Medellin, Colombia 2014
When Friederich Nietzsche wrote Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he developed the idea of the “Overman” (übermensch). While the concept of the Overman remains up for debate, several interpretations fall along the following: guided by individually crafted values, the Overman lives with purpose, possessing the power to impact others around him (or, I controversially interject, her). The Overman attempts to go above and beyond the human
In stark opposition to a strength that surges from the individual will to transcend humanness, morality, and likely— given Nietszche’s struggles with migraines and neurosyphillitic infections— illness, I’ll quote Psalm 46:1-3: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”
I can’t say I know what the meaning of strength really is. To ground yourself in the absurd, greyness of life and live with a measure of creative dynamism to carve out your own rugged path independent of others—a life of perpetual overcoming— is a type of strength. Yet, to relinquish yourself and your trust to someone else when the cacophony of “mountains falling into the sea” becomes too deafening, that too is a type of strength. One thing about strength is clear: I ask for it. A lot.
Latin America. Social Justice. Cat doodles.
Hours after May Day rallies led by immigrant rights groups across the nation calling for reform were winding down, The Atlantic ran an alarmist gem titled “Immigration Reform is Partly about How Much Poverty to Welcome,” on how immigration reform will increase poverty in the United States.
Had it not been for it being somewhat ironically smeared on top of Ta-Nehisi Coates piece on the perils of diverting media attention to focus on obvious racists like Donald Sterling and not on the more nuanced racism of institutions and carefully softened arguments, the article probably would have flown under the radar. If this is a time to call out the type of subtle and unconscious racists that Coates writes about, then it should also be done with those that make (not so) subtle arguments that present poverty as the pathology of an ethnicity. Increasingly these claims are being made, consciously and unconsciously, about Hispanics.
The piece starts by citing a Pew Research Center study on the increased number of Hispanic women—53 percent—giving birth outside of marriage. This untamed fecundity will make Hispanics surpass poverty rates currently experienced by African Americans. “Hispanic birth rates translate into much higher numbers of young Hispanics living in poverty: 5.9 million vs. 3.9 million African Americans,” writes Krum.
Studies show that birth rates among Hispanic women aren’t increasing, they’re decreasingsharply altogether. According to a New York Times article, Hispanic birthrates went down by almost a third between 2007 and 2012. In comparison, non-Hispanic white women’s birthrates went down by 17 percent. Unmarried birthrates for Hispanic women are increasing, but poverty and lack of education shouldn’t be a knee jerk correlation (although we should acknowledge its due impact). First, unmarried birthrates for everyone are increasing. Second, this increase is attributed to changes in family structures and social mores. Both impact all demographics.
While there is a strong relationship between poverty and unwed motherhood—the Pew Research Center used to frame the article also cites that “just 9% of new mothers with a bachelor’s degree, regardless of race, were unmarried when they gave birth”— question about access to education and the impact of national development are only legitimate when they’re not presented under the veneer of “these lazy immigrants [read: Mexicans] crossing our borders, not wanting to read” or “these brown women are breeding too much.” If decreased access to education and opportunities directly impacts unwed mother birthrates for everyone, especially blacks and Hispanics, then the conversation should be about how to increase access for minority groups.
For Hispanics, 62.9 percent of people identifying themselves as Latino were born in the United States. Foreign-born students, who compose 35 percent of Latino youths, are much more likely to drop out of high school or abandon higher education. More than one-third (37.8 percent) of Latinos age 25 and over lacked a high-school diploma in 2010. Many youth—undocumented or not—see nothing but futility in continuing their high school education. College is a prohibitively unaffordable option. Faced with anonymity, fundamental cultural misunderstandings, and lack of motivation from educators who see them as the embodiment of too complex social problems that are best left ignored—as detailed in this piece— it’s not hard to see why drop-out rates are so high among Hispanics.
However, this is exactly the fight that many students in 16 states like Virginia, Utah, and just this Friday— Florida raised and won: The right to affordable access to a college educationthrough in-state tuition rates. It’s unclear how many of these kids came from single parent households. Undoubtedly some did. It is clear that your family situation colors you but ultimately, does not need to shape you. All of these kids are fighting for the right to be able to transcend their current situation.
