energy, poverty and politics
Americans are burning through fossil fuels at historically high rates. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that the U.S. ranks number one in top energy producers and consumers as of 2019. While the domestic effects of oil, gas and coal consumption may feel familiar, the industry’s impact reaches beyond U.S. borders, influencing energy, poverty and politics.

In an interview with The Borgen Project, Dr. Bret Gustafson, professor of sociocultural anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis and author of “Energy and Empire: Bolivia in the Age of Gas,” explained the interplay among energy, poverty and politics.

Socioeconomic and Ecological Consequences of Fossil Fuels

Gustafson views the connection between fossil fuels and poverty as a paradox. Large profits bolster the wealth of companies and their owners rather than those living and working near industrial hubs of fossil fuel extraction. Similarly, many of the resource-rich countries that source of much of the world’s fossil fuels seem to benefit far less than the countries they supply.

The regions involved in fossil fuel production exist as “sacrifice zones.” These zones are so named because the social and environmental rights of people nearby are forfeited for profit. Gustafson argues that corporate heads of fossil fuel companies realize their industry’s detriment. However, the “logic of the corporate CEO is that anything that is negative can be paid for.”

Fossil fuels also wreak environmental and social destruction. From extraction to transportation, drilling and mining may lead to accidents, toxic spillage and water/air pollution. Moreover, fossil fuel production involves human risk. In fact, between 2008 to 2012, 34 fatalities and more than 1,400 injuries resulted from offshore oil rigs.

The Industry’s Role in US Politics: Subsidies and Lobbying

Energy, poverty and politics intersect in the U.S. as well. Despite evidence of socioeconomic and ecological harm, fossil fuel industries enjoy favorable political support in the U.S. Credible estimates of annual domestic fossil fuel exploration and production subsidies range between $10 billion and $52 billion per year. These estimates are likely to remain high with the current administration’s goal of “energy dominance,” a term synonymous with President Trump’s efforts to ramp up fossil fuel production and end the “war on coal.”

The fossil fuel industry and some U.S. politicians maintain a symbiotic relationship. The oil and gas industry was the fourth-largest industry spender in the U.S. for political lobbying in 2019.  In addition, from 2017 to 2018, companies tethered to fossil fuels spent nearly $360 million in campaign donations and lobbying. Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and Chevron were the leading spenders. In comparison, renewable energy industries spent $26 million during the same period of time.

A Sustainable Future in Energy, Poverty and Politics

Successfully addressing issues tied to energy, poverty and politics will likely require parallel streams of infrastructural change and public pressure. Experts at the Environmental and Energy Study Institute advocate for more efficient reconfigurations of the energy grid, such as a shift to electric transportation and renewable-powered buildings.

Gustafson believes awareness and protest will catalyze the political action necessary to make these changes mainstream. “It won’t happen by itself,” he says. “We need people in the street, marching, demonstrating.”

Though the fossil fuel industry operates within complicated socioeconomic and political contexts, individuals can walk, bike, vote or protest in the short-term for just, sustainable energy.

Maya Gonzales
Photo: Flickr

Politics in Venezuela
Venezuela is the most poverty-stricken country in Latin America. The nation’s position in poverty has led to Venezuelan citizens requiring aid from the United States, more so than any nation in Latin America. Some argue that poverty in Venezuela is mainly due to the politics in Venezuela. Notably, the politics within the country receive influence from both inside and outside parties. Below is an introduction to how the politics of Venezuela has influenced these seven facts about poverty in Venezuela.

7 Facts About Poverty in Venezuela

  1. The average person living in Venezuela lives on 72 cents per day.
  2. Inflation has decreased the value of the Venezuelan currency.
  3. Although it is rich in oil, it does not export enough of it to boost its economy.
  4. The U.S. has placed sanctions on Venezuelan trade, further accentuating poverty in Venezuela.
  5. Almost 5 million people have immigrated from Venezuela in the past 5 years because of the extreme poverty levels there.
  6. “Multidimensional poverty” affects 64.8% of homes in Venezuela (“multidimensional poverty” includes aspects of poverty other than just income).
  7. The income poverty rate is at 96%.

How Politics in Venezuela Plays a Role in Poverty

The President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, has not allowed Venezuelans to receive aid from the U.S. The U.S. does not recognize Maduro as the legitimate president and that makes it much more difficult for Venezuelans to receive the aid that they desperately need. Also, Maduro has control over the country’s military. Therefore, people do not have much of a choice, but to follow him or to risk their lives.

