Aside

One size fits all – or else

6 Jan

Note of a conversation earlier today:

Me – ooh, the [UK Parliament’s] Joint Committee on Human Rights issued a report on the new Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.

Friend – Anti-Social Policing? That’s surely not a good idea?

Me – No, there’s a comma after the crime. The Bill deals with anti-social behaviour, other crime, and police powers, all lumped into one.

Friend – What’s anti-social behaviour? Isn’t that just individualism?

What more can you say about the the current social and political climate in UK? One size fits all – or else.

If you’re interested in the Committee’s recommendations, you can find them here. They include quite reasonable ideas of having independent review and scrutiny of the exercise of police powers. Impressive that this still needs pointing out even today.

 

Progression, regression – at least it’s developing?

28 Nov

We wanted to draw attention to a couple of recent events in the struggle for equality. Good news and bad news, but either way it’s good to highlight the wins when they come to give context to any steps back that may happen in other areas. Just keeping on walking.

The beginning of the month saw the European Court of Justice issue a preliminary ruling on an EU Directive relating to minimum standards for the qualification and status of third-country nationals or Stateless persons as refugees or as persons who otherwise need international protection. For those unfamiliar with this judicial process, national courts can refer questions of interpretation of EU law that come up in cases brought before them to the ECJ for clarification on the legal rule. The ECJ issues its judgement, which is binding, and then the national courts decide the case before them based on that interpretation. (That’s a very simplified version of the process…) So the ECJ was asked by the courts in the Netherlands a series of questions, including whether foreign nationals with a homosexual orientation form a particular social group for the purposes of the EU Directive in question and as such entitled to protection. The ECJ ruled they did. The Court held “it is common ground that a person’s sexual orientation is a characteristic so fundamental to his identity that he should not be forced to renounce it”. The existence of criminal laws in the countries were the claimants where nationals specifically targeting homosexuals further supported the finding that those persons must be regarded as forming part of a particular social group. The ECJ ruling is obviously not the final step in the process, but as the ECJ’s ruling is binding on all other EU Member States, it could have significant impact on the implementation of these standards across the EU.

At the end of the month, there’s been an important decision on discrimination based on sexual orientation in the UK. For all the news that the UK seems to be winding back to the 17th century in many respects, but particularly in relation to the protection of human rights protection, yesterday’s judgement by the Supreme Court came as somewhat of a relief to those still holding on to modern principles. A couple who ran a small private hotel refused to provide a homosexual couple a double bedroom. The hoteliers hold strong religious beliefs and have a policy that they only provide double bedrooms to “heterosexual married couples”. By an oversight, the guests were not informed of the policy. The majority held that the policy was direct discrimination and, even if it was indirect discrimination, was not justified. It is still within living memory that such acts would not be considered to be discrimination, so quite a fantastic progression in many respects. (Press release here, for those with scarce time.)

Final thing to draw to your attention – the Swedish riksdag (parliament) today signed into law legislation that would prohibit advertising of infant formula and require packets to be labelled indicating that breastfeeding has benefits (among other things). Not all political parties supported the legislation but the reasoning behind it is that it transposes (or incorporates into Swedish law) an EU Directive (2006/141/EC), which does set out these requirements and which EU Member States are therefore bound to incorporate into their domestic legal systems. Whilst this all clearly stems from very important concerns relating to the health interests of children, it does make you wonder whether such a heavy emphasis neglects the pressures faced by women in early motherhood and their genuine right to choose for themselves what’s best for their bodies and their child, rather than have it dictated to them by a government.  Legislating on biological “truths” as some of this has been presented, similar to legislation on historical “truths”, always feels a little uncomfortable. The general conclusion seems to be an overall feeling of discomfort.

Still, a couple of steps forward. Let’s hope we all can keep on walking.

Should I Stay or Should I Go? – A Somewhat Personal Humanitarian Dilemma

18 Oct

Seven years ago I broke up with someone I thought previously I would end up growing old with. I did it over the phone. I was convinced that being with someone like him would stand in the way of my real dream: to become an international human rights lawyer and contribute, if at all, to bring the tiniest change to some of the suffering and injustices I see and read about every day. They’ve haunted my dreams for as long as I can remember.

