MIDCM Column

What are Myanmar’s Challenges Moving Forward?

Janice Freeman

November 19, 2015

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) Party managed a landslide victory in Myanmar’s first practically free elections since 1990. However, even with the NLD holding a majority in parliament, the Burmese military will still be influential and will control the ministries that manage national security. Further, NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi is barred by the constitution from being president, even if she is the known leader of parliament. The constitution prevents anyone with a spouse or kids with foreign passports from being president (Aung San Suu Kyi’s two sons are British, as is her late husband). She has indicated, however, that she will make decisions even if someone else has to hold the presidential role, and she has already called for reconciliation talks with the military. Moving forward with reconciliation with the military presents quite a few challenges.

One of the paramount challenges facing the new government will be solving the violent discrimination against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar. Almost all of the one million Rohingya have had their citizenship rights stripped and the government has confined them to camps without healthcare or education. They have also been systematically barred from national politics. Along with this challenge, the new government will also have to stop the trafficking of Rohingya. Many desperate Rohingya have fled Myanmar and found themselves trafficked and enslaved in neighboring countries.

Around 140,000 Rohingya live in displacement camps in the Rakhine State in western Myanmar. After violence between Buddhists and Rohingya led to most Rohingya homes being destroyed, many were left in dilapidated camps without freedom of movement. In the Kachin and Shan states, violent conflict between the military and ethnic groups has led to 100,000 Burmese living in displacement camps. The violence in Myanmar has also led to 120,000 Burmese living in refugee camps on the border in Thailand. The new government will have to negotiate their safe return.

Finally, the government has the extremely difficult task of resolving the ethnic conflict that has plagued Myanmar since its independence from Britain in 1948. The previous government has signed ceasefire agreements of 8 of the two dozen armed ethnic groups in the nation. Many of the ethnic armies refuse to sign agreements and the government has refused to negotiate with others. There is also an issue of building trust. Ethnic groups accuse the military of continuing violent attacks after negotiations. Finally, the deeply entrenched corruption in the Burmese government breaks down trust in the peace process. Aung San Suu Kyi, who ran on a campaign of transparency and rule of law, must uphold this value while in power.

While having the NLD in power represents a huge opportunity for Myanmar to improve its governance, there are many challenges that the new government needs to surmount. The party needs to ensure the safety of the Rohingya and truthfully negotiate with ethnic groups. How the NLD moves forward could have monumental consequences for Myanmar’s domestic and international future.

American Intervention in Uzbekistan has stalled – Again

James Mott

November 12, 2015

John Kerry’s visit to Uzbekistan this month as part of a Central Asian tour has not yet lead to any major changes in Tashkent’s dismal human rights record. Uzbekistan’s President, Islam Karimov, has not acted to end slave-like methods of cotton farming in his quarter-century rule, nor have press or political freedoms  been extended to a level becoming of a democratic state. In the past, the State Department have pursued relaxed diplomatic means of conveying criticism to the Uzbek government – Kerry used the term “human dimension” in lieu of human rights, while former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton relaxed economic sanctions after reductions in child labor were reported.

The complex dimensions of US-Uzbek relations all contribute to the awkward meeting held this month. Uzbekistan provided logistical aid and permissions to help resupply American troops fighting in Afghanistan, and competition for Central Asia’s rich natural resources is a serious motivator to overlook human rights abuses. As previously reported, Russia’s attempt to build a Eurasian Economic Union has faced severe challenges in developing markets internal to its own organization, and luring Uzbekistan’s large economy – $62.6 billion USD GDP, only two billion dollars fewer than Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan’s combined GDP – away from Russia’s influence would cripple the fledging Union.

For Uzbekistan’s 31 million citizens, forced labor and political repression will remain the norm for the foreseeable future. Washington’s failure to increase pressure on Tashkent’s totalitarian political climate is endorsement by failure to intervene, and Karimov’s successor could implement similar policies for their quarter century of rule – or worse, if political instability is even suspected by Karimov’s government. Instead, Washington ought to implement tougher economic and political sanctions against Uzbekistan, as previous boycotts of Uzbek cotton from garment manufacturers had a substantial hand in ending child labor during the cotton season. Even if realist scholars deem Tashkent’s trade and alliance a benefit against Russia, a more powerful and present threat, such thinking does not justify inaction in Uzbekistan.

