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Las víctimas de violencia sexual no están solas en Venezuela
No han pasado dos semanas desde que las redes sociales venezolanas explotaron con acusaciones y testimonios sobre situaciones de acoso y abuso sexual. Podríamos decir que las recientes denuncias públicas comenzaron con los testimonios presentados sobre Alejandro Sojo en Twitter que fueron luego recolectados y publicados por una cuenta en Instagram. Poco a poco ambas redes sociales se empezaron a llenar de publicaciones de mujeres y hombres que presentaban sus historias de abuso sexual. Uno de los testimonios que más repercusiones tuvo es probablemente aquel presentado por la usuaria anónima “Pía” contra el escritor Willy McKey, quien tras aceptar su responsabilidad, ser rechazado por sus pares y perder sus conexiones laborales se quitó la vida lanzándose desde un 9no piso en Buenos Aires. Para muchos, esta ola de testimonios no habrá sido más que un “evento” o una tendencia en redes sociales. Pero para las víctimas (aquellas que contaron sus experiencias y las que permanecen en silencio) es una realidad con la que deben vivir y lidiar. El camino es duro, y para muchos podrá sentirse como una batalla en la que se encuentran solos. A pesar de los, a veces abrumadores, sentimientos ninguna víctima está sola. No solo por el apoyo que podrán recibir de sus familiares, amigos y personas cercanas, pero también de las organizaciones no gubernamentales (ONGs) que se dedican a la protección y el apoyo de las víctimas de crímenes sexuales. Lo que escribo hoy no será sobre los testimonios de las víctimas, pues ellas conocen sus historias mucho más que yo, tampoco será sobre los abusadores y acusados. En vez, esto será sobre aquellas organizaciones, las cuales se enfrentan actualmente a un contexto social muy complicado por la postura que el gobierno de Nicolás Maduro ha tomado en torno a las ONGs. No es secreto para nadie la gran cantidad de casos de abuso sexual que podemos observar en Caracas, puede ser que a muchos les incomode hablar al respecto, pero juzgando por las reacciones públicas en redes sociales y los medios de comunicación, pareciera que demasiados han sufrido o conocen a alguien que ha sido víctima a manos de otro. Para tratar de entender a mayor profundidad la percepción pública sobre las organizaciones de apoyo y protección a las víctimas de crímenes sexuales, The Explorer realizó una encuesta que distribuyó por medio de sus redes sociales. Las respuestas de los usuarios revelaron algo que habíamos sospechado: una mayoría de las víctimas de crímenes sexuales conocen de la existencia de organizaciones que pueden apoyarlas, sin embargo, no interactúan con ellas. Esto no es un ataque a las ONGs, y menos un ataque a las víctimas. Mi propósito es resaltar que ninguna víctima está sola y que pareciera existir alguna aversión hacia entrar en contacto directo con estas organizaciones. De los respondientes, el 86.7% ha sido víctima de acoso, abuso, o violación. De la totalidad de los respondientes, fue bueno saber que una gran mayoría (el 78.9%) conoce de alguna o varias organizaciones de apoyo y protección, sin embargo, solo el 5.6% ha interactuado de forma directa con una de ellas. Ninguna de las víctimas que respondieron nuestra encuesta ha denunciado lo que les sucedió por la vía formal ante el Ministerio Público, y solo el 53.8% ha contado su experiencia por alguna vía pública, ya sea esta amigos cercanos, familiares o por medio de las redes sociales. Algunas personas nos escribieron para contarnos las razones por las cuales se abstuvieron de realizar una denuncia por cualquiera de las vías: “Por sentir pena, por evitar consecuencias sociales, por saber que no iba a pasar nada”, “Miedo” y “Al principio pensé que lo estaba magnificando en mi mente” fueron unas cuantas de las respuestas que recibimos. Aquel miedo de hablar públicamente sobre una experiencia como lo es el acoso o abuso sexual, la culpa y la sensación que nada pasará aunque se denuncie no parecen ser sentimientos aislados, según me contó Estefanía Reyes, periodista y Coordinadora de Proyecto Mujeres. Proyecto Mujeres es una fundación venezolana establecida en 2015 cuyo objetivo principal es “combatir, desde frentes cotidianos, las desigualdades y estereotipos de género que sufren las niñas y mujeres jóvenes de nuestra región”. Reyes también me indicó que “la violencia basada en género [es] una constante cotidiana para las mujeres y las niñas”, y que en Venezuela es muy difícil que una víctima obtenga justicia debido a la falta de transparencia por parte de las autoridades del Estado. El problema de la transparencia contribuye a que solo una porción muy baja de víctimas denuncien por medio de la vía formal. Algo que resaltó de nuestra interacción por medio de correos electrónicos fueron sus comentarios respecto a las denuncias por vía pública: “Tampoco son tan comunes como mucho[s] podrían pensar. Probablemente, por cada mujer que rompe el silencio, dos o más no se atreven a hablar porque hacerlo conlleva consecuencias que muchas no están preparadas para afrontar”. La búsqueda de apoyo psicológico fue la recomendación principal que me dejó Reyes para las víctimas. Es bien conocido que las personas que buscan asistencia psicológica se enfrentan en gran parte al estigma de hacerlo, aunado a los posibles gastos en los cuales se incurrirá. Pero en Venezuela existen organizaciones como la Asociación Venezolana para una Educación Sexual Alternativa (AVESA) quienes cuentan con un servicio que han denominado “Línea Psicoapoyo por Nosotras”. Descrito por AVESA, es un “servicio de ayuda psicológica para víctimas de violencia, para mujeres en riesgo de sufrirla y para familiares y amistades que quieran ayudarlas”. AVESA presta el servicio de forma completamente anónima y a distancia, con el único costo siendo aquel que incurra la persona por razones de gastos telefónicos. (La Línea Psicoapoyo por Nosotras puede ser contactada de martes a sábado, entre 8:00am y 8:00pm por medio del siguiente número: 0424-165-9742) El equipo de AVESA coincidió con Reyes en cuanto a la falta de transparencia presentada por los organismos de seguridad y justicia en Venezuela. En un estudio que la organización llevó a cabo entrevistando a 225 mujeres en noviembre de 2020 en el Distrito Capital y Miranda, encontraron que las razones más comunes por las cuales las víctimas evitan denunciar por la vía formal son: “la desconfianza en estas instituciones… seguida de la apreciación de que el servicio es de baja calidad y que no resolverían el caso, otras mujeres plantean que no conocen el procedimiento”. Así podemos ver por qué nos encontramos a veces con números tan sorprendentes como la estadística de que el 99% de los casos de violencia contra las mujeres no llegan nunca a juicio según el Informe Mujeres al Límite 2017, elaborado por la Coalición Equivalencias en Acción de la cual AVESA forma parte. Una versión actualizada del Informe publicado en 2019 revela que el Estado ha sido bastante consistente en su falta de transparencia, con un punto de interés siendo la falta de congruencia entre las estadísticas de violencia presentadas por las autoridades en comparación con aquellas cifras dadas por organizaciones independientes. Aun así el equipo de AVESA hizo énfasis en que denunciar por la vía formal es importante y que ellos seguirán promoviendo que las víctimas interpongan sus denuncias de manera oficial. Entre las razones citadas para hacerlo se encuentra el hecho que una denuncia vuelve la situación pública y sirve para establecer precedentes legales. Igualmente, presentar una denuncia es el derecho de cada víctima y acudir ante las autoridades reduce el riesgo de que la víctima o sus conocidos decidan hacer “justicia” por cuenta propia, “lo cual puede desencadenar más acciones de violencia innecesaria y que no solucionan el problema estructural en nuestra sociedad”. Por supuesto, las condiciones en las que operan estas organizaciones son muy complicadas, lo cual solamente dificulta el acceso de las víctimas a servicios necesarios que no pueden obtener por medio del Estado. El equipo de AVESA se enfrenta a problemas esperados de Venezuela, como cortes de la electricidad, fallas telefónicas e interrupciones en la conexión a internet, todo lo cual debe ser considerado además del difícil acceso a financiamiento y la “ausencia de espacios de articulación y gestión con instituciones del Estado”. Desafortunadamente, las víctimas y las organizaciones que se dedican a apoyar y protegerlas se enfrentan exactamente a los problemas que esperamos encontrar. Para las víctimas, lidiar con la violencia a la que se han enfrentado siempre será un proceso difícil y a pesar que el contexto nacional de Venezuela pareciera volver todo incluso más complicado, es importante recordar que sí existen personas dispuestas a ayudar. Es importante recordar que nadie está completamente solo, y que hay personas y organizaciones que luchan cada día para asegurar que eso sea así. Las organizaciones no gubernamentales están atravesando una situación particularmente compleja. El arresto de miembros de Azul Positivo en Zulia en el mes de enero, el allanamiento a la sede y la congelación de las cuentas bancarias de Alimenta la Solidaridad y Caracas Mi Convive en noviembre del 2020 y la emisión de la Providencia N° 001-2021 por parte de la Oficina Nacional Contra la Delincuencia Organizada y Financiamiento al Terrorismo que servirá de mecanismo de control son ejemplos claros del gobierno temiendo que sus ciudadanos encuentren ayuda en un lugar distinto a los establecidos por el Estado. Por estas y muchas otras razones, es importante que conozcamos más sobre estas organizaciones, sobre la ayuda que prestan y sobre los obstáculos que enfrentan. Expandiendo la visibilidad de estas ONGs, y manteniéndonos al tanto del contexto en el cual operan, podemos en turno ayudar a mantenerlas funcionando y asistiendo cada vez más a aquellas personas que las necesitan. Si necesitas asistencia psicológica o legal puedes ponerte en contacto con la Línea Psicoapoyo por Nosotras: martes a sábado, 8:00am-8:00pm, telf.: 0424-165-9742 Luis Gonzalez es un abogado graduado en la Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (Caracas, Venezuela), actualmente ejerce el derecho en el sector privado y es fundador y co-editor de The Explorer. Puedes encontrarlo en Twitter en @lagm96. .
