Mexican Presidential Elections 2018

Thomas Bell, Staff Writer

In 1990, Peruvian writer and Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa famously said that “México es una dictadura perfecta”, or “Mexico is a perfect dictatorship”.  The relevance of his statement is not immediately apparent.  The country, after all, has had elections since the implementation of the current Constitution in 1917.  However, those elections have not proven to be democratic.  In 1929 the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI for the Spanish acronym, won the presidential elections as the Revolutionary National Party.  Their victory claimed over 93% of the vote.  Starting with another PRI win in 1934, there were federal elections to select the new President of the Republic every six years.  With regular elections and a constant flow of new presidents, as the incumbent could not (and still cannot) run for reelection, Mexico possessed the appearance of an efficient democracy.  But the political history of the country, leading up to the present day, reveals the characteristics of dictatorship and corruption that Mario Vargas Llosa referenced in 1990.

The success of the Institutional Revolutionary Party in 1929 would turn out to be long-lasting.  In every presidential election between 1929 and 1994, PRI won, and oftentimes in unanimous landslides.  Before 1988, all PRI candidates won with more than 70 percent of the vote.  This was because opposition forces did not have the same opportunities to participate, with PRI dominating the government, news infrastructure, and the economy.  In fact, former President Miguel de la Madrid said in 2009 that PRI lost the presidential election in 1988, and committed massive electoral fraud to fake the victory.  In 2000, though, hope finally seemed to be on the horizon.  The National Action Party, or PAN, won the presidential election, and there was tremendous optimism that the country would change.  But after twelve years, conditions in Mexico had not improved, and the current President, Enrique Peña Nieto, won as a PRI candidate in 2012.

After years of governmental corruption and vast instability, a new party of the left, Morena, has the chance to contend for the presidency.  The elections this year could fundamentally change the country, and Morena could be a powerful new force for the political history of the nation.  Morena is a new party, unlike its competition.  It was founded in 2012 by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO as he is called.  AMLO is a popular politician in Mexico, and was the head of the Government of the Federal District (Mexico City) from 2000 to 2005.  In 2006 and 2012, AMLO was a candidate in the presidential elections with the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), a leftist group.  But with Morena, AMLO is seeking to introduce a new movement to Mexican politics, separate from the old parties.  He is a populist, and his rhetoric is often anti-establishment.  Additionally, AMLO has voiced strong criticism of the American President, Donald Trump.  Enrique Peña Nieto has not had the same vigor in his opinions on Trump.  Ironically enough, the fiery rhetoric of the U.S. President can help AMLO, as many Mexicans experience a surge in nationalism against what they perceive as a threat to their society and culture.  Regardless of left vs. right wing, Morena offers a new approach to politics and governance.  With the legacy of corruption in PRI and PAN, a substantive change is necessary for the development of Mexican democracy.

But a simple argument against corruption will not be enough.  The party’s liberalism would represent a change from the policies of PRI and PAN.  PRI is a centrist party, but uses nationalism and a level of corruption to govern.  PAN is a conservative party, but they failed to change the basic structure of the country in their twelve years in power.  Morena’s platform offers a departure in ideology, which could prove popular.  For example, they want to improve access to basic public services.  Mexico’s healthcare system is universal, but the quality of care is well below that of the United States and Europe.  There are not many public hospitals, with the majority being reserved for people with private access.  In a country where there is a tremendous amount of poverty, it is necessary to improve access to medical care.  The party also wants free access to education and improved academic standards and quality.  Especially in southern Mexico, the education infrastructure is weak, with only about 45% of students completing high school.  Additionally, only 25% of students go on to complete their studies at a university.  With a sluggish national economy, the country needs more young people with an education to compete in the global economy.  Morena also wants access to the Internet for the entire population as a right of citizenship.  This would again be a sign of modernization and could contribute to Mexico’s economic competitiveness.

But none of these proposals matter if Morena cannot win.  This is the problem that other parties have had throughout Mexico’s long political history.  They could very well have the support of the people, but corruption could lead to electoral fraud.  During the era of PRI domination, the incumbent president selected the candidate of the party, leading to elections that were largely a formality.  This process was called “el dedazo”, which has no direct translation in English but essentially refers to the unilateral selection of the next leader by the incumbent.  With the current President being a member of PRI, there is a level of concern that history could repeat itself.

However, the polls suggest an opportunity for Morena and AMLO.    Enrique Peña Nieto is the most unpopular President in recent history, with an approval rate of 6%.  In an October survey by El Universal, a Mexican new agency, Morena had 24.0% support in the upcoming election.  This polled higher than PAN’s 14.3% and PRI’s 13.9%, the two parties that could realistically pose a threat to Morena.  The creation of alliances, though, can lead to different results, something which has been done a number of times in the past.  Therein lies the danger to Morena and AMLO.  Morena has at this point formed an alliance with the Labor Party (PT), a group that supports socialism and anti-imperialism.  But PT is not a very large party, with no members in the legislature or serving as governor of a state.  AMLO was the PRD’s candidate, but they have formed an alliance with PAN, a right-wing party, and the Citizen’s Movement (MC), a left-wing party.  This alliance is not politically consistent with two parties on the left and a large conservative party.  In what likely amounts to a simply vote-grabbing ploy, the substantially sized PAN and medium-sized PRD combined could defeat Morena and PT.  Besides these two, however, it is crucial to remember that PRI is the dominant party of government.  They will likely create an alliance with the medium-sized Green Ecologist Party of Mexico (PVEM), and two small groups in the New Alliance (PANAL) and Social Encounter Party (PES).  With a new standard-bearer in José Antonio Meade, PRI can be competitive in 2018.  It should be noted that PES is actively considering abandoning its alliance with PRI and joining with Morena, although this likely will not impact the polls in any substantial way.  El Financiero, a Mexican newspaper, published a survey of support for the alliances in November, and the results were closer than a grouping of the individual parties.  Morena-PT had 24% support, PRI-PVEM-PANAL-PES had 22%, and PAN-PRD-MC had 18%.  With 21% who said “none” and 15% who said “I don’t know”, any of the alliances could win in 2018.  But if Morena can detail the corruption and incompetence of PRI and PAN, especially relating to their time governing the country, they could earn the support of the Mexican people.

The political history of Mexico is a long saga of corruption and fraud.  When PAN won in 2000, undoing a decades-long regime, the change that many Mexicans expected did not take place.  Now, Morena and its leader have an opportunity to present a new legacy for Mexico.  With the nationalism and corruption of PRI and PAN, the country has not taken its place as a great power in the international community.  In a new regime, with more access to education, healthcare, and the Internet, Mexicans could develop the economy, the political system, and society that they have craved since 1929.  And, after nearly a century of waiting, the long-lasting “perfect dictatorship” could finally come to an end.

