The Loudest Region

Maria Camila Garcia, Johns Hopkins Foreign Affairs Review

There are many factors that contribute to the connection amongst Latin American countries: a similar culture, a strong passion for celebration, a love for soccer, essentially equal religious beliefs and a shared painful history of subjugation. However, in the past year, another aspect of these nations has become even more characteristic: massive movements that embody an enormous feeling of dissatisfaction, fear and anger resulting from inefficient governments and unfair policies.

One of the most broadcasted protests took place in Puerto Rico this past summer. United to demand a resignation from the governor, over 1 million citizens walked the streets San Juan, the capital, carrying signs with evidence of the inappropriate behavior of their public official.[1] Throughout 7 days of manifestations, arguably more, the population argued that the amount of debt due to corruption, the lack of support to the victims of hurricane Maria, and misogynistic, racist, and homophobic comments were only some of the many economic, social and political reasons why a change of leadership was necessary.[2] The outcome of this protest was in a way successful, as the governor resigned and the wishes of the people were met, however, the negative effects of his administration are ongoing. Another protest that, sadly, did not resonate globally, took place in Panama this past October. The main purpose of this movement was to reject constitutional reforms that promote discrimination, facilitate corruption and lessen punitive measures against dishonest government officials.[3] After 2 days of public rallies, the protest ended due to increasing violence from the police and army, who fired several shots at citizens part of the movement.[4] Additionally, the outcome wasn’t favorable for those unsatisfied with the government, as no change was made to the legislation or administration of Panama. Despite the clear differences between these two Latin American movements, one thing is clear; government structures in this region are unable to satisfy the needs of its population, forcing citizens to use different tools to demand and enact change, such as protests and media coverage.

As a matter of fact, in this very moment, 3 other nations are facing similar situations: citizens are collectively fighting for economic, political and social changes within their territories. In Chile, protests have received enormous attention. What sparked the demonstration was a series of actions taken by the government to raise the prices of public transportation and other basic needs such as living and public health.[5] Inequity is worsening and prompt action is necessary for the well-being of thousands, especially those with the lowest monetary incomes.[6] Despite it being an ongoing movement, Chilean protests have already achieved positive outcomes: the Congress and Senate agreed to start the process of making amendments to the constitution, which hasn’t been changed since 1980.[7] The revolution in Bolivia started on the night of October 20th and is still present by the means of peaceful marches, along with other forms of protest. According to the citizens of this nation, the results of the presidential elections that took place that same day were fraudulent and manipulated in favor of Evo Morales, a president whose time in office has surpassed a dozen years.[8] After the first 20 days of enormous protests, the population managed to force the president, Vice President, the president of the Senate, among others, to resign and called for new elections.[9] On another note, Colombia has officially reached the 5th day of its national protest, that began the 21st of November as a way to demonstrate an overall discontent for the president, Ivan Duque, whose measures haven’t been able to target or ameliorate the corruption and inequity that are very present in the country.[10] What started as a peaceful movement has recently turned into a dangerous and violent confrontation between public official and protesters, specially after the tragic death of a young high school student on the hands of the anti-disturbance squadron in Bogota, the capital.[11] Currently, the strike has sent a strong message to government officials, who have started to propose new methods of dealing with important issues and have begun to demonstrate they accept and value public opinion.[12] Still, most citizens believe it is important to continue manifesting their anger and displeasure, as a way to guarantee and achieve long run effects in the State.[13]

Overall, the large trend for public manifestations, protests and strikes, among many other ways to express desires for change, that is currently prevalent among Latin American nations demonstrates that democracies in this region are unable to satisfy the needs and wants of the majority of the population.[14] Therefore, they are essentially incapable of properly carrying out their duty and purpose. I believe that the only way to mitigate this recurring issue is through prompt restructuring of the social, economic and political facets of the individual nations through cooperation between the government and population, which is precisely what many of these mass movements strive for.  Although many of the revolutions have certainly achieved important steps towards improving weak national institutions, further international media coverage is necessary to target leaders able to influence public and private opinion, thus allowing bigger changes to occur. In this manner, the blaring voices of Latin American citizens in need will be heard from all over the world.

[1] Martinez, Gina. “Puerto Rico Protests: Everything You Need to Know.” Time, Time, 22 July 2019, https://time.com/5627564/puerto-rico-protests-what-to-know/.

