violence in el salvador
The Republic of El Salvador is a country in Central America situated between Honduras and Guatemala. It is the smallest and most densely populated coastal country in Central America, with 6.4 million people residing within approximately 8,000 square miles. Here are eight facts about violence in El Salvador.

8 Facts About Violence in El Salvador

  1. From the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, chronic political and economic instability plagued the country. The coalition of socioeconomic inequality and societal unrest culminated in a brutal 12-year civil war. The right-wing military-led government sought to quell the left-wing guerrilla fighters, who had been instigated by a rigged election that saw General Carlos Romero, an anti-communist, take power in 1977. Protests burst throughout El Salvador to express the people’s anger with Romero’s election, and in response, the military slew thousands.
  2. With growing tensions between the government and its people in 1980, civil war broke out when a left-wing military coup deposed Romero. The Revolutionary Government Junta of El Salvador took power and quickly formed a military dictatorship. The Junta began killing peaceful demonstrators, assassinating socialist leaders and even killed archbishop Oscar Romero. The Junta then found allyship in the U.S., which was eager to suppress the possible spread of communism. Nearly $1 billion funneled into the Revolutionary Government Juta, by then-president Ronald Regan.
  3. Throughout the civil war, thousands fled the violence in El Salvador. Many displaced people found their way to Los Angeles, California. In LA, some of the children of the Salvadorian immigrants encountered gangs; this began the development of one of the most violent gangs to populate LA: MS-13. However, in the 1990s, the U.S. began to mass deport criminals from the country, sending LA’s MS-13 problem back to El Salvador. Gang members arrived in a country still wounded from civil war and unstable to its very core. Weak governance and poverty allowed MS-13 to infiltrate, gain power and flourish. As of 2017, an estimated 60,000 active gang members populate El Salvador, outnumbering the 52,000 police and military officers. The gang also found many sympathizers in El Salvador who rely on income from the gang’s activity.
  4. In 2018, the homicide rate in El Salvador was 50.3 per 100,000 people. However, these numbers are dropping and have been for the past three years with 60.8 per 100,000 in 2017 compared to 103 per 100,000 in 2015. This drop is important and shows progression within the country, although it did not move the country away from its ranking as the second deadliest country in the world not engaged in war.
  5. From 2012 to 2013, the murder rate in El Salvador cut in half after MS-13 and the Barrio 18 gangs entered a temporary cease-fire. In 2012, homicides in El Salvador occurred up to 14 times a day. In an attempt at peace, the Catholic Church and the Salvadorian government stepped in to arrange a truce between the two rival gangs. The truce lasted only around a year before the country plunged back into a gang war. However, in April of 2016, another attempt for a truce occurred between the gangs and government, but the government instead decided to intensify its anti-gang efforts and crack down on gang activity within prisons.
  6. Imprisonment of gang members only bolstered the problem of gang violence in El Salvador. By containing gang members within four walls with nothing but time on their hands, El Salvador breathed a new level of organization into gangs. Gangs use prisons not only as a place to plan and to make connections but also to recruit. To protect themselves from violence, new inmates often align themselves with gangs who, in return, ask them to steal, cheat and kill to earn their protection. Then once on the outside, the cycle only continues as honest work is hard to come by for convicts, so they turn back to the gangs.
  7. In the 1990s, the U.S. poured billions of dollars into the Colombian government to fight the country’s drug cartels in an attempt to stop the flow of Colombian cocaine into the U.S. However, the problem merely shifted to Mexico, who reacted with a forceful crackdown on the drug trade within the country. The cartel then moved again, finding a home in El Salvador and other Central American countries. With the gangs’ control, the country quickly fell into the grasp of the Colombian cartels, who recruited gangs to act as drug runners.
  8. Fighting violence by fighting corruption seems to have become the effort of the new Salvadorian government, run by President Nayib Bukele. Bukele is working to solve El Salvador’s gang and crime issues from the inside out. Previous administrations attempted to corral violence through militaristic force. Bukele, however, is focusing on addressing institutional problems that fostered a society that creates and accepts gang members and gang violence. In 2019, he launched mass arrests of gang members, business people, lawyers and police officers who were known to be corrupted or to have committed violent acts. There are also plans to strengthen border security in El Salvador to quell the importing and exporting of drugs.

