The Perils of Hands-Off Approaches in Conflict Situations

In thinking about the seemingly unrelated coups d’état in Egypt, Mali and Honduras, it is possible to discern a thin thread of commonality that ties these cases together, despite of the obvious differences between them.  In these cases, the international community adopted a policy that put national sovereignty ahead of democratic stability and human rights, with devastating outcomes for the inhabitants of these countries.  The on-going crisis in Egypt is but a symptom of the open scar left by the international community’s adoption of a non-intervention policy at the time of Hosni Mubarak’s resignation in 2011.  Prior to the elections of 2012, the Egyptian electorate and political groups had not partaken in a real democratic exercise, and there was not enough time or resources to prepare these actors for a proper electoral process.  In this instance the international community could have played a key role in delivering training programmes and providing logistical support to solidify the bases of Egypt’s long-term political security. 

The takeover of al-Qaeda militant groups in northern Mali in late 2012 is also a by-product of the international community’s unwillingness to act in the face of political unrest.  After the March 2012 deposition of Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure, there were already strong signs that the state of democracy in Mali was weak, but this event was met with a lukewarm reaction from the international community.  As a result, Mali continued its gradual political descent towards weak governance, Tuareg separatist offensives, a second coup in December 2012, and the subsequent occupation of the northern part of Mali, an area of land equal in size to France.  It was not until 2013 that a task force commanded by France entered Malian territory to retake al-Qaeda-occupied lands, albeit with no serious intent to help stabilize the already severe political situation in the country.

International apathy was also present when Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was dismissed from his presidential post in 2009.  While condemnations and aid freezes were put in place during Roberto Micheletti’s interim presidential tenure after Zelaya’s dismissal, no international resources were allocated to ensure that democracy was properly restored in Honduras.  Even though fair elections took place in November 2009, democratic life in Honduras still remains in a dubious state.  While journalists’ murders remain largely unresolved and drug-related crime continues to ravage the country, there is no real commitment on behalf of the international community to help bolster the government’s ability to thwart this violence. 

The conventional idea of an intervention is often regarded as the use of a military force to influence change at the upper-most levels of government.  The problem with this idea is that change only targets the holders of political power, and does not seek wider institutional reform, which in many conflict situations, is much needed.  In order to deal with more profound changes, it is necessary to develop wider consensus-building mechanisms, and work with local civil society groups and community leaders.  This will ensure that the bases upon which democratic governance structures are built remain strong in the long-term.  Due to the ethical and sovereignty-related concerns associated with an intervention, many governments and international organizations categorically reject its very idea, and prefer the opposite alternative: inaction.  It is therefore necessary to conceive and institutionalize new intervention mechanisms that will facilitate democratic stability and foster stronger political and social institutions.

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On U.S Travel Warnings to Israel and Honduras

The U.S State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs recently released new travel warnings for American citizens.  Among these warnings, I found particularly striking that the Bureau found it wise to divert American citizens from going to places like Israel and Honduras.  On one hand, it is understandable that these warnings be issued, given that Israel is located in an increasingly volatile geographical area, and that Honduras’ crime rates continue to be included amongst the highest in the world.  On the other, I find it particularly inharmonious to discourage citizens (among which one may find numerous business owners and investors) from going to countries with whom the U.S has signed free trade agreements.

A key component of a fair free trade agreement is the unhindered transit of goods between signatory states.  While procedural considerations could produce problems on the flow of goods between signatory countries, it is not an overt action by any one state to intentionally obstruct said flow.  However, if any given signatory blatantly discourages its citizens from setting foot in another signatory country’s territory, this directly affects the degree to which the former’s citizens will be capable of moving goods, hence resulting in an infringement of the free trade principle.

At the time when Israel and Honduras’ free trade agreements were signed, their individual and regional security situations were not so different than they are now, which should have informed American decision-makers’ policy surrounding the establishment of free trade regimes with these countries.  If security concerns alone were sufficient enough reasons to discourage American citizens from traveling to these countries in 2013, it begs the question of why were security issues not accounted for at the time of conceiving ideas of free trade with them?

The security situation in both these examples is doubtlessly worrisome, and it would be most unwise to underestimate this reality.  It is however deplorable that the flow of products from the U.S to countries such as Israel and Honduras under a free trade framework is hindered by the prevalence of crime, terrorism and violence in general.

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La Tinta en la Historia de Honduras

Aqui una corta pieza, tal y como fue publicada por el diario hondureno El Heraldo el Lunes 3 de Junio de 2013:

El realismo y la justicia son elementos sinérgicos que nunca deben ser desasociados cuando se coloca a un país en el estrado de los acusados.  Lo que aqueja a un país como Honduras es en efecto horroroso.  La violencia esta arraigada en el vivir de cada hondureño y hondureña, y la corrupción se ha convertido en sinónimo de política.  Cada vez que se publica una noticia sobre Honduras, diarios como el New York Times se refieren a ella como « La Capital Mundial de los Asesinatos ».  No es el enfoque de esta pieza el corroborar o no si estos diarios tienen justificación para utilizar tales calificativos, más poner la situación hondureña bajo un contexto adecuado.  En esencia, el avance sociopolítico de Honduras no es más diferente que el de otros países desarrollados.  Lo que difiere es la coyuntura en la que se encuentran estos países.

La mayoría de países industrializados, en sus años de infancia o pubertad, han sido victimas de las mismas circunstancias políticas y sociales a las que es sujeta hoy la joven nación hondureña.  Para notar esta visible realidad, nada mas cabe virar nuestra vista hacia el norte, donde países como los Estados Unidos de América, en numerosas ocasiones, también han caído presos en las redes del crimen organizado, la pobreza, la corrupción y la inestabilidad política.  Entre el narcotráfico en Honduras en el 2013 y el comercio ilegal de alcohol en Estados Unidos en los años 1930 no hay mucha diferencia.  Y no son mas o menos nefastas las condiciones políticas que condujeron a la crisis constitucional en Honduras en el 2009 y las vividas en 1974 durante el escandalo de Watergate en Estados Unidos.    

En su plan de nación, Honduras aun tiene mucho trecho por recorrer.  Este sendero ya ha sido caminado por otras naciones, con las mismas tribulaciones, desafíos internos y derramamiento de sangre.  Es vital recordar que en el momento de la independencia integral de Honduras, en Estados Unidos ya se habían celebrado nueve elecciones presidenciales, y 17 elecciones en la Cámara de Representantes y el Senado.  Destacar esta realidad conlleva también a mencionar que en el momento en el que Honduras dio paso a un régimen democrático en 1982, Estados Unidos ya tenía 206 años de existencia, periodo durante el cual ya se habían vivido episodios de inestabilidad económica y política, desigualdad social y racial, y, según algunos observadores, actos que pueden ser catalogados como genocidios.

En decir esto no se pretende malinterpretar la historia, ni menospreciar la gravedad de lo que sucede en Honduras, mas señalar que la tinta que escribe la historia del país no esta todavía seca.  La historia no se escribe adoptando modelos ajenos a las costumbres y cultural local, mas tomando estos contextos en cuenta al momento de dictar la dirección de la nación.  La elección de un gobierno no es suficiente para aliviar los males que se viven a diario en Honduras, pero si ayudara para proveerle al país una dirección concreta que sobreviva cambios de gobierno e ideologías políticas divergentes. 

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Tools of Change: Long-Term Inclusion in Peace Processes

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.

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Political Deadlock in Libya and Syria

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.

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A Few Thoughts on Chavez

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.

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Ottawa’s Amnesia

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.

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