Here is my last publication for Spring 2013. The article is entitled “Tools of Change: Long-Term Inclusion in Peace Processes” and has just been published by the Fletcher Journal of Human Security.
Here is a link to my article “Political Deadlock in Libya and Syria” as published by the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) in its Conflict Trends publication.
After a bitter battle with cancer, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died yesterday in a military hospital in Caracas. I have been reading several reactions from world leaders and members of society groups in the US and Canada, and it seems to me that fervor dominates Chavez’s passing. My views on Hugo Chavez’s legacy are very mixed.
Chavez epitomized the ideal behind the “Caudillo” figure, which I personally find detrimental to the spread of an individual’s ideas. This is especially true in Latin America, where political culture inherited by the Cold War tends to be reactionary by nature. If anything can be said about Chavez’s rise to power, is that his first election was a call by the Venezuelan people for change, albeit delivered by the opposite side of the political spectrum. But with Chavez gone, where will reactionary politics lead Venezuela? While many around the world rejoice, uncertainty looms.
I can understand the reasons why millions loved (and continue to love) Chavez, but not all of his policies were wise. In the area of peace, Chavez left a horribly polarized continent. Chavez’s hero, Simon Bolivar, believed in independence and unity for the peoples of Latin America based on our ancestral aboriginal and colonial past. While Chavez sought closer collaboration with other Latin American countries, he did so along profound ideological lines, leaving the region’s rich common past in second place. Colombia has never been any less Latin American than Bolivia, but its leaders have been at odds with Chavez’s ideas, and this has triggered severe divisions between both governments. There should not have been a reason to exclude countries in the region based on the ideological nature of their governments; dialogue and cooperation should have been at the core of these relations.
Irrespective of an individual’s political lineages, one cannot debate Chavez’s contribution to Latin America’s claim of ownership over its own political and social activities. Before Chavez became a political actor in the region, the only real example that Latin America had to support the belief that its own fate could be decided on its own was Cuba, and perhaps the governments of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala and Salvador Allende in Chile. In his 14 years in office, Chavez was able to empower an entire region, and make it believe that its destiny and interests could fearlessly diverge from those of the US. The prominence of groups such as ALBA and Mercosur bear witness of the region’s economic potential and ability to cooperate without outside interference. If there is a legacy left by Hugo Chavez in my mind is that he reminded Latin America that its land is strong and its men and women capable of bringing themselves up.
As a final note, I will not comment on his administration’s “dubious” human rights record, because any transparent and objective analyst would have to juxtapose Chavez’s alleged human rights violations with those of other governments. This task alone would take too much time and space, and would inevitably lead to cyclical analyses on colonial quests, fights against terrorism and other acts that could also be considered as human rights violations.
Any healing process starts by admitting that one has a problem. This is a phrase that has been popularized in the media when there is a portrayal of an individual whose habits have driven his/her household to a state of financial, emotional and physical disarray. The Idle No More movement has become a great teacher in that it is reminding Canadians that there is an addiction this Conservative government has been suffering since its creation. This addiction is not related to aggression in the traditional sense of the word, nor is it in any way linked with abuse. The Canadian government’s addiction is forgetting it has a problem.
One cannot change the past; this is an undeniable fact of life. There is no one who can retroactively prevent the French from planting their flag in Canadian soil, nor avoid the British from gaining control over New France. It is however possible to heal the wounds of the past in order to stop our historical bleeding. The Canadian government has been very proactive in applying this frame of mind to Quebec, which is something that was, and to a certain extent, continues to be necessary. But this conciliatory approach also needs to be directed towards our First Nations.
It must be recognized that nationalistic views vary within several of our First Nations peoples, where Canadianism is not fully embraced in its present-day form. But regardless of these divergent views, it is utterly unacceptable that a collectivity of individuals who are legally Canadian are subjected to living conditions not seen and not suffered by other groups of Canadians, at a juncture where our government boasts economic well-being. Such a stark difference within our society is not due to a lack of resources, but to a lack of willingness.
Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike has drawn much attention lately, and she may well be considered a victim of the Conservative government’s snobbery. As I write these words, there are rumours in the media that announce the she will end her strike on Thursday, January 24 2013. While some may be pleased with this result, I feel it encompasses a profound sadness, where a Canadian leader’s legitimate plea to meet with our heads of state and government was met with indifference, the constraints of protocol, and a sense that Ottawa does not have the key to the doors of belonging.
There is barely any critique available for governments who are incapable of catering for its citizens’ needs. But there is absolutely no excuse in a government’s refusal to do so while possessing the resources to bring pressing issues to the front burners of its policy-making machine. The good part of this is that, unlike this Canadian government, Canadians do not forget. Above all, Canadians have the innate tendency of sticking together, and the very foundation of Canada’s nation building path is cemented on this very principle. I am sure the time will come when Canadians will transform this collective sentiment into the election of a government, that will then ensure that this generosity will cover all Canadians.
On Tuesday December 4th, I attended an event hosted by the Canadian International Council that featured Madelaine Drohan, the Canadian correspondent for The Economist. Ms. Drohan was mandated to research and write a report on the practices of responsible resource economies such as Norway and Sweden, and how Canada could benefit from adopting such policies. Whether or not one disagrees with the development of the Alberta oil sands or other exploitation operations, it is a thought-provoking process to envision a scenario in which the Federal and Provincial governments start treating resource extraction as a means to fund our present-day social programmes.
Ms. Drohan’s report bears witness of how far behind Canada lags in terms of funding for our social programmes, and our collective vision of the future. As of 2010, only two Canadian provinces, Alberta and Quebec, were putting aside resource revenue into specialized funds devoted to government spending. Together these funds amount a total of 15.6$ billion, which is a staggeringly low amount if compared to funds such as Norway’s, which totalled 512$ billion in 2010.
Canada is in a pivotal point in its history. As our population continues to age, our tax base is becoming increasingly burdened with the financing of our social services. These programmes run the risk of becoming underfunded if our revenues are not diversified accordingly. This is why it is important to start a conversation as to how our resource economy can contribute to the welfare of our social programmes, the backbone of Canada.
This issue is not about the existence of resources, for Canada has been blessed with a vast quantity of them. The issue raised by Ms.Drohan’s report is a matter of restructuring our priorities, and start accounting for longer-term planning in our economy. Willingness, as opposed to profit, guides this principle, and the case of Norway is well known to many as being representative of such a philosophy. But there are other less publicized cases that also reflect this togetherness. One such example is Timor Leste. Since 2002, Timor Leste started a fund raised by oil and gas revenues, which had already amassed 7$ billion by 2010. There is no doubt that Timor Leste’s fund is significantly lower than Canada’s, but unlike our funds, Timor Leste’s is closer to being proportionate to its 1.176 million population.
If a country such as Timor Leste can be proactive enough to have a significant and centralized approach as to how it extracts its resources, I believe Canada also can, and above all, should.
Madelaine Drohan’s report can be found here.
I have lived in Montreal, in the province of Québec for almost seven years. Almost upon arrival, I perceived the city’s language barriers, which I undertook to break by perfecting its two official languages. I pushed myself a bit further, and voluntarily decided to only speak French (my third language) in my everyday living in Québec. A couple of years after I first set foot in Montreal, I met my partner, a proud Québécoise, with whom I am happily engaged. I have always felt there was a beautiful synergy between myself and Quebec, in that we both belong in each other’s core. This sense of belonging made it difficult for me to understand what happened yesterday night.
As I was getting ready to finalize the details of an online purchase at a Canadian retail store, an automated message appeared on my screen, saying that due to Québec’s language legislation, the product I was about to purchase (whose original language was English) was not available in the province of Québec. This prompts a series of questions pertaining to the overarching nature of language laws in Québec, and their effect on issues such as inter-provincial trade, the survival of Canadian businesses, the ever-changing cultural structure of our society, and one’s freedom of choice in the marketplace.
