The policies of controversial Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez are often misunderstood, two leading Latin American scholars said Tuesday in a heated debate before a packed audience in the Mary Graydon Center at American University.
The dialogue between Diego Arria, a former U.N. ambassador to Venezuela, and Mark Weisbrot, an economic policy researcher, was held in conjunction with Chavez’ 10th year as president. It drew an audience of about 200 students from American, George Washington, and Georgetown universities.
The main point of conflict centered on whether Chavez’ socialist policies are helping or hindering the current and future development of Venezuela.
It’s a revolution whether you like it or not,” Arria said of the current situation, known as the Bolivarian revolution. Named after the 19th century Venezuelan revolutionary leader, Simon Bolivar, its philosophy revolves around building up equal distribution of goods and promoting popular democracy within the country. Chavez was elected in 1998 with 56 percent of the popular vote, and his focus has been on the nation’s poorest citizens, and he has made it a point to cut down on illiteracy, malnutrition, and disease. But, according to Arria, there is growing concern among the wealthy that Chavez is pushing the country too far towards socialism.
But both panelists agreed that the disagreement between Chavez and the majority of Venezuelan citizens often portrays the president as the antagonist.
“It’s not easy to be objective,” Weisbrot said of covering issues surrounding the Venezuelan government. “It’s very intense at times, especially in the media.” He said there is too much emphasis on Chavez, and that the media needs to focus more on the actual change that has occurred in Venezuela.
He said that although prominent publications often label Chavez a “dictator, the past ten years have seen improvement, including significant reductions in the national rates for poverty, unemployment and infant mortality.
Weisbrot, who runs the Center for Economic and Policy Research, also noted that the country’s economy doubled in size between 2003 and 2008. But, he said, there is still work to be done in controlling corruption, inflation and crime.
Although many native Venezuelans may not be happy with the direction Chavez is taking his country, Arria agreed that it is important to acknowledge the progress that has been made.
“The last 20 years before Hugo Chavez were not much better,” said Arria, who served under two Venezuelan presidents as well as on the U.N. Security Council. But, he said, Chavez is perhaps too focused on the future by undertaking “a systematic effort to destroy [Venezuelan] history.”
As the night drew on, Weisbrot drew jeers from the crowd after downplaying corruption in Venezuela, comparing the problems there to scandals in the management of U.S. financial institutions.
“There is corruption in every country I know of in this hemisphere,” he said. He said that instead of focusing on corruption, Chavez needs to continue pushing for greater economic diversification. Arria said that despite the problems in the media and government, the youth of Venezuela remain one of the most positive and effective groups in the progression of social change
“Chavez is the past. We don’t like the present, and we want a different future,” Diego said, echoing the Venezuelan young people, “Nobody will be able to take the future away from young Venezuelans today,” he said.
Arria said that the key to bringing Venezuela into world acceptance was to unify a country that has been fragmented by socioeconomic inequality.
“We have to start reuniting the Venezuela’s,” Arria told the crowd. “I believe we will have a more reunited country in the future.”
Carlos Guruceaga, a sophomore in the School of International Service who helped organize the two-hour event, said he was impressed with the diversity of perspectives represented by the audience.
“It’s not a regional thing,” he said, “It’s not an American thing, and think that was shown today,” he said.
The event was hosted by Venezuela Perspectives, a non-political, non partisan group focused on promoting awareness about Venezuela.
Eduardo Otaula is a senior in the Kogod School of business. He also helped promote the panel, and said he was very encouraged by the positive reception of the event.
“Tonight, one point proven is that there are two views and we have to learn to accept them,” He said. “I was very impressed with the amount of interest that exists.”
VO (Travis): Walt Disney never lived to see the completion of any of his theme parks. His dreams of innovation and of the future, however, have lived on. These dreams are realized in the Epcot center. The park is centered on a worlds-fair theme. It opened in 1982. Now, let’s go live to Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
TAKE SOT (Travis) (Spaceship Earth) TRT (0:23s) Incue: (THE EPCOT CENTER…) Outcue:(....IN SPACESHIP EARTH)
VO (Travis): Well Folks, there you have it. A wonderful vision for the future. Well, at least a wonderful vision for what the future was supposed to look like.
