos. I'd like to see the AG's office go after the financial backers of the genocide and/or those who profited.
Will the trial heal the wounds of war? I doubt it. The audience's singing of a poem by terrific poet, Otto René Castillo, following the verdict probably didn't help. He was a guerrilla in the Rebel Armed Forces who was disappeared by government forces in the 1960s.
Will the verdict help strengthen the country's judicial institutions? I'm not convinced. This was a very politicized case with both sides frustrated with the process and only one side frustrated with the outcome. The international community will herald it as a sign of the much improved justice system, which I have and continue to agree with, but I don't know how the verdict will play out locally. Many on the right still believe that this was a political lynching. They've consistently fought efforts to strengthen the country's judiciary and this will probably all but end any support they still might have had, if any, for Paz y Paz and CICIG.
But none of those issues mattered [Friday night]. The Maya-Ixil population, who suffered so much during the war and who still suffer today, have finally found the justice for which they have been struggling for over three decades.
– Mike Allison is an associate professor in the Political Science Department and a member of the Latin American and Women's Studies Department at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. You can follow his Central American Politics blog here.
Raul leans forward, at the end of a satisfying lunch of seafood and flan, and asks me a favor.
“Please give a message to Obama,” says the deeply tan fisherman with electric eyes. The crucial message that I am to personally deliver to the leader of the free world: that the president has a kindred spirit in Cuba. “He is a mason, and I am a mason,” Raul says.
I have my doubts about the first half of the message, but no matter. Our table of visiting Americans – plus Osvaldo, our Cuban guide – has had quite the conversation with Raul Sierra Carriles, president of the local fishermen’s cooperative.
Raul told of the 350-pound marlin he caught two years ago, which took an hour to reel in with a heavy line and lots of hooks. He talked about the cigarette boats he has seen speed by as he fishes far offshore, and the time one offered to take him and his crewman to Florida. They declined.
Inevitably, the discussion turns to Ernest Hemingway, who lived nearby for 20 years and used to keep his fishing boat, the Pilar, at the marina here in Cojimar, near Havana. Raul is a bit too young to have known Hemingway, but he knew Gregorio Fuentes, Hemingway’s boat captain, who died in 2002 at the age of 104. The walls of the restaurant – an old Hemingway haunt named La Terraza – are crowded with pictures of “Papa” and the old man.
Mind you, we are told, Hemingway insisted that Santiago, the main character in “The Old Man and the Sea,” was based on no one in particular. But if I ever read the book again, Fuentes’s weathered face will surely come to mind.
It is the final day of a jam-packed week in Cuba, and I am pinching myself. I’ve just had lunch with a guy who knew a guy who knew Hemingway.
But I am not here on a journalist’s visa. Nor did I sneak in illegally, in violation of the five-decade US trade embargo with the island. Like Beyoncé and Jay-Z, who traveled to Cuba just a couple of weeks before us, my mother and I are here on a “people to people” tour – since 2011, a legal way for Americans to see this long-forbidden island just a short flight from Miami to Havana. Until then, legal travel was limited to family visits and other restricted categories, such as academic, cultural, and humanitarian.
Technically, Beyoncé and Jay-Z weren’t tourists, and neither were we. Our trips were set up by tour operators licensed by the Treasury Department, and under the rules, we were to have a “full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba.” The idea is to support Cuban civil society. For the Cubans, the trips help their economy.
To many Americans, the allure of Cuba is clear: It is the largest island in the Caribbean, steeped in culture – music, literature, art, dance, food – and the storied homeland of so many Cuban-Americans who lost it all when Fidel Castro took over in 1959.
Everyone in our group wanted to see the place before the Castros depart the scene and, sooner or later, the island becomes just another stop for the cruise lines. As a former Moscow correspondent, I was expecting the Soviet Union with palm trees. I wasn’t far off.
Start with the revolutionary billboards and slogans plastered on buildings. Right there at José Martí International Airport, overlooking the parking lot, there it is – the handsome, iconic face of Che Guevara looking sternly off into the distance. More than former President Fidel Castro or his successor, brother Raul, or even national hero José Martí, Che’s visage is everywhere – even stenciled with powdered chocolate onto the foam of a cappuccino.
The condition of the buildings also suggests 1980s Moscow. In many neighborhoods, block after block of shabby, crumbling infrastructure tell visitors all they need to know about a state-run economy. At least Old Havana and other tourist areas are restored, or under renovation, thanks in part to foreign investment.
