ISRAEL-GAZA… Here we go

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This is probably happening to you as well.

I am lucky enough to live in a country of relative peace and stability. I have constant access to running water, food and shelter. Throughout the day when I am not with them, I have a general feeling that my kids and wife are ok. I don’t fear a bomb or missile will hit anywhere near my home and neither my immediate ancestors nor current relatives have been immersed in a history of war fueled by hatred, intolerance, mismanaged conflict and religious bigotry. I am lucky that way.

I see the current escalation of the Middle East conflict from afar. I read about it while I sip a cup of freshly brewed coffee in an air-conditioned office. I browse through the different news outlets unsuccessfully trying to get some sort of approximation of the facts because it is safe to say that international news media is biased one way or the other and has its own political agenda.  Then, I go into Facebook.

What is normally a social media website where my friends gather to publish pictures of their kids’ latest accomplishments, share the results of trivia such as “Which European City I should live in” and the like, has changed.

For some reason, it seems that a lot of people just recently found out about this age-old conflict and escalation and of course, EVERYONE has an opinion they feel the need to share. A series of YouTube videos which summarize the history of the region since its inception in a couple of poorly constructed minutes of animation, have apparently given all of my friends the means to determine if they root for Israel or the Palestinians in this conflict, as if this horrible situation were a soccer match. Friends in Mexico, U.S., Canada and elsewhere keep sharing these videos saying “this explains it all” and I’m invaded by hashtags pro and anti-Israel. Every so often, a hopeful #PrayForGaza line pops up.

Even sadder to see are some my friends of Israeli, Arab and Muslim origin, who are usually peace-loving and tolerant people, turned into soapbox salespeople for “their cause.” I see Jewish friends talking about how “we are just defending ourselves” and grouping all Arabs and Muslims under the label of “terrorist”. On the other side of the spectrum, my Arab and Muslim friends from different nations talk about “we were here first” and the disproportionate use of force and possible war crimes of the current Israeli government attacking Gaza.

Their friends in turn comment on their posts. They tell them “We are with you” and “we support you,” which is an expected reaction from people who love them and see that behind their outbursts is an unequivocal truth: their people are hurting.

The problem with this dynamic is that it only heightens the blame game and draws conflicting sides even further away from a conception of conflict resolution or at the very least, conflict settlement. Do posturing and trying to establish that one of the warring parties is supposedly right or wrong, change the fact that innocent lives are being lost by the hundreds and have been suffering for too many years? Does it do anything else than by some twisted manner create a virtual reality of self-justification for killing others? Does posting these highly biased but supposedly educational videos make you sleep better at night?

To my Israeli, Jewish, Palestinian, Arab and Muslim friends from different countries: I AM WITH ALL OF YOU AND NOT WITH ANY OF YOU.

I am with you in empathy while from a distance I see you and/or people you hold dear in the way of immediate danger and suffering; when I see blood-splattered bodies of innocent men, women and children regardless of their color or creed. I am NOT with any of you when I see you seeking support or justification for violence from any of the parties involved in conflict. I am with you in the hope for steps forward and toward peace, such as cease-fires, peace talks, and a brokered process towards a reality in which all are allowed basic rights. I am not with you when you falter from the belief that this peace is attainable and when you corner yourselves to a reality where bullets are the only vehicle for getting your message across.

To my friends who are not directly or indirectly linked to this conflict, but who’ve succumbed to the temptation of expressing support or sponsorship of one of the warring sides, an invitation. I invite you to try to get the facts and do a little bit of research on the historical conflict that has brought the region to the crisis it faces today. I invite you to create your opinion based on an attempt to obtain objective and verifiable facts. I understand this means a lot of work but if you are not willing to do it, then I at least invite you to understand that by forming an opinion based solely on a biased YouTube video, you don’t look cool or intelligent or “in-the-know”. Moreover, by supporting and sharing these videos which only feed the blame game and promote positioning and posturing, you are actually worsening the conversation by skewing it away from the prospectus of a peaceful solution. Instead of trying to form an opinion about who is right or wrong, see this as an invitation to learn and understand complex conflict in human interaction, to identify its root causes and thus its possible solutions and to make sure you don’t bring hatred into your OWN realities.