He was a family person, worked in the family business; never saw himself living abroad let alone in places that are “difficult”. It just wasn’t compatible with what I felt I needed to do. I was doing my Masters in Lund and already living in another country. Meeting people with the same dreams as mine from all over the world made it all the more real very quickly: the sea of possibilities. It only took a few months before I made that call. Perhaps it only formalized a decision I made by leaving in the first place.

It was a decisive moment. I was deciding for my career, for my ambitions. I now realize such decisions are not linked with the person you’re with but with all your future persons and possibilities. They are linked to your own choice of personal versus professional.

I ended up marrying a wonderful man who didn’t have those close ties to the Motherland. Someone who also gives importance to my career. He even moved to my home country where I found a job close to my dreams and heart (ironic, huh?) and it was due to his sacrifice to his own career that our relationship really made it. Today the tables have turned and it’s my time to make that move: I’ve done it! I’ve always hated men who drag their wives through the world to “look after” them and their family while they thrive in their careers; I could then not become a woman who asks for that.

So I moved to Europe to give him his chance and I’m starting from scratch in the highly competitive and brutally discouraging world of the humanitarian and not-for-profit sector. The opportunities fly before my eyes and I want to grab them all. It’s like a surreal scene from a Lynch movie in which I’m a paralyzed woman (or small man?) and there’s a group of rainbow colored birds waiting for me to catch them, at least one. But I can’t touch them.

Opportunities in the humanitarian field present themselves increasingly, as various parts of the world collapse and their peoples suffer. It’s sad, but true. Our professional opportunities thrive with war and persecution. Syria, Mali, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, the DRC: one simple P11 away from your dreams at a very high cost. Your personal life. Your chances of becoming the triumphant feminist that was able to have it all and who didn’t have to choose vanish before your eyes. And one memory comes to mind.

Katarina Tomasesvski. She passed away during the time I was doing my Masters in Lund. One of those female warriors who I so admire: former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education. I met her once briefly and of course she never said anything about this, but I bet she had to choose. One of those pioneers that proved others wrong and became a “full on career woman”. She broke the ceiling but if I am not mistaken, died alone.

I’ll never forget the empty-gut feeling I got when I entered the RWI Library to find all her books she’d kindly donated in her will, piled in the Library’s big room against the walls, waiting to be catalogued. I never told anyone, but I took one. I still have it. It was a book on my thesis topic, but more than that, it was a piece of her life, a representation of that dilemma. No one else in her life seemed to have claimed her books; mine are so precious to me that I couldn’t believe it. So I claimed one, for me and for her.[1]

She and many women working on humanitarian issues make that choice every day.  They give it all for their calling, for their beliefs and (a lot of the times) for the organization they work for. Take for example, UNHCR, the UN agency with the highest divorce rates amongst staff members. You still see many “old school” men who found a wife to rotate every 3-4 years with them, but you rarely see women their age having that same experience. I never met one actually, yet I met several men. I would say though, for younger generations it’s more equal (though not totally). In any case, I’ve met many men and woman who make that choice everyday.[2]

I want more. I want it all. It makes me feel like a feminist failure not making that choice, as I see the birds becoming Neil Gaiman’s hunger birds, I close my eyes and just try to survive. I definitely thought it would be easier. I have contacts, I thought, with the organizations I’ve worked for. I have people who can speak for me and my work (I swear I’m pretty good!).

Naive as I was, this is not enough. You give these organizations your personal time, your family time and frequently, your sanity, your health and your sleep. I used to travel 2-3 weeks in a month and sacrificed a lot for my work (those who think frequent work travel is fun have never done it). You loose your figure from all the hotel food and say hi to your eye bags from nights of office work that you only get to do then. Yet the loyalty or appreciation you receive from the organization is best known for its absence. People may think you’re great but even when someone will go the extra mile for you, the organizational structure and values, its functioning, prevents any kind of good human resources policies and loyalty to be effective.

Only when you’re living the possibility of this choice is when you realize why all those colleagues who already made it joke sarcastically about how the failure with partner number 2 or 3 coincided with their amazing time in Bosnia, Rwanda or Kenya. So I still want it all, and even if it is considerably much harder to find an opportunity that doesn’t involve going to a “no family duty station” (and let’s not even get the risk of death, kidnapping and other harms in certain stations, that’s for another post), I will make the same choice everyday.

