Loosing the Seeds for the Future: How Can an Engaged Civil Society and Innovative Funding Models Spur Growth in Infrastructure?


The Infrastructure panel, at the Back in Business Forum, was moderated by Fawn Johnson, correspondent for the National Journal, with the participation of Eric Blumenaur, U.S. House of Representatives (Oregon), Lisa Gordon, Chief Operating Officer, Atlanta BeltLine Inc., and Thomas F. Jensen, Vice President of Global Public Affairs, UPS. 

The majority of the panel revolved around freight and mass urban transit, with a spotlight on the Atlanta BeltLine project, which encompasses a vital revitalization effort in the city of Atlanta with a combination of rail, trail, greenspace, housing and art.  The project seeks to connect over 45 neighborhoods and put the city in the path for 21st century economic growth and sustainability.  Two highlights from the project, and what seemed to be the overarching theme of the panel were, 1) innovative funding initiatives and 2) the power and importance of civil society in the decision making process.

Blumenaur highlighted the importance of giving the community a broad vision of what public transit can provide e.g. economic, social, and health benefits, once this vision is given to the public you open the door to what is a very innovative and forward thinking community, “they’re practically civil engineers,” he said.   Gordon also highlighted the importance of community engagement; the BeltLine project was possible due to extensive outreach, once the public had the information in their hands, the overwhelming response was a positive one. Jense mentioned how large and small businesses are beginning to ask what they can do to fix transportation issues, they want to get involved, he mentioned, “[the] notion of non-traditional stakeholders involvement is key, civil society is able to make strong arguments in the policy realms.” Overall the panel agreed that there is a general consensus for the promotion and development of efficient public transit and freight development; congress is at fault for not recognizing this, and for not creating a comprehensive holistic vision for transit and freight infrastructure.

On the financial models, Atlanta’s BeltLine project was highlighted as inventive and original. Gordon stressed that through effective partnerships the project was able to raise; $42 million from business and philanthropic grassroots, $78.8 million was collected from bonds based on future property developments along the corridor, while $600 million was collected from taxes; other money came from federal and state grants. Other innovative ideas included utilizing federal grants, but leveraging far more with the private sector (this is how the Portland rail was funded), the paradigm needs to shift towards developing a way to capture and capitalize the economic development spurred by UMT projects.

An audience member asked the panellist where the US stood in infrastructure on a scale from one to ten (ten being the best), Gordon and Jense gave the country a meager 1-2, citing a need for restoration and re-investment, Jensen said, “we’re loosing ground on system reliability, and we’re loosing the seeds for the future,” Blumenaur, had a more positive outlook giving a 5-6, stressing the fact that we still have a functioning system, we just need to re-develop it.


2013: A Turning Point in Somalia’s History?


I attended an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) where Mark Simmonds, U.K. Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and Jennifer G. Cooke, Director of the Africa Program, spoke of the potential for a new Somalia. Simmonds enthusiastically said, “2013 can be the turning point in Somalia’s history.”

The event mainly revolved around the UK’s and the International communities involvement in the rebuilding of the country in accordance to the  governments goals and aspirations. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was elected president by the Somali parliament in September 2012, becoming the first permanent president in the country since 1991. His election has given the international community much hope (notably the IMF, who last week recognized its government) there are many priorities that the government has set out to accomplish, but Simmonds reminded the public that they need to be careful, having so many priorities, risks having no priorities at all.

Therefore the British government and the international community should focus on three main sectors; 1) Security: the African Union (AU) and other contributing nations worked to maintain Somali security, it is now time for the country to build its own defense network. A police and armed force unit is already in the works with the assistance of the United States and the European Union (EU), such forces will need to be created with clear accountability and public oversight; 2) Justice: establishing an independent judiciary system with the capability of reaching the whole country. A particular focus should be placed on women’s issues, from sexual and reproductive rights, to violence, and rape, lastly; 3) Economy: establishing well managed, transparent systems to pay wages and properly deliver services to the community.

