Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Latin America’

Daniel Altschuler: As Central America’s Economies Struggle, Guatemala Digs in for a Tax Fight

December 25th, 2009 admin No comments

The global economic decline has hit Central America hard. Unemployment has increased, remittances from emigrants have declined and governments face rising deficits and debt that jeopardize their ability to meet increased social demands. The story is similar in much of the world, but the situation is particularly precarious in these countries, because they are among the poorest nations in the Americas and have weak economic and social safety nets.

Governments in the region have responded to the economic decline by promoting fiscal adjustments to improve their balance sheets. El Salvador recently passed a gasoline tax and revised its value-added tax, and President Mauricio Funes hopes to pass tax increases on liquor, tobacco and luxury goods. In Honduras, de facto President Roberto Micheletti proposed sweeping reforms, before withdrawing the media-dubbed paquetazo due to pressure from Congress and president-elect Porfirio Lobo to put off major legislation until the new government assumes power. Meanwhile, Guatemala has witnessed the fiercest budget fight of all. Supporters of President Alvaro Colom’s proposed reform have taken to the streets and threatened opposition legislators, but these efforts have failed to keep Colom’s opponents from obstructing congressional proceedings. Thus far, Colom appears to be losing the legislative battle.

Taxation is a contentious issue in every country in the world, but the topic is especially fraught in Guatemala. Guatemala has long had the lowest tax ratio–tax revenue as a percentage of gross domestic product–in Latin America, a region notorious for weak tax collection. The low tax ratio is part of a legacy of a racist, extractive Guatemalan state, predicated on making profits for economic elites through the cheap (for many decades, forced) labor of a predominantly indigenous majority. Since the state cared little about the needs of most Guatemalan citizens throughout most of the country’s history, social spending was minimal and taxes remained negligible.

To confront this legacy, the 1996 Peace Accords stipulated an increase in the tax ratio, from 8 to 12 percent, as an integral part of the settlement to end the 36-year civil war. But, by 1999, Guatemala’s tax ratio was still only 9.1 percent, compared to the Latin American and Central American averages of 19.1 percent and 19.4 percent, respectively. (According to the IMF, typical tax ratios are 40 percent for high-income countries, 25 percent for middle-income countries, and 18 percent for low-income countries.) Right-of-center governments and well-organized economic elites nominally accepted Guatemala’s 12 percent goal, but obstructed implementation. By the middle of this decade, and after continued international pressure, Guatemala finally met the 12 percent mark. But the tax base has remained narrow, and exemptions and loopholes abound for the wealthy to avoid paying into the system.

This year, president Alvaro Colom–the first left-of-center president elected in Guatemala since the 1954 coup ousted Jacobo Arbenz–has renewed the tax fight. His proposal to Congress includes increasing taxes on businesses, commercial rents and the cellular telephone industry.

Colom’s proposal has met predictably fierce opposition. Digging their heels in against Colom, opposition legislators stayed away from several sessions of Congress, preventing the legislature from reaching its quorum. When they did attend, they used procedural quirks–similar to a filibuster in their effect–to prevent further debate and voting on Colom’s proposed reforms.

In response, the country’s teachers’ union blocked several major roads last week to pressure the Congress to approve an expanded state budget, including increased funds for the Ministry of Education. Matters then got out of hand when dozens of pro-Colom mayors–who support the reforms because of promised funding increases for municipal coffers–descended on Congress to pressure legislators. They burst into a meeting of legislators and then surrounded, grabbed and pushed opposition members around the room. The mayors’ goal was to pressure the opposition into action. But their ill-conceived plan backfired, however, as the President of Congress–himself a supporter of Colom’s reforms–subsequently had to declare a recess until January.

Colom’s opponents–the strongest of which come from the right-wing Patriotic Party–have justified their position by arguing that more taxes will reduce investment and new employment opportunities. They further criticize Colom’s government for a lack of transparency in social spending and argue that spending reforms must precede tax increases.

In particular, these legislators have accused Colom of distributing benefits through Mi Familia Progresa, a conditional cash transfer program, along partisan lines. Colom’s opponents have argued that the First Lady, Sandra Torres de Colom, who heads Colom’s signature Cohesion Social council, is using Mi Familia Progresa as a patronage tool to drum up support for her potential presidential candidacy. Recently, Colom’s opponents declared victory when the Constitutional Court demanded that the government make public the list of program beneficiaries. The government complied with the order last week.

Opposition parties have also raised concern over financial transfers to Cohesion Social from other ministries’ budgets. These are legal, but in large scales may undermine key ministries’ effectiveness, so legislators have pleaded for greater transparency.

Colom should certainly introduce as much sunlight as possible to demystify government spending. Critics are also probably right that Colom should have been more diplomatic in introducing the reform, instead of declaring his unwillingness to negotiate with his opponents. Finally, real concerns exist about the cellular telephone tax. Colom has promised to create an oversight commission to ensure that the tax would not be passed on to consumers, as this would mean just another regressive tax in an already regressive tax system. Basic economic theory, however, suggests that it would be very difficult–perhaps impossible–to ensure that the firms absorb the full weight of the taxes.

Surely then, Colom is not faultless in the reforms’ failure thus far. But a longer-term view makes it hard to see the opposition as acting in good faith. Simply put, Guatemala has seen this kind of right-wing foot-dragging on tax reform before. Recent events reflect continuity with events leading up to and following the Peace Accords, when CACIF (the Coordinating Committee for Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, and Financial Associations) obstructed tax reform and efforts to address land and social inequality. Now, CACIF is among the groups of elites pushing back against Colom’s efforts to collect more taxes from the business community and make the entire system more equitable.

