Monday, May 27, 2013

@MashiRafael, Ecuadorian President, Proposes Popular Poll to Determine Fate of Same-Sex Marriage

By Isabel M. Estrada Portales

A Poll on People´s Human Rights, Seriously?
“I want to read the powerful words of the Bible. I need the unreal force of their poetry. I need it against the dilapidation of the language and the dictatorship of slogans… But there is also another world I don´t want to live in: the world where the body and independent thought are disparaged, and the best things we can experience are denounced as sins.” Night Train to Lisbon: A Novel, Pascal Mercier
There is no heresy or no philosophy which is so abhorrent to the church as a human being. James Joyce 
Rafael Correa, the President of Ecuador, is a true disciple of the Catholic Church. They are with the poor in the Robin Hood fashion, except when the poor – be it indigenous, be it land invaders, begin to ask questions. They will even provide for the poor and even create visible, politically expedient change that can propel an election result or fill up a Sunday mass. And in that, Rafael Correa and the Catholic Church are somewhat leftist.
In everything else they are also very similar. They believe in their own precepts and are convinced those should be imposed on the rest of us. And they don´t believe in the immense diversity of the human experience; nor in the Creation of their own God who, despite his infinite wisdom and compassion, apparently made gays and lesbians so that they can be perennial victims of scorn and suffering, self loathing and societal despise.
Correa is the dream of the most reactionary corners of the Latin American church: someone who, apparently from the left, is willing to uphold every church prejudice and misguided belief. So, the same church that hated Fidel Castro, and loved Videla and Franco, can now overtly proclaim its love for a “radical leftist” president. As Adriana Amado said, revolutions are coming more conservative every time.
A popular poll on the rights of LGBT people is akin to a poll on indigenous rights, or blacks´ rights. Why don´t we take a poll in Saudi Arabia about women´s right to vote right now? Not in 2015 when women will finally have the right to vote. Human rights cannot be settled by polls or by popular opinion. We may still have slavery in the United States if we had taken a poll on that one.
Rafael Correa said, quite knowingly and with the conviction that brings the understanding of the depth of the prejudice: “well, let´s take a poll in the next election and see if it is just my own dogmas and prejudices.” He knows his prejudices and dogmas are with those of the majority of the Ecuadorian people, in the willingness to squash the rights of a minority. But he also knows better. Public opinion moves slowly in issues of values and mores.  True leaders try to lead towards equality instead of exploiting people´s prejudice to further inequity, and iniquity. Or was Correa and Alianza País not campaigning their hearts out to promote their views and get the results they wanted in the last popular poll?
When Correa says he admires the LGBT community´s fight, what is it he admires exactly? Their fight to attain rights he has no intention to neither afford them, nor even believes they have them?
Regardless of his doctrinaire beliefs, telling a gay man he had a right to marry a woman was simply shameful and painful. It was also unnecessary to convey the point, and rightfully brought about the uproar in the Twitterverse. Just imagine if he had said, before 1929, to an Ecuadorian woman demanding her rights: “yes, you do have the constitutional right to do whatever your husband tells you.” I´m sure it would have been hilarious.
There is also his firm statement that he “will never accept” changing sex for gender in the identity document. So, if by a miracle, the National Assembly went rogue and approves the change, Rafael Correa would veto it. Are not the members of the Assembly the direct representatives of the people? That would be a popular poll of sorts, wouldn´t it?
Traditionally, according to the right, those of us who oppose war are just naïve, and the Sierra Club people are just silly environmentalists. Correa uses the same tactic: if you disagree with his way of thinking, you are not merely differing; you are infantile, stupid, not a smart person. Basically, there is only one mature and right way of being progressive and revolutionary: you have to think like Correa… in everything.
His divided position is actually admirable. He believes in economic fairness, me too, and in a single moral and value view, me either (as Dali would say of Picasso: he is a painter, me too; he is a communist, me either.) This is not sarcasm on my part. I respect the fact that people are complex and have variegated, multiple, even conflicting views…If only Rafael Correa could afford others that same consideration and realize that, yes, revolutionaries and progressives come in many shades of grey – is that too sexual a reference? Yes, there has been a pacifist, progressive, leftist, feminist, pro LGBT, antiracist, radically environmentalist movement that is also anticlerical – in people like me – or merely anti the intrusion of the churches/mosques/synagogues/temples of any stripe in their lives and in a secular society´s policies. There also have been a myriad of combinations of those categories – and the list is by no means exhaustive – and all of them deserve respect.
Correa mocked the left – or “good” revolutionaries – as people who are pro-abortion, pro gay marriage, anticlerical, infantile ecologist, and infantile indigenous advocates.

