The Game Plan: I’m figuring it out

Like most of you good folks out there, I’m looking for a summer internship. And like most of you good folks, I’ve figured out the process of figuring out the future isn’t always smooth sailing.

It’s as though my little ship hits a rock every time someone asks me, “So what are you thinking about doing after college?”

My go to answer: “I’m figuring it out.”

Which is true, but can seem like a cop-out unless I’m actively taking steps to come up with my game plan.

One question that I keep coming to is how will what I’m doing next summer put me one step closer to reaching my life goal of improving access to information and education in rural areas of developing countries?

I think I found a potential place that’ll get me on my way: The Inter American Dialogue in Washington D.C.

This non-for-profit think-tank focuses on developing debate and policy solutions to foster more democratic and equal societies. The Dialogue focuses on education, among other policy topics like energy, relations with China and good governance.

For me, an organization like the Dialogue will be part of a process of seeing more of what real-world policy implementation looks like, rather than an abstraction. I can also put my journalistic skills to use here: researching, writing blog posts and articles and asking the question–how does this affect people?

Which came up in a recent conversation with my boyfriend about how education is one of the first steps for communities and countries to grow. The big question for me is how can education policies be sustainable and effective over a long period of time?


Getting grounded in what Latin American countries are doing in education is a necessary step to know more precisely what exactly I can be doing in the future.   So in addition to reading more about policy areas The Dialogue focuses on like teacher policy,  quality education for all and skills development, I’ll be spending the next few weeks finding




Press Pause: Reflection–Journalist? Me? What does that mean?

Tiredness started to set in as I interviewed a source on Thursday. My mind kept wandering. I couldn’t wait to get some sleep. Pay attention, Daniela, I told myself. This is important.

I tried. I really did in that moment.  Then my mind started to wander again.

I started thinking about the past week at my university.  National coverage wasn’t great. Context and nuance were lost in the quick pickup of the story.

How often do I do miss context and nuance? Why do I do this, why do I care and who am I to claim that I can accurately share the experiences of other people?  

Pay attention.

I did my best for the rest of the interview. But I left disappointed.  I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been.

On the drive back to school, I thought more about the bigger picture. I had never asked myself what I as an individual journalist valued in my work. Had I thought about the kind of values that would shape my habits, practice and future stories?

Not really.

I understand the central ethics of good journalism: seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, be accountable and transparent.  I value those and want to write pieces that reflect exactly that.

But after watching how people reacted to the coverage of the events at Mizzou this week, I also know that what journalists write has an effect, good or bad—nonetheless, the articles people read (or headlines for that matter) shape conversations and perspectives.

That’s a lot of responsibility!  Our audiences aren’t some imaginary folks out there.  So how can I create excellent journalism?

These are a handful of beginning thoughts. The more I continue reporting, the more I’ll add on to this.

  • I want to be a journalist that does research to ask informed and challenging questions.
  • I don’t want to create a narrative and go out to find answers to fit it. That’s not telling other people’s stories. That’s telling my own. And this isn’t about me.
  • I want to have a better understanding of the community around me. That means getting out of my apartment and my usual places. If I believe journalism is a public service, then I better know the public I’m working for (especially as a part of public media *KBIA*).
  • I want to report accurately. That involves being more aware of how and why I might interpret a response one way or the other.
  • I want to be better prepared for interviews. I’ve realized I’m getting a little too confident in my ability to interview a subject. Do I know what my line of inquiry will be? Have I anticipated answers?  I want to get to the deeper questions and the answers they prompt.

Be humble: I don’t know all the answers. That’s why I go out and talk with people.

Be curious: The world is filled with interesting, heart breaking and compelling stories.

Be reflective: Take a few moments to think about what you learned, how you were challenged. What went well? What didn’t go well? And what can you change for the next go around.

I want to be a good journalist so my audience can listen or watch a story that’s accurate, empathetic and fair. I have so much more to experience and learn. But I’m excited for what that will hold (I know failure is mixed in there somewhere, but so is success).

Fighting the war on drugs: US Policy

Beyond the screen of narco television shows is a whole world of politics and policy.

Questions policy makers deal with range from how to bring drug lords to justice to the most effective way to fight the drug trade.

The latter was at the forefront of Reagan’s mind in the early 80s. Cocaine was making its way to the streets of America, and it was unlike anything the country had seen before.

Because of the eruption of violence and drug money possibly making its way to legitimate business, Reagan decided to change the focus on drug policy from demand to supply.

What did this entail?