Violence in El Salvador grew from the culmination of political unrest, poverty and socioeconomic inequality. Shook to its very core by the brutal civil war of the 1980s and 1990s, El Salvador found little time to recover. However, through the work of President Nayib Bukele and organizations like the Integrated Community Development Program run by the Anglican Episcopal Diocese of El Salvador, the country has a chance of getting its self back on track. The Integrated Community Development Program works to bring food security, community-centered economic stability and disaster risk reduction to the Salvadorian people so that they will not have to turn back to the gangs and cartels. The hope is that this will create a country where people can develop and stand on their own and foster a level of stability that El Salvador has lacked for decades.

Emma Hodge

Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

Reconciliation in Post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia
In August 2019, Nuon Chea, one of the leaders responsible for the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia, passed away at the age of 93. His death resurfaced reports of the atrocities experienced in Cambodia between 1975-79, under the rule of the infamous dictator Pol Pot. Yet, Nuon Chea did not undergo prosecution for his crimes until 2018 — 40 years after he committed them.

Due to its scale and recency, one cannot write off the Khmer Rouge as an atrocity of the past. The pursuit of peace and justice for over 2 million victims of the Khmer Rouge continues today. Friends of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in Cambodia is a group that has continued to push for peace in post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia — despite a government, population and international community that wants to forget.

A Community Frozen in Time

In the Anlong Veng region of Cambodia, which housed regime leaders as late as 1998, others still venerate Pol Pot, Nuon Chea and other mass murderers as national heroes. The regime may have fallen 40 years ago, but families who enforced the regime’s brutality on their fellow Cambodians are still unaware of their wrongful actions. Some citizens simply have misinformation or claim to have supported the regime for the promise of security after decades of poverty. Other families followed strict orders on death threats and see themselves as victims — despite committing genocide.

Understanding the perspective of the citizens’ support to the regime is key to longterm peace. R2P member Pou Sovachana advocates for knowledge of the ex-cadre perspectives to yield reconciliation in post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia.

Friends of R2P’s Dr. Bradley Murg, a political scientist and senior research fellow at the Cambodia Institute for Cooperation and Peace (CICP), emphasized in an interview the need to break Anlong Veng members out of their bubble. For decades, “governments have left them to their own devices, afraid to open that box” of reconciliation, Dr. Murg shared. Most were “isolated and genuinely believe that their side was right.” Scarred from the Khmer Rouge’s inadequate leadership and raised with educational “curriculum centered on hatred, anger and revenge,” ex-cadre members need therapy — not prison.

Helping Cambodia Embrace its History

Besides working with ex-members of the Khmer Rouge, Friends of Responsibility to Protect is working to promote justice among Cambodians. Unable to understand their past, many Cambodians live in denial of their history. Tourists almost exclusively visit the Khmer Rouge history museum in Cambodia’s capital city, Dr. Murg noted.

The genocide directly impacted the nation’s population over the age of 40, many of whom still struggle with untreated PTSD. Parents began to raise their children in the shadow of atrocity without an explanation. Ultimately, continued ignorance is detrimental to Cambodia. Both Dr. Murg and his colleague, Professor Sovachana Pou — who works at the CICP and is a Khmer Rouge survivor himself — agree that work is still necessary to help the Cambodian population heal from the past. This is why R2P promotes education and acknowledgment about the atrocities among the younger generation. Its work includes field trips with students to Anlong Veng and stories of ex-Khmer Rouge perpetrators in local newspapers; an effort to encourage mutual understanding.

Finishing Justice

People must recognize Friends of R2P’s work for reconciliation in post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia in the context of delayed criminal justice. Dr. Murg explained how, due to the political dynamics of the U.S. and Cambodia, many of the Khmer Rouge leaders did not receive charges for their crimes. The sentencing of Nuon Chea by a U.N. court in 2018 – 40 years after the crimes – exemplifies the uneven justice delivered to the Khmer Rouge perpetrators. Even the head of the Khmer Rouge regime, Pol Pot, never received a sentence – and died of natural causes in his home in 1998.

In an effort to fix its past mistakes, Cambodia established a court in the first part of the 21st century to bring justice to the leaders of the Khmer Rouge. Pou reminded the Borgen Project that legal justice is only the first step to the real justice that needs to be felt in the hearts of Cambodians. The peace between mainstream Cambodians and ex-Khmer Rouge members, like those living in Anlong Veng, is the next step in the journey to justice. This is why the Anlong Veng Peace Center and Friends of R2P are promoting education, historic preservation and communication between ex-Khmer Rouge members and the families of victims.

While 2019 marks the 40-year anniversary of the Khmer Rouge’s fall from power, reconciliation in post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia continues.

