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Mercosur to Suspend Venezuela over Human Rights Record?

Venezuela, South America, Mercosur, Human Rights, European Union

Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami famously wrote, “Hell has no true bottom.” And Venezuela may be proof. As the country continues its downward economic spiral, it now faces pressure from Mercosur to meet the organization’s human rights and immigration standards. The South American trade bloc warned that Venezuela’s membership will be suspended if it fails to meet the December 1st deadline to improve conditions, Bloomberg reported. (Upon joining in 2012, the country agreed to the four-year timeline to meet all the requirements.)

In June, Caracas was set to assume the bloc’s rotating presidency, but leading members Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay filled the role using an interim team from other states in order to “preserve and strengthen Mercosur,” the ministers said. It was an early warning sign that Venezuela was on shaky ground with its trading partners.

The decline in global commodity prices has led Mercosur to seek out new ties with other trade blocs—including the European Union, which evaluates the human rights records of potential partners. Given Venezuela’s increasing political turmoil, the oil-rich nation is quickly becoming a liability. 

“The European Union has condemned Venezuela for human rights violations. So (Venezuelan President Nicolas) Maduro isn’t exactly the best face for Mercosur to have right now,” Roberto Moritan, a former deputy foreign minister in Argentina, told The Wallstreet Journal.

Maria Montessori: The Spirit of Education for World Citizenship

Global Citizen Education Program at UNESCO would make Maria Montessori proud.

Maria Montessori (1870-1952), an Italian childhood educator and world citizen, would have been pleased at the efforts of the United Nations and UNESCO to promote Global Citizenship Education1. Montessori argued for a child's dignity and autonomy and for the ability of the child to break out of the narrow bonds of nationalistic education. She stressed that children have a unique consciousness and a special sensitivity in the early years which must be nurtured and allowed to develop along its own course.

The world citizen spirit of Maria Montessori's teaching displeased the narrow nationalist leaders in power in the 1930s. The Fascist government of Mussolini closed the Montessori schools in Italy in 1934 as did Hitler in Germany and then in Austria when Hitler's  troops moved into Vienna.  The dictators saw that creative thinking among children was a danger to their authoritarian rule.  She spent the Second World War years in India where her educational ideas influenced a growing number of Indian teachers.

 She stressed education for world citizenship in both content and methodology for as she pointed out access to education and to various forms of learning is a necessary but not sufficient condition to world citizenship education. A comprehensive system of education and training is needed for all groups of people and at all levels, both formal and non-formal. The development of a holistic approach based on participatory methods is crucial.

Solar Power’s Surprising Win in Chile

Chile, Spain, Dubai, solar energy, renewable energy, climate change

Chile has officially debunked the argument that coal is cheaper than solar.

Solarpack Corp. Technologica, a Spanish developer, won contracts to sell solar power for $29.10 per megawatt-hour at an energy auction in August, the lowest price ever. Not only does this beat out the deal in Dubai from last May, it went for almost half the price of coal at the same event. Chilean solar power is now at one of the lowest rates for any kind of electricity anywhere, according to Solarpack General Director Inigo Malo de Molina.

“Solar energy technology has evolved and proved it is competitive,” Molina told Bloomberg in a telephone interview from Santiago. “Prices for electricity generation have changed drastically in the last years. Solar energy in Chile is now the cheapest in the market.”

From Energy Crisis to Energy Abundance

It’s an amazing turn-around, given the county’s recent energy woes. Just five years ago, Chile’s energy prices were among the highest in Latin America. A few monopolistic utility companies dominated the sector, and Argentina had stopped selling natural gas to its neighbor. Facing the risk of blackouts, the private sector planned to open more coal-burning power plants and build hydroelectric dams that would have flooded Patagonia.

Development in the Digital Age

The biggest impacts often come from the seemingly smallest technological advancements: food-ordering apps, instagram, Pokemon Go. They not only make something rapidly accessible, but they do so in a way that highlights its huge role in our lives (or makes it a huge role in our lives). The same can be seen all over the world, but with arguably higher stakes. You open up the paper pull up your news app and see stories of other apps that are helping prevent deforestation through geo-tag reporting, improving democracy by disseminating knowledge and creating transparency in elections, mapping violence, and bringing mobile bank to rural villages.