What Does Moldova’s Collapse Mean for Russia and the EU?

Janice Freeman

November 5, 2015

The government of Europe’s poorest nation has collapsed amidst a banking scandal involving the disappearance of one billion dollars from the banking scandal. Moldova’s Prime Minister Valeriu Strelet short, three-month term ended on Thursday when Moldova’s parliament backed a motion of no-confidence in the pro-European government. The motion received 65 votes in favor, many more than the 51 required to pass, after the Democratic Party defected from the ruling coalition government.

The no-confidence motion was brought in connection with government corruption and fraud in which one billion dollars, one eighth of Moldova’s GDP, disappeared from the banking system over the past few years. The disappearance the of the billion dollars has weakened Moldova’s currency and lowered living standards in an already struggling economy.

This government instability and fraud on the part of a pro-European government could open the door for pro-Russian communist and socialist opposition parties to take power and align Moldova more with Putin than with the EU. Further, the worrisome culture of corruption in Moldova’s government will prevent it from any increased integration with the EU in the near future.

Thousands of Moldovans have taken to the streets of the capital, Chisinau, to voice their frustration with state corruption and government fraud. The image of the ruling elite in Moldova has been seriously tarnished, as many ordinary Moldovans live on an income of only $300 per month. This frustration also opens the door to increased political instability and uncertainty as a new candidate is selected.

You may ask, why does a small country like Moldova, with a GDP of only $8 billion, matter? With the Soviet breakaway republic, Transnistria within its borders, Moldova could represent a ripe opportunity for Russia to expand its influence in Eastern Europe. Sandwiched between Romania, an EU and NATO member, and Ukraine, a state torn between Western and Russian interests, Moldova could be a tipping point in relations between the EU, Russia, and the United States.

Kosovo’s leap towards the EU

 James Mott

October 29, 2015

Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Isa Mustafa, has signed an agreement that moves the youngest European nation closer to the European Union. The agreement also comes on the heels of a deal to normalize ties with Serbia, a controversial decision that sparked protests by opposition MPs and in the streets of Priština. While the deal does not include Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo as an independent state, it does include significant measures of autonomy for Priština’s government, and further autonomy for ten Serb-majority regions in Kosovo. The landmark agreements is a leap forward for normalizing relations in the troubles Balkans – yet, these are solely the first steps forward in healing deep wounds left by the wars that brutalized the region two decades ago.

An incident occurring during a UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying match during Albania and Serbia – where a drone carrying an Albanian flag forced the match, hosted in Belgrade, to be abandoned – is a stark reminder of how national and ethnic tensions can readily flare up. Both governments have made incredible strides in solidifying relations and reducing the possibility of large-scale conflict, yet normalizing perspectives of their populations is another objective altogether. Priština’s move to allow Serb autonomy is a promising decision to help ease cultural tensions, but institutional changes must be met with programs to integrate and educate the public on ethnic tolerance.

To compare the Balkan’s peacebuilding process to a degrading conflict with a similar background, Nagorno-Karabakh, it’s clear that several variables have positively influenced the Balkan’s peace process. Geographic proximity to core EU states garnered clear interest, as well as the lack of intervention on behalf of Russia and the CIS. However, the relatively recent bloodshed has put a high level of scrutiny and attention regarding Kosovo’s administration by Serbia, and later, their independence. A near-century has passed since the Armenian genocide, leading to its compartmentalization as a historical matter and not an issue in current international relations – an incorrect assumption, given the genocide’s presence as a roadblock in engaging in normal relations. We ought to look at Priština’s and Belgrade’s relations as an example on how to diffuse hostilities and build peace between states.

Colombia: Is Peace Finally on the Horizon?

