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Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

Changing the world one word at a time

Friday, April 24th, 2009

Global Bits - Issue 16 (24 Pages)

Global Education Centre

cover-art-issue-161This Global Bits offers readers a chance to look inside the heads of our future leaders – and to understand the issues and passions that drive them. Open to all 12-18 year olds, 10 young people were picked for this programme for the first time in 2008. In this issue these creative and savvy new authors relate history to global politics. They unravel subjects such as international guidelines for human rights the difference between actual and relative poverty, and just how democracy works.

Watch this space for our new group in 2009!

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Are you ready? Stand up and be counted!

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

By Hannah Robson

megaphoneHere in Aotearoa New Zealand and beyond, we have strong opinions and are becoming more knowledgeable about politics, showing that we do indeed care. As the future generation, we are exercising our democratic rights and breaking out — trying to be heard!

People power
In the dictionary, democracy is “a government by the people in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.” In the words of Abraham Lincoln, democracy is a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Did you know that young people make up nearly half of the entire population of the world? So WE are “the people” and WE have the power to make change globally.

In democracies like NZ our key democratic right is to elect our government - majority rules. Our voting age is 18, but around the world different countries have different voting ages.

  • Austria 16
  • Sudan 17
  • Japan 20
  • Uzbekistan 25

Taking a stand
FrigateYoung New Zealanders are becoming more politically aware. This could be because as a country we are known for not following the crowd on certain issues — we create strong opinions, and can usually back them up. Like the nuclear energy debate — although it is environmentally viable, New Zealand has maintained its nuclear free stance and is protecting the people from the potentially dangerous consequences. The New Zealand government has remained staunch on this issue, even under pressure from other nations, such as the USA, Australia and Britain. But young people have also realised that we can’t always wait for the government to lead the way. We have to stand up for what we believe in — we have to make changes, because in a lot of cases, the politicians have ignored the major issues.

Why now?
It is us, the young, who are going to be directly affected by such issues as global warming in the coming decades, so we need to make a stand now, for the future generations. Groups set up by young people all over the world are making that stand. KidsCall, has been touring the globe gathering messages from young people about the environment and climate change They will be presenting the hopes and demands of young people to the world’s leading politicians at the G8 meeting in Japan in July 2008. Others are taking action locally. EcoWatch in Uganda, set up by young women, works with students to raise awareness of the threat of climate change and to empower people to live in an environmentally sustainable way.

Youth can swing elections
young-obama-supportersWhether it’s as voters or as activists, young people do have power. The youth vote was seen as the all important swing vote in the American Democratic Presidential candidate election, which favoured Barack Obama. Young people in the US are inspired by his message of change and feel he reflects a new generation (their generation!) and new thinking. And he takes young people seriously, speaking to them directly and encouraging them to get involved. Young people came out in huge numbers in the primary elections and showed they are a force to be reckoned with.

In Pakistan, students played a crucial role in pushing for governmental change — for democracy — even with the risk of arrest and other punishments. Their protests helped keep international attention on the issue, and although they may still be waiting for true democratic change, the students’ actions have awakened many Pakistani youth to the potential of their own power.

On the frontline
Young people want change; it’s in our nature. From women’s rights to civil rights, young people have been on the frontline, campaigning for their cause. Youth have never been the kind to sit back and just let things happen. Even the Prime Minister was young once — just like us! Yes — even Helen Clark was out protesting against New Zealand’s involvement in the Vietnam war back in the 1970s. But we need to remember that beliefs do change over time and we need to remind our politicians what it is like to be young. We need to make our voices heard.

myspace-maoriPoliticians seem to be realising the power of youth and are trying to become more “in touch” with us, using technology. In the upcoming elections in New Zealand and the USA, politicians are reaching out to young people via the internet, posting videos on YouTube and creating Bebo and MySpace pages. So, if they are taking us seriously, we should take ourselves seriously too. We have to actively participate in making a change — not just talk about it!

Are you ready to stand up and be counted?


