Things That Matter

Bolivia’s President Wants To Be Reelected For A Fourth Time But He Could Send His Country Into A Political Crisis

evomoralesayma / Instagram

Bolivia’s president Evo Morales is again envuelto en controversia after his attempts to be reelected once again.Juan Evo Morales Ayma is one of the most disputed figures in recent Latin American history. The indigenous activist and politician became president after leading his party, Movement for Socialism, to victory in the polls. He first attempted to win the presidency in 2002 and came in second after a very tight race. He is part of the wave of socialist and populist politics that defined South American politics in the mid 2000s, and which also included statesmen such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa (for an alternative reading of the socialist revolution in South America, watch Oliver Stone’s controversial documentary South of the Border). 

His allies see him as a true liberator of the continent, a noble opponent of the neoliberal policies that have produced millions of poor in the region. His opponents think of him as a dictator with a thirst for power. Truth is, he has subverted Bolivian politics by adopting a socialist agenda and often pushing back corporations and foreign influence, particularly from the United States. 

Morales has served as President of Bolivia since 2006: 13 years and counting.

Credit: Instagram. @fmpinilla

So how is it even possible for someone to remain in power for so long? Morales was first elected for the 2006-2009 period. In 2008 he organized a recall referendum (meaning that the electorate could decide whether to keep him or dump him), which he won. Shortly after he established a new constitution through which Bolivia became a plurinational state, meaning that indigenous nations within the borders were recognized. This reshaping of the political backbone of Bolivia led to his reelection in 2009 and then for a third term in 2014. So yes, 13 years and counting! 

So the opposition is obviously very unhappy about the prospects of a fourth Morales term, especially after a referendum that he lost.

Credit: Instagram. @fmpinilla

Morales organized a referendum asking Bolivians whether he should run again or not. A constitutional reform needed to be in place for him to do so.  He lost, but he is nevertheless on the ticket and seems to be headed to a victory in the October elections. The opposition sees this as an attempt to undermine democracy. They see Morales as a king who will do anything to keep his throne and crown. As BBC reported back on July 3, 2019: “Although the 2016 referendum results rejected the constitutional reform needed to allow Morales to seek office again, subsequent court rulings determined that not allowing him to run would violate his political rights, and electoral authorities accepted his new re-election bid”. 

Political pundits have taken their gloves off.

Credit: Twitter. @CarlosAMontaner

Personalities such as writer and journalist Carlos A. Montaner have criticized not only Morales, but also the Organization of American States (OEA), which has supported the Bolivian President in his bid for a fourth term. The OEA had previously been critical of regimes in Cuba and Venezuela. 

Protests during Morales’ mandate have been constant and increasingly violent.

Credit: Instagram. @apnews

Before becoming president, Evo Morales was famous for his combative activism. He was the leader of cocaleros or coca producers, and played an active role in the 1999 Cochabamba Water War, in which indigenous populations fought against the privatization of water. During his presidency he has encountered the same kind of combativeness, but he is now on the other side. This photo, for example, was taken at a protest against budget cuts in services for people with disabilities. His bid for a third reelection could escalate into a full-blown political crisis. 

Western powers don’t see him con muy buenos ojos, as he is an advocate of leftist politics and aligns with Putin’s Russia.

Credit: Instagram. @infonodal

Evo Morales is perceived in Western countries, including the United States, as a populist who manipulates his people into following him, and as a threat to global markets. He has aligned himself with the remains of the Soviet Bloc, meaning he has tight connections in Moscow and Havana. Just this year, Morales expressed his interest in buying Russian military equipment, as reported by Sputnik News Service: “There is a great interest in purchasing Russian military equipment, including aviation equipment, and in services. A [joint] commission is operating, and we hope that technology transfer will bring good results”. 

In the meantime, Morales is in full election mode.

Credit: Instagram. @evomoralesayma

His opposition is echando el grito al cielo, but Morales continues his seemingly swift ride to reelection. In his social media he has been sharing images of events such as this caravan in the iconic site of Cochabamba, an icon of indigenous struggle. Love him or hate him, no one can deny he is a masterful politician. 

And of course the photo-op “putting out fires” in the Bolivian Amazonia.

Credit: Instagram. @evomoralesayma

This image is kind of poetic. Yes, Bolivia should do its part in fighting the fires in the Amazon rainforest, but Morales seems to be ignoring the political fires that threaten to undermine democracy in the country. In the meantime, he has criticized the aid promised by the G7 (the group of the most powerful countries in the world). As reported by AFP, Morales said in an interview with Radio Panamericana: “I welcome that small, small, tiny contribution of $20 million from the G7 — that is not help, it is part of a shared co-responsibility, as all peoples have the obligation to preserve the ecosystem”. This anti-establishment rhetoric is exactly what might get him another electoral win. 