The second half of the article leaves brown anchor baby popping out of the equation, and makes the following point:
"Over the past two decades, the United States has run an immigration policy that has substantially increased poverty in this country. Two-thirds of immigrant households—that is counting both immigrants and their U.S.-born children—from Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala live in poverty or near-poverty. Other Latin-American immigrant groups fare only a little less badly: more than 50 percent among Salvadorans; just less than 50 percent among Cubans.”
The countries cited have been perennial punching bags for U.S. Trade and Foreign Policy. The refusal to highlight the impact of both on poverty (and violence and political upheaval) in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Cuba, and immigration rates from all five countries is disingenuous and irresponsible. The last example, El Salvador, is a country where U.S. involvement has shaped poverty and migration: From 1979 to 1992, El Salvador experienced a bloody civil war that sent millions of young men dodging U.S. trained and backed death squads out of the country. These men arrived in Southern California where they joined or formed gangs to hold their ground against white racism and black gangs. With massive deportations in the late 90s, El Salvador imported a U.S.-spun gang culture that is currently fueling exorbitant murder rates across the country and prompting the migration of thousands of people.
But, it is precisely these poor migrants that fuel agricultural, industrial, and other low-skilled labor of the economy. In 2006, 77-percent of all agricultural workers were foreign born and over half were undocumented. Foreign farm worker labor keeps U.S. food prices down and allow large scale agribusiness, a 5.7 percent of farms accounting for 75 percent of total sales, to reap profits . Even companies like Walmart, Nike, PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay are cashing in on “cheap labor” through temp agencies, an industry that’s experienced one-fifth of total job growth since the recession, to recruit undocumented immigrants to work as shelve stockers and truck loaders. Unable to receive benefits or file compensation claims, undocumented temp workers are becoming a new commodity to companies that want to continue cutting spending despite enjoying pre-recession level profits. Unfortunately, there is great profit in immigrant poverty.
But for the 12 million who are working under the table for minimum to less than minimum wage and for everyone else, Immigration Reform makes the most sense: documentation means access to higher education and better paying jobs. The majority of undocumented immigrants already pay taxes, but their ability to pay higher taxes will benefit the white, aging writers who will one day receive social security. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, has been one indicator of the possibilities. According to an Immigration Policy Center survey, 61 percent of immigrants granted deferred status obtained a driver’s license, the same proportion landed a new job and 54 percent opened their first bank account. It’s boot strappiness out of a republican’s wet dream. All made easier by a single piece of paper justifying your presence in the United States.
Despite the eye rolling the piece no doubt elicited from the activist choir, it makes the point that way too many writers and journalists come at migration from a reductionist angle that risks misinforming the general media peanut-munching public. This fact is particularly worrisome when talking about immigration, motherhood, poverty, Hispanics, and immigration reform, especially when someone in a position of editorial power simplifies issues in 250 words or less. Overall, immigration reform means greater tax revenue for the country and—relief!—less unwed Hispanic mothers.
Twenty years after its implementation, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) defines the economies of Mexico, the United States and Canada, and has a too-often unrecognized effect on society as well. Most evident is the impact NAFTA has on migration.
As supply chains are integrated, families are fractured. Governments herald the economic integration while dismissing as irrelevant the human impact. One industry – poultry production – demonstrates the social costs of “free trade,” where labor and merchandise flows unleashed by NAFTA collide to destroy lives on both sides of the border.
March 17, 2014-As El Salvador heads into the March 9 run-off election to decide who will be the next president, its youth suffer the brunt of the problems facing the Central American nation. Lack of job opportunities, a declining economy, and continued gang violence have spurred some young people to get more involved this election. A new youth campaign to get out the vote seeks to hold the next elected president accountable to his promises.
“[We want] greater participation by citizens in the elections, first, to guarantee that the next president will be truly legitimate and second, to foster greater civic consciousness among Salvadorans so that they’re more informed and active in political processes,” said Ricardo Avelar, member of the youth leadership organization, CREO.
