Haiti-United States RelationshipIn 1804, Haiti gained its independence from France, yet it took until 1862 for the U.S. to recognize Haiti as a nation. In the 19th century, U.S. military forces began a 19-year military intervention in Haiti that lasted until 1934. Despite being the “second-oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere after the United States,” Haiti has struggled to maintain a consistent and reliable democracy, according to the Office of the Historian. The Haiti-United States relationship has significantly strengthened over time, with the United States as a regular donor to Haiti. In an already unstable nation, the recent assassination of Haitian President Moïse in July 2021 has led to further instability in the nation, prompting urgent humanitarian assistance.

Contemporary Haiti-US Economic Relations

Following the 2010 earthquake that paralyzed Haiti, the United States provided more than $5 billion worth of aid aimed at supporting “longer-term recover, reconstruction and development programs,” according to the U.S. State Department. In the aftermath of the earthquake, U.S. economic efforts have allowed for:

  • The creation of close to 14,000 job opportunities in the apparel industry for local Haitians.
  • About 70,000 farmers were able to improve their crop yields with the introduction of “improved seeds, fertilizer, irrigation and other technologies.”
  • A stronger police force that has expanded to more than 15,300 members.
  • Progress in “child nutrition and mortality, improved access to maternal healthcare and the containment of the spread of HIV/AIDS.”
  • Greater access to basic healthcare services in more than 160 health centers across Haiti.

As “Haiti’s largest trading partner,” the U.S. is involved in Haitian sectors such as “banks, airlines, oil and agribusiness companies” as well as “U.S.-owned assembly plants,” according to the U.S. State Department. Tourism, medical supplies and equipment, modernization of Haitian infrastructure and clothing production are areas of opportunity for U.S. businesses.

Despite the successes of the Haiti-United States relationship, the World Bank estimates that, in 2020, almost 60% of the Haitian population lived in poverty. These statistics make Haiti the most impoverished nation in the Latin America and Caribbean region.

Political Unrest in Haiti

A shift from communism to democracy in Haiti has the ability to strengthen the Haiti-United States relationship and provide economic stability. Political and civil unrest has been ongoing since July 2018 and “violent protests” in the nation exacerbate Haiti’s plethora of issues. Among other issues, a growing unemployment rate, inflation rising to 20% and the Haitian currency depreciating by 30%, contribute to an ailing nation. Furthermore, the nation experiences regular fuel shortages and businesses struggle to keep their doors open. Due to the high poverty rate, about 33% of the population faces “crisis- or emergency-level food insecurity.”

While Haiti showed signs of promise when it held a democratic presidential election in 2017,  its “local and parliamentary elections” that were scheduled for October 2019 did not occur. Because democracy in Haiti is not consistent, this leads to nationwide instability and unrest.

The Assassination of President Jovenel Moïse

On July 7, 2021, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and his wife, Martine, were attacked in their residence in the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince. The president was killed in the attack and his wife was severely injured but did not suffer any fatal wounds.

Moïse’s presidency, which began in February 2017 after winning an annulled 2015 election and a second election in 2016, “was marked by controversy.” His appointment sparked protests throughout the country, with citizens citing “economic underperformance and corruption” as the reason. Since the beginning of 2020, Moïse ruled by decree and allegedly attempted to grant himself and close confidants “immunity from prosecution” on several occasions. In 2020, human rights abuses connected to gang violence caused two members of Moïse’s government to be sanctioned by the U.S. government.

US Solidarity and Support

U.S. President Joe Biden has spoken on the future of the Haiti-United States relationship following Moïse’s assassination. Recently, Biden released a statement of mourning over Moïse’s assassination and uncertainty about the future of Haiti. “We condemn this heinous act and I am sending my sincere wishes for First Lady Moïse’s recovery. The United States offers condolences to the people of Haiti and we stand ready to assist as we continue to work for a safe and secure Haiti,” says Biden.

The instability in the aftermath of Moïse’s assassination leaves the future of the Haiti-United States relationship in question. However, by committing to democracy, the Haitian government can work toward a stronger economic partnership between the two nations.