The Debate on Global Gun Policy

 

 Emma Donahue, Staff Writer

  Columbine. Virginia Tech. Sandy Hook. From the years 1996 to 2012, there have been ninety mass shootings in the United States. The runner up is the Philippines, with only eighteen. Recently, we have backtracked rather than progressed with regards to gun policy. In February, President Trump rolled back an Obama-era regulation that was aimed at preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns. Despite being home to less than five percent of the world’s population, we own thirty-five to fifty percent of its civilian owned guns, making us the number one firearm per capita nation. We also have the highest gun homicide and suicide rate, although a Pew study showed that the majority of Americans own a gun for personal protection.

Legislation to ban semiautomatic assault weapons was recently defeated in the senate, in spite of the bill’s popular support in the wake of the Las Vegas and San Antonio shootings. Currently, we have bans on concealed and specific categories of weapons, as well as restrictions on sales to certain groups of people. The Gun Control Act of 1986 prohibited under eighteen year olds, convicted criminals, the mentally disabled, and dishonorably discharged military personnel from buying firearms. In 1993, The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act required those without a gun license to go through a background check before purchasing a gun from a federally authorized dealer. There have also been setbacks, like when the Supreme Court retracted the law that banned handguns in Washington D.C., or when Idaho, Alaska, and Kansas attempted to nullify federal gun legislation.

Many analysts believe that the United States could benefit by modeling our gun policy after certain countries with lower gun-related crime. In Canada, major gun reforms were passed following a school shooting in 1989 where the perpetrator used a semiautomatic rifle. Now, there is a twenty-eight day waiting period for gun purchases, mandatory safety training, more thorough background checks, bans on large capacity magazines, and increased restrictions on military grade weapons and ammunition. Their three categories of firearms include non-restricted (rifles and shotguns, which don’t need to be registered), restricted (handguns, semi automatic rifles and shotguns), and prohibited (automatic weapons). Australia is another prime example of how restrictive policies can decrease violence: since their recent implementation of new gun control laws, there have been declining gun deaths and no mass shootings. Their murder rate due to guns has fallen to one per 100,000, compared to our five per 100,000. Additionally, armed robberies occur half as  frequently there as they do here.

In the United Kingdom, gun control reform was spurred by the Hungerford massacre in 1987. The direct result of this tragic event was the Firearms Amendment Act, which expanded the list of banned weapons and increased registration requirements. The Scotland Dumblane shooting in 1996 lead to the Snowdrop Petition, which was instrumental in pushing legislation to ban handguns and implement a temporary gun buyback. Japan is known for having among the most strict laws, and have a very low gun homicide rate as a result. Most guns are illegal there; under the Firearm and Sword law, the only guns permitted are shotguns, air guns, and specific, situational exceptions which require a series background, drug, and mental health tests. In Germany, any gun purchaser under the age of twenty-five are subject to a psychiatric evaluation that they must pass in order to obtain a firearm. License applicants in Finland can only purchase guns if they can prove that they are an active member in shooting or hunting clubs, pass an aptitude test, a police interview and be in possession of a safe storage unit. Similarly, Italian laws also require purchasers to establish a legitimate reason for their need of a firearm. French applicants for guns must have no record and also pass a background check which takes into account reason for the purchase.

Perhaps the reason we have failed to progress as much as these countries is due to a certain mindset created by forces like the NRA. Supporters of increased gun-rights tend to argue that high rates of ownership don’t directly correlate with the strictness of gun laws. The NRA has been continuously opposing safe storage laws, saying it is pointless to own a gun if you can’t reach it in time to defend yourself. However, only a small amount of victims are able to actually use a gun in their defense. A national crime victimization survey showed that 99.2% of 6 million victims (from the years 2007-2011) involved in non-fatal violent crimes did not protect themselves with a gun. Furthermore, in a study of 198 cases of unwanted entry into family homes in Atlanta, it was found that the invader was twice as likely to obtain the homeowners’ gun than to have it used against him/her. There is also a debate surrounding right to carry laws (RTC), as the NRA has been pushing for a Supreme Court decision that would make this right a matter of the Constitution. But, research conducted at Stanford University found that the thirty three states that have adopted RTC laws between 1979-2014 experience gun-related crime rates fourteen percent higher than if these laws had not been adopted.

So, despite the significant evidence that more restrictive policies (both internationally and domestically) have resulted in less gun violence, it seems that the American mindset towards what we views as a right must shift before any real progress can be made.

The Case for Greenlandic Independence

By Thomas Bell

In the past few weeks, the independence crisis in Spain’s autonomous region of Catalonia has captivated the international community.  A complicated tangle of history, regionalism, constitutional law, and Spanish retaliation to the referendum culminated to create a divisive and complex debate.  Many international observers supported independence, despite low voter turnout, while others emphasized the strength of a united Spain.  It was the first intensive global look into separatism since the Scottish referendum of 2014.

The Catalan issue for many has been a reminder of other separatist movements around the globe.  Most of these are politically and culturally significant, from Taiwan to Texas.  However, one such regional independence movement that does not frequently enter the conversation is Greenland.  It is the world’s largest island, and it is dominated by its imposing glacial ice sheet.  Realistically, however, that fact is all that most people know about the nation.  Articles about Greenland tend to be about climate change, polar bears, or both.  That lack of media attention concerning its political history leaves a complex story undiscovered and unexplored by many.

Greenland has been occupied by native peoples for thousands of years, but the harsh Arctic climate has made settlement largely inconsistent.  Groups migrated from Canada, died out, and were replaced by subsequent individuals.  In fact, for a number of centuries in the first millennium, the island was completely uninhabited.  Europeans eventually reached the island, most famously when Erik the Red sailed from Iceland and established, in the 980s, the first Norse settlement in Greenland, or Grœnland as he called it.  But this group of settlers was also doomed to succumb to the climate: the Norse were gone by 1450.  Eventually, as navigation and technology improved, Greenland became increasingly inhabited by its native Inuit people and was subsequently colonized by Denmark.  Despite a 100 million dollar offer from the United States to buy the island in 1946, it remains Danish territory to this day.

Yet Greenland has a history that suggests that it does not approve of this reality.  It was not until 1951 that Greenlanders received representation in the Danish parliament, something that embittered the island for decades.  In 1979, Greenland took its ambitions a step further, voting for home rule in a critical referendum.  All internal matters from that point on were made in Greenland, with Denmark being responsible for foreign affairs, defense, and constitutional issues.