It’s a bitter-sweet taste. Some days more bitter than anything. And as personal as this post has turned out to be, it’s a reflection on the humanitarian system and what it requires of persons wanting to work in aid and development. We have created a system that allows highly passionate individuals to fully live only one kind of passion. It’s also perhaps a somewhat jealous tribute to all my amazing friends and colleagues, and the ones I don’t know, who make a different choice than mine everyday. The ones willing to sacrifice almost all for this calling. To them, chapeau! But they shouldn’t have to make this choice.

I guess I am still not one of them, and probably never will be, but the internal debate doesn’t go away. I have it with myself as I sit at my desk applying for much less exciting jobs that ultimately have less impact. Then I see Katarina’s book sitting on my shelf and I decide on the same route everyday, over and over again. What an exhausting journey this is!


[1] Allow me to clarify that all these facts are my own assumptions. I have no clue if someone in her life wanted them and she still decided to donate them to the library. I’m using her as a metaphor for many women (and men) I’ve met in for this situation and, mostly, using her example because that was the feeling I had at that moment.

[2] I also want to say, these people are not entirely alone. Many of my amazing friends who have made this choice have a strong network of friends and colleagues who become their family and I don’t want to paint them as sad people at all. That is, however, not to say that they have indeed sacrificed a lot, mainly family life, or even the possibility to have a family, for this compromise they have with their work.

The Baby Matrix

15 Oct

Yesterday I was reminded again why the world needs feminism. Why everyone, men, women, children do. And how it is sometimes hard when you start seeing gender in everything and how it permeates so many facets of lives and absolutely every facet of reproduction and child rearing. And how difficult it is to make someone – who does not see the world this way – understand without him or her accusing you of exaggeration.

But let’s start at the beginning. Yesterday, I went to the hospital to visit a baby. Not just any baby, my boyfriend’s sister’s baby. Which, by extension, is something like my niece and I am very proud. She is the tiniest baby with the most hair in the world. As I stood watching her, it seemed like she was singing to herself while she kept touching her face, not understanding that her hands and face all belonged to her. She is incredibly cute and adorable, obviously. However, I cannot be sure if she was already, like I suspect, singing Yellow Submarine to herself because I didn’t hear any sounds coming out of her mouth. Why is that? Because I could only see the tiny human from behind a glass wall and I wasn’t able to touch her. Do I suffer from the Plague or any other contagious disease which could potentially be fatal to newborn beings? Not that I know of.

The hospital I went to look at the baby was a Hungarian hospital. Hungary has a pretty advanced health system in terms of the actual treatment, proven, for example, by the fact that gazillions of Austrians and Germans come over the border every year for dental treatment because it is good and cheap.

But when it comes to newborns, what I saw yesterday is this: the mother, after the birth, is normally put in a room with one or two other mothers in the maternity ward. The maternity ward is a no go area for anyone who is not a mother, a baby, a doctor or a nurse. This means that you cannot visit the mother in her room, for reasons that evade me. If you want to see her, she has to come out. I guess one of the reasons is that the mother can get some rest and is not subjected to strangers visiting someone else in the room when she doesn’t feel well. However, this means, that a) the mother is totally alone there with no family or support to comfort her (the mum I visited told me she couldn’t stop crying when initially she was totally alone in a room and that she appreciates the presence of another mother now so that she has at least someone to talk to) and b) for you to visit the mother, she actually has to come out at the maternity ward. Yesterday, there were about five other mothers standing outside the maternity ward in a hall which had two iron benches and a snack machine and lots of crude lighting. All of these mothers wore night or hospital gowns and some additionally carried around their urinary catheters in a plastic bag. Now that is the state in which you want lots of strangers to see a tube carrying your pee emerge from between your legs, right?

