Diego Luna and the Rare Conversation

During this time of intense political polarization on both sides of the border, Mexican actor Diego Luna’s new show, Pan y Circo, is striking because it shows the viewer what real conversation looks like and reminds us of the importance of being heard.

Each episode is a dinner conversation with curated topics, food and guests. A marvelous chef is highlighted and prepares the meal. The dinner table filled with people, brought together because of their own personal experience with the chosen topic. Luna facilitates, modeling respectful conversation. He asks questions and listens to the discussion. All are heard. Even the chef participates in the conversation. While the discussion can be intense, no one shouts. 

I am not Pollyannaish about how political discourse was done in the past. The polarization being experienced in Mexico and the United States is not historically unique. Nonetheless, we are not in a good place and today’s social media fosters polarization and confirmations our own biases. When you communicate through social media you are talking almost entirely with people who already agree with you – your “friends” on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Your friends, who mostly hold similar beliefs, send you feedback generally confirming your pre-existing biases. It is a self-reinforcing circuit.

Pan y Circo attempts to break this circuit by showing an issue discussed, with time for nuance in hopes of build new understanding.   

In politics there is a phrase, “Where you sit is where you stand.” How you view an issue is shaped by how you experience it. We don’t all come from the same experience. To build understanding, and ultimately more constructive and less polarizing public policy, we need to hear how problems are experienced by others.

I read critiques of the show online to see opinions other than my own. Some found that the perspectives represented on the show were not divergent enough. I know some of those who sat around his table and they do not all agree with each other. But they shared their views in a respectful manner. Having sets of dinner guests screaming at each other would not achieve the goal of better understanding.

An adage in the field of communications is, “It is not what you say, but how you are heard.” We all want to be heard. With Pan y Circo, questions are posed and answers given in a non-hostile environment. It is easier to be heard in an environment of mutual respect.   

This show is about civility, conversation and understanding an issue from someone else’s experience. But, the I think it does more than that. Hearing another’s experience and understanding it in a new way can create empathy. And empathy allows us all to relate to a problem differently and moderate our own views. 

Kudos to Diego Luna for not complaining about the political polarization but attempting to be constructive by bringing us examples of the rare conversation.

This column was first published in Mexicotoday.com 9/14/20

The Hemisphere Needs Mexico to Hold Steady

Mexico has a defining role to play in the upcoming election of a new president for the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Mexico will be key in determining if the bank falls under the control of Donald Trump’s nominee for the foreseeable future.

The Bank is slated to elect a new leader in September when the current president, Luis Alberto Moreno ends his five-year term (he has served 3 terms). Established in 1960, the IDB has chosen its leadership under an unwritten rule. While the Bank would be located in Washington, DC, the president would be a Latin American. In the international banking work, the International Monetary Fund is run by a European, the World Bank by someone from the US and the regional banks, like the IDB, by someone from that region.

Bank watchers were stunned in June when President Trump broke with tradition and nominated Mauricio Claver-Carone, his Latin America National Security Adviser, as a candidate for the IDB’s top job. The precedent and the candidate are reasons for concern. Claver-Carone has been at the center of a decidedly unilateral approach to Latin America policy, the execution of “America First” on the regional scale. Remember the Trump administration’s aid cut-off to Central America to make countries stop migration, tariff threats against Mexico with the same goal, and unilateral sanctions against Venezuela?

The next IDB president will be chosen by the Board of Governors in an election expected to take place at the September board meeting. The weighted formula for calculating the winner is based on shareholder proportionality as well as a majority of the borrowing countries. The US is the largest contributor to the Bank and holds 30% of the shares, giving Claver-Carone a strong starting place. Additionally, Brazil and Colombia have agreed to back Trump’s candidate. This is a nail biter. The US is reportedly close to having the votes needed to win; but there are two other candidates, former Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla and Argentina’s Secretary for Strategic Affairs Gustavo Béliz. 