The claims that increased taxation will hurt the country ring hollow when one realizes that, even if Congress passed all the reforms, Guatemala’s tax ratio would still pale in comparison with virtually all Latin American countries. The truth is that Guatemala has dire social needs that the state must address, as the market alone will not solve them. One pressing example is this year’s drought and the ongoing wave of acute malnourishment and hunger-related deaths. In arguing for greater assistance to affected communities, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food made clear that increased taxation must be part of the equation. This is one of many examples that underscore a simple reality: without greater tax revenue, the government will not be able to meet the needs of Guatemala’s most vulnerable citizens.

Now, if Congress cannot reach an agreement, Colom will face the choice between accepting mounting public debt and implementing austerity measures. Significant increases in debt could hurt Guatemala’s macroeconomic outlook and raise concerns for creditors. Having to repay such debt in the future could also mean a less ambitious long-term development agenda. Meanwhile, short-term cuts in education and health care would deal a blow to Colom, whose agenda centers on the expansion of social service coverage. Such a cost reduction strategy could also hurt the government’s plan to increase the size of the police force, a pressing concern in a country with rampant drug and gang-related crime.

In short, the current tax reform debate in Guatemala may well shape the last two years of Colom’s presidency. If Colom’s opponents win this fight, it could embolden them to attack Colom’s other priority areas, ultimately undermining his agenda for the remainder of his term.

(Copied with permission from www.americasquarterly.org.)

More on Global Financial Crisis


Categories: World Tags: , , , , , ,

Daniel Altschuler: As Central America’s Economies Struggle, Guatemala Digs in for a Tax Fight

December 25th, 2009 admin No comments

The global economic decline has hit Central America hard. Unemployment has increased, remittances from emigrants have declined and governments face rising deficits and debt that jeopardize their ability to meet increased social demands. The story is similar in much of the world, but the situation is particularly precarious in these countries, because they are among the poorest nations in the Americas and have weak economic and social safety nets.

Governments in the region have responded to the economic decline by promoting fiscal adjustments to improve their balance sheets. El Salvador recently passed a gasoline tax and revised its value-added tax, and President Mauricio Funes hopes to pass tax increases on liquor, tobacco and luxury goods. In Honduras, de facto President Roberto Micheletti proposed sweeping reforms, before withdrawing the media-dubbed paquetazo due to pressure from Congress and president-elect Porfirio Lobo to put off major legislation until the new government assumes power. Meanwhile, Guatemala has witnessed the fiercest budget fight of all. Supporters of President Alvaro Colom’s proposed reform have taken to the streets and threatened opposition legislators, but these efforts have failed to keep Colom’s opponents from obstructing congressional proceedings. Thus far, Colom appears to be losing the legislative battle.

Taxation is a contentious issue in every country in the world, but the topic is especially fraught in Guatemala. Guatemala has long had the lowest tax ratio–tax revenue as a percentage of gross domestic product–in Latin America, a region notorious for weak tax collection. The low tax ratio is part of a legacy of a racist, extractive Guatemalan state, predicated on making profits for economic elites through the cheap (for many decades, forced) labor of a predominantly indigenous majority. Since the state cared little about the needs of most Guatemalan citizens throughout most of the country’s history, social spending was minimal and taxes remained negligible.

To confront this legacy, the 1996 Peace Accords stipulated an increase in the tax ratio, from 8 to 12 percent, as an integral part of the settlement to end the 36-year civil war. But, by 1999, Guatemala’s tax ratio was still only 9.1 percent, compared to the Latin American and Central American averages of 19.1 percent and 19.4 percent, respectively. (According to the IMF, typical tax ratios are 40 percent for high-income countries, 25 percent for middle-income countries, and 18 percent for low-income countries.) Right-of-center governments and well-organized economic elites nominally accepted Guatemala’s 12 percent goal, but obstructed implementation. By the middle of this decade, and after continued international pressure, Guatemala finally met the 12 percent mark. But the tax base has remained narrow, and exemptions and loopholes abound for the wealthy to avoid paying into the system.

This year, president Alvaro Colom–the first left-of-center president elected in Guatemala since the 1954 coup ousted Jacobo Arbenz–has renewed the tax fight. His proposal to Congress includes increasing taxes on businesses, commercial rents and the cellular telephone industry.

Colom’s proposal has met predictably fierce opposition. Digging their heels in against Colom, opposition legislators stayed away from several sessions of Congress, preventing the legislature from reaching its quorum. When they did attend, they used procedural quirks–similar to a filibuster in their effect–to prevent further debate and voting on Colom’s proposed reforms.

In response, the country’s teachers’ union blocked several major roads last week to pressure the Congress to approve an expanded state budget, including increased funds for the Ministry of Education. Matters then got out of hand when dozens of pro-Colom mayors–who support the reforms because of promised funding increases for municipal coffers–descended on Congress to pressure legislators. They burst into a meeting of legislators and then surrounded, grabbed and pushed opposition members around the room. The mayors’ goal was to pressure the opposition into action. But their ill-conceived plan backfired, however, as the President of Congress–himself a supporter of Colom’s reforms–subsequently had to declare a recess until January.

Colom’s opponents–the strongest of which come from the right-wing Patriotic Party–have justified their position by arguing that more taxes will reduce investment and new employment opportunities. They further criticize Colom’s government for a lack of transparency in social spending and argue that spending reforms must precede tax increases.