What is most hopeful, however, is the willingness for reconciliation among Khmer Rouge victims. People like Sovachana Pou, who narrowly escaped Cambodia and saw the deaths of their family, have offered forgiveness for the sake of rebuilding Cambodia. The key is to recognize that there are victims on both sides of the Khmer Rouge. Friends of Responsibility to Protect’s work is beautifully acknowledging the stories of all Cambodians to rebuild social trust.

Olivia Heale
Photo: Flickr

Julián Castro’s Marshall Plan
Presidential candidate Julián Castro has introduced many policies that he would implement during his presidency revolving around protecting indigenous communities, policing and education reform. One of the most pressing policies that Castro proposed revolves around immigration. With a three-part plan, Julián Castro is attempting to create an immigration policy that focuses on reforming the system altogether. However, one of the more ambitious parts of the plan deals with something he has coined as a 21st Century Marshall Plan for Central America. Julián Castro’s Marshall Plan could be a major step in solving immigration issues in both the United States and Central America.

Meet Julián Castro

Castro is no stranger to the world of politics. At a young age, he watched his mother run for San Antonio’s city council as the first woman of Mexican descent to do so. He learned the values of hard work and dedication from both his mother and his grandmother, who was an immigrant from Mexico that started her family with a fourth-grade education and a job as a housekeeper.

However, Julián Castro’s political career did not start when he decided to run in the 2020 presidential election. At age 26, he entered the San Antonio city council. Not only did he make history as the youngest councilman elected in the city, but he began his path to public service that would result in him becoming mayor of San Antonio in 2009 and then the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in 2014. Along the way, he even became the first Latino to give the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2012.

The Original Marshall Plan

In 1948, Europe had severly damaged infrastructure. World War II caused strain to Europe’s economies and disrupted agricultural production. To alleviate this issue, George C. Marshall created a plan to give roughly $15 billion to European countries. These countries used the money to rebuild cities and various economic industries for four years. In the process, these European countries and the U.S. created trade opportunities and development programs. The plan created substantial results across the continent. Industrial and agricultural production increased by over 37 percent and the overall balance of trade and economic stability improved as well.

The Marshall Plan differed from other aid programs during the time because it was a joint effort between many nations. The United States created the funding and programs that could benefit Europe, and the nations committed to implementing these programs. This plan benefitted Europe’s economic growth and reestablished the United States’ influence in the region after the war.

The Marshall Plan was also a way to test various programs concerning development and relief efforts. For example, the Economic Cooperation Administration’s model, designed to provide financial assistance to these European nations, was a model to create the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Overall, the 20th century Marshall Plan was a major step in development programs that helped Europe drastically.

A Plan for Central America

In an NPR podcast, Castro describes the importance of working to rebuild Central America for multiple reasons. For one, it helps create stronger relationships with the U.S.’s neighbors to the south. By creating an alliance with these countries, the U.S. can continue being an economic competitor with China, which is on track to pass the U.S. in becoming the largest economy in the world by 2030.

Along with the economic benefits of strengthening a region with potential trade partnership, the second major reason for assisting Central America is immigration issues. Castro states that “…if we want to solve the immigration issue, we need to go to the root of the cause…and that is that people can’t find safety and opportunity in Central America.”

Central America is a region where large numbers leave to seek asylum from violence and corrupt governmental institutions. By 2015, nearly 3.4 million people born in Northern Triangle countries (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) were living in the U.S., with over half being undocumented immigrants.

Julián Castro’s Marshall Plan

Julián Castro’s Marshall Plan would firstly target some of the root causes of violence in the Northern Triangle such as transnational criminal organizations and illicit networks. According to Castro, an increase in law enforcement programs would help eliminate criminal activities such as human and drug trafficking. Also, this plan would require a heavier focus on anti-corruption and government transparency practices. With the cooperation of leaders in Central America and the United States’ resources, the high rates of violence in the region can decrease and create safer environments and sustainable governments less susceptible to corruption.

His policy also provides more funding for programs designed to prevent violence at local levels, create jobs and support health and nutrition across Central America. By stimulating economic development through more sustainable jobs, it allows people to stay and grow their communities rather than leaving them to find better success in the United States.

The final major point that this candidate emphasizes is the importance of prioritizing diplomatic relations with Latin American countries. To ease the instability in this region, all nations have to become part of this plan. Cooperation between these nations and the United States will ultimately be the major stepping stone to creating safe and sustainable communities.

This major foreign policy proposal would only be one component of his push to tackle immigration, but his message stands clear throughout his campaign. Julián Castro’s Marshall Plan intends to put people first, and for millions of people living in Central America, that is something they can begin hoping for in 2020.