Janice Freeman

October 22, 2015

Since the 1960s, conflict between the guerilla insurgent group, The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and the government, has plagued Colombia. The conflict was triggered by the assassination of the populist leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan and the following anti-communist repression in the rural areas of the country. The FARC claims its goals are to promote social equality and fight government violence against the poor and the government says it is combatting the FARC in order to protect citizens and promote stability. Since the beginning of the conflict, 220,000 people have died, the majority civilians, and more than five million Colombians have been displaced, creating the world’s second largest population of internally displaced persons.  However, after years of failed dialogue between the government and the FARC, the two groups have agreed to a peace process. While a significant achievement, much of the hardest work is yet to come.

The peace deal between the Colombian government and the FARC, with involvement by the Venezuelan and American governments, has reached agreement of many key topics that are essential to Colombia’s future. So far, the two sides have agreed on land reform provisions, the elimination of illegal drug trade with the FARC, as well as transitional justice reforms (amnesty and truth commissions, for example). Agreements on new topics continue to be revealed, with an agreement on “disappeared persons” (those missing due to the conflict) announced this week.

However, there is still a long way to go. With a goal of document signing in March 2016, there is little time to finish negotiations. There is also much public doubt with regards to the motivations and commitment of the FARC to peace in Colombia. Many Colombians also have issues with the amnesty and transitional justice provisions. With less punishment for combatants, many of those who were affected by the conflict don’t feel as though the agreement is fair.

While reaching a peace agreement is a huge step, there are still potential problems in Colombia’s future. Reintegrating former combatants will be not only costly, but it could cause animosity and violence in Colombian communities. Also, Colombia needs to focus on keeping former combatants out of Colombia’s robust drug trade in order to prevent the continued growth of narcotics trafficking. Hopefully, Colombia and the FARC will be able to cooperatively approach these issues and ensure peace in Colombia’s future.

The Post-Soviet Democracy Trap

James Mott

October 15, 2015

Alexander Lukashenko has won re-election in Belarus, with over eighty percent of the vote. In his fifth electoral win, Lukashenko has failed to see serious opposition in the polls or in the streets – a common story in corrupt ‘democracies’ of the former USSR. Serious democratic gains have failed to materialize, despite similar advancements in former Iron Curtain states. What makes former SSRs so resilient to democratization?

Two variables have seriously hindered attempts at democratic reform, not solely in Belarus but in all states of the former communist superpower. The first, unsurprisingly, is the legacy of Russian internal diaspora and forced re-settlement of native populations within the Soviet state. Reasons varied from ‘de-cossackization’ to punitive measures for political transgressions, and as a result, several million people under Soviet rule were uprooted and forcefully relocated between 1921 and 1953. Ethnic Russians also re-settled throughout the Soviet Union to work state jobs and industries, leaving 25 million Russians living in 14 non-Russian states after the fall of the Soviet Union. Ukraine, recently embroiled in a war over Russian annexation of Crimea, has 17% of its population of Russian origin. Belarus, while only eight percent of its population is Russian, is predominantly Russian speaking – 70% compared to 23% Belarusian. Not only is there a significant population legacy, seventy years of Soviet rule has drastically impacted state cultural landscapes.

The second is the power wielded by strongmen with deep ties to the former Communist party and relates state apparatus of the USSR. Of the fourteen former SSRs that are not Baltic states (who are omitted as outliers), every single state’s longest serving head of government has had some high-level of involvement with the Communist party. Regrettably, these close ties have translated into extremely close ties with the Russian state, and more importantly, Vladimir Putin. As a result, there is extremely little chance of internal regime change – Putin will back any government allied with his own regardless of its composition. The ‘democracy trap’ of post-Soviet states, where the mirage of democracy is wielded by highly centralized governments, is a phenomenon that remains to be solved – only Krygz strongman Askar Akayev has been ousted by a popular revolution that resulted in moderate stability.