Coming home from the endless war
On Wednesday April 14th, President Joe Biden announced that he had set a firm, non-conditional deadline to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. He made the announcement standing in the White House Treaty Room, which is where President George Bush stood and informed the nation of the start of the war back in October, 2001. Biden’s deadline for leaving Afghanistan is September 11th, 2021, on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This is something I’m sure he regards as “symbolic” or “poetic” but frankly strikes me as another terrible just-for-show decision. I highly doubt September 11th is the earliest we can leave, the date was just picked because it was meaningful, but that really worth extending our stay? Is it really worth risking the lives of more American servicemen and women? The answer is no, it really isn’t, but those who sit thousands of miles away from combat in the safety of their homes will find defending the idea of staying easier than those who have to deal with the consequences of war. But, just because it’s easy for them to make these arguments, doesn’t mean that the arguments themselves don’t hold some valid points… but we’ll get to that. While Biden’s decision to leave, and the setting of a non-conditional date to do so, are admirable steps forward, he’ll doubtlessly face a lot of resistance from the American foreign policy establishment who would have to admit that the war is a failure and even from members of his own cabinet who have a financial interest in the war continuing forever. Why leave? The war in Afghanistan can only really be remembered as a tragic failure. Not just because of the 2,400 Americans we lost, the over 100,000 Afghans who lost their lives, or its $2 trillion price tag, but also because it served as a pretext for the expansion of the security state at the domestic level. These factors, a result of the incredibly confused and ever-changing American strategy for the war, have weighed on past administrations as calls from the public to end the war have become louder. There hasn’t been much progress to show for the last 20 years of military engagement. America’s failure to have a clear plan and stick to it lead to a growing mission-scope, which only contributed to more violence in Afghanistan, incredible levels of corruption, and an active drug trade courtesy of the disastrous conditions in the world’s largest opium producer. The status quo has been terrible for everyone on the ground, except maybe for corrupt officials who have flooded their pockets with American money, but yet foreign forces have remained. While the excuses for being engaged on the ground have been many and they seem to switch every few years, the longest standing one is that to ensure the Taliban don’t topple the current Afghan government our troops must remain until the government is prepared enough to take care of itself and its people. That if the Taliban were to come back to power they would pose a renewed threat to America and her interests. So, with the Taliban posing such an existential threat to the current government in Kabul and a possible threat to Americans, how is it even conceivable that the last 20 years of investment and preparation have not been enough to have some confidence the Afghan government will remain standing once we leave? Well, in part it’s because the higher-ups in charge of US strategy did a piss-poor job of achieving their objectives. They didn’t understand Afghanistan, let alone how to fix its problems. This is painfully obvious when reading through many of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s (SIGAR) interviews with officials who were there and even with those who lead the war effort. These interviews, and many other important documents, were finally made public in 2019 after a petition by the Washington Post, and through them we have a window into US-decision making when facing the conflict. As well as a clear view of how many of the problems that weighed down on America’s involvement were clear and obvious to those in charge but they just didn’t know how to solve them. Back in December of 2020, as the Trump administration came to a close, I went through these papers and wrote a brief history of the conflict and many of the issues that surfaced throughout US involvement, which you can find here. Weren’t we already leaving? Well, kind of. Back in February of 2020, the Donald Trump administration negotiated an agreement with the Taliban. In that agreement, the two parties (just two because the Afghan government was not included) committed to a number of promises. On the one hand, America committed to removing their troops by May 1st, 2021, while the Taliban promised to end attacks on foreign troops, commence talks with the Afghan government, and to make a commitment to stopping the operation of terrorist groups within their controlled territory. But just shortly after the deal was signed, the Taliban and Afghan government went back to attacking each other rather than entering talks. As time has gone on, tensions have only continued rising, and the Taliban and Kabul are no closer to establishing peace. This means that the conditions of Trump’s deal haven’t been met by the Taliban, and therefore the US doesn’t need to leave as per the provisions of that agreement. This is why Biden’s declaration of a condition-less withdrawal is so important. It means there can’t be any excuses to continue fighting, as soon as the date rolls around, America leaves. But there could still be a catch… At the end of March, the Taliban threatened to attack foreign troops if they stayed in the country past the May 1st deadline, which is now a certainty considering what Joe Biden has announced. If the Taliban keep their word and decide to carry out these attacks, it could serve as ammo for those who oppose a withdrawal from Afghanistan. The opposition to leaving I said at the start that we’d get to the arguments in favor of staying, and so, here we are. There are many shady interests who wish the never-ending war continues, but not everyone who wants the US to stay is a bloodthirsty war-monger. So, let’s take a look at some of the problems and opposition that Biden may encounter on his path towards ending the war for good. His cabinet When Biden announced most of his cabinet picks, a lot of media outlets like Vogue happily announced “the adults are back”, in reference to the cumulative and individual experience of each of the members. But experience in what, exactly? There are three particularly interesting characters that may play against ending the war. These are Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines. Antony Blinken served as Deputy National Security Adviser and later Deputy Secretary of State under President Obama, during his time there Blinken helped craft Afghanistan and Ukraine policy and would also support the military intervention in Lybia, Syria and America’s assistance to Saudi Arabia for the war in Yemen. After leaving public office, Blinken co-founded WestExec Advisors, a private consulting firm that describes itself using impossible-to-understand, meaningless corporate speak, but actually just works to try and ensure that private companies (and weapons-tech developers) can get nice and close to government entities and secure lucrative contracts. Funnily enough, if you visit WestExec’s website today you won’t find Blinken listed as a co-founder, but if you travel back in time to an archived version of it from 2018 you definitely will. Isn’t that odd? Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin served as the head of US Central Command under President Obama, where he helped form America’s strategy towards the conflict with ISIL and US operations in Syria. After retirement, Austin entered the private sector where he partnered Antony Blinken at Pine Island Capital Partners, an investment firm that just a few months ago went on a “buying spree of small military contractors”. But even more worrying than that, Austin served on the board of directors of Raytheon Technologies, one of the world’s biggest weapons manufacturers. In the world of the legal corruption that is the revolving door everyone knows that if you treat companies right you might just land yourself a profitable deal like the ones Austin managed to work his way into. Such closeness to the defense industry should worry anyone trying to stop a war. Now, I know that the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) isn’t strictly a cabinet spot, but it’s in the upper echelon of government for sure. The current DNI, Avril Haines, is another interesting character. Some of Haines’ prior experience in government saw her working as the Deputy Director of the CIA, where she sure made a name for herself for some very interesting reasons. Under John Brennan, Haines would be in charge of redacting the Senate’s report on torture tactics employed by the CIA after the September, 2001 terrorist attacks. Haines cut the report from 6,700 pages to just 525. She would also be in charge of disciplining CIA agents who hacked into Senate computers during research for the report – where she decided that no action was necessary. And, of course, Haines famously worked on drafting the guidelines for the use of drones to target individuals suspected of terrorism. Avril Haines was also part of WestExec, which seems to be a sort of training ground for Biden’s team members at this point considering Jen Psaki and Ely Ratner also worked there. But besides the clear financial interest and questionable interventionist tendencies these people have, there are also those who have legitimate reasons for wanting extended US presence in Afghanistan. Some reasons to stay The Taliban were in power in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 when they were toppled by the US-led military intervention. While Afghanistan faces many challenges today, be they economic, political or social in nature, it cannot be ignored that life under the Taliban was impressively oppressive, especially when it comes to the conditions women faced. Under Taliban rule, women were not allowed to leave the home unless escorted by a male family member, women could not work outside of the home, women couldn’t attend school, and they obviously couldn’t hold public office. Back in 2020, Sirajjudin Haqqani, deputy leader of the Taliban, published an op-ed in the New York Times where he argued that Afghans were tired of fighting and that once foreign forces left, the Taliban would work with all factions to achieve equal rights for everyone… and then he said that women would be granted all rights under Islam. All rights under Islam, not “equal rights”, just those that Islam affords to women. Which, as Heather Barr points out, is something the Taliban would say women already had back when they were in power. The road ahead The truth of things is that even peace, the goal of withdrawing foreign forces, may not be a sure thing for Afghans, considering that the Taliban keeps talking about their eventual return to power. Even so, this shouldn’t be an excuse to keep foreign forces stationed in the country any further. It’s been too long, what the coalition couldn’t achieve in 20 years will not be achieved in a few more. Some will argue that leaving Afghanistan is equal to abandoning our allies and all the people who don’t just have the choice to leave. While this is terribly unfortunate, what choice does the US really have? Why should it stay if 20 years have not been enough to help Afghanistan? Is America supposed to just remain in the country forever? Endless war? Should America do this anywhere people suffer? What next, Congo, Myanmar and Pakistan? The answer to me is very clearly no, America shouldn’t be fighting wars away from home that only endanger its own people and the people of the targeted nation. And while it seems that this decision to leave by September 11 is a good one, it’ll face pushback from the inside. If Taliban forces keep their word and attack foreign troops past the May 1st deadline, then who knows what could happen. America needs to leave, and make sure that it doesn’t allow any excuses to go back. It’s past time to come home. Luis Gonzalez is a lawyer from Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (Caracas, Venezuela) currently working in private practice and is founder and co-editor of The Explorer. You can find him on Twitter at @lagm96.
