Invisible Imprints of Glacial Melt

By Emma Steigerwald

The Marbled water frog is believed to be important for its medicinal properties, as well as for its role in the ecosystem. (Photo by Emma Steigerwald).

“When I was a child and the rain did not come,” adults sometimes told us, “my mother had me carry a frog far from the water, so that its distressed song would call the rain”.

“Make sure you don’t annoy the frogs,” people would warn my team. “When they are upset, the lightning falls”.

“Make sure you return those frogs when you’ve finished. If you don’t, the springs will dry”.

This photo of one of our camps highlights the extreme weather conditions in the Cordillera. (Photo by Emma Steigerwald).

The cultural importance of amphibians in the most remote reaches of the Cordillera Vilcanota in the Peruvian Andes became more obvious each day that I spent there. People’s relationship with these animals is not an affectionate one: for the most part, they find the concept of contact with frogs disgusting or frightening. Still, a culture that depends on the success of their potatoes, tarwi, and alpaca will pay close attention to the creatures to whom they attribute sway over precipitation patterns. Communities that genuinely lose alpaca, homes, and people to lightning strikes will have respect for the creatures to whom they attribute sway over electrical storms. Therefore, when frog populations began disappearing in the early 2000s, Quechua herders broadcast their concerns (Seimon et al 2017). These reports motivated scientists to begin long-term amphibian monitoring in the Cordillera Vilcanota (Seimon et al 2017). Conversations with this monitoring team drew me to begin the first landscape genetic project ever based in the region, which I hoped to pursue without “annoying the frogs”!

I had my first field season this spring 2018, supported by the Tinker Summer Research Grant from Berkeley’s Center for Latin American studies. I was accompanied by local guide and horsedriver Gumercindo Crispin, as well as two students from the Universidad Nacional San Antonio Abad de Cusco: Yonatan Jared Guevara Casafranca and Peter Frank Condori Ccarhuarupay.

The Marbled four-eyed frog, pictured here among some of the beautiful alpine plants found in its high-elevation wetland habitat. (Photo by Emma Steigerwald).

In their dedicated work with the Marbled water frog, Marbled four-eyed frog, and Warty toad, the long-term monitoring team has found the pandemic fungal disease chytridiomycosis implicated in the reported die-offs (Seimon et al 2017). The team was also amazed to find all three species at elevations hundreds of meters higher than had ever been previously registered (Seimon et al 2007). Accelerated glacial melt, which had entirely transformed the Cordillera in the last century, had also unlocked new habitat for these frogs to colonize (Seimon et al 2007).

Children of Huayna Ausangate helping us to search for Marbled water frogs after school. (Photo by Emma Steigerwald).

The situation of these Cordilleran frogs captivates me because I am interested in problems relating to conserving wild populations. Here, I saw the convergence of several pressures: glacial melt, climate-driven range shifts, a novel pathogen, and the potential for restored animal movement across a mountain chain that has served as a barrier for perhaps thousands of years. I wondered if my particular toolkit, landscape genetics, could lend insight into how these pressures are interacting. Rapid range expansion and new or restored animal movement across deglaciated mountain passes will impact the genetic characteristics of wild populations (e.g. Ibrahim et al 1996, Excoffier 2004, Kolbe et al 2008, Pfaff et al 2001). These characteristics are, in turn, integral to whether populations will adapt, cope with new threats like diseases, and finally persist in the long term (Bonin et al 2007). Since climate change is causing species across taxa and across the world to alter their ranges (Parmesan 2006), rapid deglaciation is proceeding in tropical and temperate zones alike (Berger et al 2017), and novel disease threats are emerging at an accelerated rate (Daszak et al 2000), it is critical that we examine the impacts of these pressures and how they interact.

Gumercindo and I hold buckets of tadpoles we netted for sampling. (Photo by Peter Frank Condori Ccarhuarupay).

Ecologists are driven by the understanding that no element of an ecosystem stands independently– not even humans. For this reason, I find wisdom in the ancient beliefs that were shared with us about the Cordilleran frogs. I suspect that, in the grand scheme of things, the presence of frogs is indeed important for streams to flow. I suspect that, ultimately, the health of frogs is indeed important for the rains to fall. As scientists, we currently understand only small parts of that larger puzzle. While we catch up, I am going to trust that deeper wisdom, letting it inspire my effort to understand the forces we unknowingly exert on the wildlife that surrounds us.

Berger, A., Yin, Q.Z., Nifenecker, H. and Poitou, J., 2017. Slowdown of global surface air temperature increase and acceleration of ice melting. Earth’s Future, 5(7), pp.811-822.
Bonin, A., Nicole, F., Pompanon, F., Miaud, C. and Taberlet, P., 2007. Population adaptive index: a new method to help measure intraspecific genetic diversity and prioritize populations for conservation. Conservation Biology, 21(3), pp.697-708.
Daszak, P., Cunningham, A.A. and Hyatt, A.D., 2000. Emerging infectious diseases of wildlife–threats to biodiversity and human health. Science, 287(5452), pp.443-449.
Excoffier, L., 2004. Patterns of DNA sequence diversity and genetic structure after a range expansion: lessons from the infinite‐island model. Molecular Ecology, 13(4), pp.853-864.
Ibrahim, K.M., Nichols, R.A. and Hewitt, G.M., 1996. Spatial patterns of genetic variation generated by different forms of dispersal during range expansion. Heredity, 77(3), p.282.
Kolbe, J.J., Larson, A., Losos, J.B. and de Queiroz, K., 2008. Admixture determines genetic diversity and population differentiation in the biological invasion of a lizard species. Biology Letters, 4(4), pp.434-437.
Parmesan, C., 2006. Ecological and evolutionary responses to recent climate change. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst., 37, pp.637-669.
Pfaff, C.L., Parra, E.J., Bonilla, C., Hiester, K., McKeigue, P.M., Kamboh, M.I., Hutchinson, R.G., Ferrell, R.E., Boerwinkle, E. and Shriver, M.D., 2001. Population structure in admixed populations: effect of admixture dynamics on the pattern of linkage disequilibrium. The American Journal of Human Genetics, 68(1), pp.198-207.
Seimon, T.A., Seimon, A., Daszak, P., Halloy, S.R., Schloegel, L.M., Aguilar, C.A., Sowell, P., Hyatt, A.D., Konecky, B. and Simmon, J.E., 2007. Upward range extension of Andean anurans and chytridiomycosis to extreme elevations in response to tropical deglaciation. Global Change Biology, 13(1), pp.288-299.
Seimon, T.A., Seimon, A., Yager, K., Reider, K., Delgado, A., Sowell, P., Tupayachi, A., Konecky, B., McAloose, D. and Halloy, S., 2017. Long‐term monitoring of tropical alpine habitat change, Andean anurans, and chytrid fungus in the Cordillera Vilcanota, Peru: Results from a decade of study. Ecology and Evolution, 7(5), pp.1527-1540.

EMMA STEIGERWALD is a National Science Foundation graduate research fellow and PhD student in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. Her research is motivated by the belief that, to manage wild populations with defined outcomes in mind, we should integrate our understanding of the complex ecological and evolutionary processes they are subjected to on diverse and ever-changing landscapes. She comes to Berkeley from a project working on an ecological corridor for endangered, range-restricted parakeets of the Ecuadorian Andes, and is glad to now be working on a project that also considers the implications of ecological corridors for infectious disease. Emma received a 2018 Tinker Summer Research Grant awarded by the Center for Latin American Studies. 


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La encrucijada de los grandes empresarios de Nicaragua por Carlos F. Chamorro

Por Carlos F. Chamorro

Read this entry in English here.

Manifestación ciudadana en pro de un diálogo nacional. (Foto por Jorge Mejía Peralta).