Somalia demonstrates great potential, from what can become a thriving fishing sector, to a diaspora that demonstrate an entrepreneurial flare, and oil, (Simmonds did not mention this until someone in the audience from Humans Rights Watch brought it up.) Now I usually attempt to keep my post on events as simple and direct as possible, bereft of opinion, but this event left me thinking.

I am very skeptical to Britain’s recent involvement in Somalia. The Guardian, and the Centre for Research on Globalization, has already written on the topic of oil and aid.  The Somali diaspora in Britain has also been writing quiet a bit on the dash for the countries natural resources. It is troubling when aid to Somalia from 2010 to 2015 will increase 208% this is more than Nigeria, whose aid is to increase 116%, a country rich in oil, yet rife with poverty (61% living in absolute poverty, and more than half of the countries 160 million people living without electricity, despite rapid economic growth.) How the Somalia community will benefit is unknown. Oil can be a great source of income for the nation, but transparency will be key!

The talk ended with a final push to maintain the energy going, continue forging international cooperation, and acknowledging that the process to rebuild Somalia will take time, effort, and money.  Responding to the audiences questions, Simmonds added, “the United States has moral and practical reasons to continue aiding Somalia, its neighbors are also important (Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Kenya.)  Building intra-regional trade should be a major focus going forward.

How things will turn out for Somalia? No one can say, but it will be important to keep an eye, particularly on the race for natural resources and the involvement of the United States and the EU’s training of troops. I might just be a skeptic, Somalia, after all might turn into a prosperous nation where everyone is benefiting and contributing to the society (a vision, that Mahamud supports) and 2013 might be a historic year for the country. But for this to be true the  international civil society, the Somalia diaspora, and the Somali people will have to keep a very close eye to every action being made.


Living in a Twilight Zone: Migrant Workers, Human Rights, and Immigration Reform.


Wednesday morning the “gang of eight” senators formally filed their proposal for an immigration reform bill.  Many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, patiently wait to see how recent legislation will affect their lives. Out of these migrants, over 100,000 are temporary/guest workers living in what Duncan Wood; the Director of the Mexico Institute (Wilson Center), called a “twilight zone,” a state of precariousness and instability, where their legality and rights are nebulous and ill defined.

At the same time that the proposed bill was released, I attended an event at the Wilson Center where a study on migrant workers and their access to social security was unveiled. Duncan Wood moderated the forum. Fabienne Venet Rebiffe, the Director of the Institute for Studies and Communication on Migration, and study lead, was joined by Norma Samaniego, who participated as an advisor in the study, and Rachel Micah-Jones, Director of the Centro de los Derechos del Migrante.

The panel began on an enthusiastic note, commenting on the landmark legislation that was introduced on the senate floor. They hoped many of the numerous problems their study found would be resolved or at least mitigated by the bill (despite some minor issues, which will be discussed further in the post). The presenters then began their discussion on the study, which sought to understand different systems attempting to regulate temporary migration flows in the corridors of Central and North America.  Such systems were trying to attend to the lack of employment in “developing” nations and the lack of unskilled labor in “developed” nations.

The study concluded that none of the six systems studied fully labor market issues. They were not functional enough to work as an example to be duplicated in other areas, and none of them fully complied with the laws established by the International Labor Organization (ILO). It is important to note that some models were more efficient than others. The Costa Rica-Nicaragua model seemed to be the best example with bilateral agreements established to provide Nicaraguan migrants with some access to social security while they work in Costa Rica. The Mexico and Canada Seasonal Worker Program also fulfilled a bilateral agreement.  Other models such as the one between the US and Mexico did not comply with international law and accepted human rights protections for migrant workers.

The study found many violations of international labor laws. The lack of bilateral agreements between sending and receiving countries prevented the securing of social benefits to migrants. Many countries lacked regulatory measures and adequate information for migrants, and there are cases where migrants have little to no information regarding their departure and arrival to the host country, job descriptions, wages, and so forth. Rachel Micah-Jones highlighted the case of the US-Mexico H2A-B visas, where the system is very employer driven. This has led to immense cost for migrants, Micah-Jones stated that 58 % of migrants have to pay fees of at least USD $590. Additional, they have to cover their transportation cost, passports, and visa fees. She added that “over 47% of migrants take out loans, leaving many in debt, and with no choice but to stay in the jobs for extended amounts of time” The recruitment process resurfaced throughout the talks as one of the greatest issues. During the process, migrants were lied to about wages, not paid, discriminated against, and robbed of their documents. The senate bill introduced this Wednesday does not include a provision for the registration of recruiters.

