While the world looks at Brazil in excitement for the FIFA World Cup, national dissatisfaction persists among many of its citizens. People from all walks of life are taking part in demonstrations, strikes and riots to have their voices heard.

The protesters had several specific issues they want dealt with but were able to agree that the common factor amongst their concerns was rooted in the economics of hosting the tournament. Many believe Brazil should not be hosting the World Cup when its economy is too weak to uphold the country’s needs.

Citizens’ discontent regarding the decision to host was made clear at the Confederations Cup (a World Cup “dress rehearsal”) in 2013, at which over a million people protested in dozens of Brazilian cities to demand better public services.

Since then, protests have increased in number and severity, with many being organized by unions, leftist parties and activist groups. In the weeks leading up to the opening games, police, teachers, bus drivers and bank security guards have gone on strike due to World Cup related issues.

On May 26, protesters surrounded the World Cup squad’s hotel and later the squad’s bus when en route to a training camp. The protesters chanted things like “There will be no World Cup, there will be a strike” and placed stickers on the team’s bus.

On May 27, about 1,500 people were part of a demonstration that blocked one of the main roads near the National Stadium. Once the police intervened, the streets were filled with a variety of people, including cops on horseback, indigenous leaders with bows and arrows and dissatisfied teachers. A popular chant was “Who is the cup for? Not us! I don’t want the Cup, I want money for health and education.”

Groups of educators have been on strike since May 12, believing that the $11 million budget for the month-long tournament should be allotted to more worthy causes, such as education for the children or better working conditions and pay raises for the teachers.

Recently, the indigenous population of Brazil has decided to use the protests to bring light to their problems. Around 100 ethnic groups joined in the demonstrations to fight for the protection of the Amazon Rainforest. They have accused President Dilma Rousseff’s government of stalling the demarcation of their ancestral lands in order to pursue large-scale farming.

The protests are not expected to let up any time soon, so the government is increasing the police force and security, with 157,000 soldiers and police dedicated to maintaining order during the tournament. The added security has caused additional economic controversy, with the civilian police force requesting an 80 percent pay raise during the World Cup.

Brazilian soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo expressed that citizens should not blame the country’s problems on the World Cup when they existed beforehand:

“This is what people should understand: it’s down to governments. The governments they have elected. It’s nothing to do with football or the World Cup.”

A slightly different angle is expressed by Eric Cantona, former soccer player, stating that he believes the protests will continue despite FIFA executive committee vice president Michel Plantini’s requests, but that “people just need to be heard, and they will be heard thanks to the World Cup.”

– Courtney Prentice

Sources: Daily Mail, ESPN FC, BBC 1, BBC 2
Photo: Sports Illustrated

Since becoming Prime Minister in 2003, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has contributed to calming Turkey’s military, strengthening its political parties, and increasing the personal freedoms of its citizens. United States Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both held Turkey on a pedestal as an example of the ability for Islam and democracy to coexist.

Yet the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has faced little to no opposition strong enough to challenge Erdogan’s position, for which he has won three successive elections. At over 11 years in office, Erdogan is now the second longest reigning Prime Minister in Turkey’s 94-year history. The nation is falling from its democratic grace.

When thousands of Turkish citizens protested the one-party state in the spring of 2013, Erdogan’s authoritarian power was evident. Tear gas, water cannons and mass arrests asserted the Prime Minister’s authority over those who wished to speak out. The in December parliament, led mostly by the AKP, presented a proposal to make protests against public services illegal.

Such actions, in addition to Erdogan’s attempts to limit and control social media, emphasize worrisome threats to basic human rights and democracy in Turkey. But the next set of elections is coming soon, and the simple fact that people continue to look towards it brings hope. Despite unfortunate actions resulting from Erdogan’s hoarding of power, Turkey formally remains a functioning democracy. If all goes as planned, the upcoming elections will take place in as free and fair an environment as ever.

Movement away from democracy in Turkey poses risks to the nation’s future political and economic security. With such tumultuous circumstances taking place in the nations bordering Turkey and in the Middle East in general, Erdogan arguably cannot afford to throw away its alliance with the United States and the Western world. Likewise, undemocratic actions take away from any chances Turkey has of being admitted in the European Union, whose membership requirements include a free market and democratic freedoms.

So while many may claim that Turkey, as a result, could not possibly move far enough from democracy as to put these alliances in true jeopardy, recent events have not sparked much confidence. Elections, however, will likely outline what the world can expect from Turkey in the near future.

Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: Carnegie Endowment 1, Carnegie Endowment 2, Al Jazeera, Politico
Photo: Business Insider

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan ordered access to Twitter to be cut off for citizens in the early hours of Friday, March 21st. The shutdown came just a few hours after Erdogan publically threatened to cut off access to the social media platform, calling it a ‘scourge’ and claiming it is being used against him by his political enemies.

Erdogan is currently embroiled in a political scandal which was furthered when an audio clip was anonymously released via Twitter. The tweet contained a link that implicated widespread corruption in Erdogan’s administration. Users that attempted to access Twitter were redirected to a webpage with a statement from the telecommunications regulator in Turkey that cited several court orders for the reason the site was blocked. The court orders from the government asking Twitter to remove the tweets with the incriminating audio clips have gone unanswered by the company.

Twitter, a website widely used by celebrities, also found another use during the Arab Spring. Activists and protestors utilized the social media platform to spread up- to- the- minute information to the world. Twitter provided people who may not have had a voice through official channels or media with a way to tell their story about what was happening in their country. Twitter was used in Turkey last year to spread the word about protests against the government which ended in Erdogan requesting that Twitter establish an office in the country so the company can respond more quickly to the government’s requests. That request also went unanswered.

Twitter is only the one of the social media platforms that the Turkish government has bumped heads with. Facebook, Google and YouTube have all been criticized by Erdogan for their content that is unflattering to him. He has also threatened to extend the ban to these companies and others unless they comply with requests from the Turkish government. With Prime Minister Erdogan threatening to shut down access to these companies ‘no matter what the international community thinks’ it sets up a potentially troubling situation blocking the access for the citizens of Turkey during a time of political unrest.

This situation will continue to evolve in the coming weeks. Whether or not other social media websites will go down or if Twitter will come back online in Turkey remains to be seen. Erdogan seems eager to show power in the face of the international community saying, “The international community can say this, can say that. I don’t care at all. Everyone will see how powerful the Republic of Turkey is.”

– Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: NPR, Haaretz
Photo: Amnesty

This past Friday marked the annual celebration of Human Rights Day in South Africa, a day spent commemorating all those who have fought and died to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the South African people.

President Jacob Zuma addressed thousands at the George Thabe Cricket Pitch in Sharpeville, the site at which the Sharpeville massacre occurred.

The massacre occurred on March 21, 1960, and serves as the event which sparked Human Rights Day.

On that day, thousands of South Africans joined together to protest against the apartheid Pass laws, a system designed to segregate the population and severely limit their movements around the country. Residents of the Sharpeville and Langa townships embarked on a protest march and were attacked by the police. 69 of the protesters were killed, while 180 more sustained severe injuries.

The event became known as the Sharpeville massacre because hundreds of other South Africans across the country were killed that same day for protesting.

This brutality came as a result of apartheid colonialism, which ravaged South Africa for decades. Humans Rights Day thus reminds us of the sacrifices of democracy, as well as the progress that South Africa has made in promoting human rights regardless of one’s race, gender, or sexual orientation.

A number of South African leaders spoke at the Sharpeville pitch on Friday, all highlighting the achievements that South Africa has made since the adoption of human rights in 1994.

That year marked the end of apartheid for South Africa. It was only two years later that the late President Nelson Mandela would sign the South African Constitution in Sharpeville, to pay homage to those who lost their lives that day.

Now, South Africa is celebrating all it has achieved. This year’s Human Rights Day theme is ‘Celebrating 20 years of changing lives through human rights.’

President Zuma noted, “Madiba and his peers and those before them, laid a foundation for the society that respects human rights, freedom and justice. On such a day, we remember and celebrate their contribution to making South Africa a good place to live in. We can’t do all this alone. We need your support as a community to work with us. Let us build our country together.”

South Africans across the country heard his cry.

Many activist groups gathered at various locations to rally for Human Rights Day. A campaign known as Right2Know gathered outside of the Johannesburg Central Police Station to protest police brutality. A group known as the Women of Marikana rallied for gender equality in Wonderkop. The Democratic Alliance’s Women’s Network in the Western Cape held a candlelight vigil that night.

The responses of all of these groups show the enduring determination of South Africans to work together as a community to protect human rights and prevent violations.

President Zuma promised that within the coming years, the South African government would work its hardest to improve access to water, electricity and clinics, as well as increase the rate of employment.

Human Rights Day was a day of remembrance and celebration, as well as a time to show how South Africa has become a beacon of hope for countries fighting human rights violations across the globe.

– Mollie O’Brien

Sources: All Africa, Business Day Live, SBAC
Photo: Cape Town Magazine

On Thursday, Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 in the Senate along with Senator Marco Rubio (R-F.L.). The bill is a response to the escalating violence from the government crackdown on protesters that began one month ago and aims to aid the Venezuelan opposition.