Hace exactamente un año, publiqué el ensayo ¿”Modelo Cosep”, o el régimen de Ortega?, analizando las particularidades de la alianza corporativista entre el régimen autoritario de Daniel Ortega y los grandes empresarios. Una alianza que nació en 2009 en medio de la crisis económica internacional cuando el Gobierno de Ortega atravesaba por su peor crisis política, después de haber sellado con violencia el fraude electoral municipal de 2008, que provocó sanciones económicas internacionales de parte de Estados Unidos y la Unión Europea. Eliminado el contrapeso de los partidos políticos democráticos, y con el soporte de la multimillonaria cooperación económica de Venezuela, el régimen designó al Cosep y a los grandes empresarios como su único interlocutor en la sociedad nicaragüense —desoyendo incluso a los obispos de la Iglesia católica, con los que únicamente se reunió una vez en una década– e instaló un sistema de cogobierno económico. Así nació un esquema de diálogo excluyente en el que los grandes empresarios nacionales y extranjeros se convirtieron en un actor político que le brindó legitimidad al régimen autoritario, a cambio de ventajas económicas y oportunidades de inversión, en un sistema de control social sin democracia ni transparencia. 

Mi intención entonces era promover el debate público sobre este “modelo” de estabilidad autoritaria, advirtiendo no solo sobre la falta de viabilidad y sostenibilidad a largo plazo de un régimen personalista –el Estado-Partido-Familia, sostenido en los pies de barro de la centralización, el nepotismo, la represión y la corrupción– sino también sobre el oneroso costo de oportunidad que representaba para la economía nacional la carga de la corrupción. Vale la pena releer hoy esas líneas y las de mis colegas, unos pocos, pero respetados periodistas, economistas, politólogos, e investigadores nacionales y extranjeros,  que cuestionaron el “modelo”, no tanto porque el análisis tenga algún mérito predictivo particular –que nunca fue esa su pretensión– sino porque ahonda en lo mucho que queda por hacer para desmantelar el corporativismo que se tambalea con el sistema político que lo engendró, y que debe ser sustituido por un sistema de gestión económica bajo normas democráticas y transparentes.

Las críticas al mal llamado “modelo Cosep” fueron acogidas en los pocos medios de comunicación independientes que sobreviven en el país, y en la agenda de discusión de Funides, el influyente centro de pensamiento del sector privado que de manera sistemática ha puesto en primer plano el nexo inseparable que debe existir entre la institucionalidad democrática y el desarrollo económico. Sin embargo, la intolerancia de algunos liderazgos empresariales intentó abortar el debate, al extremo que las cámaras del Cosep fueron invitadas a suscribir un comunicado de solidaridad con su presidente, alegando que era objeto de una campaña de “descalificación para dividir al sector privado”.

Manifestación ciudadana en pro de un diálogo nacional. (Foto por Jorge Mejía Peralta).

La vocería oficiosa del sector privado adujo absurdamente que se pretendía empujarlos a una confrontación con el Gobierno, mientras un empresario con mayor visión estratégica resumió su disyuntiva así: “estamos de acuerdo con el diagnóstico, pero ¿qué podemos hacer ante el Gobierno, si nosotros no tenemos la capacidad de presión que se nos atribuye?”. En realidad, al cuestionar el “corporativismo autoritario”, como lo bautizó el economista José Luis Medal, nunca se sugirió que el sector privado debía abandonar el diálogo con el Gobierno o convertirse en un partido político para tomar el poder, únicamente se le exhortaba a establecer límites claros ante el abuso del poder autoritario, y a denunciar la corrupción y la falta de transparencia pública, como una forma de defender no solo sus propios intereses a mediano plazo, sino los de toda la sociedad.  Después vinieron las amenazas de sanciones externas en el Congreso norteamericano con la Nica Act, quizás la última oportunidad para corregir el rumbo, pero en vez de convocar al sector empresarial para “ponerle el cascabel al gato” en las oficinas de El Carmen, un prominente líder del gran capital contrató al Carmen Group para cabildear, no en Managua, dónde está radicado el tumor de la enfermedad, sino en Washington D.C.

Hayan sido cómplices o rehenes del autoritarismo, o una combinación de ambas cosas, los grandes empresarios sucumbieron a la promesa de certidumbre en la estabilidad autoritaria, hasta que se acabaron los tiempos de “vacas gordas” del negociado de la cooperación venezolana, y la incapacidad del régimen para negociar la crisis fiscal y tolerar las expresiones de protesta social, provocó la matanza y la rebelión de abril. Entonces explotó la olla de presión y los agravios acumulados durante más de una década por la población, liderada por la juventud y los estudiantes universitarios, incluidos los simpatizantes sandinistas, en un reclamo nacional contra la represión y la conculcación de democracia y libertades públicas. La rebelión generalizada, ahora con la participación de amplios sectores económicos, movimientos sociales, y los sectores medios, simboliza el enorme costo humano, social, económico y político, que está pagando el país para librarse de una dictadura que cerró todos los espacios de participación democrática. 

La primera reacción del Cosep ante la masacre de abril, condenando la represión y respaldando el derecho a la protesta pacífica, y sobre todo reconociendo que ya no era posible negociar a puertas cerradas la crisis de la Seguridad Social y cualquier otro asunto de trascendencia nacional bajo el esquema excluyente, representó un paso importante de desmarcamiento del régimen, pero su déficit de credibilidad demanda un compromiso inequívoco con la democratización que, más de allá de proclamar un decálogo democrático, sea refrendado con acciones irreversibles.

La masacre perpetrada por el régimen que ya suma más de 50 muertos, la legitimidad de la protesta popular, y el surgimiento del movimiento estudiantil universitario como nuevo actor social y político, han establecido un parteaguas por la vía de los hechos y así se da por descontado que “el país cambió, y nada volverá a ser como antes”. No obstante, los liderazgos empresariales, hasta hace poco aliados del régimen autoritario de Ortega, le deben al país una revisión autocrítica de sus responsabilidades y del llamado “modelo de diálogo y consenso”, para definir las nuevas reglas del juego que deberán regir en la negociación sobre el fin de la dictadura, la transición, y la reconstrucción del país. 

Manifestación ciudadana en pro de un diálogo nacional. (Foto por Jorge Mejía Peralta).

El pronunciamiento del tres de mayo suscrito por los catorce grandes empresarios, consejeros del Cosep, las 27 cámaras empresariales, Amcham y Funides, ya no alude más al “modelo Cosep” y proclama que ¨es fundamental reconstruir el Estado de Derecho, dentro del marco institucional establecido por la Constitución y las leyes para responder pacífica y democráticamente a las demandas sociales, políticas, jurídicas y económicas de todos los sectores de la sociedad¨. En consecuencia, los grandes empresarios deberían reconocer que si antes fueron un soporte de la estabilidad autoritaria, la reconstrucción del Estado de Derecho que ahora promueven presupone que se conviertan en un factor de cambio, en un actor democrático, que es diferente a un partido político, o de lo contrario, si se aferran a maquillar el status quo para que Ortega y Murillo continúen en el poder hasta 2021, corren el riesgo de hundirse con un régimen que ya no es capaz de restablecer la estabilidad del país sin más represión.

En la víspera del diálogo nacional, el Gobierno ha nombrado como principales delegados a cuatro figuras clave del “modelo Cosep”, Bayardo Arce y Álvaro Baltodano, sus principales operadores de negocios con el sector privado, y los ministros de Hacienda y Banco Central, a cargo de las exoneraciones fiscales y la regulación bancaria y financiera. Es evidente que la prioridad de Ortega, al margen del clamor nacional sobre la matanza y la demanda de democratización, consiste en restablecer el viejo orden con los grandes empresarios. 

