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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries since June 2011

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Notable Documentary on Fidel Castro Awarded Preservation Grant

June 27, 2011 ·

On June 15, the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) awarded grants to guarantee the preservation of 64 films. One of those is IPS Fellow Saul Landau’s powerful 1968 documentary, “Fidel!” Funded by the Library of Congress, the NFPF grants “target newsreels, silent-era films, documentaries, culturally important home movies, avant-garde films and endangered independent productions that fall under the radar of commercial preservation programs,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Thanks to a grant, a documentary focusing on Fidel Castro will be preserved. Creative Commons photo by Pietroizzo  My introduction to “Fidel!” came while taking a college course on the Cuban Revolution, in preparation for a study abroad trip to Havana. It was one thing to read about the history of the revolution from noted Cuba scholars; it was quite another to watch a scene of Fidel Castro at bat, repeatedly striking out.

It’s the perfect cinematic metaphor for the struggle against imperialism, captured cleverly by Landau and his crew during the early years of the U.S. embargo. Towering over all the Cubans on the field and sporting his signature crisp olive green uniform, Castro -- the subject of over 600 CIA assassination attempts and the CIA’s unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion earlier in 1961--declares, “I’m not leaving till I belt one.” He strikes out, again and again. “As long as he’s willing to pitch, I’ll try to hit one,” a determined Castro shouts, much to the delight of the crowd. The founding father of the post 1959 revolutionary Cuba then removes his constricting and sweaty uniform and wears a more suitable jersey. After a brief stint as pitcher, he finally hits a home run.

It’s a temporary moment for celebration in the film, as Landau’s camera follows Castro in a rocky jeep traveling through the Sierra Maestra and Sierra Cristal mountains, on a helicopter observing the landscape, inside a tent eating dinner and at the podium as he discusses the challenges of instituting the revolution’s gains, of creating a proud and productive populace, of overcoming the problems of underdevelopment, all while facing perpetual, hostile threats from a behemoth miles away.

These intimate moments on camera—down to the close up of Castro’s terribly dirty fingernails-- merit preservation for life because of the incisive insights that they shed not only on Castro’s style of leadership and Cuba’s early history post Batista, but on any profound social, political, economic and cultural changes that a country faces. Hopefully, a series of comparable films will emerge in the next five years about the changes underway in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and other “Arab Springs.”

“Fidel!” also exemplifies how films, when done right, can serve as an important tool for understanding—in this case, the complexity of the Cuban Revolution. On the one hand, a portrait of paternalism emerges. Outside of the more developed Havana, villagers willingly approach Castro, not as the formal leader of their country, but like a father, raising immediate concerns about life—at this point in time, not about the need for more political parties. Some mention that there are not enough buses or ambulances; others complain to him about the lack of roads.  “We get promises but no follow-throughs,” a woman says to El Jefe, undaunted. “You’re the one who can get things done,” an old man acknowledges. Whether or not those Cubans on camera “acted” in front of their leader, one cannot mistake the sense of duty they’ve instilled in him, offering viewers a more multi-dimensional narrative of a man going beyond “the evil dictator” who dared to disobey U.S. dictates on more than one occasion.

“Action concerns me more than history,” Castro explains, while eating a modest meal inside a tent with ex-guerrillas now working in his government. It’s a telling, foreshadowing statement on Castro’s legacy inside and outside of Cuba. Castro led the revolution for decades and, following a long hospital stay in 2006, passed all leadership responsibilities on to his younger brother, Raul, with whom he had been in revolutionary partnerships since 1953.

Whatever its internal shortcomings, as the film itself acknowledges, the revolution under Castro’s leadership never compromised on the principles of sovereignty and independence—a sin that the U.S. doesn’t seem to forgive, given its decades-old embargo still in place. A quick glance at Latin America today reveals disobedience inspired by Cuba throughout the hemisphere—in Bolivia, El Salvador, Argentina, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Uruguay, Brazil and more recently, Peru.

One can also take Castro’s statement, “action concerns me more than history,” as a subversive call to action—to not be afraid of making a film, as Saul Landau has done, that just might challenge what the mass media and the establishment wants you to believe about an important actor in the history of Latin America. 

