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One of President Obama’s most important initiatives in the Latin American region has been the 100K Strong in the Americas Program. This program was launched in March 2011, and seeks to increase international study in the Western Hemisphere. The idea is to foster a common understanding between the peoples of the Americas in the hopes of bettering inter-American relations.

The Department of State has partnered with the Association of International Educators (NAFSA), and Partners of the Americas, a development agency, in order to realize this vision. The program works by establishing a network of partnerships with foreign governments, universities, and colleges, and the private sector to increase foreign student participation in the U.S. and U.S. student participation in the Americas. The goal of the program is to reach 100,000 Latin American students studying in the U.S. and 100,000 U.S. students studying in Latin America by 2021.

In order to finance this venture, the State Department has set up the 100K Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, whereby companies can donate money to Latin American and U.S. universities in order to improve cross-cultural student exchange. By current figures, 40,000 U.S. students study in Latin America and the Caribbean while 66,000 Latin American students study in the U.S. each year. Clearly there is work still to be done.

One large obstacle is the fact that many Latin Americans from poorer backgrounds do not have the necessary grasp on the English language that is required to succeed at a U.S. college or university. On the other hand, many U.S. students do not understand or recognize the value of studying abroad at Latin American colleges or universities.

It is hoped that the public-private sector partnership through the Innovation Fund will be able to increase the numbers of students studying in the U.S. and in Latin America.

Through the 100K Strong in the Americas program the U.S. hopes to construct a more understanding relationship between Latin Americans and the U.S. Enhancing cross-cultural contact is necessary for a better working relationship within the hemisphere in the future. By promoting this contact between the future leaders of the Americas, the U.S. is ensuring more successful diplomatic efforts down the line.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: 100K Strong, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State
Photo: US Embassy

The Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson met in Asunción last Friday with Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes to discuss regional issues covering topics such as transnational crime, education and investment. Following the meeting, Jacobson highlighted the “common perspective” of the two administrations regarding transnational crime.

Authorities in Paraguay are concerned about Brazilian drug cartels operating in their country, which use Paraguay as a holding source after shipping in cocaine and marijuana from the Andean region.

Both countries emphasized their similar worldview on the local, regional and worldwide level. Roberta Jacobson stressed their cooperation on democracy, transparency, education and economic development.

Increasing cooperation on issues like education is important for Paraguay, where more than half of third graders cannot solve simple addition problems. Programs by the Inter-American Development Bank use comparative techniques to improve education standards.

In particular, one study compared the teaching techniques of Paraguayan teachers with techniques used in the United States. The study uncovered that most of the teachers in Paraguay made their pupils copy from the blackboard instead of actually solving math problems.

In Brazil, Jacobson visited the Minerao stadium in Belo Horizonte, where the US soccer team is set to play during the upcoming World Cup. Jacobson also discussed educational relations between Brazil and the U.S. and opened an Education USA office in Belo Horizonte. The Education USA office is intended to increase educational cooperation between the two countries by providing information about US colleges and universities to international applicants, thereby increasing international student enrolment within the U.S.

Education USA is headed by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, along with the new program “100K Strong in the Americas,” designed to increase Latin American student enrollment in the U.S. to 100,000 and American student enrollment in Latin America to 100,000 by the year 2020.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: Merco Press, La Nacion, Shanghai Daily, Inter-American Development Bank
Photo: Guanajuato

According to the 2011 census, more than 70% of India’s enormous population is under the age of 35. By the year 2020, India will likely be the youngest country in the world, with a median age of just 29 years old.

While for years this youth population growth has been considered a point of contention for the country, the time has come for a conceptual transformation. Rather than be burdened with malnutrition, a severe lack of education and overcrowded villages, the youth in India are taking a stand for political change.

With elections coming up in May, the nation’s younger generation is pushing for an agenda that directly addresses their concerns for development, employment, educational opportunities and increased inclusion in the political sphere.