The bill proposes sanctions against persons responsible for the violence in Venezuela, including asset blocking and visa revocation. The bill also proposes appropriating $15 million for building a strong and vibrant civil society in Venezuela through supporting nongovernmental organizations and activists that promote democratic governance. The bill supports independent media organizations in disseminating viewpoints contrary to what the Venezuelan government has made available.

Recent remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry regarding the protests in Venezuela have stoked a quarrel between Kerry and the foreign minister of Venezuela, Elias Jaua.

Kerry likened the Venezuelan government’s brutal tactics against protesters to a “terror campaign” at a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing, saying, “We are trying to find a way to get the Maduro government to engage with their citizens, to treat them respectfully, to end this terror campaign against his own people and to begin to, hopefully, respect human rights in an appropriate way.”

Jaua responded by criticizing Kerry as a “murderer” who encourages violence through his remarks.

The protests in Venezuela began in early February as protesters took to the streets to demand government action against rampant inflation, corruption, the scarcity of basic goods, and a rising murder rate. The death toll from the protests currently stands at 28, according to Venezuelan State Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz. Although many protesters claim they will not stop protesting until their demands are met, the Maduro government has done nothing to appease them, even going so far as to declare its success over fighting against “right-wing fascists” who attempted to topple the administration.

–Jeff Meyer

Photo: The Week
Reuters, The Hill, The Hill

On March 4, in a simple resolution, an overwhelming majority in the United States House of Representatives agreed to support the people of Venezuela as they protest peacefully for democratic change and call for an end to the escalating violence in the South American country.

The resolution comes on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the passing of Hugo Chavez, who succumbed to cancer after 14 years as the president of Venezuela. Nicolas Maduro took over leadership and has carried on the Chavez legacy with state-controlled economic policies that are now under criticism by anti-government demonstrations. At least 18 people have been killed since the protests began in early February.

The buildup towards the recent student-led protests came from hyperinflation, a shortage of basics, spiraling murder rates and a general decline in living standards. Presently, Venezuelans cannot get basics such as toilet paper, rice, coffee and corn flour. Last year, almost 25,000 homicides took place in the country. Protesters claim that the government is corrupt, undemocratic and is ruining the economy.

On February 12, Venezuela’s National Youth Day, students led a peaceful anti-government protest. The Venezuelan military responded with gas bombs and guns to control the crowds. Leopoldo Lopez, leader of the opposition party Voluntad Popular, was arrested later in the month and is currently being held in a military prison. Amnesty International states that the arrest of Lopez is a politically motivated attempt to silence dissent in the country.

The Venezuelan government has implemented a number of policies in reaction to the protests. It declared three consular officers at the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela personae non gratae, or un-welcomed, adding to eight other American officials who were expelled in 2013. The Venezuelan government has also taken control of television, radio and the internet. It blocked online images of the marchers, shut down Twitter, has taken Colombian news channel NTN 24 off the air and threatens to expel CNN.

The House Representatives agreed that the U.S. Government should support the free and peaceful exercise of representative democracy in Venezuela, condemning violence and intimidation against the country’s political opposition, and calling for dialogue between all political actors in the country.

The House resolution just passed urges the international community to stand in solidarity with the people of Venezuela and to actively encourage a process of dialogue between the government of Venezuela and the political opposition to end the violence there. It also believes that the Organization of American States should respond to the erosion of democratic norms and institutions in member states.

Additionally, it deems that the U.S. Department of State should work in concert with other countries in the Americas to take meaningful steps to ensure that basic fundamental freedoms in Venezuela are in accordance with the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Lastly, The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights demanded that the Venezuelan Government adopt measures which guarantee the rights to life such as humane treatment, security, political rights, the right of assembly, and the rights of freedom of association and freedom of expression.

– Maria Caluag

Sources: GovTrak, BBC, Amnesty International
Photo: Los Angeles Times

Recent protests in Venezuela have caught the attention of the entire world. Demonstrators are protesting for a myriad of different reasons, from extreme rates of inflation, to rising crime and murder rates, to allegations of corruption. Despite these different reasons, one thing remains constant: the majority of protestors are demonstrating against the government ruled by Nicolás Maduro, the successor to the late charismatic firebrand Hugo Chavez.

But what is Chavismo? What are the origins of this political movement that has swept up the Venezuelan state and has until recently, been extremely popular?