The Rohingyas: Burma’s Persecuted Minority

Janice Freeman

October 8, 2015

The plight of Rohingya Muslims in Western Burma came to light this past summer when thousands sought refuge in nearby nations via harrowing boat trips. The heartbreaking images reflected the terrible persecution of the Rohingya minority in Burma. The Burmese government believes that the Rohingya are Bengali and are illegally residing in Burma, even though many have lived in the country for generations. Because of this assertion, the government has denied the Rohingya citizenship, has refused access to public services, and has forced over 150,000 Muslims into a fenced-in camp in Western Burma.

There are also many instances of terrible violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Burma. Three years ago, Buddhists razed multiple Rohingya villages while security officials opened fire, killing dozens. After another similar attack months later, four mass graves of Rohingya were found, many of them, according to eyewitnesses, dug by Burmese security officials.

Unfortunately, the fate of the Rohingya who leave Burma is not always better than those who stay. Gangs and human trafficking operations in Thailand and Malaysia promise transportation and employment to Rohingya in return for a substantial fee. Once outside of Burma, however, many are sold to Thai fishing vessels as slaves while others are kept in camps where they are tortured and frequently killed. Malaysian authorities have discovered multiple camps where Rohingya refugees live in deplorable conditions.

While the media coverage of the plight of the Rohingya has calmed and less people are trying to escape Burma across the water, the gross human rights violations of the Rohingya have not ceased. Until the Burmese government acknowledges the citizenship of this minority and begins to reconcile grievances between the Buddhist and Rohingya communities, this violence will continue. If Burma wants to become a more open nation and desires to join the global economy, it must abolish its national policy of discrimination towards the Rohingya.

References:

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/jul/20/rohingya-crisis-burma-thailand

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/06/burma-rohingya-migration-ban/395729/

Can Russia and its allies challenge the EU?

James Mott

October 1, 2015

Failed expectations of Russia bowing to EU-led economic sanctions have instead bolstered Moscow’s push to develop new trade partners, a move aimed at convincing Brussels to reconsider its options for bringing peace to Eastern Ukraine. Throughout 2015, the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) has developed closer economic ties to other markets with fewer conflicting political factors. This month’s summit with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), alongside discussions with Norway to join the EEU, have demonstrated Russia’s long-term plan to develop a customs and trade bloc in hopes to rival the European Union.

Plans to expand the free trade agreement with ASEAN will bring significant growth to the legitimacy of the Russian-led economic bloc, but much of its effectiveness as a supranational body remains to be seen. Early struggles within the trade cooperative are readily apparent: a weak ruble has failed to bolster Armenian exports, and cheaper Russian goods have flowed into the country. The same dynamic has occurred in Kazakhstan – the tumultuous start of the EEU has pushed Kazakh officials to declare that a “trade war” has erupted between Astana and Moscow.

With the Russian economy still in recession and EEU member states starting to sink simultaneously, observers are wondering if the union, still in its infancy, can develop into a long-term rival to the EU. The dominion Russia has on post-Soviet states is unlikely to be challenged in the near future, but expanding influence in the wake of the United States’ growing influence in Eastern Europe and China’s push westward will leave Russia scrambling for influence. With Armenia looking to join the European Union, how can the EEU revitalize itself?

Expanding relationships with other regional trade blocs and inviting new members may be a path towards sustainability, but the elephant in the room remains – over-reliance on Russia’s economy will stall the growth of member states and fail to attract new members. Moscow must encourage trade diversification within the bloc not only for continual growth, but also as a mechanism to bid for regional and global geopolitical power.

References:

http://www.thelocal.no/20150921/norway-asked-to-join-eurasian-economic-union

http://www.aseanbriefing.com/news/2015/09/17/eurasian-economic-union-eaeu-plans-fta-expansion-within-asean.html

http://thediplomat.com/2015/05/the-sputtering-eurasian-economic-union

https://iwpr.net/global-voices/armenia-seeks-new-deal-eu

http://www.themoscowtimes.com/business/article/trade-war-mounts-between-kazakhstan-and-russia/519042.html

https://iwpr.net/global-voices/eurasian-union-fails-deliver-armenia

Countering Extremism in Pakistan through Collective Action

Janice Freeman

September 24th, 2015

After the deadly terrorist attack on a school in Peshawar last year, Pakistan’s government established a National Action Plan (NAP) to combat extremism in the country crack down on terrorist groups in the northwest area of the nation. The plan is not only an important step in countering extremism, it has also shown Pakistan’s ability to effectively mobilize both national and regional governments.