International Aid to Haiti

UNICEF is working to provide aid to more than 1.5 million Haitian people experiencing “constrained access to clean water, health and nutrition, disrupted education and protection services” amid the political instability and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In July 2021, UNICEF reported that “Haiti is the only country in the Western Hemisphere where not a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine has been received.”

To address this, “UNICEF will support the distribution, transportation and storage of COVID-19 vaccines” to improve the vaccine rollout. Starting three years ago, UNICEF has provided 920 solar-operated fridges in Haiti, “to strengthen the cold chain, mainly in remote areas where electricity is unreliable.” Today, 96% of Haiti’s health centers possess solar fridges for medicinal cold storage.

By mitigating Haiti’s domestic hardships, there is greater hope for a stronger Haiti-United States relationship in the future. The efforts of global humanitarian organizations provide a glimmer of hope in a tumultuous political landscape.

– Jessica Umbro
Photo: Flickr

A group using USAID prepares a work crew for disaster reliefWith respect to the long history of governance, the increase in support for evidence-based policymaking is a relatively recent development. While the call to utilize evidence in policymaking can be traced to the 14th century, advocacy for evidence-based policymaking is recent. Advocates argue for the improved collection, consideration, dissemination and use of evidence at every level of government.

Evidence-based Policymaking in Congress

There is no single body today which defines or guides evidence-based policymaking. Implementations of evidence can be unique but tend to share similar goals and core principles.

Its proponents are numerous. Many organizations have recently launched their own initiatives to begin major pushes for evidence-based policymaking. In Washington alone, the Bipartisan Policy Center, Pew Charitable Trusts, Urban Institute and Brookings Institute are key examples.

When the Urban Institute introduced its Evidence-Based Policymaking Collaborative, it heralded the increasing momentum behind the use of evidence in policymaking — even suggesting the potential for a “golden era” of evidence-based policymaking. In its own words, evidence-based policymaking is about “[using] what we already know from program evaluation to make policy decisions and to build more knowledge to better inform future decisions.”

Evidence Proponents

A number of recent factors have made this change possible today. For instance, in order for policymaking backed by evidence to be possible in the first place, institutions must begin by using high-quality data which enables further analysis. Some contributing changes are computerization and digitalization, which have improved the availability of evidence. Increased investments in rigorous research have made analyzing evidence more fruitful to ultimately enable the evidence process.

The Bipartisan Policy Center launched its own Evidence-Based Policymaking Initiative in 2017 to continue providing policymakers with recommendations. It bases its definition of evidence-based policymaking on three principles: data collection, data analysis and evidence use.

In its suggestions to policymakers, the Evidence-Based Policymaking Initiative recommended that “for the evidence-based policymaking process to become more routine, policymakers must recognize that evidence is an essential and necessary input into the policymaking process.”

Evidence in Federal Agencies

USAID is a strong example of a United States government institution that has made significant strides in implementing evidence into its policies. The agency has implemented evaluative processes to assess and cement the use of evidence.

In October of 2019, Results for America released a press statement highlighting USAID, among nine other federal agencies, for its progress in its use of evidence.

USAID’s 10-year-old Development Investment Ventures (DIV) is a strong example of successful inclusions of evidence in policymaking. The Center for Global Development (CGD), a think tank and research institution, described DIV as comparable to venture capital funds. Both of them aggressively try new and untested approaches. DIV scales up the impacts of programs that are proven to work. However, DIV is unlike venture capital funds in that it seeks social returns rather than monetary gain.

DIV has managed to make remarkable impacts through its programs. Five of its innovations have yielded at least $17 in social impact per dollar invested.

CGD pointed out that the DIV programs that showed the strongest scalability were ones that “had a low cost per person reached; were based on established evidence; included an academic researcher in the design process to help test, iterate, and improve the innovation over time…” While organizations such as CGD continue to see room for improvement in evidence implementations, current evidence-based implementations at USAID are examples of the positive impact.