Chavismo has its origins in the beginnings of Chavez’s political career. In 1997, the Fifth Republic Movement was founded to support Chavez in the 1998 presidential elections. The Movement was named the fifth republic because at the time, Venezuela was in its fourth republic and the movement intended to renew the state of Venezuela on revolutionary policies.

A key belief of Chavismo is that the state should support social welfare programs for its citizens. For instance, Chavez often used populist rhetoric to galvanize the lower classes and the disenfranchised with promises to make their lives better. Revenue from Venezuela’s significant oil reserves were put into programs designed to reduce poverty, improve education, and establish social justice and social welfare within Venezuela.

 Some tenets of Chavismo include nationalization of industries, and a strongly anti-neoliberal stance on economic issues with an emphasis on participatory democracy. Systems of “Bolivarian missions” or misiones bolivarianas exist in order to bypass the red tape that often comes with bureaucracy and where citizens can gather to express their opinions directly and have their voices heard.

Not surprisingly for a revolutionary political movement, Chavismo strongly identifies with the historic figure of Símon Bolívar, the 19th century liberator of Latin America from Spanish colonialism. This idea is carried on today with Chavismo attempting to rally countries around the region to oppose what is seen as imperialist US policies that put capitalistic gain ahead of basic human rights.

The idea of Chavismo works well theoretically, as most populist ideologies do. But the reality of the situation is that Venezuelans are unhappy with the way the country is being governed and the direction the current brand of Chavismo led by Maduro is taking them.

Instead of listening to the demands of the people, Maduro decided to take the thuggish route and try to quell the current protests by deploying hundreds of soldiers and ordering fighter jets to make low passes over the capital of Caracas.

Maduro’s responses to the protests give full view to his insecurity. In order to maintain a tight grip on the country, he has expelled three US diplomats from the country and detained 45 people. Maduro has also attempted to regulate media coverage of the protests and threatened to revoke press credentials for CNN reporters.

Unless he listens to and responds to the needs of the people, he will be put in an increasingly insecure position within his United Socialist Party. While an overthrow of Maduro’s government and an opposition-installed government in unlikely, what is possible is Maduro being forced to step down in favor of his Vice-President, Jorge Arreaza.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: The New York Times, The Huffington Post
Photo: Jorge Amin

Protests in Venezuela
Months of goods shortages, allegations of corruption, a sky-high inflation rate of 56.2 percent and rising crime have left thousands of Venezuelans dissatisfied with the government of Nicolás Maduro, the successor of the late Hugo Chávez of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, (PSUV.) This dissatisfaction culminated in violent protests in Venezuela against the Maduro administration that took place in many large cities across Venezuela, including the cities of Maracaibo and Caracas, the capital.

On Thursday, three protesters were killed and dozens more were injured in clashes between the disgruntled and disaffected youth and the police and troops from the National Guard. Around 1,000 protesters lit bonfires and blockaded the streets in an effort to draw attention to their demands. It is relatively unclear what the protesters want, however. Some are calling for Maduro to resign; others simply want an end to the uptick in the crime rate.

In an effort to quell the protests, on Saturday Maduro called for a “ban” on further protests and prohibited media coverage of the protests. After promoting a position of “peace and tolerance,” Maduro denounced the protesters as “fascists” who sought to overthrow the government. He further attempted to maintain his grasp on his power by suggesting that “the people are in power.”

One leader of the opposition, Leopoldo Lopez tweeted support for non-violent protests, and addressed Maduro in a message in which he called the president “a coward…who cannot make me or my family submit to you.”

Proponents of the peaceful protests in Venezuela have stated that government-sponsored motorcycle gangs known as colectivos seek to incite further violence in order to thwart the legitimacy of the movement. Since Wednesday, 99 people have been arrested and released, with 13 remaining in jail.

Maduro has found it increasingly difficult to continue riding the wave of the Chavista movement following the death of Hugo Chávez in March of last year. After narrowly winning a presidential election in April 2013 that the center-right opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, denounced as fraudulent, Maduro has struggled to appear as a legitimate successor to the charismatic Chávez. As such, he has blamed the opposition movement for the country’s economic woes, which includes a high inflation rate and a shortage of basic goods such as toilet paper.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: Reuters, The Daily Beast, Reuters, AlJazeera, BBC
Photo: Tempo

Venezuelans took to the streets to protest against the successor government of the late Hugo Chavez led by President Nicolas Maduro. The oil-rich Bolivarian Republic, many citizens feel, is failing to provide them with an adequate living standard. Inflation of the Venezuelan bolívar is going up at an astronomical rate, the highest in Latin America at 56 percent. Basic commodities as well as absolute necessities are scarce and the murder rates are getting higher.