In particular, these legislators have accused Colom of distributing benefits through Mi Familia Progresa, a conditional cash transfer program, along partisan lines. Colom’s opponents have argued that the First Lady, Sandra Torres de Colom, who heads Colom’s signature Cohesion Social council, is using Mi Familia Progresa as a patronage tool to drum up support for her potential presidential candidacy. Recently, Colom’s opponents declared victory when the Constitutional Court demanded that the government make public the list of program beneficiaries. The government complied with the order last week.

Opposition parties have also raised concern over financial transfers to Cohesion Social from other ministries’ budgets. These are legal, but in large scales may undermine key ministries’ effectiveness, so legislators have pleaded for greater transparency.

Colom should certainly introduce as much sunlight as possible to demystify government spending. Critics are also probably right that Colom should have been more diplomatic in introducing the reform, instead of declaring his unwillingness to negotiate with his opponents. Finally, real concerns exist about the cellular telephone tax. Colom has promised to create an oversight commission to ensure that the tax would not be passed on to consumers, as this would mean just another regressive tax in an already regressive tax system. Basic economic theory, however, suggests that it would be very difficult–perhaps impossible–to ensure that the firms absorb the full weight of the taxes.

Surely then, Colom is not faultless in the reforms’ failure thus far. But a longer-term view makes it hard to see the opposition as acting in good faith. Simply put, Guatemala has seen this kind of right-wing foot-dragging on tax reform before. Recent events reflect continuity with events leading up to and following the Peace Accords, when CACIF (the Coordinating Committee for Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, and Financial Associations) obstructed tax reform and efforts to address land and social inequality. Now, CACIF is among the groups of elites pushing back against Colom’s efforts to collect more taxes from the business community and make the entire system more equitable.

The claims that increased taxation will hurt the country ring hollow when one realizes that, even if Congress passed all the reforms, Guatemala’s tax ratio would still pale in comparison with virtually all Latin American countries. The truth is that Guatemala has dire social needs that the state must address, as the market alone will not solve them. One pressing example is this year’s drought and the ongoing wave of acute malnourishment and hunger-related deaths. In arguing for greater assistance to affected communities, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food made clear that increased taxation must be part of the equation. This is one of many examples that underscore a simple reality: without greater tax revenue, the government will not be able to meet the needs of Guatemala’s most vulnerable citizens.

Now, if Congress cannot reach an agreement, Colom will face the choice between accepting mounting public debt and implementing austerity measures. Significant increases in debt could hurt Guatemala’s macroeconomic outlook and raise concerns for creditors. Having to repay such debt in the future could also mean a less ambitious long-term development agenda. Meanwhile, short-term cuts in education and health care would deal a blow to Colom, whose agenda centers on the expansion of social service coverage. Such a cost reduction strategy could also hurt the government’s plan to increase the size of the police force, a pressing concern in a country with rampant drug and gang-related crime.

In short, the current tax reform debate in Guatemala may well shape the last two years of Colom’s presidency. If Colom’s opponents win this fight, it could embolden them to attack Colom’s other priority areas, ultimately undermining his agenda for the remainder of his term.

(Copied with permission from www.americasquarterly.org.)

More on Global Financial Crisis


Categories: World Tags: , , , , , ,

Abused Mother Seeks Education, Independence For Her Two Children

December 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

This story is part of HuffPost Impact’s 12 Days, 12 Cities, 12 Families series, highlighting Americans who have persevered to overcome incredible challenges and the nonprofits that helped change their lives. Check back tomorrow for the continuation of this series.

When Lucia Duran was growing up in El Salvador in the 1970s and 80s, she had to work. She had seven brothers and sisters, and her childhood was spent taking care of them and the home. If she made a mistake, if something wasn’t cleaned or cooked properly, her parents would become abusive. She didn’t go to school and her future looked like one of labor and poverty.

So, when she was 16 years old, Lucia decided that the best way out of this situation would be to get married and leave her house. Unfortunately, this relationship didn’t treat her much kinder. Her new husband abused her as well, and with no home to go back to, she left the country.

Lucia had brothers in the U.S. under political asylum, and in 1988 she received Temporary Protected Status and moved to Las Vegas. Her daughter, Fatima, was born in 1990. Things were looking up.

12 Cities

Leaving Las Vegas

Lucia worked as a housekeeper and rented a room from her brother in Las Vegas. Fatima went to school and, for a time, her father was still in the house. It wasn’t long, however, before the abuse began anew. I asked Fatima Duran how much she remembered, and what that time was like.

“I have both positive and negative memories,” she told me. “He was also Salvadorean but he met my mom in Vegas.”

Both Fatima and Lucia told me that the time carried a lot of tension, but they were hesitant to go into details about the specific abuse.

In 1998, Lucia finally took Fatima away from her abusive father and moved to San Francisco.

Breaking Free and Seeking Help

Fatima told me that her mother placed a heavy emphasis on education, as she had to grow up without one.

“Growing up, school was always first” she said. “She would always tell me, ‘The way for you to have a place and have self-worth is to be educated. I want you to have it, no matter how hard that may be.’ It was kind of like this pressure that she put on me, but I was able to take up on my own, not only for her but also for myself. It was something that I wanted to do. I realized that in order to show my gratitude for everything that she’s done — I should work hard.”

Fatima is now a student at the University of San Francisco, double majoring in Media and Latin American studies. Her mother, despite all of her work, however, is still in need of help.

Hosted by imgur.comLucia Duran, her daughter Fatima, and son Juan Pablo

A few years ago she met another man, and thought that things might be different this time around. He was supporting her, since she hurt her back and hasn’t been able to continue working as a housekeeper. Three years ago, she got pregnant. That’s when things began to unravel.