On December 16th, 2014, seven gunmen affiliated with the terrorist organization Tehrik-i-Taliban killed 145 people at the Army Public School in Peshawar, northwest Pakistan. The attack was not only horrifying but exposed holes in Pakistan’s security structure as all seven gunmen were foreign nationals. Less than ten days later, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif led a conference deciding to set up military courts and establish a nationwide plan to fight terrorism in the country.

The National Action Committee, which included representatives of all Pakistani political parties, assessed different political, social, and militaristic aspects when creating the National Action Plan. The committee decided among other things to monitor social media and terminate terrorist organizations’ accounts, a comprehensive policy for registering Afghan refugees would be instituted, and there would be a nationwide crackdown on hate-speech in media outlets.

A particularly interesting aspect of the plan is its goal to reform madrassas, religious schools, in Pakistan. Frequently considered hotbeds of extremist ideologies, the Pakistani government is instituting a registration for madrassas in order to eliminate those that promote jihad and anti-Western philosophies. This attempt to reform Pakistan’s education system shows a long-term commitment to combatting terrorism.

As countering extremism continues to be a pivotal issue in conflict resolution and international affairs, Pakistan is showing that governments need to play a large part in countering extremist groups and that discussions need to involve all political parties. Finally, as we near the one-year anniversary of the Peshawar attack, time will only tell whether the National Action Plan will have a tangible effect on terrorism in Pakistan.

Refugees: Helpless Victims of Conflict

Kelsey Rutherford

December 9th, 2014

Refugees are the silent victims of conflict.

Those fighting on either side have a purpose. Their plight is, in one way or another, an assumed one. But refugees are the helpless caught in the middle. Regardless of what their opinions on the conflict may be, their actions show that the highest priority is safety and stability at the highest cost—to leave behind everything for the potential at safety.

There are millions of refugees and internally displaced persons around the world. In just six months of 2014, UNHCR reported over 330,000 refugees applied for asylum in developed countries, with the United States receiving the second most applications after Germany. With such massive and unplanned migration, refugees can attract worldwide attention. Oftentimes they can be framed as a burden on a neutral country. An excess of refugees can even mean the beginning of new conflict.

Unfortunately, refugees don’t often get the international attention they need. Too often refugees are viewed as complications rather than people who need the most basic care. In fact, the World Food Programme recently had to temporarily suspend their donations of food to Syrian refugees due to lack of funding.

It’s easy to take a stand for one side of a conflict. Certain values may pull you to throw support behind one cause or another. But there is more to a conflict than the fighters—there are many who simply want to live their lives in peace.

I encourage you to follow the link at the bottom to watch a powerful video about Syrian refugees. It forces us to realize what living as a refugee would be if it were happening to us.

India’s Unethical Sterilization Campaign

Rae Baron

November 12, 2014

             India is the third most populace country in the world, and the government’s sterilization project has caused severe unrest. In the state of Chhattisgarh, an Indian surgeon exceeded the limit of sterilizing 30 women per day, conducting 83 sterilizations with infected instruments in 6 hours. 10 women are dead while 69 have been hospitalized. Although sterilization has been an ongoing issue in recent years (and long before that time), the incident rallies more voices of disdain for the unethical conditions of practice.

            Since India’s independence 67 years ago, a wealth of externalities as a result of overpopulation have taken hold of the country: unemployment, starvation, poverty, inflation, unequal distribution of wealth, and depression. From 1975-1977, the Indian government declared a state of emergency concerning the population, which resulted in a campaign of forced sterilizations among other political atrocities. Today, the government offers monetary compensation to men or women who undergo sterilization surgery. Between 2013-2014, four million sterilizations occurred with a majority of those being women. In the three years prior, the government paid compensation for 568 deaths caused by the practiced. The Ministry of Health and the United Nations have both commented on this tragedy and asserting there will be reform.