Farrah Hassen is a writer and videographer based in Washington DC. From 2008-2009, she was the Newman Fellow at IPS.

The Lineup: Week of June 27-July 3, 2011

June 27, 2011 ·

In this week's OtherWords editorial package, Peter Certo explains why he's not buying a shiny new iPad and William A. Collins says that big business is trying to keep climate change out of the news. Get all this and more in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. If you haven't signed up yet, please do.

 

  1. Three Strikes against Apple / Peter Certo
  2. One Montana County's Medicare-for-All Coverage / Kay Tillow
  3. Tell the People about the People's Budget / Peter Hart
  4. America the Vulnerable / Mark Potok
  5. My Favorite Fourth of July Speech / Donald Kaul
  6. Perry's Prayer-Palooza / Jim Hightower
  7. Pay Attention to Climate Change, Even if It's Bad for Business / William A. Collins
  8. Think Indifferent / Khalil Bendib

Think Indifferent

U.S. Nurses Bring Global Call to Tax Speculators to Wall Street

June 22, 2011 ·

Nurses from across the United States rallied on Wall Street today, calling on the financial industry to pay their fair share of the costs of the economic crisis. 

Coming from the frontlines of the suffering, the nurses had some gut-wrenching stories to tell. Sandy Falwell, who has worked in an intensive care neonatal unit for 20-plus years, told one of the most painful: After a woman gave birth to a 2-pound baby, the woman told Falwell that she blamed herself for her baby’s premature birth. During her pregnancy she had been unable to afford insulin treatments for her diabetes — in part because she was taking care of her elderly parents.

Nurses rally for a financial transaction tax. Photo by Marlee Blasenheim.How does the nurses union that spearheaded the rally propose to raise the funds necessary to cover the costs of such urgent needs? National Nurses United Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro explained:  “There’s a financial transaction fee that we’re going to have Wall Street pay. They have paid it here in the past. It’s very American. These yo-yos who buy and sell and buy and sell our country should have to pay a tax on that.”

The way such taxes work is they place a small fee on each trade of stocks, derivatives, foreign exchange, and other financial instruments, with the goal of raising massive revenues while also discouraging reckless speculation.

As DeMoro mentioned, the United States had a transactions tax from 1914 to 1966, which levied a 0.20 percent tax on all sales or transfers of stock. In 1932, Congress more than doubled the tax to help financial recovery and job creation during the Great Depression.

The Wall Street rally was part of a global day of action on financial transactions taxes involving more than 35 countries. The actions were timed for the eve of a meeting of leaders of European Union nations, where the debate over such taxes is much further along than in the United States. There are high hopes that Europe will implement them in the near future, which would give a big boost to U.S. advocates.

Here are a few highlights from other countries, where many of the campaigns have taken on a “Robin Hood” theme:

  • In Berlin, Robin Hoods rolled giant Euro coins down the street to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s residence, where someone who looked an awful lot like her (except with a head four times as large as a normal human) received the money as she prepared to depart for the European Council meeting.
  • In Lebanon, the League of Independent Activists did a direct action on the Central Bank, opening a banner in English and Arabic that states: "Big Day for a Tiny Tax," before delivering a statement to government officials.
  • In Brussels, activists met the Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme, who assured them that his government will support a Europe-wide transaction tax.
  • In Nepal, activists met their Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister and delivered a lobby letter before taking their message to different historical sites in Kathmandu.
  • In Norway, a casino/stock exchange installation was set up alongside a “Robin Hood forest” in the center of Oslo.
  • In New Zealand, activists with 350.org and Oxfam did an action at a shopping mall, resulting in this not-to-be-missed short video of a break-dancing Robin Hood. 

For more on these actions and continued coverage of the global day of action, click here.

Karen Higgins, a co-president of National Nurses United, told the crowd on Wall Street, “Around the world, we’re calling for a more fair and just economy. The finance tax we’re talking about comes from the trillions of trade of stocks and bonds sold here every day. The revenue is badly needed in our communities.”