“The pregnancy was rough,” Lucia said. “He threatened to kill me, to cut my head off. I was alone for most of the pregnancy.” Her husband tried to stay when Lucia’s son, Juan Pablo, was born, but his drug addictions and violent tendencies made her too afraid to stay in the relationship.

Now that Fatima was growing up and she had another newborn son, Lucia decided to finally seek help. At Homeless Prenatal Program in San Francisco, she found people who understood and were able to help her take control of her life. Lucia’s case manager there was vital to helping her make the decision to leave her husband. She’s also spent considerable time in domestic violence support groups, and she’s met others who share similar experiences.

Lucia and Juan Pablo DuranLucia Duran and Juan Pablo

“On November 14, 2008, I put in for a divorce,” she said. “I stayed at home and changed the locks. I found a great deal of strength from joining these support groups. It made me feel like I’m not the only one going through these issues. I’ve made a lot of good friends.”

Juan Pablo is now two years old, and mother and son still visit Homeless Prenatal for further support and for training for the future. They’ve had such a positive effect on Lucia, that she now wants to be a case manager herself, something that Homeless Prenatal encourages.

“After all the help I’ve received, I’d like to use that to help other people. Something to give back.”

The Homeless Prenatal Program provides new mothers or pregnant women with prenatal and postpartum care, counseling and psychological services.

While Homeless Prenatal Program has been a blessing to her and her family, her injury still prevents her from working consistently, and they need help. She lives off of $500 every month to pay rent and buy food. Luckily, she doesn’t have to worry about paying Homeless Prenatal for the therapy she receives and the counseling for Juan Pablo, who witnessed domestic violence early in life.

Contribute to Homeless Prenatal Program or directly to Lucia Duran via the widget below:


Get HuffPost Impact On Facebook and Twitter!


Categories: World Tags: , , , , , ,

Abused Mother Seeks Education, Independence For Her Two Children

December 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

This story is part of HuffPost Impact’s 12 Days, 12 Cities, 12 Families series, highlighting Americans who have persevered to overcome incredible challenges and the nonprofits that helped change their lives. Check back tomorrow for the continuation of this series.

When Lucia Duran was growing up in El Salvador in the 1970s and 80s, she had to work. She had seven brothers and sisters, and her childhood was spent taking care of them and the home. If she made a mistake, if something wasn’t cleaned or cooked properly, her parents would become abusive. She didn’t go to school and her future looked like one of labor and poverty.

So, when she was 16 years old, Lucia decided that the best way out of this situation would be to get married and leave her house. Unfortunately, this relationship didn’t treat her much kinder. Her new husband abused her as well, and with no home to go back to, she left the country.

Lucia had brothers in the U.S. under political asylum, and in 1988 she received Temporary Protected Status and moved to Las Vegas. Her daughter, Fatima, was born in 1990. Things were looking up.

12 Cities

Leaving Las Vegas

Lucia worked as a housekeeper and rented a room from her brother in Las Vegas. Fatima went to school and, for a time, her father was still in the house. It wasn’t long, however, before the abuse began anew. I asked Fatima Duran how much she remembered, and what that time was like.

“I have both positive and negative memories,” she told me. “He was also Salvadorean but he met my mom in Vegas.”

Both Fatima and Lucia told me that the time carried a lot of tension, but they were hesitant to go into details about the specific abuse.

In 1998, Lucia finally took Fatima away from her abusive father and moved to San Francisco.

Breaking Free and Seeking Help

Fatima told me that her mother placed a heavy emphasis on education, as she had to grow up without one.

“Growing up, school was always first” she said. “She would always tell me, ‘The way for you to have a place and have self-worth is to be educated. I want you to have it, no matter how hard that may be.’ It was kind of like this pressure that she put on me, but I was able to take up on my own, not only for her but also for myself. It was something that I wanted to do. I realized that in order to show my gratitude for everything that she’s done — I should work hard.”

Fatima is now a student at the University of San Francisco, double majoring in Media and Latin American studies. Her mother, despite all of her work, however, is still in need of help.

Hosted by imgur.comLucia Duran, her daughter Fatima, and son Juan Pablo

A few years ago she met another man, and thought that things might be different this time around. He was supporting her, since she hurt her back and hasn’t been able to continue working as a housekeeper. Three years ago, she got pregnant. That’s when things began to unravel.

“The pregnancy was rough,” Lucia said. “He threatened to kill me, to cut my head off. I was alone for most of the pregnancy.” Her husband tried to stay when Lucia’s son, Juan Pablo, was born, but his drug addictions and violent tendencies made her too afraid to stay in the relationship.

Now that Fatima was growing up and she had another newborn son, Lucia decided to finally seek help. At Homeless Prenatal Program in San Francisco, she found people who understood and were able to help her take control of her life. Lucia’s case manager there was vital to helping her make the decision to leave her husband. She’s also spent considerable time in domestic violence support groups, and she’s met others who share similar experiences.

Lucia and Juan Pablo DuranLucia Duran and Juan Pablo

“On November 14, 2008, I put in for a divorce,” she said. “I stayed at home and changed the locks. I found a great deal of strength from joining these support groups. It made me feel like I’m not the only one going through these issues. I’ve made a lot of good friends.”

Juan Pablo is now two years old, and mother and son still visit Homeless Prenatal for further support and for training for the future. They’ve had such a positive effect on Lucia, that she now wants to be a case manager herself, something that Homeless Prenatal encourages.

“After all the help I’ve received, I’d like to use that to help other people. Something to give back.”