Indians have catapulted their political system into a throng of idealism in which people with great ideas yet no background in government enter the political realm through the Aam Aadmi Party. The party is an offshoot of an anti-corruption campaign that came to popularity in 2011 and 2012. Fueled by an enthusiastic and expectant youth, the Aam Aadmi Party gives hope to the masses looking for change and agency to those willing to make that change happen.

Intense loyalty to the responsibility of social justice and inclusion augments the Indian population’s surge to the polls. The Times of India, for example, has initiated the I Lead India campaign to encourage youngsters to vote and to create a Youth Manifesto. The campaign stresses accountability of politicians and promotes activism among Indian citizens.

If all goes well, such strong desires and opinions could bring about extensive successful alterations in Indian politics and social life. But the risk is not to be discounted.

The large numbers of these young Indian individuals rising up to have a say puts great pressure on the future of India’s political system. And the youth are not extremely patient. Lofty expectations and an inability to patiently await the change that will, as all change does, inevitably take time, threatens the optimism this youthful group has inspired.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: New York Times, Times of India
Photo: Aam Aadmi Party

Following landmark political shifts in Ukraine during 2014, the scope of international politics has heavily focused its lens upon tension between Ukraine and Russia, and more recently in the eastern Ukrainian region of Crimea.

Popular uprisings in Ukraine have divided the population between western supporters of the European Union and eastern supporters of Russia. Although the majority of Ukraine’s population wants to be in alignment with the European Union, the region of Crimea contains a significant amount of Ukraine’s Russian-supporting population.

Russia has recently received international attention by its military occupation in the region of Crimea. In addition, the parliament of Crimea has even voted to secede from Ukraine. Critics of Russia, such as President Barack Obama of the United States, argue that Russia’s actions are in violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and established international laws.

Deputy Secretary General of the UN, Jan Eliasson stressed that meaningful discourse and dialogue ought to be facilitated within the Security Council in order to reach a resolution to alleviate the problems in Ukraine.

The situation in Russia has consistently been a heavily debated topic in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC); however, extensive use of veto power by Russia has hindered the UN Security Council from reaching any substantial resolutions to alleviating the escalating tension between Ukraine and Russia.

The UNSC contains a body of five permanent member states including the United States, the United Kingdom, China, France and Russia. The ability for Russia to block actions that are clearly within the goals and intentions of the UN to “pursue diplomacy, and maintain international peace and security,” and “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” provides significant concern for the institutional framework of the UNSC.

Although the United Nations Security Council accounts for the most powerful UN body, Russia’s ability to exploit its status as a permanent member have produced consequences with their violation of international law.

Moreover, while the UNSC remains in suspension of reaching a resolution, the situation in Ukraine is continuing to rapidly escalate. Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations pleaded to the UNSC in an emergency session to do everything that is possible to end the violation of national sovereignty and invasion of Crimea by Russian military forces.

Failure to make steps to remedy the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is exemplary of some of the weaknesses inherent to the UNSC. However, it has not been the only case of Russia’s exploitation of its permanent status and veto power in the UNSC. Critics have also argued that failure to resolve the conflict in Syria has also been the result of blocked motions by Russia.

Considering the level of power and influence the UNSC has, problems arise when just one nation has the means to restrict action in addressing pressing international problems. Russia has been quintessential in portraying how special interests can hinder the intentions of international law—which is at the root of why international law may need to be reformed in accommodating 21st century problems.

– Jugal Patel

Sources: Reuters, Al Jazeera, UN News Centre, ABC News
Photo: Rianovosti

Tension over Kashmir resurfaced in the form of a cricket match, as 67 students were charged with sedition after cheering on a Pakistani team at their university in Meerut, India on March 2. The Kashmiri students, who were attending the College of Swami Vivekan and Subharti University in India’s Uttar Pradesh region, faced life sentences before widespread outcry from other students across the country.

Protesters argued the seriousness of the sedition charges, which many did not feel their actions warranted, eventually succeeding in getting them dropped to a misdemeanor disturbance of public harmony. Prior to the charges being dropped, the students’ defense claimed that they never threatened to bring down the government nor tried to hurt India’s national integrity.