Demand-oriented policy focused on:

  • Treatment of those who suffered from addiction
  • An increased cracked down on those who dealt drugs or were involved

Supply-oriented policy focused on:

  • Eradication: Reduce production of illegal substances
  • Interdiction: Reducing the flow of drugs into the United States by patrolling borders

Reagan was able to accomplish the latter policy focus by cutting support for drug treatment by 60 percent 1980-1986.

In 1986 his administration implemented the desertification program, which was a way to push supplying countries to cooperate with US policy–specifically eradication–thus making them eligible to receive funding for the war on drugs.

But has it actually been effective? Read next week to learn about the balloon effect. Doesn’t that sound interesting?

Drug Cartels, Shows and Policy

A summer ago my family and I had our eyes glued to the TV every Monday-Friday night at 9 p.m.  We watched as El Senor de los Cielos directed his drug cartel.

You can say watching narco dramas are a recurring family activity.

Pablo Escobar also became a familiar character in our home two summers ago. The opening credits begin with “Whoever does not know history is condemned to repeat it.”

Now I’m watching Netflix’s Narcos, another show about Pablo Escobar told from the perspective of a DEA agent

Am I obsessed with drug lords?

No. But, I am fascinated by the history around them. I’m interested in learning about the steps that were taken to try and curb the booming drug trade. The drug war years in Colombia and Mexico have had huge social and political ramifications.

Judges, policemen and everyday citizens have been either the targets of violence or caught in the crossfire.

But the drug production didn’t just affect Latin American countries back in the 80s and 90s.

The US was also feeling its effects.

Before the boom in the 80s, the US focused mainly on curbing demand for drugs like marijuana. There was more focus on drug rehabilitation and law enforcement.

But Regan turned that around later and focused more at getting at the supply of drugs.

I’ll be looking at those policies next week and the effects they’ve had on Latin American countries.





Five shows and documentaries explaining Latin America

Fifty years ago if you wanted to learn about something, you’d go to the library and read about. Reading is wonderful. But there’s also the beauty of movies and documentaries to really take a look at the lives, faces and spaces of people who have lived dramatically different experiences than us.

Most of the time, putting a face to the larger political, social and cultural helps us better understand how institutions and international relationships play out in the lives of others.

So I’ve done some looking around for documentaries or movies that would help me understand the complexities of Latin America. I’ve selected five in no particular order.  I would encourage you to check some of these out too!

  1. Presunto Culpable: Here in America, the mantra of our justice system, is innocent until proven guilty. In other parts of the world, it’s the other way around. The translation of this title is “Presumed Guilty.” The film explores Mexico’s justice system and is told by from the point of view of two attorneys trying to exonerate a wrongly convicted man.
  2. Cocaine Kingpin: The story of Pablo Escobar: You’ve probably heard of the infamous Colombian drug lord. But what about else do you know about how the Colombian government  tried to fight him?

    Fusion came out with this six-part series this summer. They talk with family members and politicians of the time. Each video is about 8-11 minutes long. But with the variety of voices, original footage and audio, you start to see a greater complexity to Colombia’s drug war.

  3. El Abrazo de la Serpiente:

    This black and white film takes you deep into the Amazon. I saw this film over the summer. One of the most memorable scenes is about the rubber trade in Brazil.

  4. For those geography lovers out there, there’s Los Viajes del Viento. This film takes you through Colombia’s varying countryside in the north Atlantic coast. Music, tradition and folklore combine to show the audience that Colombia is not just a tropical jungle. In fact, there’s a desert there.
  5. Batalla de Chile: 1973 marked the beginning of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. In 1975 Patricio Guzman created this documentary about life under the military regime. What does life look like when democracy does not exist?


Fútbol in Latin America, part 2

I remember playing soccer with my mom, dad and two siblings in our front yard. Our dad had made small wooden goals we used until we were bigger than the goals. I learned how to dribble, juggle and shoot in my front yard using those goals.

I keep on learning how fútbol for millions of people is a deep cultural experience, one that expresses rivalries and tensions going back ages.

I’ll be very honest here. I don’t cheer for the United States when they play. I’m indifferent toward a win. And if Colombia is playing the U.S., then I’m rooting for Los Cafeteros and not the Stars and Stripes.


If I grew up here and I attend a land-grant institution in the heart of Missouri it would make more sense if I were a U.S. fan. The more I’ve thought about it and the more I’ve read about it, I realize it’s because a part of me, whether consciously or unconsciously sympathizes more with the history of Latin America, America’s “backyard.”

Often times the victories Latin American countries score against the U.S. (especially Central American ones) isn’t just one of the underdogs.  The underlying context is one of a smaller, less developed country defeating the United States; the country that has long dominated how things are run in the Western Hemisphere. (If you would like examples, I will direct you to a list of U.S.-backed coups and interventions in Latin America here.)