The Homeless Prenatal Program provides new mothers or pregnant women with prenatal and postpartum care, counseling and psychological services.

While Homeless Prenatal Program has been a blessing to her and her family, her injury still prevents her from working consistently, and they need help. She lives off of $500 every month to pay rent and buy food. Luckily, she doesn’t have to worry about paying Homeless Prenatal for the therapy she receives and the counseling for Juan Pablo, who witnessed domestic violence early in life.

Contribute to Homeless Prenatal Program or directly to Lucia Duran via the widget below:


Get HuffPost Impact On Facebook and Twitter!


Categories: World Tags: , , , , , ,

Abused Mother Seeks Education, Independence For Her Two Children

December 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

This story is part of HuffPost Impact’s 12 Days, 12 Cities, 12 Families series, highlighting Americans who have persevered to overcome incredible challenges and the nonprofits that helped change their lives. Check back tomorrow for the continuation of this series.

When Lucia Duran was growing up in El Salvador in the 1970s and 80s, she had to work. She had seven brothers and sisters, and her childhood was spent taking care of them and the home. If she made a mistake, if something wasn’t cleaned or cooked properly, her parents would become abusive. She didn’t go to school and her future looked like one of labor and poverty.

So, when she was 16 years old, Lucia decided that the best way out of this situation would be to get married and leave her house. Unfortunately, this relationship didn’t treat her much kinder. Her new husband abused her as well, and with no home to go back to, she left the country.

Lucia had brothers in the U.S. under political asylum, and in 1988 she received Temporary Protected Status and moved to Las Vegas. Her daughter, Fatima, was born in 1990. Things were looking up.

12 Cities

Leaving Las Vegas

Lucia worked as a housekeeper and rented a room from her brother in Las Vegas. Fatima went to school and, for a time, her father was still in the house. It wasn’t long, however, before the abuse began anew. I asked Fatima Duran how much she remembered, and what that time was like.

“I have both positive and negative memories,” she told me. “He was also Salvadorean but he met my mom in Vegas.”

Both Fatima and Lucia told me that the time carried a lot of tension, but they were hesitant to go into details about the specific abuse.

In 1998, Lucia finally took Fatima away from her abusive father and moved to San Francisco.

Breaking Free and Seeking Help

Fatima told me that her mother placed a heavy emphasis on education, as she had to grow up without one.

“Growing up, school was always first” she said. “She would always tell me, ‘The way for you to have a place and have self-worth is to be educated. I want you to have it, no matter how hard that may be.’ It was kind of like this pressure that she put on me, but I was able to take up on my own, not only for her but also for myself. It was something that I wanted to do. I realized that in order to show my gratitude for everything that she’s done — I should work hard.”

Fatima is now a student at the University of San Francisco, double majoring in Media and Latin American studies. Her mother, despite all of her work, however, is still in need of help.

Hosted by imgur.comLucia Duran, her daughter Fatima, and son Juan Pablo

A few years ago she met another man, and thought that things might be different this time around. He was supporting her, since she hurt her back and hasn’t been able to continue working as a housekeeper. Three years ago, she got pregnant. That’s when things began to unravel.

“The pregnancy was rough,” Lucia said. “He threatened to kill me, to cut my head off. I was alone for most of the pregnancy.” Her husband tried to stay when Lucia’s son, Juan Pablo, was born, but his drug addictions and violent tendencies made her too afraid to stay in the relationship.

Now that Fatima was growing up and she had another newborn son, Lucia decided to finally seek help. At Homeless Prenatal Program in San Francisco, she found people who understood and were able to help her take control of her life. Lucia’s case manager there was vital to helping her make the decision to leave her husband. She’s also spent considerable time in domestic violence support groups, and she’s met others who share similar experiences.

Lucia and Juan Pablo DuranLucia Duran and Juan Pablo

“On November 14, 2008, I put in for a divorce,” she said. “I stayed at home and changed the locks. I found a great deal of strength from joining these support groups. It made me feel like I’m not the only one going through these issues. I’ve made a lot of good friends.”

Juan Pablo is now two years old, and mother and son still visit Homeless Prenatal for further support and for training for the future. They’ve had such a positive effect on Lucia, that she now wants to be a case manager herself, something that Homeless Prenatal encourages.

“After all the help I’ve received, I’d like to use that to help other people. Something to give back.”

The Homeless Prenatal Program provides new mothers or pregnant women with prenatal and postpartum care, counseling and psychological services.

While Homeless Prenatal Program has been a blessing to her and her family, her injury still prevents her from working consistently, and they need help. She lives off of $500 every month to pay rent and buy food. Luckily, she doesn’t have to worry about paying Homeless Prenatal for the therapy she receives and the counseling for Juan Pablo, who witnessed domestic violence early in life.

Contribute to Homeless Prenatal Program or directly to Lucia Duran via the widget below:


Get HuffPost Impact On Facebook and Twitter!


Categories: World Tags: , , , , , ,

Abused Mother Seeks Education, Independence For Her Two Children

December 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

This story is part of HuffPost Impact’s 12 Days, 12 Cities, 12 Families series, highlighting Americans who have persevered to overcome incredible challenges and the nonprofits that helped change their lives. Check back tomorrow for the continuation of this series.

When Lucia Duran was growing up in El Salvador in the 1970s and 80s, she had to work. She had seven brothers and sisters, and her childhood was spent taking care of them and the home. If she made a mistake, if something wasn’t cleaned or cooked properly, her parents would become abusive. She didn’t go to school and her future looked like one of labor and poverty.