Female leadership: A role model to follow
The year 2020 has brought multiple changes in government administrations and corporate enterprises. One that may not be so evident has arisen in terms of leadership. The main focus of this article is to explore the contributions and impact of female leadership in the handling of the Covid-19 crisis in nations and companies led by this stratum. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the ability of female leadership to effectively respond to the enormous and complex challenges a situation of this magnitude brings. During times of uncertainty and angst, the world needs strong leaders. Humanity keeps facing one of the most acute crises in the last years. The lack of trust in media, public institutions, companies, and government leaders has been a determining factor in finding solutions to the impact on society. Most countries with a strong, timely, different, and positive response in the handling of the COVID-19 crisis and its consequences, are led by women. A study carried out in Great Britain, with data from 194 countries, revealed the mortality and infection rates registered in the first three months of the pandemic were much lower in countries led by the female gender. It is worth mentioning that only 7% of the world’s leaders are women. (The same figure of women who lead Fortune 500 companies). Female leadership is the perfect example of how results can be obtained by emotionally connecting with people, showing empathy and humility, and how responsibility in following regulations and guidelines, leads to confidence and quickness in decision making. Business leaders of the future must be an inspiration, they must be wary, cautious, and adopt a new radical playbook, that motivates and boosts companies and their members to be more innovative and resilient to volatile situations. Resilience is not a luxury, nor is it unreachable. It is the fundamental base to lead on through changes and difficult transitions. Humility is one of the most important traits when defining the characteristics of good leadership. For example, although young adults and children are not part of the voting stratus, Erna Solberg, prime minister of Norway, took the time to speak to them directly and leave politics aside. It resulted in a smart strategy because one day that sector of society will become a new generation of voters. Women tend to be more motivated by the love and care of their people. We can’t stop the coronavirus pandemic or any other crisis that arises in the future without trust nor global solidarity. Every crisis is an opportunity. Especially in politics, those who share their personal experience and emotionally connect with audiences can win a great deal more than those who do not. In the first weeks of the virus, the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern made a Facebook Live Event to inform citizens and answer their questions. During the live transmission, Ardern could be seen with an honest communication approach regarding her family situation and reality. She showed herself as an authentic leader, eliminating personal and professional barriers. Another example of positive female leadership is Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. Her main focus in communication has always been to maintain strictly faithful to facts, data, and information of trustworthy medical advisors; leading the country Ito reduce the mortality rate due to the virus by an important figure. Honesty and transparency have always been and keep being her main pillars. Tacking efficient and quick actions is a quality not every leader possesses, especially during stress and uncertainty periods. Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, is probably one of the best-prepared leaders to address a crisis of this magnitude. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Taiwan was affected by the SARS outbreak, in which a contention plan was designed, very similar to the one applied to control the COVID-19 outbreak (tracking, quarantine, and mask use). Likewise, Taiwan already had part of the hospital and medical infrastructure necessary to face this kind of crisis. That is why Taiwan is one of the countries with the lowest coronavirus mortality rate in the world, despite its proximity to the Wuhan district in China (the location where the virus originated). Female leadership is usually different in style and tone when compared to male leadership. In various surveys from Harvard Business Review, women were better qualified in 13 of 19 leadership abilities. The best-qualified aptitudes were: communication, collaboration, and engagement. Female leaders are generally more conscious of their fears, well-being, and trust their plans. Those who promote and show honesty and integrity as main values, who express empathy and understand the stress, anxiety and frustration people usually feel in complex times obtain better results. Women leaders have been characterized for leaving aside competition and pride in times of crisis and creating innovative solutions to help address complex challenges. There can be multiple ways to produce good results with an infinity of strategies, but with consistent communication and planning as the heart of every strategy, good results are sure to come. In this type of crisis, more than one leader or spokesperson can arise, and if they do not follow the same path; confusion can be expected. Isabella Miralles is a social communicator from Universidad Catolica Andres Bello (Caracas, Venezuela), as well as an advisor of strategic and corporate communications. You can find her on Twitter at @isaMiralles and on Medium at isaMiralles.
Films about real people
At the end of 2014, film writer and director Mike Leigh found himself at The Criterion Collection’s headquarters talking about movies while going over a few DVDs that were there. The first disc he picked out was a copy of Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves and mentioned how, when he was young, he didn’t know that “films that were about the real world existed”. I hadn’t seen Bicycle Thieves at that moment, but something about what Leigh had said stuck with me. Sure, like most people, I enjoy well-made movies with logical plots that feature proper characters instead of cardboard cutouts, but when Leigh said what he said I couldn’t help thinking of two very specific films I love, and wondering if this Italian movie from 1948 would be anything like. The films I’m reminded of, Taste of Cherry and Children of Men, have left quite the impression on me and my view of cinema as a whole. I’ve now seen Bicycle Thieves a few times, and it finds itself permanently connected to Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry and Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men in my mind as some sort of independent sub-genre. All three films are very different, Taste of Cherry is about a middle-aged Iranian man who drives around the outskirts of Tehran looking for someone who will help bury him after he commits suicide, a decision he says has already been thought out and taken, while Children of Men is about the collapse of society in 2027 after no children have been born for around twenty years. Taste of Cherry is slow-paced, and my feeling of it being about “real people” comes mostly from the powerfully-written, sober conversations shared between the film’s protagonist and each of the people he picks up along the way to his suicide attempt. In Children of Men the feeling comes mostly from Cuarón’s “wandering camera”. His signature-style, found across all of his films be it Roma, Y Tu Mamá También or Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, features a camera straying off from the main action to the rear corners of a bar, an apartment complex being dismantled and even an empty room as an answering machine’s recording plays to show us that this is indeed a real place lived in by real people in the real world. One feels as if we’ve suddenly been pulled into a documentary, and not in the way that more recent films such as Moonlight and Nomadland have, which is to shoot conversations almost exclusively in close ups while employing a handheld camera. So how does Bicycle Thieves do it? If I had to answer, and I should seeing as I posed the question, I’d say that it does so through the little details told passively in its narrative. Bicycle Thieves takes place in Rome and its outskirts in 1948, and follows the story of Antonio Ricci and his (around) 9 year old son Bruno over the course of three days. Antonio, like many men his age in post-war Rome, finds himself unemployed, until he gets lucky one day and a job opens up posting advertising bills all over Rome. There’s a catch though, the job requires he owns and uses his own bicycle for it. Antonio has a bike, but it’s been pawned off in order to pay the bills. To get it back, Antonio’s wife Maria decides to pawn the bed linens which gives them just enough cash to redeem the bike. With his spirit lifted high by this bout of good luck, Antonio heads off to work, dropping Bruno off at the gas station where he works as an assistant. But just a bit into his first day, Antonio’s bike is stolen by a man while his associates distract him allowing the thief to get away. The rest of the film is centered on the search for the bike all over Rome. The first big detail that jumps out at me whenever I watch the film is the first scene outside of the employment office. A worker from the office is crowded by men as he calls out the names of the people who have had job offers, but when he calls Antonio’s name it turns out he’s not there like everyone else. Antonio is revealed to be sitting on the other side of the road across from the employment office. The film goes on to show that Antonio’s not the sort of person to live with his head in the clouds, so what we’re seeing isn’t someone who doesn’t pay attention, instead we’re seeing a dejected man who’s probably used to being let down every day outside the employment office. This may be our first day here, but it sure isn’t his. There’s never a line to draw attention to this either, Antonio never goes “Oh boy, I sure didn’t expect a job after coming here all these days in a row”, we’re informed of this situation subtly through his actions and reactions. This level of attention to more passive storytelling is present throughout all of the movie, like a moment in Piazza Vittorio when our protagonists believe they’ve spotted the frame of their missing bike being repainted by a stand owner. They never accuse the stand owner of robbery, and he never outright replies that he’s not a fan of being called a criminal, instead we see it happen, we see how they feel based on how they react. We’re also informed that this probably isn’t the first time they’re indirectly accused in this manner, judging from the owner’s wife’s furious intervention in the conversation. These are real people trying to make it by, trying to minimize their losses in life amidst the oppressive economic circumstances that their country has to endure at such a trying time in its history. There are never any on-the-nose speeches about the themes of the film, nor do characters just slip into monologues about how they feel instead of showing us. No, we get a real story about real people. One final thing about the film, the level of technical competence is admirable, there are many scenes that require an absolutely perfect level of coordination of many actors like their visit to Piazza Vittorio, the rain-soaked scene at Porta Portese and the end climax moment just as people exit a stadium after a football match between Modena and A.S. Roma. The audio has of course aged a bit, but beyond that, the acting, writing, directing and the sheer quality of the storytelling make this film a timeless classic, much like Citizen Kane or Ikiru, there are moments when you genuinely go “wow, this movie could’ve come out yesterday”. Bicycle Thieves is beyond impressive, not just because of the actors’ incredible talent or the precise and subtle direction, but also due to its delicate handling of some of life’s more unfair aspects. It serves as a window into a very specific moment in time, while still remaining universal, a simple story, told simply to very powerful effect. I think of it at least a few times a week, and I don’t really see that changing any time soon. There are so many more things I want to say about Bicycle Thieves, but I refuse to spoil it any further for those who might’ve taken an interest in reading this but haven’t yet seen it. I urge you to go check it out for yourself. Luis Gonzalez is a lawyer from Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (Caracas, Venezuela) currently working in private practice and is founder and co-editor of The Explorer. You can find him on Twitter at @lagm96.