Maduro has denied the U.S.’s foreign aid so that it does not go to the people suffering from poverty in Venezuela. He does not want to lose his power and if the aid is given to the people that oppose him, it could give them an edge that they need to overthrow him. Additionally, he mistrusts the U.S. because of incidents in the past. Maduro (and others) suspect that USAID worked alongside companies in the U.S. to cause a coup in Cuba. All of this was said to be under the guise of foreign aid.

A Hopeful Newcomer

Enter a new player — Juan Guaido. Guaido was elected by the National Assembly as president because Nicolás Maduro unconstitutionally kept the power of the presidency after his term was over. The U.S. officially recognizes Guaido as the president of Venezuela, even though he has no real power yet. Also, only around 20% of Venezuelan citizens approve of Maduro. He is a ruthless leader who allows for the occurrence of violence within his country.

Moving Forward in the Wake of COVID-19

Countries in Asia, such as Russia and China, are backing Maduro. However, the European Union is about to follow suit with many other nations and recognize Guaido as the President of Venezuela. The current state of the world has not helped any country, Venezuela is no exception. The country was already in crisis before the pandemic and now COVID-19 has made it even harder for them to get back on their feet.

With that said, hope is not lost. If there is any country with the capabilities to find a way to get the people of Venezuela what they need to survive, it is the U.S. The pandemic has caused people to take a hard look at the world around them and re-analyze many decisions. People all over are rising to the challenge and the Venezuelan crisis should be no different.

Moriah Thomas
Photo: Pixbay

tunisian povertyTunisia stands as the only Arabian country to have undergone democratization as a result of the Arab Spring protests that shook the region in the 2010s. Fueled by widespread Tunisian poverty and a low standard of living, alongside many other factors, the nearly month-long campaign of civil disobedience led to the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. However, the installation of a functioning democracy has yet to alleviate all of the issues that Tunisians faced pre-revolution.

The Jasmine Revolution

In December of 2010, Mohammed Bouazizi, a Sidi Bouzid fruit vendor whose goods had recently been confiscated by local authorities, self-immolated outside of the local governor’s office. His sentiments were echoed amongst many citizens frustrated with Tunisian poverty, corruption and suppression of freedoms. Leading up to the revolution, an increasing number of middle-class citizens expressed dissatisfaction with their standards of living. Despite an approximate 7% increase in GDP per capita from 2008 to 2010, the percentage of the country’s middle class that rated themselves satisfied with their current and future prospects dropped from 24% to 14%. Due to other factors such as government corruption, something that is not accurately reflected by metrics like GDP, Tunisians felt as if they had little to gain from their country’s economic growth. As a result of these factors, many Tunisians took to the streets soon after Bouazizi’s act of defiance.

As riots escalated, with protestors dying under live fire from police, President Ben Ali appeared on national television and made some concessions, including a reduction in food prices and in restrictions on internet usage. However, these remarks proved too little, and the protests continued. By Jan. 14 2011, state media reported the dissolution of the Ben Ali regime and the establishment of legislative elections. As unrest continued, Ben Ali fled the country. While new leadership took charge of the newly reformed government, protests continued, as much of this new leadership consisted of members of Ben Ali’s Democratic Constitutional Rally. Eventually, Mohammed Ghannouchi, the acting prime minister, announced the posting of several figures from other parties in the interim government. He also reemphasized the new government’s pledged efforts to maintain economic prosperity and freer speech. Eventually, the Democratic Constitutional Rally was dissolved in the face of continued protests over the inclusion of politicians from the old regime. These reforms within the Tunisian government stand as one of the major catalysts for the Arab Spring protests, a series of demonstrations across the Arab world that demanded alterations to many standing regimes.

Fundamental Changes in Tunisian Poverty?

While the Tunisian government changed drastically in the face of this civil uprising, Tunisian citizens still face some of the issues that plagued them before. Socially, there has been continued strife between Islamism and secularism in the country, with violence spreading throughout the country in 2012 over the interaction of religion and government. While secular parties have slightly outpaced Islamist parties, there have been problems with fundamentalist violence both domestically and abroad. Tunisians have joined terrorist organizations such as ISIS in Syria, Iraq and Lybia, making up large percentages of their foreign recruits. Additionally, terrorist groups have staged attacks on Tunisian soil, attacking institutions such as museums and resorts.