However, the biggest strides towards independence have come quite recently.  In 2008, Greenland voted on another self-government referendum, which proposed granting the home-rule government control over law enforcement and the courts, as well as the coast guard.  The referendum also included changing the official language from Danish to Kalaallisut, better known simply as Greenlandic in the west.  A staggering 75% of the population supported the measure.  In 2014, the most recent parliamentary elections were held, granting a pro-independence coalition of parties a commanding 26 seats in the 31 member unicameral legislature.  As if more evidence was needed, a 2016 poll showed that 64% of Greenlanders wanted full independence, which tops the support for Catalan independence by nearly 25%.

However, despite the obvious popular support for independence in Greenland, a clean break from Denmark would not be easy.  The principal reasons for this are economic concerns.  According to the United Nations, Greenland had a total nominal gross domestic product of about 2 billion dollars in 2015.  To put that figure into perspective, it is nearly a third smaller than the same figure from Danville, Illinois.  That might be acceptable if the economy was diverse and robust, but the reality is that 94% of Greenlandic exports consist of fish.  A down year or some environmental threat to the marine life would be a complete disaster for the economy, and without Danish support, the results could be catastrophic.  Deeply connected to this situation is the fact that Denmark largely funds the Greenlandic government’s operations as it is, handing a block grant subsidy to the island worth about £400 million every year.  This amount accounts for roughly 55% of the island’s annual state budget.  Though part of the 2008 referendum was to phase out this grant, doing so all at once would leave the new country with a massive deficit, one that Greenland would likely be unable to compensate with its fish exports.  Under current conditions, the country’s quality of life could go down remarkably if independence was immediately granted, and despite widespread support for independence, 78% of Greenlanders oppose it if it means a fall in living standards.

However, there are signs that the Greenlandic economy can change and diversify.  Massive amounts of mineral and oil deposits have been discovered beneath Greenland’s ice sheet or off the coast, representing a new industry that could drastically increase the wealth of the nation.  The new coalition government has allowed for uranium mining, while corporations such as BP and Shell have been granted licenses to explore for oil and gas.  Understandably, environmentalists worldwide have condemned such steps, declaring that it will ruin Greenland’s pristine environment.

Many Greenlanders, however, have a different view.  The simple reality is that climate change will have notable positive effects on the Greenlandic economy, and by extension, the independence movement.  Shrinking ice caps reveal much of the mineral wealth that has been hidden beneath them for so long, and allows for easier offshore drilling.  Fishing hauls have also improved, as warmer oceans drive more fish north towards Greenland’s coasts.  Additionally, rising temperatures will allow for more agricultural opportunities in the country’s south, not to mention a longer tourist season as well.  As one Greenlander puts it, “we are more concerned about the Maldives”.

Greenland occupies a unique position in the international sphere.  As tensions between Arctic states such as the United States, Russia, and Canada become more intense, the island holds a strong foothold in this new arena.  Global warming, heavily denounced at lower latitudes, could open up a myriad of economic possibilities for the nation, creating new jobs and a more diverse economy.  And historically, territories have been let loose with less going for them.  Decades after the collapse of the old imperial system and colonialism, Greenland seems to have become the last vast colony left behind.  While islands across the globe remain under European control, none are so visible as Greenland.  Despite this, it is among the world’s most ignored places, referenced mournfully in climate documentaries, never to be discussed further.  Yet while the world remains engaged and captivated by Catalonia, a region that lacks a simple majority in support of independence, the world’s largest island marches on.  As the economy continues to grow and separatist support intensifies, it will grow increasingly difficult for the Danes to restrain their northern territory, should they decide to crack down as Madrid did last month.  

Pro-independence campaigners have pointed towards the 300th anniversary of Danish colonization, 2021, as a possible goal for separation, meaning that Greenland could vie for statehood in only a few years.  Regardless of the exact date, the world’s biggest colony wants its freedom.  That much has become obvious, with referendums, opinion polls, and parliamentary elections all pointing in the same direction.  It has become a question not of if, but of when?  The question remains of how Greenland will step towards the future as an independent state.  Though it may be years off, it is likely that the world’s newest country will come not from northeastern Spain, but from the farthest reaches of the Arctic.

Same Problem, New Solution: President Nieto’s Approach to Drug Trafficking

By Naveen Krishnan

From the entertainment realm with Netflix’s Narcos to the political stage with Donald Trump’s proposed border wall, the subject of drug trafficking has grown to demand greater attention within public discourse in America. Annually, drug cartels receive around $19 to $29 billion USD in revenue from sales within the United States causing countries in the Americas to grapple with the destruction caused from their violence. Regarding the issue of combating drug trafficking, President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico announced a departure from the policies of his predecessor President Felipe Calderón. As Calderón famously declared war on the cartels in 2006, with a ‘kingpin’ strategy which involved directly targeting the leaders of cartels, Nieto ran on the platform that he aimed to reduce the violence which results from drug trafficking and not engage the cartels directly.

With President Calderón’s initiation of the Mexican Drug War with missions like Operation Michoacán, which deployed federal troops to combat drug cartels, the country suffered approximately 120,000 homicides during his tenure. His efforts resulted in the capture or assassination of twenty-five out of thirty-seven of the top drug leaders within Mexico while the carnage extended into the civilian sphere as nearly one hundred current and former mayors were targeted in cartel violence. The uptake in kidnappings, murders, and general violence due to drug trafficking caused many within the Mexican political spectrum to look for new alternatives to the current policy against the cartels. With the sharp increase in the homicide and no end in sight to the current cycles of violence, the political climate turned to Nieto who advocated an indirect approach to the cartels.

Nieto’s term has brought about a gradual decrease in the homicide rate, (with a recent uptake in 2016 which some individuals attribute to territorial conflict due to Guzman’s recapture by authorities), despite seeing numerous large cases such as the disappearance and presumed murder of forty three college students in 2014. Furthermore, in June 2017 Nieto legalized medical marijuana through a decree with support from the Senate and Lower House of Congress. With regards to other criminal legislation surrounding drugs, Nieto announced efforts to increase the number of grams of drugs in an individual’s possession which would warrant prosecution.

However critics have quickly pointed out that extrajudicial killings by Mexican forces still present a major problem. Yet Nieto has maintained that his hardline strategy was successful and indicates that there will be little change in the future. The capture of “El Chapo” and his subsequent extradition to US authorities has boosted Nieto’s perceived clout within the realm of drug trafficking as he has maintained strict stances on Trump’s proposed border wall and other issues, holding opposition to US military involvement in Mexico with regards to combating drug trafficking. While the demand of drugs in the United States continues to draw from south of the border, there is no immediate end in sight to the violence within Mexico as the world awaits to see how President Nieto will navigate his country into the future.

A Problem Like Maria

By Anne Hicks

Just two weeks after Hurricane Irma, Puerto Rico was struck by Hurricane Maria, a smaller yet significantly more devastating storm. The destruction of the island, in the wake of Maria’s massive winds and heavy rains has overwhelmed the city’s infrastructure and caused significant damage to the environment and raised concern over the accurate portrayal of death tolls in the aftermath of disaster.