Según la ultima encuesta de Cid Gallup, el 69% de la población, incluido un porcentaje importante de simpatizantes sandinistas, está de acuerdo en que Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo deben renunciar al poder, para facilitar un proceso de negociación que conduzca a reformas institucionales y elecciones anticipadas, en el marco de una continuidad constitucional.  Pero ante una dictadura familiar que se aferra al poder para intentar replicar el esquema de Maduro en Venezuela, el cambio pacífico y constitucional solo será posible a través de una combinación de presión cívica beligerante y solidaridad internacional. La fuerza decisiva de esta presión descansa en la movilización que lideran los estudiantes, a la que se han sumado trabajadores, campesinos, empleados públicos, productores y comerciantes, sectores medios, y el sector privado. Y por el peso y la influencia que ejercen en sectores clave de la economía y del Estado, los grandes empresarios tienen una cuota mayor de responsabilidad, para contribuir a esta salida. Nicaragua no cuenta con instituciones autónomas para resolver la crisis provocada por Ortega y Murillo –que para la gran mayoría de la gente están política y moralmente inhabilitados para gobernar– porque simplemente fueron liquidadas por la dictadura. Es imperativo, por lo tanto, una negociación para reducir los plazos y los tiempos de salida de los gobernantes de forma pacífica, y esto solo será posible a través de una alianza nacional decidida a ejercer el máximo nivel de presión cívica para lograr el restablecimiento de la democracia. Si se considera que esta salida, como cualquier otra opción democrática es incierta, la alternativa a que conduciría la inacción es más desgaste y descalabro económico, y los imponderables que se derivan de más represión, muerte y rebelión.

Manifestación ciudadana en pro de un diálogo nacional. (Foto por Jorge Mejía Peralta).

En contrario a este argumento se alega que la aversión al riesgo político de parte de los grandes empresarios está justificada no solo por su propia lógica económica, sino también por el trauma de su experiencia histórica en 1979, cuando apoyaron la revolución contra la dictadura de Somoza, y luego se rompió la alianza nacional y fueron confiscados por una revolución de orientación socialista. Sin embargo, hay un falso déjà vu con 1979. Entonces, hubo una revolución liderada por un movimiento político-militar, la guerrilla del FSLN, que encabezó la insurrección popular para derrocar al régimen de Somoza. Lo que está planteado hoy no es una revolución armada, ni socialista, sino una rebelión cívica, pacífica, que demanda la salida de los dictadores por la vía constitucional, para promover reformas profundas. La bandera política de esta insurrección cívica proclama, como soñaba mi padre hace 40 años, que “Nicaragua vuelva a ser república”, para poder llevar adelante las reformas pendientes de la democratización, que no pudo garantizar la transición después de 1990. Se trata de una rebelión popular que carece de líderes visibles y organizaciones que la convoquen, y si algún paralelismo existe entre 2018 y 1979, este se reduce a las alarmantes coincidencias que hay entre la dictadura de Somoza y la de Ortega, hermanadas en la corrupción, la confusión de lo público y lo privado, el nepotismo, la vocación dinástica, y ahora también el genocidio y la matanza. 

Ante el colapso del régimen autoritario, del que fueron cómplices y también rehenes, la encrucijada de los grandes empresarios consiste en apostar otra vez por la inercia y dejar su suerte en manos del régimen, o convertirse, finalmente, en actores de un cambio democrático. 

Este artículo salió inicialmente en la edición del periódico Confidencial el 16 de mayo 2018 y está reproducido con el permiso del autor.  

CARLOS F. CHAMORRO es un periodista nicaragüense de renombre internacional. Es el director del programa de televisión Esta Semana y el editor del periódico semanal Confidencial, el cual fundó.  Es presidente del Centro de Investigaciones de la Comunicación (CINCO), una institución de la sociedad civil nicaragüense especializada en estudios de comunicación, cultura, democracia, y opinión pública. Anteriormente, fue editor del diario sandinista La Barricada. Chamorro presentó su trabajo en CLAS en el 2006.



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Carlos F. Chamorro on the Crossroads of Big Business in Nicaragua

By Carlos F. Chamorro

A citizens’ demonstration in favor of national dialogue in Nicaragua, May 2018. (Photo by Jorge Mejía Peralta).

Exactly one year ago, I published an essay titled, “‘¿Modelo Cosep’, o el régimen de Ortega?” (“The ‘COSEP Model,’ or the Ortega Regime?”), which analyzed the corporatist alliance between the authoritarian regime of Daniel Ortega and big business owners. This alliance was formed in 2009, in the midst of the international economic crisis, when the Ortega government faced its worst political crisis after having secured the fraudulent 2008 municipal elections with violence. This led to international economic sanctions by the United States and the European Union. After the elimination of the counter balance of democratic political parties, and with economic support from Venezuela, the Ortega regime designated COSEP and big businesses as their only representative with Nicaraguan society. The regime ignored even the bishops and the Catholic Church, with whom they met just once a decade, and installed an economic “co-government.” Thus, an exclusive dialogue was created, in which big national and foreign businesses became political actors, providing legitimacy to the authoritarian regime in exchange for economic benefits and investment opportunities – a system of social control that is neither democratic nor transparent.

A year ago, I published my essay with the intention to promote public debate about this “model” of authoritarian stability. I intended to provide a warning about the lack of viability and sustainability of a personalist regime – the State-Party-Family built upon a shaky foundation of centralization, nepotism, repression, and corruption – and corruption’s heavy opportunity cost for the national economy. It is worthwhile to return to these lines and those of my colleagues (a few respected journalists, economists, political scientists, and Nicaraguan and foreign researchers) who questioned the “Model”. We questioned it not because the analysis had its own predictive value – this was not our intention – but rather because it reveals how much remains to be done to dismantle the corporatism that teeters along with the political system which created it, and which should be replaced by an economic management system with democratic and transparent standards.

Critics of the poorly-named “COSEP model” were embraced by the few independent media channels that have survived in this country. They were also embraced by the agenda of FUNIDES (Fundación Nicaragüense para el Desarrollo Económico y Social, or the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development), the influential thought leader for the private sector that has systematically shed light upon the inseparable link between democratic institutionality and economic development. However, some business leaders tried to stop the debate, so much so that COSEP associations were invited to endorse a statement in solidarity with the president, affirming that they were victims of a “disqualification” campaign that intended to divide the private sector.

A citizens’ demonstration in favor of national dialogue in Nicaragua, May 2018. (Photo by Jorge Mejía Peralta).

The unofficial spokesperson of the private sector absurdly claimed that they tried to move towards a confrontation with the Government. At the same time, a business owner with a larger strategic vision summarized the dilemma in this way: “We agree with the analysis, but what can we do in the face of the Government, if we do not have the power that it claims we have?” In reality, challenging “authoritarian corporatism,” (as economist José Luis Medal calls it) was never a suggestion that the private sector should abandon the dialogue with the Government, or that it become a political party to gain power. Instead, the challenge intended to reveal corruption and lack of transparency in the face of an authoritarian power and defend the private sector’s medium-term interests and those of society as a whole. Then the U.S. Congress threatened sanctions on Nicaragua with the Nica Act. This was possibly the last opportunity to correct course, but the business sector did not respond by risking to “bell the cat” and put pressure on the Ortega regime. Instead, a prominent business leader contracted the Carmen Group to lobby – not in Managua, where the tumor is located, but rather in Washington D.C.

Whether they were accomplices or hostages of authoritarianism, or a combination of the two, big business owners succumbed to the promise of authoritarian stability, at least until the end of the “fat cow” days of Venezuelan support. Since then, the regime has not been able to navigate through the financial crisis nor tolerate expressions of social protest, which led to the recent April slaughter and rebellion. Grievances that have accumulated after more than a decade finally exploded. Young people and university students, including Sandinista sympathizers, led a national protest against repression and infringement of democracy and public liberties. The rebellion was made up of diverse economic sectors, social movements, and media channels, all of which represent enormous human, social, economic, and political costs. The country is paying that cost to liberate itself from a dictatorship that has closed all space for democratic participation.

COSEP’s initial reaction to the April massacre was to condemn repression, voice support for the right to peaceful protest, and acknowledge that it is not possible to negotiate Social Security and other issues of national importance behind closed doors. This reaction represented an important step in distancing COSEP from the regime. However, COSEP’s lack of credibility demands an unambiguous compromise with democratization – more than just stating the value of democracy, it must endorse it with irreversible changes.

The massacre perpetuated by the Ortega regime has already resulted in more than 50 deaths. It has also created an increased legitimacy of popular protest and the growth of the university student movement as a socio-political actor. It has produced a watershed moment in which it is taken for granted that “the country changed, and nothing would be as it was before.” However, big business owners, who had until recently been allied with the authoritarian Ortega regime, owe the nation a self-critical analysis of their responsibilities and the so-called “dialogue and consensus model.” They must define new rules that will govern negotiations for the end of the dictatorship, the transition, and the reconstruction of our country.