The case quickly gained national attention after the Opposition Peoples Democratic Party publicly demanded leniency and an apology from the University and state officials for their acts of “fascism.” Also, active in demonstrations were the Kashmir University Students Union as well as several chief officials from the northeastern regions of Uttar Pradesh and Jammu. The Pakistani Government who has offered to welcome their own universities to the students at hand.

Many critics feel as though the charges were motivated by ethnic and political discrimination, since the students committed no actual illegal act outside of rooting for the wrong team. The contentious Kashmir region has been the subject of controversy since it was divided between India and Pakistan in the 1947 partition and has prompted two Indo-Pakistani wars in the decades since.

According to the Student Union, the scenario “is nothing new, but a testimony to the fact that we have been in a perpetual state of war with India for the past 67 years.”

Since 1989, popular insurgency has been fighting for either Kashmiri independence or a complete merge with Pakistan. Sentiments of nationalism resonated in the arrested students’ actions, which reports say consisted of cheers of “Long live Pakistan” and “We want freedom.”

Vice chancellor of their university, Manzoor Ahmed, holds the students responsible and supports the sedition accusations, stating “You cannot pass judgments against your own national team. Their behavior was not conducive to peace on campus. It creates bad blood with the local boys.”

However, the students themselves claim the cheers were not political at all, but rather inspired by loyalty to their cricket team alone. Cricket is the national pastime of India, and has enjoyed popularity in South Asia due to the lingering legacy of British colonial rule. Cricket events, like the Asia Cup in which the two national teams were competing at the time of the arrests, are valued as one of the only spaces for tolerance and friendship between India and Pakistan, who both share a love of the game.

– Stefanie Doucette

Sources: Al Jazeera America, Times of India, New York Times
Photo: The Star

Rep. Paul Ryan published a 204-page report that criticizes the U.S. government’s anti-poverty programs and proposes cuts to welfare expenditures.

Ryan (R-Wis.), who is also the chairman of the House Budget Committee, believes Washington should focus on reforming the welfare program and recommended “a sweeping overhaul of social programs,” according to the Washington Post.

“There are nearly 100 programs at the federal level that are meant to help, but they have actually created a poverty trap,” said Ryan. “There is no coordination with these programs, and new ones are frequently being added without much consideration to how they affect other programs.”

Moreover, he continued, “This document is a precursor not only of our budget but of our larger project to introduce poverty reforms over the course of this year. The president may focus on inequality because he can’t talk about growth. We’re focused on upward mobility, speaking directly to people who have fallen through the cracks.”

The following day, however, President Obama unveiled a $3.9 trillion budget for next year. According to Investopedia, Obama’s budget would expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to help a million Americans get out of poverty.

“Under the new plan workers would get 15.3 cents credit for each dollar earned up to $6,570, for a maximum credit of $1,005,” said Investopedia. “That amount would be set until the worker earned $18,070.”

Unfortunately for Ryan, his report was not well received by many economists. Jared Bernstein said that it is misleading to tell the American people that anti-poverty programs result in even more poverty.

“While much of the commentary suggests that federal antipoverty efforts have failed and are fraught by wasteful duplication, the evidence – some of which is in here and much of which is conspicuously missing [sic] – belies that facile claim,” said Bernstein.

In the meantime, it is uncertain which direction Washington will take to address the growing inequality in America’s biggest cities as well as the poverty that is already present throughout the country. However, many economists who have more experience than Ryan believe that his report is inaccurate.

– Juan Campos

Sources: The Washington Post, Media Matters
Photo: Mother Jones

1. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia

In 2006, Sirleaf became the first elected female head in Africa. As the new Liberian president, she had inherited a war-torn country that was desperate for peace after 13 years of civil war and violence. Her administration rebuilt Liberia’s economy, strengthened its infrastructure, erased the enormous national debt and tackled problems like corruption, security, education and women’s rights.

In 2011, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in promoting democracy and gender equality. Nicknamed the “Iron Lady,” Sirleaf continues to promote increased education and opportunity for women to gain skills and become more competitive in the world. She showed the world that women could no longer be excluded from African politics.

She is currently serving her second term as president after winning re-election in 2011.