So, when she was 16 years old, Lucia decided that the best way out of this situation would be to get married and leave her house. Unfortunately, this relationship didn’t treat her much kinder. Her new husband abused her as well, and with no home to go back to, she left the country.

Lucia had brothers in the U.S. under political asylum, and in 1988 she received Temporary Protected Status and moved to Las Vegas. Her daughter, Fatima, was born in 1990. Things were looking up.

12 Cities

Leaving Las Vegas

Lucia worked as a housekeeper and rented a room from her brother in Las Vegas. Fatima went to school and, for a time, her father was still in the house. It wasn’t long, however, before the abuse began anew. I asked Fatima Duran how much she remembered, and what that time was like.

“I have both positive and negative memories,” she told me. “He was also Salvadorean but he met my mom in Vegas.”

Both Fatima and Lucia told me that the time carried a lot of tension, but they were hesitant to go into details about the specific abuse.

In 1998, Lucia finally took Fatima away from her abusive father and moved to San Francisco.

Breaking Free and Seeking Help

Fatima told me that her mother placed a heavy emphasis on education, as she had to grow up without one.

“Growing up, school was always first” she said. “She would always tell me, ‘The way for you to have a place and have self-worth is to be educated. I want you to have it, no matter how hard that may be.’ It was kind of like this pressure that she put on me, but I was able to take up on my own, not only for her but also for myself. It was something that I wanted to do. I realized that in order to show my gratitude for everything that she’s done — I should work hard.”

Fatima is now a student at the University of San Francisco, double majoring in Media and Latin American studies. Her mother, despite all of her work, however, is still in need of help.

Hosted by imgur.comLucia Duran, her daughter Fatima, and son Juan Pablo

A few years ago she met another man, and thought that things might be different this time around. He was supporting her, since she hurt her back and hasn’t been able to continue working as a housekeeper. Three years ago, she got pregnant. That’s when things began to unravel.

“The pregnancy was rough,” Lucia said. “He threatened to kill me, to cut my head off. I was alone for most of the pregnancy.” Her husband tried to stay when Lucia’s son, Juan Pablo, was born, but his drug addictions and violent tendencies made her too afraid to stay in the relationship.

Now that Fatima was growing up and she had another newborn son, Lucia decided to finally seek help. At Homeless Prenatal Program in San Francisco, she found people who understood and were able to help her take control of her life. Lucia’s case manager there was vital to helping her make the decision to leave her husband. She’s also spent considerable time in domestic violence support groups, and she’s met others who share similar experiences.

Lucia and Juan Pablo DuranLucia Duran and Juan Pablo

“On November 14, 2008, I put in for a divorce,” she said. “I stayed at home and changed the locks. I found a great deal of strength from joining these support groups. It made me feel like I’m not the only one going through these issues. I’ve made a lot of good friends.”

Juan Pablo is now two years old, and mother and son still visit Homeless Prenatal for further support and for training for the future. They’ve had such a positive effect on Lucia, that she now wants to be a case manager herself, something that Homeless Prenatal encourages.

“After all the help I’ve received, I’d like to use that to help other people. Something to give back.”

The Homeless Prenatal Program provides new mothers or pregnant women with prenatal and postpartum care, counseling and psychological services.

While Homeless Prenatal Program has been a blessing to her and her family, her injury still prevents her from working consistently, and they need help. She lives off of $500 every month to pay rent and buy food. Luckily, she doesn’t have to worry about paying Homeless Prenatal for the therapy she receives and the counseling for Juan Pablo, who witnessed domestic violence early in life.

Contribute to Homeless Prenatal Program or directly to Lucia Duran via the widget below:


Get HuffPost Impact On Facebook and Twitter!


Categories: World Tags: , , , , , ,

Abused Mother Seeks Education, Independence For Her Two Children

December 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

This story is part of HuffPost Impact’s 12 Days, 12 Cities, 12 Families series, highlighting Americans who have persevered to overcome incredible challenges and the nonprofits that helped change their lives. Check back tomorrow for the continuation of this series.

When Lucia Duran was growing up in El Salvador in the 1970s and 80s, she had to work. She had seven brothers and sisters, and her childhood was spent taking care of them and the home. If she made a mistake, if something wasn’t cleaned or cooked properly, her parents would become abusive. She didn’t go to school and her future looked like one of labor and poverty.

So, when she was 16 years old, Lucia decided that the best way out of this situation would be to get married and leave her house. Unfortunately, this relationship didn’t treat her much kinder. Her new husband abused her as well, and with no home to go back to, she left the country.

Lucia had brothers in the U.S. under political asylum, and in 1988 she received Temporary Protected Status and moved to Las Vegas. Her daughter, Fatima, was born in 1990. Things were looking up.

12 Cities

Leaving Las Vegas

Lucia worked as a housekeeper and rented a room from her brother in Las Vegas. Fatima went to school and, for a time, her father was still in the house. It wasn’t long, however, before the abuse began anew. I asked Fatima Duran how much she remembered, and what that time was like.

“I have both positive and negative memories,” she told me. “He was also Salvadorean but he met my mom in Vegas.”

Both Fatima and Lucia told me that the time carried a lot of tension, but they were hesitant to go into details about the specific abuse.

In 1998, Lucia finally took Fatima away from her abusive father and moved to San Francisco.

Breaking Free and Seeking Help

Fatima told me that her mother placed a heavy emphasis on education, as she had to grow up without one.