Just like in the movies, classic 1950s American cars really are ubiquitous, a source of pride for the ingenious Cubans who manage to keep them running. There are also plenty of Soviet-era cars – mostly the little boxy Ladas and Moskviches. Then there are the new cars – Hyundais, BMWs, Fiats – driven by the Cuban 1 percent.
Still, the people-to-people dimension of our trip is what gave it the juice. Any visitor can drive around and look at the monuments and visit Hemingway’s favorite bars in Old Havana – and even head to the suburb of San Francisco de Paula to visit Finca Vigia, the Hemingway residence-museum, where the Pilar is on display. We did all of that.
But in keeping with Treasury Department requirements, our tour operator, the Grand Circle Foundation, filled much of our time with Cuban people: artists and intellectuals, musicians, schoolchildren, senior citizens at a Catholic center, young “street opera” performers, a tobacco farmer, the fishermen of Cojimar. We got lectures on music and baseball, a tour of an orchid farm, and a crash course on Santeria, a widely practiced African faith. Leo, our American guide, took us to his favorite paladar, or private restaurant, in Havana – Doña Eutimia.
Sometimes we created our own “people to people” moments, such as the game of dominoes some in our group had with locals. There was also free time at night to head out to jazz clubs.
We also got out of Havana for a few days, heading west into the scenic Viñales Valley, famous for its box-shaped hills known as mogotes and tobacco farms. In the town of Viñales, we fanned out to private homes for dinner. Our hosts, Teresa and Severo, proudly told us about the bed and breakfast they run out of their house, a practice allowed by the government since 1997. Teresa showed us her appointment calendar, booked with guests from all over the world. A night at their place goes for 25 convertible pesos (about $30).
Of course, throughout the trip, we were interacting with “government approved” Cubans, who met often with American tour groups, they admitted. The phrase “people to people” itself contains echoes of the old Soviet Union, and the days of “fellow travelers” who were more than willing to put a happy gloss on the often tragic outcomes of dictatorial rule. To flesh out what I was seeing, during the trip I read the book “Havana Real” by Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez.
But even without Ms. Sánchez’s book, there’s no hiding the struggles of daily life for average Cubans, who still get their food via a ration system. Grand Circle advised us to bring gifts – not trinkets, but everyday necessities, such as toothpaste, shampoo, cleaning supplies, powdered milk, socks, shoes (didn’t have to be new), and granola bars. For the fishermen, we were to bring fishing line, leaders, hooks, and lures. For the kids, art supplies, clothing, and athletic equipment. I threw in two scuffed baseballs, and was assured they would be welcome.
Our guide Osvaldo, a former high school teacher, fielded our endless questions with good humor. We heard about his teenage son, who likes to watch “Friends” and “Vampire Diaries” and recordings of Boston Red Sox games. We heard about the high divorce rate, and the challenges of live-in mothers-in-law. We got an update on Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy who was the subject of a fierce custody battle with the US back in 2000. Elian is now 19, a young communist, and a student at a Cuban military academy.
Embarrassment was a running theme. To Osvaldo, the drab Soviet-era architecture dominating some neighborhoods is an insult to Cuban aesthetic sensibilities. But nothing says former imperial overlord like the former Soviet (now Russian) Embassy, a garish, sword-shaped tower of concrete rising above Havana’s upscale Miramar neighborhood.
The moist poignant moment of our trip came at Havana’s Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. As we entered, we were assaulted by the odor of melting paint. The air conditioning was broken; the necessary part was reportedly on its way from Canada. Our guide, Wifredo, spoke of his embarrassment as we sweated our way through the exhibitions.
By the end of the museum tour, only two of us were still with Wifredo. But he was determined to show us his favorite piece. It was the word “Revolución,” constructed from dinged-up, recycled building materials – rusted metal, bathroom tile, old plaster. He didn’t need to say why it spoke to him so profoundly.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, bloggingsbyboz.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
One of the announcements that the US and Mexican governments want to highlight from President Obama's trip is the creation of the United States-Mexico Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation, and Research. The vaguely worded announcement promises to "encourage broader access to quality post-secondary education for traditionally underserved demographic groups, especially in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. They will also expand educational exchanges, increase joint research on education and learning, and share best practices in higher education and innovation."