Economic troubles have also challenged Tunisians. Since 2011, nearly 100,000 highly skilled workers and professionals have left the country. Despite the changes in government, unemployment still stands as a grave issue. Nearly 23% of university graduates were unemployed right before the onset of the revolution. This number has since risen to 29%. Government corruption and protracted bureaucracy have done less than initially desired in helping the Tunisian middle and lower classes. Unfortunately, some Tunisians have started to doubt the effectiveness of the new government, with only 46% saying that “democracy is preferable to any other kind of government” in 2018, dropping from 71% in 2013. However, there has been some support from the international community in alleviating these economic issues.

The International Labour Organization

A wing of the United Nations, the International Labour Organization, has devoted resources toward alleviating Tunisian poverty and some other societal issues currently facing Tunisians. Some initiatives include construction projects, such as a covered market in Sidi Bouzid. This provides vendors with more favorable conditions to sell their goods while providing construction workers with employment. In Regueb, a village near Sidi Bouzid, the organization has implemented the Programme to Support the Development of Underprivileged Areas, providing around 100 individuals with agricultural skills. Mahmoud Ben Romdhane, the Tunisian Minister of Social Affairs, has endorsed the collaboration of local organizations and the International Labour Organization in improving the conditions of Tunisian citizens.

Tunisians face many challenges in the near future in alleviating the societal and economic issues that stand before the country. However, the success of Tunisians in standing for a reformed government has inspired generations across the world. With support from the international community and dedication within the country, a bright future may lie ahead in regard to Tunisian poverty and political stability.

Samuel Levine
Photo: Flickr

Social movements in Argentina
There is a vibrant culture of using social movements in Argentina to achieve political change. In recent years, Argentines have created community movements that push change related to hunger, sanitation, gender equality, same-sex rights, psychosocial and emotional treatment reform and much more. Notorious social movements throughout the country’s history of political and economic hardship have led to transformative policies around poverty, inequity and inequality. Here are three notable social movements in Argentina that have fostered attention to human rights and political reform.

Mothers of The Plaza de Mayo and Demilitarization

Between 1976 and 1983, Argentina experienced a period referred to as the “dirty war,” which resulted from a highly-militarized junta ruling under President Jorge Rafael Videla. This militarized dictatorship imposed extreme violence, regular kidnappings and killings of Argentinian citizens. On 30 April 1977, 14 mothers of disappeared children took to the Plaza de Mayo, located directly outside the presidential palace, to protest both the mystery behind their children’s disappearances and state violence. These 14 mothers inspired Argentines with their bravery, encouraging many to speak up about personal sufferings at the hands of the standing government. Eventually, oppositional parties, leading labor groups and other community leaders overthrew this militarized system. Democracy returned in 1983 under elected President Raúl Alfonsín — a long-term result of the heroism of The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo.

The Piquetero Movement

The 2001 Piquetero social movement in Argentina brought destructive neoliberal policies to an end. The neoliberal ideals of President De La Rúa threatened the rights of many Argentines suffering from systemic injustices. Many working-class Argentines lost jobs without governmental support, which rippled to affect local neighborhood living standards. Neoliberal policies perpetuated poor living conditions, unemployment and governmental neglect of basic human rights. Many Argentines had to demonstrate for their own lives.

Neoliberal policy oppressed the primary voices involved in this social movement in Argentina. These groups included the unemployed, labor unions and even middle-class workers. As the Piquetero protests broke out in December 2001, economic minister Domingo Cavallo and President De La Rúa both chose to resign. This allowed local communities to band together with newfound power. Solidarity, equality and equity of need-based opportunity were cultivated across classes, communities and neighborhoods, resulting in permanent, unionized local powers. In 2003, the president-elect of Argentina, Néstor Kirchner, rejected Argentina’s former neoliberal economic system. Still, he brought little reform to systematized social and economic issues within the country.

The Evita Movement

Named after former Argentine first lady Eva Perón, the Evita movement responded to vestigial aggressions of neoliberal economics. Eva Perón championed multiple labor and feminist movements during her husband’s 1946 presidency. Now, Perón is a popular culture idol within the country. Her values are the face of this social movement in Argentina, which fights for the redistribution of wealth and access to human rights.

The movement started in 2003 in support of President Kirchner’s plans for economic and social reform. Although President Kirchner did not reform systemic issues of oppression, the Evita movement is committed to addressing systemic poverty that resulted from Argentina’s debilitating period of neoliberalism. Inspired by Eva Perón’s ideals, the Evita movement works to redistribute wealth and power to people burdened by systemic violence.

Argentina is rich with a history of powerful unions, leaders and communities. With courage, the country has achieved full governmental renewal multiple times and worked to empower oppressed voices. The Argentinian population provides inspiration for social and political change across the globe.