– Marshall Wu
Photo: Flickr

Kosovo women in politics
Kosovo women hold more power in politics than ever before, including the highest office. Vjosa Osmani became the acting president of Kosovo after the arrest of the previous leader for war crimes in November 2020. For Kosovo women in politics, suppression from the 1990s Serbian rule still affects their representation in democratic offices since Serbia refuses to recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence. However, 44 of 120 new Parliament members the country elected in February 2021 were women, marking the highest number of women that the body has ever elected.

5 Ways That Kosovo Women are Gaining Representation in Politics

  1. Parliament Quota – After the Kosovo War with Serbia ended in 1999, Kosovo’s police force expanded to include the recruitment of female officers. One of these officers, Atifete Jahjaga, became Kosovo’s first female president in 2011. In 2004, Kosovo’s Law on Gender Equality declared equal opportunity for male and female participation in politics. In 2008, the Law on General Elections introduced a gender quota requiring a representation of at least 30% of either gender in elections. During the 2021 February election, women won more seats in Parliament than any previous year. About 40% of seats in Parliament are now for Kosovo women.
  2. National Democratic Institute’s Week of Women – In Kosovo, there is an annual workshop called The Week of Women. This campaign brings about 100 Kosovo women together to discuss various topics in politics. In 2018, Kosovo held its first six-month intensive program called Women’s Leadership Academy (WLA). The academy focuses on building skills for Kosovo women in politics and one can still access it online. The National Democratic Institute coaches women with various political representations, organizations and research findings. On September 15, 2018, participants shared their results with the Women’s Caucus in the Kosovo Assembly to celebrate the International Day of Democracy.
  3. Kosovo Women’s Network – The Kosovo Women’s Network (KWN) strives to improve women’s participation in politics. Six programs partner with 158 membered organizations. The programs include strengthening measures, decision-making, health care, gender, empowerment and education.
  4. “Marching, not Celebrating” Protest – In March 2020, Acting President Vjosa Osmani and Prime Minister-designate Albin Kurti attended protests for women. The rally had the title of “Marching, not Celebrating” and protested rampant domestic violence and a patriarchal society. Osmani is the second female president since the Serbian war, a substantial example of increasing opportunity for Kosovo women in politics.
  5. Girls Lead Act – The Girls Lead Act is a U.S. bill that received introduction in 2019. It directs the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development to report to Congress the best solutions to help girls in democratic governance. If passed, this act will prioritize foreign aid in these areas as well, and can significantly aid Kosovo women. Currently, the bill receives support online.

An Optimistic Future

Kosovo women in politics are steadily increasing their solidification of power within the democracy. Kosovo’s independence is growing, though Russia and China’s support of Serbia only recognize Kosovo as a partially independent country. But, the United States and reputable European countries wholeheartedly recognize Kosovo’s independence, providing hope to not just women but also Kosovo’s people in general.

– Libby Keefe
Photo: Flickr

The Feminization of Poverty in Thailand
Feminization of poverty refers to the higher likelihood that women will experience poverty than men. This rate is disproportionately high, even in industrialized nations where people encourage climbing the corporate ladder. The feminization of poverty in Thailand is a key issue for the country, and other gender inequality issues exacerbate it.

Gender Inequality in Poverty

Of all of the people living in poverty in the world, 70% are women. For these women, poverty is more than just a lack of money. It also includes not having access to necessary resources, such as healthcare, education, food and housing.

Poor households are also susceptible to chronic poverty. Chronic poverty refers to when households are stuck in a cycle of poverty that is difficult to escape. For example, having an uncertain source of income instead of a stable one is difficult to overcome, especially when society deems women less than men. Feminization of poverty in Thailand and other places not only affects the particular individual in poverty but also generations to come. The cycle of poverty is incredibly difficult to break, which can lead women and their families to feel hopeless.

The Wage Gap in Thailand

Around the world, women earn less than men for doing the same work. The wage gap in Thailand was 2.5% in 2015. Unfortunately, in 2020, this gap increased to 10.94%. Further statistics from 2020 show that the average number of unpaid work hours per day is 3.2 for women and 0.9 for men. Additionally, the average number of total work hours for women and men differs by 0.9.