Much goes when these less developed nations play European powerhouses. It’s one of the few ways these developing countries beat the more developed.

This kind of political tension exists throughout the world.

A 2004 Time article reviews a book called “How Soccer Explains the World.”

Franklin Foer notes in his prologue,  “During Franco’s rule, the clubs Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad were the only venues where Basque people could express their cultural pride without winding up in jail.”

Even today, when Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad or FC Barcelona play Real Madrid, there’s a deep expression of cultural pride. A win over Real Madrid, a team who was representative of  Franco’s reign and power over other parts of Spain, is seen as championing the Basque or Catalan Cause.

Here’s something that might help contextualize these tensions: the rivalry between Missouri and Kansas stems from the Civil War, one being a free state and one being a slave state.  And continues to this day, even if we don’t play Kansas anymore.

In part these tensions are passed down from generation to generation. I’ll use myself as an example. My parents hold skepticism toward the U.S.; my mother in particular on its foreign policy. When those conversations would come up as a kid, I only knew my parents perspective. I always wondered why none of my history classes ever really touched on the stories and histories my mother would tell me.


¿Que pasa con el fútbol? Part 1

I’ve never been much of a football fan, and I’ve never quite understood the hoopla surrounding college sports. So when game day rolls around at MU, I love looking out at the tailgates and the full stadium as I drive to Ellis library.  You can hear the passion roaring from the stadium.

I’m familiar with that sentiment.  I grew up watching fútbol at home. I’d watch the Italian, Spanish and English league games with my family. And when the World Cup rolls around, we watch three games a day during group play.  I poignantly felt Colombia’s loss to Brazil last July 4, and the agony of watching the team miss three penalties in a row this summer against Argentina permeated throughout the crowd.

Fútbol, as you might know, is the most popular sport in almost all Latin American countries. Baseball wins out in other places, like Venezuela, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

The sport weaves into politics and everyday life. I walked down the streets of Cartagena with my boyfriend, and we happened upon a small group of people, sitting in plastics chairs in the middle watching the Copa America final on a tiny TV.

So what is it behind the beautiful game that makes players and fans alike celebrate like this?

I think part of it is seeing goals like this happen.

But Brazilian anthropologist Roberto DaMatta, in an interview with Bloomberg, said, “In a hierarchical society like Brazil’s, where the rules are rigged, the stadium is a model of the modern world, competition is open and individual talent stands out.”  Many countries in Latin America have a similar social structure. Classes are clearly defined, and from my conversations with relatives, friends and observations of my own, I noticed how strong people identify by where they live. The sports picture is always more complicated than what we might imagine watching games on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

So when young people see people like Neymar, Maradona or other soccer stars rise out of poverty and into the spotlight, they see a chance for the same.  Yet futbol, no matter how magical it seems, does not escape the social inequality that exists throughout the region. (The average GINI index for the region is 50 out of 100).  A study by the World Bank showed that most Brazilian soccer players earn less than $650 a month.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the web politics, culture and economics play in one of the most world sports. Through the years, I’ve noticed the game is more tangled in politics, economics and culture than I could have possibly imagined.  Next week, I’ll look into how culture and politics weave into Latin Americans’ most cherished game.




Remembering the Americas’ 9/11

Learning is like the giddy feeling you get when you eat a doughnut. So every day, I basically eat a doughnut because I’m always learning (the perk: extra knowledge, not extra calories).

Making connections across histories and continents excites my mind. Tuesday in my Latin American politics class was no exception.

“If you ask Chileans where they were on 9/11, they’ll ask you, ‘Which one?’” my professor said.

Students chuckled awkwardly. But later in the week, I thought about it more. Each country has days that mark changes in its political, economic and social courses. We have to remember the significance of those days; we need to take a look into the past and the memories of the people who lived through those moments, no matter where we are.

Yesterday, here in the United States, we remembered a day that marked a deep change—and the loss of thousands of innocent lives—in America’s history, and the beginning of the War on Terror. We remember the bravery of those who sacrificed their lives to save others. We remember the shock of seeing the towers fall before us as we watched on TV.

Yesterday, Chileans remembered a day that marked a deep change in their history: the day Army Commander in Chief Augusto Pinochet led a coup d’etat in 1973 against Socialist president, Salvador Allende. Thousands of lives lost in the years the followed the authoritarian regime: those of leftist leanings were hunted down, some never to be seen again.

The takeover of the Chilean presidential palace:

Chile changed course from a socialist country to a repressive dictatorship for 17 years, from 1973 until 1990. (The coup was backed by Nixon’s government. The US did not want a Socialist country in its backyard and the context of the Cold War explain the support for Pinochet’s regime) Chile country returned to democracy in 1990.