Lilia Wilson
Photo: Pixabay

Civil Rights Issues in Cuba
For years, Cubans have experienced severe restrictions in their ability to exercise freedom of speech. While they do not have the same First Amendment liberties as in the United States, Cubans are fiercely fighting for their rights to expression, speech and access to online opinion articles. Change is steadily emerging for Cubans, but the process has been slow. Here are three civil rights issues in Cuba.

3 Civil Rights Issues in Cuba

  1. Freedom of Expression. Cuba has restricted freedom of expression through the media for years. The Cuban government has heavy control over the content media outlets can broadcast, as well as the information citizens can view. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Cuba has the “most restricted climate for the press in the Americas.” Journalists and bloggers routinely write about Cuba without restriction, but the Cuban government has the power to block these websites and other channels from their citizens: websites like 14ymedio, Tremenda Nota, Cibercuba, Diario de Cuba and Cubanet have experienced censorship, according to World Report 2020. The situation is difficult to change due to high internet use costs. When a mere 600 MB of space costs $7, private providers struggle to afford the platforms needed to express their uncensored content.
  2. Freedom of Movement. In Cuba, citizens cannot move freely from one residence to another. They do not have permission to move to a new apartment or house, nor can they change their place of employment. Because private employers are extremely limited in the number of workers they contract, the country experienced unprecedented unemployment numbers in 2019 with 617,974 “self-employed” Cubans. One action that could help secure the freedom of movement for many Cubans is repealing Decree-Law No. 366, which limits non-agricultural cooperatives. Eliminating this legislation would lift restrictions on where Cubans can work and live.
  3. Due Process. Cubans lack the freedom to protest due to legal regulations. Consequences for minor offenses like public disorder, disrespect for authority and aggression stop people from protesting freely. When police forces can use these loose definitions of illegal activity to arrest protesters, freedom of expression and speech suffer. Measures like repealing Law 88 aim to eradicate false policing and reliance on regulations that “criminalize individuals who demonstrate ‘pre-criminal social dangerousness’ (as defined by the state) even before committing an actual crime,” according to The Heritage Foundation. In essence, this action would reduce protections for unfair legal enforcement of state censorship and ultimately provide Cubans a much-needed avenue for freedom of expression through protest.

Involving NGOs

Acknowledging Cuban citizens’ need for support in securing their civil liberties, United States organizations have begun to intervene. For example, The Global Rules of Law & Liberty Legal Defense Fund (GLA) in Alexandria, Virginia is a legal defense fund assisting citizens who cannot afford legal guidance. The GLA had total revenue of $92,400 in 2018, enabling this NGO to provide legal resources like local councils and political information to communities within multiple Latin American countries including Cuba. By enhancing resources for Cuba’s legal system and due process, actions from groups like the GLA could become significant in helping Cubans secure freedom of expression. 

The GLA has helped Cuban journalists like Roberto de Jesus Quiñones Haces, who is serving a one-year sentence for charges of “resistance” and “disobedience,” according to the global liberty alliance. He was arrested for reporting the prosecution of Pastors Rigal and Exposito, who were homeschooling their children in Guantanamo. The GLA recognized this arrest as persecution of the press and agreed to support Quiñones, increasing national awareness of his unjust prosecution by filing a Request for Precautionary Measures with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and publishing a video documenting his story. Since the beginning of his jail time in September 2019, Quiñones and the immorality of persecuting the press have gained widespread attention in both the United States and Cuban legal systems.

Another United States NGO advocating for civil rights in Cuba is Plantados until Freedom and Democracy in Cuba in Miami, Florida. By providing aid to Cubans imprisoned for expressing support for democracy, this organization aims to support freedom and democracy in an environment where these fundamental liberties are largely ignored.

The Future of Civil Rights in Cuba

Thoroughly addressing these three civil rights issues in Cuba could help Cubans finally gain freedoms that democratic nations around the world enjoy. As several United States NGOs have demonstrated, actions like simply sharing news and advocating for change have the potential to encourage progress. In doing so, Cuba has the power to become a model for other developing countries in the fight for civil liberties.

– Grant Ritchey
Photo: Flickr

Morroco - Western Sahara conflict
A relic of the Cold War, the Morocco-Western Sahara conflict remains frozen and mired in uncertainty. Nearing its 50th year, the clash has displaced and killed thousands over the years. Thankfully, some organizations have floated proposals to remedy this fight, although obtaining little success. Still, some humanitarian organizations are on the ground and working to improve the lives of those who desperately need it.

What is Western Sahara?

