Bo's Internship Organization of American States | Washington, DC
September 29, 2019
This summer, I’m interning at the Organization of American States (OAS), a multilateral organization composed of the 35 countries in North and South America. I’ll be working with the OAS’ Secretariat for Strengthening Democracy, specifically with the team that oversees missions to combat corruption in Honduras, resolve the Guatemala-Belize border dispute, and support the Colombian Peace Process.
Each week I’ll write a short post, drawing on an experience and making a connection to what I’ve studied or to an issue in current events. I’ll end each post with a few stray observations from the week. All views are my own.
During my summer interning at the Organization of American States, I got to understand better how policy is made in Washington, especially how much relationships matter to sound decision-making. The relationships that I formed with other interns not only made my summer a great one, but also provide me with a basis for better decisions in my career.
Before my OAS internship, I thought I had an accurate mental model of policymaking. In that model, academics conduct research to inform officials in government. Since that research is hard to digest, experts at think tanks apply it to current policy debates and distribute their recommendations to officials in government, Congress, and multilateral organizations. Those policymakers can use findings from think tanks to guide their decisions.
After my internship, I realized that the model I had in my head didn’t apply to my experience at the Organization of American States. Staff at the OAS were often too busy to digest reports from think tanks; when they had the time, it wasn’t easy to identify what was worth reading. To further complicate matters, think tanks often spent more time talking amongst each other than talking to policymakers.
My model was lacking a key variable between think tanks and policymakers: relationships. When experts at think tanks are able to influence policymakers, they often have previous relationships that lend credibility to their recommendations. When a report from Brookings comes across a official’s desk, it may not draw anyone’s attention. But if that report comes from a specific expert at Brookings whom the policymaker knows and respects, it can inform the policymaker’s decision.
The best part of my time at the OAS was building relationships with 70 other interns from 21 countries. These friendships made my summer in Washington the best one I’ve had yet, but they’re also the basis for good policy in our future careers. Some of the interns will go on to serve in government at home. Others will occupy positions in the US government. Some of us will work in the private sector, academia, or at think tanks. Building friendships early on will ensure that we all benefit from each others’ policy analysis in our own decision-making. When policy recommendations come across my desk from someone I used to intern with, I’ll jump at the chance to read them. And when I share my own reports, I’ll be confident in the knowledge that we shared an unforgettable summer together at the OAS.
Week 10: Peace on the Ground: Lessons from Belize and Guatemala
August 12, 2019
It’s my last week at the internship, and I can’t believe it’s almost over! This summer, I’ve spent most of my time focused on a niche issue. It’s one that I didn’t even know about before applying to the internship, but it can teach us unexpected lessons about international conflict resolution.
Belize and Guatemala have been involved in a territorial dispute for decades. But with the help of the OAS, and the understanding that peace on the ground is a prerequisite to peace at a diplomatic level, the two countries are now closer than ever to a permanent settlement.
Where Does the Dispute Come From?
The Belize-Guatemala began long before Belize was an independent country. In 1859, the United Kingdom and Guatemala signed the Treaty of Aycinena-Wyke. Guatemala would recognize Britain’s claim to what is now Belize; in exchange, Britain would fund a road between the two countries. The road was never built, and decades later, Guatemala began to claim that this fact voided the 1859 treaty. Throughout the 1900s, Britain and Guatemala engaged in bilateral negotiations, making little progress. Although Belize gained its independence in 1981, it took until 1992 for Guatemala to recognize it. Finally, in 2000, the two countries decided to begin a new process of dialogue under the Organization of American States.
The Political Role of the OAS
The OAS began its involvement in the Belize-Guatemala dispute at the political level. Both countries appointed experts in international law to serve as facilitators, and after two years, they released a proposal for maritime and land borders between the two countries, as well as a fund for economic development. Both governments initially agreed to the package, which would be put to a referendum for Belizeans and Guatemalans to confirm. But after the leaders were met with domestic political pressure, the referendums never took place.
By 2003, officials at the Organization of American States realized that to achieve a peaceful resolution, they would need to build relationships on the ground, not just between diplomatic officials. They decided to set up an office in the Adjacency Zone, a 2 kilometer wide strip of territory shared between the two countries.