– Sydney Blakeney
Photo: Flickr

Buttigieg's Foreign Policy
The youngest of the Democratic candidates running for office in the 2020 election, people widely know and consider candidate Pete Buttigieg for his professional and academic credentials. People commonly refer to Buttigieg as “Mayor Pete” due to his current occupation as South Bend, Indiana’s mayor, but he also speaks eight languages, including Norwegian, Maltese and Arabic. Buttigieg received his Bachelor’s Degree from Harvard University in 2003, and soon after completed his postgraduate education as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford. Between 2009 and 2017, he also served as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserves. Buttigieg’s foreign policy has also set him apart as a champion for foreign policy.

Following his speech at the University of Indiana, where he discussed his foreign policy with an emphasis on national security, TIME Magazine referred to Buttigieg as the potential “foreign policy candidate in 2020.” Notably, while most other presidential candidates have only vaguely touched upon their foreign agenda, Buttigieg’s foreign policy has made up a key aspect of his campaign.

Indeed, Buttigieg advocates for organization and forward-thinking; the country’s decisions today will lead the nation and the world in the decades of tomorrow. In his words, “we need a strategy… Not just to deal with individual threats, rivalries, and opportunities, but to manage global trends that will define the balance of this half-century in which my generation will live the majority of our lives.”

This article outlines three key aspects one should know about Pete Buttigieg’s Foreign Policy, with respect to potential effects on global poverty trends and the developing world.

End the Endless War

Buttigieg criticizes the post-9/11 legislation that allows the president to use what they deem necessary military force against any organization who assisted with the terrorist attacks. Specifically, he points out that the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) needs major correcting. A former naval intelligence officer himself, he detailed that this blank check that deployed him to Afghanistan needs changing: troops should only enter into conflict with the government’s complete understanding of the issue at hand and the possible consequences of military involvement.

According to Buttigieg, promoting a government that brings power to Congress once again in taking votes on war and peace would ensure a more careful government in its military decisions. This would especially be the case when U.S. involvement concerns vulnerable and severely impoverished countries, like Afghanistan.

Reverse Authoritarianism

Given the severity of conditions in North Korea, Buttigieg assures that he would not take any interactions with the regime lightly. Moreover, he is a clear believer in the liberal international order, which emphasizes democracy and leadership by the U.S. and its allies, as a way to greater ensure peace, prosperity and consequently lower global poverty rates.

Buttigieg believes reversing authoritarianism would require the unapologetic promotion of liberal order ideals. He also claims that the U.S. has lacked a proper foreign policy since the last presidential election, and incorporating the liberal international order and applying it in communications and relations with Russia or North Korea would bring structure to the U.S. foreign agenda.

Rejoining the Iran Nuclear Deal

Buttigieg has highlighted that as president, he would make nuclear proliferation and rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, a priority in his foreign policy. The Obama administration first established the agreement in 2015 and worked to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful in exchange for lifted sanctions by Germany and the U.N. Security Council, including the U.S. While the Iran Nuclear Deal and its consequences remain controversial domestically, Buttigieg’s vow to rejoin falls in line with the liberal international order, which stresses international cooperation and alliance, in addition to democracy.

Furthermore, there has been a reported economic crisis in Iran following the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal and implemented sanctions. According to Hassan Tajik, director of the Iranian group for the development of international trade, “one of the main problems is the reduction of people’s purchasing and financial capacity, which has brought the population to the edge of poverty.” Rejoining the deal begs the question of a potential change in impoverished conditions in Iran.

While Buttigieg’s speech may not be a Buttigieg Doctrine, he outlines clear priorities in a speech about foreign policy, which may deem him more foreign policy-oriented among the Democratic candidates. Buttigieg’s foreign policy has yet to disclose his complete stances on a range of foreign policy-related issues, but his speech has indicated his desire to involve the U.S. with international affairs in a cooperative, yet cautious manner. As demonstrated, doing so can have a major impact on global poverty trends.

– Breana Stanski
Photo: Flickr

Political Prisoners in Burma
Violence and instability have racked Burma in recent years and the Burmese government’s brutal persecution of the Rohingya people has driven much of this. During this conflict, authorities have imprisoned many nonviolent activists and journalists for speaking out against the government of Burma. Unfortunately, this inhumane and unjust treatment of political prisoners in recent years is a continuation of a historical trend of human rights abuses that the Burmese government perpetrated.