So from my air-conditioned office half-way across the world, I say to all of you what John Lennon so brilliantly wrote once: All we are saying, is give peace a chance.

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Global Majority – Statement on the Middle East

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Dear friends,

I urge you to take a couple of minutes to read and support the joint Statement drafted and approved by the International Advisory Board of Global Majority on the current Crisis in the Middle East.

Global Majority is an international NGO dedicated to the promotion of nonviolent conflict resolution through education, training, and advocacy.

Please disseminate the message among your network by reposting / sharing these links:

I can’t thank you enough for your support and for investing a bit of your valuable time in making sure that international silence or even worse, uninformed or destructive dialogue hinders possibilities to promote peace in the region. I continue to believe it is attainable and hope you do too.

Best wishes,

Arjan

Mexican Culture and the World Cup

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Here is a link to a recent on AQBlog article of mine, titled “Mexican Culture and the World Cup“, published on Jul 2nd, 2014.

Please feel free to visit and comment.

Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

The World Cup is a lot more than just soccer. It is a global celebration and in many regards, a showcase of cultures, not just from the host country but from all nations participating in it.

While Mexico did not become the World Cup soccer champion in Brazil, international media sources did call it the  champion of social media, as one of the nations with some of the most social media chatter and memes during the tournament. The flourishing of social media has made Mexico renown in all corners of the globe, in ways that traditional media has not.

Unfortunately, not all of our portrayals are positive. During Brazil 2014, some Mexican fans chose to display their “cultural humor” in ways that could be considered hateful or homophobic—including taunting goalkeepers by calling them “puto,” a derogatory term used frequently at soccer matches in Mexico. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) even opened up an investigation to evaluate if the Mexican soccer federation should be fined for promoting discrimination through the use of this taunt (in the end, FIFA decided against it, determining that the federation could not be held liable for spectators’ conduct).

More relevant than the debate over  FIFA’s decision about the chant is the fans’ reaction to it. Instead of questioning the use of the word and our projection of Mexican culture to the world, many Mexican soccer fans decided to bask in the glory of their ability to insult others.

Mexican media headlines glorified the offensive chant; we created hundreds of memesmaking fun of FIFA, and the fans attending a subsequent Mexico match intensified the use of the slur. While some prominent Mexicans—like actor Diego Luna and journalist Álvaro Cueva—spoke out publicly against the offensive slur, the message from many Mexican soccer fans was clear: we don’t care what FIFA thinks, we are going to amuse ourselves by insulting opponents on the international stage.

At times, the Mexican government has had to intervene on behalf of its misbehaving fans. In the 1998 World Cup in France, a Mexican tourist extinguished the eternal flame burning under Paris’ Arc de Triomphe by urinating on it causing an international uproar that ended with a formal apology from the Mexican Minister of Foreign Relations. In South Africa in 2010, a Mexican fan who had spent more than $7,700 on his flight to South Africa, lost the chance to see his team play after being arrested for placing a large sombrero and zarape on a statue of Nelson Mandela. Since this act was taken as an international offense, the Mexican Foreign Ministry had to step up, once again, and apologize to its counterpart in South Africa.

These types of stories are not exclusive to the Brazil 2014 World Cup—nor is offensive behavior exclusive to fans from Mexico. Despite FIFA’s “Say No to Racism” campaign, a man with neo-Nazi markings ran onto the field during the match between Germany and Ghana—where some German fans were seen in blackface—and some Russian and Croatian fans were seen holding anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi banners.  “Hooligan culture” has a long history in many soccer-loving countries.