While Irma was a powerful Category 5 hurricane, it passed West and did not directly hit the island of Puerto Rico. Maria, on the other hand, although categorized as a smaller category four hurricane, proved more devastating than Irma because it passed straight over the island and hit at its most intense moment. After Irma, one million Puerto Ricans were left without power. By the time Maria hit on September 20th, thirteen days after Irma, 60,000 of those one million people were still without power. Now, in early October, many of the 3.4 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are still missing power. According to a statement made by the Department of Defense on October 11th, three weeks after Maria, only 16% of the population has electricity. Unfortunately, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority suspects that an outage at a Puerto Rican nuclear plant may have decreased that number to 10%. Maria’s 150 mph winds have destroyed the island’s infrastructure and rendered the people powerless, waterless, and with limited fuel and access to communication services. Without electricity, it is impossible for water to be pumped into homes for drinking, bathing, and flushing toilets. Access to clean and fresh water has become a predominant problem. Because the energy system on the island was already poorly established, the storm destroyed an estimated 80% of the island’s power lines and it is projected to take from four to six months to restore power. It is understood that the implications of such prolonged power loss are many for a hot, tropical climate that will be left without air conditioning or electric water pumps, hospitals running on generators and limited fuel, and for anyone attempting to leave the territory.

All of the infrastructures on the island has been shocked. Because the main dam was structurally damaged in the storm, water supply became immediately threatened. Without electricity, generators on the island are relying on gas and a shortage of fuel and difficulty distributing fuel has become a major concern of officials and residents. As previously mentioned, the poor management of the government-owned power company has complicated the reconstruction of connection to power lines. It is approximated that 80% of the “transmission and distribution infrastructure” has been lost. Further complicating the mess, the fact that Puerto Rico is an island has made it extremely difficult to deliver relief. In response to the limited operation of hospitals, the U.S. Navy brought its floating hospital, the USNS Comfort, to Puerto Rico last week.

In addition to massively damaging the territory’s infrastructure, Hurricane Maria destroyed much of El Yunque, the only tropical forest in the U.S. and one of the island’s main tourist attractions, bringing in 1.2 million visitors each year. The overwhelming defoliation of the forest poses risks not only for the animals who inhabit the forest but for the people who rely on the health of the ecosystem to direct the water. Research suggests that 20% of the water used for drinking on the island comes from the capturing of water by plants in these forests which direct the water towards streams and rivers. The efficiency of this process is now at risk, especially considering the destruction of tree mosses like Bryophytes that used to help collect water that is drained into rivers. Animals who made their habitats in the forest, especially birds and bats, will face a long battle to establish new homes and sources of food. Although much of the forest vegetation has been decimated, the pre-established biodiversity of the forest is suspected to aid in the recovery of the ecosystem over time.

An emerging concern in the wake of Hurricane Maria is over the reported death toll and how that number might vary across sources.  How fatality counts are decided, and when certain deaths are deemed directly related to the hurricane have become topics of debate. The cause of death is left to be determined by the individual’s coroner or doctor, making many deaths that have resulted from the hurricane instead labeled as the result of other contributing health factors. The way a death is interpreted, then, is often open to a variety of conclusions. This grey area is perpetuated further by the infrastructural incapacity to accurately count death tolls, the hesitance of families of illegal immigrants to report deaths, and the politics behind the numbers reported. President Trump, for example, made a point of comparing the low death toll in Puerto Rico to that of Hurricane Katrina in order to defend the administration’s response to disaster relief efforts. In a developing country, on the other hand, the death toll may be dramatized to muster more support and donations for relief efforts. Regardless of the motivation, it is clear that death tolls for this disaster and disasters to come may never be truly telling of the actual situation on the ground.

Hurricane Maria has devastated the people of the island of Puerto Rico, leaving in its wake the destruction of the territory’s infrastructure and environment, as well as raising questions about the ability of any government to report death tolls accurately after a disaster has occurred. As the territory begins to rebuild, it will be important to continue to support Puerto Ricansand the environment that they call home.

The Populist Epidemic and 2017 Elections

By Isabelle Sagraves

In the past few years, political populism has been on the rise. Yet this is a difficult trend to quantify, since the term “populism” can represent a myriad of different policies and agendas.  The term itself dates to the 1890s, when the American Populist party championed the interests of the rural masses against the urban Republican Party. Since then, it has been applied to almost any political movement that is “popular” and therefore motivates the masses, yet the term is infinitely more complex than this. Cas Mudde defines populism as a “’thin ideology’, one that merely sets up a framework: that of a pure people versus a corrupt elite.” This term can then intersect with other, perhaps clearer ideologies, such as capitalism, socialism, nationalism etc. Considering populism in this light, it is evident that this “us-versus-them” narrative has exploded across the political scene in recent years, from Trump’s election in the United States to the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the E.U. (referred to as “Brexit” in this article). 2017 is an extremely important year in European politics due to the high number of elections occurring, and so this paper attempts to understand and evaluate the increase in nationalist populism and how it might affect the European political arena during and after these elections.

Why is populism so popular?

Several current issues have served to sharply divide politics in Europe, most notably the waves of immigration coming into the continent. This is coupled with underlying economic problems kick-started by the 2008 recession: in 2010, the IMF documented that workers were paid less for more work, as wage increases (1.2%) failed to stay on par with rising prices (6.5%). This economic stress has contributed to a diminished European quality of life, with 37.5% of Europeans reporting “low satisfaction with their material living conditions.” These economic conditions, that have clearly existed since the early 2010s, have since been compounded by the influx of immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East as a result of the various political crises and violence that have taken place there. As European nationals have experienced this economic downturn, they have also seen a huge increase in immigration, which provides them with an easy scapegoat. While the immigration and border control problems are very real and very complex, the anti-immigration sentiment has contributed to the rise of a nationalist populism as defined by Mudde: the “rightful” European natives have been stripped of their success by the immigrants arriving in their nations. From Farage in the U.K. to Wilders in the Netherlands to Le Pen in France, populist leaders have cultivated this “thin ideology” on the basis of anti-immigration and anti-European Union policies, both of which stem from dissatisfaction with the current quality of life and the nationalist resentment that accompanies it.