In fact, he “temporarily interrupted” his reelection campaign to oversee the environmental crisis.

Credit: Twitter. @chamberohoy

With the election looming and the opposition getting combative, how come Morales interrupted his campaign? This is a smart political move: he acts presidential to get voters to think mejor malo por conocido que bueno por conocer. 

Some People Claim This Sandy Hook PSA Has Gone “Too Far” In Illustrating the Impact of School Shootings

Things That Matter

Some People Claim This Sandy Hook PSA Has Gone “Too Far” In Illustrating the Impact of School Shootings

We’ve come to the point in American history where deaths due to gun violence have become what many would call a crisis. According to data collected by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017, guns were responsible for more deaths than car accidents were. So it comes to no surprise when certain activists take it upon themselves to bring attention to what many label an epidemic. On Wednesday, the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, a non-profit organization founded with the goal of “protecting children from gun violence with programs that work”, did just that. The NPO released a short video, titled “Back-To-School-Essentials” that made waves through the internet.

The video begins exactly the way so many back-to-school commercials start: discussing the coolest new gadgets to buy for your kids this Fall.

Sandy Hook Promise / Youtube.com

A smiling boy pulls a backpack out of a locker, bragging that his mom got him the “perfect bag for back to school”. A young girl shows off the colorful binders that are “just what she needs to help her stay organized” for the school year. But things take an odd turn with the third student. As the student describes his headphones as “just what [he] needs for studying”, we can see that not all is quite right in the background. As the boy listens to his music, oblivious, we see students running in the behind him, appearing to be panicked.

As the commercial wears on, it becomes even eerier when students are speaking carefree to the camera while scenes of carnage unfold around them. The commercial wears on with each scenario becoming eerier: a girl uses her sweater to bar a door shut, keeping an active shooter out of the gymnasium. A different student uses her new socks as a tourniquet to keep a bleeding student alive. The video ends on a chilling note: a young girl hides in a bathroom stall, tears running down her face. The camera closes up on her as we hear an active shooter enter the bathroom. “I love you, Mom,” she types into her phone.

The video ends with a simple title-card over a black screen: “School shooting is preventable when you know the signs.”

Sandy Hook Promise / Youtube.com

The PSA then directs the viewer to find out more about the organization at sandyhookpromise.org. According to Sandy Hook Promise’s About page, the “above-the-politics” organization is made up of “several family members whose loved ones were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012”. Their mission is to “honor all victims of gun violence by turning our tragedy into a moment of transformation”. Their main action-items are to target mental health programs to individuals who are “at-risk” at engaging in gun violence and by advocating for policy changes in order to prevent school shootings. 

As of now, the video has racked up over 1 million views on YouTube in under 24 hours.

The virality of the PSA is likely due to its execution: we’re all used to seeing vacuous back-to-school commercials whose sole intentions are to sell us something. “Back-To-School Essentials” lulls us into a sense of comfort with its upbeat music before jerking us into the current violent reality of school-aged students’ lives. According to the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks every mass shooting in the country, the US has had 283 mass shootings since September 1st of 2019. 

The video isn’t without controversy–some Twitter users are disturbed by how close to home the video’s scenarios are.

In fact, many viewers are finding the PSA hard to watch. On Twitter, users are complaining of tearing up after watching the video. Some even claim to “feeling sick” by the video’s contents. 

In response, some Twitter users are glad of the reality-check the PSA is providing:

It’s evident that making their audience uncomfortable from watching the video was one of the organization’s goals. That way, it makes it harder to ignore the reality of school shootings and their impact on children’s lives.

This woman explained how the video hit a little too close to home:

It seems we’ve come to the point in our culture where we feel we need to buy phones for our children in the event that they experience a school shooting. 

This Twitter user applauded the Sandy Hook Promise Organization’s bravery in committing to their message:

Sometimes the only way to get your point across is to explain, in the starkest terms possible, how dire the situation is. This video managed to convey that in a powerful way.

This Latina was effected by the PSA on a visceral level:

Reactions like this prove that public service announcements, when done right, can achieve exactly what they set out to achieve.

Simply from the Twitter reaction, it’s clear that this video has touched a lot of people.

To learn more about Sandy Hook Promise and its mission to prevent gun violence, visit www.sandyhookpromise.org.

An Incoming International Harvard Student Has Been Denied Entry To The United States

Things That Matter

An Incoming International Harvard Student Has Been Denied Entry To The United States

Cengiz Yar / Getty Images

The Trump administration’s immigration policies are criminalizing survivors, tearing families apart and emboldening racists and xenophobes throughout the country. But President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration agenda is also negatively impacting higher education in the US. According to multiple recent reports, it has become increasingly difficult for international students to receive their visas, also adding a greater workload on universities and their employees who try to help students work through the red tape and advocate on their behalf.

