ISIS, Latin America and Refugees: 5 things I’ve learned

ISIS and Syrian refugees have made big headlines in the past few weeks. If you haven’t been hiding under a rock, then you’ll know the latter group has been highly politicized, with governors (including, sadly, Illinois’ governor) declaring they won’t let refugees in.

So I was curious.  What’ve been the conversations about ISIS and Syrian refugees in Latin America? Turns out, Latin American countries are welcoming refugees with open arms, and Muslim communities are declaring ISIS as Islam’s enemy.

Here are five of the most interesting things I learned while I read a few papers.

  1. Several Latin American countries opened their doors to Syrian refugees early on. Uruguay and Argentina created special programs to resettle refugees since the civil war started in 2011.  Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro said the country would accept 20,000 refugees, according to the Guardian.
  2. Brazil has been the main destination in Latin America for Syrian refugees. Nearly 2,000 people have resettled there since the outset of the war.
  3. Many refugees from Asia, Africa and the Middle East make their way to the United States using well-trodden routes Latin Americans do.
  4. Al Quiblah, Argentina’s first Muslim radio program,  focuses on clarifying fundamental differences between ISIS and the Islam practiced by millions across the globe.
  5. There are between 400,000 and 500,000 people of the Muslim faith living in Argentina. An estimated 5 to 12 million Muslims live in the United States, according to Frontline.



Our Brand is Crisis: Movie Review

Last night was a first for me: I went to a movie by myself at 9:30 p.m. on a Friday. (It was for an assignment though!) There were four other people in the theater if that tells you anything about the popularity of the political satire.

“Our Brand is Crisis” has its basis in a documentary that shares its name. Released in 2005, the documentary gives unparalleled access to how one American political consulting group built a 2002 Bolivian presidential campaign.

The movie isn’t phenomenal. Sandra Bullock pulls you in, but the rest of the film just moves along. I appreciated some of the context the movie provided though. (If you’ve seen the documentary, there are a handful of parallel scenes in the movie).

Jane Bodine, played by Sandra Bullock, has closed herself off from the world after her career as a well-known political strategist. She’s known as Calamity Jane in political circles, but at the beginning of the movie makes pottery high up in the mountains.

“I’m calm now,” she says.

But that changes as she dives into the world of Bolivian presidential campaigns—she’s in charge of directing the campaign of former president and losing candidate, Castillo. He’s 28 points behind the polls.

The political satire is based on the award-winning documentary with the same name. In the 2005 film, director Rachel Boynton takes us through the back doors and views of how an American political consulting group, Greenberg Carville Shrum, make a Latin American presidential campaign.

As presidential election nears closer we see different sides of Jane: a fierce competitor, an intelligent and ruthless strategist, but also someone who is equally as cynical as she is competitive.  So what exactly is she doing in Bolivia?

In part, it’s personal. And the tango between Jane and her rival Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thorton) is entertaining and provided the majority of the laughs. (She and a few friends she’s made launch a green, slimy ball of some plant at his hotel door).  As we get to know Jane more, we see a little bit more of the satire the film is trying to get across: even if you win a campaign, how successful can you be?

Through the laughs, there are snippets of the political reality that gripped Bolivia in 2002: indigenous groups protesting for better representation, an opposition to more privatization and a history of military coups. These snippets, though brief, made the movie much more believable (not all of Latin America is a hot, steamy jungle).

But the ending lacks in some of the charisma the movie had shown throughout. We don’t leave with a new lesson about politics or its inner workings: “It’s advertising,” Jane says. “And then you profit from it.”

Understanding the balloon effect

Balloons can take on a few roles: a nice gesture representing a cause for celebration, little animals or creators of uncomfortably loud noises.

Little children and adults know these things.  And one thing some do when playing with balloons is squeezing one part of it to only see the air move to another part of the sphere.

That’s what’s been happening throughout the drug supplying countries all over the world: try to move the air out of one part of the balloon and it just goes to another. There seems like there’s a change, but overall the same amount of air is in the balloon, hence the name: the balloon effect.

Many of the supply oriented policies I mentioned last week have this unintended cause: while supply in one area is eradicated, the profitability of the drug trade only has suppliers looking for different locations.

This short video below explains what that looks like:

So what does that mean for the policies in place meant to eradicate drugs?

‘“As a Latin American commission led by three former presidents (of Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil) put it recently: “Prohibitionist policies based on the eradication of production and on the disruption of drug flows as well as on the criminalization of consumption have not yielded the expected results. We are farther away than ever from the announced goal of eradicating drugs.”’

Well, from this Reuters blog, the future isn’t bright. I’m interested in learning more about how policies will play out in the future.