Dressed in a pumpkin orange sweater, brown capris and festive jewelry- an outfit that matched her infectiously energetic demeanor -Dr. Eileen Findlay hunched over laughing in her office chair as she recounted her unsuccessful attempt at teaching junior high school.
“It was the only time in my life I would say I completely and utterly failed,” Findlay said, chuckling. “I had no good mentoring. I came out of college thinking, ‘I’m smart, I have a lot of energy and I have good intentions and that should be enough,’ and it wasn’t enough.”
But, there was also a more serious issue that affected her concentration as a beginning teacher-the death of her younger brother from cancer.
“It was just a total upheaval,” said Findlay, who was living in Philadelphia at the time- hundreds of miles away from her dying brother in Rhode Island.
Findlay said that challenge gave her a newfound respect for secondary educators and helped shape her educational philosophy, which emphasizes critical thinking, lengthy reading assignments, and comprehensive discussions.
Now, years later, Findlay is an associate professor of history at American University. One of 20 other professors in her department, she sees her role as a facilitator of the “conversation” within the classroom.
“She’s extremely intelligent and likes to listen to what students have to say,” said Callan Quiram, a sophomore at American University. Though, Quiram admits, Findlay’s class on colonial Latin America was tough.
“I’m not going to lie,” she said. “It was a lot of reading.”
But despite the heavy workloads, Findlay is admired by many of her students.
“I call her miss popular,” said Amanda Harrison, a graduate student and two-time teaching assistant for Findlay. Harrison is studying Eastern European history but said that she “jumped at the opportunity” to work with Findlay.
“You meet her once and completely fall in love with her,” Harrison said. “She gives off this incredible energy.”
Quiram said it was Findlay’s energy and unique way of looking at history has inspired her to pursue the subject more intensely. She has since decided to add a history major to her international studies degree.
For Findlay, pursuing a career in history was never the plan.
“I never read history,” said Findlay. “I thought history was memorizing facts.”
She graduated from college with a degree in theology, but after her first attempt at teaching, she chose to spend some time abroad in South America. While living in the capitol city of Bogota, Columbia, Findlay decided to enroll in a few history classes. It was there that Findlay encountered a teacher who dismantled any negative preconceptions she had about the subject.
“He just completely took my world apart in his analysis of history and put it back together again in a new way,” Findlay said.
After spending several years in South America, Findlay returned to the United States to work as a community organizer in Philadelphia-a very different life than what she had been used to growing up in a small town in Indiana. She became a paralegal, advocating for residents of an impoverished Puerto Rican neighborhood.
Eventually, she began teaching Spanish as a second language to English-speaking volunteers. It was then that she rediscovered her passion for teaching. This time around she had with her the wisdom of her failures, losses, and life experiences.
“I want to be able to do something that is empowering to the people that I’m in relationship with and allow me to think freely and widely,” said Findlay. Findlay said she believes it is important to use her position as an educator in a private institution to inspire students to go out into the Washington, D.C. area and make a difference.
“I think my job is to teach my students to be good citizens of the world, and to be open to new ways of life and thinking,” not necessarily to just “know the things that happened in the past,” Findlay said.
She said its students like Quiram that validate her teaching style, which is focused on understanding “the practice of debating ideas and interpretation.”
“She exposes you to a new type of history,” Quiram said, emphasizing that, “If you’ve learned nothing else you should learn to question facts. Always question facts.”
Findlay will be on sabbatical in the fall and will be focusing on writing, research, family and on pushing herself to new discoveries about her field and her outlook on life.
“I think I’m going to be 80 years old and still examining pieces of myself,” she said.
A California school teacher who became separated from her family while traveling to the National Mall on Tuesday took her frustration in stride, ending up with one unique inaugural memento.
Shirlynne Isham, a first grade instructor from Wilton, Calif., a suburb of Sacramento, was boarding Metrorail in the early-morning hours when the doors closed suddenly in front of her, leaving her stranded from her companions, without any food or supplies.
All Isham had on her was a copy of President-Elect Barack Obama’s book, “The Audacity of Hope,” and a sense of general enthusiasm for the inaugural events.