Dubbed the 9-M Votemos Pues (Mar. 9 Let’s Vote) campaign, the initiative is mobilizing urban voters and non-voters between the ages of 18 to 35 to flex their civic muscles for the run-off through tweets, Facebook updates, an online petition , op-eds and blog posts. The campaign is also asking participants to make a pledge to ensure that an additional nine people within their social networks cast their ballot, regardless of party line. So far, the campaign has received 6,044 likes on Facebook and has begunbroadcasting its message to young voters in malls, university campuses, parks, and other public places.
“We believe that if youth actively participate not just in the electoral process, but before, during, and after the creation of a political plan, governmental proposals will look more like what they want the country to aspire towards,” said Avelar.
According to participants, the lack of a definite winner and problems motivating people—particularly youth—to vote in February’s election resulted from the country’s current political polarization, allegations of deeply entrenched corruption within the parties, and disenchantment with candidates’ proposed government platforms.
“Political parties have not been responsive enough to society’s wishes and expectations, and with lower participation that can only get worse,” said 9-M speaker Rodrigo Molina Rochac. “The major concern behind the effort is to increase not only voter turnout, but participation in general, as a way to counterbalance and put pressure on a non-responsive political system.”
It is unclear who finances the initiative and whether the funds have indirectly shaped political discourse among the group. On their Facebook page, participants uploaded the following statement: “We regret to disappoint those who insist on linking us to a particular political party. We do not promote partisanship, we promote getting out the vote. At the end of our campaign, we will publicize who our supporters were and continue to be. We believe in transparency as a democractic principle, and as such will strive to be an example.”
Affiliated groups include Joven 360, Global Shapers, CREO, Censura Cero yFundación DTJ. For these groups, financial support ranges from USAID to in-kind time contributed by four unpaid university students looking to increase accountability among legislative representatives. According to Molina, the campaign is not being funded directly by a specific group or individual.
“We haven’t handled more than $500, which we have used for various social media efforts,” said Molina “What we have done is activate a large network of influencers in order to coordinate small, in-kind donations.”
So far, 9-M has received billboards—both digital and analog—, graphic design work, t-shirts, and media strategy work all in-kind.
“Honestly, it would have been a lot easier to look for a financial backer. It’s been a lot of work, but in the end it will give us a lot more credibility if we maintain it this way,” said Molina.
Vague Promises and Low Voter Turnout: A look at Round 1
Electoral data reflects the disillusioned sentiment with candidates. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) and the National Registry of Naturalized Persons (RNPN) report that there are an estimated 4,960,511 voters. Of these voters, 2,568,579 are between the ages of 18 and 39 and 1,406,672 are between 18 and 29 years of age. While a finalized analysis on voter turn-out is still pending, only an estimated 53% of potential voters participated in this year’s elections, down from the estimated 65% in 2009 that elected Mauricio Funes.
Salvador Sanchez Ceren of the left-leaning Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, F.M.L.N., won 1,315,768 (48.92%) votes while Norman Quijano of the right-leaning Allianza Republicana Nacionalista, A.R.E.N.A. party won 1,047,592 (38.96 %) votes. Despite being the front-runner, Sanchez Ceren, a former guerilla commander, ex-minister of education, and current vice-president did not receive the majority votes (51%+) needed to secure the presidential seat. While this election marked the first time expatriates were allowed to vote, only 1,909 absentee ballots were cast from the estimated 3 million Salvadorans living abroad; 61% went to the FMLN.
Political analysts have speculated that low turnout resulted from candidates uninspiring campaigns. The country’s first-ever televised live presidential debate on Jan. 12 was generally considered a disappointment, as both leading candidates took pat positions on key issues including the economy, education, and security.
Sanchez Ceren’s government plan, “El Salvador Adelante” promises to deepen programs started started under the Funes administration. For the economy, his plans included bolstering public-private partnerships to support small to large scale businesses, stimulating foreign investment, and supporting industrial and agricultural sectors to guarantee food security. He presented increased investment as the key to fixing El Salvador’s education system and an ambitious “One child, one computer” program to guarantee that children in schools have access to computers and internet. Other plans include enforcing bilingual education from an early age, improving school infrastructure, providing free lunches up to high school, providing transportation discounts for high school and university students, and creating a digital university.