Struggling with capital flight—a consequence of the currency’s devaluation—and the enormous loss of its foreign reserves, authorities have done little to try to salvage the bolívar.  The poor state of the Venezuelan economy has an acute impact on the country’s political climate. Not only have the left-wing party’s populist policies deeply polarized the society. This deep polarization in the society—already plagued with a gargantuan disparity gap—is manifesting itself on the streets of Caracas as both supporters and opponents of the current government are staging rival rallies.

With already four casualties at the hands of the authorities, the violent Venezuelan protests on the streets of Caracas are a direct result of years of accumulated policy mistakes and economic woes that Venezuelans have endured. Shortages of the most basic necessities such as toilet paper, rice, coffee and corn flour, the lastest of which is a crucial ingredient in the Venezuelan daily diet.

Years of over-reliance on imports, price controls, unsustainable petroleum money coupled with the lack of cash in general and the government’s obstinacy to not deliver United States dollars to importers have made many common and vital items to be absent from Venezuelan markets. Many industries that used to provide these basic resources for the country have also all been greatly diminished.

However, many Venezuelans still support their government. The populist regime created—arguably with the oil revenue—during Hugo Chavez’s administration has seen the power of the elite substantially curbed and the state’s roles exponentially expanded. The policies that follow the government’s egalitarian and anti-imperial discourse (which had caused an abrasive verbal duel between the King of Spain and the late Hugo Chavez) have generated a short-term but unsustainable well-being for the Venezuelan people.

However, the aforementioned price control, decreed wage raises, the notorious nationalization of foreign capitals (a measure taken by many Latin American governments of the same political camp as Venezuela,) the reduction of interest rate as well as the inorganic credit manipulation all contribute to the present hardship facing the people of Venezuela. However, it is because of these policies that so many people, especially those from the poorer sectors of the society, are still in favor of the government.

Thus, the student-led Venezuelan protests and the deadly clashes in Caracas is an archetypal manifestation of the political paradigm that is appearing across the developing world. It is a paradigm that presents a discourse that puts into question the very principles of democracy.

In places where there is wide disparity in terms of material development and education, should good governance take precedence over popular support? Is democracy a panacea for all malaises, a one size fits all model to which every society should aspire? These are not simply rhetorical questions; they are vexing dilemmas that will necessitate answers as Western hegemony yields.

– Peewara Sapsuwan

Sources: La Tercera, Rumbo, The Guardian, Financial Times, Bloomberg
Washington Post

Gunshots. Rifles. Rocks. Molotov Cocktails. The state of political unrest in Ukraine continues unabated.

Protestors have long since expressed discontent with President Viktor Yanukovych’s regime since economically tying Ukraine to Russia in lieu of the European Union.

Closer ties to the European Union would have boosted the Ukrainian economy as well as being welcomed into the E.U. fold. On the other hand, Russia threatened economic sanctions and a rise in oil prices. In the end, Yanukovych chose the former head of the Soviet state. As a result, Ukranians took to the streets in protest. For the past three months, protesters and Kiev police forces have clashed in the streets of Independence Square.

The narrative turned ever darker once Yanukovych passed the anti-protest law, barring demonstrations unless a permit is obtained from local police.

The law was eventually repealed, but the damage was done. Discontent spiraled further when opposing forces attempted to draw power from the presidency towards the parliament.

The opposition forces, among them led by the Ukranian Democratic Alliance for Reforms party, then wanted tangible reforms that would come in the form of constitutional amendments. Yanukovych, with pressure mounting on his presidency, offered opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk the post of prime minister as well as the power to dismiss the parliament.

These concessions, however, proved futile. Violence erupted on February 18, with 28 individual deaths as a result. A truce soon followed, but brutality reignited on two days later; that day’s conflicts yielded at least 100 deaths.

An emergency triage focalized at the Hotel Ukraine where numerous wounded were taken. The Ukranian military has yet to take action, but tensions are high. Foreign leaders have reacted by proposing sanctions. The E.U. has proposed freezing the assets of key Ukranians, around 20 involved.

Since the onset of the drama, Ukraine has been at the crossroads of Western powers and the eastern dominating Russia. The following steps rests on Yanukovych, but it appears the president is even losing influence in parliament.

Yanukovych’s party, Party of Regions, even sided with those voting against the president in a recent ruling for anti-terrorist measures. Regardless of the outcome, human lives have been split. Whether more violence is to come remains to be seen.

Miles Abadilla

Sources: CNN, The Globe and Mail, CNN, Kyiv Post
Photo: BBC