The logic of electing a man who has been at the right hand of Trump, just two months before a U.S. election that Trump might lose, is being called into question. If Claver-Carone is elected, he would serve for five years, potentially through a Democratic administration in the U.S.  That sets up potentially serious conflict between bank leadership and the U.S. government at a time when Latin American countries need funds to deal with the impact of Covid-19, and the Bank needs a capital replenishment. 

Argentina and Costa Rica support a delay and other countries are now quietly positioning in support of the same. The vote is a delicate subject in the diplomatic world. Politely, yet encouragingly, Mexico’s finance ministry recently said that the election should wait “until conditions were right.”

The IDB vote is a short-term/long-term test for the AMLO administration. As the date for the IDB election gets closer, pressure from the U.S. will no doubt grow for Mexico to back Trump’s candidate. Mexico needs to play the long game. If U.S. voters send Trump packing in November, why leave his man in charge of the IDB for the next five years?  That’s just asking for trouble. 

Let’s hope that Mexico holds steady, continues to support a brief delay in the vote, and ensure that the IDB remains under Latin American leadership.

Published in https://mexicotoday.com/2020/08/17/opinion-the-hemisphere-needs-mexico-to-hold-steady/ 8/17/20

How to think about the future?

How to think about the future?  This is a question I’m struggling with during the pandemic. 

The future seems on hold. While logic tells us that there will be a vaccine and the Covid-19 pandemic will end, it doesn’t feel that way right now.  With each passing month, I understand the impact of this pandemic in a different way.  In March, I thought that we would all stay home for a few months and the economic impact would be manageable. I got out the board games and we sort of acted like we do when a big snowstorm passes through – hunker down, ride it out. 

By June, I thought we just needed to get through the summer. The virus would calm down, some speculated that the schools would not re-open in the fall, but that seemed unlikely. Businesses began to reopen, but the unemployment rate in the US continued to rise. Then the coronavirus cases began to rise as well.

Now it is the beginning of August. The virus is not under control in U.S. or in Mexico.  Too many people have ignored public health rules about social distancing and mask wearing or not followed quarantine requirements as instructed. Others continue to work without proper protection because they have no option. We have become tolerant of the new death tolls.  The U.S. is now over 150,000 and projections are made about when the toll will hit 200,000 soon, a number that seemed outrageous in March. Mexico reports 48,000 dead.

Amidst so much uncertainty about the future, I keep thinking about what we know. We know that until there is a vaccine, or better public health controls on human activity, the death toll will continue to rise.  We know that the impact of the virus is higher on the poor and that in the US, poverty and race walk together.

We know that when we come out at the other end of Covid-19, those who have suffered most will be those who were already the most vulnerable in our societies. According to the UN’s regional economic analysis body, ECLAC, the number of people living in poverty will increase by 45.4 million. This is truly sad as the region had made impressive strides in reducing poverty and inequality over the past two decades.  In Mexico, the poverty rate is expected to increase by 7.6% in one year. The Urban Institute, which does economic and policy analysis in the U.S., estimates that the poverty rate in 2020 will vary between 8.9% and 11.9%, depending on whether or not Congress approves pending economic supports.

I now understand that our lives will not change, or should not change, until there is a vaccine and likely for a good while after that.  While back in March health officials told us that, I couldn’t hear it.  

It is hard to think about the future right now, but as individuals and nations, we need to respond to what we know. People around us are both dying and sliding into poverty at alarming rates. We know that those out of work need support. We know that recovery will take a long time. We know that we can slow the impact of this virus if we act responsibly wearing masks, social distancing and listening to public health officials.

This column was first published on MexicoToday.com, 8/3/20

Kick the Can

Originally published by El Faro

There are definitely times when no action is the best action. The current conundrum created by the United States’ unprecedented nomination of its own candidate for the Presidency of the Inter-American Development Bank is a problem that falls into this category.

There are definitely times when no action is the best action. The current conundrum created by the United States’ unprecedented nomination of its own candidate for the Presidency of the Inter-American Development Bank is a problem that falls into this category.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is poised for a leadership transition. The bank’s current president, Luis Alberto Moreno, has served three five-year terms.  His current term ends in October and competition for the soon to be vacant position is well underway.