Furthermore, Thai women do not receive enough access to economic resources and financial services. Therefore, women do not possess the same amount of financial and digital literacy as men, resulting in underdeveloped technology skills. This puts women at a disadvantage when searching for jobs. Because of this, women in Thailand do not have equal access to markets.

As demonstrated in the unpaid work statistics, women bear the burden of unpaid responsibilities at home, such as cleaning and cooking, due to societal gender roles. This unpaid work results in women having less time to spend with their family and community. Women are also more likely to prioritize spending money on their children’s well-being, including health and education. The effects of the wage gap on working mothers often include living in poor conditions, lacking access to healthy foods and having fewer opportunities for their children. As a result, many women face increased levels of stress and unhappiness.

The Good News

The first step toward gender equality in Thailand occurred in 1933 when the government granted Thai women the right to vote. Thailand was one of the first Asian countries to give women this opportunity. The current Constitution of Thailand states that both women and men have equal rights.

The role of Thai women in the workplace has increased in recent years. Approximately 17.5 million women work in workplaces throughout Thailand. According to research from Grant Thornton International in 2019, women held 33% of all CEO and managing director jobs in the private sector in Thailand. Moreover, 20% of directors in Thailand were women according to the 2019 Corporate Governance Report.

Women have more protections than before and additional opportunities to advance their careers. Thailand now has anti-discrimination rules in hiring, rules against workplace sexual harassment and equal pay for equal work, which improves the feminization of poverty.

– Miranda Kargol
Photo: Flickr

involvement in the war in YemenPresident Biden announced his plan to end all U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen in February 2021. The President stated the U.S. will take on a mediator role with a focus on ending the war instead. This reversal is one of many steps Biden feels will serve as a course correction for U.S. foreign policy. The Trump administration and many others prior have often taken the side of foreign authoritarian leaders all for the sake of stability. This has only aggravated the humanitarian crises in conflict-riddled countries like Yemen. The U.S. is working to remedy its contribution to the dire state of war-torn Yemen.

Effects of the War in Yemen

The military conflict created mass instability throughout the country of Yemen. As a result, Yemen experienced extreme poverty, starvation, violence and the displacement of millions of people. Thus, the situation in Yemen has been labeled as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. More than 24 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. This includes more than 12 million vulnerable children.

About 4.3 million people have lost their homes due to displacements. Additionally, more than 230,000 people have died as a result of the consequences of war and conflict in Yemen. This includes more than 3,000 children. Furthermore, more than 20,100 airstrikes have been conducted on Yemen. The Obama administration conducted an estimated 185 airstrikes over eight years while the Trump administration conducted nearly 200 in four years. These attacks contributed to more than 17,500 deaths and injuries. Moreover, the airstrikes have destroyed schools, hospitals, water wells, civilian homes and other essential infrastructure.

USAID in Yemen

While the U.S. has played a significant role in creating the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, the nation is also the leading contributor of foreign aid to Yemen. According to the United States Agency of International Development (USAID), the U.S. has provided more than $1.1 billion of foreign aid to Yemen since 2019. This aid has provided funding for food, shelter, medical care and other essential resources. In addition, USAID states that the U.S. allocates funding for development initiatives that focus on helping put the country on a stable path to recovery and prevent continued dependence on humanitarian aid.

The U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen is shifting from tactical to mediation. This is putting the nation on the path to recovery. Furthermore, the end of the war benefits Yemeni civilians and the U.S. economy. As the U.S. is pulling out of the offensive efforts, the foreign aid provided to Yemen can be fully utilized.

President Biden emphasizes the importance of this decision in his foreign policy address, stating, “this war has to end.” He decided to take a step in the opposite direction of the last two administrations, including the Obama administration in which he served as vice president. Additionally, President Biden claims this decision to be one of many in a plan to restore U.S. emphasis on diplomacy, democracy and human rights.