“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

2. President Joyce Banda of Malawi

In 2012, after the sudden death of President Bingu wa Mutharika, his vice president became the first female president of Malawi and the second female head of an African state.

As the first two female presidents of African nations, Banda and Sirleaf share a common background. Both women escaped abusive marriages and overcame single motherhood and poverty to become leaders of African nations. Both women are strong supporters of women’s rights, women’s education and reproductive rights. After taking office, Banda launched the Presidential Initiative for Maternal Health and Safe Motherhood. In Liberia, Sirleaf founded the Reach Every Pregnant Woman program to ensure medical care for pregnant women.

“Most African women are taught to endure abusive marriages. They say endurance means a good wife but most women endure abusive relationship because they are not empowered economically” – Joyce Banda

3. President Catherine Samba-Panza in the Central African Republic

In January, Catherine Samba-Panza defeated seven other candidates to be elected as the Central African Republic’s (CAR) interim president. Due to months of violence and killings, the CAR has collapsed politically and economically. She has the colossal task of leading the state safely into elections next year, rebuilding the CAR’s government and economy, and repairing the hostile relationship between the Muslim Seleka fighters and the Christian anti-balaka militias.

Called “Mother Courage,” Samba-Panza continues to promote women’s rights in a country where men dominate. She cites Sirleaf as her political inspiration and vows to find a solution to her country’s problems.

“The majority of my sisters and daughters in the Central African Republic don’t know their rights so they can’t defend them. But we who know our rights can help them. We must always help them: the battle is always to promote and protect the rights of women. When they are victims of violence, notably sexual violence, in the area of my activities in civil society, it was a battle I always led.” – Catherine Samba-Panza

Sarah Yan

Sources: The Root, The Guardian, BBC

Countries around the world have been observing International Women’s Day for nearly a century now. Every year, on March 8, thousands of events are held globally to celebrate women’s achievements, but also to highlight the challenges women still face in attaining gender equality. This past weekend saw hundreds of activities in honor of International Women’s Day in the United States, which was the first country ever to observe Women’s Day.

Although great strides have been made in pursuit of gender equality, “the unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men.”

In honor of International Women’s Day and the positive changes being made in reducing the gender divide, the following list will outline achievements in the top five countries that have made the most progress in bridging the gap. The countries are ranked based on the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Global Gender Gap Report, which assesses the magnitude and scope of gender-based disparities in terms of four dimensions: health, education, economics and politics.

  1. Iceland: Iceland has held the top spot for a consecutive five years, holding the narrowest gender gap in the world. Improvements in economic participation and opportunity and the political empowerment dimensions increased its overall score for 2013.
  2. Finland: Finland has closed both its educational attainment and health and survival gender gaps.
  3. Norway: Norway holds one of the top three spots on the Women in ministerial positions indicator, with 53 percent of women in ministerial positions.
  4. Sweden: Sweden has the highest percentages of women in parliament globally, hailing at 44.7 percent.
  5. Philippines: The Philippines moved up three places on the index due to improvements made in the economic participation and opportunity dimensions. It is also “the only country in Asia and the Pacific that has fully closed the gender gap in both education and health.”

The report indicates that all of the Nordic countries (except Denmark) have closed “over 80 percent of the gender gap and thus serve as models and useful benchmarks for international comparison.” More interestingly, the study notes that because the economies of these countries have made it possible for parents to combine work and family, female employment is at an all-time high.

While the U.S.’s overall score improved in 2013, it fell to number 23 due to the stronger performance of other countries on the political empowerment dimension. The U.S. has, however, fully closed its gender gap in education and health.

– Rifk Ebeid

Sources: The Eastern Tribune, International Women’s Day, The Globalist, World Economic Forum
Photo: I, me, myself

Guinea-Bissau is one of the poorest nations in the world, ranked 176 out of 187 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index in 2012. With a population of 1.5 million inhabitants, approximately 40 percent are under the age of 14-years old. In many communities, women and girls have limited education and health services.  Many fall victim to forced marriage, exploitation, sexual violence and childhood pregnancy.