But even worse than that, for me, was that the mums were not allowed to bring the babies outside. So there were five little ones in tiny beds on wheels propped behind the glass door for relatives to watch them and take pictures and make baby noises. The most positive hospital memories I have (well, the only positive ones) are from visiting friends and family with newborns. You sit around their bed, you marvel at the tiny hands and feet and their funny grimaces. Everyone takes turns in holding the baby and remarking how much it looks like Uncle Michael when he came out. You might wipe away a tear when you witness older siblings seeing their younger brother or sister for the first time, carefully stroking their head and then doing it again for the camera. You help the new mum with adjusting to this new life a bit, by reassuring that you are there, that you will be there through all the poo and baby vomit and sleepless nights ahead and that her baby is indeed the best, cleverest, most beautiful, funniest human being on this earth, the bullet that killed Kennedy.

None of this was possible in this hospital. And the very worst part, the thing that just put me over the edge, was that it was not even possible for the dad. Indeed, the person who actually took part in making the baby was not allowed to touch it either! He was allowed to stay in the delivery room with the mother for two hours after the birth and from then on he could only see his newborn child through glass. If there are minor complications during the birth which cause the mother to be very weak afterwards and prompt her to need a lot of rest for a couple of days during which she is unable to care for the baby, the baby’s father is not allowed to stay with his baby, not even during the day. The baby is cared for by the nurses and will, in that case, have little physical contact with anyone.

For the sake of completeness, in this hospital, it was  possible to pay for a private room in which the parents of the baby could stay together. So rich dads get to care for their newborns. In this room, however, no other visitors could be received either.

This experience was disturbing on so many levels I couldn’t believe the gender stereotyping and the sexism that this system manifested. I was outraged on behalf of all the fathers that had to look at their baby through glass not being able to hold and fed them and sing to them. On behalf of the mothers who had to go through the humiliating experience of carrying around their pee in front of twenty people they had never seen before. On behalf of the baby who should be able to experience physical contact from both their parents, as it is proven to be important to their development and well-being, particularly right after the birth and during the following days. And on behalf of them both for the obvious institutionalisation of gender roles and ideas on how child rearing should be organised and who should have a say in it. Mum stays in and cares for the baby, dad goes out to celebrate the arrival of his child with a couple of drinks (because, what else could he do, not being allowed to be at the hospital?), showing up every day with flowers and good words but not actively being able to help. Now many people only spend two days in the hospital, but with complications, it can easily amount to more than a week in which a baby can only be seen behind glass. I was appalled by the paternalism this whole system reeked of, telling grown up women that it is their and only their obligation to tend to their babies needs and that they mustn’t let anybody else touch the precious offspring (offspring which were totally healthy and, if it weren’t for the complications because of which the mum had to rest a little longer in hospital, would long be home and cuddled by friends and family).

For me, this was such an obvious manifestation of sexism and symptoms of antique gender stereotypes in a country in which a man is entitled to a grand five days of paternity leave and in which the paternity leave can only be shared after the child turned one, the constitution calls the family the ‘fundamental framework for community, in which the pre-eminent values are loyalty, faith and love’, and Fidesz (the governing party) politicians refuse to call domestic violence by its common Hungarian name (translated as violence in the family) because the family is a cozy sacred nest of peace and cannot be besmirched by associating it with anything negative. A country in which a member of parliament for the government party physically assaults his wife in such a severe manner that she ends up in hospital and, when asked, explains to the bewildered nation that his wife tripped over the pet dog. And a country iwhere another Fidesz member of parliament claims the reason of domestic violence is the fact that women don’t make enough children in order to be respected within the family and calls upon ‘ladies’ to produce two, three or four children ‘as a gift for the fatherland’ before  they ‘can fulfill themselves and may work at different jobs’.

But I am told that sexism has no influence on this particular case, on how maternity wards are organised and on the rights and obligations of mothers and fathers there. I am told that the reason are practical issues, or maybe corruption (that the hospital wants people to pay for private rooms) etc. I see how it can be hard to associate a specific case with a broader, systemic issue of society. I am not claiming that other issues are not also at work here. But it is frustrating to try to explain something that is so obvious to you to someone who just totally doesn’t see it. It makes me feel like in the sexist matrix. And it is easy to be told or to even feel like a fundamentalist, to feel like the one crashing the party when everyone else just wants to admire the baby (from far away). But these things are interconnected. How should dads and mums get a sense of child rearing as a shared responsibility when a newborn baby gets cut of basically any contact between themselves and their father in the first days of their life? How should couples arrive at the conclusion that they both have to tend to the physical and emotional needs of this tiny person when one of them is prohibited from doing so by the same institution which patronises them and puts their baby behind glass walls? And how should new mothers not feel left abandoned to the child-rearing tasks in a place where they are physically, actually, alone? All these are leads for and expressions of greater societal persuasions, convictions held by a majority that see a division of household/child-rearing labour and gaining employment and financial support of the family for women and men. They manifest themselves everywhere in the world, on all levels, in law and policy, as well as in the cribs of tiny humans.