A sense of peace was lost in both cases: in Chile, the peace brought with democratic elections and in the United States, the peace of security.

So how do we talk about painful histories? Those moments that are significant, marking a generation, policy and lives for years to come. How do we pass down these stories to our children and to our children’s children in a meaningful way?

On the one hand, talking about 9/11 in the United States in the immediate aftermath wasn’t taboo. But in Chile those who were politically opposed were shut down, killed, tortured or disappeared. Their voices weren’t heard, and it was up to family members, friends and loved ones to piece together what had happened. (At the end of Pinochet’s regime, the government did participate in piecing back together the history of those who died or were disappeared during those 17 years).

But essential to both countries has been the reconstruction of those memories. Chile opened the Museo de la Memoria in 2010, and the American 9/11 museum opened in 2011. Part of never forgetting is remembering the how and why the day happened, in hopes of explaining and understanding how the lives lost and changed plus the larger political context shape where we are right now.


What do you assume about Latin America?

At five years old, I didn’t really understand what a Latina identity meant. I thought most everyone spoke two languages.  It was only during my high school years that I understood with more clarity than before not everyone is bilingual.

Assumptions. Making these, well, as the saying goes, “Make an ass out of you and me.” But it’s hard not to make them because assumptions help us understand our world in digestible pieces. Really, who has the time for nuance?

But it’s quite the experience to have had fellow classmates ask, “Do you speak Mexican?”

It’s pretty clear this person showed a lack of knowledge. Seventeen countries comprise Latin America. We officially speak Spanish and Brazilians speak Portuguese and there are plenty of indigenous languages throughout the region, too.

This assumption isn’t quite as harmful as some other ones about Latin America. (Although it’s still mind-boggling to think some people think Mexicans speak Mexican. Do Americans speak American?)

The Huffington Post came out with a short list of some US myths of Latin America. One of the Huffington Post I want to hit on, and I’ll add one of my own.

#1: All of Latin America is dangerous.

We see this in much of the news we hear: violence here, killings there, corruption everywhere. How does the place even function? There’s not a robber at every corner and not everyone is out to kidnap the tourist.  It’s important to not paint the region with a broad brush. Some countries are more unstable than others: Venezuela more so than Costa Rica. It’s also important to take into account the difficult histories many of these countries have gone through and how it’s affected the people there. In part, it’s also common sense when going to these regions. Going in to a region assuming the worst about each person who walks next to you is not exactly the best way to learn about another culture.

#2: All Latin Americans look the same. (This one’s mine)

 #ThisIsWhatLatinosLookLike was trending in early December  on Twitter. So what do Latinos look like? Brown or black hair with olive toned skin and brown eyes?

I’ll go no further than my own family. My mom has black hair, olive skin and green eyes. My dad has mocha colored skin, black hair and brown eyes. My siblings look my father and I like my mother.

We’re all Latin. There are also Latins who are of African descent. Spaniards and Portuguese also brought slavery to Latin America. There are people in Latin America who are of European descent, especially in Argentina and Chile. There are also indigenous groups throughout the region. My great-grandmother was from an indigenous tribe and spoke Quechua. My paternal grandmother had some African heritage, too.

There are other assumptions out there. But it’s better to start asking questions and conversing with people who have lived there.




Learning Latin America: A new project

¿Que tal si solo escribiera esto en español? Les gustaria? Lo entenderian?

If you couldn’t understand what I just wrote, that was the point. Spanish is my first language, and the most common language in Latin America. But the confusion you just felt reading the first few questions is sometimes the way I feel about what happened or is happening south of the United States, and maybe you feel that way too. Or have no idea what is happening, and more importantly, why.

So for the next 15 weeks, I’ll be learning and writing about Latin America, focusing on politics, geography and culture.  I love my home country of Colombia, yet it doesn’t exist in a bubble. I like history, people, learning and sharing context.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez noted the “unearthly tidings of Latin America, that boundless realm of haunted men and historic women, whose unending obstinacy blurs into legend.”

The region is a paradoxical one. Natural resources abound. Yet one out of every five Latin Americans lives in chronic poverty.  That’s what fascinates me. And I want to learn more about how these paradoxes play out on the bigger stages of politics and policy, which have ramifications on the lives of millions.

A dusty, forlorn football pitch below the modern skyscrapers of Cartagena
A dusty, forlorn football pitch below the modern skyscrapers of Cartagena. Photo Credit: Andrew Allee

I also want to learn more about the ties the United States has with Latin America. I may even be mentioning some of the theories we’ve talked about in my Latin American Politics class.  Next week, I’ll be looking at some misconceptions about the region and examining my own.