Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Corporate exploitation of the weak in Taiwan

Labor violations by a corporate giant and its employment agencies continue to afflict blue collar workers in Taiwan while government officials make half-hearted efforts to enforce labor law.

Words and images by Don Juan Corzo
Her name is Asmin Paulito. She was a 30 year old operator in a factory in Taiwan. Her superiors told her she was not free to go wherever you wanted on her days off work. They gave her punishments every time she made mistakes. She complained about unfair rules or illegal fees and her brokers said she was wrong.
I have a roommate whose husband works in another city in Taiwan and she's rarely allowed to stay out overnight to spend time with him,” Paulito said. “Rules like that are abusive.”
This is the experience many foreign workers have reported to Examiner in the course of a yearlong investigation in Siliconware Precision Industries Co., Ltd (SPIL,矽品精密工業股份有限公司), one of the most successful technology companies in Taiwan. Some may not recognize the name of this large semiconductor manufacturer, though major customers include Apple, Intel, AMD and Sandisk.

All overseas foreign workers (OFWs) working in SPIL factories are brought from Philippines. The main violation that pushed some factory workers to complain formally was the new no-exit policy, though they have endured other violations for years in SPIL, according to various worker rights groups in Taiwan.
"The new no-exit policy means foreign workers don't have to leave Taiwan and go back to their country of origin to get their work visa renewed to be hired by the same employer or a different one," said 
Director Lennon Wong (汪英達) of Serve the People Association (SPA, 桃園市群眾服務協會), a human rights organization.
Chunshan facility in Tanzi District, one of the SPIL factories and dormitories locations around Taiwan where foreign workers violations ocurr on a daily basis.
Asmin and three fellow factory workers decided to file formal complaints against SPIL in December when Daisy Sy (施麗絲), a broker representative for the Human Resources Division (HR) announced in December the company would not follow the amended Taiwan labor law that benefits more than 600,000 blue collar foreign workers in Taiwan.
On November 5th last year an amended ruling of the Employment Service Act (勞動基準法) in the Ministry of Labor (MOL,勞動部) cancelled the must-exit policy for migrant workers after finishing their job contracts. The amended law also benefits domestic workers and foreign nationals from other Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia and Vietnam.
When questioned by Taichung Labor Affairs Bureau (LAB, 臺中市政府勞工局) as to why they were the only ones complaining out of thousands, the four OFWs who filed the formal complaint on January 12th said no one really dared to protest publicly against their employer's illegal rulings before for fear of reprisal by their brokers.
Another reason why many don't want to join the formal complaint is they're afraid that the labor bureau will not really help them,” said complainant Kimberly Carmona. “Most think SPIL will make them leave Taiwan and maybe they can't come back again.”
Like the complainants, many face the prospect of being sent back every month. Besides the possibility of joblessness in Philippines, workers still face greater financial burden if they want to return. The amended law does away with the high cost for OFWs to re-enter Taiwan. Filipino and Taiwanese brokers who process new hires or rehires are losing between NT$50,000 to NT$150,000 per applicant, according to worker rights group Migrante International.
Former SPIL worker Asmin Paulito and SPA Director Lennon Wong (汪英達) were interviewed by Taiwan media during the press conference at the entrance of the Ministry of Labor in Taipei on January 11th regarding the abuses in SPIL dormitories and violation of the new no-exit policy.
We believe theres a division of the money [OFWs] pay the Philippines agencies because the brokers get a portion of the money. Maybe there is a share for the company too. We've asked the Labor Bureau to investigate that too, SPA Director Wong (汪英達) said on January 22nd at an OFW meeting in Tanzi, Taichung. SPA is a non-governmental organization (NGO) involved in fighting foreign worker exploitation and shelters many of them around Taiwan.