The nurses union was joined on the street by a long list of other unions and organizations, including the Amalgamated Transit Union, Vocal NY, AFSCME, UNITE HERE Local 100, Community Voices Heard, Transport Workers Union Local 100, United Steam Workers, and PSC-CUNY.

A big theme of the day was that the New York rally was just the beginning of what they're hoping to be a growing movement. Minnesota nurse Jean Ross, clearly angered by the role of the financial industry in creating the current crisis, said, “Wall Street should be happy that we’re just talking about a financial transaction tax. We could be talking about restitution.”

A Coming out Party for Jose Antonio Vargas

June 22, 2011 ·

Today the journalism world is shocked by the announcement that Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer-winning writer who has worked for The Washington Post and Huffington Post and published pieces in Rolling Stone and The New Yorker, is an undocumented immigrant.

Vargas, whose mother sent him on a plane from the Philippines at age 12, announced he lacks legal status on the Define American website that was launched today. Like many others in his situation, he had no idea he was undocumented until attempting to partake in the coming-of-age ritual of driving a car:

One day when I was 16, I rode my bike to the nearby D.M.V. office to get my driver’s permit. Some of my friends already had their licenses, so I figured it was time. But when I handed the clerk my green card as proof of U.S. residency, she flipped it around, examining it. ‘‘This is fake,’’ she whispered. ‘‘Don’t come back here again.’’

Vargas narrates his struggles to deal with the situation, and his decision at age 22, to fight for his dream of becoming a journalist by fraudulently obtaining a driver’s license in another state so that he could fill out the paperwork necessary to get an internship at The Washington Post. For the next eight years, Vargas would rise in the journalism industry, while at the same time becoming more deeply entrenched into his secret status. From his perspective, acknowledging his sexual orientation was easier than sharing his undocumented status:

Tough as it was, coming out about being gay seemed less daunting than coming out about my legal status. I kept my other secret mostly hidden.

Vargas credits his newfound courage to the activism of people like the members of the Trail of Dreams, a group of four students who walked from Miami to Washington, DC last year to bring awareness to their plight as U.S.-raised undocumented students. Later on the year, a group of Chicago students from the Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL) led the initiative for a “National Coming Out of the Shadows” day. They led a march to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices in downtown Chicago.

Jose Antonio Vargas has acknowledged he is undocumented. Creative Commons photo by Campus Progress.

These two actions were honored last weekend at the Netroots Nation conference with the Freedom From Fear Award, along with others who have demonstrated courage in fighting for a better world. The importance of their activism, similarly to Vargas’ coming out today, is that it highlights the intersection of identities of LGBT and undocumented youth. Both the Miami and Chicago actions featured LGBT youth prominently, making an impact on an immigrant community that still keeps LGBT advocacy in the periphery.

Like all these advocates, I was brought here at an early age — as a 13-year-old Argentine boy, to be precise. Like Vargas, I benefitted from access to higher education in California and to a driver’s license in the Pacific Northwest. But I also benefitted from a support network for undocumented youth that started at UCLA in 2003. Because of that support group, I became a public advocate for the Dream Act.

Through that work, I’ve had the opportunity to address many groups in churches and classrooms where I openly shared my story of being an undocumented immigrant, and growing up in the United States without legal status. On a few occasions, I was approached by people who were also undocumented but felt unable to share it with the world for fear of repercussions at home or in the workplace. I carry with me the memories of an L.A.-based architect, a dental assistant in Orange County, and many high schoolers who were afraid of coming out, and wondered if their lives would ever improve.

Today, Vargas’ action will have an impact on many people like them, and on many Americans who have been fed a narrow-minded view of undocumented immigrants by sloppy media coverage and an opportunistically nativist right-wing.

Vargas credits his close network of friends as a source of strength in making this decision, and mentions the Dream Act as a source of hope through the years; reminiscing of its prominent 2002 roll-out as a bipartisan bill championed by Utah’s conservative senator Orrin Hatch alongside Illinois liberal Dick Durbin. In the wait for the Dream Act and comprehensive immigration reform, the United States has lost the potential talents of thousands, while people like Vargas, myself, and the Dream activists have become exceptional success stories through hard work and, frankly, a bit of luck.