So what now? Joe Biden's challenges
It’s easy to look at present-day issues that trouble us and think like they’re the worst they’ve ever been, this tends to happen when we lack historical context. A one-term President who was voted out feels like a dictator, to others racism seems like it’s worse than 50 years ago, and a privately-owned, financially-thriving news outlet believes it barely survived after some of its most successful years. We’re all guilty of catastrophizing modern problems at some point or another, but this bleak, extremely-polarized outlook seems stronger today than ever in recent memory. What’s worse is that it seems like we’re all doing it. There’s a flip side of course. With President Joe Biden’s inauguration, traditionally left-leaning media outlets have decided to go home and cover the news in four years when the next election comes up. A CNN political analyst fell into straight adoration of the new administration when he spoke of the Washington, DC COVID memorial’s lights reflecting to look like Biden’s arms embracing the nation, a comment which Glenn Greenwald rightly compared to something straight out of North Korean state television. The flip side being that to the people who see things as apocalyptic, they also paradoxically seem to believe that we’re finally on the right track to solve every problem, with a new president, a new House, and a new Senate. Everyone will most likely get carried away by one of the recent currents. Either thinking that Biden’s election and inauguration is the end of the world or believing that Biden’s uniquely suited to bringing about wide-sweeping change that will right every wrong. But if we take a step back for a moment, it’s pretty clear that this sort of doomsday/messianic thinking isn’t very rooted in reality. So it’s worth asking, in the current toxic discourse, what are some of the big issues Biden will have to face? How will he deal with them? And what will #Unity look like? Incoming unity? “Unity” is the buzzword of the year on the Democratic side of the aisle, well, that and “empathy”. But in all honesty, unity is definitely something we’re in dire need of right now. The big problem is that no one seems rather committed to the idea if they have to sacrifice anything to attain it. Ever since winning the elections, the Democratic Party establishment and its elites had an amazing chance to bring the country together, instead, they’ve made every choice they could’ve made to ensure that Republicans feel like their worst worries and wildest conspiracy theories were actually right. In an insane way to kick off the year, Google, Apple and Amazon all united in the destruction of Parler, a social media alternative to Twitter that tended to host a lot of people with political opinions that wouldn’t sit well with Jack Dorsey’s ethics committee. For years people have been worried about the massive power that these tech giants wield, now, they crushed an app that had become the most downloaded app on Google’s store just days before its death. Parler’s annihilation in just a day should worry anyone who believes in free markets or freedom in general, regardless of how one could feel about the app’s users and their politics. If you want to find distasteful individuals just go on Twitter or Facebook, it won’t take long to find accounts dedicated to glorifying self-harm. But this show of force by Silicon Valley, an attempt to appease the incoming government, was just one of the actions taken recently that tried to find justification in the January 6th Capitol Riot. Anand Giridharadas, a contributor for MSNBC and Time, took a minute on January 22nd to call for the outlawing of Fox News for spreading “falsehoods”. It doesn’t matter what you think of Fox News, to call on the government to restrict speech you don’t like is authoritarian in nature and can only end up backfiring, a member of the media should know that. A writer called Don Winslow made and shared a video that’s been seen by over 4 million people where he basically says that our enemies are everywhere, hidden in every corner, they could even be our teachers or cops! Winslow then goes on to propose we should spy on our neighbors and denounce them to the authorities as terrorists for thinking or saying the wrong things. Beyond people like Giridharadas and Winslow taking an opportunity to lay bare their inner totalitarianism, others have gone on to suggest we take action against Capitol Rioters, which I agree with, but how far should we go? Domestic terrorism A few outlets online have published opinion pieces or articles about the Capitol Riots and the threat of domestic terrorism (like Winslow), but one of Biden’s greatest tests will come not from those seeking to restore Trump to the Presidency, but from the people who are trying to take advantage of this moment to expand the power of the state. Moments of crisis always serve as fantastic opportunities to grant dangerous powers to a few individuals, just look at what happened after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, not just in Afghanistan and Iraq, but at home with the expansion of the security state that Edward Snowden risked his freedom to expose. Any move to grow the government’s power to spy on and detain citizens should be looked at under the greatest of magnifying glasses with the utmost care, especially when words as political as terrorism are used. “Terrorism” is an inherently loose term, after all, there’s a reason that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” is such a popular phrase of wisdom. In fact, the United Nations doesn’t have a universally-accepted definition of terrorism, in part due to the risk of politicizing the term to mean people the government doesn’t like. Back in May of 2020, Donald Trump’s move to label ANTIFA as a domestic terrorist organization was met with backlash and suspicion, such should be the reaction now, especially in light of Representatives Brad Schneider, Jerry Nadler and others moving to pass a new Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act. If someone tells you that the only way to protect our freedom is to expand the state’s power to spy on its citizens based on political ideology then that person has no interest in protecting our freedom. What’s worse is that those pushing for authoritarianism aren’t motivated by the desire of financial gain. They can’t be satisfied because they don’t see themselves as oppressors, but rather as liberators who have come to protect us from ourselves by dictating what opinions can be voiced, who you can vote for, and how you can act. The tough road ahead Joe Biden has the same task Donald Trump had back in January of 2017, to heal a divided nation. Trump was incapable of doing that, and only ended up heavily contributing to the vitriol. To be honest, I don’t think Biden has it in him either. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t wish him well, if healing the nation is truly his intention. We should be mad at the political duopoly that holds the reins of the nation’s future in its hands for giving us such terrible choices this election cycle. The President will face pressure from all sides, from his own cabinet that literally embodies the legal corruption of the revolving-door, to the extremists who think ever supporting Trump should be a crime, to those who think Biden stole the election and will lead the nation down the road to communism. It can look like we’re all just surrounded by extremes, but if we look carefully there is a center. Not a political center, but rather people looking to put aside differences and try to right the current state of American politics which has us down a spiraling road of catastrophizing. If people as politically diverse as Douglas Murray, Sam Harris, Rashida Tlaib, Andrew Sullivan, Bari Weiss, Justin Amash and Bernie Sanders can all find agreement on critical issues, then surely the rest of us can too. That process of finding agreement, of coming together in true unity, can’t be left up to Biden alone, nor can we hand that task to any politicians, commentators, journalists or celebrities. We must all make efforts and sacrifices. We must make the effort to hear people out, rather than immediately judging them to be the worst extreme we can think of. Only open minds and hearts will lead us to a better place. Democracy is a slow slog, there are no overnight solutions, I hope Joe Biden can see that and resist the urge to ostracize those who think differently and appease the loudest among the crowd. I admit I don’t have much faith, but I do wish I’m wrong on that, we could all sure use some responsible people in power right now.
El miedo a la libertad
En 1843, explorando la idea de la “ansiedad”, Søren Kierkegaard señalaba en su libro “O lo uno o lo otro” como la sensación nos tiende a afectar más cuando nos encontramos en una encrucijada entre distintas opciones. El segundo libro del filósofo danés utiliza un ejemplo interesante para demostrar la sensación del temor/ansiedad, el lector debe básicamente imaginar estar parado al borde del techo de un edificio alto. Al principio sentirá el miedo de caer al vacío, pero igualmente sentirá algo mucho más aterrorizante: las ganas de lanzarse. El temor causado por ese conflicto de pensamientos es lo que Kierkegaard veía como el “mareo de la libertad”. Le tenemos un miedo primitivo a la libertad al reconocer que, si quisiéramos, podríamos saltar. El mismo miedo se presenta incluso en decisiones menos impactantes que aquella entre la vida y la muerte, ya sea cuando debamos elegir qué estudiar en la universidad, o si cambiarnos de trabajo, o si terminar nuestras relaciones amorosas. Ese miedo de saber que podemos elegir y somos responsables de esas decisiones, se ve también a la hora de votar. La democracia y la libertad son conceptos necesariamente atados, después de todo, si en una elección democrática el pueblo elige suprimir la posibilidad de escoger a sus gobernantes entonces se han perdido ambas. Pero en esencia son ideas, más allá de que la democracia también sea un sistema de gobierno. Para que una nación pueda ser democrática su gente debe serlo también, pero no en el sentido de estar a favor de elegir a sus gobernantes por medio del voto, sino de ser democráticos de mente. La libertad es una forma de ver el mundo, algo que John Stuart Mill ilustró muy bien hace ya 162 años en “Sobre la libertad”, una de las obras fundamentales del liberalismo. Los miembros de la sociedad deben estar dispuestos a ser libres, y como señalaba Kierkegaard, eso no es una tarea fácil. Al tomar decisiones debemos aceptar que nos tocará vivir con las consecuencias, reconocer que los demás también son humanos y también quieren vivir sus vidas a su manera, lo cual implica a su vez más decisiones y consecuencias que no podremos siempre controlar. Aquellos que queramos la libertad debemos estar dispuestos a escuchar ideas con las que no concordemos, a respetar la ciencia incluso si las conclusiones resultan de vez en cuando incómodas o distintas a lo que pensábamos, reconocer que las personas tienen el derecho de publicar libros que vayan en contra de la corriente popular o que algunos le rezarán a dioses distintos o quizás a ninguno. Debemos también estar dispuestos a aceptar que a veces los resultados de las elecciones no saldrán como queremos… Reconozco que no es fácil, pero las cosas que valen la pena rara vez lo son. El precio de la libertad es alto, eso queda claro si contamos cuantas democracias exitosas hay o cuando hablamos de cuan longevas fueron las que fracasaron. Da miedo vivir así, para muchos será paralizante, pero solo por eso no creo que debamos rendirnos. El temor por quién elegimos al poder, quién tiene mayoría en la legislatura, de qué corriente ideológica son los jueces que se sientan en el más alto tribunal llevará a muchos a desear que ojalá la sociedad no fuese tan libre. Muchos comenzarán a culpar la libertad democrática cuando en nuestra sociedad tomen fuerza corrientes ideológicas que hemos visto en el pasado y cuyos resultados han sido dañinos. Quizás gente realmente vil llegue al poder a través del voto y hagan de nuestra vida un infierno. ¿Por qué no nombramos a un defensor que nos proteja a toda costa de aquellas fuerzas? Las dictaduras se vuelven muy atractivas. En 1951, Eric Hoffer publicó un libro llamado “El fiel creyente”, en él Hoffer comenta sobre como los movimientos sociales en masa crecen y se expanden. Una observación clave del autor es que dichos movimientos están normalmente formados por personas que sienten que sus vidas están fuera de su control y, por ende, necesitan que alguien más ponga orden por ellos. Son personas que deciden desligarse de su responsabilidad individual de forma completa y responsabilizar al colectivo. Es claro que los humanos no pueden controlar todas las fuerzas que los influyen, pero tomar la postura que los demás son los responsables de toda miseria y, en consecuencia, necesitamos a un mesías que nos salve solo nos coloca en el riesgo de entregarnos de lleno a un culto religioso o a un dictador. En años recientes hemos visto aquella posición tomar mucha fuerza en Estados Unidos, y desafortunadamente no ha ocurrido en solo uno de los bandos ideológicos. La derecha y la izquierda se han radicalizado sin precedentes en aquella nación, y ambos creen que el otro es el radical y que ellos son los que llevan la autoridad moral del asunto y por tanto están del lado correcto de la historia. Ya sea proclamar a todos los blancos racistas, como ha hecho Robin Di Angelo, justificar la destrucción de vidas como lo han hecho las charlatanes Vicky Osterweil y Nicole Hannah-Jones o literalmente intentar destruir la institucionalidad democrática porque sientes que debiste ganar las elecciones como intentó el pasado 6 de enero el Presidente Donald Trump al presionar a Mike Pence para que lo proclamase como ganador. Las cosas se están saliendo de control, y Estados Unidos se ha vuelto tierra fértil para el auge de un dictador. Estados Unidos es una anomalía, una democracia y cuna de la libertad intelectual mundial desde su fundación en 1776, y que ahora se encuentra en un momento por el cual pasarán todas las democracias eventualmente. Una locura populista donde es bien difícil tener una conversación seria y de buena fe sin ser calificado de “fascista” o “comunista”. El camino que se tiene por delante es complicado y prever el resultado es casi imposible, pero el objetivo debe ser seguir luchando para que sobrevivan las libertades básicas que antes tanto se atesoraban. El precio de la libertad es alto, ojalá haya suficientes personas dispuestas a pagarlo. Luis Gonzalez es un abogado graduado en la Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (Caracas, Venezuela), actualmente ejerce el derecho en el sector privado y es fundador y co-editor de The Explorer. Puedes encontrarlo en Twitter en @lagm96.
