On March 29, the U.S. Senate confirmed several of President Obama’s diplomatic nominations, many of whom were tapped to serve in the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA). Here’s a brief rundown of the confirmed WHA officials and their new positions: Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs; Larry Palmer, Ambassador to Barbados; Pamela White, Ambassador to Haiti; Phyllis Powers, Ambassador to Nicaragua; Jonathan Farrar, Ambassador to Panama; and Julissa Reynoso, Ambassador to Uruguay.
Not only do these confirmations provide a celebratory sense of relief, as many of these officials waited months for their nominations to proceed through the Senate, but the timing could not be better as the U.S. delegation prepares to depart for Cartagena, Colombia, to attend this weekend’s Sixth Summit of the Americas.
Jacobson was nominated in late September after becoming acting assistant secretary in July 2011 when her predecessor, Arturo Valenzuela, returned to academia. It’s both notable and laudable that a woman is leading WHA for the first time.
Jacobson’s candidature was challenged by Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who placed a hold on her nomination last November with a call to the Obama administration to “review abuses in the people-to-people Cuba travel policy.” Rubio dropped his hold on March 22 following guarantees from the State Department that it would require “applicants to demonstrate how their itineraries constitute purposeful travel that would support civil society in Cuba and help promote their independence from Cuban authorities,” according to the senator’s news release.
Two regrettable constants throughout the Caribbean region are that insecurity threatens human development and that crime and violence stymie economic prosperity. Research has upheld the latter; violence discourages tourism, foreign direct investment and business expansion. Crime has negative impacts on people’s livelihoods, mental wellbeing, socioeconomic status, and political freedom.
In 2010, the Caribbean had an intentional homicide rate of 21 percent per 100,000 people, a three-percentage-point increase from 2004. Barbados and Suriname have shown relatively low homicide rates over a 20-year timeframe, from 1990 to 2010. The World Bank reported in 2007 that crime is so costly, that if it were to be controlled in Jamaica alone, Jamaica’s gross domestic product would increase by 5.4 percent annually.
The UN Development Program (UNDP) is doing a commendable job of highlighting these devastating effects, in part through its recent publication of “Caribbean Human Development Report 2012: Human Development and the Shift to Better Citizen Security.” This is the UNDP’s first-ever Caribbean-specific report on human development, and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark visited Trinidad & Tobago earlier this month to launch it. The report provides an assessment on the state of crime in Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad & Tobago—and gives space to the national and regional policies and programs that these countries are enacting to address it. It ultimately states: “the Caribbean cannot achieve sustainable well-being and enjoy the fruits of its efforts toward progress unless its people can be secure in their daily lives.”
Any piece of legislation that addresses the issue of sex is bound to be met with controversy. This is only magnified in countries that promote policies that run against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) members of their population. Stakeholders like the Church, for instance, police morality by prohibiting any form of same-sex intimacy.
Today, terms like “sex” and “rape” are only viewed in the heterosexual prism—that is, only men and women legally engage in sexual activity. When these definitions were conceptualized, our awareness of the many ways in which people exercise their sexual freedom was perhaps very limited. But in 2012, despite cultural awareness to the contrary, much legislation does not deviate from conventional paradigms.
Beginning in 1927 in the United States, rape was defined as the “carnal knowledge of a woman, forcibly and against her will.” The Obama administration, however, expanded that definition to include more forms of sexual assault such as rape of men and oral or anal sex. According to Vice President Biden, "this long-awaited change to the definition of rape is a victory for women and men across the country whose suffering has gone unaccounted for over 80 years."
People living with disabilities represent one of the most marginalized groups in the world. Unknown to many, the Caribbean is home to a relatively large population with the disabled accounting for approximately 10 percent of the region’s population, according to the World Bank’s Disability in Latin America & the Caribbean fact sheet. Globally, the United Nations estimates that between 180 and 220 million disabled youth live across the world—with 80 percent of this population in developing countries.
The disabled live in extreme poverty and hunger and are often at serious risk of discrimination and violence.
Policymakers are taking action. In 1997, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) modified The Charter of Civil Society—the governing document adopted of the 15 member nations and dependencies—to address the issue of disability. This was done through Article XIV on the Rights of Disabled Persons. This article says:
“Every disabled person has, in particular, the right: (a) not to be discriminated against on the basis of his or her disability; (b) to equal opportunities in all fields of endeavor and to be allowed to develop his or her full potential; and (c) to respect his or her human dignity so as to enjoy a life as normal and full as possible.”