Vargas’ announcement shines light on his entrapment within an immigration system that offers deportation as the only response and appropriate punishment. Absent reforms that acknowledge that the system is broken, that people brought here as children bear no culpability for our lack of status, and that LGBT families should be equally eligible for immigration benefits, Vargas has no legal options to adjust his status. Still, he has chosen to become public to carry the national conversation on immigration forward.

Congratulations to Jose Antonio Vargas for taking this important step. May his story enlighten thousands and bring us closer to a fair and humane immigration reform.

Effects of Resource Extraction on Human Rights in Chad

June 21, 2011 ·

Chad - (noun) 
1. Paper fragments created when holes are made in paper. 
2. A landlocked country in Central Africa bordered by Libya to the north, Sudan to the east, the Central African Republic to the south, and Cameroon to the southwest.

It might seem that these two meanings are unrelated. However, in the June 15, 2011 discussion about the effect of oil extraction on the citizens of Chad, it was apparent that both definitions describe the country of Chad. Drilling holes into Chadian territory for the purpose of extracting oil has resulted in increased fragmentation of Chad’s society.

Delphine Djiraibe, founder of the Public Interest Law Center in Chad; Ian Gary, senior policy manager for extractive industries at Oxfam America; and Corinna Gilfillan, head of the U.S. Office of Global Witness, spoke to a group of over 20 people regarding the results of the World Bank’s decision to financially support the Chad-Cameroon pipeline project.

The pipeline project has had reciprocal effects for the World Bank and Chadians. Approved by the World Bank in 2000, the pipeline project was intended to alleviate poverty in Chad. Chad is the fifth poorest country in the world with an annual per capita income of $230. Despite its intended purpose, the Chad-Cameroon pipeline has resulted in decreased quality of life for Chadians. Deaths due to hunger and disease have increased, and citizens often do not have access to electricity and clean drinking water. While the government has built a few hospitals and schools, many of them are useless since they do not have staff or equipment. A significant portion of the oil profits intended for these projects are diverted for President Idriss Déby’s personal expenses.

Rebel groups have formed in response to the repression experienced by Chadians and have consequently caused security issues in Chad. Chad rebel groups have also recruited Libyan rebels to assist in overturning the Déby government. However, this fight will be difficult as the president has used oil profits to purchase weapons for his protection and defend his regime. In this country with no rule of law and a history of human rights violations, the pipeline project has served as a catalyst for further violations.

Gary weighed in by revealing that many civil society groups lobbied the World Bank to institute a moratorium on the pipeline initiative until human rights and government issues were resolved.  Civil society groups accurately predicted that the pipeline project would create a greater opportunity for corruption in Chad and cause additional problems in the country. Despite these warnings, the World Bank proceeded with funding the initiative which it would abandon in 2008, after Chad failed to reach the goal of reducing poverty. The bank attempted to pressure the Chadian government to uphold its promise to build structures that would alleviate poverty but the Chadian government paid its loan early and was no longer obligated to abide to the established guidelines.

The Chad-Cameroon pipeline project shed light on problems that arise as a result of the extraction of oil in unstable countries and spurred reforms at the World Bank and the International Financial Corporation (IFC). The World Bank now requires the disclosure of payments for any project it funds and the IFC requires disclosure of contracts. (Chadian oil contracts were confidential). Also, free prior informed consent of indigenous population is required before oil, mining, or any high-risk project goes forward. Furthermore, the president of the bank agreed to an Extractive Industries Review (EIR), a two year process that examined the banks’ involvement in the oil sector. The EIR report recommended that the World Bank never support oil or mining projects where the government is corrupt and human rights violations are common and government, human rights and institutional capacity should be rectified before the start of the project, not during. However, the World Bank has continued its attempt to rectify issues along the way.

The pipeline project unintentionally strengthened the power of a corrupt government and negatively impacted the citizens of Chad. This could have been avoided had the World Bank listened to the concerns of civil society groups.

So what happens now? What can the international community do to support the citizens of Chad?  Clearly there needs to be a system of improved governance over resources as well as transparency of revenues and expenditures to ensure that resources granted to the government are benefiting its citizens.

Click here to listen to what the panelists had to say about oil extraction in Chad.

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