Some of the overarching recommendations that the panelists mentioned included 1) Bilateralism, temporary labor migration systems must be framed by a policy in both country of origin and destination 2) There needs to be efficient internal regulatory measures to protect migrants, as well as interinstitutional and intersectoral mechanism to regulate recruiters (Canada was highlighted here. It privatized the recruitment sector, this led to numerous abuses) 3) Multilateral agreements, regarding basic issues such as wages, workers age, and health and hazard protections, which will give room for room for transparency, accountability, and evaluation; and, 4) Establish a registration system for recruiters to allow workers to verify whether jobs exist or not, This is especially important given recent high profile examples of criminal group involvement in human trafficking and related fraudulent activities victimizing the migrant.

Despite several international laws on labor migration, there still exist numerous gaps in many of the systems, whatsoever, their difference allowed the researchers to identified positive and negative aspects to the models. There was again an overarching emphasis on focusing more seriously on migration; from a holistic perspective i.e. taking into consideration labor markets, human rights, security issues, and bilateralism. As the panel closed with a hopeful note, so do hundreds of immigrants since the measure has a chance to pass in the democratic controlled Senate. However, the prospects are far less positive in the House of Representatives.

Drugs, Criminal Violence, and CARSI: The Baseball Game of Central American Foreign Policy

drugs2 According to William Brownfield, the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) is like a baseball game and they are currently in the fifth inning, tied three to three.

At an event hosted at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and sponsored by Americas Society/Council of The Americas, Brownfield made his case for CARSI. Central America has been hit hard with the collateral damage of the so-called “war on drugs.” 65% of cocaine destined to the US crosses through the region, there are over 70 thousand gang members, and some countries have extremely high homicide rates. Add to this slow economic growth and weak institutions and you have a cocktail for disaster.

How did Brownfield respond to criticism of CARSI?

  1.  CARSI is nothing more than militarization and the continuation of  a failed war on drugs.

Brownfield argued that CARSI is not about a war on drugs, but rather is a holistic initiative that seeks to integrate education, rehabilitation, health, political development, and institution building. He specified that less than 1/3 of the funding goes to programs to combat drugs.

2. CARSI has failed and problems still persist.

 To answer this point Brownfield alluded to history. He stated that dealing with a complex phenomenon that has developed over many years takes time and patience – it cannot be solved overnight.  The process needs to be gradual and systematic. Brownfield said the program simply could  not be assessed after only 5 years. In the future they will analyze statistics, from poverty rates to the number of judicial hearings, believing such measures will better assess the success or failure of the program.

3. CARSI cannot succeed due to rampant government corruption.

 Yes, admitted Brownfield, corruption and impunity are a big problem, which CARSI is dealing with. Brownfield said, “It will take an entire generation to purificar, or to purge, corrupt institutions”. The short-term solution is to install a small group of transparent justices who will begin the process of cleaning up the judicial system.

4. You cannot turn a blind eye to the systematic human rights violations performed by some governments.

 Brownfield responded, “If we don’t address the human rights violations, we will fail.” This is fundamental to CARSI and it includes significant investment in human rights training and accountability.

5. The ominous “balloon effect.” Even if there is an accomplishment, the problem will shift somewhere else.

 Brownfield spoke of the great success of Plan Colombia and the decrease in the production of cocaine in that country. He also argued that the balloon was getting smaller and smaller, and central American citizens simply didn’t have to accept the adverse effects of drug trafficking.

The US has been involved in four intra-regional initiatives to tackle criminal violence and drugs: Plan Colombia, The Merida Initiative, CARSI, and the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative. Ideally these four initiatives link together in such a coherent way so as to effectively tackle issues related to drugs and criminal violence.