This is important as education exchanges between the US and Mexico have stagnated or fallen for the past decade. What the presidents didn't say [last week] is that this is something that needs to be fixed because it is a real problem. The numbers and quality of student exchanges between the two countries are quite poor and have been for some time.
The number of Mexican university students in the US holds steady around 13,000 to 14,000, and that number has barely increased over the last decade (it was 12,500 in 2002). The opposite direction is worse. The number of US students studying in Mexico peaked in 2006 over 10,000. However, security concerns caused numerous US university programs to pull out of the country. By 2011, the number was only 4,100 US students in Mexico. That's less than the number of US students studying in Costa Rica and Argentina and is only slightly above Brazil, Chile and Ecuador.
To reach President Obama's goal to double the number of student exchanges in the hemisphere, including 100,000 US students in Latin America, the numbers for US-Mexico student exchanges will need to be at least 20,000 and probably 25,000, students traveling in each direction. We're nowhere near that number and the trend lines are not looking good, thus the need for this initiative.
There are at least four areas where this forum can help improve the numbers: admissions, tuition, credit transfer, and security.
On admissions, universities need confidence that the exchange students are qualified and students need relief from burdensome paperwork that some of these programs demand. Usually, this is fixed by one-off agreements between individual universities. This forum could help create a larger system agreed to by multiple universities that could ease this process and open up additional opportunities for students in both directions.
Tuition needs to be more transparent for students, so they know how much they are spending and where that money goes when they enter an exchange program. Government encouragement and regulations can help empower students on this front and make exchange programs more affordable.
Students can't go on exchange programs if the credits don't transfer and it requires an additional semester of university to graduate. Universities need to communicate and collaborate to better understand how classes and prerequisites overlap and how they can count towards credits. This is one area that should be easier in STEM than it is in the social sciences and humanities.
On security, US universities need encouragement to allow their students to travel to Mexico. Unlike the media, universities should be able to look beyond the hype and recognize that some areas of the country, including the capital, are relatively safe. Even a city that is less safe, like Monterrey, has some great universities and students should be able to make informed decisions about whether they would like to attend. Perhaps surprising to some US citizens, Mexican universities also need a bit of encouragement on the security issue after all the coverage of school shootings in the US. This is a dialogue that needs to go in both directions.
Of course, governments can only encourage these goals. The reason this is a "forum" is that it needs the voluntary cooperation of public and private universities to be a success. Governments [...] cannot force students to study abroad, nor are they going to provide significant additional resources. The hope is that the forum can get universities, civil society, and the private sector talking.
Nearly a month after Nicolás Maduro’s controversial inauguration as Venezuelan president, the noise of banging pots and pans still brings the deserted streets to life here.
A nightly occurrence for the first two weeks after April’s hotly contested presidential election results, the sounds of anti-Maduro sentiment are now the street-level soundtrack whenever a government-mandated broadcast, or “cadena” (chain), takes over the airwaves. Opposition supporters pick up their pots, pans, spoons, and in some cases smart phones, and hang out windows and on balconies to create a cacophonous "cacerolazo," as the noisy protest is called here.
“They didn’t get the result they wanted, so they’re making a lot of noise,” says Vladimir Hernandez, a chavista and supporter of Mr. Maduro from eastern Caracas. “We’ve heard it before, and we’ll hear it again,” Mr. Hernandez says of the clanging pots and pans.
The cacerolazo has taken such a hold in Venezuela that a number of smart phone apps have been launched to replicate the sound of banging pots and pans. The free Cacerolazo Android app in particular, developed in Argentina, saw over 50,000 downloads in April as news spread worldwide of the protests in Caracas.
“It could be that we’re lazy,” says Marianna Hernandez, whose Samsung Galaxy phone does the work for her in her Caracas neighborhood of Colinas de Santa Monica. “But after twenty minutes your arms get tired,” she says.
“We simply plug my phone into the stereo and open the window,” Ms. Hernandez says. “It’s a much greater sound than you can make physically."
She says her friends poke fun at her, but she doesn't mind. "It’s about showing solidarity.”
The regular toc-toc-toc sound of anti-Maduro attitude is countered by fireworks, which explode above the Venezuelan capital’s socialist strongholds. The fireworks are distributed by the city's police force, which encourages demonstrations of support for the country’s “first chavista president,” as Maduro describes himself.