“Growing up, school was always first” she said. “She would always tell me, ‘The way for you to have a place and have self-worth is to be educated. I want you to have it, no matter how hard that may be.’ It was kind of like this pressure that she put on me, but I was able to take up on my own, not only for her but also for myself. It was something that I wanted to do. I realized that in order to show my gratitude for everything that she’s done — I should work hard.”

Fatima is now a student at the University of San Francisco, double majoring in Media and Latin American studies. Her mother, despite all of her work, however, is still in need of help.

Hosted by imgur.comLucia Duran, her daughter Fatima, and son Juan Pablo

A few years ago she met another man, and thought that things might be different this time around. He was supporting her, since she hurt her back and hasn’t been able to continue working as a housekeeper. Three years ago, she got pregnant. That’s when things began to unravel.

“The pregnancy was rough,” Lucia said. “He threatened to kill me, to cut my head off. I was alone for most of the pregnancy.” Her husband tried to stay when Lucia’s son, Juan Pablo, was born, but his drug addictions and violent tendencies made her too afraid to stay in the relationship.

Now that Fatima was growing up and she had another newborn son, Lucia decided to finally seek help. At Homeless Prenatal Program in San Francisco, she found people who understood and were able to help her take control of her life. Lucia’s case manager there was vital to helping her make the decision to leave her husband. She’s also spent considerable time in domestic violence support groups, and she’s met others who share similar experiences.

Lucia and Juan Pablo DuranLucia Duran and Juan Pablo

“On November 14, 2008, I put in for a divorce,” she said. “I stayed at home and changed the locks. I found a great deal of strength from joining these support groups. It made me feel like I’m not the only one going through these issues. I’ve made a lot of good friends.”

Juan Pablo is now two years old, and mother and son still visit Homeless Prenatal for further support and for training for the future. They’ve had such a positive effect on Lucia, that she now wants to be a case manager herself, something that Homeless Prenatal encourages.

“After all the help I’ve received, I’d like to use that to help other people. Something to give back.”

The Homeless Prenatal Program provides new mothers or pregnant women with prenatal and postpartum care, counseling and psychological services.

While Homeless Prenatal Program has been a blessing to her and her family, her injury still prevents her from working consistently, and they need help. She lives off of $500 every month to pay rent and buy food. Luckily, she doesn’t have to worry about paying Homeless Prenatal for the therapy she receives and the counseling for Juan Pablo, who witnessed domestic violence early in life.

Contribute to Homeless Prenatal Program or directly to Lucia Duran via the widget below:


Get HuffPost Impact On Facebook and Twitter!


Categories: World Tags: , , , , , ,

Navi Pillay: Stop treating migrants as second-class human beings

December 22nd, 2009 admin No comments

In recent years, migrants – including people who may be refugees – are reported to have been shot dead by security forces, or dumped to die in the desert as they tried to cross borders in North Africa. Hundreds more are believed to have died after being pushed back out into the Indian Ocean in boats without functioning engines. Many others die on a regular basis as they try to evade coastguard and naval vessels deployed by the world’s richer nations, or because they have been packed on unseaworthy vessels by ruthless smugglers who seem, in some countries, to operate with almost total impunity.

Others are killed by landmines, die of exposure in remote mountain areas, or are raped or forced into bonded labour or prostitution in both developed and developing countries. In some countries, migrant communities have been forcibly rounded up by the authorities, or have had to flee for their lives as they are attacked by mobs, and seen their homes and businesses ransacked.

Despite the heavy toll, remarkably little attention is devoted to all these deaths and the chronic human rights violations of so many extremely vulnerable men, women and children.

The commonest reaction seems to be a collective shrug: the deaths are sad of course, but it’s their own fault for trying to enter other countries uninvited. The unmistakable conclusion is that many of us – politicians, state authorities, media and the general public – view migrants, especially poor migrants, as second-class human beings, who are somehow not entitled to the same rights as the rest of us.

It is likely that this year’s International Migrants’ Day will elicit token expressions of concern before we return to business as usual: keeping migrants out, blaming those in our countries already for some of our social or economic problems – while at the same time readily exploiting them as cheap labour. The trend of criminalization of irregular migration and the use of detention to discourage more people from coming are also likely to continue or get worse.

Such policies often violate the human rights of migrants and contribute to anti-migrant sentiments and xenophobia. Immigrants arriving irregularly in a new country are often detained as a routine procedure and at times without proper judicial safeguards. In addition, irregular migrants intercepted at sea, and others seized by law enforcement officials during raids, are increasingly facing violence, arbitrary detention and premature expulsion. Such actions rarely take into account the mixed character of migration flows, and often lack necessary measures to protect the most vulnerable amongst irregular migrants, such as unaccompanied children, asylum-seekers and victims of trafficking.

Migrants who reach their final destination often face severe discrimination in the fields of housing, education, health, work or social security. Laws discriminating – or allowing for discriminatory practices – against non-nationals, along with programmes and policies that fail to address specific needs and vulnerabilities of migrants, often result in them being unable to access basic services or only able to do so at levels that do not meet international human rights standards.

International human rights law recognizes this heightened vulnerability of migrants, but here too the ‘collective shrug’ is having a noticeably negative impact.

The International Convention for the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families*, which offers the most comprehensive framework for the protection of the human rights of migrants, will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its adoption in 2010. Unfortunately, few States will be attending the party, as it is one of the least respected human rights conventions, taking more than 12 years to gather the 20 State ratifications it needed to come into force (in July 2003), and picking up only a further 22 ratifications since then. Of these, 17 are African States, 15 are from Latin America and the Caribbean, six from Asia, three from Eastern Europe and only one (Turkey) from the ‘Western group’ of nations, which includes Western Europe, North America and Australasia.