Recently, U.S. lawmakers have begun to take a legislative response to Burma’s treatment of political prisoners. In July 2019, Senator Ed Markey introduced the Burma Political Prisoners Act to the Senate with Senator Marsha Blackburn as a cosponsor. The Act primarily seeks to offer various forms of assistance to Burmese prisoners of conscience, and also has sections dealing with child soldiers and freedom of the press. In order to understand what this bill would do and why it is so important, it will be useful to take a look at the historical background of political prisoners in Burma.

Prisoners of Conscience in Burma

While Burma is a country that has always struggled with implementing a stable democracy and promoting free speech, a particularly brutal government led-campaign of killings and arrests of protestors took place in 1988. Since 1962, general Gen Ne Win and his Burma Socialist Programme Party, the only political party allowed in Burma’s government, led the country. In order to protest the repressive regime, student activists organized a nationwide general strike that took place on August 8, 1988, in what people came to know as the 8888 Uprising. The protests prompted a brutal backlash in which government forces killed thousands of protestors and arrested thousands more.

Following the 8888 Uprising, Burma’s military leaders formed a junta known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council or SLORC. In 1989, SLORC declared martial law within the country and arrested thousands of people. The council then became the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997 and began arresting thousands of members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), an opposition party led by Aung San Suu Kyi. In 2007, a protest movement of Buddhist monks against the ruling SPDC also resulted in hundreds of arrests.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party won a landslide victory in national elections in 2015 and officially came to power in 2016. Kyi, who became Burma’s State Counselor, a position akin to Prime Minister, had campaigned promising to promote human rights and democracy within the country and promised not to jail people for their political beliefs. However, groups such as the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners have documented that since the Kyi took office in 2015, at least 35 political prisoners have received convictions. In fact, the AAPP counted 42 percent more political prisoners in 2015 than the year before.

The Burma Political Prisoners Assistance Act

Senator Ed Markey introduced the Burma Political Prisoners Assistance Act on July 10, 2019, and Senator Marsha Blackburn co-sponsored it. Since Senator Markey is a Democrat and Senator Blackburn is a Republican, this bill represents a newfound bipartisan statement of policy regarding political prisoners in Burma. The bill includes a variety of provisions aimed at assisting political prisoners in the country, including:

  • A statement of policy that supports Burma’s transition to a “democratic, peaceful, and prosperous state” calls on Burma to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners and urges Burma to repeal laws used to persecute those who speak out against the government.

  • A requirement for the Secretary of State to provide various kinds of support for civil society groups that work to secure the release of political prisoners. These forms of State Department assistance include providing support for the documentation of human rights abuses with respect to political prisoners in Burma and supporting travel costs, legal fees and post-incarceration mental health and career opportunities for former political prisoners and their families.

  • A specification in the U.S. legal code regarding the definition of prisoners of conscience.

  • “The delegation of specific United States mission staff who will observe trials in politically motivated cases.”

  • The bill also includes a section condemning Burma for its use of child soldiers and specifically calls for the release of the child soldier Aung Ko Htwe.

Conclusion

The bill in its current form has gone to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will debate it. It is unclear whether the bill will make it out of committee, or if it has a chance to pass if the Senate as a whole considers it for a vote.

The Borgen Project reached out to Senator Blackburn for a comment. She stated, “The people of Burma deserve to live in a nation where speaking freely does not result in political imprisonment. Last month, Senator Markey and I introduced legislation that will provide the State Department with more tools to advocate for democracy and provide aid. I ask my colleagues in the Senate to stand in solidarity with the people of Burma by swiftly passing this legislation.”

Given the grave human rights situation in Burma with respect to prisoners of conscience, it is paramount for the Senate to deliver a comprehensive, bipartisan response.

– Andrew Bryant
Photo: Flickr

Former presidents on foreign aidIt is not widely known how much foreign aid is being spent as a part of the national budget, especially because statistics and figures can change dramatically under different administrations and eras. The policies of former presidents on foreign aid can reflect the national and international priorities of the nation itself and what the presidents themselves valued more compared to other factors within the federal budget.