The Manifesto

In Time Magazine’s article entitled “Europe’s Populist Revolt”, Simon Shuster writes: “For more than a generation, the Western elites settled into a consensus on most major issues – from the benefits of free trade and immigration to the need for marriage equality. Their uniformity on these basic questions consigned dissenters to the political fringe – further aggravating the sense of grievance that now threatens the mainstream.” These dissenters have traction now, and have bounced back from the fringe in full force, riding the wave of nationalist populism as well as an anti-establishment sentiment that accompanies it. But what do most of these movements have in common in terms of policy? Most support removal from the European Union – which makes sense, since most are against the lax immigration laws under the Schengen Treaty. Strict immigration laws are present in almost every platform. Most are decidedly anti-Muslim and support deportation policies, spurred on by a majority of Muslim immigrants from Syria and the Middle East as well as ISIS terrorist attacks in Paris, Normandy and Brussels.  Most candidates, such as Nigel Farage of U.K.I.P, also tend to be far right economically, and support low taxes and a cutback in government spending. Along with these policies, the populist candidates utilize nationalist rhetoric to garner support for their campaigns: Marine Le Pen of France has promised to return France to greatness, claiming she will make it “nothing like you have seen in the last 30 years.” This nostalgic nationalism has struck a chord with populations that also feel threatened by the ethnic diversity that accompanies immigration.

First Steps: “Brexit”

The first victory for nationalist populism in Europe came with Britain’s 2016 decision to “Leave” the European Union, a policy rejected by its Prime Minister of the time, David Cameron. In a move that was decidedly anti-establishment, the nation rejected the E.U. and all of its benefits, citing immigration and economic imbalances as the key reasons to leave. Nigel Farage and the United Kingdom Independence Party spearheaded the Leave campaign: Farage has been campaigning for seventeen years for the United Kingdom to leave the E.U., and is now convinced that “the European project is finished.”

The United Kingdom, however, has always enjoyed a ‘special relationship’ with the European Union, as it has not adopted the Euro and is separated from the continent by the Channel. Interestingly, British nationalist nostalgia often points to World War Two, in “its Darkest Hour, standing alone as the British Empire against Nazi Germany in 1940-41,” which “informs a modern view of the U.K. as it’s own best friend.” Since British nationalism so clearly leans towards isolationism, the rise of nationalist populism as a way to “Leave” the European Union was clearly successful. Yet Farage does not hold executive office in the United Kingdom, and the more moderate Conservative Theresa May (who supported “Remain”) is expected to steer the nation away from xenophobic rhetoric during her term as Prime Minister.

“Failure” of Populism in the Netherlands

In March 2017, Europe saw another test of the populist movement, as demonstrated by Geert Wilders and the Party for Freedom (PVV) in the Netherlands. Wilders gained fame for “Fitna”, a film that placed footage of terrorist attacks alongside verses of the Quran – a provocative move that gained him fame in 2008. His campaign rested on many of the characteristic policies of the nationalist populist parties, such as “de-Islamization”, which includes “no Islamic headscarves”, “preventive detention of radical Muslims”, and a mandate to “close all mosques and Islamic schools and ban the Koran.” He also advocated for lower income taxes and for the Netherlands to leave the European Union.

On March 14th, incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s party, the VVD, gained the majority of seats at 33 of the 150 seats, while Wilders won 20 seats. With the necessity for a coalition in the proportional parliamentary system, Wilders’ policies are not going to be enacted; yet the PVV did gain five seats and Wilders has pledged that the Dutch Prime Minister has not seen the last of him.

Many have heralded Wilders’ loss as an optimistic defeat for the populist movements. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany commented, “I was very glad, and I think many people are, that a high turnout led to a very pro-European result,” while European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker claimed that the Dutch people voted for “free and tolerant societies in a prosperous Europe.” However, Mabel Berezin, a professor at Cornell University, diminished this victory: “Wilders does not represent a populist wave… how his party fares does not tell us much about European populism. The real bellwether election will be Marine Le Pen’s quest for the French presidency, starting April 23.” While Wilders’ defeat halts the pattern of populist victories in Britain and the United States, it does not ensure the subsequent defeat of other parties in the upcoming elections.

What’s Next: France and Germany

Marine Le Pen, 2017 candidate for the populist National Front in France, has stated: “I think the British, with the Brexit, then the Americans, with the election of Donald Trump, did that,” she tells TIME. “They made possible the impossible.” After Wilders’ defeat, one is left asking whether the rest of Europe will follow the Dutch or the British. Since each populist movement is decidedly nationalistic, this very much may depend on the country and the fervor of its individual nationalist tendencies.

Marine Le Pen is France’s populist candidate, and as of March 1st, was winning by several percentage points in opinion polls. She is challenged by center-right candidate Francois Fillon and centrist Emmanuel Macron; incumbent Francois Hollande has declined to run for another term. Le Pen’s platform includes a dramatic slash in legal immigration quotas from 200,000 to 10,000, as well as independence from the European Union (including the Schengen Treaty), mass-rearmament in military and police forces, and a ban on fundamentalist Islamic groups. France is an important player in the European Union as one of the more economically prosperous regions; however, it has also been the site of several serious terrorist attacks credited to ISIS, which has motivated much anti-immigration and anti-Muslim sentiment. For France, then, Le Pen may have a serious chance at victory.

Germany, the other major upcoming election in 2017, has a much less strong populist movement, but recent developments in Europe could signal policy changes within the major centrist parties that are more in line with other nations’ nationalist views. Incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel will re-run with the Christian Democratic Party, and is expected to maintain the majority in September, although she is predicted to revise her ‘open door’ immigration policy soon. 42% of Germans want a referendum on E.U. membership. Germany’s far right party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party has struggled to maintain early support after their leader, Björn Höcke, implied that the Berlin Holocaust memorial was a “monument of shame.” This perhaps highlights the nuanced differences between nationalism in other nations such as France and Germany: for Germany, a nostalgic view of right wing nationalist pride cannot help but to evoke the painful history of Nazism – a past that Germany does not want to repeat. Although many in Germany may pressure Merkel and the other center and left-of-center candidates to crack down on immigration issues, it seems unlikely that a nationalist populist party will spring forward in the upcoming Germany election.

Regarding the 2015 referendum for Scottish independence, David Cameron remarked: “We’ve heard the noise of the nationalist few, but now it is time for the voices of the silent majority to be heard.” This “silent majority” of moderates may or may not exist – and it may exist in different numbers depending on the country – but they are the focus of speculation in the lead-up to this year’s elections, particularly in France and Germany. The populist movements are the media’s top stories, perhaps hiding a group of moderate voters who will make their voices heard come Election Day.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the rise of populist parties in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands and many more nations (such as Italy and Hungary, which are outside the scope of this paper), have threatened to drastically alter the European political landscape as they campaign on nationalistic and anti-immigration platforms. The European Union itself may be called into question as one or more of these nations vote to leave, thus making the Union less and less effective: it is a system that relies on unified cooperation in order to thrive. Additionally, the early policies of Trump administration, and the international evaluation of its success in the coming months, may also affect the outcomes of these various elections. Although the populist movements have very similar policies, their nationalist element – which, by definition is unique to each nation – makes the future of each European election difficult to predict and almost impossible to compare. We must wait to see whether Cameron’s “silent moderate majority” will make its voice heard – if it is even a majority at all.