Everything but the kitchen sink
The cacerolazo is not endemic to Venezuela: Many point to 1970s Chile as the originator. Citizens of Santiago showed their discontent with the economic policies of Salvador Allende’s government through the cacerolazos. The nature of the protest allowed them to express their discontent from the safety of their homes.
The demonstration has since been adopted across Latin America, becoming a common soundtrack throughout the continent, particularly in Buenos Aires, where the app used by many Venezuelans this month was first designed by the COLPIX Argentina studio. Outside of the region it has gained traction as well, most notably last year in Quebec, when students took to the streets to protest a government bill to make mass protest illegal.
‘I’ll keep going’
Both Maduro and opposition candidate Henrique Capriles acted to discourage street-level protests, fearing violence. Maduro closed the streets each night in the weeks following his contested victory, while Mr. Capriles called off plans for a large opposition march.
Capriles turned instead to calling for nightly cacerolazos, instructing his supporters to show their discontent through this nonviolent – though not particularly peaceful – protest.
“It won’t change anything,” says Ms. Hernandez, who voted for Capriles in the country’s past two elections. “Street protests need to be organized, that way you can give a number to those who are against this government.
“The cacerolazo may sound like a lot of people, but it lacks visual impact.”
Maduro won the election by 1.8 percent of the vote, and his victory has been acknowledged by regional leaders including the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia. However, Capriles has cited close to 3,200 counts of electoral fraud, including illegal election-day campaigning and police intimidation in opposition-strong polling stations.
He has petitioned the government for a full recount, and a partial recount is currently underway.
“People will eventually get bored of [the cacerolazo], but I’ll keep going as long as everyone else does," Ms. Hernandez says.
It didn’t appear to get much play in the meeting between presidents, but civil society organizations in Mexico and the United States say they hope human rights will be higher on the bilateral agenda than they have in recent years.
Making respect for human rights central to the US-Mexico security strategy is a critical issue for those who have suffered at the hands of soldiers, police, investigators, and other authorities here.
Abuses mounted over the past six years, as the Mexican government deployed the military to police communities wracked by drug-related violence. The US has recognized Mexico's shortcomings on human rights, but some say it and the Mexican government haven't done enough to encourage change.
In a 2012 report on human rights practices in Mexico, the State Department noted “significant human rights-related problems” such as “police and military involvement in serious abuses, including unlawful killings, physical abuse, torture, and disappearances.”
Ernesto López Portillo, director of Mexico’s Institute for Security and Democracy, or INSYDE, warns against the US providing “blind support” to Mexican institutions with poor track records on human rights.
“They aren’t separate issues, but the United States separates them,” Mr. López Portillo says. “The State Department emits a report systematically criticizing Mexico on human rights and then gives it money at the same time.”
As part of the Mérida Initiative, the US has provided $1.9 billion in aid to Mexico since 2008.
Last week, two dozen US lawmakers expressed similar concerns in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, urging him to make human rights a core feature of cooperation with Mexico. The letter cites the fourfold increase in complaints of torture and cruel treatment to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), as well as the high levels of impunity in the country for those who commit abuses.
Mexico’s defense department ranked No. 1 last year for complaints of human rights violations with the CNDH. According to Human Rights Watch, the military attorney general’s office opened some 5,000 investigations into human rights violations during the previous administration of Felipe Calderón; only four cases resulted in sentences.
Current President Enrique Peña Nieto frequently talks about the importance of human rights to his government – although it wasn't mentioned in the joint news conference he and President Obama held yesterday. In a speech last month on security, he said that public security institutions should operate from a “fundamental premise” of “safeguarding of the human rights of all Mexicans.”
But as the saying goes here, entre dicho y hecho hay mucho trecho – a rhyming allusion to the difficult distance that often separates word and deed.
Some 25 people were trapped in a small street car in Mexico City last week; backs pushed up against the walls, watching uncomfortably as a man grabbed a stranger by the hair and yanked her to the ground.
The police weren’t called, and the incident couldn’t be found in any crime blotters the day after. But this wasn’t an example of Mexico’s troubled security situation. In fact, the aggression taking place had been rehearsed many times before, as a part of Mexico City’s first annual Festival of Theater in Unusual Spaces.
Two 1970s-era Japanese street cars situated near parks in trendy Mexico City neighborhoods serve as the staging ground for the festival, now entering its third and final week.
Mexico City has a long, rich history in the arts – from well-know painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera to the world-renowned Mexican Folkloric Ballet and more experimental performance artists like Jesusa Rodríguez. According to the Ministry of Culture there are five main theater companies in Mexico City, but that doesn’t include the scores of smaller troops and venues in the federal district and surrounding Mexico State.