OAS on the Ground
Border incidents, usually between security forces and nationals of one country who cross into the other, are the major obstacle to political progress, especially when the two countries believe separate accounts of what happened. Over the last 16 years, the OAS Office in the Adjacency Zone (OAZ) has investigated, verified, and reported over 270 incidents, ensuring that issues that start on a small scale don’t disrupt the climate of trust between the countries. In addition to reporting on incidents after they happen, the OAZ prevents incidents from the start by hosting tri-monthly coordination meetings between the Belize Defense Forces and the Guatemalan Army.
On the civilian side, the OAZ coordinates meetings for municipal authorities, park rangers, and emergency first responders to discuss issues that affect both Belize and Guatemala. And each year they put together a Culture of Peace Project, inviting children from both sides of the Adjacency Zone to participate in art, music, and language workshops together.
These local programs have made an international impact. In 2008, Belize and Guatemala agreed that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) would be the best venue to resolve their territorial dispute. In 2014, they signed 16 bilateral agreements on everything from education to grid connectivity, building on the technical meetings hosted at the OAZ. Over 90% of voters in Guatemala agreed to submit their dispute to the ICJ in a referendum last year. Just a few months ago, Belizean voters made the same decision.
What’s Next for Belize and Guatemala?
Now that voters from both countries have submitted their case to the ICJ, it will take several years for the international tribunal to make a ruling. But with a dispute going back to 1859, these things take time. While the ICJ deliberates, the Office in the Adjacency Zone will continue to conduct verifications and hold events, building the conditions for peace on the ground.
Week 8: A Tale of Two Trade Blocs: What the US Can Learn from Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance
July 31, 2019
Last night, I watched the third Democratic debate. On issues from healthcare to immigration, there were wide divisions in the party; international trade was no exception.
Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, representing the progressive wing of the party, expressed skepticism of free trade. Warren’s recently published “economic patriotism agenda” would precondition trade negotiations with other countries on a strict set of labor and environmental standards. Several of these conditions aren’t even met by the United States, let alone developing countries. If implemented, Warren’s agenda would dramatically decrease the amount of US international trade. Much of Warren’s focus has been on inequality, but as a consequence she has minimized the role of gains from trade in improving people’s lives.
Some of the moderate candidates defended the bipartisan consensus on trade that existed before President Trump took office. John Delaney identified himself as the only candidate in the field in favor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement that was negotiated by Obama but scrapped by Trump three days after his inauguration. John Hickenlooper criticized Trump’s trade war with China, describing tariffs as a “tax on the middle class.” Economists agree.
Candidates on both sides could draw lessons from Latin America, where two trade blocs offer competing models for growth. The Southern Common Market (Mercosur, in Spanish) offers a cautionary tale of how protectionist policies can hurt the populations that they’re meant to protect. The Pacific Alliance, an outward-looking bloc of Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico, presents a high-growth alternative.
Mercosur: A Cautionary Tale
Mercosur was founded in 1991, originally including Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay. Venezuela would later join the customs union, but it was suspended in 2016 due to human rights violations. In the founding charter, Mercosur members pledged to eliminate customs duties within the bloc. Yet they also committed to a 35% common external tariff on imports from countries outside the bloc. Oliver Stuenkel of the Getulio Vargas Foundation notes that the bloc “is less about opening up but actually about protecting Brazilian and Argentine interests from global competition.”
After 20 years of negotiations, Mercosur recently reached an agreement to decrease tariffs with the European Union. Some observers are cautiously optimistic that Mercosur economies will open up. However, Uruguayan Professor Nicolás Albertoni argues that “the real challenge may come” in ratifying the deal in the legislatures of Mercosur countries.
The consequences of Mercosur's continued isolation from the global economy are serious. Argentina registered a -2.51% GDP growth rate in 2018. Brazil’s economy grew at only 1.1% that year, while Uruguay grew at 1.62%. Paraguay, the smallest economy in the bloc and the one most dependent on intra-Mercosur trade, performed at 3.64%.