There is a big problem when a product sold by a Canadian retailer in Canadian soil fails to be sold and transported to another provincial jurisdiction due to a language law. This would certainly not be the case if a product were shipped from abroad, where other laws governing trade and taxes would dictate the outcome of such a transaction. In the case of a product sold in Canada, one would expect its mobility to be more fluent within provinces, given that the product is being sold inside the country. This however is not the case, at least not in Québec. If language laws set limits to the effect of ruling what consumers are able to purchase within Canada, then it is no exaggeration to say that Canadian retailers, and therefore, real economic growth, are at risk.
Putting aside the deep-seated emotion connected with language issues in Québec, I believe there is a problem of vast proportions when such language legislation succeeds in preventing consumers from favouring Canadian retailers. As many Canadians know, it is oftentimes more economically feasible to give preference to U.S companies and retailers due to higher supply and lower taxes in that country. This has the effect of imposing de facto barriers on Canadian businesses. These barriers are further enhanced by the increasingly accessible use of online transactions in the marketplace. The imposition of additional obstacles in the form of pervasive language laws proves to be counterproductive, especially in the face of a highly competitive U.S market, where essentially, efficiency overrides cultural pride.
In North America, we pride ourselves for having a “free market” system, where supply and demand govern, for good or ill, the rules of our consuming patterns. But it is hard to envision that such a system indeed exists in its true form when there are laws that result in a reduction of consumers’ spectrum of choice. This is certainly the case in Québec, where the limiting factor takes the form of intrusive language laws. Furthermore, one cannot argue that policy is reflective of our society’s needs when it does not account for its evolving cultural make-up.
Québec is a place open to immigration, and as more newcomers establish homes and form families in this province, the present-day structure of our society will continue to change. Many of these individuals may want to pass on traditions, customs and languages from their homelands to their children. Will this be an impossibility under laws that disallow the use of other languages other than French? Policy needs to be reflective of this cultural fact. Our current policy governing language, as it stands today, is becoming less adequate as Québec’s multicultural mosaic becomes more diverse and intricate. Such an adaptation does not entail abolishing language laws altogether, but it most certainly needs diluting them to better reflect the social and cultural point where Québec currently stands.
Québec is the most vibrant place I have ever lived in, but there exists a political class that keeps this wonderful place chained to the past, and renders policy inapplicable to the challenges we face today. But I am optimistic about the future, as a new generation rises and replaces old debates with new ideas. I may never be seen as a true Québécois, but I feel like one, and it will be my mission to raise my children to be proud of their home province, and have them embrace French and English as two distinct, yet intertwined languages, and no language law will ever inform that decision.
In April 2012, I was asked to serve as editor of the Spanish version of a book entitled “So You Can Tell”. This book tells the account of a Holocaust survivor that now lives in Montreal, Canada. In essence, it is a deeply personal story, but within its pages, I managed to find political undertones in abundance, about how the ambitions of political leaders and the corrosion of democratic institutions can lead to the physical and familial disintegration of society and its members.
Before accepting this task, I read the original English version of the book, and promptly realized that the project needed to go beyond carrying a message, and eliminate any linguistic barriers risen from the translation. To me, this project meant a great deal; it gave me the opportunity to expand the book’s readership by increasing its accessibility to the Spanish-speaking world.
Having been raised in Latin America, and having studied the political affairs of several countries in the region, I also felt this project was important to remind Spanish-speaking readers of the perils of cult-driven politics, and of the responsibilities we have to one another as a social structure. In many parts of Latin America, Cold War rhetoric still dominates political discourse, and many still believe that the well-being of the individual is directly and unequivocally tied with the survival of long-entrenched political and economic institutions. That is their status quo, and whether they believe it works or not, there is an ever-growing belief that revisionism is becoming more of a utopia than a realizable project.
As the book is being printed, there still remain societies where social injustice and cruelty form the paramount principles of the nation. This book, I hope, will contribute to remind its readers that the status quo can be changed if it does not work for all, and that individuals, not statesmen, are the core of this transformation process.