Eloy Hernández oversees the street car theater Trolébus Doble Vida and is a festival producer. The two street cars, along with a third that hasn’t been incorporated in this first performance series, were transformed into weekly theater spaces between 2009 and 2012. But when Mr. Hernández began receiving more scripts and requests to use the space than he could accommodate, he thought it was time to organize a festival that showcases the skills of many emerging Mexico City artists thirsting for an outlet.
“Mexico City has a lot of theaters,” says Mariano Ruiz, an actor and director hanging out by the Trolebús Doble Vida before last week’s show. But no matter the city, “there are always lots of actors and too little work.” It can be very hard to enter large, official theaters in Mexico, Mr. Ruiz says. “You’re competing with the big names.”
Stolen lights and an 'unforgiving' space
The Achilles Heel theater troop performed the play "Dulces Compañias" last week, by Mexican playwright Oscar Liera. It wasn’t written for a performance in a trolly car, but it was created for a small theater, so the roughly 8-meter long and 1-meter wide space delivered the intended impact.
“[Audience members] feel trapped, claustrophobic,” says actor Francisco Bentacourt, who plays the lead role of a psychotic park dweller who preys on naive strangers who invite him back to their homes. “This is very intimate.”
There isn’t room for elaborate scene changes or set design, but the actors and small crew did an impressive job with what they had.
“The space is so small, it’s unforgiving,” says Hernández. You have to be more attentive than you would in a main stage theater, he says. “There have to be good actors, because they are right in your face, and the director has to come up with solutions” to communicate with the audience when there is no curtain to drop at the end of a scene or sophisticated lighting options to evoke a certain emotion or energy. (In fact, any light at all is a challenge: The street car has had its electric wiring stolen twice, and now connects lamps via extension cords to a power outlet at a nearby hotel.)
But creative they were. When the end of the first act started heating up, a man who had until that point appeared to be just another audience member began tapping his feet – louder and louder, faster and faster – to correspond with the increasingly heated dialogue taking place up and down the trolly car aisle. A tall lamp that looked like it belonged in a college dorm room was snapped off after Mr. Bentacourt’s character killed the woman who had invited him in from the park.
Suddenly a small projector stored under another audience member’s seat was pulled into the aisle. A woman sitting by a computer on one of the wheel wells began a video montage of the main character walking through a park, set to music. It was projected on the partition behind the driver’s seat, and kept the audience’s attention as a few small tweaks were made to the modest set before Act II.
Yellow “caution” tape lined the floor of the street car to indicate where audience members risked exiting their spots as voyeurs and encroaching on the actors’ domain.
Next spaces: bodegas, apartments
If theater demands a certain suspension of reality, theater in a street car flushes an extra bit of reality into the drama. “You want me to go out there in the rain?” Mr. Bentacourt’s character yells at one point, just after a real-time rain storm started pounding outside.
Rodrigo Minor attended the show and says he liked the experience. “It’s a new side of theater for me,” says Mr. Minor, a systems engineer who works nearby and saw festival advertisements in the neighborhood. This was his first time watching a play in a street car, and says it’s something he would gladly try again.
The festival is free to attend (they don’t have the necessary permits to charge for tickets, but do accept tips) and the shows vary greatly. Though this play was quite dark and menacing, others generate roars of laughter.
Next year, Hernández hopes to expand the festival to include even more unusual spaces in Mexico City: bodegas and private apartments, for starters.
“In the past, actors and directors were always waiting for a call,” Hernández says. “But now people make their own spaces. There’s less knocking on doors, and more creating.”
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog. The views expressed are the author's own.
El Salvador has one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the world. El Salvador outlaws abortion for any reason. There are no exceptions for rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother. Moreover, El Salvador arrests and imprisons women who have abortions, sometime charging them with murder and sending them to prison for thirty years.
A 2012 report from the Central American Women's Network details the status of maternal and reproductive health in El Salvador.
El Salvador’s stringent anti-abortion legislation has imprisoned 628 women since a law was enacted in 1998. Twenty-four of these women were indicted for “aggravated murder,” after an abortion, miscarriage, or stillbirth. Morena Herrera, president of CFDA maintains the majority of women who have been charged are extremely vulnerable for being poor, young and with low levels of education.