The Pacific Alliance: A Case for Free Trade
The Pacific Alliance emerged twenty years after Mercosur, at a 2011 meeting in Lima, Peru. It was there that Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Chile launched their own trade bloc, aimed at breaking down barriers not only within each other but also with the rest of the world. The Alliance’s “open regionalism” is directed particularly toward Asia; when political economist Samuel George labeled the countries “The Pacific Pumas,” it was a nod to the Four Asian Tigers that saw high growth in the 1990s.
When the US withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Chile took up the task of negotiating a new agreement. Within a year, 11 of the 12 original negotiating parties had concluded the updated TPP. Colombia, Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea, and Taiwan, and even the United Kingdom have expressed interest in joining, and the existing TPP members are set to consider their membership this year.
The Pacific Alliance model in Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru has fostered high growth rates in each of its member economies. Chile’s GDP rose by 4.03% in 2018. Peru grew by 3.98%. Colombia and Mexico’s GDP rose by 2.67% and 1.99%, respectively.
Lessons for the US
These case studies alone shouldn’t sway US policy on an issue as complicated as international trade. However, they do provide an illustration of a decades-long consensus among economists that free trade promotes growth. While candidates can and should consider the distributional impacts of trade, they should not ignore the legacy of trade in economic growth.
Week 7: Resolving the Crisis in Venezuela
July 23, 2019
Global headlines about Venezuela have come and gone over the last year, but that doesn’t mean the crisis is over. In my last entry, I explained the conditions that Venezuelans face both at home and when they flee to another country. In this article, I introduce the current political standoff and evaluate four policy options to remove Maduro and restore an elected government.
Venezuela’s political crisis escalated early this year. After Nicolás Maduro won a second term in an election that was widely recognized as illegitimate, he scheduled his inauguration for January 10, 2019. The Venezuelan legislature, the National Assembly, remained under the control of opposition parties. Since Maduro’s election had been rigged, legislators invoked the Constitution to name the President of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, as acting president.
Guaidó quickly gained recognition from the United States. He also was recognized by 12 members of the Lima Group, an ad-hoc group of Latin American countries advocating for a peaceful exit to the Venezuelan crisis. As of mid-July, Guaidó’s claim as acting president is backed by over 50 countries, as well as the Organization of American States.
Despite the high level of international recognition for Guaidó, Nicolás Maduro remains in power. Russia, China, Turkey, and Cuba have provided key support, not just in rhetoric but also in training and equipment to the Venezuelan military. Given this backdrop, the Venezuelan opposition and international actors have considered several options to remove Maduro.
Option 1: Encourage the Military to Turn Against Maduro
The opposition’s initial approach was to incentivize the military to rise up against Maduro. Guaidó called on low-level forces to defect, and the US lifted sanctions on high level officials who turned to the opposition.
This approach has largely failed. Only about 1500 soldiers followed Guaidó’s call, compared to an estimated 150,000 Army, Navy, Air Force, and National Guard troops who make up Maduro’s ranks. Senior officers have remained by Maduro’s side, many of them profiting from corruption. On April 30 and May 1, Guaidó attempted another uprising. Maduro stayed firmly in control of the government, and few defected from the intelligence services or the military.
Option 2: Apply Sanctions
The US has responded to the Venezuelan crisis with several rounds of sanctions, some targeted and some not. Targeted sanctions are meant to punish senior officials. By making sanctions contigent on individuals’ behavior, the US government hopes to push these officials to turn against Maduro.
Broad economic sanctions are more controversial. Shortly after Maduro’s second inauguration, the Trump administration prohibited US businesses from engaging with the oil sector in Venezuela. It’s difficult to evaluate exactly what impact these sanctions will have on most Venezuelans. But economist Francisco Rodriguez points to Iraq, Iran, and Libya as cases where oil sanctions left a devastating impact on the most vulnerable communities. Thomas Shannon, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, went as far as to compare the sanctions with “the fire-bombing of Dresden or Tokyo.”
Option 3: Intervene with Armed Forces
Given the limited effects of sanctions and inducements to the Venezuelan military, US officials have flirted with military intervention. In late January 2019, National Security Advisor John Bolton held a notepad at a press conference that ominously read “5,000 troops to Colombia.” Asked to explain what the notes meant, the White House responded that “all options are on the table.” In February, Trump directed a message to Venezuelan soldiers, saying that if they continued to back Maduro, they would “lose everything.” And in May, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated that the president “has been crystal clear and incredibly consistent: Military action is possible.”