Key to financing these plans would be El Salvador’s inclusion in Petrocaribe, an energy cooperation initiative created by the Venezuelan government that would allow El Salvador to buy gas at preferential prices. A flash-point that has been touted by many on the right as a sign of impending 21st Century Socialism, El Salvador’s inclusion in Petrocaribe would guarantee the state would only pay 60% of the current petroleum budget, guaranteeing $640 million for investment each yea—nearly 3 % of GDP. According to Sanchez Ceren, this would increase investments in education and public safety by 50%.
Currently, El Salvador is a partner with ALBA petroleos and has received $10 million in support for social programs from the initiative. Additional sources of public funds included increased oversight on public spending and taxation, where, according to deputy Orestes Ortez, industries in El Salvador dodged an estimated $1.5 B in taxes.
Quijano’s “Plan Pais” similarly highlights the need for increasing teacher quality and training, universalizing free access to high school and computers, and having curriculums focus more on science, math, and technology. However, unlike Sanchez Ceren, Quijano’s economic plan identified increasing investor confidence as essential to creating a positive economic climate—meaning guaranteeing a free-market system, supporting future free trade agreements, modernizing the country’s infrastructure, and decreasing foreign debt, estimated to be close to 60% of GDP.
The most controversial issue in the candidates’ platforms is security. Quijano, a dentist by trade and former mayor of San Salvador, suggested militarizing public security forces—a move that’s been criticized as unconstitutional and in violation of the 1992 Peace Accords. Quijano also proposed building prisons on the islands in the Gulf of Fonseca to prevent incarcerated gang members from contacting free operatives,privatizing the prison construction industry, and expanding current farm-jail programs with a military-style education component to include youth who are neither employed nor in school (“ninis”) in order to prevent them from joining gangs.
Throughout his campaign, Sanchez Ceren offered less of a hard line, promising increased investment in marginalized communities, improving education, and developing a well-trained, professional police force purged of corrupt officers. With an estimated 10,000 gang members in prisons and 50,000 on the streets, critics consider his approach too soft.
While homicides decreased due to a gang truce orchestrated under Funes’ watch, extorsions and other crimes continue to affect the daily lives of Salvadorans. The truce continues to be hotly debated. A recent uptick in homicides and a discovery of a mass grave in December have led many to think that gangs are not honoring the truce and are finding ways to hide bodies. Sanchez Ceren has remained ambivalent regarding his position on the truce. President Funes has been reluctant to admit involvement or appear to favor the truce, going as far as firing Minister of Security David Mungia Payes and Vice Minister Douglas Moreno—two of the main architects of the truce.
The ARENA party has sought to project a message that if Quijano is elected, for gang members “the party is over.” But despite Quijano’s traditional hard-line stance, his party’s challenges may outweigh his political plans. In December 2013, former president, ARENA party member and Quijano campaign manager Francisco Flores, came under investigationfor a $10 million donation made by the Taiwanese government between 2003 and 2004 that never reached its intended destination.
Analysts speculate that ARENA would have received a higher percentage of votes had it not been for ex-president Elias Antonio Saca’s UNIDAD coalition party absorbing 305,294 (11.44%) votes. The UNIDAD Coalition is composed of two small right-wing parties–the Christian Democrat Party (PDC) and the National Conciliation Party (PCN)—and Saca’s GANA party. The latter was formed after Saca was expelled from ARENA in 2009 amidallegations he had misspent $219 million in unaccounted-for government funds and had pressured mayors to vote for specific ARENA candidates or face penalties. Branded a “traitor” and “vende patria,” the former president was sued for corruption and money laundering on October 21, 2013. Saca was expected to campaign for either the FMLN or ARENA in the runoff, but decided not to and instead has expressed his desire to work with whoever wins.
In the end, if ARENA wins—an event which, according to polling companies, seems unlikely at this point—it will be with the help of dirty “red scare” propaganda tactics. While the specter of El Salvador’s bloody 12-year civil war and the probability of a former guerrilla commander being elected into office supplied ARENA with enough ammunition for the 8 months leading up to the February elections, current food shortages and civilian unrest in Venezuela have turned into a sounding board for Quijano’s agenda and supporters of El Salvador’s right.