  • Take a chance — run for your student council. Or, if you want your thoughts and ideas to be heard by national decision makers, join the Provoke Network at www.myd.govt.nz/ayv/provoke/
  • Become a youth member of a political party
  • Join a local student organisation or CREATE YOUR OWN! You want to change something? Research it, discuss it with others (be prepared for some debate!) and work to make the change
  • Get involved with the World Youth Movement for Democracy www.ymd.youthlink.org
  • Signup with the Just Focus network or join the discussions in the forum www.justfocus.org.nz


Find out about student activists around the world at http://studentresistance.wordpress.com
Download the Do-It-Yourself guide to youth activism at www.ywca.org.nz
Do you want to write to a politician, or organise a petition or a campaign? Check out the Take Action guides from the Ministry of Youth Development www.myd.govt.nz

    This article was originally published in the Global Focus pages of Tearaway Magazine.

    The gossipy side of world politics

    Monday, August 14th, 2006

    One Big Soap Opera: An Appreciation for the Gossipy Side of World Politics
    Jayran Mansouri world map with people

    World politics. For my friends, the mere mention of the word conjures up images of old people sitting around an official-looking table with pieces of paper, discussing completely random things in what seems to be a foreign language.

    As a 13-year-old politics enthusiast, I feel the need to explain what draws my interest to what at first glance seems like the reserve of important-looking geriatrics.

    Whenever people ask me what I find so interesting about politics, I have to say, “It’s like one big soap opera”

    Politics is, indeed, “The science of government; that part of ethics which has to do with the regulation and government of a nation or state, the preservation of its safety, peace, and prosperity, the defense of its existence and rights against foreign control or conquest, the augmentation of its strength and resources, and the protection of its citizens in their rights, with the preservation and improvement of their morals”, (Online Dictionary) but it is also rife with scandals, rumors, rivalry and the whole “who said what to who about whom” element that lends it to the drama reminiscent of a soap opera.

    Take, for instance, US President George W Bush’s recent use of the S-Word’ at a private luncheon. “See the irony is that what they [the United Nations need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this (s-word) and it’s over,” Bush said to Tony Blair. What he didn’t know was that the microphone was on, and everything he said could be picked up. I might also add he was chewing in a most unbecoming manner.

    Or what about Foreign Minister Winston Peters, who is currently in hospital after contracting a tropical disease in Malaysia while at the ASEAN Regional Forum?

    news pressOr the infamous “Dick Cheney Hunting Incident”? US Vice President Dick Cheney was out hunting for quails with Harry Whittington, a 78-year-old lawyer, when he accidentally shot Whittington! Since then, people have speculated on whether or not it was really an accident.

    Was George Bush really democratically elected? Why did Winston Peters re-ignite the controversy of his trip to Washington, ignoring Helen Clark’s call for him to end his media feud? And who will be the next nuclear state? These questions constitute political folklore.

    My point is, once you get past the whole boring-old-people-discussing-boring-old-things idea, politics has a gossipy, soap opera element that endears it to so many young people like myself.

    ¡Ya basta! Enough is enough!

    Thursday, April 27th, 2006

    Grace Leung

    Zapatista beginnings
    On the 1 January 1994, two things happened that shook Mexican society and resounded around the world. zapatista wall muralThe North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect, devastating small producers and workers with policies that allow cheaper, heavily subsidised US and Canadian goods to flood into the Mexican market. On the same day, 3000 members of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) seized six towns and hundreds of ranches in the Southern state of Chiapas, Mexico as an action of resistance against the imposition of neoliberal policies that favour already powerful multinational corporations. For two weeks, the state of Chiapas resounded with the chant “’¡Ya Basta! Enough is enough!” as the people called for an end to five centuries of indigenous repression and exploitation and of the encroaching globalisation of corporate hegemony and cultural homogenisation. The Mexican army responded with bombs and bullets, killing at least 145 indigenous people. Mexican civil society responded with massive demonstrations across the country calling for an end to the military repression, and a ceasefire was called on the 12th of January.

    From the ceasefire to now
    Peace talks began in February 1994 and continued until February 1996 when an agreement, called the San Andrés Accords, was signed by the Zapatistas and the Mexican government, outlining a program of indigenous autonomy, land reform and cultural rights. In December of that same year, newly elected president, Ernesto Zedillo, officially turned his back on the San Andres Accords. The Zapatistas, and sympathising communities, have since endured continual persecution from the Mexican military and paramilitaries and have been singled out as a threat from multinational corporations such as the Chase Manhattan Bank.
    This has resulted in tragedies such as the Acteal massacre of December 1997, where 45 Zapatista sympathising civilians in the community of Acteal, mostly women and children, were gunned down in a church by paramilitaries with the aid of the Mexican military. Despite this, the Zapatistas refuse to tolerate any more oppression, be it physical, economic or cultural. The resistance continues and grows until this day.