Western Sahara is the largest non-autonomous territory in the world. With an area of 266,000 square kilometers, Western Sahara is home to over 650,000 people. That’s roughly the size of Colorado, with a little more than a tenth of its population. Although rather poor, the desertic region contains significant phosphate deposits and rich fisheries off its coast. The arid climate over there prevents substantive agriculture, forcing Western Sahara to import much of its food. Life expectancy there is low, averaging only 64 years, and infant mortality is high, with 47.9 deaths per 1,000 children born.

The Dispute.

As colonial powers relinquished many of their claims, Spain decided to leave Western Sahara in the early 1970s — known then as the Spanish Sahara. The Spanish finally left the territory in 1975, as the tensions regarding the ownership of the region began heating up.

In 1974, the International Court of Justice had issued an advisory opinion finding that Morocco did not have a claim to the ownership of Western Sahara. This decision, which was mired in Cold War politics, was effectively ignored by Morocco. Shortly after the decision had been issued, more than 300,000 unarmed Moroccans marched into Western Sahara with copies of the Quran in what became known as the “Green March”. Then, Spain brokered a deal between Morocco and Mauritania, giving both countries part of Western Sahara and withdrawing from the region in late 1975.

Presence of the UN.

Peace, however, did not flourish. In 1979 Mauritania ceded its claim to Western Sahara, leaving Morocco as the sole ruler. Then, Algeria – Morocco’s neighbor and geopolitical rival – worked with the independence movement Polisario Front to oppose Moroccan rule, thereby starting a conflict that stretched for close to a decade and took the lives of nearly 14,000 people. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Polisario Front lost many of its backers, leaving the two sides in somewhat of a stalemate. 

The Morocco-Western Sahara conflict has been locked in a ceasefire since 1991 when the UN sent in peacekeepers to make sure violence was kept to a minimum. This mission, which was officially called the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) was also intended to provide a forum through which Morocco and Western Sahara could reach an agreement on the region’s autonomy. Sadly, no agreement has been made and Western Sahara’s fate still remains in limbo.

What is Being Done?

Since then the living conditions in Western Sahara have deteriorated thanks to the war and to its arid landscape. More than 40,000 Sahrawi refugees who were displaced by the conflict now live in camps in Algeria. One camp in Tindouf – the site of the 1963 “Sand War” between Morocco and Algeria – has been in operation since the onset of the war. Deutsche Welle reported that the dry conditions limit agriculture and the availability of water there. Thankfully, some aid organizations have stepped up to supply the refugees with much-needed basics.

Early this year, Italy provided the World Food Programme with over $500,000 to provide monthly food rations. Other organizations have operated as forces for good in Western Sahara:

  • Oxfam responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by equipping 33 health clinics in the Tindouf camps.
  • UN peacekeepers constructed wells in Western Sahara, giving residents access to a vital resource.
  • Action on Armed Violence assisted Sahrawis in removing mines, cluster bombs and other un-detonated explosives. In total, 22,000 devices were cleared.
  • AOAV also gave micro-grants to over 200 people who had been injured by these remnants of war.

Future Perspectives.

In 2006, Morocco proposed the Autonomy Plan, whereby Western Sahara would be governed by Morocco and yet retain some sovereignty of its own. The UN Security Council endorsed the idea, as have several other countries. Morocco controls 80% of Western Sahara and most Sahrawis already live under Moroccan control. But this plan has so far stalled. In its own fashion, Morocco has improved life in Western Sahara for some people. In 2015, the General Confederation of Moroccan Enterprises announced a $609 million investment plan for Western Sahara.

Still, much remains to be done. Despair is still common among refugee camps and long-term solutions have yet to be realized. Therefore, organizations on the ground need to increase their assistance while other countries and international organizations need to revisit the Morocco-Western Sahara conflict with redoubled efforts. Perhaps this frozen conflict can eventually thaw into peace.

– Jonathan Helton

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Peru
Peru is considered an upper middle-income country and is located in South America. It has a population of around 31 million people. Furthermore, Peru is ranked number 82 on the Human Development Index, meaning that it falls under the “high human development” category. Based on these positive remarks about Peru, most would assume that this country does not face any negative issues. However, when considering one of the most detrimental global issues, what does this information reveal about hunger in Peru?