Early in 2020, a number of names were being discussed as possible candidates.  However, in recent weeks the field has narrowed dramatically as the United States has surprised many by flaunting tradition and proposing its own candidate, Mauricio Claver-Carone. Aside from Claver-Carone, who has already cornered commitments from a number of countries, including Brazil, the other candidates are former Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla and Argentina’s Secretary for Strategic Affairs, Gustavo Béliz, who spent almost 15 years at the Bank.

Since its inception in 1960, IDB leadership has been selected under an unwritten understanding. The Bank would be located in Washington but led by a Latin American. The number two position would be held by someone from the United States. Furthermore, since a representative of the United States serves as the President of the World Bank, regional banks have always been led by someone from their respective regions.

This is a key moment for the IDB. The global COVID-19 crisis has hit Latin America hard. Governments must provide urgently needed financial support to guarantee access to public health institutions, food, and other aid to those who have lost work, as well as help for businesses struggling to survive — all of this while the COVID-driven loss of economic activity has dramatically reduced the government’s normal revenue. Countries need money fast, and the bank is stretched by new requests. 

This is also a key moment because the bank will need its first capital increase in a decade. In recent years, the United States has not supported attempts to provide new funds.  

President Trump’s nomination of Claver-Carone on June 16th was controversial not only because it breaks with tradition, but because of the nominee himself. 

Mauricio Claver-Carone has been the U.S. Deputy National Security advisor overseeing the reversal of the Obama Administration’s opening toward Cuba and leading U.S. sanctions policy against Venezuela, both decidedly unilateral approaches. He also has experience in financial institutions having served as U.S. Executive Director at the IMF and in posts at the U.S. Department of Treasury.

Claver-Carone’s supporters believe he could shepherd a capital increase for the bank. Since the United States has impeded previous increases, picking their candidate might eliminate that problem. But this scenario would only go smoothly if President Trump is re-elected.

If elected at the September board meeting, the new IDB president would begin service in October, just a month before the U.S. election. If Joe Biden wins the U.S. presidency, the Bank’s leadership would be set for a complicated relationship with the new administration, and the new IDB president would serve through the entire term of Biden’s potential presidency. 

Furthermore, the new U.S. president does not unilaterally decide what new funds will be provided to the IDB — that requires Congress. Senator Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee (which would have to approve any capital increase), made this unusual statement on June 26th, after Claver-Carone’s nomination:

As someone who has supported the IDB for decades, including at times when amendments were proposed to eliminate or reduce the U.S. contribution, it is important to be aware that this nomination could jeopardize United States support for, and cooperation with, that institution. Further, if the U.S. Treasury Department and other IDB shareholders believe this nominee will help to build support for a capital increase for the Bank in the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, of which I am Vice Chairman, Mr. Claver-Carone is the wrong nominee to make the case for such an increase.

What does this election mean for Central America? Central America knows what the politicization of financial processes looks like. It was the Trump Administration, under the advice of Claver-Carone, that slashed aid to the Northern Triangle countries, not because of corruption or for other fiscal reasons, but because it wanted to stop immigration to the United States. Now imagine that kind of leadership and manipulation at the head of the IDB. If we have learned anything from the Trump Administration, it is that it holds fast to its motto, “America First.”

Now imagine what the bank might look like with a different kind of leader, say a woman, a former President of Costa Rica, a country respected for its fiscal management and equitable economic development. That would present a very different vision for the Bank and for Central America.

The nominating process formally begins on July 27. The new IDB president will be chosen by the Board of Governors in an election expected to take place during the September board meeting. The rather complicated formula for calculating the winner is based on shareholding proportionality as well as a majority of the borrowing countries. 

There are things that can be done to keep the Claver-Carone power play by the United States from becoming a fait accompli.  Those countries opposed could come together behind one candidate, instead of the current two. As it is, votes would be split.  

The best outcome would probably be to wait. Without a quorum, there is no vote.  If there is no vote there is no new President. President Moreno retires in October. Why not wait and see the outcome of the November U.S. election, instead of potentially setting up the bank for years of conflict with its largest donor? The IDB is a solid institution that could operate without a president for a few months. In other words: kick-the-can.