He claims the mantle of the left, and so do I. The fact that we disagree in some matters does not exclude either of us from a leftist view on social issues. Per his own admission, Señor Presidente – yes, slight allusion to Asturias here – in a lot of the causes the left has historically espoused and advanced in terms of extending liberties and rights to minorities and majorities alike, Correa is squarely on the right. The idea that he then gets to define who is not “buen” revolutionary is rather ghastly.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I Love to Pass Immigration on the Back of LGBT People…We Fight On!

By Isabel M. Estrada Portales
It was sad; honestly, it was disgusting to realize that one of my dreams was on the way to come true at the expense of the dreams of so many others. I know I’m being exceedingly optimistic in assuming that the immigration bill is about to become law, but it certainly inched closer…and who cares if same-sex couples can’t be together after all?
I hope that the Latino and all the immigrant community scream bloody murder. There is nothing more unjust that accomplish a fiat against one type of discrimination and injustice through the enforcement of another type. Or are we saying that families should be together unless they are same sex families? Kids need to be with their parents, except if they happen to be gay? I’m sure, as we have seen with the children of same-sex couples whose plight so impressed and moved Justice Kennedy, if we actually gave a voice to the children of same sex couples divided by our wondrous immigration system even Scalia would have to fight back tears – well, yeah, exaggerating just a bit here.
I guess I’m getting older than I thought, since now I’m thinking that we need to move forward with the bill, despite this glaring, vulgar inequity, and iniquity. Yes, we do, because otherwise this will be a ready excuse for Republicans not to move on immigration at all. On the other hand, since we still don’t have equality on most federal books they also have a valid legal rationale.
That is why we – Latinos, immigrants, and equality champions everywhere – should also continue the other fight, in the American soil, for full equality for the LGBT community. Once DOMA – I always have this tendency to misspell this acronym as DUMB…must be Freudian –, and other statutes that limit the rights of LGBT people are finally vanquished, whatever ends up passing for immigration will have to apply to all, since those would be the federal laws. Then, we will have arrived to a more perfect Union.
The part of me that hasn’t matured yet feels we should stand our ground and tell South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham to take a hike. Let’s just ignore the opinion of the rest – although, we sadly don’t have the majorities to do that – and don’t move until we get what we want. Where is Rafael Correa when you need him? Well, ironically, in this Rafael Correa would be with the extreme right, against same sex’s rights. As someone said the other day: revolutions are coming ever more conservative.
My hope resides on the fact that, as Patrick Leahy withdrew the amendment to add protections for same-sex couples “with a heavy heart,” there was near silence in the packed Senate hearing room.” I want to believe it was a guilty, ashamed, ‘we’ll right this wrong’ silence… and that famous arch of history will bend towards justice one day…soon.

As I always tell my children, yeah, it bends towards justice, but it does take darn long!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ecuador: Revolutionizing Freedoms of Expression, Press, and Thought

