Archive for the ‘Global South’ Category

President Bush in Guatemala

March 9, 2007

It’s striking to see how much President Bush is a major part of life outside the US. His upcoming visit to Guatemala is on the front pages here everyday. Bush has never been here before, and will spend his whirlwind 24 hours in meetings in the capital and visiting a town nearby to highlight the benefits of free trade and US aid to Guate. They’ll be shutting down the streets in our Zone for his motorcade, and we’ve been hearing the sounds of security airplanes and helicopters for the past few days since they’ll be shutting down airspace too.

I hope while Bush is here, he will address the recent situation of violence here (the murder of some El Salvadoran congressmen followed by the execution of the confessed policemen/murderers/witnesses in jail). The NY Times has covered the story and so has DailyKos (where you’ll see the historic politics-religion connection…). And, in honor of International Women’s Day, it was interesting to see al-Jazeera (which oddly comes on cable here) cover the Guatemalan femicide… All this should give you pause about criminal justice and impunity everywhere.

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Check out Seth in Peru and Ecuador!

December 3, 2006

Seth is accompanying two Interplast trips to Peru and Ecuador, and he’s posting some great stuff on the Interplast blogs. My favorite story is the series Seth wrote on Javier, a former cleft patient who is now a radio DJ! To go from a debilitating deformity that causes profound speech impediments to following his dream of being on the air is just incredible. Of course, I used to work at Interplast, so I’m pretty biased… but at the holidays, I encourage all of you to consider donating to Interplast – take a look at Seth’s stories and I think you’ll agree that they are pretty amazing.

I’m working hard these days trying to get in lots of research before the entire city shuts down for the holidays for like three weeks, so I’ll be posting more soon from Guatemala!

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The War Against Birth Control

May 7, 2006

Check out this lengthy NY Times piece on contraception and the religious right’s battle against birth control.  It is a stunning article, completely laying out the right-wing’s agenda of eradicating our access to birth control and transforming our sex lives, even within our marriages.  With the right-wing’s support, the government will soon mandate how you have sex with your spouse in your bedrooms and what you feel while you do it.  It’s frightening, people…

Ultimately, I believe the birth control issue itself is a ruse:  The Christian Right wants to return all of us to some mythical golden era when women and men had separate and distinct roles in society; when men went to work and women stayed at home with their many children; when women didn’t have desires of their own – sexual or otherwise; when men only had sex with their wives to make babies; when rape or incest simply did not occur; and when men controlled women’s bodies and minds as masters.

Screeching back to reality – opposing birth control is political suicide, as hopefully Reid and Clinton will demonstrate with their bill on insurance-funded contraceptives – the Prevention First Act.  If we penalize birth control, who’s going to pay for child care and education for all these unplanned babies?  Who’s going to take the place of all those brilliant and successful professional women now entrenched in companies across America? 

There is an international element to this too – the article states that the GAO released a study last month finding that in many developing countries, administrators of U.S. foreign aid were forced to cut funds intended to fight mother-to-child HIV infection in order to finance abstinence programs.  As the article reminds us, even the Catholic Church is debating its stance on condoms within marriages in which one spouse is infected – discussed from a wide variety of perspectives here, here, here, and here.

One thing that interested me greatly was the notion that the right-wing has the advantage when talking about relationships (versus the left, which is characterized in the article as simply caring about the physical act of sex).  We on the left need to regain ground on this – we need to redefine what it means to be in a committed, loving relationship (not just a heterosexual one) built on equality and shared liberal values of charity, service, and individual freedom.  Perhaps our programs to teach teens about birth control need to talk more honestly and openly about relationships, gender equality, and the emotional aspects of sexual experience in addition to birth control and safe sex. 

I’ll leave you with perhaps the strangest anecdote of all from the article, one which illustrates the grim picture of a woman’s sexual freedom being controlled and transferred according to the will of men:

"… [At] "Purity Balls," which fathers attend with their teenage daughters…, a father gives a "purity ring" to his daughter — a symbol of the promise she makes to maintain her virginity for her future husband. Then, during her marriage ceremony, the daughter gives the ring to her new husband. Abstinence Clearinghouse's Web site advertises the purity ball as an event ‘which celebrates your 'little girl' and her gift of sexual purity.’”

Bono at the National Prayer Breakfast

February 22, 2006

A friend of a friend attended the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this month and heard Bono’s remarks.  We should all read his words, study them, digest them.  He is reminding all of us once again that religion is not just the purview of the extreme right-wing of this country’s red states.  Rather, it is a call to action to minister to the poor, to recognize our unity with those suffering on the other side of the world, and to actually make a choice to DO something about it:

Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor.  In fact, the poor are where God lives. 

Check Judaism.  Check Islam.  Check pretty much anyone.

I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill…  I hope so.  He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff… maybe, maybe not…  But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor. 