SPIL uses the services of three job placement agencies, Mengo Manpower Group (萬國人力集團), Champion Manpower Services (長宏人力集團) and Pan Asia Human Resources (泛亞人力集團 ) in the seven factories it operates in Taichung, Hsinchu and Changhua. Abuses have been reported in MOL and also in the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO, 菲律賓駐台代表處), the consular branch of Philippines in Taiwan. Evidence shows SPIL HR is either contributing to the unfair treatment of the foreign workers or ignoring the way said agencies process and manage the foreign workers.
Our company always obeys and follows the laws and regulation,” SPIL HR Director Grace Chang (張美慧), said in an email response to the allegations of misconduct and abuse within the company. We value our employees’ interests and rights and we never assist or intend to provide opportunity to any and specific agencies to make the monetary income and profits from the foreign workers.”
Director Chang asserted SPIL was still rehiring foreign workers in December and January while contradicting Mengo broker Sy who told several dorm occupants that no one was getting job contract renewals on December 21st. The question still stands why so few foreign workers are being rehired immediately while asking most to return to Philippines first, in order to rehire them.
Newly hired OFWs arrived in Mengo dorm in January despite SPIL Human Resources and agency brokers stating im December they are not rehiring their trained factory foreign workers in an effort to reduce workforce.
SPIL is not OK. The broker and employer have no concern for their employees,” said Assistance-to-Nationals Officer Gina Lin (林秀秀) in MECO Taipei. “Workers are sending me messages from Hsinchu. Most request their names be withheld to save their jobs.”
SPIL's manpower agencies also are supposed to help its OFWs extend their work visas in Taiwan with the implementation of the no-exit policy. Chang stated in her email. “If the company finally decides not to rehire the foreign worker, and the worker intends to stay and continue to work at Taiwan, our company will help to introduce he/she enables to transfer to other company according to the applicable clauses under Foreign Employment Service Act.
Production managers expected us to have our contracts renewed after we signed the forms for rehire,” said complainant Leah Pacday.But the brokers kept those forms and gave new ones to sign with the exit-only option in late December.”
SPIL HR Manager Amber Kao (郭珀華) told Examiner on a phone call in December that HR has its reasons to not rehire employees despite getting positive feedback from the production department. But she didn't explain why SPIL is still hiring many new OFWs in January.
However, Kao and a Champion broker told the complainants on January 3rd in an recorded meeting at SPIL offices, HR would rehire them if they went back to Philippines, contrary to what the no-exit labor law mandates now.
The survey form foreign workers were forced to sign to leave Taiwan with no option to be rehired immediately or to transfer to another employer, but only to return to Philippines to start the hiring process with SPIL again or to quit. 
A production manager said under the condition to anonymity that “it doesn’t make sense to send back operators who are already trained. That's a waste of money and time to bring new workers to teach them the production process.”
Paulito, Carmona and Pacday, three of the four OFWs finished their contracts on January 13th and were granted a 60-day stay by the National Immigration Agency (內政部移民署).
“But the Labor Bureau said they had to further investigate their case, so MOL delayed issuing the official transfer until February 2
nd, SPA's Wong said about the document the women needed to get work with another employer.

Filipino Father Joyalito Tajonera, who heads the Roman Catholic Church in Tanzi District and runs two shelters for mainly abused Filipino workers in Taichung, told the Examiner SPIL and its employment agencies have had complaints filed against them before, but workers usually quit their effort to fight for their rights out of intimidation by brokers, and even by coworkers for “rocking the boat.”
OFWs, who are not being rehired, faced conflicts or threats in the past when they complained about dormitory illegal rules or questioned the brokers unfair treatment of workers, Fr. Joy said.
A unidentified SPIL foreign worker cleans the bathroom as punishment for breaking a rule or making a mistake in the dormitory, an employer abuse and a violation according to the Labor Standard Act of MOL.
Some examples of such dorm rules are the cleaning punishment plus fee and the stay-out request, which employees fill out to be able to spend the night out on their days off for personal reasons.
Employees living in the dorm can only stay out three times in one month, without being told why. Other companies like Canon factories in Taiwan have similar requirements from OFWs too, but they are a notice from the employee to the employer about their dorm status on their days off, not a request for permission. Some SPIL workers go for months, even years, without being approved to stay out overnight for no valid reason. Some explanations workers get are “it’s management rules,” “it’s for your safety” or “you came to Taiwan to work.” Workers are also illegally forbidden from riding scooters or motorcycles, the most affordable and common way of transportation in Taiwan for the working class.
Since many Filipino workers placed anonymous complaints through 2016, HR told the brokers all three agencies had to loosen the illegal restriction on the overnight rule with no real relief. Workers can stay out, but they have to call in to report to the office by 11:00 p.m. And they have to be back in the dorm by 5:30 a.m.
It's so useless because workers are not allowed to own or ride scooters, and if you are far from the dorm, there are no public buses to bring you back at that time,” said Paulito. “It's inconvenient to make you go back to the dorm in a taxi so early wherever you are.”
SPA Director Lennon Wong (汪英達shows MOL Director Shiue Jain-Jong (薛鑑忠) and Section Chief Huang Wei-Cheng (黃偉誠) proof about SPIL violations during a in-house meeting with SPA members and OFWs on January 11th.
Despite paying a monthly NT$100 cleaning fee, brokers also give workers punishments like cleaning bathrooms for being late or even for minor mistakes like signing the wrong log. However, former LAB representative Katrina Lin () said in early 2016 such mandates are “illegal” since they are not in the workers' contracts, SPIL official employee rules or Taiwan labor law.

The brokers charge a variety of fees that are supposed to be covered by SPIL according to the OFWs contracts, including lodging, meals and a round trip airfare. There's an additional signed addendum in some workers' contracts that exempts them from those benefits. But according to SPA's Wong, that extra document is invalid when you look at Taiwan labor law guidelines.
The brokers who work with HR tell us if we complain openly they will send us back and will block us from returning to work in Taiwan,' said Joyce Abad, a Filipina operator who quit her job with SPIL in November after dealing with labor abuses for more than two years.

According to Wong and Fr. Joy, MOL and LAB are hesitant to fully crack down on SPIL exploitation because so few OFWs file official complaints and “there's big pressure to close complaint cases” from politicians and big business.