Some members of the Venezuelan opposition have offered support to Trump’s rhetoric. Top members of the opposition, Antonio Ledezma, Diego Arria, and Ricardo Hausmann, have openly advocated for a foreign military intervention. While he has come far short of endorsing the option, Guaidó requested a meeting with the US Southern Command in May for “strategic and operational planning.” Earlier this month, Guaidó announced that Venezuela would reenter the Interamerican Treaty of Reciprocal Assitance (TIAR), which could provide an international legal basis for military intervention.
Despite the rhetoric, a foreign invasion would likely be a disaster. A survey by David Smilde of the Washington Office on Latin America finds that only 35% of Venezuelans support military intervention, with 54% explicitly rejecting it. Brazil and Colombia have rejected the military option, and the Lima Group has called for diplomacy over force. The consequences would be grave if the US ignored these calls. Adam Isacson, also of the Washington Office on Latin America, notes that even if Maduro were quickly pushed out, colectivos and militias would remain. These groups, outside the formal ranks of Maduro’s military, could wage a violent, enduring insurgency against US forces. Some advocates for invasion have pointed to the US’ invasion of Panama in 1989 as a success story of regime change. Smilde warns that Venezuela would be “more like Iraq than Panama.”
Option 4: Negotiate an Exit for Maduro
Negotiations may be the best option to remove Maduro. In May, after the failed uprising, representatives of Guaidó and Maduro began talks in Norway. The International Contact Group, which includes the European Union as well as several countries in Latin America, backed the effort, and the US Envoy to Venezuela expressed cautious support.
The negotiations were postponed after increased abuses by the Maduro government, but they resumed on July 7, this time on the Caribbean island of Barbados. Oslo continues to mediate in this round of negotiations, and they have learned from past, failed attempts at negotiations with Maduro by keeping a tight lid on the progress of negotiations. In an encouraging step, both sides have sent moderates to negotiate.
A negotiated solution would likely include new elections, recognition of the National Assembly as the sole national legislative body, and the lifting of sanctions. The fate of Maduro will be a key piece of any negotiation.
Dialogue between Maduro and Guaidó is far from guaranteed to work. Maduro has frequently used negotiations as a way to stay in power without making concessions. The opposition remains divided over whether to take part in the dialogue. It remains difficult to incentivize those in power to give it up. Given the failure of a military uprising and the human toll of sanctions or a military intervention, however, a negotiated solution is the best way to remove Maduro from power.
- Venezuela Blog, a project of David Smilde and Geoff Ramsey of the Washington Office on Latin America, has been the best source I’ve found for analysis of the Venezuelan crisis. They post frequently, and their analysis is both careful and thought-provoking. Check it out here.
- For a more detailed analysis of the Norway-led negotiations, I recommend this article in Americas Quarterly by Venezuelan political scientist Félix Seijas Rodríguez.
- This piece (link in Spanish) by Evan Romero-Castillo for DW puts Venezuela in the context of other democratic transitions and peace agreements. If anyone has a book or article recommendation about transitions from authoritarian rule that could help me understand Venezuela, let me know!
Week 4: Venezuela, Not Just One Crisis
July 1, 2019
It was quiet at the OAS Headquarters this week, and many of my colleagues were out of the office. Rather than going on vacation, however, they were hard at work in Medellín, Colombia, where dozens of OAS officials and foreign ministers arrived to take part in the OAS General Assembly.
While each member country of the OAS designates an ambassador to sit in Permanent Council Meetings throughout the year, the General Assembly is a higher profile, annual event.
Venezuela drew the most attention at this year’s summit, and for good reason. In this week’s article, I’ll describe a few aspects of Venezuela’s political, humanitarian, and refugee crisis. In my blog next week, I’ll introduce some of the potential solutions.