5 Facts About Hunger in Peru

  1. Peru has a Global Hunger Index (GHI) of 8.8. The GHI measures countries on four indicators: undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting and child mortality. A score of 8.8 means that Peru has a relatively low level of hunger. In fact, all four indicators have decreased from 2000-2019. This is because the proportion of undernourished in the population fell from 21.8% in 2000 to 9.7% in 2019.
  2. The GHI for Peru depicts a steady decrease in food insecurity and hunger for the nation. One of the main explanations for this reduction is Peru’s economic growth, especially in the mining and export sectors. As a result, Peru has seen more social and economic investment that have driven down high levels of hunger and poverty. The World Food Programme was originally providing direct aid and food supply to Peru since 1968. It has currently shifted its involvement to investment in local resources and communities in order to maintain Peru’s economic stability.
  3. However, despite Peru’s economic growth over the years, the country still retains a high level of income inequality and food insecurity. These high levels mostly occurs in rural areas throughout the country. For example, remote, rural areas that rely heavily on agricultural work are incredibly vulnerable to malnutrition and high mortality rates. The Food Security Portal divulges that 38% of people living in these remote areas do receive a proper caloric intake; 18% consists of children who experience chronic undernutrition. Certain parts of Peru may see a decrease in food insecurity. However, this way of life is not the reality for the entire country.
  4. Similarly, many of the rural regions are also plagued by extreme poverty, heightening the hunger problem even more. Specifically, 73% of this rural population does not have access to a clean water source. Additionally, 53% of the population works in the agricultural sector, limiting its ability to build up credit and obtain comprehensive job training. As a result, these citizens have a much harder time receiving consistent, well-paying jobs outside of agriculture. This can affect hunger in Peru for many reasons. These conditions create obstacles for families who need adequate income to buy food while prioritizing shelter, clothing, medical bills, education and more.
  5. When hit with COVID-19, Peru needed to ensure that its citizens were not only quarantining but were quarantining with a healthy lifestyle. Thus, the World Food Programme worked with local communities to improve communal kitchens and grocery stores as food kits for families in need are produced and distributed. Additionally, many chefs and other distinguished members of society created a large social media campaign. Doing this teaches people how to cook healthy meals while being in quarantine.

While hunger in Peru has been steadily declining over the years, the pervasive inequalities between rural and urban areas cannot be ignored. Food insecurity for rural areas largely stems from these intense income inequalities. If these gaps are not remedied, then hunger in Peru may become a bigger issue than before.

Sophia McWilliams
Photo: Flickr

Congressional LeadersA Gallup poll taken before the government shutdown of 2018-19 found American’s approval rating of congressional leaders’ job performance at 18%. More recent polls show ratings have improved but remain low, with an average of 24.2% of people approving of Congress, according to Real Clear Politics. Government shutdowns and highly publicized filibusters highlight the challenge of passing bills and contribute to these low approval ratings. In fact, in 2016, after a House of Representatives sit-in over gun control measures, political analyst Larry Jacobs told a Minnesota local CBS affiliate that more than 90% of bills die in Senate or House committees.

However, as USHistory.org notes, passing bills is meant to be difficult with the checks and balances system in place. What’s more, bills do get introduced constantly. For instance, each of the 200 senators and 435 representatives in Congress is involved with at least a few of the hundreds of bills introduced throughout any given leaders’ tenure. Here are five leaders who have been especially active in supporting bills directly impacting the fight against global poverty.

5 Congressional Leaders Tackling Global Poverty Issues

  1. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine). Susan Collins has been a senator since 1997.  She directly sponsored 18 international affairs-related bills and co-sponsored an additional 374. Bills she introduced include the Clean Cookstoves and Fuels Support Act, which she introduced in various forms in 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2015. These bills encourage the U.S. to better help advance an international initiative to make clean cooking accessible to millions of people worldwide. Collins also introduced the Reach Every Mother and Child Acts of 2015, 2017, and 2019—which urge the president to create a five-year strategy to, as the bill states, help end “preventable child and maternal deaths globally by 2030.”
  2. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ). A Senator since 1993, Robert Menendez has sponsored 178 and co-sponsored 650 international affairs bills. Menendez’s sponsored bills include the Ebola Eradication Act of 2019, which passed in the Senate in September 2019, the End Tuberculosis Now Act of 2019, which is still under Senate consideration, and the Venezuela Humanitarian Relief, Reconstruction, and Rule of Law Act of 2018.
  3. Representative Lois Frankel (D-Fl). Lois Frankel has been in Congress since 2013. She’s sponsored 12 international affairs-related bills and co-sponsored an additional 200 with a focus on women’s rights issues abroad. For example, one bill she introduced herself is the Women and Countering Violent Extremism Act of 2019, which authorizes aid to women’s groups abroad that address terrorism-related issues. Frankel also introduced the Keeping Girls in School Act, a bill improving access to education for young girls worldwide. Frankel introduced the initial version in 2018 and passed the new 2019 version in the House in January 2020.
  4. Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ). Christopher Smith has been in Congress since 1981. In that time, he’s sponsored 287 international affairs-related bills and co-sponsored an additional 1,208. One bill he introduced is the End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act, which directs the U.S. to help treat and eliminate under-the-radar tropical diseases to improve lives in at-risk regions. The bill passed in the House in December and is under review by a Senate committee. Another bill he introduced is the Global Food Security Reauthorization Act of 2018, which extends the programs of the Global Food Security Act of 2016. Smith’s bill was a sibling to a Senate bill that passed through both legislatures first, becoming law in October 2018.
  5. Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY). A Congressman since 1989, Eliot Engel has personally introduced 150 bills addressing international affairs issues and co-sponsored an additional 1,312. One bill he introduced is the Venezuela Humanitarian Assistance and Defense of Democratic Governance Act of 2017, which calls for the U.S. to assist Venezuela amid its growing humanitarian crisis. The bill passed in the House in December 2017 and is under Senate review. Engel also introduced the Global Fragility Act to “establish the interagency Global Fragility Initiative to stabilize conflict-affected areas and prevent violence globally.” This act passed in the House in May 2019 and is under review by the Senate.