What company leaders and managers can learn from Jurassic Park
We all remember Jurassic Park, the famous film directed by Steven Spielberg in which a group of scientists visit an amusement park with cloned dinosaurs, created by a billionaire philanthropist and a team of geneticists, who escape and put the lives of those in the park at risk. But, beyond the science fiction, I believe that, from an organizational behavior point of view, there are a few lessons from the film that can serve company leaders and managers. This being said, here I share some key lessons that business leaders and managers of today can take away from this film: Caring for your employees’ well-being is important Since the start of the film, it is obvious that John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), the owner and manager of the company that owns the park, does not care about the general well-being of his employees, but rather is blinded by his vision for the park. In the first scene, we see that an employee is mauled by a Velociraptor and nobody in the company seems to care enough about it, especially Mr. Hammond. The man is being sued by the deceased employee’s family for 20 million dollars and he doesn’t even bother to meet with his lawyer and discuss the whole problem. Moreover, he fails to provide a secure work environment, risking the lives of his own grandchildren and guests. For a business to be successful, employees must be healthy not only physically but emotionally as well. A healthy and secure work environment contributes to a healthy organization. Some researchers suggest that creating a positive culture for your team can contribute to a healthier and more productive work environment. Therefore, the lesson here is this: company leaders and managers must promote a healthy and secure environment for their employees, which will contribute to more successful organizations as the employees will feel safer, satisfied and more motivated. This can be done by creating a positive workplace culture. Motivating your employees is key In the film, we see that lead computer programmer Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) is not motivated in working anymore at Jurassic Park. Nedry is probably the organization’s most important employee, as he is the person in charge of the park’s security, yet he feels unappreciated and underpaid. Therefore, to find other ways of making money for himself, he starts stealing fertilized dinosaur embryos to sell them to Hammond’s corporate rival. He deactivates the park’s security system –to which only he knew the security codes- to gain access to the embryo storage and steal them. We all know how the rest turned out. Now in my opinion, the demise of Jurassic Park was influenced, in great part, by the lack of motivation of its most important employee. Nedry’s motivation was, in turn, affected by the poor management decisions taken by Hammond who didn’t value his employee’s job. This is clearly evidenced during the scene in which Nedry starts discussing with Hammond about the difficulty of his job and how low he’s paying him to do it. Constantly, studies show that motivation of employees is a fundamental aspect for any organization to be successful. Motivation is defined as the “processes that account for an individual’s intensity, direction and persistence of effort toward attaining a goal”, specifically, an organizational goal. To be successful, companies and businesses need people who are willing to give their best for them. They need employees that are motivated to achieve the organization’s goals and contribute to its success. So, the main lesson here is this: company leaders must always seek to motivate their employees to be successful. As Robbins and Judge point out, the “level of motivation varies both between individuals and within individuals at different times” so, company leaders and managers must identify what motivates their employees (bigger salary, recognition, feedback, bonuses). Therefore, it is up to them to learn to identify what motivates his or her employee, especially when they play a major role within the organization, as was the case of Mr. Nedry. Avoid biases and errors when taking decisions According to organizational behavior researchers, managers and company leaders tend to let errors and biases cloud their judgments when taking decisions. There is an extensive list of the most common biases and errors which a person commits but in relation to the film, only two seem pertinent in my opinion, namely: the escalation of commitment and the hindsight bias, which I’ll refer to separately. As stated by Robbins and Judge, the escalation of commitment is the tendency of “staying with a decision even when there is clear evidence it’s wrong”. The authors note that the reason for escalating commitment may vary from an individual to another (e.g. a lot of time and energy in making the decisions), but people always tend to incur in this error “when they view themselves as responsible for the failure”. In other words, even though there is new information that contradicts their path, managers and company leaders continue taking it. This, in turn, has led many organizations to their downfall, as managers continue to commit resources to a lost cause just to prove his or her decision was correct. Throughout the film, it can be noticed that John Hammond relentlessly escalates commitment. Most of the characters in the film constantly try to fight Hammond’s idea for the park, especially when they all learn that only female dinosaurs comprised the park’s exhibits to prevent them from breeding. They generally state that it is unnatural for dinosaurs to live in the same time as humans, and that they will eventually find a way to breed. We all remember Dr. Ian Malcolm’s (Jeff Goldblum) famous quote on nature finding its way. Nevertheless, even after knowing the contrary opinions of the scientists that he hired to greenlight the park, Hammond continues to justify his decision. He still believes that the idea of creating a theme park with live dinosaurs is good business. He seems to have convinced himself that he's taking the right decision and denies to update his knowledge regarding the park in the face of the new information presented by the scientists, a clear sign of the escalation of commitment. Indeed, because of Hammond’s determination to prove his decision was right, the organization suffered greatly. As for the hindsight bias, the authors define it as the “tendency to believe falsely, after the outcome is known, that we’d have accurately predicted it”. The main consequence of this bias is that it prevents people from learning from past mistakes. It lets managers and company leaders believe they are better predictors than they actually are and can make them falsely confident. In the film, Hammond incurs in this bias during a scene where he is talking with paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern). While the T-Rex is on the loose and eating everyone, he says to her that he knows how he could have maintained control, but Dr. Sattler tells him, and I quote “You never had control. That’s the illusion”. Indeed, Hammond believed that, after all was lost, he could’ve predicted and prevented that outcome, thus, incurring in hindsight bias. That being said, the lesson to take away here is this: company leaders and managers must avoid committing errors and biases that will cloud their judgment when taking important decisions that can affect the organization as a whole. It is without a doubt better for them to be clear-minded during the decision-making process. Three key lessons Even if it goes without saying, it is obvious that the purpose of the film was to entertain and not reflect Mr. Hammond's mismanagement, which is why the character acted that way. However, I think the film can serve as a good reference for leaders and managers of today on what not to do or how not to run a company. In sum, there are three lessons that company managers and leaders can learn or take into account, namely: (a) ensure the well-being of employees (physical and emotional); (b) learn to correctly identify what motivates employees in particular and, consequently, use it to your advantage to keep them satisfied and motivated; (c) avoid letting errors and biases cloud you when making decisions that are of extreme interest to the company. Juan Andres Miralles is a lawyer from Universidad Catolica Andres Bello (Caracas, Venezuela), currently pursuing his Master's Degree in Business Administration at Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Administración (IESA). He works in private legal practice and is co-editor of The Explorer. You can find him on Linkedin at Juan Andres Miralles Quintero and on Twitter at @JuanMiralles96.  Stephen P. Robbins and Timothy A. Judge: Organizational Behavior. (Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education Prentice Hall, 2009), 202.
 Robbins and Judge: Organizational behavior, 202.
 Robbins and Judge: Organizational behavior, 180.
 Robbins and Judge: Organizational behavior, 180.
 Robbins and Judge: Organizational behavior, 181.