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house… God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.  “If you remove the yolk from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places”

It’s not a coincidence that in the Scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times.  It’s not an accident.  That’s a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions.  [You know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor.]   ‘As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.’  (Matthew 25:40).   As I say, good news to the poor.   

I particularly love how Bono describes our obligation to the poor as an issue of justice, not charity later in the speech.  We are not sitting in our particular position of power and privilege on our own – our fortune has been made on the backs of those less fortunate, and it’s time we do what’s right by them.  Making the ONE campaign and AIDS relief into a blessed act (one required by our inner conscience and/or our personal god) resonated with me.  We should all take action to make Bono’s vision in this speech a reality, regardless of our faith or our political party.
Other bloggers have dissected his speech further, including lots of Christian bloggers saying stuff that I both agree and disagree with. (I was frankly surprised at the lack of secular, lefty bloggers talking about Bono’s impressive speech…). For a taste of what’s out there, check out:  Mark Driscoll, Musings, Josh Swihart, and Against the Grain.

India Anti-Poverty Scheme – Response to Seth

February 8, 2006

Great post, Seth. Sustainable infrastructure-building is much more sound policy than promising jobs for an arbitrary 100 days out of the year in a country as corrupt as India. Improving the economy, industry, and agriculture are the keys to India’s future. Santosh’s endorsement of groups like ProGreen is right-on. Social entrepreneurship yields measurable results and has minimal danger of corrupt government involvement; it will help Indian villages thrive.

Corruption is a huge concern, as mentioned by everyone. When I was in Bangalore last December, I was struck by the horrible roads running right in front of corporate technology parks. The gates separated the plush private campuses from the mismanaged public throughways. I can only imagine – like Open Window – how politicians could easily game the system and siphon off money from the Scheme.

Santosh’s articulation of using the 100 days of work to build infrastructure that would become self-sustaining in terms of employment and revenue generation seems to be the admirable objective outlined by the government as well. To answer Open Window, yes, it is the government’s responsibility in some cases to provide jobs for the people – public works projects were key to America’s resurgence after the Depression.

It is definitely a good idea to have community workers helping people understand their rights – here in America, the UFW is a great example of success with outreach and advocacy among rural farm workers. Indian NGOs (or MBAs???) should take it upon themselves to create a similar model. (I was surprised at the sarcastic comments on Santosh’s suggestion on Indian MBAs stepping out of the malls and into the villages!)
I am particularly interested in how a “family member” will be selected – especially in order to ensure that women have equal opportunity. Although politicians promise that women will be considered as special beneficiaries of the Scheme, is that realistic? All the commentators so far have been men – how about it, ladies?

India Launches Massive Rural Anti-Poverty Scheme

February 4, 2006

India’s ruling Congress party has launched the “National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme”, which guarantees 100 days of work annually for one person in India’s 60 million rural families. Either the family member gets work or they get the equivalent amount in welfare. Needless to say this is a pretty ambitious plan, and the BBC estimates that it will cost between $5-25 billion.

The big question of course is whether it will work or not. A number of Indian bloggers have some pretty strong doubts. The Open Window crunches some numbers and offers a convincing argument that this is simply designed to make it look like Congress is helping the poor. Santhosh simply thinks that subsidy-driven plans never work at inspiring the entrepreneurial spirit needed to drive an economy.

As much as I would love to see this program work, their doubts seem well-founded. Corruption could cripple the program, and there doesn’t seem to be stringent enough protections against corrupt panchayat and state governments from dipping their paws into the honey pot. Here’s to hoping I’m wrong. Archana (or anyone else), what do you think?

Cross-posted at Non-Governmental Imagination.

The Religious Right And International Aid

January 14, 2006

The American religious right has been very active internationally during the Bush administration. As this AP article lays out, conservatives are increasingly influencing local politics in countries around the world in a way that advances their anti-abortion philosophy.

The “global gag rule”, installed by President Bush as one of his first acts of his first day in office, denies US funding and contraceptives to any NGO that dicusses abortion as an option. In the global south, many family planning NGOs rely on US funding to serve their communities with information about AIDS, family planning, STDs, etc. There is already a law in the US that prohibits USAID donor money from funding abortions, so this law serves only to stifle free speech and to inhibit citizens of other countries from learning about their rights. That doesn’t seem very consistent with the US government’s goal of spreading democracy around the world. Population Action International has an excellent outline of the global gag rule, and globalgagrule.org has a good video about its impacts.

I think that people have a right to health education and family planning, and by restricting access to education and contraception, poor people are more at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. AIDS is ravaging the global south, and one of the strongest means of fighting the war on AIDS is by educating people about their bodies and their rights.

So when I read about US conservatives getting involved in local debates in foreign countries about abortion, it makes me understand why people in the global south sometimes feel that USAID is just another propaganda tool for the Republican Party. It shouldn’t have to be that way, and that perception lessens the effectiveness of all USAID programs by increasing doubt about its motives.

I think it is ironic that people who are so concerned with the preservation of life in the womb seem so unconcerned about the lives of people who have been born.