Mexican culture has always been synonymous with celebration, joy and festivities. We are globally considered free-spirited and happy, and that’s ok. But there is a fine line between being free-spirited and being unruly. When we celebrate and cheer on examples of cultural insensitivity  during an international event such as the World Cup, we should really think about the type of culture Mexico wants to show the rest of the world—and the effect that this might have on our ability to discuss subjects far more serious than a soccer tournament, such as racism and homophobia.

Mexico’s participation in this World Cup is now over and we have four long years ahead of us to build a new project for the tournament in Russia. Can we try to behave and bring less embarrassment to ourselves in the future?

As a general rule… On knowing

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As a general rule, there are people who are in the know and people who are not in the know. Those who know something and are in the know, know they know it because they have seen other people and noticed they don’t know what they know and are thus, not in the know. That’s when they truly realize they know. So now you know that in order for you to know something, you should knowingly identify someone out of the know who doesn’t know what you know, thus corroborating that you know it yourself are are in the know. You know?

I’m sure you do.

Carlos Slim and Mexico’s Telecom Reforms

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Here is a link to a recent on AQBlog article of mine, titled “Carlos Slim and Mexico’s Telecom Reforms“, published on May 12th, 2014.

Please feel free to visit and comment.

Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

Every year around February, Carlos Slim Helú’s name is tossed around in the offices of Forbes magazine. Numbers are crunched, and Forbes’editors determine if they will publish the Mexican businessman’s name with a 1 or a 2 beside it in their famous “World’s Richest People” list.

In a country ranked 88th in the world in GDP per capita in 2013, with 52.3 percent of its population living below the poverty line in 2012, one has to wonder how it is that Slim is able to accrue so much wealth.

Forbes calculates Slim and his family’s net worth at $72 billion dollars. Other publications calculate his worth at around $75 billion, so let’s settle for $73, give or take a few billion. Putting things into perspective, based on last year’s GDP per capita estimates, Slim’s $73 billion net worth is equivalent to more than the wealth of 4.6 million average Mexicans put together.

There are a number of explanations for how Slim got this rich. Some appeal to theromantic story of an entrepreneurial boy who learned to invest from his father at the age of 12. Others, more critical of Slim, point towards the moment that Slim bought Teléfonos de México (Telmex)  in 1990 during the privatizations of former President Carlos Salinas Gortari.  In reality, Slim was a wealthy man well before 1990, but I’m sure that gaining control of the only phone company in the country at the time helped grow his assets, which include ownership and/or shareholder participation in over 200 companies in Mexico.

One of the keys to Slim’s success has been his ability to find his way into companies with little or no competition in the commercial market. Let’s take a look:

Slim is the chairman of Telmex and América Móvil. This means he controls the phone lines, the largest local and long distance phone providers, the largest broadband Internet service provider and the largest mobile phone company in the country (Telcel), which has70.8 percent of the market share, according to IFC estimates.

So, practically every time a Mexican makes a phone call or connects to the Internet, he’s giving money to the second-richest man in the world—and not at a cheap price.  According to the OECD, Mexico’s mobile rates are the fifth most expensive in the world.

But Slim doesn’t just control Mexico’s telecom sector. Quick, think chocolate! Chances are you thought of Hershey’s, right? So do most Mexicans. And every time they buy a Hershey’s bar, they’re also helping Slim accumulate wealth, since he holds a 50 percent interest in the Mexican branch of this company. Does he have any real competitors? Yes, one: Mars Mexico.

Meanwhile, every time a Mexican buys music at a Mixup or Tower Records location, Slim gets a cut.

Mexico also has only two cafeteria chains nationwide. One is Vips, currently in the midst ofbeing acquired from Walmart by the Alsea conglomerate. The other one is Sanborns, with over 125 stores—and helping Slim make money each day. Sanborns is much more than a cafeteria—it’s actually an integrated restaurant/bar/bakery/gift shop/book store concept.