    What do the Zapatistas stand for?
    The Zapatista movement is rooted in the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), an uprising for land reform, communal land rights for the indigenous and freedom from imperialist repression. Named after one of Mexico’s great revolutionaries, Emiliano Zapata, the movement strives to break through the neoliberal mode of profit over people and a government seeped in corruption, to create a space for justice, equitable public participation and respect for Mother Earth. zapatista meetingIndeed, the leaders of the movement famously mask their faces with balaclavas or bandanas to symbolise their anonymity and equality with the suffering indigenous, peasants and workers. The movement has organised countless consultations and meetings at community, national and international levels, but always prioritising the voice of the people. As a result, they have established strong, autonomous communities with health clinics, schools and cooperatives producing various goods as deemed suitable for the communities by the communities. A dynamic form of government, (el Buen Gobierno, the good government) modelled on traditional indigenous frameworks, has been established, where leaders are seen as servants of the people and extensive community involvement occurs.

    Do people support the Zapatista movement?
    The rebellious dignity of the Zapatistas, coupled with their savvy use of the media, has inspired civil society worldwide and international solidarity has been proliferating over the years. In 2001, a Zapatista caravan, lead by the charismatic spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos, completed a three week long March from Chiapas to the capital, Mexico City to demand that the government honours the San Andrés Accords. As they marched into the city plaza, they were greeted with 250,000 supporters from a colourful cross-section of Mexican and international society.

    Are they winning?

    Despite the strength and successes of the Zapatista movement, many communities still suffer from extreme poverty, exacerbated by the fact that many of them are situated in remote mountainous regions. Access to potable water and medicine remains a leading cause of illness and fatalities in the communities, especially for children and women. To epitomise the gravity of the situation, Subcomandante Ramona, one of the EZLN’s most loved leaders and a beacon of equality for women in the movement, died of a curable kidney condition whilst en route to a health clinic from an isolated mountain community.

    Problems facing the Zapatistas

    While the movement is steeled by its uncompromising principles and integrity, it is hindered by a lack of resources and infrastructure. Currently there are only a handful of facilities in Chiapas that train young indigenous people vocational skills to bring valuable skills back to their communities. There has also been support from international solidarity groups. However, since the Zapatistas are autonomous, external aid is accepted only from non-governmental sources. In spite of the death of Ramona and the continuing poverty of communities, the movement has been growing stronger in spirit, especially in recent months.

    candle lit shrine

    “The Other Campaign”
    As a response to the opaque processes and mudslinging of the looming Mexican presidential elections, the Zapatistas have launched “The Other Campaign”. The comandancia are currently touring Mexico to educate and empower civilians about the alternatives for the corrupt government that serves the insatiable capitalist machine that is currently in power. Although primarily an indigenous rights movement, the Zapatistas embrace all peoples fighting towards democracy, justice and liberty. They are part of a global wave of people standing up against a system that values profit over people and nature and striving for a global citizenry of dignity, democracy, freedom and justice.


    • Learn more about the Zapatistas from www.ezln.org.mx, indymedia or from a range of publications at the Freedom Shop on Cuba Mall (I recommend the book “Our Word is Our Weapon, by Subcomdante Marcos)
    • Support international solidarity programs
    • Visit Chiapas and work with some of the communities. Organisations like Chiapas Peace House (www.chiapaspeacehouse.org) act as centres to support and delegate overseas volunteers in Chiapas.
    • Learn more about the state of indigenous peoples and their rights in your area.
    • Learn more about the negative impacts of corporate globalisation and the effect of multilateral free trade agreements like NAFTA

    Two faced land of the free

    Thursday, January 12th, 2006

    Cameron Walker
    petrol pumps
    Members of the Bush Administration regularly claim that the aim of American foreign policy is to spread ideals of democracy, freedom and liberty around the world. However, the actions of the US Government in its dealings with other nations regularly seem to contradict this.

    We were all told the war on Iraq was to bring democracy to a nation suffering under Saddam Hussein. In the first year of the American occupation of Iraq, the nation came under the authority of the Coalition Provisional Authority and its American head Paul Bremer. During this time Bremer decreed 100 orders or changes Iraq had to make to its’ economy.

