The Origins Of A Latin American Crisis
By Jon Jen
The smell of ashes and gas lingers in the air in cities across Venezuela, and occasionally the various sounds of shouts and footsteps break the night silence. At times, entire city squares fill up with enraged and frenetic people, expressing their disapproval for the government. Indeed, these signs are all proof of “La Salida”— a movement against President Nicolas Maduro and the current party in power. An unstable economy, claims of corruption, and rampant crime have all contributed to the sudden outburst of protests that have commenced roughly a month ago in Venezuela. But why have the demonstrations become so chaotic and deadly? As the nation with the 5thhighest murder rate in the world and an inflation percentage rate in the 50’s, Venezuela’s fragile domestic situation has actually been brewing undercover for years. Indeed, there have been shortages of goods and multifarious instances of fraud and crime throughout 2013, and the murder of former Miss Venezuela Monica Spear and a case of rape in the January of 2014 sparked cries of lax police control. Soon, students in western districts started to demonstrate and take note of additional problems, such as security issues and censorship, and forced them into the spotlight. Called upon by opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez and by messages disseminated through social media, the protests grew and grew in size, and police intervention seemed imminent. President Nicolas Maduro, who was the target of much criticism, tried to shift the blame off from himself, and accused the uninvolved US of trying to destabilize Venezuela by plotting a coup with dissidents. He has reportedly stated that, “”If they (the protesters) don’t retreat, I’m going to liberate those spaces with the security forces…They have a few hours to go home … [remaining protesters] get ready, we’re coming for you.” The government subsequently arrested Lopez, and sent armed troops who fired shots and used tear gas on the throngs of the so-called “fascist” protesters. Soon, the first blood was spilled, and all hell broke loose.
The first 3 deaths of the protests occurred in February 12, when gunmen started shooting at a peaceful group of demonstrators. Since then, 25 people, including both protesters and government forces, have been killed in various riots. Some of the victims were never even involved in the protests, but were randomly shot by militias amidst the confusion. These militia groups, called “colectivos”, consist of gun-owners and gang members who have banded together in support of the government, and they regularly harass and threaten protesters and bystanders. Additionally, hundreds of activists have been arrested and jailed. These actions have prompted increasingly physical tactics among opposition demonstrators, who have resorted to throwing stones and makeshift bombs at militias and police, a far cry from the once peaceful marches. So far, Human Rights Watch has counted 33 cases of human rights violations, and has noticed the “excessive and unlawful force against protesters on multiple occasions”. Public transportation and businesses have been closed at times due to the worsening riots. Accusations and finger pointing for who should bear the blame for the deaths continue as both sides become increasingly polarized and belligerent.
The goal and preferred outcome of the protests remain unclear, and are not by any means uniform throughout the ranks of demonstrators. However, many Venezuelans are in support of a policy shift, although most do not wish for a coup as government officials claim. “A change of government as soon as possible: that is what we are proposing, very clearly,” said Maria Corina Machado, an opposition legislator. Additionally, protesters are demanding the release of those incarcerated who were involved in the demonstrations. There exists allegations of torture, but President Maduro strongly denies them. However, an investigation has already been filed, and will soon be underway. A few more extreme protesters have also pushed for the resignation of President Maduro, but that seems unlikely to happen. In other viewpoints, many protesters also demand more media freedom, a crackdown on “colectivos”, and multifarious other requests that involve the government. On the other hand, some of the citizens have continued to support Madero’s administration. In fact, various workers in the oil and motor industry have actually backed his previous policies.
The turmoil in Venezuela seems partially overshadowed by other more visible issues such as the Ukraine crisis, but nonetheless has captured the attention of the media and several prominent figures. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has voiced his “sadness at continuing reports of violence and loss of life amid protests in Venezuela, and urged that all efforts be urgently made to lower the tensions and prevent further violence”. Pope Francis has also worried about the recent unrest, and said that he wished that “violence and hostility will cease as soon as possible”. The rest of the world can only wait and watch as the events unfold day by day, and hope that the event does not spiral out of control into anarchy, which may forever rip to shreds the basis of the Venezuelan political arena.
Obamacare’s Federal Folly
By Jon Jen
Obamacare, one of the most controversial policies ever proposed that could completely reform our healthcare system, has been the subject of debates and disagreements time and time again. Recently, on October 1st, healthcare.gov was launched to help Americans in 36 states compare prices and enroll in health insurance. However, users immediately reported problems with the website, and most were unable to finish creating an account. Soon after, reports of policy cancellations, inefficient management, and numerous glitches surfaced, causing widespread criticism of the site. More than 1.5 million Americans have applied for coverage under Obamacare so far, but as of November 13th, less than one-tenth of them were able to enroll. Regarding healthcare.gov itself, only 26,000 people were successful. Additionally, Obama has previously promised that customers would be able to keep their health care providers and doctors if they chose to, but over 5 million Americans who were under policies that did not meet “required standards” have received notices claiming that their former plans were soon to be cancelled. However, President Obama recently told insurance companies that they don’t have to cancel plans made by the errors in the exchange in an effort to calm down the panic.