Caracas-born “rumorologist” Juan Jose Rendon , a veteran political advisor and experienced fear campaigner, is one of Quijano’s closest campaign advisors. Miami-based Rendon, who also advised Alvaro Uribe and Juan Manuel Santos campaigns in Colombia and Honduras’ recently elected Juan Orlando Hernandez, has become known throughout Latin American as a strategist for rightwing candidates, carefully constructing dire warnings of the alleged dangers of “following Venezuela”. One Miami New Times article describes him as the Karl Rove of Latin America.
However, Rendon has not escaped El Salvador’s elections scandal-free. The embattled political strategist was placed on Interpol’s red alert list in early February on orders from Venezuela’s high court for sexual assault charges. Claims emerged that Rendon sued the Funes administration for $100 M for slander after Minister of Justice Ricardo Perdomo claimed Rendon was a fugitive and upon his re-entry into El Salvador, police forces would detain him.
Youth deciding for Youth: What is the real message?
Amid the controversies, scandals, and politicking in El Salvador, the US Conference on Catholic Bishops released an alarming report stating that as many as 60,000 unaccompanied minors would enter the U.S. by the end of 2014–more than double the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border in 2013. A full 95% will come from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, most fleeing drug and gang violence. Upon examining migration statistics, the majority of those children will likely come from El Salvador.
One would surmise that the future for youth in El Salvador is getting bleaker. In these elections, young people have been as polarized as their elders and active solutions to problems like youth underdevelopment and migration have taken a backseat to towing the party line. Party politics have created a heated competition. ARENA’s group,Juventud Republicana Nacionalista (JRN), recently had one of their campaign spots pulled from the air due to the use of Sanchez Ceren’s picture. According to theElectoral Code, opposing candidates are forbidden from using potentially slanderous language or images. Members of JRN filmed another spot where they claimed that their advertisement was pulled off the air because “it told the truth about Venezuela” and what would happen to El Salvador if it continued its alliance with the Bolivarian nation.
On the FMLN’s side, Juventud FMLN, youth have been mobilizing people to vote for their candidate. That group has come under fire for holding up traffic in an already congested city.
In what amounts to a civic breath of fresh air, none of this political polarization seems present among 9-M’s active participants. The group seems to have an interest in maintaining a semblance of neutrality among organizers. When asked if the FMLN were to win the presidency with a higher rate of voter participation, Avelar and Molina echoed similar sentiments.
“The goals of the campaign will be met by ensuring youth express themselves and not letting others decide for them. Whoever wins the election, if there’s a large voter turn-out and real enthusiasm for participating in the political process or in civil society, then the objective of the movement and campaign will have been met,” said Avelar.
For youth born between the 1992 Peace Accords and 1996 who are now eligible to vote but remain undecided, being reminded of the importance of voting, without partisan pressure, is a healthy step in fostering the democratic process. In the words of graffiti on a wall near Multiplaza, one of San Salvador’s megamalls: “I don’t care if it’s ARENA or the FRENTE, I just want to live fokin [sic] different.”
Young people hope not only to make a difference on election day, they also aim to hold elected officials accountable to finding solutions that are affecting the lives of nearly 1.4 million voters ages 18 to 27. Given the impact of unemployment, gang recruitment, and migration on this age demographic, youth leading conversations about accountability and clear government plans makes sense in charting the country’s future.
As the countdown for the run-off election winds down, 9M’s activities are ramping up. On Feb. 27, member organization Running El Salvador, dedicated to promoting physical activity and health among Salvadorans, held an evening 4K run to get out the vote. Other participants have set up 20 kiosks across malls in El Salvador informing people how to vote and where polls will be located.
“It is our responsibility, not only to vote, but to make sure everyone around us does as well. Five years will be decided in one day. Not voting only strengthens politicians [everyone] is tired of,” said Molina,
“If you want politics to change, you have to get involved. The first step is to vote.”
Originally published at CIP-Americas Program