A citizens’ demonstration in favor of national dialogue in Nicaragua, May 2018. Sign reads: Justice so there may be peace. (Photo by Jorge Mejía Peralta).

The May Third declaration was signed by fourteen big business owners, COSEP advisors, 27 business chambers, AMCHAM (Cámara Americana de Comercio de Nicaragua, or the American Chamber of Commerce of Nicaragua) and FUNIDES. It no longer refers to the “COSEP model” and proclaims that “it is fundamental to rebuild the rule of law within the institutional framework established by the Constitution and laws to respond peacefully and democratically to the social, political, legal, and economic demands of all sectors of society.” Consequently, big business owners must recognize that if before they were in support of authoritarian stability, the reconstruction of the rule of law that they now promote assumes that they become an agent of change and a democratic actor, which is different from a political party. Otherwise, if they cling to the status quo so that Ortega and Murillo stay in power until 2021, they run the risk of sinking with a regime that is no longer capable of restoring the country’s stability without more repression.

On the eve of the national debate, the government has appointed four key figures as delegates to the “COSEP model:” Bayardo Arce and Álvaro Baltodano, its main business  dealers with the private sector; and the Ministers of Finance and the Central Bank, who are in charge of tax exemptions and financial and banking regulation. It is clear that Ortega’s priority, apart from demands for democratization and the national clamor over the killings, is to restore the old order: big business.

According to the latest CID/Gallup poll, 69% of the population, including a significant percentage of Sandinista sympathizers, agree that Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo should resign from power to facilitate a negotiation process leading to institutional reforms and early elections, within a framework of constitutional continuity. However, faced with a familiar dictatorship that clings to power in an attempt to replicate Maduro’s plan in Venezuela, peaceful and constitutional change will only be possible through a combination of passionate civic pressure and international solidarity. The force of this pressure comes from protests led by students and supported by workers, farmers, public employees, agricultural producers, merchants, the middle class, and the private sector. And because of the weight and the influence they exert in key sectors of the economy and the State, big business owners have a greater share of the responsibility to contribute to this exit. Nicaragua does not have autonomous institutions that can solve the crisis caused by Ortega and Murillo – who are, according to the majority of people, politically and morally incapable to govern – because they were simply liquidated by the dictatorship. A negotiation is imperative, therefore, to reduce the terms and exit times of the rulers peacefully. This will only be possible through a national alliance that is determined to apply the highest level of civic pressure to achieve a restoration of democracy. If this exit is considered uncertain, the alternative is inaction, which would create more economic wear and tear and the incalculable costs of more repression, death, and rebellion.

A citizens’ demonstration in favor of national dialogue in Nicaragua, May 2018. (Photo by Jorge Mejía Peralta).

In opposition to this argument, it is alleged that big business’s aversion to political risk is justified not only by economic logic, but also because of the traumatic experience in 1979, when they supported the revolution against the Somoza dictatorship and the national alliance was broken and exchanged a socialist-oriented revolution. However, there is a false déjà vu with 1979. Then, there was a revolution led by a political-military movement, the FSLN, which headed the popular insurrection to overthrow the Somoza regime. What is being proposed today is not an armed revolution, nor a socialist revolution, but a civic and peaceful rebellion that demands the end of a dictatorship by constitutional means, in order to promote profound reform. The political banner of this civic insurrection proclaims, as my father dreamed 40 years ago, that “Nicaragua will be a republic again;” a republic that would enact the pending reforms of democratization. This is a popular rebellion that lacks visible leaders and organizations. If any parallels do exist between 2018 and 1979, they are reduced to the alarming coincidences between the dictatorships of Somoza and Ortega, matched in corruption, confusion of the public and private, nepotism, dynastic vocation, and now also genocide and killings.

Big business owners are now facing the collapse of the authoritarian regime, of which they were both accomplices and hostages. They are at a crossroads, where they can either once again bet on inertia and leave their luck in the regime’s hands, or finally become agents of democratic change.

This article originally appeared in Spanish in the May 16, 2018 edition of Confidencial and was translated to English by CLAS staff, with the author’s permission.

CARLOS F. CHAMORRO is a renowned Nicaraguan journalist and was formerly the editor of the Sandinista newspaper La Barricada. Chamorro currently serves as director of the television program Esta Semana and as editor of the weekly paper Confidencial, which he founded. He is president of the Centro de Investigaciones de la Comunicación (CINCO, the Center of Investigations of Communication), a nonprofit research and polling firm in Nicaragua. He spoke at CLAS in 2006.


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Reflections on the Collectivity of Violence in Honduras

By Franklin Moreno

Military police trucks returning from patrols in Chamelecón. (Photo by Franklin Moreno.)

I returned not too long ago from Honduras after the catrachos went to the polling stations for the national elections on November 26 and the firestorm of allegations of fraud and voting irregularities made by the political opposition and by the Organization of American States. While I was away in Nicaragua, my family, friends, and colleagues in Tegucigalpa –the political capital– and in San Pedro Sula – the industrial capital – were keeping me informed of the protests and violence. I heard of the unrest resulting in street and highway roadblocks, the inability to go to work, missed salary, bank closures and an overarching sense of frustration and political uncertainty. After consulting them, I decided to return to San Pedro Sula from Managua by plane and to stay in the sector of Chamelecón with friends and their family to continue my research given the political instability unfolding in the country. My plane landed as nation-wide curfews were being announced.

The current social and political conflict and uncertainty put in sharp relief the collective nature of mara-related violence that I have focused on in my developmental psychology research in Honduras these past two years. By collectivity I do not refer to groups of people cooperating in unified efforts towards a singular goal or outcome. Rather, I am evoking what Geoffrey Saxe refers to as collective practices that are the joint activities among multiple participants with shared and divergent goals, interpretations and evaluations, which influence the sustainment and changes of representations and practices across time (Saxe, 2012; Saxe & Esmonde, 2005). Although Saxe’s research has focused on the development of mathematical concepts in Papua New Guinea and elsewhere, his framework offers ways of conceptualizing the social complexity and contradictory nature of maras and their perceived and actual violence in which children and adolescents live.

A home in the affluent neighborhood of Juan Lindo. (Photo by Franklin Moreno.)

On the one hand, in times of major social-political unrest, concerns for homicides, gang borders, and extortions remained consistent, as did certain aspects of violence prevention efforts. On the other, certain violent and non-violent features became more pronounced while others were co-opted, leading to shifting perceptions and sense of security. Notably, the flux of the psychological and actual parameters of the mara-violence is due to its relation to actions by the federal government, community members, police agencies, news media, political protestors, violent looters, and foreign governments.

I went to stay in the sector of Chamelecón so as to complete the research with children and adolescents given the stronghold of the mara borders. Although residents live with a sense of insecurity in their neighborhood due to the maras, under the conditions of political unrest, I learned of the limited sense of security they did feel from outside protestors entering their sector because of the gang-enforced borders. Friends living in various parts of the sector mentioned relative tranquility during the major protests and looting, even as a tollbooth at the entrance of the sector was burned and looted. However, as I continued my interviews in the days that followed, I spoke with children and adolescents whose families pay monthly extortions and whose personal movements remain constrained by the same gang-borders.

A house and baleada (typical food) home-business with Christmas decorations in Chamelecón. (Photo by Franklin Moreno.)

As social and political pressure against the incumbent president and electoral body increased regarding allegations of election fraud and irregularities, news media outlets began to publish claims that the oppositional candidate was hiring maras to incite violence and rioting—despite no evidence being provided. Friends and their families living in Chamelecón made sense of these news reports in a variety of ways. A few family members with whom I was staying believed the reports, causing more outrage towards the looting shown on the news feeds and the videos circulating on WhatsApp; while other members of the same family dismissed the claims as attempts to slander the oppositional candidate so as to discredit the concerns over electoral irregularities and fraud.