Harnessing the palpable feeling of goodwill that surrounded the inauguration of the first African-American president, Isham decided to make the best of the situation and started collecting signatures in Obama’s book from those around her.
Each signatory represented a unique geographic region, stretching from the District of Columbia to Japan, Jamaica and Granada.
Isham said she got the idea from observing people at Sunday’s “We are One” concert, part of the inaugural weekend celebration that drew hundreds of thousands to the Lincoln Memorial. Isham said people there had also collected signatures to commemorate the moment.
She called her collection of signatures “the neighborhood,” and she eagerly and kindly welcomed new members.
“Join the neighborhood,” she said, as the anxious inauguration crowd gathered on the mall began doing the wave.
After a long, early-morning journey from the Metro to the National Mall, Isham was reunited with her companions around 9 a.m., at the intersection of 3rd Street and Independence Avenue. In just a few hours, she had dozens of autographs, many of them simply including the signatory’s name, hometown and state. Despite her frustrating commute and the frigid temperatures on the Mall, Isham’s spirits were high with anticipation.
“We’re here to share in this moment in time, in history,” she said, while waiting for the swearing-in ceremony to begin.
Others who gathered nearby, along with nearly 2 million people in 20-degree weather, shared Isham’s enthusiasm.
“I’m missing school this week, but all my teachers were all about me being here, said Molly Cooke, 20, an anthropology student from California, who came equipped with Obama chaptsick. It was her first visit to Washington, D.C., and she said leaving her suburban Virginia hotel room at 3 a.m. was well worth it to witness the “politics and change”.
Others in attendance brought scarves, sleeping bags and blankets of all types, opting to cozy up under the shadow of one of many large viewing screens that was brought in for the event. For those wanting to get a closer view, ticket and security lines stretched for blocks and took hours to navigate.
Once the program got underway, around 11 a.m., the viewing screens captured the attention of the crowds, showing cameos and headshots of Hollywood and political bigwigs. One group of men began singing trademark songs from the Obama campaign. The crowd cheered and chanted, united behind the clear historic undertones of the day.
Alan Kares, -who traveled from Erie, Pa., to witness the events, summed up why he thought people had traveled from all around the globe to attend the historic event.
“It’s the Woodstock of the 2000s,” Kares said. ###
"Travis is from New Hampshire. And that makes him strange. Automatically."
This was not exactly what I had in mind when I asked my friend and library coworker, Becky, to come up with a quote to describe myself. But, as I let the quote fall and linger, it began to seem all to perfect.
Ok, so "strange" isn't all that flattering of a term. But living in New Hampshire is, admittedly an entirely different experience than most people know. We have candlepin bowling, single-story malls, and no sidewalks. I live 10 miles from the nearest anything, and the world around me shuts down before 10 p.m. It's no place for a curious 20-year-old, and living in D.C certainly doesn't help me from growing apart from my home of 18 years. The people there are nice, but seem determined to carry on in an isolated bubble, protected from the "rest of the world."
But after living in New Hampshire through high school, struggling with what to do, and where to go, I seem to have finally landed in a spot where I feel comfortable. I began my time at American an anxious an undecided freshman. For many years I thought I was destined to become a music teacher, or a professional jazz musician. I wanted nothing more than to spend my days behind the drum kit, playing crowed clubs and swingin' the night away. During my senior year of high school, my friends and I began playing jazz out more regularly. I can remember cold New England nights, lugging my drum kit out of my old van, and imagining what life on the road might be like. But as the practicing began to increase, and the people became to grow more competitive, the novelty of mixing academia with pleasure began to fade.
So here I am. Blogging. Writing. Taking photos and shooting videos. And although I'm not totally sure what got me here, I am excited to discover where it might lead me. Perhaps reviewing movies, or musical acts. Perhaps to the press box at Fenway park, covering my hometown dirt dogs of summer. Or perhaps my journey will take me to the other end of the globe, to foreign foods, cryptic languages, and diverse peoples.
The truth is that no matter what happens, I want adventure. I want to see things that scare me and things that wow me. I want to turn over some rocks and shake up this idle world. I want to never, ever, stop searching. That is the path I wander. Let's see where I go now.