How are maternity wards organized in your country? Can dads come and visit or even stay overnight? Are visitors allowed to see the mum and  baby in their room?

Mums, Food, Body Image

4 Aug

So, I just read this Jezebel piece on whether or not parents should force their kids to finish the food on their plates or whether that might push them into an eating disorder. Don’t ask me why I read it, I don’t even have kids I could force feed, it is called P.R.O.C.R.A.S.T.I.N.A.T.I.O.N.

Anyway, comments to the article involved all sort of discussions of fucked up relationships with food that people were taught when they were little, either directly, by being told to eat more or less (usually less, when it comes to girls) or indirectly, by watching how their parents behaved around food, how their parents talked about the food they were eating or avoiding and how parents talked about their own bodies. The thoughts that were voiced tie in nicely with this post that was passed around the internet last month, in which a woman describes how her mum’s own distorted body image influenced her when growing up.

I see a lot of people around me, friends, family members, colleagues, making food into a big deal. I mean, it is a big deal. It is necessary and, with the exception of anything involving bread crumbs, potentially delicious. But many women I know (and a few guys) seem to feel the need to constantly comment on the food they and others are eating (or not). There is the constant need of justification of why specific food is eaten now (‘Yeah, I know I shouldn’t’; ‘Ahh, it is delicious, but I will have to not eat xyz for the next week now’; ‘Yeah, I know it is a sin but I worked out this morning’) or a constant commentary on other people’s eating behavior (very rarely I hear ‘Oh, you really are hungry today’, more often it is wrapped as a compliment which, simultaneously self-reprimands its originator: ‘Oh, yes, have a piece of cake, YOU can afford it’ [disclosure: I have an average body weight for my height, I haven’t been on scales for the last 14 years, many of my friends are more slender than I am] ).

Thing is: I don’t mind such talk much. I don’t say these sorts of things about my own eating habits (I think) and pretty definitely not about other’s eating habits (as, in my opinion, they are a. none of my business and b. not overly exciting conversation topics). Sure, when I was a teenager, I had a phase were I was dieting and weighing myself every morning, letting the number decide the mood for the rest of the day and a short phase of not being happy in my body. It is a sad fact that I don’t know anyone who didn’t have such a phase. And sure, there are days when I like the way I look less and short intervals of ahhhhhhhh this and that is too thick, too broad, too whatever. But these are very short phases and generally, I am happy with the way I look and eat what I want and don’t think about it much.

I was wondering why my body image and my relationship towards food are so relatively trouble-free. Now, this is obviously a complex thing and there are many different factors in it. As I said, I would say my body type is somewhat average and while it is another sad fact of life that, as a woman, you will never escape public scrutiny and commentary on the way you look, I suppose that when you are exceptionally thin or obese, even more people feel entitled to comment on your body. So that is one thing. And I can think of others which I am not discussing here. But one thing I am sure was a massive influence in this was my mum. I can honestly not remember her ever commenting on my body in a negative way nor on her own body (it was also not like she was commenting a lot about my body in a positive way. It was just: a body. It was there. Therefore it was good. Move on). I have never experienced her dieting. When I was little, it was a family joke that my mum could eat a whole box of praline when she was in the mood for it, something that she wouldn’t deny and, when any of us wanted to make her happy, boxes of chocolate were always safe and would be welcomed. Generally, she taught us that one should eat healthy, that one cannot eat boxes of chocolate every day because that brings you tooth ache. It is possible that she also mentioned that too much sugar and fat might make you unhealthily overweight but if she mentioned it in that context at all, it apparently wasn’t in any obsessive or hysteric way, proven by the fact that I do not even remember her saying this at all.

