~ Archive for International Affairs ~

The Dominican vote — a sign that global change is in the air?


One of the most interesting aspects of this past Sunday’s elections in the Dominican Republic was that for the first time, Dominicans living abroad could vote at local polling stations outside their country.  In Providence, New York, Boston and elsewhere, Dominicans who live outside their country could cast their votes for their preferred candidate for president.  While this may be nothing new to many other citizens of other countries, it is noteworthy in a country that still feels the legacy of Trujillo’s dictatorship.  And given the distrust of most Dominicans of the potential for corruption, which therefore voids the solution for extraterritorial voting that other countries have adopted through their consulates, the adoption of measures to incorporate the electoral wishes of the expatriate Dominican population is no small feat.

After 9 percent of the votes were counted, here are the results from 11 different polling stations outside the country, courtesy of DR1:

Boston (3,491 valid votes): 77.4% PLD, 19.6% PRD, 2.8% PRSC.
Miami (1,745 valid votes): 74.4% PLD, 21.5% PRD, 3.7% PRSC.
New Jersey (4,439 valid votes): 74% PLD, 22.3% PRD, 3.3% PRSC.
New York (12,101 valid votes): 73.7% PLD, 21.4% PRD, 4.4% PRSC.
Orlando (190 valid votes): 73.7% PLD, 23.7% PRD, 2.63% PRSC.
Tampa (203 valid votes): 68.47% PLD, 26.11% PRD, 4.43% PRSC.
Puerto Rico (3,225 valid votes): 79.9% PLD, 17.5% PRD, 2.4% PRSC.
Barcelona (1,329 valid votes): 73% PLD, 17.4% PRD, 6.6% PRSC.
Madrid (2,913 valid votes): 77.7% PLD, 15.1% PRD, 5% PRSC.
Montreal (303 valid votes); 71.62% PLD, 27.72% PRD, 0.66% PRSC.
Venezuela (369 valid votes): 66.94% PLD, 31.71% PRD, 1.36% PRSC.

At first blush, this certainly seems to indicate that expatriate Dominicans support the incoming President, Leonel Fern

A major step forward in the liberal arts


Because of the important contribution that an international experience can play in the
education of Harvard College students, we recommend there be an expectation that all
Harvard College students pursue a significant international experience during their time in
the College, and that completion of such an experience be noted on the transcript.”

Of all the recommendations made earlier this week in the Harvard College Curricular Review, the one that caught my attention most was this movement toward exposing all Harvard College students to study abroad. While the recommendation stops short of requiring that all students study abroad (one could imagine that international students may not want or need to spend a semester abroad, since Harvard Square itself qualifies as a foreign country for them), I have long thought that all true liberal arts graduates, especially in such an increasingly complex and international world, be exposed to other cultures.

As Harvard College’s Dean Kirby remarked in a radio interview yesterday: “From now on Harvard students had better arrive on campus with their passports.”

Well said, and hopefully a standard that other universities will follow.

Engaging the US public in international affairs


I was struck the other day while listening to the BBC by a comment by a US political strategist regarding whether the Democratic or Republican party now holds the mantle of the “party of big government.” The general conclusion of the overall discussion, which was centered on the growing federal budget deficit, was that both parties are supporters of big government, and that the only difference between them was a sense of where to focus those big government efforts (on the military, on education, on environmental protection, etc.).

The remark that really hit home for me was something that I have known for a long time, but has been troublingly reinforced in the current political climate — that the only places for spending cuts are those that have no natural domestic constituency — namely, foreign aid and other international areas.

One challenge before all of us who spend our days thinking about international issues is daunting and there is no good answer — how can we raise levels of awareness of and more nuanced engagement with international issues within an inwardly focused US population? Even now, in a time period in which international themes such as war, post-conflict resolution, humanitarian assistance dominate the headlines and election debate, the average American’s understanding of the details of international happenings remains facile and superficial.

More germane to how to effect positive change in the public’s understanding of the complexities of the international policymaking environment is the dependence on big media and on soundbite driven news and infotainment. This has become especially dangerous, as it seems that general international ignorance extends upwards to the highest levels of government and business. The miscues and mistakes that major public and private figures make on a daily basis are staggering.

For example, despite the fundamental common sense of addressing the root causes of global terrorism through increased international development and foreign aid efforts, mere lip-service is being paid to credible, sound thinkers. I was amazed the other day by the absurd doltishness of a commentator from a group called “Republicans Abroad” who on the BBC insisted that “We understand what causes terrorism. Terrorism is caused by terrorists. If we get rid of the terrorists we will get rid of terrorism.” An awfully tautological argument that I’m sure bowled over the BBC’s listeners. And we wonder why the US is so easily and often mocked by the rest of the world for its caveman approaches to difficult policy issues.

So how can this be remedied? How can we raise both general and specific awareness of international affairs in a population that seems to increasingly pride itself on its parochialness and independence? That is made up of many individuals who dump fine French wine down the drain because of the unwillingness to support the Iraq war? And how can we break the stranglehold of homogeneous big media on the limited attention span of our citizenry?

Technology is certainly part of the answer, in the form of blogs, independent radio and hard hitting video and creative use of multimedia. My colleagues at the Berkman Center are pioneering the use of the Internet to create new, alternative media outlets such as Chris Lydon with his streaming audio interviews or Ben Walker and Mary Bridges with AudioBerkman. And other colleagues like James Der Derian and his InfoTechWarPeace project at the Watson Institute for International Studies are creating powerful video messages like his newly finished documentary “Post 9/11.”

These uses of technology are essential, but even more importantly, we need effective forms of outreach and education that make inroads in broad awareness raising. We need better linkages betwween academia and the media, and better interlocutors who can translate complex concepts responsibly. We also need patience. And money.

But if we do not make more headway in doing a better job at making a human connection between international issues and the US public, we will not get far.