Despite this attempt to solve a part of the problem, President of America’s Health Insurance Plans, Karen Ignagni, claimed that “Changing the rules after health plans have already met the requirements of the law could destabilize the market and result in higher premiums”. With some calling for legislation change, Obama reminded people that in the end, the amount of people covered would still increase. The President has also acknowledged all of these healthcare difficulties by issuing an apology, and officials aim to fix the site by the end of November, a goal that most likely will not be reached. “We should have done a better job of getting this right on Day One…We did fumble the ball on it and one of the things I am going to do is make sure we get it fixed,” Obama said in an hour-long White House conference. House Speaker John Boener responded by saying that there was “no way to fix this”.
The President Obama’s approval ratings decreased significantly after this fiasco, and as of now, it remains at 39%, according to a Quinnipiac poll. Democrats will most likely lose popular support if this gets out of hand, which is bad news for them since the 2014 elections are looming up. Democratic Representative of Manhattan Charles Ragnel said that, “If I had the problem, saying you’re sorry doesn’t help me worth a damn at the polls, unless I can staple your remarks to the ballot.” But the good news is that none of this really matters if you already have insurance like 85% of Americans. Nonetheless, these problems will still plague millions who are uninsured, and will forever leave a dark mark on the President who once promised an honest and trustworthy administration.
The Persian Paradox: Rouhani
By Jon Jen
For years, Washington’s diplomatic relationship with Iran has been scarred by hostility revolving around everything from nuclear controversy to verbal threats. However, when Hassan Rouhani was decisively elected president this past August, his promises of moderation and cooperation gave hope for the progression of Iran’s dealings with the western world. After being sworn in as Iran’s seventh president, Rouhani announced that, “This victory is the victory of wisdom, moderation and awareness over fanaticism and bad behavior.” When September came around, the newly-elected president decided to visit the United Nations in New York, where he claimed that his nation and its nuclear program posed absolutely no threat to the world. But just how much should we trust the erudite research professor and author who now leads a nation previously deemed an “Axis of Evil” by former President Bush? The answer seems ambiguous at the moment to say the least, as a formal meeting between Rouhani and the US President has yet to be established. Although President Obama has requested a face-to-face meeting, the proposal was apparently rejected by Rouhani. However, the two have had a phone conversation, a seemingly innocuous act that was enough to spark protests and “death to America” chants in Iran. Given the lack of knowledge due to this scenario, there is not much our government can assess regarding Iran’s supposed policy shift, which means that America’s suspicion has a reason to exist.
Hassan Rouhani was born in 1948 to a merchant family, and his father was arrested several times throughout his childhood for rebelling against the unpopular, US-supported Shah. He studied religion, law, and science both in his home country and in Scotland, and soon launched his political career by delivering speeches criticizing the Shah, while supporting Ayatollah Khomeini. Being one of the original revolutionaries, he was exiled for a period of time before reuniting with Khomenei after the 1979 revolution, when he finally received a government position. Rouhani shuffled between several high leveled positions in the army, Defense Council, and Security Council for numerous years, and has had experience in the past negotiating nuclear treaties with the west. After a period of political inactivity during the term of Ahmadinejad, whom he disliked, the “diplomat sheikh” came back into the picture with his presidential campaign. Now the second-most powerful man in Iran besides Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Rouhani has the ability to alter the long-standing political enmity between his nation and the world. Whether he plans on actually doing so remains a mystery, as his current openness may very well be a façade.
Rouhani has laid out a plan for his presidency, starting off with a policy aimed at raising funds, promoting business, reducing the income gap, and curbing inflation, in hopes of repairing the economy and building a road for long term development. His political views are still in line with the general government opinion of foreign policy, despite his well-known pragmatism and approachability. He vehemently opposes and criticizes Israel, still has trouble with human rights, and will probably continue to support the Assad regime in the Syrian Civil War. Although Rouhani recently released several journalists previously jailed for political reasons, Irani Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi has claimed that they had already served their time. Ebadi, who is currently in self-exile, also claimed that the government of Iran had executed over 40 people in the last 10 days, including hanging 16 “rebels”. She expressed support for the end of harmful sanctions against the Irani people, and instead supports a blockage against satellites that broadcast propaganda. According to the Associated Press, Ebadi stated that, “We get bad signals…(and) I have doubts…I think it’s too early to be optimistic”. Alireza Miryousefi, spokesman for Iran’s U.N. mission, responded saying, “At a time when the world appreciates the new Iranian government’s approach following recent elections in Iran, such biased allegations against Iran and its new government is an obvious evidence of the isolation of those who are against Iran’s success.” Rouhani’s intentions are still shrouded in a misty cloud of uncertainty, but in the months to come, we shall see just what kind of legacy he wishes to leave behind while the world awaits in anticipation.