Kendall Couture
Photo: Flickr

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Liberia’s Former President and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, made history in 2006 as the first female head of state in Africa and the first black woman head of state. Since then, the world has witnessed a tremendous increase in female political leadership in Africa. This article examines the extraordinary progress in expanding women’s leadership in Africa, the importance of such leadership and the challenges that remain before full equality can be achieved. 

Increased Representation in Women’s Leadership

Rwanda now has the highest percentage of women in parliamentary positions in the world, along with South Africa, Senegal, Namibia and Mozambique in top 20, according to 2020 data from the IPU-UN Women Map of Women in Politics. Despite this relative success, Africa still needs to double representation rates to achieve gender equality. Contemporary scholarship regarding women’s leadership also underscores that increased representation does not necessarily mean increased influence: the types of role women undertake, such as the portfolios they oversee as ministers or the nature of their work in a company, often reveal more about their real influence.

African Women in Political Office

Recent successes of women-led nations in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic have prompted further investigation into the benefits of women’s leadership and political representation. A NYTimes article proposes that women leaders tend to value varied information sources and diverse perspectives, while The Guardian cites evidence suggesting that female leaders are more likely to employ risk averse strategies to protect their citizens. Regarding the success of African women leaders in handling the COVID-19 health crisis, Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf remarks: “Women leaders are better placed to draw on informal networks to mobilize rapid responses and community support. They are used to finding alternative resources and building ingenious partnerships to solve problems.” Indeed, given the outstanding challenges Africa faces––population density, limited health infrastructure and inadequate sanitation, to name a few––the containment of the virus in Africa is proof of talented, thoughtful, and compassionate leadership.

Rising female leadership in Africa reflects an encouraging global trend. The proportion of women ministers worldwide is at an all-time high at 21.3 percent, which is up 7.1 percentage points from 2005. However, only 14 countries in the world have 50 percent or more women in their cabinet, and Rwanda is one of them at 53.6 percent. Rwanda also has the highest percentage of women in parliament in the world with 61.3 percent. Other African countries with high percentages of women are South Africa (46.3), Senegal (43.0), Namibia (42.7) and Mozambique (41.2). The regional average for Sub-Saharan Africa is 24.4 percent, which closely follows the world average of 24.9 percent. However, this number masks wide disparities: some African countries rank at the bottom of the list, for instance Nigeria (3.4 percent), Benin (7.2 percent) and Gambia (8.6 percent). Further progress is necessary in expanding the range of portfolios held by women. Fifty percent of African female cabinet members hold social welfare portfolios while only 30 percent are in charge of finance, infrastructure, defense and foreign affairs – departments that have more political influence and more often lead to higher senior positions, such as head of state. Expanding women’s presence in these areas would ensure that women voices are heard at the highest level of decision-making and governance.

African Women in Business

Research has found a correlation between women’s representation and profitability. The Women Matter Africa report by McKinsey&Company found that the earning margin from companies with at least a quarter share of women on their boards was, on average, 20 percent higher than the industry average. Findings from a Peterson Institute for International Economics report, “Is Gender Diversity Profitable?”, show that moving from a no-women board to 30 percent representation corresponds with a 15 percent increase in profitability. Research has found that executive boards with more women tend to manage risks better, which directly improves finances. Experts agree that women’s participation in decision-making processes fosters openness to new perspectives, collaboration and inclusiveness, and strength in ethics and fairness.

In the private sector, Africa performs well globally with a higher-than-average proportion of women CEOs, executive committee and board members. However, statistics vary widely by region. At board level, African women held 14 percent of seats compared to the world average of 13 in 2016. However, this number was 20 percent in Southern Africa and 9 percent in North Africa. Women are most poorly represented at the highest level: A 2017 South Africa Census found that while 20.7 percent of Directors and 29.4 percent of Executive Managers were women, women accounted for only 11.8 percent of CEOs or Chairpersons.