    Instead of helping Iraqi people rebuild from decades of war these changes all strengthen American corporations at the expense of ordinary Iraqis. For example, Order 39 allows for 100% foreign ownership of Iraqi banks, mines and factories and also decrees that corporations may take 100% of their profit out of Iraq, instead of investing it in the local economy, which is in dire need of development. (Palast Greg Adventure Capitalism’)

    Order 81 prohibits Iraqi farmers from saving seed from year to year. Instead they must fork out large amounts of money to buy new seed from American agribusiness corporations, such as Cargill. According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in 2002 97% of Iraqi wheat farmers saved their seeds. This process helped avert famine during the harsh sanctions on Iraq in the 1990’s. As the British magazine the Ecologist points out:

    “The US, however, has decided that, despite 10,000 years practice, Iraqis don’t know which wheat works best in their own conditions, and would be better off with some new, imported American varieties. Under the guise, therefore, of helping get Iraq back on its feet, the US is setting out to totally reengineer the country’s traditional farming systems into a US-style corporate agribusiness.” (Smith Jeremy Order 81’)

    No Iraqis were involved in making these decisions. They were forced on the war-wrecked nation in such an un-democratic way it would have made Saddam Hussein proud. An insider implementing the US government’s economic policies in Iraq told the American journalist Greg Palast: “They have [Deputy Defence Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz coming out saying it’s going to be a democratic country … but we’re going to do something that 99 percent of the people of Iraq wouldn’t vote for.”

    The one of the few Saddam era laws retained by the American occupation forces in Iraq is the law that restricts union organising in public sector industries. Since 2003 Iraqi unionists have been busy actively opposing American moves to sell Iraqi industries to American corporations. As Hassan Juma’a Awad, a leading member of Iraq’s General Union of Oil Workers says:
    “It was our duty as Iraqi workers to protect the oil installations since they are the property of the Iraqi people and we are sure that the US and the international companies have come here to put their hands on the country’s oil reserves”.

    Iraqi unionists have had some big victories but also have had to suffer great costs. A general strike broke out in Basra when the British tried to install a notorious mayor who was a member of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party. Oil workers forced US Vice President Dick Cheney’s company Halliburton to employ Iraqis to complete reconstruction work in one city where unemployment was as high as 70%, instead of importing Kuwaiti oil workers. (Bacon David Interview with Hassan Juma’a Awad’)

    Unions suffered persecution under Saddam. Today they face repression by both the American occupying forces and the remnants of Saddam’s regime that make up part of the murderous insurgency’. Some unionists have been kidnapped and murdered.

    While the US is bringing democracy’ and free market capitalism to Iraq at gunpoint, it is also using huge amounts of effort to undermine the democratically elected government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

    Chavez, described by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice as “a negative force in the region [South America]”, won a landslide election victory in 1998 and was again popularly re-elected in 2000. In 2004 he won a recall referendum on his rule with 58% of the vote, which was declared free and fair by foreign observers including former US President Jimmy Carter.

    In 2002 opponents of Hugo Chavez launched a coup in which the president was briefly overthrown and held under house arrest. The head of the Venezuelan Federation of Business, Pedro Carmona Estranga, appointed himself President.

    Most nations around the world condemned the coup as anti-democratic and called for Chavez to be released and returned to office. The USA failed to condemn the coup and became one of the few nations in the whole world to recognise the coup government of Carmona. After a huge public outcry on the streets of Venezuela Chavez was returned to power.

    In 2005 the pro-Bush US evangelist minister Pat Robertson said on his TV program, The 700 Club’ that the US should assassinate Chavez.

    Why do the US government and its allies hate Chavez so much when he is a seemingly popular democratic leader? Well he has raised taxes on US oil companies and increased the price of oil exports to pay for large social programmes for the poor in urban slums, known as barrios. He vocally criticises US “free trade agreements” in Latin America as new world imperialism and also criticised the war on Iraq.

    Despite its rhetoric the US government is quite happy to put corporate profit ahead of democracy.