[2] Ibis

[3] Petersen, German. “Analysis | Latin Americans Are Protesting – and Throwing out – Corrupt Regimes. Why Now?” The Washington Post, WP Company, 1 June 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/06/01/in-a-wave-latin-americans-are-protesting-and-throwing-out-corrupt-regimes-why-now/.

[4] Ibis

[5] “’Chile Woke Up’: Dictatorship’s Legacy of Inequality Triggers Mass Protests.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 4 Nov. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/03/world/americas/chile-protests.html.

[6] Ibis

[7] Paúl, Fernanda. “Protestas En Chile: 4 Claves Para Entender La Furia y El Estallido Social En El País Sudamericano.” BBC News Mundo, BBC, 23 Oct. 2019, https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-50115798.

[8] Miranda, Boris. “Protestas En Bolivia Tras La Cuestionada Victoria De Evo Morales: Cómo Se Radicalizaron Las Manifestaciones y La Violencia En El País.” BBC News Mundo, BBC, 7 Nov. 2019, https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-50333889.

[9] Redacción. “Crisis En Bolivia: El ‘Uso Desproporcionado De La Fuerza’ Contra Seguidores De Evo Morales En Bolivia Recibe El Repudio De Organizaciones Internacionales.” BBC News Mundo, BBC, 17 Nov. 2019, https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-50443318.

[10] Semana. “¿Qué Hay Detrás Del Paro Nacional Del 21 De Noviembre?” ¿Qué Hay Detrás Del Paro Del 21 De Noviembre De 2019?, Semana.com, 20 Nov. 2019, https://www.semana.com/nacion/articulo/que-hay-detras-del-paro-del-21-de-noviembre-de-2019/640594.

[11] Ibis

[12] Semana. “Se Siguen Sumando Voces Que Convocan a La Marcha Del 21 De Noviembre.” Paro Nacional 21 De Noviembre Convocan En Colombia a Gran Huelga Contra Gobierno De Duque, Semana.com, 14 Nov. 2019, https://www.semana.com/nacion/articulo/paro-nacional-21-de-noviembre-convocan-en-colombia-a-gran-huelga-contra-gobierno-de-duque/640030.

[13] Ibis

[14] Dinero. “Protestas En América Latina, ¿Qué Está Pásando?” ¿Por Qué Hay Tantas Protestas En América Latina?, Dinero.com, 4 Nov. 2019, https://www.dinero.com/internacional/articulo/por-que-hay-tantas-protestas-en-america-latina/278531.

 

How Our View of Humanitarianism is Harmful

Julia An, Editor, Foreign Affairs Review

A major feature of contemporary humanitarian aid is the idea that it is an apolitical embodiment of human good and compassion, one which transcends all ideologies and cultures. It is from this delusion that many of the inadequacies of the practice stem.

Because many believe humanitarianism to be an all-encompassing good, there becomes reverence of humanitarian practitioners. In many texts [citation needed], humanitarian workers are compared to heroes, light in a world of dark. While it is certainly undeniable that humanitarian workers make countless sacrifices to work in the field, putting them on such a high pedestal [citation needed] makes things problematic.

It further cements the power imbalances inherently present between humanitarian workers and the target population as well as between aid workers from the global north and domestically hired workers. While the image that a humanitarian worker usually conjures is that of a white person, 90% of aid workers actually are of the same nationality as the target population [citation needed]. With the continued perception of aid workers as altruistic “saviors” coupled with the popular bias (from both global north and south) of a white worker, it is not a far step from the neocolonialism images of white saviors come to enlighten indigenous and developing populations.

On another point, defining humanitarian aid by the purity of workers’ intentions can be harmful. Are anyone’s intentions for working in humanitarian aid truly “pure”? Isn’t even doing aid because it feels good to help others selfish, since it can be argued that feeling good is the true intention, not helping others? Even if one’s intentions were truly good and pure, there have been several instances in the past of aid workers having good intentions but causing more trouble than help [citation]. Would anyone prefer a pure-intentioned aid worker that does no good or even causes unintended harm over a questionably-intentioned worker who does measurable good?

So just how is this perception harmful? Many aid workers blanch at being called “heroes” or “saviors” [citation], believing that many workers with such opinions of the aid field make unwise, short-sighted decisions and burn out more easily. Furthermore, humanitarian aid is far from apolitical. To take a side on the political issues which give rise to the need for aid is to be political. To remain silent and refrain from using their legitimacy and soft powers to witness or pressure a government or political entity is also political.