A critically ill young woman in El Salvador may have to decide between jail and a life-saving abortion, according to a new report from Amnesty International. The 22-year-old woman, identified only as Beatriz, is four-and-a-half months pregnant but could die if she doesn't get an abortion, per the report. Beatriz has been diagnosed with several illnesses, including lupus and kidney disease, Amnesty wrote, and her baby is missing a large part of its brain and skull and would likely die within hours or days of birth...
Salon reports that Beatriz's hospital petitioned El Salvador's Supreme Court a month ago but is still awaiting a ruling on the matter.
“Beatriz’s situation is desperate and must not wait any longer. Her very chances of survival depend on a decision from the authorities,” Esther Major, Amnesty International’s researcher on Central America, said in a statement. “The delay is nothing short of cruel and inhuman."
Amnesty International has organized an urgent campaign to get messages of support for Beatriz to Salvadoran authorities.
Commuting by bike has become increasingly popular in the traffic-choked capital of 22 million since the creation of dedicated bike lanes starting in 2006 and a bike share program in 2010. Pay attention, however, and you'll see that the bikers are mostly men. Are women missing out?
A little more than 80 percent of Mexico City’s cyclists are male, according to a 2012 study by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP). But the number of women pedalers has started to slowly rise, increasing by 2 percent between 2010 and 2011. And peer-taught classes may have something to do with it.
Every Sunday, the city’s main thoroughfare, Reforma, is closed to vehicular traffic and taken over by bikers, runners, and rollerbladers. Laura Bustos Endoqui comes out each weekend for her volunteer “Sunday job” of teaching between one and three women to ride bikes. “I teach them balance, how to pedal, how to brake. It’s not about capability, but overcoming the fear,” Ms. Bustos says.
Some of Bustos’s students never learned to ride when they were kids; while others learned but haven’t tried for more than two decades.
“When they realize they can do this, there’s a change,” Bustos says. “When they are moving around the city on their own, they feel more independent.”
Few of the women learning through Bustos can put their finger on why they don’t know how to ride bikes. Melissa Ibañez, who met with Bustos for lessons two months ago and now helps teach, asks whether it might be social.
“In my family I’ve always felt supported, but society stereotypes women. That we’re weak, or fragile,” she says. “But I knew that if I could do this, I could make other goals happen in my life. It’s an indescribable power.”
A new city
Bustos taught herself how to ride about five years ago at the behest of cyclist friends.
“When I got on a bike, it changed my entire perception of the city,” she says. She felt more engaged with the people around her, making eye contact with street vendors and pedestrians. That eventually translated into feeling more secure as a woman in what she describes as a “slightly unsafe” megacity.
She uses her bike to go everywhere – rain or shine, day or night – and finds it more comfortable than the often “suffocating” experience of crowded public transport. She recently started working with the city’s bike-share program, called Ecobici, and when she picks up her phone, a sticker on the back reads “BIKE.”
Biking has exploded in parts of Mexico City. Ecobici has installed 275 stations across different neighborhoods, with about 4,000 bikes in circulation, and plans to bring stations into even more areas. The cost of membership is relatively affordable, with an annual subscription coming out to 400 pesos a year, or $35. There are more than 70,000 people signed up for the program in Mexico City today, according to Ecobici, and the majority of riders are between 20 and 40 years old.
On a recent Sunday afternoon three students join Bustos for lessons, and each is in a different stage of the learning process. One woman practices how to brake, one works on her balance by sitting on the seat and taking baby steps to propel herself forward, and another tracks back and forth, with Ms. Ibañez running beside her holding onto the rear of the bike.
Ibañez munches on a lollipop as she ticks off the reasons she’s taken to biking, just two months after learning how: She’s saving time and money on public transportation, she’s seen changes in her body from the exercise, and she feels a new sense of freedom.
So far, Bustos has taught around 40 women to ride, and she recently launched a crowd-funding project called Muévase Usted Misma, or “Move Yourself,” to expand her reach. The more bikes she has to loan out, she says, the more women she can turn on to bike commuting.
At the end of the afternoon on Sunday, first-time rider Yamanic zips over to Bustos, showing off her new braking skills (right brake before left, and not too hard, she explains.)
“This was amazing,” she tells Bustos, stringing together five “thank yous” and smiling from ear to ear.
The idea that riding a bike might be empowering isn’t exactly new. Women suffragist Susan B. Anthony once said that the bicycle “has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.