References

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[iv] Pelz, William A. Europe Falls into the Twenty-First Century to A People’s History of Modern Europe, 215. N.p.: Pluto Press, 2016.

[v] Pelz, William A. Europe Falls into the Twenty-First Century to A People’s History of Modern Europe, 216. N.p.: Pluto Press, 2016.

[vi] Shuster, Simon. “The Populists: Europe’s Populist Revolt.” Time. Accessed March 19, 2017. http://time.com/time-person-of-the-year-populism/.

[vii] “UKIP Manifesto Summary.” UKIP. Last modified April 25, 2015. Accessed March 19, 2017. http://www.ukip.org/ukip_manifesto_summary.

[viii] CNN Staff. “How Populism Could Shake up Europe: A Visual Guide.” CNN World. Last modified December 4, 2016. Accessed March 19, 2017. http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/03/europe/populism-in-europe-visual-guide/.

[ix] Shuster, Simon. “The Populists: Europe’s Populist Revolt.” Time. Accessed March 19, 2017. http://time.com/time-person-of-the-year-populism/.

[x] Wilson, Sam. “Britain and the EU: A Long and Rocky Relationship.” BBC News. Last modified April 1, 2014. Accessed March 19, 2017. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-26515129.

[xi] PVV. “Preliminary Election Program PVV 2017.” Geert Wilders Weblog. Last modified August 26, 2016. Accessed March 19, 2017. http://www.geertwilders.nl/94-english/2007-preliminary-election-program-pvv-2017-2021.

[xii] PVV. “Preliminary Election Program PVV 2017.” Geert Wilders Weblog. Last modified August 26, 2016. Accessed March 19, 2017. http://www.geertwilders.nl/94-english/2007-preliminary-election-program-pvv-2017-2021.

[xiii] Holligan, Anna. “Dutch Election: Voters Return a New Reality.” BBC. Last modified March 16, 2017. Accessed March 19, 2017. http://www.bbc.com/news/topics/ 4e793c8f-8927-4e00-a7e5-3bed964303d3/dutch-general-election-2017&link_location=live-reporting-story.

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[xv]Graham, Chris. “Who won the Dutch election and what does it mean for Geert Wilders and the far-Right in the Netherlands and Europe?” The Telegraph. Last modified March 16, 2017. Accessed March 19, 2017. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/03/16/won-dutch-election-does-mean-geert-wilders-far-right-netherlands/.

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[xviii] Le Pen, Marine. “114 Engagements Présidentiels” [114 Presidential Commitments]. Accessed March 19, 2017. https://www.marine2017.fr/programme/.

[xix] Joffe, Josef. “Angela Merkel Faces Criticism for Germany’s Open-Door Migrant Policy.” Interview by Linda Wertheimer. NPR. Last modified December 24, 2016. Accessed March 19, 2017. http://www.npr.org/2016/12/24/506817226/amid-reelection-angela-merkel-faces-criticism-for-germanys-open-door-migrant-pol.

[xx] Shuster, Simon. “The Populists: Europe’s Populist Revolt.” Time. Accessed March 19, 2017. http://time.com/time-person-of-the-year-populism/.

[xxi] Kroet, Cynthia. “German Far-Right AfD Slumps in New Poll.” Politico. Last modified February 22, 2017. Accessed March 19, 2017. http://www.politico.eu/article/german-far-right-afd-slumps-in-new-elections-poll-merkel-leads/.

[xxii] Flamini, Roland. “European Disunion: Cameron, the EU, and the Scots.” World Affairs 117, no. 3 (September/October 2014): 14.

Celebrating 150 Years of Canada

One staff writer reflects on Canada’s history during Canada Day festivities 

By Javan Latson

July 1st marked a very important milestone in Canadian history, the 150th anniversary of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Canada becoming a confederation. Every year, millions of Canadians gather in towns and cities to celebrate this anniversary, now commonly called Canada Day. The signing of the North America Act in 1867 put the then British colony on the path to becoming the prosperous nation that it is today. This piece of legislation not only created Canada as a nation, but also gave Canadians greater control over their internal affairs, although it was not until 1982 that Canada became fully independent from England.

Although a relatively young nation, a lot of change has happened in Canada in the past century and a half. Once a colony, Canada is now one of the world’s most successful countries and is ranked 10th on the United Nation’s Human Development Index. Thousands of brave Canadians fought and died alongside American soldiers in the First and Second World Wars, playing their part to help combat fascism and totalitarianism. When the world was anticipating a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union, Canada was one of the founding members of NATO in order to preserve peace. As nations around the globe descended into civil war and anarchy, the Canadian Government ended nearly a century of racially discriminatory entrance requirements with the passage of the Immigration Act in 1976. Ending years of quotas and exclusionary policies, this law opened the gate for non-Western Europeans to enter the country. Hungarians fleeing communism, Iranians escaping the Ayatollah, and Chileans seeking freedom from Pinochet found refuge on Canadian soil. The Immigration Act and the subsequent revisions have helped the lives of thousands and have transformed Canadian society into the diverse and pluralistic country that exists today.

This is not to say that the nation has been without problems. Canada’s history with its indigenous population is shameful and the relationship between the government and the First Nations is still rocky. A legacy of discrimination, land theft, and boarding schools has caused many aboriginals to associate Canada Day with white supremacy and injustice. Things have been only slightly better with the French population over the issue of sovereignty and the place of the French language in society. During the 1970s, things had gotten so bad that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had to enact martial law in Quebec following the murder of a government official by Quebecois separatists. Today, there is less unrest, and with the passage of the Multicultural Act of 1971, the Canadian government has officially recognized French as one of its two official languages.

I had the privilege to witness the Canada Day celebrations this year in the Canadian capital of Ottawa during a mission trip with friends it was truly remarkable. It was a vibrant display of the history and culture of the young nation, with the pomp of a formal event. Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, were there, along with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to celebrate the occasion. Millions of people descended upon Parliament hill to hear speeches, eat food, and enjoy live performances from U2, Alessia Cara, and Ruth B. While there I asked friends two questions: What does it mean to be a Canadian, and what makes Canada great?