Furthermore, there have been many cases, in the past, of a humanitarian intervention that, unaware of cultural, political, or economic characters of a region, has caused harm to the target population. If humanitarianism is continued to be seen as compassion-based, a practice of charity, there is less to hold organizations accountable to provide responsible care. In some cases, such as one of a ___ organization intervention in ___ the presence of humanitarian food aid, when ignorant of the local economies, have outcompeted local farmers, causing or worsening economic crises [citation]. In another case, after genocide carried out by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, many aid organizations were deployed to provide mental health support and treatment to the population. The workers, uneducated in the Buddhist cultural view of death as a continuation of ones journey, not an end, attempted to help victims seek closure from their loved ones. This intervention was based on a Western view of death and clashed strongly with the core beliefs of the Cambodian population.

While it was certainly not the aid workers’ intention to harm, a mindset of charity-based aid is not helpful to the situation. It exacerbates the power imbalance between workers and the target population. Those being helped are expected to be grateful for any intervention or aid at all, making it more difficult to critique the aid received. It also lifts the responsibility to quality-control the aid provided as any aid given is seen as better than nothing, even irresponsible aid. We need to place less emphasis on compassion and the purity of intentions as defining quality humanitarian aid.

The Populist Challenge

Gabriela Baghdady, Editor, Foreign Affairs Review

“The time of the nation has come.”[i] These are the words of Marine Le Pen, former French presidential candidate, president of the National Rally party in France, and alleged “populist.”  Populism is the international phenomenon that has been sweeping European countries for last decade, prompting a flood of analyses from leading political thinkers. As political scholarship grapples to reach a consensus on populism, populist leaders continue to fight for dominance in European governments. The recent surge of populist movements across Europe has not only transformed mainstream politics but has also posed a challenge to liberal democratic norms, mainly through fostering antipluralism and a rejection of important aspects of democracy.

Is populism an ideology, style, theory, or something else entirely? This has been widely debated among academics. However, analyses have recognized several commonalities in how populists present themselves and their ideas. First, populists usually identify a dichotomy between a “people” and an adversary, usually political and economic elites. In speeches, they rail against the elites for their suppression of the “real” people of the nation. In contrast, the populist often portrays himself or herself as the sole representative of the will of the people and promises dramatic changes to the status quo.[ii] They manufacture a morally charged and inherently exclusionary distinction between a “good” citizenry and an “evil” elite in power, portraying themselves as the hero. However, this hero is often not intent on “saving” every person within a given country—populists have been known to target a certain national or social class that they claim to represent.

In Europe, populists have appeared on both the right and left of the political spectrum. The French National Rally (right-wing) and Podemos in Spain (left-wing) are just two examples. While the policies of these parties are clearly divergent, there are elements of populist rhetoric and tactics found in both. The National Rally (led by Marine Le Pen), has attacked several perceived threats of the French people, including globalism, Muslim immigrants and Islam in general, and the European Union. Le Pen and her party have worked to revive French patriotism and Le Pen portrayed herself as a “candidate of the people” in her presidential campaign.[iii] Left populists like Podemos, though overtly nationalist, have made similar claims about a “people” and advocated for a greater focus on the “nation.” In Spain, the charismatic Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias has rallied Spaniards against the corrupt government elites and in favor of rescuing an impoverished middle class, advocating for more economic sovereignty.[iv] While characteristics and ideas vary by leader and across the political spectrum, there are key commonalities: a portrayal of the populist as a champion of a “people” and a rejection of elites and the status quo.

A burning question remains: what does populism mean for democracy? In a number of ways, populism is challenging and even damaging democracy already. Antipluralist rhetoric has fostered a nationalism that has begun to manifest into xenophobia and a rejection of other cultures in France, Germany, Italy, Austria, and other European countries. This poses a threat to civil liberties of immigrants in Europe—liberties that democracy is meant to protect—and far-right populism specifically plays a role. Furthermore, populism also poses a threat to the political party system within many European democracies.[v] The tendency of populists to make distinctions between what is “good” and “evil” creates what Jan Werner Müller calls a “moralization of politics.”[vi] An outright portrayal of political opponents as morally “bad,” coupled with populists’ claim that they are the sole representation of the people, rejects the mediation and compromise that is a cornerstone of party democracy. Additionally, some populists have directed attacks against democratic institutions, including global/internationalist institutions, the media, and the free market. Therefore, while the long-term implications of populism are not well-known, it is possible that populist leaders can have a transformative impact on mainstream European politics for much of the foreseeable future, and could possibly become a “new normal” if strong enough.