Photo courtesy of Daniela Ramos Arias

Photo courtesy of Daniela Ramos Arias

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t have my fair share of fat phobia in my family. My dad and my aunt (his sister) are the ones in our family who are more obsessed with dieting, doing sports to lose weight, making the occasional less than charming comment about my changing teenage body. But even though I guess most people, definitely most women, hear these sorts of comments during their youth, I dare to say it didn’t influence me much beyond my teenage years. My mum being so decidedly non-dramatic, unapologetic and matter-of-factly about her body and about the food that went into it must have been one of the greatest measures of upbringing, to instill self-worth which is somewhat independent of what you see in the mirror, to see the consumption of food or the lack thereof not as a measure failure or success but rather as both a necessity and an enjoyable thing without much fuzz. All this must have seeped into the corners of my own me-ness somehow. Thinking about it, being so uncomplicated about these issues is such an immensely big deal for which I am tremendously grateful. It is one of the things that I, should I have kids of my own, will definitely try to pass on.

A sign of age

17 Jul

From the first point I stepped into a formal office environment, I’ve always been keenly aware of my age. When people find out that oh so important number of years that you have lived on this earth, it doesn’t matter how much respect or confidence in your abilities they built up before hand. It can all be completely shattered with just one (relatively) little number. Suddenly your valued opinion flies out the window and it’s all they can do to not pass you a lollipop in the meeting room just to keep you quiet until the end of the day.

So I’ve always played the trick of avoiding telling as far as possible (much more difficult in Sweden than the UK), and appearing older to be taken seriously. Even today, after numerous years of professional experience and three academic qualifications under my belt, I get this. I’m currently working in a predominantly male world of 40-50 somethings. There gets a point when you are  tired of this attitude, want to be taken seriously because you’re a serious person with enough perspective of your own to be able to comment on an issue, with very different life experiences that can add to the discussion – in short, merit.

It’s at this point that I’ve come across people several years younger than myself in the office space, striving with those early struggles of trying to push themselves forward in a world dominated by older people. It’s like looking at yourself in the mirror five years ago. They consider me one of these older types with a world of experience they’ve yet to attain, but I’m still battling with those above me to think of me as something more than just a young one that still has a lot to learn.

While I’ve felt quite proud of not getting overly freaked out about ageing and keeping my own increasing numbers in perspective, I must admit this weird limbo between the two worlds has got to me.

Another recent realisation of age was reading about the changes in political leanings in my home country. It was with a heavy heart – after reading about privatisation of the NHS and more talk about withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights – that I read that the younger generation in Britain today is becoming more and more conservative in its views. For me, this can be attributed in part to the attitude of a government that seems to have forgotten that a nation is built on its people. Too many fundamental things are being taken from the people – be it their privacy or their access to basic services or the sense that justice and the rule of law will prevail – in the interests of national security for almost everything, in an effort to save the physical land that is the country.

Sigh.

Perhaps I’m simply out of touch with my age group, but it makes me feel old now to feel a collective conscience and leaning towards an ideal above individualism. Perhaps it’s living in a country where the attitude towards work, home life, community and government is so tremendously different that people at home simply can’t understand how a Government can deliver on collective benefits, a national heath system and better working conditions generally.

It’s not a perfect system and they’ve got their own problems, but it’s still worth reflecting on why Sweden has ranked consistently high on the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Better Life Index. The sad thing is I don’t think this is out of reach for the UK. But in the current climate with such a defeatist attitude, it may well be a step out of reach.

Perhaps all these feelings about age are just another sign of the times.

Vacationing in Vienna: Mujica speaks for Morales and for Latin America

5 Jul

Are you tired of reading Anglophone media covering the issue of Evo Morales’ trip to Vienna in the light of the extreme statements issued by Bolivia’s Vice-president or the declarations of other extreme (whether we like them or not) leaders of South America? I am.

Personally I don’t agree with everything Morales has done, I certainly disrespect Maduro and the way he campaigned for his election and I am suspicious of some of Fernandez’ more extreme measures of capital control, despite her achievements in human rights protection in Argentina. But that is beside the point. Whether Morales and his friends are leftist or not shouldn’t really matter.