Clearly, technology can not only solve problems, but also it can empower people. One study found that by “bringing internet access to the 4.1 billion people in the world who do not have it would increase global economic output by $6.7 trillion…, raising 500 million people out of poverty.” Yet, even if the world can overcome the barrier of affordable internet access, how do we guarantee that the gains are felt equally, by everyone? Unsurprisingly, a “report said the benefits of rapid digital expansion had been skewed towards the better-off and the more highly skilled, who were better able to take advantage of the new technologies.”

On the 71st Anniversary of Nagasaki: A Memorial for All Civilian Casualties of War

A memorial at the World Peace Bell for Civilian Casualties of War

On Tuesday, August 9, the Cincinnati Peace Committee held a memorial at the World Peace Bell in Newport KY to remember and honor civilian casualties of war.  August 9 is the 71st anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city of Nagasaki, Japan which happened 3 days after the annihilation of Hiroshima.  120,000 people were killed on these 2 days and tens of thousands would later die of radiation exposure.  Most of these people were civilians.

In spite of the attempt to protect civilians with international treaties, the killing of civilians during war is an even larger problem today.    United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that civilian fatalities account for more than 90% of all deaths in the wars that started since the 1990s.

Recently there was a report that US led airstrikes in Syria accidently killed more than 80 civilians, mostly woman and children.  This tragedy was practically ignored by the US media compared to the coverage of the terrorist attack in Nice that was of the same magnitude.  The US media mostly ignores civilian casualties of war caused by the US.  This lack of media coverage leaves our citizens woefully uninformed as to the loss of life and terror we inflict on the people of other nations, and results in our lack of understanding as to why there is such strong and growing anti-American sentiment.

We believe that US citizens need to be aware that our military is killing more civilians than soldiers in our ongoing wars.  We need to demand that our nation find other ways to make the world safe for us and for democracy, a way that is better than our current reliance on violence which kills innocent people and gives birth to terrorists resulting in even more violence.

Dag Hammarskjold (29 July 1905 -18 September 1961) Crisis Manager and World Community Builder

A collage of stamps from around the world honoring Dag Hammarskjold

You wake from dreams of doom and −for a moment− you know: beyond all the noise and the gestures, the only real thing, love's calm unwavering flame in the half-light of an early dawn. Dag Hammarskjold Markings1

Dag Hammarskjold became Secretary-General of the United Nations at a moment of crisis related to the 1950-1953 war in Korea, and he died in his plane crash in 1961 on a mission dealing with the war in the Congo. The first Secretary-General of the UN, Trygve Lie, had resigned in November 1952 in the light of the strong opposition of the Soviet Union and its allies to the way the United Nations Command operated in Korea. Even though it was called the “United Nations Command”, the main fighting forces and the logistic support were provided by the United States.

Among UN Security Council members and other important delegations, it was felt that, given the way Trygve Lie was pushed out before a second term, he should be replaced by a person from a Nordic country, and the name of Dag Hammarskjold started to be proposed as a suitable candidate from an appropriate country, Sweden. It took five months of discussions before on 10 April 1953 Hammarskjold took office in New York.

A Model for Climate Change: Guatemala's Agro-Ecological Center

Guatemala, Climate Change, German Society for International Cooperation, Agriculture, Food Security

Plagued by rising temperatures, droughts, and elevated carbon dioxide levels, Central America's agricultural sector hangs in the balance. But the Guatemalan town of San Miguel Chicaj in Baja Verapaz may have the answer to this increasingly worrisome problem. With support from the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), San Miguel Chicaj will soon be home to an agro-ecological center designed to serve as a model of adaption to climate change.

For the past ten years, the state of Baja Verapaz has been part of the 'dry corridor', making it the perfect testing ground for the agro-ecological center's techniques. The center, located in a small forest surrounded by cornfields and nurseries, plans to teach people to adapt crop production to the changing environment.  

"It will strengthen our crops…serve as a space for youth to be trained in agricultural-related activities," the chief counselor of San Miguel Chicaj told El Periodico.

The project, which is in the second phase of the "Adapt" initiative of the GIZ, has been called "innovative" and "a new way to address climate change" by the organization's head of cooperation Thomas Cieslik.