The Longest Failure: The US in Afghanistan
A lot is said of 9/11, especially of how it impacted everyone differently. People from all over the world and of all nationalities can still recall where they were and how they found out about the attacks. Those who had family members or loved ones on the planes, in the World Trade Center, or the Pentagon will of course never forget that absolutely harrowing day. Justice needed to be done for the atrocity that had been committed, and the world needed to see that the United States wouldn’t just sit around after a heinous attack. Unfortunately, the catastrophe of 9/11 ended up paving the way for a different one, one that is drawn out to this day. The original justification for invading Afghanistan (even if the hijackers weren’t from there) was that the nation’s Taliban government was sheltering al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization that took responsibility for plotting and carrying out the attack, and on September 20th, 2001, US President George Bush made clear his intentions during a Joint Session of Congress when he said that the Taliban were to deliver al-Qaeda to the US or share in their fate. When we think of the war in Afghanistan now, we can rightly see it as an utter failure in US foreign policy. However, what might be missed from all this by most people is that the original goals were accomplished… for a while. Those goals weren’t achieved 10 or 15 years into the war either, it happened rather early on. So why has the US spent almost 20 years in Afghanistan? What succeeded and what failed? There are many areas to focus on when discussing what went wrong, but here I’ll focus on three critical issues: strategy, corruption and nation-building. Strategy, or lack thereof America's original objective when invading Afghanistan was to eradicate al-Qaeda presence in the nation, but that objective started expanding evermore to include overthrowing the Taliban government and later all other organizations that the Taliban worked with in what former Ambassador Richard Boucher called as a clear example of “mission creep”. In a 2015 interview with the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), Boucher talks about how American reasoning started going down a rabbit hole. Perhaps the most revealing thing learned by SIGAR from Boucher was that the US never had a clear exit-strategy. There wasn’t an achievable end-goal to aim for and call a definitive victory. Even if you set removing al-Qaeda or the Taliban as the end-goal, how would one define that? The Taliban regime in Afghanistan collapsed in mid-November, 2001, by December, al-Qaeda was on the run. So why didn’t those moments count as victories? As Boucher reveals, those couldn’t be considered accomplishments of the mission, as a weak Afghan government with an unprepared Afghan army, tribal rivalries and the cross-border nature of the Taliban would just lead to them being back in power soon and al-Qaeda training operatives once again. Retired US Army General Dan McNeill, basically confirmed Boucher’s testimony to SIGAR in an undated interview. Speaking of his experience as commander of NATO’s forces in 2007, McNeill states that he “tried to get someone to define for me what winning meant”, but states that there was no clear answer to the question. By 2007, the anti-Taliban Afghan government under Hamid Karzai was well into its sixth year, but as McNeill declared, the US still didn’t really know what it was doing. Military operations in the country by NATO forces had no clear plan and were mainly “reacting to conditions on the ground”. Both McNeill and Boucher observe that the goal seemed to shift from military-strategy to nation-building, and that the nation that the US wanted to build in Afghanistan was a “Jeffersonian democracy” and that such a thing was “just not going to happen in Afghanistan.” This disorder in planning continued to plague the US well into the Obama administration, as former US Army general David Petraeus recalls in his 2017 interview with SIGAR. Similar to Boucher’s comments about the Taliban’s cross-border advantage, Petraeus said that he never had confidence that the US would be able to “flip” Afghanistan the way they had done in Iraq. That pessimism was down to various reasons, but an important one was the fact that the Taliban could just retreat into Pakistan to reorganize and be back in fighting form. During a speech at West Point Military Academy in December, 2009, President Barack Obama announced that another 30,000 troops would be deployed to Afghanistan, and that in 2011 “our troops will begin to come home.” Petraeus mentions in his interview that this surge in troop numbers and timeline for the drawdown was “imposed” by the President onto military leaders two nights prior to that speech, and that Obama’s plan was “take it or leave it”. Knowing that what may have been the original exit-strategy was impossible now, the US focused on strengthening the Afghan government, both by providing vast sums of money and military training, believing that would create a strong Afghanistan that could defend itself after coalition forces were gone. But foreign assistance to Afghanistan faced a major problem the US didn’t foresee and failed to correct in time. Corruption, rampant and unhinged Corruption is an issue that is hard to handle because it’s very difficult to accurately measure how widespread it can become. In Afghanistan, corruption was described by SIGAR to be “systemic”, to the extent that Dr. Rangin Spanta (Afghan National Security Adviser) is quoted as saying “corruption is not just a problem for the system of governance in Afghanistan; it is the system of governance.” What’s clear from SIGAR’s report is that the US failed to understand the threat corruption posed to their efforts to stabilize the nation and later rebuild it in the fashion of a Western democracy. But this failure to recognize the scale and consequence of corruption isn’t the only reason America’s efforts to contain it failed, rather, containing corruption also found itself in conflict with more direct objectives of the US intervention. For example, in order to enforce security the US relied heavily on warlords and shady powerbrokers who did not turn out to be very good bureaucrats, as scholar Weeda Mehran has argued in the past. SIGAR found that these warlords, empowered by the US in its attempts to keep control of Afghanistan, would do nothing to ease corruption seeing as they depended heavily on it in order to maintain their power. This approach not only allowed warlords to uphold corruption, but the CIA also pumped their pockets full of US cash, approximately $1 billion in 2001 according to Ahmed Rashid’s Descent into Chaos. But $1 billion is sadly a small figure compared to the sums that would be funneled into Afghanistan (and, therefore, its corrupt power structures) over the following years. Since 2001, $115.5 billion have been disbursed in Afghanistan in the shape of foreign aid handled by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). In his interview with SIGAR, Boucher says he believed that at least 40% of the money sent into Afghanistan would never reach the intended targets and just disappear through all the layers of corrupt officials. An unnamed senior US official interviewed in December, 2015 talks about how little oversight there was in the spending of assistance money for reconstruction in Afghanistan, and how due to that, big companies who secured large contracts would just subcontract those projects to smaller companies, who would later subcontract to Afghan NGOs who then hired out local contractors to get the job done, with money being lost at every rung of the ladder. It is incredibly hard to estimate how much money was lost to corruption in Afghanistan, but no way of looking at the issue could ever result in an amount considered acceptable. Since 2001 through 2019, the US spent around $2 trillion. While most of that wasn’t lost to corruption, what’s become certain after all these years is that it was lost anyway. Nation-building, not our job America’s complete lack of an exit-strategy lead to what will no doubt be seen as a textbook example of mission creep to be taught at military academies the world over. That ever-expanding mission, from eradicating al-Qaeda, to overthrowing the Taliban, to pacifying the nation’s rural areas controlled by tribal warlords, ended up with the idea of solving just about all of Afghanistan’s problems. To stabilize the country, a central government had to be created, democratic institutions set up, the economy repaired, a new legal system needed to be crafted, legal employment had to be created for everyone, warlords had to get 9-to-5 jobs… Boucher knew that these goals were nigh impossible in a country like Afghanistan. In his interview with SIGAR he talks about how when he first met with the Afghan government, then under Hamid Karzai, he realized how unprepared they were for the tasks they needed to undertake. From Boucher’s testimony one gets the impression that the Afghan government was a hollow façade. Sure, there was a ministry for women’s rights, and defense and education secretaries, but these were empty shells there for show and not for work. Boucher felt that the Afghans weren’t incompetent, they just didn’t want the type of government the US had. This idea that Afghan institutions were created more as ends (show ponies) rather than means through which to achieve stability is reflected in academic literature around capacity-building and economic development. In a paper published by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for International Development (CID), Frank de Weijer argues that by 2013 Afghanistan’s basic institutions were clearly incapable of fulfilling the obligations of the state. De Weijer identifies many issues and reasons why local institutions were failing, among which are a “lack of critical mass of people able and willing to maintain them when external support recedes”, a bias toward the importance of immediate results over the creation of capable institutions and the top-down implementation model used. De Weijer noticed that, in great part due to the desire for quick results, Afghan government institutions had fallen into the now-famous concept of a “capability trap”, that is, they had become stagnant in development and effectiveness even as they externalized their intentions to grow and be better. Rather than focus on tailored answers to solve very local problems, Afghan institutions relied on “isomorphic mimicry” (as described by Andrews et al.), adopting reforms that would make them look good but didn’t actually improve performance. These reforms were usually cookie-cutter “best practices” imported by foreign advisors, and resulted in no benefit to them or the people they served. Looking back on the top-down approach to capacity-building, Boucher regrets not having incorporated more members of the Afghan diaspora into the process, people who may have better known the specific issues that needed to be dealt with in Afghanistan. De Weijer also points out how Afghanistan was never a country with an efficient or effective central government, and thus top-down policy mandated by edict would never work. Time has proven de Weijer and others like him right, the approach taken by the international community never changed over the following years. Now, the institutions that took billions of dollars to build face the same issues they faced over 18 years ago, they’re weak without external technical support, and it would seem that there just aren’t enough people in Afghanistan interested in making this project work. It appears then, that President Bush was right when he said in October, 2000 that the military shouldn’t be involved in nation-building. If only he had stuck to that. What now for Afghanistan and the US? It’s now December, 2020 and the US seems determined to withdraw its forces entirely from Afghanistan. After 19 years, around $2 trillion spent, some 2,500 American lives lost, and over 100,000 Afghan civilians dead, it’s time to come home. I’ve no doubt that the Afghan government will collapse after the US leaves, the Taliban have already made clear their intent to continue the war, the real doubt is how long that’ll take, and what the consequences will be. The advancement of women’s rights under the governments of Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani will be overturned by the Taliban whenever they get back to controlling Kabul. The women who obtained an education in those years will probably be punished harshly by them. That’s not to claim Karzai and Ghani were champions of women’s equality, but they weren’t the oppressors that the Taliban most definitely are. Al-Qaeda, while weak in comparison to their strength in 2001, will see this result as a win. After all, the US will leave, the Afghan government will fall and the Taliban will be back supporting al-Qaeda’s mission. The relationship between al-Qaeda and the Taliban resisted the years of war, as Weeda Mehran writes, the Taliban consult with them on everything they negotiate with the US. So, al-Qaeda and the Taliban will be back in control of Afghanistan, which render the original goals now clearly unaccomplished. So did the US get anything out of this? Well, Afghanistan will hopefully serve as a brutal teacher of important lessons for the US foreign policy establishment. The appetite for war, in particular for regime-change wars, in the US has died down tremendously. The best we can hope for is for this war to serve as a warning to the government in DC, a gruesome tale of being unprepared, of a lack of vision and the consequences of hubris. Next year, a new government will be inaugurated under President Joe Biden. Biden will hopefully stay away from starting new wars, but the presence of people like Antony Blinken, Neera Tanden, Avril Haines and Lloyd Austin in high roles of the incoming administration leaves some worry over how different this government will be, because it’s starting to look like more of the same. Luis Gonzalez is a lawyer from Caracas, Venezuela currently working in private practice and is founder and co-editor of The Explorer. You can find him on Twitter at @lagm96.
Routine or Rupture: Spain's budget discussions
Pedro Sanchez’s government hasn’t been free of controversy since its beginnings. Being the first-ever coalition government, made only possible with support of Spain’s separatist parties, having one of the worst coronavirus responses in the world, and expected to suffer the biggest recession of all European countries, it is likely that it will continue to draw critiques from the opposition blocs. This time, it is Mr. Sanchez’s alliance with the separatist parties that has again drawn attention to him. In order to approve the new state budgets for 2021, and not extend for yet another year the 2018 ones drafted by the then-in-charge opposition party Partido Popular, the Spanish prime minister must again look for support within the controversial separatist parties. This week, the peak of the controversy came when Mr. Otegi, leader of the left-leaning Basque EH Bildu, promised his party’s votes in Congress in order to pass the budgets. Why is this so problematic? Because of Bildu’s behavior regarding the terrorist organization ETA. Since its definitive cease-fire in 2011 and their unconditional surrender in 2017, the terrorist organization ETA (short for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna - Basque Country and freedom), responsible for the death of 864 people, is still present in the Spanish collective consciousness. It is safe to say that EH Bildu and ETA are not officially connected, as they have passed the rigorous scrutiny of the Interior Ministry in order to officially operate as a political party. Said ministry has previously banned political parties for their links with ETA, such as Herri Batasuna and many others. Nonetheless, certain things about Bildu raise alarms. For starters, Mr. Otegi himself has served jail time for having praised terrorist activities and for having been a member of ETA. This is also the case of Iker Casanova, Ikoitz Arrese and Arkaitz Rodríguez, all members of the Basque parliament, and all of them also convicted for their involvement in terrorist activities. Furthermore, EH Bildu has avoided any public condemnation of ETA’s terrorist activities. For example, they abstained in the voting of a resolution in the Parliament of Navarre, condemning one of the most gruesome attacks of ETA, the 1987 car bombing of the Hipercor supermarket in Barcelona that took 21 innocent lives and injured 45 others. Most recently, Mr. Abascal, leader of the conservative party Vox, suffered an anonymous attack on his mother’s store in Álava. Besides damaging the storefront, the perpetrators left threatening graffiti reading “let’s see if you like this, you fascist”, in a modus operandi similar to those of ETA. We must note that Mr. Abascal’s family has had a long history of threats by ETA since the 80s, because of his father’s political role, now continued by him. In response to this, Bildu posted a tweet with a curious choice of words: “EH Bildu condemns the attack suffered by a family on their store last night in the municipality.” Attitudes like this, and many others, have earned Bildu the scolding of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), their coalition buddies in the Basque Parliament. It is also worth noting that in various occasions, Mr. Sanchez and other VIPs of the Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) have assured that deals regarding Bildu are a red line. “We aren’t going to make any political agreements with Bildu. For us, that’s a red line and we, the socialists, are very trustworthy”, reads a tweet by Carmen Calvo, Mr. Sanchez’s first vice-president, in 2019. “We are not making any political agreements with Bildu. I can repeat it five or twenty times.” said Mr. Sanchez in a political rally in 2015. Now, the moral compass appears to have shifted for the Socialist Workers Party. Recently, José Luis Ábalos, Minister of Transportation, who met with EU-sanctioned human rights violator Delcy Rodríguez in Madrid, has said in an interview for El País that “Bildu has had more sense of responsibility than the Popular Party regarding the State’s Budget.” Mr. Ábalos has also affirmed that “terrorism is something we’ve overcome.” The budget law is yet to be passed, and in the meantime, Mr. Sánchez continues to look for support wherever he can find it, even at the cost, it appears, of betraying his own moral standards. Correction: This article was updated to correct Mr. Arnaldo Otegi's name. Marc Suñer is a Law student at Autonomous University of Madrid, you can find him on Twitter at @marcsuner.