Most articles I’ve read only focus on the “bad facts” of the leftist presidents when reporting the UNASUR meeting called by Humala to discuss this situation, but I’ve also been surprised by the lack of reporting of this issue, though I probably shouldn’t be as this is usually the way it is when it comes to Latin American issues.

It has to be said: it’s not just the leftist countries who feel attacked in Latin America. The OAS has issued a statement condemning that four countries (France, Spain, Italy and Portugal) revoked flight permission while the presidential plane was taking Morales home. Also, besides the UNASUR and ALBA countries, Costa Rica, Mexico, Brazil, Nicaragua and Cuba have also condemned this act. Note the first two on the list are actually right wing governments. So it’s essentially  about a sense of regional humiliation and a right to demand, at least, an apology.

Was this legal? A question few media channels have cared to answer. BBC Mundo (Spanish version) consulted a professor of international law from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid who described the deviation of Morales’ presidential plane to Vienna as a “clearly doubtful act”:

This is not any plane, it is a presidential plane carrying on board a Head of State and as such, it enjoys full immunity and the same inviolability and freedoms it would have within its own nation. A measure of these characteristics, prohibiting the flyover, must be very justified: for example, that the president is being pursued for  an international crime. But when he isn’t, as in this case, it is very clearly an abuse of his sovereignty and highlights the impropriety of many governments.

A State may decide to close its airspace, but this has been done when a political leader is wanted for prosecution or linked to a measure of punishment, as in cases of international crimes, or to exert pressure to countries linked with these crimes. In this case it was a presidential plane, with a head of state on board, where there was no reason for a government to prevent him from transit and over flight of its space for peaceful behavior. What European countries did was based on a rumor that was not true. And clearly it is an action that is inconsistent with international law.

After a funny and detailed chain of tweets that President Fernandez wrote about her various phone calls with her fellow Heads of State during Morales’ “trip” to Vienna, the leaders of UNASUR decided to gather in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to define what actions they will take regarding these acts.

I just saw the video of José Mujica’s speech on this UNASUR meeting. I might be biased by the fact that I believe him to be one of the few good leaders we have on my continent, and definitely, the most consequent leader when it comes to living what you preach. If you don’t know much about Uruguay’s President, know at least that he was a political prisoner for 14 years, that he lives with his wife in a small shabby farm, refused to move to the presidential palace and gives 90% of his monthly salary to charity. You can read more about him here.

I translated his speech because I believe it to be authentic, and a true representation of what Latin Americans are feeling regarding  this issue. Watch the video if you speak Spanish as well.

First, it seems that there are world powers that want to apply a kind of ideological terrorism over the right to asylum, an institution that all fighters of the world’s history defend. In the name of those that have been persecuted and will continue to be persecuted, the right of asylum is sacred and it’s a principle that we must uphold for humanity.

Second, the worst, to be benevolent, they screwed up. They were wrong. I think they ate a screw! I suppose that the intelligence services that sent them to ruins are probably sitting down folding little papers in a dungeon. I suppose so, because this is very embarrassing for the Old Countries, so called Mother countries.

But the worse is that now, they treat us like toddlers. Instead of assuming, with republican humility, that they made a mistake, no one says anything! It seems that Evo was vacationing in Vienna! No one denied him a right, no one did anything. I mean, the answer is almost an infantilism, and I think we, Latin Americans, have a right not to be treated as toddlers.

We are not their sons anymore, we aren’t colonies anymore, we are what we are, we try, and we deserve respect. And when a country, a leader, is abused, we all feel abused in Latin America. So, we ask them, in name of civilization: dignity, dignity and decency.

Being wrong is part of life. Making mistakes is inevitable. When you do, you have to show your face, assume responsibility and say so to the international community. Not take us for idiots. Thank you.

So at the end it isn’t about left and right, it’s about which countries you can bully and which are treated with respect. Do you wonder if this would have been done to a European leader, or a country that could pose a threat to international peace in response to what Bolivia considers an “act of aggression”? Do you wonder if this would have been covered more seriously by the media if that was the case? If Spain, Portugal, France or Italy would be issuing apologies? I do.

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