Slim also provides Mexicans the opportunity to contribute to his wealth by shopping at any of nearly 50 Sears stores and the one Saks Fifth Avenue store in Mexico City. Want to open a bank account? If you do it at Banco Inbursa, guess who gets the profits?

Grupo Carso, one of three main holding companies led by Slim (Carso is a contraction of the first letters in Slim’s first name and that of his late wife, Soumaya), is also the umbrella for energy, construction, infrastructure and automotive industry companies such asCondumex and CILSA, to name a couple.

Slim also owns a real estate and hotel company called OSTAR Grupo Hotelero, and an upscale shopping mall in Mexico City called Plaza Carso.

With all this in mind, it may come as a surprise to most Mexicans that Slim hates monopolies and duopolies—especially when he’s not a part of them. That’s why, in March of 2013, he supported the telecom reform, interpreting it as an opportunity to open up the market for him in Open TV and broadband services. Slim recently launched Claro TV, a broadband TV service similar to Netflix, and has been pushing to become the third player in the open TV market for some time now.

Yet the congratulatory words Slim bestowed on the federal government in 2013 have turned into criticism, now that the secondary telecommunication legislation is being discussed in Congress (the final version is set for a vote in June).

When the federal government’s legislative proposal was presented in March, it met public rejection on the grounds that parts of the bill violated freedom of speech and privacy rights. However, Slim had other reasons to be mad.

One of the key aspects of the telecom proposal now opposed by Slim’s mobile company, América Móvil, is the premise that the “preponderant economic actor” will be obligated to provide its competitors free interconnection to its network. In a statement it released to the news media, América Móvil explains that this action “rewards the lack of investment from its competitors and harms end consumers.”

The statement also mentions that the proposed legislation “creates entry barriers to the highly concentrated markets of open and restricted television broadcasting,” and gives theInstituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones (Federal Telecommunications Institute—IFETEL) a window of up to two years to evaluate if Slim’s Telmex can enter the open television market. In layman’s terms, Televisa CEO, President and Chairman Emilio Azcárraga would be allowed to enter the telephone sector at a lower cost, and Slim’s dream of entering the open TV industry would be put on hold. Azcárraga: 2, Slim: 0.

The telecom discussion-turned-telenovela now includes accusations from Televisa-friendly news pundits claiming that Slim was behind the #EPNvsInternet protests, and responses to those attacks calling Televisa an “ill-willed disinformation provider”.

The fate of the country’s telecom industry will be settled by Congress’ decision in June, while average Mexicans are hooked to their TV sets watching the World Cup—but depending on the outcome, these reforms could be less about opening markets up, and more about which of Mexico’s oligarchs are favored by them.

Will Mexico’s Telecom Reform Hurt Internet Freedom?

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Here is a link to a recent on AQBlog article of mine, titled “Will Mexico’s Telecom Reform Hurt Internet Freedom?“, published on April 22nd, 2014.

Please feel free to visit and comment.

Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

 

On March 24, Enrique Peña Nieto presented the Mexican Senate with a bill for a new telecommunications law that complements theconstitutional reforms he approved in 2013. The legislation proposes, among other things, to promote competition in the sector, improve telecom services, and regulate the radioelectric spectrum through the new telecommunications regulator, the Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones (Federal Telecommunications Institute—IFETEL).  The bill is now being revised, and is expected to be approved in the coming days.

However, the proposal is already raising eyebrows and creating waves in the digital sphere, where it’s being labeled as a form of government censorship.

According to Article 2 of the bill, the legislation is intended to “protect the nation’s security and sovereignty,” and the most controversial articles in the initiative are preceded by mentions of criminal prosecution and promoting the public interest. There is room for discussion on the potential effectiveness of this objective, but much like the current debate in the U.S. over the NSA’s capabilities vs. individual freedoms and privacy, citizens in Mexico are worried about ceding too much power to the federal government.  The far-reaching legislation has created a number of trending topics on Twitter, under hashtags like #EPNvsInternet #ContraElSilencioMx and #NoMasPoderAlPoder (roughly translated to #PeñaNietoV.Internet, #AgainstSilenceMx and #NoMorePowerToTheOnesInPower).