“It gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. The moment she takes her seat … away she goes, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, bloggingsbyboz.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
Wednesday, [opposition leader] Henrique Capriles went on television to demand the [National Election Council] CNE offer his data as part of the [election] audit. The government of Nicolás Maduro quickly insisted that all television stations go to cadena, [where all channels must broadcast the same message from the government] in order to broadcast a prerecorded infomercial accusing Mr. Capriles of instigating violence. This had the added effect of blocking the Capriles press conference from the few stations that were broadcasting it.
Miguel has the specifics of Capriles campaign's audit request from Venezuela's CNE. Capriles wants the audit to look at who voted and how the fingerprint scanners that are supposed to prevent double voting functioned. For years, the opposition criticized the fingerprint scanners as an unnecessary intimidation while the government insisted the scanners are necessary to prevent voter fraud. So there is a bit of irony in that the Capriles campaign now wants the fingerprint data to be audited to look for voter fraud while the government is fighting against that effort as somehow unnecessary. Going through the voter records and fingerprint data is a completely legitimate request in the audit and within Capriles's rights as a candidate.
Meanwhile, media outlets and citizens have [reported] that the government has lied about the violence. Clinics allegedly destroyed by opposition mobs have been photographed as being just fine. Photos shown on state media of injured "chavistas" have [reportedly] turned out to actually be opposition supporters who were beaten by pro-government thugs.
Indeed, the government appears to be engaged in a relatively severe crackdown of its own, even as it accuses the opposition. The AP reports on several hundred Capriles supporters who were arrested, beaten, and otherwise abused. Several recordings have surfaced online showing the government is threatening to fire workers who voted for Capriles in the election.
At the very top, National Assembly head Diosdado Cabello plans to investigate Capriles for violence. The minister of prisons suggested/joked that a jail cell has already been prepared for the candidate and he should accept arrest and rehabilitation.
All of this should raise the question of what the Venezuelan government is trying to hide or cover up. If they were certain of a Maduro victory, then they'd gladly open up the books for a full audit. Polls show a large majority of Venezuelans believe an audit is a legitimate request and statements by UNASUR and the OAS supported the audit as well. Maduro's attempts to avoid close scrutiny of the election process and change the subject by attacking Capriles and his supporters are going to hurt his legitimacy.
Mexican teachers and teachers-in-training once again abandoned lesson plans to protest education reform in the southwestern state of Guerrero this week.
The individuals charged with educating Guerrero's children, and helping build a brighter future for a country lauded for its economic promise, have been on strike since a federal education reform bill was introduced almost two months ago.
The bill is part of a wider reform agenda by President Enrique Peña Nieto which aims to feed economic opportunity and growth in Mexico. Other initiatives discussed include boosting competition in the telecommunications industry and increasing bank lending rates.
But in yet another sign that President Enrique Peña Nieto is facing pushback on his ambitious reform plan, this week scores of educators took to the streets armed with sticks and spray paint. They broke windows, threw papers and plants out of buildings, vandalized furniture and office equipment, and set fire to political offices, according to Mexican news outlets.
“Teach and learn … vandalism,” read today’s front page of Mexican newspaper Reforma, with photos splashed above the fold showing a political party office in Guerrero engulfed in flames, and a highway road block using a “kidnapped” 18-wheeler from state-owned oil company PEMEX in the neighboring state Michoacán, which is also experiencing teacher protests.
Earlier this year President Peña Nieto passed far-reaching education reform that aims to diminish the tight grasp of Mexico’s powerful teachers union and reverse common practices like teachers receiving pay despite not showing up to work. According to The Christian Science Monitor:
The reform strips the education union – arguably the most powerful in Latin America – of its influence over the hiring of teachers. It provides for a system of merit-based pay and promotions, subjects Mexico’s estimated 1 million teachers to evaluations, and requires exams of those entering the profession. All with greater oversight by the federal government.
In Guerrero state, educators upped protests after state legislators failed to incorporate the 200,000-member education union’s demands to water down the federal legislation at the state level on Tuesday.
The mayor of Chilpancingo, where the vandalism took place yesterday afternoon, told Mexican newspaper Milenio that he’s requested federal assistance. The governor of Guerrero announced via Twitter that arrest warrants had been issued for the head of the state Education Workers Union, Minervino Moran, and another union leader, for “masterminding” the destruction of property, reports the Associated Press.