The collective practice regarding maras also includes the non-violent efforts in a sector considered to be one of the most dangerous. To contextualize the psychological and actual nuances of the violence, consider that taxi drivers refused to take me to the sector due to extortions. The taxi driver from the airport dropped me off at a gas station at the entrance of the sector from which I had to take a communal taxi that was allowed to operate in the neighborhood. Yet a number of residents felt that it was rare for them to hear the notion of ‘non-violence’ in the public discourse in relation to where they live. For example, the national headlines often leave out the efforts by a pastor and her husband who have led a community outreach center named after their neighborhood, 10 de Septiembre, in partnership with Project Genesis of FUNADEH, U.S.A.I.D, and some in the private sector to address gang violence and community needs. With staff and volunteers, they provide educational and computer courses, job training, youth development workshops, recreational games, monthly cinema shows for children with free popcorn and drinks, have a gym, host weddings, as well as organize festivals. Also absent in the news are the youth and families who socialize and create support networks to help one another in addressing individual and community concerns, and the children who play outside on the streets. This is a glaring contrast I experienced in the more affluent neighborhood of Juan Lindo where I was previously staying. Families there live in fortified homes with armed guards out on the streets; I rarely saw people walk outside the walls and socialize in the open. The only person I conversed with was a hired security guard on the street.

Pastor Francis de Cortes (far right) with staff and youth volunteers preparing for an event at the 10 de Septiembre Outreach Center in Chamelecón. (Photo by Franklin Moreno.)

Recognizing the non-violent forms of social interactions and organization amid ongoing, collective violence gets to a central frustration and concern repeatedly stated: who dominates the narrative and representation of the violence and its public perception, and who can challenge such narratives? Friends and residents expressed their dismay over the single-sided classification they are branded with: living in one of the most dangerous sectors. The tension lies with recognizing that integral to the life of the neighborhood is how the non-violent and caring forms of community functioning and organization shift and change in reciprocal processes with existing forms of violence; as well as being attuned to how their boundaries and participants shift as well. For instance, what happens when efforts by community members to improve the quality of life for children, adolescents, and adults, especially around maras, are dismissed by peacekeeping authorities themselves? A friend recounted an incident he had a few weeks prior to me returning to San Pedro Sula. He, a well-known community volunteer in his early twenties, who has also been a liaison to the community police for years, attempted to de-escalate a situation involving a friend of his who was about to get his motorcycle impounded for not carrying his vehicle registration.  The volunteer’s attempts to explain his community involvement and to mediate a solution were met with accusations of being a ‘delinquent’ (i.e., a slander of being associated with maras); he was peppered sprayed and arrested by the National Police. After showing me vivid photos of his eyes and face, he lamented that for him, the most harmful part of the experience by far was that his trust in the police had been shattered.

Group projects during a youth development program on stress at the 10 de Septiembre Outreach Center in Chamelecón. (Photo by Franklin Moreno.)

Examining the violence associated with maras has great implications for understanding how processes of violence and non-violence are integral to social functioning at many levels of social organization: national politics, local interactions with police or at community centers. I have not included in these reflections additional national and foreign participants in this collective practice due to space constraints; nor the dynamics of the three agencies that simultaneously patrol the sector of Chamelecón: the military, national and community police. In previous postings I have discussed the discriminations youth face by employers due to marginalization processes related to maras. Overall, children, adolescents, and adults experience the violence associated with maras in a multitude of ways. Certain forms remain consistent yet may shift in particular functions, such as with gang borders in times of political unrest. But understanding the dimensions of collectivity must also include the dedicated efforts by so many community members, staff of organizations and governmental agencies who address the actual and representational forms of the violence in peaceful ways, efforts that remain just as steadfast and defiant.

An occupied guard’s tower at a home in the affluent neighborhood of Juan Lindo. (Photo by Franklin Moreno.)

Franklin Moreno is a Ph.D. candidate in Human Development and Education at UC Berkeley. His current research in Honduras and Nicaragua focuses on children and adolescent moral evaluations and psychological explanations about violence in the contexts of gang conflict.

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Javier Couso on President Dilma Rousseff at UC Berkeley

Dilma Rousseff (President of Brazil, 2011-16) gave a talk at UC Berkeley on April 16, 2018 titled “Challenges for Democracy in Brazil”. The event was organized by the Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) and cosponsored by the Department of Sociology and the Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science. In this series, various scholars from diverse disciplines respond to the talk.

President Dilma Rousseff speaks at UC Berkeley. (Photo by Tom Levy.)

In her passionate discourse delivered at UC Berkeley, former President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff made a strong defense of the socio-economic policies advanced by her government before repudiating the “parliamentary coup d’état” that abruptly ended her second term in office.

After highlighting the remarkable achievements accomplished by the administrations of President Lula and herself —especially in terms of reducing poverty and diminishing inequality— Rousseff asserted that the impeachment procedure that ended her presidency, as well as Lula’s current imprisonment on corruption charges, were part of a conspiracy perpetrated by Brazil’s elites in order to reverse the egalitarian policies that the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, or PT) had been enacting for over a decade.

Rousseff is understandably upset, since she was unfairly expelled from government through a bogus impeachment procedure. Indeed, although there is little doubt that her administration did engage in irregularities regarding some government accounts and the taking of loans without the required congressional approval, those were relatively minor offences that, furthermore, had been commonplace in the past. That’s why, although perhaps constitutional, her impeachment was profoundly unjust and disproportionate.

What’s puzzling is why Rousseff —who is widely regarded as an honest politician— was so adamant in her defense of Lula. Of course, one can sympathize with her loyalty towards a comrade that fought alongside her: first, against a brutal military regime, and then for social justice. But it is distressing to hear a seasoned politician suggest that the entire Brazilian judicial system is conspiring with business groups and mainstream media to not only impeach her, but also to unjustly imprison Lula on baseless corruption charges. Indeed, given that the Judicial Independence Ranking of the World Economic Forum —as well of other entities— regards Brazil’s judiciary as reasonably independent, and considering that a large majority of the justices of its highest courts were actually nominated when either Lula or Rousseff were in power, it is hard to believe that the courts are part of a larger conspiracy against the PT.

President Dilma Rousseff answers a question from the audience during her talk at UC Berkeley. (Photo by Tom Levy.)

In a telling passage of her presentation, Rousseff asserted that “it was naive” to focus on the cases of corruption currently being investigated in Brazil, instead of focusing on the corruption behind the subprime crisis of the late 2000s. She is right in that there was lots of corruption behind the latter, but wrong in dismissing the scandals that have shaken Brazil in recent  years. These corruption cases have been serious enough to erode the confidence of many Brazilians in the entire political party system, something which —in other latitudes— has favored the rise of right wing populists who promise to ‘clean’ the country of corruption, while destroying the basis of democracy and the rule of law. So, although humanly understandable, Dilma Rousseff’s suggestion that Lula is effectively a ‘political prisoner’ who has been sent to jail by a judicial system that is part of an elite conspiracy represents a serious mistake. One that could undermine the very entities that in the future may defend democrats from the sort of elected authoritarians that now rule countries such as Hungary, Poland and The Philippines.

JAVIER COUSO was a visiting scholar at the Center for Latin American Studies at UC Berkeley, where he also earned his Ph.D. in Jurisprudence and Social Policy. He is Professor of Constitutional Law at Universidad Diego Portales, Associate Researcher at the Center for Social Conflict and Cohesion Studies (COES) in Chile, and was holder of the Prince Claus Chair in Development and Equity at Utrecht University (2014-2016).  Couso was as a constitutional adviser to Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile, from 2014-2018.​ An Associate Member of the International Academy of Comparative Law, his work focuses on comparative law and courts, with an emphasis on the interplay between constitutionalism, the rule of law, and legal cultures in new democracies.


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Maria Hermínia Tavares de Almeida on Dilma Rousseff at UC Berkeley

Dilma Rousseff (President of Brazil, 2011-16) gave a talk at UC Berkeley on April 16, 2018 titled “Challenges for Democracy in Brazil”. The event was organized by the Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) and cosponsored by the Department of Sociology and the Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science. In this series, various scholars from diverse disciplines respond to the talk.