I was told that to be a Canadian means, “being one in diversity in a land of diversity” while another told me being Canadian is “being a friendly citizen who is respectful of differences others might have.” In a time when nations are more divided more than ever, the common theme that I noticed in my conversations and in the festivities, was the importance of community. Whether someone is West Indian, Sikh, Quebecois, English, or Inuit, they are all Canadian and that diversity is something that many people take pride in. Although not without its problems, Canada shows that successful and diverse societies are possible if people have respect for one another. One of my friends told me that Canada is often referred to as a, “tossed salad” and this is an accurate statement. For my second question, the responses were more varied with some saying free universal healthcare, low crime rates, and beautiful landscapes are what make the country great. However, there was one person whose answer really stood out. She told me that she loved Canada’s “humble attitude” and the “friendly smiles and welcomes you’ll get from our fellow Canadians, and that Canada will be sure to make you feel at home.”

What makes Canada stand out as a nation? Is it its wealth, the Charter of Rights of Freedoms, poutine, or free healthcare? Yes all of these things are key things that many Canadians love and enjoy. However after 150 years the one thing that truly makes Canada great is the people whose efforts have helped build a successful and vibrant society.

The Women’s Movement Voices in South America

By Victoria Herring

Women around the world rallied together on March 8th to celebrate International Women’s Day. The celebration turned into both a triumphant and somber note, as women went on strike, left their jobs early and took to the streets to protest the ominous wage gap, among other issues the movement fights to eradicate. This particular day was indeed one of the most highly charged and political of its kind in recent history; the changing of hands in many political systems has urged both men and women to speak out against problems that affect the lives of millions of women worldwide, including both workplace and reproductive rights. This day marked the second major event of the women’s movement after the international marches on January 21st. Titled “The Day Without Women”, its purpose was to bring light to the inequalities faced by females on a global scale.

This past week, South America’s turbulent political climate became once again surrounded by tumultuous protests crowding their busy avenues. This time, the “manifestations,” as they are known to be called, were not concerning the government but were concerning the rights of women and protesting the increase of violence against women that has become prevalent in recent years. Although some South American countries were among the first to welcome women presidents and prime ministers, inequality nonetheless prevails in various aspects of life. Domestic violence and femicide, particularly among romantic partners, is an epidemic in Latin America. Between January and October of 2015, 223 women died as a result of gender-based violence in Argentina, according to La Casa del Encuentro. Since 2008, there have been over 2,224 reported cases of femicide in the country. The particularly large number of attacks on females at the hands of men inspired the hashtag #NiUnaMenos, meaning “not one less”. The inspiration for the hashtag arose from Mexican poet and activist Susana Chávez, who was murdered in 2011 and was known for her advocacy against gender-based violence, primarily femicide, in Mexico’s Ciudad Juárez.

Brazil was the only BRIC country – an acronym representing Brazil, Russia, India and China, referring to economically burgeoning and promising countries – to have a woman president. Unfortunately, Dilma Rousseff was impeached in May due to charges of money laundering and corruption and was replaced by her Vice President, Michel Temer. This example of poor leadership dealt a blow to the women’s rights movement, who heralded Rousseff as the quintessential example of feminine leadership in a country who needed reparations, both politically and economically. Brazil has recently erupted in these protests after comments made by Temer in his own International Women’s Day speech: he praised women for their ability to compare supermarket prices, and went on to thank his wife, Marcela, and other Brazilian women, for everything they do “in the house, in the home and for their children”. The leader has also come under fire for abolishing the ministry of women, racial equality and human rights shortly after becoming coming to power and for appointing an all-male cabinet. Two of the 28 cabinet positions were then given to women after large protests. While Brazil is in its largest recession in recent history for the second consecutive year with a GDP drop of 3.3%, it is projected that Temer’s economic plan will disproportionately and negatively impact women.

Globally, 35% of women have experience physical and/or sexual violence in their life, according to the World Health Organization — and for 30% it was at the hands of their partner. This problem was exacerbated in Brazil, when in 2005 domestic violence was not considered a crime. The Maria de Penha Law passed in 2006  finally condemned domestic violence as crime. Nonetheless, today, a staggering 88.5% of women in Brazil have experienced violence; 15 women are murdered every day. In response, movements in South American countries, like that in Argentina – Ni Una Menos – have urged their governments to increase protection for the defense of women. Ni Una Menos calls for “a collective cry against machista violence,” and has spearheaded the effort of the Argentine Supreme Court to create a femicide registry. Organizations like Amnesty International and Vital Voices have joined local efforts in South America to educate young girls and to cultivate a culture of peace. Over 5,000 people have participated in their workshops, and some have even taken place outside of Brazil, furthering the case for women – not as victims but as fighters.

Research indicates that feminist mobilization in society is a catalyst for change, and not initiatives taken by governments (especially since these are largely nonexistent). What type of women’s movement is most conducive to policy changes? How large of a scale must they be in order to herald the attention of lawmakers? Although it is disheartening that governments cannot mediate this problem on their own, this research gives the women’s movement hope that the protests, assemblies and conventions do in fact serve to light the spark of changing times for females.

Mexico, Syria, and the Executive Order

By Victoria Herring

President Trump signed an executive order on January 27, 2016 that banned immigrants from seven primarily Muslim countries in order to keep out “radical Islamic terrorists”: Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya and Yemen. Citizens of these countries were banned from entering the U.S. for ninety days, and authorities were ordered to reject Syrian refugees from opening new visa applications. The order also set the quota for all other entering refugees at 50,000 – a drastic difference from the Obama’s administration’s 85,000 limit. A variety of reactions ensued from the general public – intense criticism and protests along with applause for this new law’s promise of protecting the American ‘homeland.’ Yet critics noted the apparent paradox with the seven-country ban: no person from any of those countries have killed any American in the U.S. since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Chaos reigned in airports where families were detained with no clear instructions for next steps. Dual citizens and green card holders were also detained, while large crowds of protesters accumulated in the vicinity of major international airports. Simultaneously, three federal judges questioned the constitutionality of the order, prompting the president to threaten to challenge the judges at the Supreme Court.

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Above is a map detailing the entry of Syrian refugees primarily in the year 2016. They are concentrated in four states, similar to the pattern with the total number of refugees: 10 states accepted 54% of them, demonstrating that the burden of immigrants is not equally spread out and that border states take the greater responsibility, which affects their economies and workforces significantly. If the weight were to be distributed, perhaps greater immigration numbers could in fact be a more feasible. The influx of Syrian refugees due to extreme turmoil in Syria was up 675% in 2016 as compared to the previous year.

After much confusion, a revised executive order has been proposed. What exactly does it entail, and how has it changed from the original? How will its novelty and controversial regulations affect the lives of millions of immigrants attempting to leave Syria, as well as those in foreign countries who are in the process of applying for Visas?

The new executive order is yet to be approved by the president, but its memos have been signed by John F. Kelly, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. This new order exempts travelers who already have a visa to travel to the U.S., even if they have not used it yet. The White House also said that green-card holders and dual citizens of the United States, and any of the seven targeted countries, are exempt. Nonetheless, the refugee problem in Syria is at a point of crushing immediacy and requires immediate attention.