Brownfield ended with five important points:


  1. Strategies take years to develop
  2. Strategies must be flexible and adaptable
  3. Strategies must be comprehensive and holistic in their approach
  4. Strategies must have a law enforcement component
  5. Institution building yields more results than operations, and lasts throughout generations


This was just a brief summary of the event, for the full audio and video click here.

Criminal Violence in Mexico: Challenges for the Peña Nieto Administration


A holistic effort between government, civil society, and the international community is the best way forward to address criminal violence in Mexico, contended experts Mark Schneider and Javier Ciurlizza of the International Crisis Group (ICG). Speaking at an event co-sponsored by the Inter-American Dialogue and the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, Schneider and Ciurlizza presented the findings of a new ICG report to be released on March 19, examining the challenges and prospects to eradicate violence in Mexico.

In the face of census estimates of drug-related homicides exceeding 65,000 in Mexico since 2007, the lack of emphasis on security from the Peña Nieto administration in its first few months has been striking. The administration’s recent announcement of a new crime prevention program is an important step, but much more is needed.

The panelists argued that it will be crucial for the international community to engage in a constructive conversation on criminal violence, and the ICG report aims to play a prominent role in provoking further debate in Mexico. Drawing on what Ciurlizza called “some of the most brilliant minds in Mexico,”  the report incorporates numerous interviews and field visits in more than eight states with varying levels of violence and insecurity to attempt to identify patterns, and establish what is working, and what is not.

The report highlights the challenge of defining the complex dynamics and the social damage of criminal violence in Mexico. Criminal groups in Mexico are multifaceted. Schneider contended that such groups have diversified into fast moving criminal organizations with increased arms capacity; some have deep historical roots in Mexican society. The Sinaloa cartel, for example, dates back to the 1920s and is deeply embedded in social and political structures in Mexico, while others have split into smaller factions under pressure from the Calderón administration’s all-out war on the cartels. The issue of collusion between cartels, politicians, and businesses is a major challenge and the diversification of the cartels’ enterprises beyond drug trafficking into extortions, human trafficking, and oil theft further complicates the fight against criminality. The report also highlights the profound damage that widespread impunity, military abuses—which  the panelists argued have further deteriorated the public’s trust in the government—and escalating attacks on journalist and human rights defenders inflict on Mexican society.

Despite such bleak observations, the report identifies important opportunities to find a solution. The transnational nature of the crime problem in Mexico lends itself to an international response, and the international community has useful resources and is eager to get involved. Though Ciurlizza noted that bilateral cooperation would not entirely resolve this complex problem, Schneider maintained that the recent expansion of US-Mexico cooperation to combat violence has been a historic step. Internally, there are other positive signs, including the national pact signed by all three major parties, which solidifies the Mexican government’s commitment to find an end to violence.

A powerful civil society movement has emerged to denounce the prevailing response to criminal violence, which may, in part, have inspired Peña Nieto’s departure from Calderón’s security approach, seeking to focus more on crime reduction as opposed to arresting and killing top cartel leaders. Other promises from the administration like community-based programs, which Duncan Wood, director of the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, called a “simply fascinating initiative,” is geared toward addressing the broader structural issues of criminality. The panelists also expressed optimism about political and legal reforms in Mexico and the proposed creation of a 10,000-person gendarmerie.

The panel agreed that this is an important moment for the Mexican government to reflect on its security strategy and that there are promising signs that the new administration will make changes that will improve citizen security and judicial institutions in the country.

Here is the full audio of the event.

Latino américa y la crisis económica mundial: pasado, presente, y futuro

GDP per person

 A pesar de la crisis económica mundial del 2008, latino américa termino el 2012 con un crecimiento promedio de 3.2 porciento, desempleo de 6.8 porciento y grandes logros en la erradicación de la pobreza.