Challenges & Outlook

Contemporary literature about women’s leadership in Africa underscores persistent barriers and systemic challenges such as early socialization, gender stereotyping, limited educational attainment, and discriminatory policies and procedures. Gender norms in Africa emphasize the primary role of women as mothers and wives, which discourages them from joining the workplace and ascending to higher positions. At work, recruitment and promotion procedures often work against women’s success, and normative perceptions of women as incompetent subject them to more rigorous standards of performance. Going forward, women’s leadership in Africa would benefit from continued theoretical research, advocacy and discussion that embrace the complexity and diversity of African women leaders. The African Women Leaders Network, the premiere advocacy group with the mission of elevating the status of women’s leadership in Africa, outlines key priorities in their fight: eradicate violence against women an girls; increase access to education; promote a women-driven care economy; and encourage young female leadership. In the words of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: “Now is the time to recognize that developmental transformation and true peace cannot come without fundamental change in who is leading and the ways of leading.”

—Alice Nguyen
Photo: Flickr

Suriname is Changing
Suriname is among the many countries that COVID-19 has affected, specifically in its health care and political systems. The pandemic revealed the underbelly of Suriname’s existing health system. The country has since been guiding officials toward a more adequate system and the political climate in Suriname is changing. The election on May 25, 2020, brought in Chan Santokhi as the new president succeeding the decade-long leader, Desi Bouterse.

Former President Desi Bouterse

Desi Bouterse tightly held the reins in Suriname for years as an influential political force. Bouterse was a prominent figure in overthrowing the first leader of Suriname, Henck Arron, after the country’s independence. He was chairman of the National Military Council for a majority of the 80s and became president in 2010.

Bouterse has a significant history of controversial actions. In November 2019, Surinamese judges decided that Bouterse was guilty of murder and found him responsible for the death of 15 of his opponents in December 1982 because he commanded his soldiers to kill them. This long-standing trial started in 2007 when he stated that he had “political responsibility” but took no personal responsibility for what had happened. Although he received a 20-year sentence, the police did not issue any arrest warrants for Bouterse. He also denied allegations of smuggling more cocaine into the Netherlands, which the Dutch court convicted him of doing in 1999.

President Chan Santokhi

In 2020, Desi Bouterse saw the end of his long career. Chan Santokhi was victorious over Bouterse in the elections in May 2020. Mr. Santokhi was a former police chief who investigated the past president for his alleged murders in 1982. Although he has won the seat as leader, there are still many obstacles he must overcome after inheriting Bouterse’s Suriname. Suriname is battling a horrible financial crisis, political corruption and the coronavirus.

The new president has much to accomplish, but there may be hope for Suriname. Chan Santokhi may be able to overturn the economic crisis in Suriname by utilizing its newly found offshore oil by 2026.

Health Care Deficiencies

COVID-19 is touching the lives of those in Suriname, and the virus is quickly exposing the deficiencies in its health care system. First, tropical rainforest covers most of the land and houses many Indigenous and marginalized populations. Those who live in these deeply remote areas are unable to receive essential health care.

Second, Suriname has an insufficient workforce in the health care sector at about eight physicians and 23 nurses per 10,000 people. It is also suffering from a lack of specialists who can work in ICUs.

Third, Suriname does not have a structured effective response plan in case of emergencies as the country is not susceptible to natural disasters except for the occasional flooding. With resources going toward COVID-19 treatment, Suriname is recognizing its lack of resources to provide other health services not pertaining to the virus.

Actions to Fight Against COVID-19

At the beginning of 2020, the country’s ministry of health took immediate action and gathered a public health response team to combat the virus. This team worked with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), World Health Organization (WHO) and Universal Health Coverage Partnership to bolster the health care system and provide effective plans for current and future disease outbreaks.

The organizations are also working to implement universal health coverage in Suriname. With the help of these organizations and international funding, Suriname is working to effectively save lives through a better health care system, a protected workforce, containment of COVID-19 and preparation for future epidemics. Suriname is changing and improving its current public health system for the present as well as the future.

Regardless of the brutalities many face due to COVID-19, it has also brought positive changes to the people of Suriname. The country was able to take down a controversial leader and new plans to improve its emergency response and public health system are in progress. Hopefully, with the turn of a new post-COVID-19 era, Suriname is changing for the better.

