Monthly Archives: July 2013

On questions of status: Puerto Rico’s relation to the US and Oscar López Rivera’s fate

Oscar López Rivera (from 80 Grados)

The next couple of weeks will mark two important milestones for the history of the Puerto Rican people. On August 1, the US Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold hearings about the island’s status, responding to a recent non-binding plebiscite in which the majority of voters expressed their disagreement with the current status. These hearings will take place exactly one week to the day of the 115th anniversary of the event that paved the way to this status, the US invasion of Puerto Rico on July 25, 1898. Many look at the hearings full of expectations, hoping that they might allow the island to once and for all clarify its relation to the United States. Others are more cautious, assuming that this is just one of many other futile attempts to clarify a relationship that has been very complex from its origin and a catalyst for passions of different persuasions.

Much will be written about the hearings and their results. Today I’d like to address another aspect of the passions surrounding the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico that has been steadily gaining the attention not only of Puerto Ricans, but of the international community as a whole: the fate of Oscar López Rivera, who has already served 32 years in prison for the charge of “seditious conspiracy”, a statute enacted on July 1861 to detain and punish Confederate rebells. Continue reading

My new certificate

My MOOC certificate

My new certificate

I am very happy to have received this certificate. Taking this MOOC was a very interesting experience for me at many levels. I was able to learn the basics of HTML and CSS. It also gave me the opportunity to be a student on the other side of Moodle, the blackboard learning system we use at UMass. Being a MOOC student also allowed me to explore some of the potential and limitations of this new form of education. I still want to think about them as tools that can help democratize education; this as long as teaching institutions do not take advantage of them to eliminate living teachers in the classroom or focus exclusively on their revenue generating potential.

“History Is a Weapon” site

While working on my list of electronic resources, I ran into this very interesting digital project: History Is a Weapon. It is already listed on the page, but I was so impressed by it that I think it deserves its own blog post. I simply quote what I wrote for its entry:

Not precisely a digital library or archive, this is a very interesting project gathering a wide collection of books and other texts addressing world history from a critical perspective. I ran into it when I found this on-line edition of Howard Zinn’s foundational A People’s History of the United States. The collection might be a bit difficult to navigate, but this “Starter Page” serves as a useful introduction. The “Author List” page is another helpful way to enter the site, as it reveals the wide range of resources available here.

“Presunto culpable” presumed guilty

After successfully bringing attention to judicial impunity, “Presunto culpable” is now victim of the Mexican judicial system

Antonio “Toño” Zúñiga, in a Mexican prison after being wrongfully accused of murder.

Antonio “Toño” Zúñiga, in a Mexican prison after being wrongfully accused of murder. (Credit: Abogados con Cámara (Lawyers with Cameras))

On July 12 the site Ciudadanos en Red published a letter attributed to Roberto Hernández, director of Mexico’s highest grossing documentary, “Presunto culpable”. The film about corruption in the Mexican judicial system remains at the crossroads of Mexico’s judicial system. But while in the film Antonio Zúñiga, falsely accused of murder, is the center of attention, now it is the film itself. As the letter states:

Yesterday [July 10] several media outlets requested access to the hearings: they left them outside of the court, including print media that only had a notebook. Then, what do we have? A court that works in secret, far from citizen scrutiny. A court that records what is convenient, not what really happens in the hearings. A court that passes judgement about our rights even before delivering a sentence. A court that time and again does not allow us to question the people who are suing us, as it again happened yesterday. A court that allows us to be sued by the witness who did not see Toño Zúñiga commit the crime of which he accused him and who yesterday also recognized that he has not seen the film for which he is suing us. In Mexico we are far from a dependable justice system and we are scared, not for what could happen to us, but what could happen to those who want to follow our steps and engage in journalism about Mexico’s Judicial Power.

Continue reading

ALEC: The hand that rocks the cradle

From “stand your ground” to the “border surge”

The fundamental danger (by @aurabogado)

The fundamental danger (by @aurabogado)

George Zimmerman’s acquittal for Trayvon Martin’s murder has been considered by many, including myself, as an outrage for our legal system. How can a neighborhood vigilante who regularly profiled black males as “suspicious” be allowed to walk free after shooting to death a teenager who was walking home in his own neighborhood armed only with Skillets and iced tea? Within hours of the acquittal, the NAACP began circulating a petition requesting the Department of Justice to take on the case.

Pundits and other legal experts will continue discussing the trial, the prosecutor’s case and jury’s composition, speculating as to the causes for the verdict. Yet, behind the court proceedings lies a more disturbing element, the very existence of so called “stand your ground” laws that ultimately gave Zimmerman legal authority to execute Trayvon Martin with impunity. And crucial to our understanding of these laws is what Reuter’s Joanne Dorshow called upon the verdict “The secretive corporate outfit behind ‘Stand your ground’”: the American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC.

Eye on Alec (From Moyers & Company)

From Moyers & Company

Continue reading

Zapatista pioneers of cyber-activism

One of my major inspirations to start a blog was realizing the great potential that new electronic resources have for both communication and scholarship. While I am only now beginning to blog and actively engage with social media, I am not a complete novice to this medium. My first personal experience with it came in 1994, when the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas opened our eyes to the role that emerging cyber-technologies would play in the redefining of communications and political participation around the world. Back at a time when (now apparently archaic) tools like Archie, Veronica and Pine were astonishing new means to search and communicate, cyberspace completely transformed our way of learning and communicating. It is quite interesting to see this essay written by Harry Cleaver when the EZLN unleashed this new power. It was a time when the internet began to complement other means of communication, like alternative print journalism. Back then journals like (sub)TEX began discovering what we now take for granted, the “synergy” between electronic and print journalism.

On music’s changing contexts

I have always been fascinated by the way in which music and songs (like all artistic production) are transformed at the moment of performance. It is often hard to know the composers original intent, and many times folk songs are the product of constant transformations, additions, substitutions and erasures. Literary scholars warn us against giving too much attention to the author’s intentionality, but that is not exactly what I want to address here right now. Rather I am interested in the way in which the moment when one experiences a song – its actual performance with the background that one has into its history – affects the way in which we come to understand the song’s significance. I will use my personal relationship with three particular songs to exemplify my point. Continue reading

On very skilled “unskilled” workers

Throughout the immigration reform debate one of the issues that always jared me was the distinction that legislators and activists always made between “skilled” and “unskilled” workers. The distinction was clear: “skilled” workers were those (usually) with university degrees, working in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math); “unskilled”, on the other hand, were those (often) without university degrees, working in fields such as agriculture, services and some construction. As the debate unfolded it became clear that both kinds of immigrant workers are needed in the United States for different reasons: the former to develop the technological capacity necessary to remain a post-industrial power; the latter to literally feed us, take care of our families, households, and many other aspects of our lives. Different lines of work, each with its own skill sets.

Continue reading

My current worries about “comprehensive immigration reform”

For most of 2013 I have carefully, perhaps obsessively, followed the debate around comprehensive immigration reform. Beginning with the emergence of the “Gang of 8” the process has been a fascinating example of the many levers of the political process. As the Gang negotiated behind closed doors, the public engaged in a vigorous debate.  Early on Marco Rubio, the young, Cuban-American, Tea-Party senator took center stage, being the pivotal figure whose assent was indispensable to bring sufficient Republican support to a legislative proposal.
Continue reading