These five congressional leaders have worked directly on hundreds of bills addressing issues of global poverty. The examples above are only a snapshot of their individual contributions. These five leaders have had a total of 30 sponsored bills in the international affairs category become law; the process of introducing and passing bills never ends. The upcoming election will determine whether these leaders will continue to build on their legacies or cede their place to new leaders eager to make a mark on the legislative process.

– Amanda Ostuni
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Nicaragua
Nicaragua is one of the poorest nations in the continental Americas. With a population of 6.5 million, the country’s chronic cycle of poverty is linked to consistent political instability and conflict, high inequality between urban and rural populations, dependency on agricultural exports and natural disasters. Nicaragua’s unusual response to COVID-19 — which has entailed no formal quarantine measures and an underreporting of infections — will surely impact its level of poverty as well. Here are five causes of poverty in Nicaragua.

5 Causes of Poverty in Nicaragua

  1. Political Instability and Conflict: Since the turn of the 20th century, Nicaragua has experienced three authoritarian dictatorships, a period of U.S. occupation, a revolution and civil war. The Somoza family dictatorship — which lasted for 43 years, from 1936 to 1979 — created extreme economic inequality. The 1979 Sandinista revolution usurped power from the Somoza family; however, the revolution was short-lived, as a counter-revolution began shortly afterward. That counter-revolution lasted until 1990 and severely ravaged the country. Nowadays, Nicaragua is again experiencing authoritarian rule and state violence under President Daniel Ortega. Initially, Ortega’s government implemented social welfare programs that greatly reduced poverty. The government also created a fruitful business environment that led to high economic growth. However, protests in 2018 prompted a violent response from the government, leading to continued political unrest and economic recession. Nicaragua’s economy shrunk by 4% and 3.9% in 2018 and 2019. In 2020, experts believe that the economy could contract by 4.3%.
  2. Urban vs. Rural Divide: There is a significant difference between life in Nicaragua’s cities and in rural areas. Overall, 30% of Nicaraguans live in poverty and 8% live in extreme poverty. However, 50% of the population in rural areas live below the poverty line, and 11.5% live in extreme poverty. This inequality manifests not only in GDP per capita but also in access to resources such as water, electricity, telephone, mobile phone service and paved roads.
  3. Dependency on Agricultural Exports: Historically, many economies in Latin America and the global south have geared toward exporting agricultural goods to industrialized countries. Such economies tend to be entirely dependent on one or two crops. Nicaragua is no exception — coffee and cotton have been the country’s principal cash crops. Today, 70% of the Nicaraguan population still works in agriculture. Although agriculture accounts for 20% of the country’s GDP, food insecurity is high, which signals that the country still exports a large proportion of crops. Certain NGOs, such as EcoAgriculture Partners and Self-Help International, work to help alleviate food insecurity and other problems that result from the agricultural system in Nicaragua.
  4. Natural Disasters: Nicaragua’s topography includes many lakes and volcanoes. Situated along the Caribbean Sea, the country is highly susceptible to natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and drought. In April 2014, Nicaragua suffered from two earthquakes in two days, hitting Managua and Granada and measuring 6.1 and 6.6 in magnitude, respectively. Natural disasters have repeatedly infringed on the development and maintenance of the country’s infrastructure.
  5. COVID-19 and Future Predictions: As in other countries, experts expect that the COVID-19 pandemic could increase poverty levels in Nicaragua. Nicaragua’s government has not implemented any social distancing measures. In fact, it has done the opposite, keeping schools open and promoting social gatherings like sporting events and beach activities. The pandemic has already reduced remittances, trade and tourism. On top of Nicaragua’s political situation, the pandemic also greatly increases the risk for investment in the country.