Not Just One Crisis
Over the last six years, Nicolás Maduro has led Venezuela into an increasingly dire humanitarian and political crisis. Like his late predecessor, Hugo Chávez, Maduro has pursued left-wing, populist policies. Unlike Chávez, however, Maduro has not received the same support from the Venezuelan people. His rise to power in 2013 coincided with a drop in global oil prices, which dealt a blow to a Venezuelan economy that was heavily dependent on oil exports. Maduro’s mismanagement of the nationalized oil sector further decreased output.
Together, mismanagement and lower oil prices caused foreign demand for the Venezuelan bolivar to collapse, contributing to a hyperinflation crisis that has only gotten worse with more government intervention. (Estimates of the 2018 inflation rate range from the Maduro government’s figure of 130,000% from the opposition’s figure of 1,700,000%.)
Hyperinflation has serious consequences as it puts necessities like food and medicine out of reach for ordinary Venezuelans. In 2016, the Venezuelan Minister of Health acknowledged that maternal mortality had risen by 65% in the previous year and cases of malaria had increased by 76%. She was fired by Maduro only days later. Unable to afford basic medical supplies like gauze and syringes, one hospital reported in 2019 that 14 children had died in a single week from a treatable illness.
Given the grave situation in their home country, over 4 million Venezuelans have fled—and the number of refugees may surpass that of Syria in the near future. Many have looked to find refuge in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. In the short run, this imposes hardships on recipient communities, many of which are poor. In the long run, it contributes to a brain drain in Venezuela, which is robbed every single day of doctors, teachers, and professionals who could help the country rebuild after the present crisis has ended.
“Take the Three Worst Cases. That’s Venezuela”
A few weeks ago, I went to an event at the American Enterprise Institute with Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund. When asked about Venezuela, she responded, “Take the three worst cases … that we’ve ever handled in the history of the IMF. Bring them all together; that’s Venezuela.” In the context of a humanitarian emergency, an exodus of refugees, and a government unwilling to endure criticism, Venezuela is far from an easy case to resolve. In my next blog post, I’ll discuss the role of the opposition in Venezuela, the response of the OAS and regional groups, and potential solutions to the humanitarian disaster.
- Daniela Flamini, a recent graduate of Duke, wrote an excellent series of articles on Venezuela for the Kenan Institute for Ethics’ Global Human Rights Scholars Program in 2016 and 2017. I highly recommend reading it, not only for the information, but also for the vivid way she writes about it. Here is the link to her first entry, and here you can view the rest of the blog.
- My 21st birthday was on Friday, and many of the interns joined me for a happy hour after work. I went on a day hike to Theodore Roosevelt Island with a few friends on Saturday, so it’s been a fun weekend!
Week 3: China in Latin America
June 24, 2019
During my third week, I continued research on the Belize-Guatemala territorial dispute and the lessons that the OAS can draw from it. It’s been great to have an independent project to work on, and I’m especially interested in how the report that I write during my internship can be helpful in future conflict resolution missions.
Outside of work, I spent some of my free time applying to a conference in the fall on US-China relations. It’s a broad topic, and it can’t be separated from China’s role in the rest of the world. Through the Belt and Road Initiative, China has embarked on a series of infrastructure projects in the rest of the world to complement existing trade ties. Latin America is one of the regions where China invests; because of its proximity to the US, the Trump Administration has taken a hard line against these projects.
China’s Economic Relationship with Latin America
During the early 2000s, economic growth in China contributed to increasing demand for raw materials. The resulting commodities boom fueled economic growth in Latin America, as Brazil exported soy, Chile exported copper, and Peru exported minerals to the largest emerging market in the world.
Economic integration between Latin America and China has since expanded, presenting opportunities and risks. Investors shifted from extractive industries to a range of services, permitting Latin American economies to diversify. Chinese loans, totaling over $141 billion since 2005, have permitted Latin American governments to fund expenditures with few strings attached, but with little regard for the long-term consequences of deficits.
During the Bush and Obama administrations, the United States took on the role of constructive critic regarding Chinese engagement. They advocated for transparency, environmental regulation, responsible spending, and anti-corruption standards. They held seven bilateral consultations with China regarding Latin America.