5 Former Presidents on Foreign Aid: Who Spent What?

  1. Harry S. Truman is well-known for the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine. While the Truman Doctrine was to extend economic and military aid to Greece, the Marshall Plan was more inclusive as it was designed to help Western European countries rebuild after World War II, consisting of $13 billion. Other goals achieved through these means were building markets for U.S. businesses and earning allies during the Cold War.
  2. Ronald Reagan believed in budget cuts domestically, but he was a strong advocate for non-military foreign assistance. He promoted the “0.6% of GDP” minimum to be spent on foreign aid, as he believed that such aid plays a large role in foreign policy strategies. Such strategies were to create stronger U.S. allies and to promote economic growth and democracy globally. Reagan also emphasized that it is an American value to provide foreign assistance based on the U.S. founding beliefs that “all men are created equal.”
  3. Jimmy Carter was an advocate for making human rights a priority of the U.S. foreign policy. Not only did he sustain foreign aid, he also made sure to redirect the routes of such aid away from brutal regimes, such as that of Ethiopia’s Mengistu Haile-Mariam. He also ensured that foreign aid was an instrument used for luring in more American allies during the Cold War. For instance, by 1980, 75 percent of the total aid designed for Africa were redirected towards the Horn of Africa, as Mengistu was Soviet-backed.
  4. During Barack Obama’s presidency in 2011, figures on foreign aid were reported as being increased by 80 percent when compared to the reports in 2008. Foreign assistance kept increasing from $11.427 billion in 2008 to $20.038 billion in 2010 to $20.599 billion in 2011. During 2011, the aid was split into Economic Support Fund, Foreign Military Financing Program, multilateral assistance, Agency for International Development, Peace Corps and international monetary programs.
  5. In 2002, George W. Bush planned an expansion of 50 percent over the next three years through the Millennium Challenge Account which would provide $5 billion every year to countries where that governed unjustly. Additionally, Bush called for $10 billion to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean over the following five years. There were also emergency funds put aside, consisting of $200 million for famine and $100 million for other complex emergencies.

The policies of former presidents on foreign aid widely reflect their intents and objectives, such as wishing to create more U.S. allies during the Cold War or to stop health epidemics from spreading, like HIV. International assistance can be employed in differing areas of focus that all eventually reach out to help an individual or a community climb out of poverty.

– Nergis Sefer
Photo: Flickr

Sudan's Vulnerable Position in MENA Politics

People, cameras and everything in between are paying close attention to Sudan’s vulnerable position in MENA Politics. This past month, the political crisis in Sudan has received worldwide attention. For example, internet users implemented blue social media avatars commemorating fallen Sudanese activist Mohamed Mattar.  The conflict exists between Sudanese democracy advocates and the Transitional Military Council (TMC) currently governing the country, following the ousting of Omar Al-Bashir. However, it is important to understand just what is keeping Sudan and innocent civilians from moving forward with a more egalitarian society. Here are five facts about Sudan’s vulnerable position in MENA Politics.

  1. Sudan has a claim to mineral-rich areas of the Red Sea.
    The majority of Sudan’s geography is rich in minerals and natural gas. In 2011, when the two countries became independent, this was left with South Sudan. A crucial 7,945 square miles of land, known as the Halayeb Triangle, is still within Sudanese land claims.
    This region has a coastline on the Red Sea, a location seemingly ideal for new oil exploration ventures. But, it’s not Sudanese efforts that have jumped on this opportunity. This leads to the next fact about Sudan’s vulnerable position in MENA politics.
  2. Egypt claims the same area and has made power plays to extrapolate resources.
    Following Sudan’s independence from colonialism in 1956, Egypt has been in conflict with Sudan. The conflict is over which country has a right and full claim to the land and all its potential as a natural resource for either country’s economy.
    In March of this year, The Arab Weekly reports that Egyptian state-sponsored South Valley Egyptian Petroleum Holding Company has invited up to ten separate oil and gas exploration bids to the very same Halayeb region. The report claims that the area surrounding is “Egyptian territorial waters.”
    The same article quotes a statement by Sudan’s Foreign Ministry: “The Foreign Ministry summoned Egyptian Ambassador Hossam Eissa… to protest against the tenders invited by the Egyptian Oil Ministry for areas under the sovereignty of Sudan.” The Sudanese Oil and Gas Minister of State called it “a direct intrusion” of both the country’s right to issue exploration licenses to that region. Sudanese officials claim the Halayeb region has been the sovereign territory of Sudan since 1956, the country’s year of independence.
  3. The Gulf Nations plan to support the militia government of Sudan.
    On June 20, 2019, the Council on Foreign Relations wrote that countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are putting their support behind the Transitional Military Council in Sudan. These two countries have pledged $3 billion in aid for the TMC to disperse to civilians in the form of food, water and medicine.
    The International Crisis Group finds this political and economic move to be simply another example of something common among Gulf states. That is, moving “from one military regime to another.”
    This fact about Sudan’s vulnerable position in MENA Politics focuses on a continued disenfranchisement of Sudanese civilians even after the authoritarian president Omar Al-Bashir was forced out of office. These Gulf Nations’ support of the military government is not in accordance with the wants of Sudanese civilians.
  4. A remnant of the Al-Bashir era is sympathetic to Saudi Arabian efforts in Sudan.
    Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (known as Hemeti) was a close political aide to Omar al-Bashir before the military coup. He has now outwardly shown his appreciation for Saudi Arabia’s and the UAE’s contribution to Sudan’s military-governmental complex. He showed this by meeting with Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and vowing to support Riyadh against “all threats and attacks” by the country’s political opponents for power in the Middle East.
  5. Hemeti still controls Sudanese military activity.
    As Hemeti is a representative of the military presence that currently governs Sudan. His commanding activity must also be taken into account to better understand the conflict and protests of earlier this June.
    Hemeti is the commander of the Rapid Support Forces, a militia group that grew from Sudan’s Janjaweed presence. The Janjaweed (or “devils on horseback” in a Sudanese colloquial language) were also under Hemeti’s supervision. They are widely acknowledged as responsible for the genocidal crimes against humanity of 2005 in the Sudanese region of Darfur.
    Civilians no longer appreciate this modern-day reincarnation of an overbearing militia. One activist, Hajooj Kuka, stated: “We do not want to move forward with the RSF as part of the Sudanese army. At this point, we have totally lost trust in them.”
    The Rapid Support Forces are also responsible for the fast publicized retaliation to civil protests on June 3, 2019.  Around 100 Sudanese Activists died during and after this crisis. This occurred on what would have been a festive Eid al-Fitr, or the end of Ramadan.