A Path Beyond the “Historic Truth” – Ayotzinapa

It seems inexplicable that 43 young people disappear one night in the state of Guerrero in September 2014, and we still do not know what happened to them. But we are getting closer to the truth about this mass disappearance -known as the Ayotzinapa Case- because a solid investigation is finally underway.

The first investigation concluded that the young people, who had commandeered buses to take them to a protest in the southern city of Iguala, were captured by local police and turned over to a local drug gang. Burned human remains were found in a nearby trash dump in the town of Cocula, where the victims were supposedly cremated and their remains thrown in a nearby river. Only one victim was identified. Officials called these findings the “historic truth.” For them it was a closed case.

But the case was not closed in the minds of the victims’ families. The International Group of Experts (IGEI) a team of renowned judges, prosecutors and investigators under the auspices of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) raised serious questions about the government’s conclusion of the investigation. The IGEI found that suspects had been tortured prior to providing information, that evidence had been mishandled, and that important lines of investigation had not been pursued.

Hope that more would be learned surfaced when the AMLO Administration named Omar Gómez Trejo special prosecutor and head of a special investigative unit to pursue the case in June 2019. An attorney and human rights expert, Gómez Trejo had served as the executive secretary of the IGEI.

Reinvestigation of the case is now under way. An arrest warrant has been issued for Tomás Zerón, former head of criminal investigations in the Mexican Attorney General’s office who was in charge of the original investigation. The warrant charges him with torture, judicial misconduct and forced disappearance in relation to this case. He is suspected of having fled to Canada and extradition has been requested.

Earlier this month, one more victim was identified, Christian Alfonso Rodríguez Telumbre. His remains were not found in the Cocula trash dump, but about half a mile away. This new identification coming from a different location confirms a new line of investigation.

Both independence, scrutiny and political will are key to uncovering the truth. There appears to be the political will to get to the bottom of the case as AMLO has made a personal commitment to the families and followed through by appointing the Special Prosecutor and providing appropriate staffing. The Special Prosecutor is a person uniquely qualified for this job. To assure quality and oversight, the case is being accompanied by a number of national and international groups, including the globally respected Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, most of the original members of the IGEI, the Centro Prodh human rights group who is the legal representative of the families, and Tlachinollan a human rights center in the state of Guerrero that has accompanied the victims’ families from the beginning.

This is a difficult case, made more difficult by the original investigation, the political interests surrounding it, and all the time that has passed.

It has been almost six years since the 43 went missing. The families want the truth about what happened that night and they have remained steadfast in their demand for it. The identification of Christian Alfonso Rodríguez Telumbre demonstrates that there is more that can be learned and has hopefully revealed a new path forward.

The Definition of Insanity

As the saying goes, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

This is the phrase that comes to mind around Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s upcoming trip to Washington to meet with President Donald Trump at the inauguration of the USMCA trade agreement.  

Why is AMLO coming?  Does he think that he can stand side-by-side with Trump and control the image and the message of this visit? Ojo. Significant interactions between Trump and Mexican leaders have not tended to break in the latter’s direction. 

Let’s review the outcome of past meetings between Mexican leaders and Trump.  

First, there was the memorable meeting between President Enrique Peña Nieto and candidate Trump in August of 2016.  Peña Nieto invited both presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  Whatever the original motivation for the invitation, we know the outcome. Trump came. He looked presidential. Peña Nieto appeared accommodating, standing next to Trump who had shortly before been spouting insults about Mexican migrants being criminals and rapists. Upon return to the U.S., Trump gave a strident immigration speech calling for building “the Wall” and reaffirming that Mexico would pay for it.

While Peña Nieto might have thought that he could control the image and message by hosting the meeting with Trump, he was wrong. Trump seized the opportunity, using it to reinforce his message to his base of supporters.

Then last year, President Trump grew frustrated with record numbers of Central American families fleeing violence and requesting asylum in the United States. These asylum seekers had crossed Mexico to reach the U.S. southern border. Trump wanted the flow to end and he wanted Mexico to make it stop. If Mexico did not act decisively to stop Central Americans from reaching the United States, he threatened to impose an immediate 5% tariff on imports which would scale up to 25%.