Under construction on municipal land, it will cost around $100,000 USD to complete. GIZ, meanwhile, is providing €10.5 million over six years (2013-2018) to invest in consulting and training. Once open, the center will fund operations by charging schools, universities, and companies for training students and employees.

It won't be ready for about a year-and-a-half, but GIZ is already conducting workshops to teach residents of Baja Verapaz how to reduce their impact on the environment. 

Letters to Jake Series, Letter #9

Jake with his twin sisters Annette and Clair on the 4th of July

Dear Jake,

I love the attached picture of you and the twins all dressed for this year’s 4th of July celebration!  Our 4th of July holiday honors the signing of the “Declaration of Independence” which put forth our belief that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Of course with three sisters you realize that in today’s world “men” doesn’t only apply to men but to all people !!  Annette, Clair and baby Grace won’t let you forget that.

There is another part of American history that I like to acknowledge and celebrate—the idea of moving from a confederation of states, which the US was after our war of independence, to a federation of states which we are now.  When the United States agreed to federate, the states agreed to stop solving their disagreements on the battlefield and instead take them to court.  The “rule of law” is an important part of how all Americans are allowed to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I would like to take these same principles of federation and the “rule of law” and apply them now across the nations of the world.  It is very possible for the nations of the world to come together to solve their disagreement in court instead of in war.  The US has proved that this approach works and is a better way to protect the rights of all people on earth.

Yemen negotiations move ahead slowly – post-war planning needed

Over 170 schools have been destroyed in the north of Yemen due to the conflict.

The UN-mediated peace negotiations for Yemen led by Ismail Ould Cheikh in Kuwait move ahead slowly. The 13-month war was at first between Hauthis tribal forces loyal to the former president Ali Abdallah Saleh and those supporting the current president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi who had been Saleh’s vice-president for many years. The war is a struggle for power but is not an ideological-religious-tribal conflict.

Into this conflict has come a Saudi Arabian-led military coalition using bombs and sophisticated weapons. As a result, some 2.5 million people have been displaced within the country. Yemen was already a poor country which needed to import much of its agricultural and food supplies. As a result of the Saudi bombing raids, the underdeveloped socio-economic infrastructure has been largely destroyed.

Thus, there is a serious need first for post-war planning to be followed by international aid for development. “Reconstruction” would be the wrong term since there was little that had been “constructed”. Rather, we need to look to a post-war socio-economic construction developed on a basic needs approach.

The Basic Needs Approach to Development with its emphasis on people as central to the development process is embodied in the June 1976 World Employment Conference Declaration of Principles and Programme of action.[1] The Declaration underlines the importance of the individual and the central role of the family and household as the basic unit around which to work for development.

The Refugee Crisis: United Nations Declares the Problem “Unprecedented”

Migrants on the move with small children in Miratovac, Serbia

One of the unintended consequences of people fleeing their homelands as a result of conflict, terrorism, famine, and political and religious persecution has been an increase in right-wing nationalism and an anti-immigrant populist uprising as witnessed by the recent “Brexit” vote in Great Britain.

From France to Germany, Italy and Austria; from the Netherlands to Hungary and Greece, a wave of nationalistic leaders has taken center stage across the continent of Europe seeking to capitalize on the anti-refugee bias.

We in the United States have witnessed political rhetoric that feeds on the fears of the populace – real or imagined. Despite passage of the American SAFE Act in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris, some seek to completely bar Syrian refugees from entering the U.S., fearing that refugees are posing as terrorists. The vetting process is extremely stringent, as it should be, but it is wrong to assume all refugees mean us harm.

Each year on June 20th the world comes together to mark World Refugee Day. Beginning in 2001 it is a time to commemorate the strength, courage, and resilience of millions of refugees. The U.N. estimates that 65 million people have been displaced as a consequence of ongoing regional hostilities. This is the largest number ever to be reported by the U.N.

To place this figure into some perspective, consider this: one in every 113 people is now a refugee, asylum-seeker or internally displaced. Furthermore, in 2015 24 people had to flee their homeland every minute due to conflict or persecution, according to the U.N.’s Global Trends 2015 report submitted by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).