            While the sterilization law has been effective in reducing India’s population, the policy’s ethics are questionable. The government assures that both men and women are equally eligible for the surgery; however, India’s National Family Health Survey showed that 37% of married women were sterilized while only 1% of men were in the mid 2000s. The question of sterilization seems to be promoting a patriarchal culture in India, with the majority of men abstaining from the procedure. Another unethical aspect of sterilization is its target on the working class. Those who elect to have the surgery are given 600 rupees, the equivalent of a one-night stay in a cheap hotel room. While the middle class most likely would not find this amount helpful, the working class and impoverished would and are therefore the most probable candidates. Efforts to clean up the sterilization program seem to be underway, but the unethical side effects will most likely persist.

What’s up with Turkey?

Kelsey Rutherford

October 31, 2014

The image is certainly compelling. A woman in a red dress stands defiantly against a policeman as he sprays tear gas into her face. This photograph, now known as “The Woman in Red” is one of the most circulated images depicting the current state of unrest in Turkey.

Beginning last year, a string of protests in Turkey began attracting international media attention. Interestingly, the message of the protesters is not always consistent. Most of these protests result from continual restrictions on freedoms by the government, as well as the view by the people that Turkish officials are moving away from a tradition of secularism in favor of laws based on the practice of Islam. Even now, Turkish Kurds are protesting what they see as government complacency (even support) for the attacks on Turkish towns by ISIS. Mostly though, Turkish anger has evolved from the police and government reactions by the people. Rather than allow the peaceful protests to occur, Turkish authorities have been well-documented as using unnecessary force. Tear gas, water cannons, and the burning of tents of protesters have all been viewed as excessive in the eyes of the people.

For a country that has only recently entered the European Union, Turkish officials are teetering between a developed and developing country’s response to protests. While traditional Western powers place a high importance in peaceful protests, Turkey has restricted the right to peacefully assemble (along with other restrictions regarding freedom of speech and press censorship).

While these protests aren’t all necessarily linked, there is something to be said about the stability of a country that has sustained protests against the government. Real possibilities must be considered: is Turkey in jeopardy of losing its credibility as a European ally? What happens when a ‘Western’ country continually restricts the rights and freedoms of its citizens? The very way that Turkish people understand themselves as a society is changing rapidly. While the international community may deem Turkey as a ‘developed’ country, these events must call some of Turkey’s methods of governance into question.

U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Rae Baron

October 28, 2014

The final United State Marines were discharged from Afghanistan’s Helmond province on Monday. 24,000 American troops remain in Afghanistan, but the Marines clear-out signifies the Afghan government’s confidence and ability to contain the Taliban. 13 years ago, U.S. troops were stationed in one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous provinces. Their goal was to minimize the Taliban’s influence over the land concerning terror attacks and opium production. Withdrawal marks a milestone in U.S. foreign policy that has been hotly contested in the last decade.

The dismissal of Marines has sparked debate on whether this was in fact the right move; is Afghanistan ready to be the main manager of the Taliban? Afghan news media argue that areas in Helmond are in severe jeopardy of Taliban take-over. Parliament member Mir Wali Khan of the Helmond province comments, “It’s much, much worse compared to last year…with the withdrawal, it will only get worse, and our Afghan forces will not be able to fight against the enemy” (Washington Post). In opposition, Afghan military personnel denounce these claims as exaggerated. He comments that Afghan forces have a positive track record in defeating Taliban attacks this summer, and Afghan forces control major population centers in the province. U.S. political leaders and Marines are divided in opinion, but agree on the necessity of dismantling Taliban power.

Currently, the White House is deciding how many American troops to keep stationed in Afghanistan for the coming months. Top military advisers urge for at least 10,000 troops to remain in order to continue diplomatic and counterterrorism work. Reports say President Obama is partial to dipping below that number, allowing Afghan forces to reclaim their land. The U.S. plans to cut down the presence of troops by half at the close of 2015 with virtually none left once 2016 ends.