The Trump administration has criticized Chinese engagement without offering a better option. The 2017 National Security Strategy identified China as a strategic competitor, accusing it “pulling the region into its orbit through state-led investment and loans.” Bilateral meetings were suspended, and Rex Tillerson and Mike Pompeo have engaged in rhetoric about China’s predatory intentions. Rather than evaluating Chinese engagement deal-by-deal through private meetings, the US has publically rejected all Chinese investment in Latin America. At the same time, the US has threatened tariffs on Mexico and withdrawn aid from Central America. If China really wanted to bring the region into its orbit, the announcements couldn’t have come at a better time.
A Better Approach
The US used to be a credible observer of Chinese investment in Latin America, warning against specific deals that would harm Latin American countries. The Bush and Obama-era bilateral meetings were a venue for this constructive criticism.
A future administration should return to bilateral consultations regarding Latin America, encourage positive-sum deals while pressing for standards regarding corruption and the environment, and provide alternatives to Chinese financing. The Inter-American Foundation and USAID are key avenues for this funding, but international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank can provide another source.
Each Chinese loan or investment offer comes with opportunities and risks for Latin America. By evaluating both sides and presenting more attractive options, the US can continue to engage in competition with China while also benefiting Latin America.
- The highlight of this weekend was a party in Northern Virginia for current students, alumni, and supporters of the AGS Program. It was a lot of fun to catch up with friends and meet new people. If I end up in DC after graduation, it will be a great community to get involved in!
Week 2: Thinking About the Long Term
June 18, 2019
My second week at the OAS was an exciting one, as I got to spend more time with the other interns, attend two events at think tanks, and begin to work on a report on the Belize-Guatemala territorial dispute.
The two panels stood out. While they focused on issues specific to Latin America, they both yielded lessons that we can, and should, apply to other issues around the world.
The first event, on the implementation of peace accords in Colombia, took place at the University of Notre Dame’s office in DC. Notre Dame has an excellent peace and conflict studies program, and one of their contributions is called the Peace Accords Matrix. The matrix compiles information about 34 different peace accords, comparing how well they’ve been carried out and offering recommendations on how governments and other actors can improve. The panel this week gathered academics, think tank fellows, and practitioners to assess how Colombia was doing when it came to implementation.
The second event, focused on migration and development in Central America, also took place at the Notre Dame office. Although migration from the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador), has been making headlines in the US over the last year, it’s nothing new. Violent crime, poverty, and poor governance drive emigration, and people will continue to leave their countries until we address those causes.
I drew two key takeaways.
Short-term “fixes” can cause long-term damage. As Michael Camilleri, one of the Central America panelists, pointed out, politicians in the US face strong pressure from constituents to reduce migration now. The Trump administration has responded to that pressure with deep cuts to Central American aid and threats of tariffs against Mexico. The approach is an attempt to coerce the governments of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador into blocking migrants on their way toward the US border. Even if Trump succeeds in decreasing migration in the short term, however, in the long run these measures will likely increase poverty and violence in the region.
Long-term solutions can appear to be short-term mistakes. The Colombian peace accord is a comprehensive document, addressing immediate concerns such as disarmament and demobilization, but also including longer term stipulations on rural reform and transitional justice. One of these stipulations involves reducing rural communities’ reliance on planting coca, a crop used in the production of cocaine. The peace accords call for the government to subsidize coca-growing families who switch to legal crops, a policy called voluntary substitution.
In the short term after the peace accords, cultivation of coca plants has increased in areas formerly controlled by the FARC guerrilla group. President Trump has responded by pushing the Colombian government to take more extreme measures against coca fields. One such measure, aerial spraying, is prone to destroying legal crops as well, eliminating a key source of revenue for families in the post-conflict zone. Raising even more cause for concern, researchers at the University of the Andes found a link between the tactic and increased visits to the doctor regarding respiratory illness and skin damage, as well as an increased incidence of miscarriages. Panelist Adam Isacson argues that rather than viewing the short-term increase in coca cultivation as a failure of the peace deal, we should view it as a reason to increase state presence in the region and fully implement the accords.
- There’s no shortage of museums in DC with free admission! This weekend I went to some of them with a group of friends from the OAS. It was my first time in the Renwick Gallery, and I loved it!