How to Help

Overall, these five facts about Sudan’s vulnerable position in MENA politics show how Middle Eastern powerhouses are hoping to take control of Sudanese land and government for personal gain. They are doing this without the interest of Sudanese civilians at heart.

While it may be difficult to address this misrepresentation directly, Bustle outlines that there are simple ways to help show the inequity Sudanese people are experiencing regularly.  Individuals around the world can:

  • Support Humanitarian Programs – UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore stated that “Children throughout Sudan are already bearing the brunt of decades of conflict, chronic underdevelopment, and poor governance.” To address this, UNICEF has begun transporting ready-to-eat therapeutic food and necessary medicine to improve the quality of life for children in Sudan under the age of five. The funding through June 12 sent 22,000 tons of these basic needs to those in need.
  • Sign a Petition – Petitions are circulating on the internet calling upon international organizations to hold Sudan accountable. In one, Change.org calls upon the United Nations to launch an investigation into the events of June 3, 2019, in Sudan’s capital of Khartoum.
  • Reach out – A great way to improve human rights as a U.S. constituent is to contact elected officials. Calling is effective. Also effective is using the ResistBot program to text one’s concerns. Be sure to mention your support of U.S. assistance to the humanitarian crisis in this country. Congressional staffers record every contact made in support of a cause. With enough support, all the claims of constituents regarding Sudan’s vulnerable position in MENA politics will be taken seriously.

-Fatemeh Zahra Yarali

Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About JFKIt has been over 50 years since the tragic day of former president John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Regarded as one of the greatest and most influential presidents of the United States, JFK led an astounding life. He was successful both socially and politically. He has done much for the country and most of his policies are still implemented in modern U.S. society. These are the top 10 facts about JFK.

Top 10 Facts About JFK

  1. Before his time as president, John F. Kennedy served in the United States Navy as a Lieutenant and commander of a patrol torpedo boat, the PT-109. He eventually received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his astounding service during WWII.
  2. JFK served in the House of Representatives shortly after his service in the Navy for six years and would be elected to be a part of the U.S. Senate in 1952 for the state of Massachusetts.
  3. JFK was a strong advocate for foreign policy during his time in the House of Representatives, supporting the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. He also supported various other Cold War policies. This further shaped his political career, both as he ran for the presidency and during his time as president.
  4. As a senator, JFK approved President Eisenhower’s reciprocal-trade powers which give the president the power to have reciprocal trade agreements with foreign countries. He had also supported the St. Lawrence Seaway which would allow for more trade routes between Canada and the United States.
  5. JFK wrote the book Profiles in Courage (1956). It won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1957, demonstrating his talent as an author.
  6. He also founded the Peace Corps in 1961, which is an agency providing social and economic assistance to countries in need. This agency is a volunteer-based program.
  7. JFK suffered from Addison disease, in which the adrenal glands do not produce sufficient hormones for the human body causing fatigue, darkening of skin and dizziness.
  8. JFK strongly advocated for foreign aid to nations in Africa and Asia while in the Senate during the 1950s.
  9. In 1961, Kennedy visited West Berlin to protest with citizens again Nikita Khrushchev’s decision to sign a peace treaty with East Germany, which would threaten U.S. relations with Berlin during the Cold War.
  10. JFK established the Alliance for Progress in 1961, which sought to establish economic cooperation and improve social relations between Latin America and the U.S.