One of the most popular bloggers in Mexico, “Sopitas,” criticized Peña Nieto’s proposal by stating that social media has been the only widespread communication channel where the public can express its dissent with the current government.  On April 21, #EPNvsInternetbecame a worldwide trending topic on Twitter and, as these words are being written, “netizens” in Mexico City are organizing a massive demonstration at the Ángel de la Independencia monument in downtown Mexico City, which also hosted many of#YoSoy132’s protests against Peña Nieto’s alleged alliance with Televisa in the 2012 presidential elections. When the neutrality of the largest news media conglomerate in the country is in question, citizen journalism becomes crucial.

Attempts to control speech on the Internet are not new. One need only consult Global Voices’ Advocacy project to see that, when given the power to do so, governments unequivocally use Internet restriction as a means to block and control dissent.

But how would the president’s telecom law proposal trample on free speech? What are netizens protesting against? Here are some highlights:

  • Article 145, Paragraph III states that Internet Service Providers (ISP) “will be allowed to block access to content, applications or services upon express request by the user, per order of authority…”
  • Article 189 proposes that ISPs be forced to provide real-time geolocation of specific devices to public officials “awarded the faculty of requesting it…”
  • Article 190 states that ISPs will be “obligated to permit […] intervention of private communications…”
  • Article 197, paragraph VII states that, if requested by authorities, ISPs will “temporarily block, inhibit or nullify telecommunication signals in events and locations critical to public or national security…”

Supporters of the proposed telecom law might argue that these new attributions would allow government to better combat organized crime, but the other side of the story shows that if the legislation is approved as-is, any government would be legally awarded the power to read emails exchanged between its detractors, know their location and cut off their communications.

Would the government consider a mass protest on Avenida Reforma to be an event against public security, and thus block cell phone communications in the area? Those opposing the new law seem to think this is a possibility.

This developing story has caused outrage on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. Will this outrage help write a different conclusion—one in which the proposed telecom bill is overturned? Or will Mexico join the ranks of censorship-friendly countries such asCambodiaTurkey and Venezuela?

Carta para los miembros del Club Faro, San Pedro NL

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Prácticamente en la esquina de Av. Vasconcelos con Calzada San Pedro, enfrente de la Iglesia de Fátima en el municipio de San Pedro Garza García, NL, se ubica una casa que muchos conocemos por el nombre Club Faro.

El Club, fundado por un Padre Legionario de Cristo, busca “la creación de ambientes sanos, alegres y atractivos donde los adolescentes puedan formar una personalidad armónica y equilibrada, según el espíritu del Evangelio.” [cita tomada directo de su página de internet].

Nunca he visitado Club Faro. No lo conozco. Sin embargo cuando amigos que sí han asistido a él o que han mandado a sus hijos lo mencionan, me comentan que a resumidas cuentas, es un club social para niños sampetrinos de 11 a 17 en donde se pueden codear con gente “de su nivel” e involucrarse en actividades sociales y deportivas de “buenos católicos” que promueven valores.

Yo no crecí en Monterrey. Me mudé acá para hacer la Prepa.  Fue entonces cuando supe de la existencia de este Club, al leer una noticia en marzo de 1997 que hablaba de tres niños que se subieron al techo de dicho inmueble y apedrearon el Comité de Campaña juvenil de un candidato del PRI a la alcaldía del municipio, rompiendo un domo de vidrio “porque se les hizo fácil”.

Parece raro que un lugar cuyo nombre es acróstico de Formación, Amistad, Recreación y Orientación, sería anfitrión de este tipo de actos pero tratando de ser justos con el establecimiento, puede que el evento haya sido simplemente una travesura aislada (que la mayoría de los niños hacen en algún momento de sus vidas) y desde entonces hasta donde sé, no se han repetido acontecimientos de este tipo.

