The Global Citizen: Law & Justice
In some parts of Latin America, the press has little say in the type of content they’re allowed to publish. Recent developments indicate that the climate is growing even more restrictive.
Venezuela is one Latin American country where the government has consistently retained a firm hold over the media. Until last month, Globovisión was the only Venezuelan T.V. network openly critical of the government. In May 2013, the network was sold to a group of private investors who plan to make the network’s content more politically neutral. T.V. networks aren’t the only media outlets in Venezuela that have been neutralized. Newspapers are also under fire. Shortly after Globovisión was sold, Últimas Noticias, one of the most widely read publications, was sold as well. Some fear that Venezuelans will soon have no access to unfiltered information.
On June 10, 1963, then-President John F. Kennedy gave the commencement speech at American University. What could have been merely an exciting day in the graduates' lives became one of the most important turning points in the Cold War era.
In the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy chose this day to reveal his new approach to the Soviet Union and the United States' nuclear program. He declared that the United States would not continue testing nuclear weapons and would seek to form an agreement with other nations to ban nuclear tests in the atmosphere. This led to the passage of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (LTBT), and later and more importantly, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968. A good way to honor JFK would be to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the updated version, which would ban all types of nuclear testing, including those left out in 1963.
In addition to setting in motion these critical agreements, JFK's speech also accomplished a second important feat: it changed the course of U.S.-Soviet relations for the better. The President boldly and eloquently made an appeal to the humanity of the Soviets. He acknowledged the differences between us, but also drew important comparisons:
Two workers’ rights scandals have recently affected the international community.
On April 24th, Rana Plaza, a building home to several garment factories, collapsed in Bangladesh. More than 1,100 people died in the horrific accident. This week, less than two months after the tragedy in Bangladesh, a fire sparked by an ammonia gas leak in a Chinese poultry plant killed 119 workers.
These accidents could have been prevented.
Just days before the collapse of Rana Plaza, managers disregarded cracks in the building’s walls and reassured workers that the building’s infrastructure was secure. The Chinese poultry factory was touted by local government officials as “one of the top 100 agricultural processing companies” and was praised for “its advanced management concept and business model.” Clearly, these officials ignored or overlooked crucial warning signs that contributed to the gas leak.
What can be done to prevent disasters like these from happening in the future?
Earlier this week, I attended my first House Subcommittee hearing on the Hill. The hearing was rather critically titled "A Crisis Mismanaged: Obama's Failed Syria Policy" and heard testimony from three experts on the subject of America's Middle East policy.
While I was initially struck by the strong language in the title, much of the testimony confirmed the speakers' beliefs that our policy on Syria so far has done little to resolve the situation. The Representatives who attended the hearing were relatively split in terms of political ideology and offered their own views and questions for the panelists.
Here's an overview of the main points the panelists brought to the table:
Mr. Tony Badran, a Research Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, had several suggestions for where the U.S. should go from here. He recommended a "two-fold strategy based on sound threat prioritization" with our top priority being "to break the Iranian archipelago of influence in the eastern Mediterranean." Badran also emphasized the importance of taking a leadership role in bringing our allies together to address issues in Syria. He ended by stating the importance of recognizing that there can be no "managed political transition" in Syria, thus in his opinion, Assad and his regime are going to have to be toppled.
The appointment of UN Ambassador Susan Rice as the National Security Advisor and nomination of Samantha Power to replace Rice at the UN is a solid move for the Obama administration, the US and the UN. Both Rice and Power have been close advisors to President Obama since before the 2008 elections.
Amb. Rice greatly improved the United States’ standing at the UN. In 2009, she lead the effort to pay back dues to the UN and erased the US’s status as a “deadbeat” nation. She successfully negotiated new sanctions on Iran and North Korea. She has witnessed the terrible face of genocide as one of the first Americans to enter Rwanda after its mass killings and understands the importance of stopping such atrocities. She led efforts to prevent Muammar Gaddafi from committing mass murders in Libya and to halt a brutal war in Cote d’Ivoire. She worked tirelessly for an election to determine the fate of South Sudan, rather than a civil war. She is a smart choice to head Obama’s national security team.
On May 10th 2013, former Guatemalan president Rios Montt was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity. His trial marked the first time a former head of state had been prosecuted for genocide by a national court. Shockingly, just 10 days later, Guatemala's Constitutional Court overturned this historical verdict on a technicality and set the trial back.
Though Montt held office for only 17 months, almost half of all human rights violations committed against the Ixil Maya people occurred the year he assumed power. Compelling evidence presented by victims and experts at Montt's trial provided further affirmation that Montt was responsible for the deaths of over 1,700 people and the forced displacement of nearly 30,000 individuals.
José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas at Human Rights Watch, issued this response to Montt's conviction:
In light of President Obama's recent speech on closing Guantanamo Bay (GTMO), among other things, I began to think about the situation surrounding his executive promise on May 23rd. He has made it before. Obama campaigned on closing Guantanamo Bay, he signed an executive order to do so in his first term and last week he re-stated his desire to close the facility. Should we (the American people) place confidence in our president? One thing is for sure, the detainees of Guantanamo do not. Recent reports state that over 100 GTMO prisoners are involved in an ongoing hunger strike, of those 35 have to be force fed. For those with strong stomachs, here is a link to see Hillary Swank in Iron Jawed Angels reenact the procedure. It's not a pretty scene. The fact of the matter is, closing Guantanamo is a messy situation and a lot more complicated than the American people realize.
Since interrupting President Obama's terrorism and drone war speech at National Defense University last week, Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink, has been on the receiving end of a good deal of criticism. Despite the fact that she objects to being called a heckler, Ms. Benjamin has been largely lambasted by the media for what's been called a "rude" and "crazy" display. Some publications have even taken to lampooning her, as the Washington Times did here, comparing her to a crazed image of the titular character in Euripides's Medea. Unfortunately, coverage and commentary of Ms. Benjamin has focused on what she did rather than what she was saying while she did it.
I have to say, I am way outside of my comfort zone right now. New to D.C., new to GlobalSolutions.org, and new to blogging, I am both excited and nervous about writing my first piece for the blog on a subject matter as difficult as President Obama’s counter-terrorism strategy. Nonetheless, I would like to share some of my thoughts in response to last week’s speech because I considered it a step in the right direction, although perhaps a small one.
I would like to focus on the President’s discussion of the use of drones. In his speech, President Obama addressed many of the issues associated with drone strikes. Though effective and far less risky for American troops, the drone strikes do result in civilian casualties. For civilian populations living in areas hit by drones, these attacks are terrifying and tragic, as discussed in a previous blog post, “A Plea to End Targeted Killing Strikes.” In his speech, President Obama acknowledged this high cost of targeted killing, stating, “For me, and those in my chain of command, these deaths will haunt us as long as we live.” As well, he explained that ordering a drone strike is the hardest thing he does as President. In the end, the President feels that more lives are saved by these targeted killings than are lost.
On April 23rd, Farea Al-Muslimi, an activist and freelance journalist from Yemen who has spent several years as a teenager studying and living in the United States as a foreign exchange student, appealed to the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the United States drone strike on his town, Wessab. He explained to the Committee that the drone strike on his village "terrified thousands of simple, poor farmers" and "tore [his] heart," much like the horrific bombings in Boston, MA last week.
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