    Bacon David (September 2005) Interview with Hassan Juma’a Awad’ The New Internationalist, p33, issue 382

    Hari Johann (August 26, 2005) Awaiting the hit’ in oil rich rogue state’, The New Zealand Herald, pB4

    Palast Greg (October 26, 2004) Adventure Capitalism

    Smith Jeremy (February 2005), Order 81’, The Ecologist


    The Rise of America’s New Enemy by John Pilger

    White House and Media Escalate War of Words Against Hugo Chavez by Scott Harris

    Hunger, poverty and the real agenda of the IMF and world bank

    Tuesday, October 18th, 2005

    Cameron Walker

    Created out of the Bretton Woods Conference of 1944 the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) claim to have the noble aims of helping third world nations to finance the building of infrastructure and to bridge balance of payments difficulties. However, many claim both institutions help ruin the economies of Third World nations through forced structural adjustment programmes, which are a condition to any loans or aid from them. Many also claim that the policies of both institutions directly benefit powerful multi-national corporations.

    IMF logoThe draconian terms of the structural adjustment programmes often include the elimination of tariffs on imports, the forced privatisation of state owned assets, the removal of subsidies to local producers, the reduction of crop diversity and the forced export of crops to a small number of foreign buyers. These policies often lead to much poverty and injustice.

    In 1999 the Bolivian city of Cochabamba privatised its public water supply under the intense pressure of the World Bank. The citizens of Cochabamba then as a result faced water bill price hikes of $20 a month. In a nation where the minimum wage is under $100 a month this was absolutely disastrous. What is even more shocking is that after privatisation the citizens of Cochabamba ended up paying more a month for water than people who live in the wealthiest suburbs of Washington D.C.

    The policies of the World Bank and IMF are largely blamed for causing Malawi’s 2002 famine. The strings which were attached to an IMF loan package to Malawi included the privatisation of the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation, removal of agricultural subsidies to small farmers and the deregulation of price controls on staple foods such as maize. Between October 2001 and March 2002 the price of maize increased by 400 percent as a result of these policies. In 2002 Malawi spent 20 percent of its national budget on debt repayment to Western creditors. This is more than Malawi spent on health, education and agriculture combined.

    The foreign debt of many Third World nations will literally take hundreds of years to pay off. Indonesia’s foreign debt for example is $262 billion. This is 170 percent of Indonesia’s gross domestic product. Every day poor nations pay $100 million to Western creditors in debt repayment, mainly to institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank. Since the 1980’s the policies of these institutions have led to developing nations paying out five times as much capital to rich industrialised nations as they have received in aid.

    Decisions at the World Bank and the IMF are made by a vote of the board of executive directors, which represent member states. The voting process does not reflect proper democracy because voting power is determined by the amount a member state contributes to the institutions. This means the U.S.A has roughly 17 percent of the vote and has a dominant voice on policy and at times has exercised the power of veto. The World’s seven largest industrialised nations have 45 percent of the vote at the World Bank and IMF. As a result of this the policies of the World Bank and IMF often directly benefit industries based in Western industrialised nations. The company which bought Cochabamba’s water supply after it was privatised was Aguas del Tunari, part of International Water Limited, a British based company half owned by the American engineering giant, Bechtel. U.S. treasury officials have estimated that for every $1 the United States contributes to International development banks, U.S. exporters win more than U.S. $2 in bank financed procurement contracts.

    It would seem to be common sense for poor nations to be encouraged to be self sufficient in food production; common sense seems to be contrary to World Bank and IMF policy. Some poor nations have had to endure having their crop diversity limited and then being forced to export the few crops produced to Western Nations. In the early 1990’s the famous investigative journalist John Pilger pointed out that forty percent of arable land in Senegal is used for growing peanuts for Western margarine and in Ghana fifty percent of arable land is used for growing cocoa for export to make Western chocolate bars. Both of these nations suffer malnutrition yet export most of their crops; a scene reminiscent of Ireland under British Imperialism during the potato famine of the 1840’s.

    It is easy to come to the conclusion that the World Bank and IMF’s true agenda is very different than the one they sell to the public. They claim to help poor nations but really aid multinational corporations at the expense of Third World nations. These two institutions need to be greatly reformed to be any use in helping tackle one of the greatest problems of the early 21st Century, poverty.


    Burgo, Ezequiel and Stewart, Heather ( 29/10/2002) The Guardian

    Pilger, John (1994) Distant Voices London: Vintage

    Pilger, John (2002) The New Rulers Of The World London: Verso


    World Bank/IMF Factsheet