Homeless in D.C. keep up with technology
March 23, 2009, 10:10 am
Filed under: Washington DC | Tags: , , , , ,

Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

A few weeks ago, First Lady Michelle Obama visited Miriam’s Kitchen,  a Washington, D.C. homeless shelters near the campus of The George Washington University.   A photographer snapped a shot of a man who was presumably waiting in line to be served and was photographing Mrs. Obama using a cell phone. As would be expected, Conservatives reacted with dismay.  The de facto head of the Republican Party, radio personality Rush Limbaugh, made light of the situation. Commenting on his syndicated radio show, Limbaugh said:

Like, you’re going to have to see the first lady behind the counter at McDonald’s when you go in there as your poverty-stricken day drags on — take a picture with your cell phone while you go in there and get your McNuggets or whatever’s being handed out that day.

But cell phones are very important to those on the street. The Washington Post ran a story on its front page today noting the increasing use of technology by homeless in D.C.

Advocates who work with the District’s homeless estimate that 30 percent to 45 percent of the people they help have cellphones. A smaller number have e-mail accounts, and some blog to chronicle their lives on the streets.

A phone, according to Gwendolyn Bell, is “the only way you can call to keep up with your food stamps, your housing application, your job.”

Some get their phones from relatives who want to know they have a way of staying in contact. Ronald Collins-El, 45, got one from his nephew. While he stays at the homeless shelter on the campus of St. Elizabeths, he uses it to keep in touch with family members and to organize his numerous medical appointments, payments and bills.


Mauricio Funes & FMLN Win Elections
March 16, 2009, 8:32 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

The picture, taken from The Times article on Funes' victory is titled 'Marxist Muricio Funes is new President of El Salvador'. Funes, of course, is not a Marxist but his FMLN party has a Marxist background and a Marxist wing.

With 90% of the vote in, Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) candidate Mauricio Funes has declared victory in El Salvador’s presidential election.  Funes, the former television personality led ruling ARENA party candidate Rodrigo Ávila 51.2% to 48.7.  Though a mantle of the countries political system, Ávila, in his concession speech. promised that ARENA would be “a constructive opposition.” 

More from the Washington Post.

The Attack on Mauricio Funes
March 15, 2009, 1:05 pm
Filed under: Latin America | Tags: , , ,

Salvadoreños head to the polls today in an election that many see as further strengthening the leftist tide in Latin America. As polls open throughout the country, voters will choose between Rodrigo Ávila of the ruling conservative ARENA party and Mauricio Funes, a more centrist member of the FMLN, the country’s main opposition group which was previously a Marxist insurgency movement comprised of the five main guerrilla groups who fought the government during the Salvadoran Civil War.

Funes, whose ascendancy into the national spotlight now leaves him poised to become the first leftist ever to be elected in the country’s history, has drawn comparisons to U.S. President Barack Obama by many Salvadoreños. But while he is on the cusp of making history, Funes has had to deal with a relentless barrage of attacks from the right, and even from some within his own party.

ARENA has compared Funes with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is a divisive character throughout Latin America and is often used as a political tool by parties on the right to discredit and bring suspicion towards leftist candidates. Most recently, it was used against Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, who himself had to fight off accusations that he was taking orders from Caracas while trying, like Funes, to end the 61 year rule of the Colorado Party.  Lugo, the former Roman Catholic bishop, was able to withstand the calumny. Mark Engler, senior editor at Foreign Policy In Focus and author of the recently published How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation Books, 2008) observes:

A key tactic of the Salvadoran right has been to paint Funes and his party as tools of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Many U.S. commentators have mirrored this position by caricaturing the Latin American left as naively obedient to Chávez and encouraging Obama to craft a tougher response.

The Chicago Tribune puts it more bluntly:

Political opponents have erected billboards showing a doctored image of Chavez with his arm around front-runner Mauricio Funes. In fact, Chavez has become a wild card as Funes, a popular television journalist, fights claims that he would be another satellite in Chavez’s expanding socialist orbit.

The tactic, mirrored by conservatives here in the United States in their attempt to portray President Obama as a socialist, is a desperate attempt by ARENA to hold onto power after it’s policies have failed and the country remains one of the poorest in the hemisphere. Bankrupt with new ideas, ARENA banks its fortunes on castigating Funes rather than presenting why it has better ideas.

A reactionary editorial in today’s Washington Times goes one step further:

A pro-terrorist political party taking power in El Salvador is a grave development that underscores the need for urgent action in Latin America. Our friends in Colombia are being surrounded, and Mexico is inching toward a social meltdown that Chavez and his cronies will leap to exploit.