AMLO sent Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard to Washington to negotiate. The outcome seemed more capitulation to the threat than negotiation. Mexico’s new National Guard was deployed to its southern border to block migrant crossings; it committed to detain and deport more Central Americans and expanded the “Remain in Mexico” program, under which those seeking asylum in the United States would be forced to remain in Mexico while their cases were adjudicated in the United States.

At the beginning of the AMLO administration, only months before, any of these actions would have been unthinkable for Mexico.  At the start, AMLO’s new migration policy was to be based on respect for migrants, not treating them as criminals or a security threat.  Yet, at the threat of U.S. tariffs, Mexico folded.

The change in Mexican migration policy was a big political win for Trump. It fed his base. He might not have been able to get Congress, or the Mexican government to pay for “the Wall”, but he could turn Mexico into a wall.

Now, just a year later, AMLO comes to Washington to celebrate the USMCA. This is a dangerous visit. Trump is intensely campaigning for another term in office. He does not respect Mexico or the rights of Mexican migrants in the United States. He will seek to use AMLO to reinforce whatever message his campaign finds advantageous this week. It would be insane to expect a different outcome.  

Published in http://www.MexicoToday.com 7/6/20

When All You Have is a Hammer

President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador recently decreed that the military would keep its public security role until 2024. What’s wrong with this idea?

“When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” You need the right tools to address a problem, and continually relying on the military, the wrong tool, won’t create safe and secure communities.

Using the military for things other than national defense, or allowing the military to participate in activities other than national defense, is something that happens too often in the Americas. Giving non-defense roles to the military seems to make sense to those who govern when looking for quick fixes to problems that might require force or national level logistics. The military is big, can operate throughout the country, is highly organized, structured to take orders and, while not Amazon, has serious logistical capacity. Voters sometimes reward using the military for problem solving. It appears tough and decisive.

But the military and police are not interchangeable cogs in the machine of government. They exist for different reasons, have different missions, doctrine, training, equipment and structure.

While scholars have spent their careers debating the functions of these institutions in a democracy, simple definitions make the point clearly enough.

According the Wikipedia, the common denominator of modern definitions, the military is “…a heavily armed, highly organized force primarily intended for warfare….The main task of the military is usually defined as defence of the state and its interests against external armed threats.”

The police, on the other hand, according to Webster’s, is a civilian body, “…concerned primarily with maintenance of public order, safety, and health and enforcement of laws… charged with prevention, detection, and prosecution of public nuisances and crimes.”

Within those definitions lies the fundamental problem. Policing is about maintaining public order, crime prevention and prosecution (in some countries). The tools used in effective policing are very different than those used by the military. To prevent or investigate crime, the police need a regular presence in, and the trust of, a community. They need to work with the community.

For decades, the Mexican military has been used in public security on a “temporary basis,” often moving into a city or state plagued by corruption and violence. At times, as in Tamaulipas, state and local police have been dissolved while the military assumes their responsibilities. This can bring short-term results, a temporary homicide reduction, as the military occupies an area. But military occupation is not a public security strategy, nor should it be unless the community is the threat being defended against.

The military can occupy territory, but they don’t work with communities. They don’t resolve corruption. And, they don’t rebuild the state institutions needed to create and maintain public safety. You can’t occupy your way out of public security problems or into creating safer communities.

Using the military to do public security will not make Mexico safer because it is not the right tool for the job.

The US has been using the wrong tool, the police, to solve social problems for decades and with devastating results. In the US, we call the police for any disturbance and they are the ones who respond. When homeless people annoy businesses, we call the police. When mentally ill people cause a disturbance, we call the police. When addicts are a nuisance, we call the police. The police and criminal justice system are not designed to deal with homelessness, mental illness or addiction.

Overuse of the police to deal with social problems explains a lot about why the US has the largest prison population in the world. Too many of society’s problems are funneled through the criminal justice system.