There are some reasons to believe, however, that populism has the capacity to strengthen democracy. Populists may be able to bring greater awareness to certain issues for an underrepresented population. The potential populist threat to democracy may also motivate politicians to fight more strongly for democratic values and norms. If not, rampant antipluralism and a negative attitude toward the political status quo may erode representative democracy as it exists today.

 

 

 

[i] Peterson, Matt. “2016: The Year in Quotes.” The Atlantic,www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/12/ranked-the-year-in-world-leader-quotes/511421/. Accessed 23 November 2019.

[ii] Mudde, Cas and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser. Populism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2017.

[iii] Nossiter, Adam. “Marine Le Pen Echoes Trump’s Bleak Populism in French Campaign Kickoff.” New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/05/world/europe/marine-le-pen-trump-populism-france-election.html. Accessed 13 November 2019.

[iv] Iglesias, Pablo. “Understanding Podemos.” New Left Review, May-Jun. 2015, pg. 7-22.

[v] Urbinati, Nadia. Introduction. Me the People, Harvard University Press, 2019, pp. 1-39.

[vi] Müller, Jan Verner. What is Populism?, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.

Should the United States Secure World Oil Prices?

Benjamin Juul, Editor, Foreign Affairs Review

In his 1980 State of the Union address, President Jimmy Carter announced a new doctrine for American foreign policy, saying, “…let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.” 

It would be hard to argue that President Carter was being hawkish here. Carter was notorious for having very little interest in armed conflict, at least compared with the presidents who followed him. He also wasn’t particularly enamored with the Persian Gulf monarchies, certainly not enough to guarantee their security. Carter simply saw the political reality of the moment. An attack on an oil-producing states in the Persian Gulf would be tantamount to an attack on the world economy. 

Carter was operating based on experience: US support of Israel through the Yom Kippur War led to an oil embargo by many countries in the Persian Gulf, more than doubling the cost of oil within the year. Also in his recent memory was the Iranian Revolution, which took Iran’s oil production from five million barrels a day to zero. This lead to constant paranoia about oil price volatility amongst the American foreign policy community for decades following the oil shock. This fear was so strong that during the Reagan Administration, the United States would reflag Kuwaiti ships as American and escort them through the Strait of Hormuz to prevent Iranian attacks. When an Iranian mine blew a hole in the side of an American ship, Reagan sank the Iranian Navy. This move preempted the first Iraq war, when President Bush invaded Iraq to prevent them from taking Kuwaiti oil fields. 

During this period, US oil production began to decline substantially. In 1985, the United States imported 25% of its oil. By 2005, imports reached 60% of total US oil consumption. On top of this trend, frustrated by the United States’ ease and willingness to slash oil prices, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Iran, as well as other key oil producers, agreed to coordinate to defend oil prices. Their agreement created the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Nations, or OPEC, which now controls about eighty percent of world crude oil exports. These nations also all began to nationalize their oil industries, so that by the end of the 1970s, international oil companies saw their access to world oil reserves decline from 85% to just 7%. This had the effect of making oil a much more viable economic weapon, particularly against the United States. 

Despite these nearly forty years of precedent, an Iranian attack on the Saudi Abqaiq oil processing facility, which destroyed more than half of the country’s production capability, compelled basically no response from President Trump. This attack followed months of attacks by Iran against oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and halted production at the largest oil processing plant in the world, causing a 5% drop in global production. 

The president initially tweeted that the US was ‘locked and loaded’ and ready to strike Iran after confirmation from the Saudis. These tweets were then quickly played down by senior aides and by Trump himself, saying that he ‘doesn’t want war with anybody’ despite implicating Iran. The turnaround occurred becausePresident Trump is extremely sensitive to financial markets as a metric of his presidency’s success, and these comments were made while oil prices had their largest spike since the first Iraq War. The administration was forced to quickly backpedal any threats made against Iran, for fear of further destabilizing markets. 

While in the short term, the decision not to strike Iran may have settled investors, in the long term it gives Iran a pass for its aggression, which may destabilize oil prices even more down the road. The attack, if it does not make a compelling case for the Carter Doctrine, at least harkens back to a time where protecting the internal security of the Middle East seemed like a worthwhile task. Each American consumer will have to pay an additional $18 a month as a result of the attacks on Saudi Arabia, which represent the largest oil disruption in history by barrels per day.