The fear, however baseless and contrived, is warranted. There is a reason for the right to fear a Funes victory. Conservatives have lost nearly every recent election in Latin America and only Colombia and Mexico remain on the right. Parties who had long maintained political dominance throughout the hemisphere have been tossed in the unfamiliar opposition roles while others have completely collapsed.

But not all on the left are followers of Chavez, or even aim to implement his policies.  Some, including center-left Peruvian President Alan García, have at times openly battled with Chavez.  In fact, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who has also openly sparred with Chavez, is seen by many as having the most political capital in the region.  The more accurate comparison of Funes would be to Lula, but that would be self-defeating for those on the right.

And yet while Funes has had to deal with these attacks from the right, more radical segments of his own party have also attacked him for being too moderate.

As the San Francisco Chronicle puts it:

Today, Funes avoids wearing the FMLN color – red – and has adopted several positions at odds with the party. He does not support dropping the U.S. dollar as the nation’s currency nor legislation that would reverse a 1993 law granting amnesty to army officers accused of war crimes, arguing judicial and financial reforms would be a better way to address past injustices. He also says he is against big government.

El Salvador, plagued by corruption and violence, now has the attention of the world, if only for one day.  Voters are expected to run ARENA out of office. If he wins, Funes will be most certainly be expected to bring the change that he has long campaigned on.  He will do so and his party, once put into a power, will most certainly moderate, perhaps into some sort of Chavez/Lula hybrid.


Evo Morales: Let Me Chew My Coca Leaves
March 14, 2009, 1:19 pm
Filed under: Latin America | Tags: , , ,

President Morales holds up a coca leaf as he addresses the 61st session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York

In recent weeks, Bolivian President Evo Morales has become more vocal in his drive to change the international community’s stance vis-a-vis the legalization of coca, which serves as a vital part of the Bolivian social system.  Morales, the leader of the countries coca growers association, has championed the cause of coca and has sought to bring the issue in front of the international community. His goal is to take the coca leaf off of the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.  Morales’ somewhat defiant overtures towards Washington have complicated relations between the two countries and both have in recent months ousted each others respective diplomats.

In its 2009 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), the State Department lists Bolivia as one of the most important countries in the global narcotic industry.  While there is no connection between the Bolivian government and the traffickers, a point which the State Department leaves no uncertainty on, there is concern that Bolivia, by promoting licit coca growing, is complicit in the illict production of cocaine, which ultimately ends up in American streets.  According to State’s estimate:

The GOB faces significant challenges because its policies allow expansion of coca cultivation, limit eradication efforts, and loosen controls over the licit coca market.  We are concerned about the growing influence of Colombian and Mexican cartels and the possibility of a growing number of drug-related crimes in Bolivia.  We encourage the GOB to reverse its policies on expansion of coca cultivation.  We also encourage the GOB to expand eradication in the Yungas, redouble its efforts in the Chapare, eliminate new coca plantings, and enhance its efforts to interdict illegal drugs and precursors throughout Bolivia.  This effort should include the return of DEA to Bolivia.  The U.S. also encourages the GOB to exert strict controls over the licit coca market, close illegal markets and increase cooperation with neighboring countries in counternarcotics efforts.

In response, Morales and his MAS government believe that “it is time for the international community to reverse its misguided policy toward the coca leaf.”  In this commentary piece published in today’s New York Times, Morales makes his case for the decriminalization of coca.

In 1961, the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs placed the coca leaf in the same category with cocaine – thus promoting the false notion that the coca leaf is a narcotic – and ordered that “coca leaf chewing must be abolished within 25 years from the coming into force of this convention.” Bolivia signed the convention in 1976, during the brutal dictatorship of Col. Hugo Banzer, and the 25-year deadline expired in 2001.

So for the past eight years, the millions of us who maintain the traditional practice of chewing coca have been, according to the convention, criminals who violate international law. This is an unacceptable and absurd state of affairs for Bolivians and other Andean peoples.

Many plants have small quantities of various chemical compounds called alkaloids. One common alkaloid is caffeine, which is found in more than 50 varieties of plants, from coffee to cacao, and even in the flowers of orange and lemon trees. Excessive use of caffeine can cause nervousness, elevated pulse, insomnia and other unwanted effects.

Another common alkaloid is nicotine, found in the tobacco plant. Its consumption can lead to addiction, high blood pressure and cancer; smoking causes one in five deaths in the United States. Some alkaloids have important medicinal qualities. Quinine, for example, the first known treatment for malaria, was discovered by the Quechua Indians of Peru in the bark of the cinchona tree.

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