While these five causes of poverty in Nicaragua determine that poverty and inequality could increase in upcoming years due to COVID-19 and political turmoil, the people of Nicaragua should still have hope. The country experienced great success in slashing poverty from the mid-2000s to the mid-2010s. In 2005, 48.3% of the population lived below the poverty line, with 17.2% living in extreme poverty. Those percentages have since decreased by 18 and nine points, respectively, thanks to the current government’s investment in social welfare programs. These programs include Hambre Cero, which offers plants and animals to women heads-of-household; Usura Cero, which provides women micro-loans; Plan Techo, which provides roofing materials for families in need; and Agua Segura, which provides clean water. In addition, NGOs such as Self-Help International are working to advance agriculture, feed children, empower women and provide community nutrition for the people of Nicaragua.

Tirza Morales
Photo: Flickr

Parliamentary System
Many nations around the world use a parliamentary system, a type of representative government that shapes the way the nation functions. While many know the U.S. for its presidential system, most European nations tend to use a parliamentary system, in which citizens vote for a specific party to allocate seats based on the vote percentages. Parliamentary systems are all around the world, each one with its own unique form and institutions. These unique characteristics shape the way countries run and develop. Here is some information about how a parliamentary system works.

Features of a Parliamentary System

The main characteristic of how a parliamentary system works is the “supremacy of the legislative branch,” which runs through a unicameral (one-chamber) or bicameral (two-chamber) parliament. The parliament consists of members who each represent the constituents. The legislative body votes for laws and the head of state can either sign a bill or return it to legislation, showing their agreement or disagreement with the bill. However, parliament can still override the head of state’s veto with a vote.

The Prime Minister leads the executive branch as the head of government. Often in a parliamentary system, the roles of the legislative branch and the executive branch are either “blurred or merged,” because the two branches do not exist to check each other’s power like in the presidential system of the U.S.

Many parliamentary systems also consist of a special constitutional court, which has the right to judicial review and may state a law as unconstitutional if it violates the law of the land or the constitution.

Political Parties, Elections and Voting

In a parliamentary system, the people do not choose the head of government or the Prime Minister. Instead, the members of the legislative branch choose their leader. Voters vote for the party that they want to represent them in parliament. Typically, the majority party chooses an individual to be the Prime Minister. The legislative branch also chooses members to be a part of the executive cabinet. When voting does not give a party a majority, parties tend to form coalitions.

In terms of the electoral system, most parliamentary systems use proportional representation. A proportional representation (PR) system creates a representative body that “reflects the overall distribution” of the voters for each party. It ensures that minority groups still have representation, but only so long as they participate in elections. A PR electoral system has two varieties, a party-list and a mixed-member PR.

Denmark is an example of a parliamentary system that incorporates PR into its electoral system. People know its parliament as the Folketing, and the PR system elects its members. Like the United Kingdom, Denmark is also a constitutional monarchy. The Queen is the head of state and the Prime Minister is the head of government.

On the other hand, many countries use a plurality system, which places power in the hands of an individual from a strong party. Within a plurality system, there are different variations, such as a single-member district plurality system or first-past-the-post system, typically known as a “winner-take-all” system. In this system, voters vote for a candidate whose party they support and want to represent them. India, Canada and the United Kingdom are great examples of parliamentary systems that incorporate a plurality electoral system.

Canada is an example of a parliamentary system that incorporates a plurality electoral system. Canada has a unique governmental structure, as it follows the context of the British constitutional monarchy, despite the U.K. and Canada being two separate nations. Its parliament consists of members that receive election through a plurality system in each electoral district. The party that obtains the most votes wins the majority of seats in parliament.

Advantages of a Parliamentary System

The major advantage of how a parliamentary system works is the fact that it allows all parties, large and small, majority and minority, to receive representation and have a voice in the policy-making process. In a presidential system, all power of the executive branch goes into the hands of an individual of the majority party. This can ignore the minority groups, thus creating social and political tensions. The ability of a parliamentary system to form coalitions allows all parties, including the minorities, to have representation. As a result, it minimizes tensions that develop among societies.

– Krishna Panchal
Photo: Flickr