Sources

Growth in Latin America?

Stephanie Gaither

October 20, 2014

According to the IMF’s latest reports, economic growth in Latin America has significantly slowed down. GDP growth in Latin America is expected to grow by 1.3 in 2014, which is the second-lowest rate in 12 years. Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela are suffering from recessions of different severity. Peru and Chile have also slowed notably, and Mexico’s economy has yet to take off. Some of the reasons for this economic growth problem are obvious. These countries have low unemployment and a population that is starting to age thus growth can no longer come from adding workers. On the other hand, many Latin American countries have implemented industrial policies that focused on import substitution which impeded low-productivity firms from competing in the foreign market that would have made them more efficient. Some scholars recommend that Latin American countries improve their business environment, enhance the performance of education systems, and use their scarce budget resources toward upgrading basic infrastructures in order to boost their economy. On the other hand, for countries such as Brazil some economists are finding that consumer borrowing and spending played a large role in the region’s growth in the last decade. Past Latin American growth rates were the result of Brazilians taking out loans so they could buy flat-screen televisions instead of investing in schools or businesses. It looks like Latin America has many challenges to face and the international community will be observing their economic development closely.

Rebuilding After Ebola

Kelsey Rutherford

October 8, 2014

It’s too important to not talk about. The news has been dominated by the full-blown Ebola epidemic sweeping West Africa at the most alarming rate possible. Even now the international community is even more invested in the disease as new cases are emerging every day in developed regions. Official reports of the 2,800 deaths have been said to be grossly underestimated. Without dramatic changes, the spread of Ebola is likely to get much worse before it gets better.

With the diseases not yet under control, most efforts have been focused on emergency responses. Treatment and prevention must and should remain the primary goal to save the lives of those most vulnerable. But some experts say that the Ebola epidemic is not the real problem—that in fact it is the manifestation of a greater issue in West Africa. When Ebola is no longer present, there will be new problems that arise as a consequence.

Years of neglect in health facilities mixed with poor governance and a distrust of the government have all contributed to the rapid dispersion of Ebola. Unfortunately, the road to rebuilding will be an even greater one. Once the smoke clears and the foreign assistance levels off, the governments will need to step up to the task to create a stable health care infrastructure, cope with the political repercussions, and be accountable for any anger felt by its citizens. As more and more Ebola cases in the Western world arise, the chance for West African countries to capitalize on an influx of foreign aid may start to decline. In the end, any sustainable development that happens as a result of this epidemic will have to come from the internal governance of the country and work its way outward.

It’s a daunting task. And certainly West Africa will not succeed in every aspect. However, as in the past, catastrophes have bred innovation. Perhaps this tragedy will help put the affected countries on the road to a sustainable development.

The Future of Drug Cartels

Kelsey Rutherford

September 10, 2014

These days there is no shortage of opinions on the legalization of marijuana in the U.S. From the landmark laws in Colorado and Washington to new platforms by politicians, legalizing the ‘gateway’ drug is one of the most hot-button domestic issues of the day.

But since the majority of American marijuana originates south of the border, the domestic issue has international implications—especially in terms of the drug cartels responsible for bringing marijuana to America. Proponents of legalizing the drug are quick to point out that the new policies in Colorado and Washington have meant a combined loss of $3 billion for Mexican cartels. Cultivating and transporting the illicit drug to the U.S. no longer creates enough revenue on its own.

For some, this is good news. But decreasing profits for the cartels is dangerous as well. New illegal tactics will be needed in order for the cartels to make up for their recent losses. In most cases, this will mean a substantial increase in cartel activities such as kidnapping, human smuggling, and prostitution to replace the marijuana business. Only time will tell if these violent replacements will be enough to sustain the empires that the Mexican drug cartels have built. While the Mexican government must surely take responsibility for eradicating these new groups of organized crime, American policy makers must also acknowledge that whether they legalize marijuana or not, it will deeply impact what happens to our neighbors to the south.

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