President Dilma Rousseff addresses the crowd at UC Berkeley. (Photo by Tom Levy.)

Dilma Rousseff is an honorable woman. The alleged motives for removing her from office in 2016 are at the least controversial and fragile. She has been impeached not due to a fiscal misdemeanor but for political reasons after losing popular support and majority in Congress. Nevertheless, her lecture at UC Berkeley last Monday does not help us to understand the challenges for democratic progressive politics in Brazil.

We are living nowadays nothing less than a political tragedy: The government of conservative right wing political forces. There is a rule of thumb saying that when the left fails the right takes the lead. And in Brazil the left has conspicuously failed, in spite of all the incredibly good things it has achieved, most notably with the progressive social transformation under Lula’s administration and leadership.

Let me point out some plain facts. First, Michel Temer and the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB) did not fall from the sky or come out of the deep layers of hell. Temer was Dilma’s Vice President and his party was the most important among those of Dilma’s governmental coalition. Have they betrayed her? Absolutely, but only after she lost popular support and failed to coordinate her parliamentary support.

Second, Operação Lava Jato is not a conspiracy of the powerful and the media against the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, or PT), Lula’s leadership, and Dilma’s presidency. It all began as an operation against illegal money dealers (doleiros) that ended up uncovering the hidden spurious relations between the PT leadership and the most powerful Brazilian contractors. In three years and seven months, Judge Moro has convicted 110 people, only 14 of which are politicians from the PT and other allied parties. On the other hand, owners and CEOs of the hugest contractor firms went to jail with almost 50 illegal money dealers. In 2005, The Mensalão scandal had sent a warning that attitudes of society and some groups in the judicial system regarding corruption were changing. Most unfortunately, the PT and Lula did not hear it. The inconvenient truth is that the PT leaders and Lula were not indicted — and most of them convicted — for fighting poverty and reducing inequalities, for being assertive in the international arena and for promoting affirmative action and all the good, progressive things they have done, but for receiving bribes and favoring huge contractors against the best interests of Petrobras and the Brazilian people.

President Dilma Rousseff greets the audience at UC Berkeley. (Photo by Tom Levy.)

I do not think that Lula should have been sent to jail. The Supreme Court decision was based on a controversial interpretation of the constitution clause regarding the rights of convicted individuals (in Portuguese the “trânsito em julgado” clause). Nevertheless, this is the interpretation that has been guiding the Supreme Court decisions since 2011. It has not been put in place to send Lula to prison but to make it easier to send the powerful and the beautiful to jail who had enough resources to legally procrastinate incarceration.

Third, the present economic crisis is not due to Temer but to the end of the commodities boom and to the PT policies since 2010 to cope with increasing difficulties. Temer’s policy initiatives are very perverse and regressive, but are not responsible for one of the worst economic crisis in recent times. The economic collapse predated Dilma’s removal from office and seems to have made it easier. Actually, the anti-crisis policies proposed in early 2015 by Dilma’s finance minister, Joaquim Levy, were quite similar to those implemented by Temer’s finance minister, Henrique Meirelles, who, by the way, was Lula’s favorite to join Dilma’s cabinet.

I did not expect Dilma to acknowledge all this. Hers is a political discourse, but an infelicitous political discourse, one of complete denial of the responsibilities of PT leadership and of her administration. For this reason, it is harmful to the future of the Brazilian leftist and progressive forces. And more than ever, Brazil needs a strong left capable of learning from its own mistakes.

MARIA HERMÍNIA TAVARES DE ALMEIDA is a senior researcher at Centro Brasileiro de Análise e Planejamento (CEBRAP), a Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of São Paulo (retired), and President of Latin American Studies Association (LASA) from 2010-2012. She holds a B.A. in Social Sciences (1969) and a Ph.D. in Political Science (1979) from the University of São Paulo and completed post-doctoral studies at the University of California, Berkeley (1984). 


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Carlos R. S. Milani on President Dilma Rousseff at UC Berkeley

Dilma Rousseff (President of Brazil, 2011-16) gave a talk at UC Berkeley on April 16, 2018 titled “Challenges for Democracy in Brazil”. The event was organized by the Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) and cosponsored by the Department of Sociology and the Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science. In this series, various scholars from diverse disciplines respond to the talk.

President Dilma Rousseff greets the audience before her talk at UC Berkeley. (Photo by Tom Levy.)

During her talk on Challenges for Democracy in Brazil, Dilma Rousseff gave a detailed explanation of the economic, political, and institutional dilemmas that Brazil has confronted with since her re-election in November 2014, emphasizing the different steps between her ousting in April 2016 and Lula’s imprisonment two years later. She meticulously reminded the audience of several moments of this long-standing crisis undermining Brazil’s democratic development, and three of them have particularly captured my attention.

First, she recalled the crucial role of the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, or PT), and the coalition in power between 2003 and 2016, in fighting against poverty, promoting more inclusive social policies, and upholding an autonomous foreign policy both in hemispheric and international settings.

As a party in government, the PT was able to lead a center-left coalition that executed a series of important public policies attempting to deal with deep-rooted inequalities related both to redistribution and recognition in the country. Nevertheless, as a party in society, after some years in power PT was not able to play the critical role of monitoring governmental policies and their results from the non-governmental perspective. Neither was it able to maintain a continuous political dialogue with grassroots organizations. If we consider the state as both an object and instrument, we could say that PT was able to use the state as an instrument to provide better welfare policies to traditionally neglected segments of Brazil’s society and to guarantee impartial and free elections. In a nutshell, for a long time PT was able to govern according to progressive banners, even if governability meant building broad -perhaps too broad- coalitions that also implied some sacrifice in cultural, communication, land-reform and fiscal policies. However, PT lacked the political intelligence to use the state as an object, and in the long-run it was not able to balance the way political power and access to office were distributed based on criteria of social and environmental justice.

Second, Dilma Rousseff notably reaffirmed that the crisis that started immediately after her re-election must be understood as a series of different steps. What was at the beginning an economic crisis, according to her, evolved to a political crisis, then to an institutional crisis. Congress, the justice system, media outlets, and segments of the middle class (among other actors) played a significant role in this escalation, and contributed to legitimate, on behalf of a national and international crusade against corruption, the current upsurge of violent extreme-right movements and leaders in Brazil. Her attempt to fight against high-level interest rates, her reaction to the June 2013 demonstrations (focused in the health sector), the symbolically violent electoral campaign in 2014, the reaction of the main opposition party to her re-election, the coup of her impeachment, the military intervention in Rio de Janeiro, Marielle Franco’s execution in March 2018 and Lula’s incarceration the following month are all part of the same process aiming to denationalize the economy, increase gains for the financial sector in detriment of social policies, reduce access to rights, and change the country’s foreign policy and development model.

President Dilma Rousseff answers questions from the audience during her talk at UC Berkeley. (Photo by Tom Levy.)

Finally, Dilma Rousseff presented a clear picture of macro and structural interests and domestic factors restraining Brazil’s capabilities in continuing its recent relatively successful trajectory in promoting inclusion and development. However, she avoided developing her analysis and presenting her perceptions on decision-making, and her key role as president, in promoting an open political dialogue on unavoidable and somehow contradictory policy issues such as social communication rights, economic development and socioenvironmental protection in the Amazonia, fiscal exemption policies to businesses, her support of austerity in 2015 as well as her previous selection and the appointment of key ministers. As a progressive scholar committed to democratic values and social justice I would have liked to hear Dilma Rousseff on those issues, too.



CARLOS R. S. MILANI was a visiting scholar at the Center for Latin American Studies at UC Berkeley and is an Associate Professor at the Rio de Janeiro State University’s Institute for Social and Political Studies (IESP-UERJ). He is also a Senior Research Fellow with Brazil’s National Research Council (CNPq) and the Rio de Janeiro State Research Foundation (FAPERJ), and the Associate Editor of the Brazilian Political Science Review. His research agenda focuses on Brazilian foreign policy, international development politics, and comparative foreign policy.  More information on his research, teaching and publications can be found at


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Programming a Better World


Mentoring young women in STEM disciplines. (Photo courtesy of Carolina Hadad.)