Using the military as police will do no more to address Mexico’s murder rate than using the police to address racial problems in the US.  Remember – “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” When all you have is the military, everything will look like a problem to be solved through occupation and suppression.

Let’s find the tools, and develop the public institutions, that we actually need to address the problems we have.

This column was published in MexicoToday.com, 6/22/20.

Systemic Injustice Unmasked

While we have all been appropriately covering our faces to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the pandemic, accompanied by economic implosion and racial protests, has unmasked systemic injustice. Frustration with racial injustice has boiled over in the United States this past week, but the U.S. and Mexico hold in common many fundamentals for systemic injustice.

The trifecta of crises has produced stark reminders of how unequal suffering is in our societies. Making direct comparisons between the two countries is difficult because of how statistics are kept (or not kept). Nevertheless, here are a few questions that have brought systemic injustice to the fore in recent weeks.

Who dies from Covid-19? A study produced by the Brookings Institution highlighted racial disparity in Covid-19 deaths. In Louisiana, Blacks make up a third of the population, but represent 70% of the Covid-19 deaths. Similar patterns are being documented in other cities including Washington, DC. Poor pre-existing health conditions are often blamed for the disparity. The article’s author Rashawn Ray, argues that a variety of structural realities create health disparities, “Blacks, relative to Whites, are more likely to live in neighborhoods with a lack of healthy food options, green spaces, recreational facilities, lighting, and safety.” All things that contribute to better overall health environment.

Official Mexican statistics on Covid-19 do not document race.

Who is hardest hit by the economic impact of the pandemic? This one is obvious, those who didn’t have much economic margin to begin with. Mexico’s National Council for the Evaluation of Social Policy, CONEVAL, reports that economic fallout from the virus could force 9 million Mexicans into poverty, a 50% increase from 2018. Feeding America, a network of foodbanks in the United States, estimates that one in six people in the U.S. could face hunger as a result of the pandemic. Prior to Covid-19, the number was one in nine.

Who dies at the hands of the police? The project mappingpoliceviolence.org has found that in the United States, “Black people were 24% of those killed despite being only 13% of the population.”

Who goes to jail? While I would argue that the criminal justice system “works” much better for the rich than the poor, the data in the U.S. is recorded by race. According to fwd.us

“Black people make up 13% of the U.S. population but 33% of the prison and jail population, while Latinos make up 18% of the U.S. population and 23% of the prison population.

Systemic injustice in no less a problem in Mexico and is borne out by any number of other statistics. For example, a CONAPRED study found that 54% of Mexicans reported having been discriminated against because of their appearance in the previous 12 months. Official statistics report that 87% of indigenous municipalities experience high or very high marginalization.

The gruesome death of Floyd George at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, while others watched, has spurred an unexpected wave of protest across the U.S. The death of Giovanni Lopez at the hands of the police in Guadalajara has prompted protest in Mexico as well.

These past few weeks and months have been brutal. The question is, “What will we do with this experience?” If we return to the previous normal, without addressing the social and economic inequities that have been so grossly brought to our attention, we will deserve the animosity and unrest that will no doubt follow.

At some point in the future, when we can all take off our masks, let’s make sure that we come out of this with more equitable and systemic change.

Protest in a Pandemic

“How are you today?” has become a hard question.

I feel sorrow and somehow a sense of loss.

Last night was tough in Washington, DC, where I live. The President of the United States had a peaceful group of demonstrators teargassed to clear a path between the White House and St. John’s Church, one block away. Once cleared, he crossed the park to stand in front of the church for a photo-op, Bible in hand. He does not attend St. John’s Church. He didn’t pray. He didn’t attempt to console the nation.

As the night went on, in a residential neighborhood, other non-violent protesters were cordoned off by police and then confronted. They fled on foot. One neighbor opened his front door, pulled people inside and sheltered dozens of protesters, complete strangers.

This morning, I, like many others, awoke feeling sorrow.

Why had I not yet attended any of the protests? I have been to many DC protests over the years. How can I respond to the outcry against racism and police violence in the context of a pandemic? Only a week ago we were commemorating the 100,000 lost to Covid-19. DC is only in the first stage of reopening. It didn’t feel responsible to go out and protest.