I would urge those countries which have not yet ratified the Migrant Workers Convention, to consider doing so without further delay. While States have a right to place limitations on migration, and to institute systems to manage it, this does not mean they can treat migrants as second-class human beings, who deserve less protection than the rest of us.

(*) International Convention for the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cmw.htm

More on Immigration


Categories: World Tags: , , , , , ,

Top Cuban Official Calls Obama A Liar, ‘Imperial And Arrogant’ For Copenhagen Behavior

December 22nd, 2009 admin No comments

HAVANA — Cuba’s foreign minister called President Barack Obama an “imperial and arrogant” liar Monday for his conduct at the U.N. climate conference, a reflection of the communist island’s increasingly fiery verbal attacks on the U.S. government.

Bruno Rodriguez spent an hour and a half lambasting Obama’s behavior in Copenhagen, telling a news conference, “at this summit, there was only imperial, arrogant Obama, who does not listen, who imposes his positions and even threatens developing countries.”

He called the summit “a fallacy, a farce” and said Washington used back-room deals and strong-arm tactics to foist on the world a deal that he labeled “undemocratic” and “suicidal” because it urges – but does not require – major polluters to make deeper emissions cuts.

Rodriguez also said Cuba and other poor nations have refused to recognize the agreement because they weren’t permitted to participate in its development.

He singled out comments Obama made during a news conference in Copenhagen, when the U.S. president said no agreement had yet been reached but he was confident one would before the summit ended. “Obama knew he was lying, that he was deceiving public opinion,” the foreign minister said.

When asked if Cuba was serious about forging a climate agreement given that President Raul Castro declared Copenhagen a failure days before it ended, Rodriguez said, “Cuba’s prestige is well-recognized in international negotiations.”

“It was an open secret that countries would not reach an agreement,” he said.

Rodriguez would not answer questions about the status of an American citizen who was detained in Cuba on Dec. 5 while working as a U.S. government contractor.

Castro first publicly mentioned the detention Sunday, when he told the Cuban Parliament that the American was arrested for distributing illegal satellite communications equipment.

“The United States won’t quit trying to destroy the revolution,” Castro said, referring to the armed rebellion that brought his brother Fidel to power on New Year’s Day 1959.

“In the past few weeks we have witnessed the stepping up of the new administration’s efforts in this area,” he said, adding that the arrest “demonstrates that the enemy is as active as ever.”

American diplomats in Cuba have requested – but not yet received – Cuba’s permission for consular access to the detainee, whose name has not been released. Rodriguez refused to say whether his office would grant the request.

Rodriguez’s comments Monday echoed remarks by former President Fidel Castro, who in a weekend opinion column called Obama’s speech in Copenhagen “deceitful, demagogic and full of ambiguities.”

Last week, the elder Castro, who stepped down as head of state in February 2008, wrote that Washington is looking to solidify its control over Latin America and that Obama’s “friendly smile and African-American face” hide his government’s sinister true intentions for the region.

Raul Castro over the weekend mentioned recent war games Cuba conducted to prepare for a U.S. invasion and hinted that the contractor’s arrest shows further American aggression against his country is a real possibility.

“I just want to note that here we have a people who are ready to protect, at any price, the successes of the revolution,” he said. “I’d advise one and all that they cease provocations of this type.”

More on Copenhagen 2009


Categories: World Tags: , , , ,

Chavez: US Spy Plane Violated Venezuela’s Airspace

December 21st, 2009 admin No comments

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez on Sunday accused the U.S. of violating Venezuela’s airspace with an unmanned spy plane, and ordered his military to be on alert and shoot down any such aircraft in the future.

Speaking during his weekly television and radio program, Chavez said the aircraft overflew a Venezuelan military base in the western state of Zulia after taking off from neighboring Colombia. He did not elaborate, but suggested the plane was being used for espionage.

“These are the Yankees. They are entering Venezuela,” he said.

“I’ve ordered them to be shot down,” Chavez said of the aircraft. “We cannot permit this.”

Chavez has accused Colombia of allowing the United States to use its military bases to prepare a possible attack against Venezuela.

Both the U.S. and Colombia have denied such allegations in the past, saying the U.S. military presence is for the sole purpose of combating drug trafficking.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy said the mission had no information about any flyover and had not been contacted by Chavez’s administration.

“If the Venezuelan government would like to speak with us about any issue, we would welcome discussions because we seek open dialogue with all nations in the hemisphere,” spokeswoman Robin Holzhauer said.

It is not uncommon for Chavez to accuse other nations, especially the U.S. and its allies, of conspiring against Venezuela.

Last week, the president accused the Netherlands of letting the U.S. military use Dutch islands off Venezuela’s Caribbean coast to prepare for a possible military offensive. The former paratroop commander said the U.S. military has sent intelligence agents, warships and spy planes to Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire, which are self-governing Dutch islands.

The Dutch government rejected the allegations and the country’s top diplomat, Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen, has asked Venezuela’s ambassador to clarify the claims, Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman Bart Rijs said.

Rijs said U.S. soldiers do use civilian air fields on Curacao and Aruba, but only for anti-drug trafficking efforts.

Tensions between Venezuela and neighboring Colombia have been tense for months due to Chavez’s accusations of warmongering and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s allegations that Venezuela has allowed Colombian rebel leaders to seek refuge there.

Chavez denied on Sunday that his socialist government is protecting Marxist guerrillas and warned Colombia’s military against sending soldiers across the border.

“You’ll be sorry,” he said. “We are not unarmed.”

More on Latin America



Categories: World Tags: , , ,