Numerosos debates surgieron para conceptualizar como el continente pudo sobrevivir esta crisis mundial.  El consenso mayor surgió con cuentas teorías y opiniones sobre la resistencia del continente. Primero que todo es importante recordad la historia económica en latino américa. Muchos países sufrieron crisis económica entre los años 60 a 80. Estas crisis económicas condujeron a muchos gobiernos a frenar la inflación y a cambiar sus mentalidades, se reducido la deuda publica, y hubieron avances en materia de política económica. El aumento en precios de petróleo funcionaron como amortiguadores en países como Venezuela y México, y la grande demanda de productos básicos a la China ayudaron a latino américa a enfrentar de una mejorar manera la crisis mundial.

Esto no quiere decir que latino américa continuara progresando. Considerando que la mitad de las exportaciones van hacia los Estados Unidos, China esta entrando en un enfriamiento económico y la zona europea se encuentra al borde del colapso. Muchos analistas destacan la importancia en diversificar la economía latino américana, críticos argumenta que al enfocarse solo en productos básicos causara problemas. Sin embargo esto no a parado la formación del Arco del Pacifico Latinoamericano. Daniel Estrada de Inter Press Service agrega que la creación del arco reducirá la vulnerabilidad a las perturbaciones externas, proveerá una expansión en libre comercio al igual que lograra políticas fiscales mas equilibradas. Beatriz Leycegui del International Center for Trade and Sustainable Development (Centro Internacional de Comercio y Desarrollo Sostenible) reitera que la región Asia-Pacifico es una de las regiones con los niveles mas altos de crecimiento económico, en diez años esta región conformara a mas del 50 porciento del comercio global.

Otros bloques de libre comercio como MERCOSUR se encuentran en momentos de tensión mientras la crisis global persiste. Recientemente Argentina a bloqueado exportaciones de Brasil, lo cual a causado disputo entre los dos países y a demostrado la falta de mecanismos para resolver problemas internos. Al igual que Argentina Brasil a bloqueado productos lactosas proviniendo de Uruguay.


La crisis europea se tiene que tener en mente ya que puede causar otros problemas para el continente latino americano. Liliana Rojas-Suarez Investigadora en el Center for Global Development (Centro de Desarrollo Global) propone el escenario en el cual la zona europea colapsa, esto causaría un impacto grave en países con mas libre comercio, y particularmente los cuales tienen políticas financieras mas abiertas.

Es impredecible determinar que papel desempeñara el comercio exterior latinoamericano con respecto a la crisis global. Lo que se sabe es que la diversificación de la economía y la creación de fuertes enlaces de comercio que funcionen adecuadamente entre los países de latino américa ayudaran a adaptarse mejor contra las crisis externas.







As the sequester looms upon us, what is the future of foreign aid?


As USAID and the State Department face 2.6 billion dollars in cuts and an estimated 5.3 percent decrease in US development assistance, organizations are beginning to downsize many of their projects and rethinking their strategies and programs. New roles and new strategies need to come into effect in order to keep the world’s most vulnerable with food, medicine, education, and the tools to arrive at a sustainable livelihood.

$400 million in cuts to global health, $152.4 million to humanitarian aid, and $70 million in food aid results in serious questions. How is government-led foreign aid supposed to cope with such numbers? And can a new public-private partnership step in and become the new model for foreign aid and corporate responsibility?

“New approaches to eradicating extreme poverty and inequity that include the private sector in partnership with governments and NGO’s hold real promise for sustainable solution” says Helen D. Gayle of CARE USA.  The Center for Strategic and International Studies also released a new report with similar proposals for a new development strategy titled “Our Shared Opportunity: A Vision for Global Prosperity.” It highlighted three key points to this new partnership: (1) developing private sector-led, broad based economic growth by creating a holistic constituency between government, the public, and businesses on economic growth and job creation as the way to reduce poverty overseas. (2) aligning US development with the private sector, by setting targets to creating partnerships, streamlining and simplifying the process of creating the partnerships, and using US business operations to train and enhance local workforce and companies; and (3) promoting trade and investment, a double bottom line of meeting profitability and social development, and investing in countries with ambitious business reform.

Peter Davis, of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), emphasized that of the many countries that have been successful in climbing out of poverty, the private sector has driven the process. Studies by the UN in India and China found that increase in exports led to 26 million jobs and 55 billion in additional incomes.