Guinea-Bissau has had substantial military and political upheaval since its independence from Portugal in 1974. Shortly after, a military coup appointed Joao Bernardo “Nino” Vieira as its president in 1980. Vieira created a nice path to a multi-party system and market economy, but his regime was characterized by suppressing his political opposition and by purging political rivals.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, there were multiple coup attempts against Vieira, but they all failed to cast him out. He was elected as president in the country’s first free elections in 1994 only to be expelled from the country in 1999 after a military mutiny and civil war that started in 1998.

A transitional government turned over power to the opposing leader Kumba Yala after he was elected president in transparent polling in 2000. After only three years in office, Yala ended up being overthrown in a nonviolent military coup in 2003, and Henrique Rosa, a businessman at the time, was sworn in as interim president. Vieira came back to Guinea-Bissau, was re-elected in 2005 and pledged to pursue national reconciliation and economic development, but he was assassinated in 2009.

In an emergency election in June of 2009, Malam Bacai Sanha was elected, but he passed away in 2012 from a pre-existing illness. To determine his successor, there was supposed to be an election in April of 2012, but a military coup prevented it from taking place. Currently, Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo is the transitional president and the transitional government keeps postponing the new presidential election that was supposed to take place two years ago.

All of this political strife has led Guinea-Bissau’s economy to be severely harmed and it has been very difficult for it to recover. A UN human rights expert called out the Guinea-Bissau authorities on February 28 in her visit to the nation to inform them how crucial it is that they help out their own people that are in extreme poverty.  She said the population cannot wait any longer for the transitional state policies to become effective and that the government needs to work to ensure the welfare of future generations, especially those living in abject poverty.

Much of Guinea-Bissau suffers from low levels of school enrollment, illiteracy and unemployment. Development of Guinea-Bissau is mostly dependent on the investment in basic services like health and education.  The country cannot successfully improve the situation of the poor until its framework is improved first.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: UN News Centre, The World Factbook
Photo: Tia Mysoa

In recent years, the nation of Yemen has been mired in strife, partially due to the ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh and Al-Qaeda factions within the country. The National Dialogue Conference established by the current president, President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, not only led to Saleh’s departure in 2012, but also aimed to eradicate the territorial strife created by a centralized government.

The establishment of six federal regions in Yemen (Aden, Hadramawt, Saba, Janad, Azal and Tahama) created a sense of equality.

With their own political autonomy and a fair distribution of the oil resources in Yemen, the southern states of Aden and Hadramawt can profess egalitarian footing with the other four northern regions. The former capital of Sana’a will remain neutral; the port city of Aden will maintain its own level of autonomy.

Despite agreement from all delegates to create the six federations, southern secessionists are still displeased.

The possibility of the north arresting the oil reserves instills fears among southern separatists. Yemen’s political past stems from Saleh’s forced centralization of both the southern and northern regions in 1994 despite an initial union with the north in 1990.

After independence from the British in 1967, the southern region of Yemen remained independent laced with Marxist ideology.

An impoverished nation, Yemen has a dearth of food supplies. The Global Food Fund donated $36 million in order to raise food initiatives ranging from livestock to agriculture. The four-year plan aims to change the lives of small-scale farmers in rural region: 31 percent of these rural farmers produce a mere 10 percent of the amount of food they need.

From research to supply to guidance to construction, the initiative proposed by the Yemeni Ministry of Agriculture aims to combat malnutrition.  The initiative includes better irrigation, high-quality seeds and land development to facilitate farming methods.

Among struggles with food security, Yemen reported that 2.5 million children do not continue their education. Beyond education,  the Yemeni population is vulnerable to high infant and maternal mortality rates as well as infectious diseases.

With a hopefully better political climate, the government can focus on the undernourished Yemeni population, with reports that 46 percent of the population survived on scarce food supply in 2012.

Whether the formation of the six federal regions will placate external political figures also remains to be seen.

 – Miles Abadilla

Sources: Al-Jazeera, Al-Shorfa, BBC, Thomson Reuters
Photo: Alarabiya