The Illiberal Internet
Let’s cast our minds back to the year 2011, Twitter had just unveiled the ability to share images and videos, the Arab Spring was cause for democratic hopes in the region, and the United States Congress was discussing the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). SOPA’s objective was to cut off sites like The Pirate Bay by having US-based search engines block access to them, as well as forbidding US payment services from providing funds to sites that carried out “theft of U.S. property”. But if you remember anything about SOPA, it’s the pushback that it faced. The bill allowed the government to take action against websites that “facilitated” piracy. That’s a pretty broad term and at the Freedom Online 2011 conference Bob Boorstin, Google’s then Public Policy Director, warned that the law wouldn’t even allow sites like YouTube to function given that they could be punished for the actions of their users. That vagueness in language resulted in a lot of legitimate worry over the risk of sites having to censor the content posted by users in order to avoid being punished themselves. In the end, the tech industry’s concerns were taken seriously and the law was re-written, with both Democrats and Republicans responding to public worries. Now, we’re also seeing bipartisan unity on the question of internet freedom, but things have turned the other way. Why are calls for the government to take action against social media platforms so loud now when a few years ago public sentiment ran the other way? Why does it matter? And what even is Section 230? The Modern Public Square Since their inception, social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have had enormous growth. As of July 2020, Twitter had around 353 million active users, with Facebook topping the list of all social media platforms with a staggering 2.7 billion users. Both platforms are also incredibly vast, they follow the popular rule of the internet: “if you can think of it, it’s on there somewhere”. From cat videos to surrealist memes, pencil portraits to political propaganda, you can find it all on either platform. But, in recent years, people have also been logging on to get their news. Surveys carried out by Pew Research estimate that around 68% of Americans get their news from social media as of 2018. That doesn’t mean people are getting their news from outlets like the BBC, The Washington Post or Fox News, they’re getting news from regular users that have amassed large followings or from new-media outlets that are mostly online operations. A few problems here are that people might be subject to “reporting” that lacks the proper research or “journalists” who are not interested in truth. However, journalism is in serious crisis, and those issues are not unique to new-media news outlets. CNN, Fox News, Vox, The Guardian and many others have become ever more interested in selling narratives than even attempting to present facts. The news have always had biases in them, but those biases have gone from choosing to cover certain topics more than others to outright straight-feeding us propaganda on the issues their owners feel lie in their interests. So, it’s a good thing that people can log onto their preferred social media platform and have access to such a wide range of outlets and sources, giving them the tools to form their own opinions, and identify biases by themselves. There’s a catch though, these platforms get to control what you can see, who can see what you publish and who you can contact on them. Most people could look at that and just say “well, they’re private companies, they can do what they want, if you don’t like it then use a different service.” While that statement might be correct in many instances, it lacks the nuance of this particular situation. As we’ve seen, these companies have an insane reach, their algorithms decide what links you see, what videos you’ll end up watching, what you’ll consider news, and (even more dangerous than any of that) what you’ll consider to be “true”. They no longer sell some basic product that you can go buy somewhere else if you don’t like the Terms of Service, they have become the public square. These are the platforms on which political debate and political organization is now conducted, and their power around elections has now been confirmed. Social Media Bias The accusations of Silicon Valley being biased against conservatives aren’t new. While some would point at data from Facebook about number-of-interactions to push back against the claim, others can note how companies in the Valley seem to be ideological echo-chambers that have famously cracked down on dissent in the past. The people who believe that these platforms are biased against conservatives felt vindicated this past May when Twitter decided to place a fact-check on one of US President Donald Trump’s tweets for the very first time. Response to that action was pretty varied but fell mostly along party lines, Republicans were outraged at Twitter and many Democrats were happy that they were finally fighting against some of Trump’s unfounded claims. But this backed Twitter into a tough corner. What now? Would Twitter actively fact-check every tweet? Only those of politicians? Politicians from where? Would it be only elected officials? What ended up happening was that Twitter doubled down on their fact-check. They not only continued doing it to Trump, but they also started adding on different warnings for different types of tweets. Finally, we were on the cusp of the 2020 US Presidential elections, and Twitter went a step further than it ever had before. On October 14th, 2020, the New York Post ran a story about Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, regarding his overseas dealings in Ukraine. The story reveals that Hunter Biden did indeed peddle his family name in Ukraine in order to benefit himself financially, the emails also seem to suggest that Hunter spoke to his father about his business dealings, something that Joe has denied previously. Twitter decided to respond to this by blocking every link to the NY Post article that got shared on its platform, they soft-blocked links shared via Direct Message and they also suspended the Post’s twitter account. Just like that, a 200 year-old tabloid had its access to Twitter completely blocked. The Post was eventually reinstated (in a rather confusing way), but the insane part of all this is that Twitter had no way of knowing if the article was true or false, they had no way of knowing if it was based on hacked materials (the reason Twitter alleges they blocked the link for), instead, Twitter decided that it knew. The NY Post got its account back because of the massive uproar that the incident caused, but that’s only because they have a large following. What could happen to smaller outlets or individuals that rely heavily on the exposure they stand to gain on Twitter under this type of guilty-until-proven-innocent justice? Section 230 With this, talk of government action against social media companies has become popular once again, and maybe this time some real action could be taken. During the run up to the elections, both Donald Trump and Joe Biden spoke about repealing “Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act”. So what is it? Section 230 is part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, the Act’s original purpose was to limit internet freedom, but Section 230 was a safeguard introduced in order to ensure that social media companies could thrive without fear of being sued over what their users posted on their sites. The idea was to allow the internet some space to regulate itself, and allow social media companies to feature content produced by users without running the risk of being treated as the publishers of said content. However, the internet has changed a lot since 1996. Back then companies didn’t regulate what was being published on their forums and platforms, now they do. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram all regulate what users can or can’t post through the establishment and enforcement of community guidelines or hateful speech policies. So, if these companies get to review what gets published on their platforms, and they even get to decide what gets published and what doesn’t, aren’t they then acting as publishers? Why should they get to act as publishers without having to take up the ethical and legal responsibilities that they must observe? This is the special treatment that both Donald Trump and Joe Biden claimed they wished to end, Trump even produced an Executive Order back in May of 2020 instructing all executive agencies and departments to investigate the application of the protection and ensure that it is being properly used by social media companies. While Twitter and Facebook’s actions are extremely worrying and dangerous given their reach and unique position in what is almost a private duopoly on free speech in the internet age, we’d do well to be careful, excessive limitations on these companies could give us a government monopoly on online freedom and well… that wouldn’t be a solution either. The Dangers of Overcorrection The truth is we’re not in the best of situations regarding internet freedom. Social media companies have amassed a worrying amount of power, but holding them responsible for what their users publish on their platforms will only lead to greater levels of self-censorship, their community guidelines will tighten, their enforcement will get tougher in an attempt to avoid any and all liability. Letting the government impose general guidelines for speech online would be at best equally terrible, but no one knows how bad it could actually get. The clearest path forward might be civilian action to push companies into making their community guidelines clearer for everyone, and holding them accountable if they enforce non-existent policies, or when they stretch the scope of their policies beyond strict interpretation. Their freedom is truly in our best interest, but they have to help themselves and ultimately help us. Guidelines must become clearer, and they must stop acting like publishers, or they’ll be forcing the government’s hand, and only making us less free in the end. Luis Gonzalez is a lawyer from Caracas, Venezuela currently working in private practice and is founder and co-editor of The Explorer. You can find him on Twitter at @lagm96.
What does it mean to really be there for your employees?