The Syrian civil war is now in its sixth brutal year. United Nations emergency relief coordinator Stephen O’Brian describes it as “a slaughterhouse, a complete meltdown of humanity, the apex of horror”. This tragic war has killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced more than 11 million Syrians from their cities. Children are unfortunately the most drastically affected, as they lose parents, family members and friends. The physical and psychological ramifications of the violence they have observed will undoubtedly manifest itself in coming years. These young Syrians have also fallen years behind in school hampering their already fragile educational efforts. Most Syrian refugees remain in the Middle East, in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. Slightly more than 10 percent of them have left Europe, the majority of these seeking peace in the United States.

The embattled city of Aleppo became well known across the globe when the picture of a young boy salvaged from the remnants of his bombed house went viral on social media.

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While only ten percent of Syrian refugees seek shelter in America, this number still constitutes over one million people. With the Trumps administration’s cap of 50,000 immigrants, and blocking the entry of Syrians, the situation will undoubtedly grow worse. Peace talks have been underway since 2015, with both the rebels and the government struggling to maintain ceasefire and in the process destroying much of an innocent population.

Syria is not the only country to be drastically affected by Trump’s executive order. Millions of Mexican immigrants face the possibility of deportation, as the recently reported memos highlight an increase in the discretion of immigration authorities among previously unharmed groups. required While the Obama administration focused mostly on criminals, Trump executive order will rescind these regulations and seek out many types of undocumented people. Although he will not seek to deport Dreamers – individuals in the U.S. who were brought to the country at an early age without documentation but have assimilated to U.S. culture – parents of these young children along with their families face a fearful directive.

The contested story of Guadalupe is a tragic yet bold example of the danger faced by many people who are currently stateless – they do not have papers from the country in which they were born and remain undocumented in the United States. Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, 36, was deported to Nogales, Mexico on February 16th, 2017,  according to her attorney, Ray Ybarra Maldonado. A mother of two, she came to Arizona at age 14 and lived in the US illegally for 22 years, until the Trump administrations placed priority on any immigrant with a criminal record. She was convicted in 2009 of felony identity theft in a workplace raid for using a fake social security number, and thus was placed on the priority list for deportation.

The consequences for the economies of states where illegal immigrants constitute a large part of their workforce – like California, New Mexico and Arizona – could be detrimental to the nation’s GDP. A Mexican movement dubbed #AdiosProductosGringos on twitter soon received national attention last week to boycott American brands in Mexico, such as Starbucks and Walmart. Unfortunately, these corporations are staffed in Mexico by Mexicans, which would harm their own employment rate. These ramifications will continue if Trump signs the proposed executive order, and if authorities have clear directions on how to carry out protocol. While displaced immigrants in countries like Syria and Somalia, and fleeing immigrants in Mexico, await an action from the White House, the future of millions of people remains uncertain.

Peace Deals and Populism in Colombia

By Adithya Sivakumar

2016, regardless of its flaws, was a reactionary year. However, the interesting component of decisions made throughout this cycle has been that populism, not necessarily politicians, have fueled these choices. From Trump to Brexit, voters have signalled a wakeup call to the establishment, letting them know their voices are loud and present. Colombia, a nation in the upper region of South America, was one of the countries to fall victim to the incendiary political forces of this wild year, where a peace deal between the country and an rebel group was put up to the scrutiny of the nation’s voters, leading to a surprising result.

Created in response to perceived government neglect, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was first a group that protected rural communities from government attacks, but soon developed into a group that participated in kidnapping and drug trafficking to pay for their expenses. Despite a peace deal in the 1980’s, conflict between the government and FARC continued, with major crackdowns by the government and renewed attacks by the group leading to further violence. After years of war between the Colombian government and FARC, both sides finally sat down and hammered out a peace agreement earlier this year, under the watchful eyes of various other countries and organizations, including the Roman Catholic Church and Cuba.

For the peace agreement to be put into effect, however, the Colombian people needed to ratify it. In Colombia, just like other nations around the globe, a choice with wide-ranging implications was to be made by its population.To an outsider, the decision may seem simple. Peace seems the safest way to proceed, and could heal the divide caused by years of war. It seems like a no-brainer, right?

The Colombian people, however, did not think so.

In a decision that shocked the world, the peace deal was rejected in a razor-thin margin, with 50.2% saying “No” to ratifying the peace deal. Despite backing from the Prime Minister of Colombia and various members of the United Nations, the deal failed to be enacted by less than 54,000 votes. The voting turnout was low, which may have contributed to the decision, but many were confused as to why this rejection had occurred in the first place. Were those who voted against the deal less willing to compromise with FARC, or less affected by the conflict than those who voted yes to the deal? Or, as seen with Brexit and Trump’s win in the United States, was this simply a rejection of the establishment’s position on a certain position?

Turns out, it was a mixture of some of these factors. Many who voted “no” did not necessarily reject peace, but rather rejected some of the terms laid out in the deal, which were viewed as too lenient in some views. For example, provisions that allowed those who confessed to war crimes more lenient sentences and gave a monthly stipend to demobilized rebels were seen as too much for some citizens. Additionally, these voters may have been distrustful of FARC due to its violation of ceasefires in the past. Alvaro Uribe, the primary opponent of the peace deal and also a President of Colombia during a crackdown on FARC, insisted that he wanted peace, but wanted, among other stipulations, that those convicted of crimes were to be barred from political office and FARC leaders spend time in prison.

However, unlike many populist movements around the world, the decision in Colombia was unique in that it demonstrated a urban-rural divide in terms of the vote. Urban areas, which had been shielded by the conflict, primarily voted no, while rural areas, who were experiencing the brunt of the conflict, voted yes. Therefore, the vote did not seem strictly defined by populist sentiment, but rather various other factors that may in fact indicate an elitist sentiment among those who voted no.
With these factors in mind, both the Colombian government and FARC sat back down at the negotiating table to create another settlement, one that would take the concerns of the voters into consideration. More severe restrictions were imposed on rebel movements, while rebels would also be required to reveal drug-trafficking routes to the government. After these changes were sown into the deal, the Colombian Congress approved the deal unanimously, bypassing the will of the voters and leading to a new peace in the Colombian nation. Although the deal was approved, the nation will have to deal with the lasting after-effects from the war, in which more than 260,000 have died, at 79,000 have gone missing, 30,000 have been kidnapped, and 7 million have been displaced. The new outcome gives a wider berth for hope in Colombia’s future, and it is up to the government, FARC, and the people of Colombia to actively participate in the next steps of the reconciliation process in the region’s longest-running conflict.