These are the top 10 facts about JFK. From his service during WWII to his service as president, he has greatly impacted this world, socially and politically.

Elijah Jackson
Photo: Mary Ferrell Foundation

Poverty and Corruption in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is currently one of the poorest countries in the world with nearly 40 percent of the Afghan population living in poverty. Afghanistan is also one of the most politically corrupt countries in the world. In 2018, The anti-corruption organization Transparency International ranked Afghanistan an index score of 16/100 for its high levels of corruption. Over the past several decades, political corruption in Afghanistan has destabilized the country and contributed to its poverty problem.

USAID has always believed that political corruption and poverty are an interlinked problem because political corruption has a tendency to aggravate the symptoms of poverty in countries with struggling economic growth and political transition. Conversely, the social and economic inequalities that are found in impoverished countries are known to create systemic corruption.

The Scope of Contemporary Corruption in Afghanistan

The destabilizing effects of political corruption on Afghanistan cannot be underestimated. According to Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a U.S. government agency tasked with the reconstruction of Afghanistan, corruption has been a major obstacle in the political, economic and cultural reconstruction of Afghanistan. The Asia Foundation has identified more than 70 forms of corruption currently within Afghanistan that cross a wide range of institutions, including international aid and public administration.

Two of the most common forms of corruption in Afghanistan are nepotism and bribery. Many of the basic public services provided by the government are only obtainable through the payment of bribes, which has caused severe distress to Afghan citizens. Afghanistan’s economic growth has been severely damaged by the reliance on bribes to pay for public services. Nepotism and patronage have made it difficult for honest people without connections to rise within the political system and have given impunity to corrupt officials.

Afghan Awareness and Perceptions of Corruption

Unfortunately, many Afghans believe certain forms of corruption are inevitable and, in certain cases, a legitimate form of political life. When surveyed in 2012, at least 30 percent believed that most forms of bribery were acceptable. This type of attitude towards political corruption can make efforts to reduce or eradicate corruption more difficult.

Nevertheless, the Afghan people have not been completely culturally ingrained with political corruption, and there are many who still criticize corruption in Afghanistan. Most Afghans have consistently stated in several polls that corruption is a serious problem that their country is facing. A study from the Asia Foundation has shown that most Afghans believe that political corruption was more severe during and after Karzai then it had been under several past regimes.

Anti-Corruption Efforts

In 2014, President Ashraf Ghani was elected into executive office in Afghanistan. He has shown a remarkable commitment to developing and implementing strategies to decrease corruption and stabilize the country. Following his election in 2014, his first course of action was to not only dismiss several corrupt heads and directors of certain departments but also charge them with corruption, marking a major change from his predecessor Karzai.

In 2017, Afghanistan’s National Strategy for Combating Corruption (Anti-Corruption Strategy) was adopted by Afghanistan’s High Council and was developed under the supervision of President Ghani. The Strategy consists of 6 pillars outlining the course of action to be taken against corruption. This strategy was based on a comprehensive analysis of the causes and drivers of corruption and provides realistic goals that make it relatively easy to implement. Some of the pillars are designed to address nepotism (pillar 3) and money tracking (pillar 5).

The Ghani administration introduced new legislation in 2017 and 2018 to reduce and prevent corruption. The laws have been limited to a certain extent due to extenuating circumstances; however, they have had a certain level of success. The most notable success in the prosecution of corruption with this new legislation has been the adoption of a new Penal Code. This new Penal Code was the first to incorporate financial and corruption laws into its criminal provisions, making it a major achievement for the Afghanistan legal system.

Corruption Is Declining

While corruption is still pervasive in Afghanistan, these efforts have demonstrated some progress. Within the Transparency International Index, Afghanistan’s CPI score has steadily grown from 11 in 2015 to 16 in 2018, which is one of the largest increases any country has experienced in this amount of time. The introduction of new legislation and the adoption of the Anti-Corruption Strategy can provide a solid foundation to stabilize Afghanistan and reform its political system from corruption.

The government, under Ghani, has already taken the first steps in decreasing the significant level of corruption in Afghanistan throughout the country by implementing these strategies and laws. While progress may be slow, it appears that under President Ghani, Afghanistan may be on its way to political stabilization, allowing it to provide better public services and alleviate poverty within the country.

Randall Costa
Photo: Flickr