The Saudi oil strikes presented a larger disruption by volume to global markets than the Arab oil embargo and the Iranian Revolution, but there are a few reasons it wasn’t as painful. Firstly, the Saudis claimed they could get oil pumping again within the month, limiting its impact on the sale of oil futures. Additionally, President Trump opened up the US’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the largest reserve oil fields in the world, to try to moderate the price increase. These actions are coupled with the fact that the oil market is simply much larger than it was in the 1970s, meaning that a five million barrels per day drop represents a smaller disruption by percentage of all oil pumped. However, one of the biggest reasons, and perhaps why we have abandoned the Carter Doctrine, is that the United States is very close to being a net exporter of crude oil.

The United States, through a combination of investment and new technologies like fracking and the use of shale oil, has moved from the third-largest oil producer in the world to the first by about three million barrels per day. This move has occurred in the last ten years and has had large ramifications for US foreign policy. In fact, the Vice President’s Chief of Staff Marc Short cited it while discussing the president’s thinking about the attack, telling Fox Business “I think locked and loaded means several things, one thing it means is that America today under the President is far better prepared to handle these sorts of events because we’re now a net exporter of oil.”

There is also the added benefit of Canada, whose new mining of tar sands (an unconventional petroleum deposit made of sand, clay, and water) now provides the US with 40% of its oil imports. It would appear that the United States is on the cusp of its long-awaited energy independence when it can free itself of having to protect Persian monarchies for the sake of protecting global oil prices and simply live off of North American oil. 

Energy independence would hopefully disentangle the United States from some of its Middle East conflicts, to the relief of a very Middle East fatigued American public. It would also mean the complete end of the Carter Doctrine and the United States shielding global oil prices. This would make sense, as China is a much larger consumer of Persian oil than the United States, and does very little to earn its price security. It would also free up the United States to lend human rights issues in the Middle East the platform they deserve, instead of simply sweeping the Crown Prince’s beheaded relatives under the rug. 

Unfortunately, the dream of energy independence remains a dream, despite our new hegemony in production. This is true for a variety of reasons. To start, because oil is priced based on how it sells on the global market, the United States will never be completely insulated from global fluctuations. To make matters worse, ‘OPEC+’ a group that includes Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Russia, seemingly deciding that the influx of US oil has driven the price too low, has begun coordinating decreases in production. In fact, in 2017, this group overshot their goals in decreasing production, leaving a sizeable effect on oil prices. On top of this, Saudi Arabia continues to hold the largest spare capacity of oil in the world. Spare capacity is oil that can be very easily mined if necessary, allowing swift adjustments in price that can change the world market very rapidly. The fact that Saudi Arabia holds the power to increase or decrease production by 1.5 million barrels per day makes them a ‘swing producer’ with strong control over oil prices, giving the country added power over US consumers. The Arabian Peninsula is full of swing producers, especially because with nationalized oil industries, the government can typically control production unilaterally, increasing US dependence on the region. 

Despite these more dismal features of the global oil market, the fact remains that both the US’s energy independence and its over policing of global oil markets are both improving. That being said, we are a long way from being able to produce enough oil to keep ourselves out of all Middle Eastern conflict. A substantial oil shock, like a $25 per barrel increase, would mean an extra $45 a month for the typical American family. That level of increase would mean the political demise of any American president. Thus, most presidents would still intervene militarily to prevent this kind of shock, meaning the United States is in a sense eternally in service to the global oil market. 

Nevertheless, there is an answer that doesn’t involve bombing Iran or pumping our way to freedom, and it’s found in the other moves the Carter Administration made to insulate Americans from oil shocks. They created the SPR, which holds more than 650 million barrels of oil reserves. They increased fuel economy standards for cars and began financing clean energy sources produced in the United States. Outside of policing the world, the other way to become more energy independent is to become less oil-dependent. Moves like increasing fuel efficiency standards, which were rolled back by the Trump administration, would do an enormous amount to disentangle the US from foreign oil. Increasing our SPR would also be wise, as it is now able to be tapped in times of economic recession and may risk falling too low in the future if overutilized. Finally, a move towards green energy would secure both the environment and the US’s energy independence and allow the United States to operate unmoored from oil prices while its competitors, like China, remain at the whim of cranky despots and fluctuating prices. 

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