By Isabel M. Estrada Portales
The Administration of Rafael Correa has decided to pick a fight with people who buy the ink by the barrel, because he needed a good enemy. It helped that most of the mainstream national media lacked any credibility in terms of its independence from powerful groups and interests. This is not just a phenomenon in Ecuador. However, in other countries, such as the United States, other forces have enough economic power to set up influential alternatives.
The mainstream media in Ecuador had always served the very narrow interests of a political and economic elite with utter disregard for the great majority of the people. A public that has never had any real access to the media would be hard pressed to defend a freedom of expression, and much less, a freedom of the press, they didn’t know they had. This is particularly the case in the face of other significant improvements that directly impact that very same public.
I know, from very personal experience, how much the Ecuadorian people have suffered and still suffers the impact of brutal inequalities and inequities. I also know the dictatorial efforts of the right in the past – and, yes, most of that under the lowered gaze of the United States… when the enemy of our enemy was our friend, albeit distasteful.
As in all the other Latin American countries swept by a new and invigorated left, the people, the poor, discovered one day that they were a lot many more, and that each had one vote. So, a smart leader who can offer a new proposal, that did not include a war, and did include the needs of the forgotten majority could be voted in real quick.
But, as a Cuban, I also saw this movie before. And as a rabid leftist, I want the left to work, once and for all, and to be inclusive, and democratic, and to continue to win because it has a better proposal that can be defended and debated, and fought out in the press, in all the press, and in private blogs, and in community media, and everywhere. Without fear.
I am arrogant and believe I know best. In that regard, I’m a lot like President Correa. That’s my eternal source of disappointment with U.S. politics. I know I’m right and they are wrong. I know abortion should be legal, safe, and rare – and that accessible contraception would go a long way towards that goal; I know guns should be banned; and I know universal health care is the only way to go.
But in my old age I have come to realize that the other 49 per cent who lost this time around – as wrong as they are, in my never humble opinion – believes things just as strongly, and they cannot be discounted. Consensus has to be built, and that is a daily process. Otherwise, we have a dictatorship of the majority, while the defense and respect of the minority should be the cornerstone of a political process. A dictatorship of the majority, by the way, does not help strengthen the institutions, which are the repository of a vibrant democracy.
Consensus is built in the public sphere. The media, with all its flaws, but also with all its possibilities, helps build that consensus, as well as keeps a watchful eye on the workings of the state, the private sector, and all corners of society. And, if new media and technologies have brought about something wonderful, it is the ability of many, from all walks of life, to keep a watchful eye on the workings of the media as well. No need to silence, to threaten, to impose. Wrong information should be fought with right, more information.
The state, also, is not an uninterested party that is always objective and above reproach. The state, any state, cannot police itself. Ironically, too many constraints on the media may end up hampering the democratizing process it is supposedly espoused. The same law or rule that limits or punishes a mainstream outlet can be turned against any other outlet: a blog, a Twitter feed, an Internet radio station.
In Ecuador, commercial and political interests ran the media for a very long time. The supposed wall between advertising and the newsroom was very thin, if it existed. And people know that, particularly now, since it is repeated often enough. But they also know it because they do remember how wrong things were, and how little of that was uncovered. They can also compare how much some outlets are now only too happy to uncover the government’s every failing. So, I guess they wonder: where were you before? And that’s a fair question.
But the government has assumed a wrong role for the media. The president speaks of “journalists opponents of the government,” as if there are supposed to be journalists, or news outlets for that matter, in favor of the government. The role of the media – independent, public, private, even state media if they want to do it right – should be to keep an eye on the government and all sectors of society and to uncover what’s wrong, so that it can be cleansed. The fact that they didn’t do it before is just wrong. What the government could do now is to show them how it is done right. The public, the people – unless we do not trust them – should and will be able to see the difference.
I remember when President Bush kept complaining that the press only reported the collateral damage and the suicide bombers, but never when a new school opened in Bagdad. Well, schools should open. Institutions should run well. Normalcy is not what the press covers… or uncovers. The old adage of the kid who bites the dog… Applauding what the government does well, when it does its job is called propaganda.
When government officials launch a tirade against the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ 2012 Annual Report to the Organization of American States’ (OAS), for expressing concern about Ecuador’s freedom of the press environment, they ignore that the same report also criticizes the current limitations of press freedom in Brazil for the unduly influence of economic and political interests. If there is a place were the press is strong, and has solid rightwing backing, that is Brazil, as President Lula, I’m sure can attest. 

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Como en los viejos tiempos…de universidades y trovas

Este martes visité la Facultad de Comunicación Social (FACSO) de la Universidad Central del Ecuador. Tuve el placer de conocer personalmente a los profesores Roberto Freire y Eduardo Albán, con quienes espero trabajar y quienes me acogieron envidiablemente.

Sin embargo, al entrar en la facultad, más bien pensé que había tomado la máquina del tiempo. No como la que tomo par air a Tejas, sino una que me trasladó a otros años, en una universidad, y especialmente una Facultad de Periodismo – cuyo nombre cambiaba en ese entonces a Facultad de Comunicación Social – también en ebullición. Donde nosotros peleábamos contra la idea de “la universidad para los revolucionarios” porque percibíamos con meridiana claridad la exclusión que representaba… y dónde las ideas de asistencia libre y autonomía universitaria se hubieran pensado un llamado a las armas.

Pero, la verdad es que, en medio del movimiento y los carteles, lo que más me conmovió fue un grupo de jóvenes, alrededor de un enguitarrado, que en corro cantaban canciones que yo no reconocía… y sí reconocía, eran, de algún modo, las mismas de siempre.

Recordé a los amigos entrañables y a Troforo. Y me vino a la memoria esa canción de Silvio, Monólogo, en que se disculpa por irrumpir:

Coincidentemente, este video fue grabado en Quito, en 1996. 

Favor, no se molesten,
que pronto me estoy yendo;
no vine a perturbarles
y menos a ofenderlos
Vi luz en las ventanas
y oí voces cantando
y, sin querer, ya estaba tocando

Y recordé que nos íbamos de farra, y leíamos a Borges, y luego de la Misa del Gallo nos sentábamos al muro que separa del mar si es de noche a emborracharnos con Guayabita del Pinar y soñar en que moriría el poeta lejos del hogar y le cubriría el polvo de un país lejano.

Yo también me alegraba
entre amigos y cuerdas,
con licores y damas,
mas ¿de eso quien se acuerda?
Me recordaron tiempos
de sueños e ilusiones
Perdonen a este viejo,
Y me fui, después de tirar un par de fotos a los carteles que nosotros no hubiéramos podido escribir, y darle una última mirada nostálgica al trovador y su séquito.

Disculpen la molestia,
ya me llevo mi boca
A mi edad la cabeza
a veces se trastoca
En la alegría de ustedes
distinguí mis promesas
y todo me parece que empieza.