- The link between migration and development is complicated. Some researchers, such as Michael Clemens at the Center for Global Development, have counterintuitively argued that development can temporarily increase migration rates by providing greater access to resources to leave an underdeveloped country in the first place. As development policies take effect and home conditions improve, migration drops back down. This trend, called the “migration hump” or “mobility transition,” may be the topic of a future blog entry.
Week 1: Looking Back, Looking Forward
June 12, 2019
Even after spending last summer at an internship in DC, each time I come up here I’m struck by how much there is to do! I moved into my room last Sunday, and in just one week I’ve attended three panels at think tanks, two events with Duke in DC, and a jazz concert. I also spent a half-day at the DC Pride Parade with friends from the OAS, and I started my full-time internship on Thursday. My week’s been packed, but I couldn’t be happier with how I’ve filled it and the people I’m spending it with.
The highlight was starting my position at the Organization of American States. On Thursday morning I gathered with about 70 other interns in a conference room for orientation and a chance to meet each other. A few of the interns are from Canada and the US, but the vast majority come from Latin America. The mix of interns from all over the Americas has given me an opportunity to practice my Spanish, help some of them practice their English, and even begin to pick up some Brazilian Portuguese!
Three years ago, I would have never guessed that I’d be doing an internship at the OAS. I started at Duke with a broad interest in international relations. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to specialize in one region or topic. During my sophomore year, I started to write a blog on the Colombian Peace Accords through the Global Human Rights Scholars Program at Duke’s Kenan Institute for Ethics. The peace process and the FARC guerrilla group were top google search terms for a short time in October 2016, when the agreement was put to Colombian voters in a referendum and then-President Juan Manuel Santos won that year’s Nobel Peace Prize. After the referendum, however, global attention shifted away just as the most difficult part of the process—implementation—was about to begin. Through my blog, I realized that I wanted to continue to follow the process, even after most people had begun to focus to other global hot spots.
I spent the summer after sophomore year continuing to follow the accords and their implementation as the Colombia Program Intern at the Latin America Working Group, a human rights advocacy NGO. At LAWG, I appreciated the tight-knit team, and I got a better sense of the differences among advocacy groups, think tanks, academia, multilateral organizations, and government.
During the fall semester of my junior year, I studied in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The classes, taught in Spanish at Argentine universities, had a regional focus, and I learned a lot by writing about Latin American presidents and foreign policy. Spending time with friends from Argentina and other countries in Latin America and Europe, I learned as much outside of the classroom as I did in my courses. As I sat in the conference room for orientation at OAS, the chance to meet interns from all over the Americas took me back to the time I spent in Argentina.
Following orientation, we split up to go to each of our departments. The OAS is a sprawling organization, taking up three separate buildings in DC, not to mention dozens of regional offices across the hemisphere. Many of the interns are assigned to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Others work on issues of security, development, administration, and finance.
I’m working with the Department of Sustainable Democracy and Special Missions. Most of my work will be centered around the OAS’ Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH, for its initials in Spanish) and the Belize-Guatemala Process, which has made great strides in the last few years to address a 160-year-old border dispute between the two countries. Having studied some of these issues at college and following them in the news, I’m excited to be working on them firsthand.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll begin to work on projects related to the Belize/Guatemala Process and MACCIH, and I’ll have an opportunity to explain the politics surrounding them in this blog. I’ll also talk about what I’ve been up to in DC with friends from Duke and the OAS internship program. Although I’m only a few days into my time as OAS, I’m excited for all that I’ll be doing this summer.
- I love hearing all the different accents among the Spanish-speaking interns at the OAS. I got used to the Argentine accent during my semester in Buenos Aires, but every country (and even each region within a country) has its own way of speaking and sometimes its own vocabulary. The best (and funniest) summary of this is a video by Venezuelan-American comedian Joanna Hausmann.
- DC has tons of events at think tanks, focusing on everything from US-Iran relations to domestic infrastructure spending. Since most of the attendees are familiar with the field, panelists can more easily go into the weeds on niche topics—something that I’ve appreciated during the events I went to last week.
- The AV Club, a TV and film review site, includes a section called “stray observations” at the end of each article with a few notes that didn’t fit into the body of the review. I like their format, so I’ve added a similar section here.