When I learned that the President was headed to the John Paul II Shrine this morning for yet another attempt at religious endorsement, I knew that I needed to find a way. Pandemic or not, I would try to protest responsibly.

My husband and I met three others from our church at an intersection near the Shrine. It was fairly spontaneous. A few hundred people gathered with homemade signs. People were cordial but kept their distance. Families attended in small groups. It was completely peaceful.

Every now and then we were joined by intense, yet supportive, honking. The loudest and most sustained came from garbage trucks headed to the nearby dump. Garbage collectors are essential workers. They couldn’t join us, but they could make themselves heard.

After the President entered the Shrine, we waited for him to leave before disbanding. In that quiet time, I struck up a conversation with an African American woman who lives nearby. She woke up just as I did, with a feeling of sorrow and an understanding that even within the pandemic she needed to figure out how to protest, how to be counted.

Our protest was insignificant, but it helped me. Talking with a stranger helped. I left feeling lighter, more connected and with a little hope, not that the President will lead us somewhere better, but maybe my neighbors will.

Mexico Uniquely Positioned to Help Venezuelans

Mexico’s foreign policy has long been based on the principle of non-intervention, a “mind your own business” approach. That approach has its benefits. It keeps you out of other nations’ armed conflicts. In general, it is hard to get in trouble when you aren’t involved. But it also means that Mexico doesn’t always help its neighbors when it could. 

Right now, Mexico’s reputation for not getting involved is an asset and makes it one of the few countries that could make a difference in the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

The political/economic crisis in Venezuela has prompted an external displacement of around five million Venezuelans; a human scale second only to Syria. Everyone knows that Syria is a disaster. Syria is at war. But the sense of urgency in international response to the Syria crisis is missing from Venezuela. The Venezuela crisis was not created by natural disaster or war, but has been slow breaking and what the international community defines a “complex humanitarian emergency.” 

In February, pre-Covid-19, a UN assessment found that one in three Venezuelans were “food insecure,” meaning that they were in need of food assistance. Many experts believe that to be an under-representation of the crisis.  

Now there is also a scarcity of gasoline. This country has the largest oil reserves in the world, but production has been in decline for years. US sanctions have almost stopped oil sales. When gasoline is available, it is costly. In April Venezuelans reported paying US $7.50 a gallon, while international prices are at shocking lows. Very little gas is being produced in Venezuela. Without oil sales to fund the purchase of foreign gasoline, shortages are crippling the country.

Combine the pre-existing political/economic crisis with US sanctions and Covid-19 and you get Venezuela’s current humanitarian disaster. Essential workers don’t have transportation to can’t get to their jobs. Desperately needed food, produced in Venezuela, is rotting in the fields because trucks don’t have gasoline to take it to market. Electrical outages are constant and without electricity for pumps clean water is often unavailable to the general public.  Worse yet, hospitals don’t have water for basic sanitation.

Even before Covid-19 and the tightening of US sanctions, providing humanitarian assistance in Venezuela was not easy. The Maduro government has not wanted to admit the extent of the crisis. Just a little over a year ago, the provision of humanitarian aid provided by the US, who supports the Guaido government, was grossly politicized in an assistance delivery stand-off at the Venezuela/Colombian border. 

Many international non-governmental organizations, professional humanitarian assistance workers, not political groups in disguise, want to work in Venezuela, but are unable to do so because the Venezuelan government hasn’t approved their legal status. Applications have been pending for months, if not years.

This is where Mexico could help. The people of Venezuela need an a-political advocate for humanitarian assistance. They need someone who has a track record of not getting involved in others internal affairs. Mexico has not been close to either of Venezuela’s two competing presidents Maduro or Guaido.

Mexico doesn’t need to get involved in Venezuela’s internal political machinations, or the geopolitical dynamics involving Russia, Iran and the United States playing out there. Mexico could, and should, use its good offices and long history of non-intervention, to help the Venezuelan people by encouraging the acceptance and execution of an a-political humanitarian response.