Have you heard of a Chief Well-Being Officer? This new approach is what many companies are implementing to solve the problem of burnout in their employees. Many are feeling burnout due to COVID-19 pandemic. People are suffering from Zoom fatigue; teachers and students are trying to adopt a new model of teaching and learning, and working mothers are trying to balance home life with work life. The sum or combination of all these situations has produced a catalyst for changes to society and companies. Some leaders strongly believe that the Coronavirus pandemic brought a lot more flexibility to balance work with family life. Even though this may be true for some, for others it has been a real challenge to take care of their kids and home while at the same time fulfilling the same productive goals of the job. For some people, the ability to work from home has resulted in no boundaries and a 12 - hour workday. The impact the pandemic or any other situation may have on your work and family life has a lot to do depending on the conditions of your home, the nature of the job, and the capability of the company leaders to effectively handle and lead teams into positive remote work experience. A well-being strategy is not an exact formula for everyone. For some, well-being could mean exercising every day, Netflix and chill, or taking a vacation somewhere on the beach. Employees, along with their leaders and the Chief Well-Being Officer, must evaluate and reflect on the organization’s habits, routine and evaluate improvements on the company’s possible high - pressure environment, to work on effective strategies for each member of their team to avoid burnout. The company and its leaders must understand that burnout is not the price of success; it should not be the driver to finally offer that employee his or her deserved promotion or raise. It should be quite the opposite; it should be a leader's job to constantly offer opportunities to grow professionally, notice when their employees are on the brink of collapse, and teach them how to recover and thrive, as well as integrate their purpose with that of the company’s. This new position of Chief Well-Being Officer should be considered the norm. It should already be a standard position inside an organization, as the Chief Financial Officer (CFO). Leaders should find support in this new area. By taking care of their people, practicing compassion and humility, and empowering teams to focus on their well-being, an organization can solve some complex problems, earn revenue, and be more productive. The well-being of your employee means the well-being of your organization. But taking care of your employees’ well–being is not just about throwing money into apps, tools, or programs, without a clear strategy or purpose. The well–being strategy should be embedded and be an important part of the corporate culture. A cultural transformation is needed to engage leaders, from the top down, to understand that the needs of the employees are as important as revenue and that a one size strategy does not fit all. The Chief Well-being Officer needs to work on the overall business plan strategy like, for example, the CFO does, contributing towards a common goal. This new role is all about helping leaders build awareness, and turn the support the company can give to employees into concrete and effective actions. The position should be more than a human resource leader; it should aim to transform a human resources department into a resource for humans. Well–being is not just physical, it also includes mental and emotional health, as well as financial well–being. To correctly enforce this strategy; transparency and honesty should be an important part of corporate values. Employees need to trust their leaders; trust they will not use the information against them. Particular programs or benefits only do so much, the real change occurs when actions are part of the corporate culture. An important part of effective well-being support from leaders is that they need to understand and respect boundaries, respect holidays and weekends. For example, sometimes leaders confuse checking in with only talking about work-related activities. Checking how your employees are feeling means listening to them on their recommendations for better job performance, ideas, etc. The leader must try to reach the common ground or provide what the employee needs to continue doing the work as best they could. Sometimes it’s better not to check-in, meaning if you are going to call on a Friday afternoon or the weekends, for example, or if you are just going to ask about how work is doing every time, it’s better to avoid the call altogether. A simple time out or space to breathe is also good for the employee and the company’s productivity. According to a survey from TELUS International and published in Forbes Magazine, about 80% of workers would consider quitting their current position for one that focuses or invest more in employee's mental health. The survey also finds that 75% of US workers have struggled at their job due to anxiety caused by the coronavirus pandemic and other events. Taking care of your employees and investing in their well–being will help organizations retain talent. More than hiring short–term mindsets, today the focus should be on building employees' skills. Companies should be the first to adapt to the new normal and future. Make mental health a priority and promote the importance of rest. Engage your people, involve them in the process and initiatives, receive and implement their feedback. Thanks to COVID – 19 pandemic organizations have learned about the importance of resiliency and investing in mental health and the need for rest and recovery, but it has to translate to leaders to effectively change the culture inside an organization. Isabella Miralles is a social communicator from Universidad Catolica Andres Bello (Caracas, Venezuela), as well as an advisor of strategic and corporate communications. You can find her on Twitter at @isaMiralles and on Medium at isaMiralles.
How Covid-19 is affecting elections worldwide
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, in many countries, voting processes are scheduled to be held this year. Electoral authorities of each country have done everything possible so that elections are held, of course, taking the corresponding health and security measures. In some cases, the voting processes have already been held successfully, but in others these have been postponed and it is not yet known how they will be carried out. In this sense, it seems interesting to analyze how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected elections worldwide. In my opinion, the pandemic has affected electoral processes from three points of view: (a) as for the election itself, (b) as for the candidates, and (c) as for the voters. As for the election itself The holding of the electoral process as such has been affected by the pandemic as it adds new logistical implications in terms of organizing and coordinating said events. . First, because, as it is well known, elections involve the gathering of people in voting centers, which increases the risk of contagion of the virus among citizens. And second, due to the measures of restrictions on the free movement of people that various governments have taken with the aim of mitigating the levels of contagion of Covid-19, it is difficult for citizens to go to the voting centers to cast their votes. From this perspective, the holding of elections has clearly been affected. But not all countries are in the same situation. In some countries, leaders have managed to handle this crisis with great success, while in others, they have failed to control and mitigate the effects of Covid-19. Hence, depending on the country in question, the pandemic has affected the holding of elections to a greater or lesser extent. As an example of the first case, that is, of countries in which the pandemic has affected the holding of electoral processes to a lesser extent, New Zealand can be mentioned. In said country, general elections were originally scheduled to take place on September 19th, but during the month of August, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the elections were to be postponed for a month. It was not until a few days ago, specifically, on October 17th that said general elections were held without major problems. The same happened in Bolivia, where on October 18th presidential elections were successfully held with the corresponding sanitary measures. These general elections were initially scheduled for May 3rd, but due to the emergency of Covid-19, they were postponed twice (for September 6th and then definitively for October 18th). In contrast, among the countries whose elections have been affected the most is the United States. In said nation, the rate of infected and deceased due to Covid-19 increases more every day. This situation has cast doubt on whether or not the presidential elections should be held in November. In light of the above, alternative mechanisms have been proposed to voting in person, such as casting the ballot by mail, but such an alternative has not been well received by the community, mainly because of the lack of confidence of the citizens in the American postal service. As early as the end of July, even President Trump himself had suggested that the November presidential elections be postponed since voting by mail could lead to fraud or inaccurate results. However, this decision depends on the approval of Congress, since the president does not have the power to make such a decision. So it seems that the elections will take place on the scheduled date. The case of Venezuela is also worth mentioning as an example of the second situation. According to the Venezuelan Constitution, parliamentary elections are to be held at the end of this year but, due to the pandemic and other political and legal causes, most citizens have decided not to participate in them. Even more so when the infection and mortality rates increase exponentially every day. Certainly, many countries have found it necessary to postpone their electoral processes due to the pandemic, not only at the national level but also at the legislative, state and even local levels, until adequate sanitary conditions that ensure the well-being of the population are guaranteed. Likewise, it should be noted that not only electoral processes have been affected but also other events of a similar nature, such as popular consultations and referendums, as is the case for example, in Mexico and Chile, respectively. As for the candidates Like the electoral process itself, candidates have also been affected by the pandemic. Due to the restrictions and sanitary measures taken by governments, as well as the risk of contagion or infection, electoral rallies have had to be modified or even canceled. Political propaganda has been hampered. The candidates cannot and have not been able to carry out large-scale events with the participation of citizens who support their candidacies and political projects. Health and safety measures have had to be taken to hold these types of events, which has led to a reduction in the presence of voters. In addition to this, there is the fact that such events pose a greater risk of contagion for the candidate himself by having to appear, speak and interact with a multitude of people. Certainly, the celebration of these types of events will depend on the levels of infection in certain countries, but in those nations where the situation has not been successfully contained, the rescheduling and cancellation of electoral rallies has become common. In this way, Covid-19 can affect and influence the results in the elections that are carried out worldwide. As for the voters There is no doubt that the issue of Covid-19 is present in the minds of all voters. The handling of the pandemic has become the subject of discussion among candidates and voters. It has already been seen how in most electoral debates, candidates are asked what actions will they take to control the pandemic and voters are looking forward to a dignified and convincing response that earns their vote. The influence that the pandemic has or has had, in some cases, on citizens when choosing which candidate to vote for is evident. Voters will seek to elect the candidate who, not only best represents their political ideals, but also the person capable of leading the country during a crisis of this magnitude. In this way, the candidate who is opting for re-election may be favored or disadvantaged since the handling of the crisis will have a lot of weight when citizens cast their vote. Let's look at two concrete examples of this situation. An example of how the Covid-19 crisis affected the decision of the voters and favored the candidate who opted for re-election occurred in New Zealand where, as I indicated above, general elections were recently held. Without wishing to delve into the voting system that governs this country, suffice it to mention that voters must choose both the members of parliament and the political party they want to govern the nation. In this sense, according to most polls, only two political parties dominated the contest, namely: the Labour Party led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the National Party led by Judith Collins. Before the arrival of Covid-19, the only thing that was on the minds of voters were the campaign promises not kept by the Prime Minister during her government. However, with the arrival of the pandemic, another idea arose in the heads of voters which greatly influenced the electoral results: Covid-19. Voters began to focus more on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's government's handling of the crisis rather than on her unfulfilled campaign promises. As it is well known, Ardern's response to Covid-19 has been and is one of the greatest examples of how a leader should behave in a crisis of this magnitude. In my opinion, this led the Labour Party and, consequently, Prime Minister Ardern into winning the re-election. In contrast, as an example of how the Covid-19 crisis is affecting the decision of voters and can disadvantage the candidate who opts for re-election is the case of the United States. At the beginning of the year, it seemed certain that President Trump was winning the re-election, but recent polls seem to indicate otherwise. This, in large measure, due to the inefficient handling of the crisis by the Trump administration, which has led to high levels of unemployment, infections and deaths nationwide. Faced with such a situation, the opposition candidate to Trump, Democrat Joe Biden has been favored, since voters could rely on him to take the reins of the country and handle the situation in a more effective way. In short, I think that this type of situation shows how important the election, the candidacies and their political projects all are. It shows the necessity to take electoral processes with absolute seriousness. Although the pandemic has caused numerous deaths and infections, I believe that it can also serve as a reminder to citizens that, when choosing between candidates who are opting for important public positions in society, they must elect the person with the sufficient qualities to govern or to legislate. They must choose the person capable of leading the country during a crisis and ensuring the general welfare of citizens. The pandemic is, in the end, a warning to all about the importance of electing and having world leaders who are well prepared and trained to respond to situations of extreme urgency. Juan Andres Miralles is a lawyer from Universidad Catolica Andres Bello (Caracas, Venezuela) currently working in private practice and is co-editor of The Explorer. You can find him on Linkedin at Juan Andres Miralles Quintero.