San Sung Kim
Photo: Flickr

U.S. and ChinaCOVID-19 has brought nearly all facets of normal life and governance to a screeching halt. On all fronts, from the economy to the military, the coronavirus has changed the way this planet runs. One area that has been heavily affected by the pandemic but does not get as much attention is international relations.

Diplomatic relations between countries is one of the toughest areas of government. It has become even more difficult to fully engage in with the onset of COVID-19. With more states turning to domestic engagement, the status quo of international relations has been shaken. In no foreign relationship is this more clear than that between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China.

U.S.-China Diplomatic Relations

Current diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China were established under President Richard Nixon in 1972. Since then, the relationship between the two countries has experienced highs and lows. In 2020, it is nearly at an all-time low. The hostile status of this relationship now mainly stems from the ascension of President Xi Jinping of China to power in 2013, and the election of the U.S. President Donald Trump in 2016.

Under these two leaders, U.S.-Chinese relations have greatly diminished over the last four years. A rise in nationalism and “America First” policies under President Trump’s administration has alienated the Chinese amidst constant public attacks on the ‘authoritarianism’ of Jinping’s government. For example, China’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy over the last two years has been the subject of extensive international condemnation, particularly from President Trump and the United States. In addition, the two countries have been engaged in a high-profile trade war since the beginning of 2018.

More recently, a dramatic escalation in the deteriorating relationship between the two countries was taken in July 2020, when the U.S. ordered the closing of the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas, on the basis of technological-espionage on China’s part. In retaliation, China ordered the American consulate in the city of Chengdu to close as well. Another significant strain on the diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China is COVID-19.

The Outbreak of the Coronavirus

Since the outbreak of coronavirus began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, more than 4,600 people have died in China, over a period of nearly nine months. In the same amount of time, almost 180,000 people have died in the U.S. The U.S. government has consistently blamed the Chinese for failing to contain the virus. China has firmly denied these accusations. COVID-19 has seriously damaged the economic and healthcare systems of both the U.S. and China. Both systems have lost nearly all economic gains they’ve made since the 2008-2010 recession. While state economies around the globe also suffer, the decline of the economies of these two specific countries has far-reaching implications. Not only is the global economy in danger, but military alliances and foreign aid are as well.

Global Economy

Nearly every nation on earth has some kind of economic partnership with either the U.S., China or both. For example, the United Arab Emirates has been an ally of the U.S. since 1974, but in recent years has engaged in a pivotal economic partnership with China. Continued threats of tariffs and pulling out of trade agreements threaten the balance of these partnerships. These threats could force smaller nations to choose sides between the U.S. and China, should this confrontation escalate.

Military Alliances

While the U.S. enjoys a military advantage over China, China has allied itself with many of America’s adversaries, such as Russia, Iran and North Korea. These alliances have been solidified in recent years, for example, just before the coronavirus broke out in China in December 2019, China, Russia and Iran conducted nearly a week-long military exercise in the Gulf of Oman, a strategic waterway for oil tankers. An American confrontation with any one of these countries could draw China into the conflict, which could spell disaster for the world order.

International Aid

As part of China’s “charm offensive” in the early 2000s, the country began to heavily invest in the reconstruction of the economies and infrastructure in impoverished African states. In exchange, China received rights to natural resources such as oil in these countries. The U.S. also maintains a high level of foreign assistance in Africa. COVID-19 forces the U.S. and China to put more of their respective resources toward rebuilding their own economies. However, the aid they both provide to developing states worldwide diminishes at a time when those states need it most.

It is clear that even before the coronavirus spread to all corners of the globe, the turbulent relationship between the U.S. and China was advancing toward a breaking point. The pandemic has, to some extent, halted the diminishing state of relations between the two countries. However, any further provocations similar to the closing of the consulates in Houston and Chengdu could result in a catastrophe. The impacts of this relationship extend beyond the U.S. and China; they affect nations that heavily depend on the aid they receive from both powers.

Alexander Poran
Photo: Pixabay

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