Public-private partnerships could prove to be efficacious, but the building of strong civil societies, and possibly the creation of new ones in developing countries, will be critical to their success. For such partnerships to work, there needs to be complete procedural transparency and an institutional commitment to corporate responsibility. A strong committed civil society can help ensure that the partners adhere to a new sense of global responsibility, and will guarantee benefits are distributed fairly to the world’s neediest populations.

New government strategies to build strong partnerships with the private sector will become a strategic opportunity for the twenty-first century. Successful aid and successful partnerships will lead to productive foreign policy, economic progress, and national security, all while strengthening new markets and continuing the vital role that the US has played in development.

Bronislaw Malinowski on Psychological Structuralism and Culture


     In “The Essentials Of The Kula” the third chapter of Argonaut of the Western Pacific, Bronislaw Malinowski exemplifies how institutions function within societies, how they serve the needs of the group and the individual, and how they perpetuate culture. It was for these reasons that his brand of structuralism was known as “psychological structuralism”.

Influenced by sociological thought, Bronislaw sought to demonstrate that the Kula, a ceremonial exchange system conducted in Papua New Guinea, which was originally understood as a mundane system of exchange, was rather an expansive network of balanced reciprocity that permeated every aspect of society. The Kula is an institution that fulfills the needs of the individual, promotes, and influences societal cohesion. In Papua New Guinea the beads and necklaces exchanged serve the purpose of creating societal ties, economic networks, political alliances, and familial bonds. The Kula not only sets up a system of hierarchy, and reciprocity, but goes as far as exhibiting religious and magical dimensions. Malinowski also sought to debunk the ideology that the “primitive” man was not rational in its economic dealings. By showing the multifaceted dimension of the Kula, he demonstrated the rather complex decisions that the supposedly primitive humans made with the Kula exchange and the rationale behind them. It is through this holistic approach that Malinowski conceptualized culture as a direct response to human needs.

Every aspect of life matters, including the interrelation of institutions and their multifaceted dimension, in determining the individual’s actions. Since as individuals we might not be able to fathom how the institutions we live under function and determine our actions, it is the anthropologist’s job to deconstruct the structure. Malinowski argued for an emic, and etic perspective. The emic account comes from the actor, the individual within the culture, while the etic is the account of the observer. Again it is through this holistic methodology that one comes to understand culture, how culture determines the individual’s actions, and how the individual’s needs are met by culture.


The Importance of History in Political Analysis: Eric Wolf and Marxist Anthropology


Eric Wolf- Introduction to Europe and the People Without History

In Introduction to Europe and The People Without History, Eric Wolf seeks to give the first social analysis of the institution that we call The West, and establish the foundations of what could be called Marxist anthropology. Wolf is heavily influenced by Marxist theory; which is evident through his analysis of inequality, capitalism, and the creation of a western history. Marx’s main premise which asserted that material life determines social, political, and economic processes became a departure point for Wolf. Wolf felt that the capitalistic system was one entrenched with inequalities, which perpetuated certain ideologies, and hegemonic standards with the intention of maintaining parasitic hierarchical structures. Espousing dependency theory Wolf asserted that the numerous economic, and social problems of the “third world” were a direct causation of the unbalanced power structures developed by The West.

Wolf argued against the dichotomization of the world into The West and the rest. He felt this development scheme was misleading, simply because it turned history into a moral success story. He also felt that the social sciences were not properly conceptualizing systems, and structures. By turning names into things you create false models of reality. By treating named entities as static, the social scientists fail to see the temporally and spatially changing sets of relationships, and interactions that occur within these entities, and fail to conceptualize historical contingencies which shape such entities.

Social relations became the single cause for change, and somehow became autonomous from anything else, for Wolf this was a great mistake, because it disconnected the importance of social structure i.e. the pivotal role that economics, politics, and ideology has on influencing social relations, and representation. Wolf claims that our whole understanding of history is misconstrued, through the creation of these static entities, which lack development, indigenous people loose their history. Therefore one needs to analyze and take into account the perspective of the indigenous, to better understand historical process.