Tal vez adentro del Club Faro y a través de sus múltiples actividades sí se transmiten valores positivos y sí sea un vehículo efectivo para la formación de los niños. No tengo idea, ya que insisto, nunca he ido al lugar (creo que si intentara entrar podría empezar a oler a azufre quemado). Pero si el Club realmente promueve sentido cívico, tal vez deberían de abrir sus capacidades de ingreso a los padres de familia de estos niños porque son ELLOS los que realmente necesitan ayuda. Les platico:

Cuando regreso a mi casa de la oficina, una de las rutas que tomo me lleva a transitar por Vasconcelos y pasar por el Club Faro. Invariablemente cuando llego a la altura de este lugar, me topo con papás, mamás, guaruras y choferes de los niños en formación, parados sobre la Avenida (la mayoría de las veces ni siquiera con luces intermitentes), estorbando y complicando el tráfico en un cruce de alta concentración de vehículos. Me ha tocado pitarles para que se muevan por lo menos en 50 ocasiones y en NINGUNA de ellas lo han hecho. He visto incluso que se bajen de sus vehículos y los dejen parados sobre la Avenida mientras se internan en el inmueble.

El Club Faro era originalmente una casa. Como tal, no tiene espacios de estacionamiento para sus clientes. Tiene una cochera muy pequeña que normalmente está abarrotada pero ESO no es culpa del resto de los ciudadanos que utilizamos la vía pública. Si realmente quieren enseñarles valores a sus hijos, como siempre, deberían empezar por poner el ejemplo. La Avenida Vasconcelos no es un estacionamiento creado para los papás de niños mimados, aun si parece que las autoridades de tránsito del municipio así lo piensan… porque sí, me ha tocado ver cómo pasan patrullas por el lugar y no hacen nada por mover a los infractores.

El Club Faro tampoco se libra al 100% de este tema ya que son testigos a diario de las faltas que comenten sus clientes y no hacen nada por cambiarlo (hay muchas cosas que pueden hacer y para ejemplo las distintas técnicas aplicadas por las escuelas en sus horas pico de entrada y salida).

Estimados padres de familia que mandan a sus hijos a este club: estoy seguro que quieren formar a sus hijos hacia lo que considerar ideales positivos. No me queda la menor duda de que quieren que sus hijos sean ciudadanos honestos, comprometidos, rectos y respetuosos. No tengo idea de la cantidad de dinero que intentarlo les esté costando pero les repito, NADA sustituye el ejemplo.

Cada vez que se paran sobre la avenida, con su actitud de “me vale madres el resto de la gente porque mi comodidad es más importante” están dando una pésima lección de vida a sus hijos. Les están enseñando que si tienen dinero o influencias, están por encima de la ley. En el mejor de los casos, les están diciendo que romper la ley está bien mientras no te pesquen o sancionen. También le están diciendo que “ser buen católico” es que no te importe incomodar al resto de la gente o cometer actos en contra de los reglamentos que están ahí para nuestra sana convivencia.

En este sentido, ustedes no son mejores que la señora que se estaciona en el lugar de los minusválidos “porque nada más me tardo un minuto” o los que ocupan dos lugares en el estacionamiento porque no saben manejar bien y les da flojera hacer un ajuste en pro de los demás.

No se pueden quejar de los demás si no empiezan por ustedes. El tema de moda en sus conversaciones es la erosión del tejido social y de cómo el gobierno no hace nada por solucionar esta situación. Tal vez habría que mirar al espejo y decidir si ustedes son parte del problema o parte de la solución.

Ojalá reciban esta carta, hagan conciencia y cambien su deplorable conducta, en pro de todos los que cohabitamos la ciudad y transitamos por las mismas calles que ustedes.

Gracias.