Those in higher education and immigration law say that the process for international students to attain their visas have become harder under Trump.

 According to government data, approval of student visas is down and many remain in limbo for longer periods. The latest available department data show that student visas declined by more than 100 thousand from 2016 to 2018. This has led to an overall decrease in the number of new international students enrolled at US colleges. For instance, survey data collected by the Institute of International Education during the 2016–17 school year found that enrollment of international students fell by 3 percent from the previous year. In the most recent data, which looks at the 2017–18 school year, it fell by close to 7 percent.

NAFSA: Association of International Educators reports that these visa obstacles started after Trump issued a memorandum in 2017 that called for the “heightened screening and vetting of applications for visas and other immigration benefits” as well as new or updated requirements for visa holders studying or working at US colleges. Additionally, the Atlantic reports that changes initiated by the Trump administration in 2018 made it even harder for recent graduates with student visas to continue living in the country legally. 

“I’ve been in the field for almost 20 years, and the amount of immigration changes during the last three years has been exponential,” Kristy Magner, who oversees Tulane University’s Office of International Students and Scholars, told the publication. 

One of the most high-profile cases was that of Ismail B. Ajjawi

In August of 2019, the incoming Harvard Palestinian freshman from Lebanon was detained by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at a Boston airport. The 17-year-old was denied entry after CBO officers found social media posts from his friends that criticize the US. As a result, Ajjawi’s visa was canceled. However, because the teen was detained at an airport, sparing him from being officially deported, he was able to re-apply for a visa back home. Ten days later, Ajjawi returned to Boston and was able to start school.

Also in August, nine Chinese students who were returning to the US as undergraduate students at Arizona State University were detained at Los Angeles International Airport.

 According to the university, the students were in CBP custody for a week and were “denied admission to the U.S. to continue their studies.” They were ultimately forced to return to China, despite being “academically eligible to return to ASU and to the United States under their visas.”

“[I]t is beyond my comprehension how the U.S. government could establish and implement policies that bring about the outcomes we are now witnessing,” ASU president Michael Crow wrote in a letter addressed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan. 

While these cases are among the most extreme, they follow a growing pattern of increased difficulty for international students. 

Many institutions, including New York University, expressed seeing more students denied travel in advance of their trips.

NYU was one of the first schools to establish support for immigrant students upon the start of Trump’s presidency. In January 2017, just days after Trump’s inauguration, it created the Immigrant Defense Initiative, which offers “free, confidential advice and representation” to students and staff who could be at risk for deportation. Other universities, including Columbia University, the California State University system and George Washington University, now also offer free immigration-related legal services for students. 

But students, and now university employees who are tasked with new responsibilities in helping the international academics, need more help. Back in July, Harvard University president Lawrence Bacow sent a letter to Pompeo and McAleenan sharing his grievances. “Students report difficulties getting initial visas — from delays to denials,” he wrote. “Scholars have experienced postponements and disruptions for what have previously been routine immigra­tion processes such as family visas, renewals of status, or clearance for international travel.”

Dr. Hironao Okahana, associate vice president of policy and research analysis at the Council of Graduate Schools, told Teen Vogue the rise in incidents like Ajjawi’s are concerning and worth further investigation. 

“[W]e’ll be carefully observing to see if any additional incidents occur as quarter-system schools begin their term in a few weeks,” he said.

In addition to the denial of visas and slowed-down processes, universities face another problem: Trump’s anti-immigration agenda is stopping international students from applying to US institutions. 

“I think that both [the Trump administration’s] immigration policy and the messaging of the day are literally turning [international] students away … and making them less inclined to want to study in the United States,” Brian Rosenberg, the president of Macalester College, a liberal-arts institution in St. Paul, Minnesota, told the Atlantic.

As a result, some schools are doing additional work to ensure international students that they are welcome at their universities.

Philip A. Glotzbach, the president of Skidmore College, told the Atlantic that his staff has had to “work a lot harder” to recruit and retain international students. Additionally, Barbara K. Altmann, the president of Franklin & Marshall College, said that her school has been taking “extraordinary measures … so international students know [they’re welcome here].” For instance, because one in five students at the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, liberal-arts school is from outside of the US, mostly China, it has created a network of Chinese nationals that send reassuring messages to incoming students from the Asian country. 

“These incidents,” said Okahana, “as isolated as they may be, are troubling and have created chilling effects.”

Read: Migrants Are Dying In US Immigration Custody And Here’s What You Need To Know About The Victims