By Carolina Hadad

A wide gender gap has persisted over the years at all levels of STEM disciplines throughout the world. Although the participation of women in higher education has increased, they are still underrepresented. Latin America is no exception.

A workforce skilled in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is crucial to Latin America innovative capacity and global competitiveness. Shortages in the supply of trained professionals in STEM disciplines weaken the innovation potential of a society. This leaves an untapped opportunity to expand STEM employment.

In Argentina, women represent only 18% of the graduates in tech careers.1 This creates inequalities in income distribution and intellectual capital, and deprives the tech sector away from the vision of half of the population.

There are many possible factors contributing to the discrepancy of women and men in STEM jobs, including: gender stereotyping, a lack of female role models, and less family-friendly flexibility in the STEM fields. Regardless of the causes, we have a need to encourage and support women in STEM. We also have to transform the way technology and engineers are seen, engaging more girls into tech careers at an early age.


Young women work on a technology project. (Photo courtesy of Carolina Hadad.)

Chicas en Tecnología2 is an Argentinian non-governmental organization working to do this. We have a two-pronged approach that simultaneously builds programs and a support networks that motivate, educate and inspire girls aged 13 to 16 to become involved in STEM, while at the same time we work to develop the pipeline that will bring gender parity to tech fields. With a focus on gender equity and diversity, our curriculum is focused on education, technology, entrepreneurship and innovation.

Programando Un Mundo Mejor (PUMM)3 is one of the projects of Chicas en Tecnología. PUMM is an intensive project-based program, pairing instruction in app development with social impact education, mentorship and exposure to real-world technology companies. With the help of Chicas en Tecnologia, the students identify, design, develop and pitch a mobile app to solve a social problem.

The results speak for themselves. The participants have developed apps for to stop bullying,4 set up book share school books,5 and map incidences of sexual harassment,6 and many more. More than 100 girls have finished Programando un Mundo Mejor (#PUMM) and created 35 prototypes of apps with social impact. All the projects can be found at this link.7

Chicas en Tecnologia is committed to giving voice to marginalized groups. We want to inspire others to continue working together as a country, as a region, and as a world to ensure that everyone has the same opportunities – not only to use technology, but to create it.

Carolina Hadad is the co-founder of Chicas en Tecnología. She graduated from the Universidad de Buenos Aires with a degree in Computer Science. She is currently a fellow with Innovation for Equality, a program created by Prospera and supported by CLAS.8


Members of Chicas en Tecnología. Author Carolina Hadad is on the right. (Photos courtesy of Carolina Hadad.)



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Brazil’s Electoral Reform: The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

By Liz McKenna
November 4, 2017

This article was originally published in Portuguese by Nexo.

In the stream of sensationalist stories coming out of Brazil, electoral reform seems among the least newsworthy. The updated rules of the political game, however, reveal exactly how the deck gets stacked against democracy—and how incumbent elites tinker with institutions to consolidate power over the long term.

Late in the afternoon on Friday, October 6, Brazil’s senate ratified Projeto de Lei da Câmara nº 110. PL 110 was a ticking time bomb: to take effect before voters next go to the polls, both chambers of Congress and the president had to sanction the reforms at least a year in advance of next October’s presidential election.

Among the many changes to existing electoral rules are: the time window in which candidates who are victims of online hate speech or fake news must be allowed to post their rebuttal on the offending outlet (48 hours), the date at which fundraising can begin (May 15), the exact volume permitted for campaign sound cars (80 decibels), the number of minutes TV stations must reserve for daily campaign commercials in the event of a runoff election (30 minutes), and the maximum size of campaign stickers (half a meter squared).

Far more revealing of Brazil’s underlying political power structures are Articles 16 and 23, which regulate campaign finance. In contrast to the United States—whose Supreme Court authorized corporate political giving in their infamous “money is speech” ruling—Brazil’s Supreme Court outlawed business donations in a 2015 decision. Given the taken-for-granted nature of the aptly named second cash register (caixa dois), Brazilians have no reason to believe this de jure ruling will be respected de facto. Nevertheless, at a time of heightened scrutiny toward corruption, Congress needed an above-board alternative to corporate giving. As a result, PL 110 established a nearly BRL$ 2 billion public fund, the Fundo Especial de Financiamento de Campanha (FEFC), known colloquially as the Fundão.

The law specifies that monies from this public fund will be allocated as follows:

  • 2 percent will be divided equally among each of Brazil’s 35 formally registered political parties;
  • 37 percent will be distributed in proportion of the number of votes each elected congressman earned in the last election;
  • 48 percent in accordance with the size of the party caucuses (as declared at the close of the last parliamentary session); and
  • The remaining 15 percent apportioned by party representation in the senate.

The house (almost) always wins 

Simple math shows who benefits from this arrangement (Figure 1).[i] Color coding in the graph indicates how each party voted in two recent, pivotal votes. Blue indicates that the majority of party members voted in favor of the impeachment of Workers Party president Dilma Rousseff and last April’s labor reform—unpopular among the working masses and favored by business elite and international investors. Purple shows the opposite, and grey denotes internal inconsistency on these votes. The preponderance of grey on the long tail of the graph accentuates how Brazil’s party system encourages opportunism (fisiologismo), whereby elected officials offer votes in quid pro quo exchanges rather than as a result of a coherent political ideology.

Figure 1: Estimated Distribution of the FEFC


As political scientist André Singer observed, the fund distribution is ironic, given that it was intended to correct the distortions of corporate giving. In effect, the law privileges exactly those candidates and parties who benefited from such giving in the previous election. Moreover, as the number and size of blue bars indicate, all but two of the ten parties who will receive the greatest windfall from the Fundão in the next election voted in favor of Rousseff’s impeachment and the labor reforms, further indication of the once-and-future ideological composition of the most important deliberative body in the country.

The devil is in the details

Publicly funded elections are an attempt to mitigate undue private influence on politicians, replacing individual campaign contributions with government money. Further clauses in the law that open the door for self-financing mean that the law fails spectacularly in this regard. Michel Temer’s last-minute veto on a cap intended to limit the amount of money candidates can spend from their own pocket undermines the very purpose of establishing the FEFC. Independently wealthy candidates will rely on their own privately amassed fortunes, public fund be damned.

Although Temer abolished self-financing limits, the law retained language on campaign spending caps. The limit of BRL$70 million in spending for each presidential candidate (and an additional BRL$35 million in the event of a run-off) is a surprisingly austere figure for an electoral terrain that is continental in size. According to Brazil’s elections court, in 2014, Dilma Rousseff’s campaign spent BRL$ 350.5 million reais on both rounds, and Aécio Neves BRL$ 223.4 million. Adjusting for inflation, the new decree means that presidential hopefuls will have to officially declare that they spent, at most, 25 percent of what was spent by the winning campaign in the last election. Will this regulation be enforced or will it only apply selectively?

A new way of doing politics?

If the campaign spending cap has teeth, candidates may need to look for alternate way of persuading voters. As Adam Sheingate documents in his book on the business of politics, the only way to rein in the pernicious effects of money-in-politics is to impose supply-side restrictions: that is, limit the amount of money that campaigns can spend. As a result of the restrictions imposed by PL 110, Brazilian presidential hopefuls may be forced to look to other approaches to campaigning, as for example, Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders did in the US and Emmanuel Macron did in France. In contrast to Brazil’s traditional model of relying solely on marketeiros, who treat voters as passive recipients of electoral propaganda, an ancillary benefit to the volunteer-centric method of campaigning is that newly built grassroots capacity can outlast a 45-day election cycle.

The invisible machinations of power

Volumes of research demonstrates that those who control procedures—what Bachrach and Bartz call the rules of the game—are able to systematically benefit certain groups at the expense of others. Therefore, opponents of PMDB-style politics would do well to take this less obvious view of political power to examine just how the kingmaker party achieved so much capillarity. For example, PMDB boasts 817,657 more party affiliates than its nearest competitor, PT. A simple univariate regression shows the relationship between the number of party affiliates and the size of the party’s congressional caucus (Figure 2). In other words, it is not only money that makes the political machine whir—base-building work also matters.

Figure 2: Number of party affiliates in relation to party representation in Brazil’s congress, 2014


Power operates in subterranean ways, frequently through unobservable decisions and non-decisions.  In other words, it is often in the quieter, behind-the-scenes fights like those that led to PL 110 that reveal how the party of Eduardo Cunha and Michel Temer—a president with one of the lowest approval ratings in Brazil’s history—will likely continue to wield power for many years to come.



Liz McKenna is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at UC Berkeley. She is currently on a Fulbright fellowship conducting a comparative study of left and right-wing political movements in Brazil.




[i] Technical notes: Although the math is simple, disentangling the denominators—the units of Brazil’s party system—is not. Figure 1 makes five assumptions:

  • The value of the FEFC is 1.7 billion reais, as discussed in senate proceedings and as reported by most news outlets. The variable costs written into the law may well mean that the value of the fund will be greater;
  • As one long-time political reporter remarked in a personal interview, “Brazilian politicians change parties like they change underpants.” Indeed, in the past six weeks alone, five congressmen have switched parties. To calculate the third allocation clause (48 percent distributed to the party caucuses as of August 28, 2017), I used the Internet Wayback machine, which captures webpages no longer online for certain dates, for July 18, 2017. Politicians who switched parties in this window are therefore not reflected in this calculation;
  • In the time since the 2014 election on which the second allocation clause is based, several parties have changed names (PTdoB, for example, rebranded to become AVANTE, and PODE became PTN). Because each of these parties were formerly part of a parliamentary bloc and their membership has morphed, the estimated amount they are to receive from the fund are also subject to change;
  • PL 110 specifies that the fund calculations only take into account elected members of congress. This estimate does not discount for suplentes and other sitting representatives who are unelected;
  • Two senators do not have a party affiliation and one (Aécio Neves) was suspended at the time I collected this data. As a result, the fourth allocation clause only takes into account 78, rather than 81, senators.
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The Topography of Violence

by Franklin Moreno

In approximately two months there will be general elections in Honduras—a country where much of the population live in difficult living conditions. I’ve spoken to youth and adults in the city of San Pedro Sula about the elections and have been told the same thing numerous times: the elections are rigged and nothing will change. The running joke seems to be, “even dead people vote here.” More important is what people think about their living conditions. In a survey conducted by the Instituto Universitario en Democracia, Paz y Seguridad (IUDPAS) of the Universidad Autonóma de Honduras (UNAH) in 2016, 61% of the participants identified insecurity to be the primary concern they face in the country. Although the percentage had dropped 9% from a 2014 survey, this fear of insecurity remains evident in various ways, impacting many facets of life for the younger and older generations.


Playing Mortal Combat with friends. (Photo courtesy of Franklin Moreno.)

These past few years, I’ve conversed with children, adolescents and adults about violence in a city whose general public image is synonymous with homicide rates and gang conflict. My research focuses on children’s and adolescents’ moral evaluations and understanding about gang-related violence. What I’ve learned thus far is that the dimensions of violence extend beyond any particular gang border, extortion or neighborhood. The youth I’ve spoken to carry a burden of being branded as violent delinquent offenders by an anxious society. They are conscious that their existential being has been stigmatized as the source of society’s ills and potential hostility. And that comes with a high price. Time and time again I have listened to adolescents and young adults express their frustration about the discrimination they face at job interviews because of where they live. At a recent Día de los Niños celebration in the sector of Chamelecón in San Pedro Sula, a young man said he struggled with making a decision about whether to migrate north or stay in his neighborhood. His dream is to establish an organization to work with kids who live on the streets but he doesn’t know how to even begin. The staff at Fundación Nacional para el Desarrollo de Honduras (FUNADEH), the foundation I am collaborating with, has confirmed this widespread practice of employer discrimination and has been working to change such beliefs, fears, and practices. According to certain foundation staff, there has been slight progress, but it is far from any adequate change for social amelioration.


Día de los Niños in Chamelecón. (Photo courtesy of Franklin Moreno.)

All this is to say that the sense of political apathy, outrage, or defeat regarding the upcoming elections reflects the daily burdens and constraints people live in. As one social psychologist expressed it to me the other day, I have come to study violence in the place where all the ingredients are combined into a perfect soup. There are overt forms of violence rendered invisible while other criminal forms involving adolescents and young adults are consistently etched into the public’s mind. There is much attention focusing on changing the attitudes and behavior of youth through prevention and de-escalation programs, but the inverse is less discussed: how to modify the attitudes and behaviors of a discriminating and marginalizing broader society. While FUNADEH and other organizations have been conducting workshops to teach children and adolescents certain social-moral values on conflict resolution, virtues and forgiveness, there are fewer public examinations on the values promoted, contradicted, and embodied by social institutions that wield great power.


Hanging out with friends in Chamelecón. (Photo courtesy of Franklin Moreno.)

For instance, which values or constitutional rights did congress protect from or subordinate to state violence when recently modifying the Honduran Penal Code with article 590, giving the judicial branch the ability to classify public protests as ‘acts of terror’ against the State? No clear measures of interpretation are provided in the bill nor were they stated in a September 19th congressional debate about how the constitutional right to public protests would be safeguarded from being classified as acts terror. Instead only vague phrases or references to acts of grave violence such as the 9/11 attacks in New York City were used to evoke the notion of terrorism. This legal, strategic maneuver anticipates the potential public unrest directed at the current President’s pursuit of a second-term given the contested nature of the Constitution that makes illegal any president from being reelected. The danger of such a general anti-terror law is compounded by the fact that people have expressed a low level of confidence in institutions of justice. In the same IUDPAS 2016 survey, 44% of respondents didn’t have confidence in the Military Police, 59% in the National Police, 56% Supreme Court/Judges, and 69% in Congress. The percentages in public belief about police and military corruption in the survey were even greater.



A house abandoned by a family due to violence and lack of opportunity in Chamelecón. (Photo courtesy of Franklin Moreno.)

The veil is temporarily lifted with every conversation I have with staff members of organizations and foundations, youth, and acquaintances. These invisible forms of violence begin to reveal themselves. But these visible and recondite forms of violence are not inherent to Honduras ‘culture’. Valuing and obscuring such violence is reflected in foreign and domestic policies of other countries to the point that conceptions of ‘Western/non-Western’ or ‘modern/traditional’ dichotomies evoked in certain social science research circles are rendered into platitudes. For instance, we can see plenty of examples of this segmentation in public and research discussions on violence in society that focus on particular forms of criminal violence or violent video games in the United States. Yet such discussions exclude the fact that celebrating military power and dominance is demanded of the public as much in politics as it is in Hollywood films. We lose sight of the accepted institutional forms of violence when there is fierce debate in congress and in major news media channels about funding the U.S. health care or education system while remaining almost silent on military spending or gagged on the topic of gun regulations. Consider that the 2016 proposal for providing free public college education at a cost of $47 billion per year was publicly castigated in the U.S. by both major political parties and the media as an absurd idea likely to bankrupt the country, or that Congress allowed the $14 billion Children’s Health Insurance Program to expire. Meanwhile there was near political unanimity for increasing the U.S. military budget by $80 billion without any public or political scrutiny of its costs or merit. The annual public military budget is now close to $700 billion.

In both Honduras and the United States, examination of factors related to health, employment or educational opportunities is critical in understanding why certain individuals feel whether or not they have a choice to participate in dangerous and violent activities. In deepening our understanding of the root causes of unrest and violence however, other factors such as discrimination, impunity, corruption, structural poverty, or celebrating legal forms of mass violence must also be examined. And one way to gain a better understanding is to ask those who are typically spoken to or spoken for (i.e., children and adolescents) on what they think about these contradictory societal practices and values impacting their lives.

Franklin Moreno is a Ph.D. candidate in Human Development and Education at U.C. Berkeley. His current research in Honduras and Nicaragua focuses on children and adolescent moral evaluations and psychological explanations about violence in the contexts of gang conflict.


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