Major brand name Advanced Semiconductor Engineering Inc (ASE, 日月光半導體), SPIL's greatest competitor received approval from the Fair Trade Commission (FTC) for its NT$128.7 billion (US$4.04 billion) bid to acquire SPIL in November, a few days after the amended no-exit policy went on effect.
On the surface, one of Taiwan’s biggest acquisition deals ends a corporate rivalry and improves ASE's image from a scandal stemming from a much publicized pollution incident in December, 2013 that partially shut down facilities in Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan.
The merger approval appears to bear positively for the world’s largest chip manufacturer from international competition watchdogs and if there aren't serious concerns when the bid is completed this year.

One major difference between ASE and SPIL is the former's agencies currently doesn't apply broker fees and extra charges to its OWFs while the latter has done so excessively for years.

But SPIL is not the only company with its agencies breaking the new no-exit labor policy or abusing OFWs in Taiwan,” said Wong. “There are many small family owned factories and big companies committing these violations along with their manpower agencies.”

 Until government agencies decide to diligently defend the weak and confront injustice from the those in power, people like Filipina Asmin Paulito will be one of the few brave ones standing up for her rights.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Formosa Island's fresh start

Originally published in
on May 21st, 2016
 by Don Juan Corzo
The inauguration of Tsai Ing Wen as Taiwan's first female president on Friday clearly marks a pivotal event in the island nation's history. But it's not just for reasons of gender equality. She shares the same honorable achievement as her South Korean counterpart Park Geun-hye as women holding the highest office as democratically elected leaders in Asia.
Park became president in 2013 but unlike Tsai, she seems to maintain a stronger relationship with the U.S. including unequivocal military support against North Korea's threats. President Tsai faces greater challenges since she doesn't receive the same formalized support from the U.S. government against possible hostilities from China.
In an effort to exert its influence over Taiwan, China made headlines in April when it demanded that 45 Taiwanese suspects be deported from Kenya to the mainland to face criminal charges stemming from a fraud case that targeted many Chinese nationals. Taiwan government protested the action by the Chinese authorities citing jurisdiction and sovereignty issues. Many considered the move an effort by Beijing to assert its power over Taiwan despite Tsai's election and DPP landslide seat wins in Parliament last January.
China's network CCTV reported on May 18th that the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon don't support Taiwan's attempt to break away from the mainland as an independent nation, but those assertions weren't confirmed as true by media relations in the U.S. Department of Defense.
“This latest election is further proof of the Taiwanese people's enduring commitment to the ideals of freedom and self-governmentt, principles that are the foundations that both of our nations are built upon,” U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said on Friday in response to a resolution passed in the Foreign Affairs Committee to strengthen relations between U.S. and Taiwan against aggressions from China.
The outgoing Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou established harmonious relations with China's government during his eight  years in office, and many perceived his dealings as an attempt to pave the way for a Taiwan- China reunification. As a member of conservative KuoMinTang, such goal is desired by the party, which was formerly the official government of China before the current communist ruling party took over in 1949.
Tsai represents the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the other major political party in Taiwan, which exhorts a separate, independent Taiwanese identity, and publicly favors total independence, though not officially, as of yet.
Taiwanese and Chinese citizens don't eye to eye in their differences over the island and the mainland political stance, but both agree the relationship between China and Tiawan is complicated at best.
The People's Republic of China (PRC) in Beijing wasn't pleased to hear Tsai's inaugural speech calling for better relationship between the two countries.The Chinese government was expecting to hear more literal acknowledgement from the new Taiwanese president about following the one China policy drilled in the Chinese citizens' minds. With statements like "From here on out history will no longer divide Taiwan. Instead, it will propel Taiwan forward,"  Tsai made a hopeful message for her people, but refused to give in to China's demands to imply subjugation.
During her speech, the former law professor emphasized strengthening relations and trade with other Asian nations to offset the reliance on China's economy and continue strong business ties with the U.S.
While Tsai's taking the oath of office was witnessed live by hundreds of dignitaries from more than 50 countries in Taipei and it was broadcast or covered across the world,  the Chinese government kept its media outlets from reporting on the historic event and searches online and social media were effectively blocked in mainland.

Despite the tense, complex relationship between the two countries, Tsai says the most important goal in her mind is economic growth as was evident in her speech.
“At this moment, Taiwan’s situation is very difficult, I invite every fellow citizen to carry the future of this country,” Tsai said in her speech.
Domestic matters seem more important than cross-strait relations, but many still see China's ever present large shadow as the Red Elephant in the Formosa Room.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Demonizing or excusing Trump?

Originally published in
on March 12th, 2016
 Words and Images by Don Juan Corzo

Some media outlets are still wondering if Republican frontrunner Donald Trump is partly to blame for violence and the environment of hostility at his rallies through his campaign.
On Friday a Trump rally was postponed in Chicago after tensions rose and a clash erupted between the supporters and protesters of the controversial real estate tycoon. Afterwards, Trump told CNN's anchor Don Lemon he didn't “regret at all” making comments that might have incited his supporters to attack protesters in the past few months.
Fox News and other right wing-leaning media outlets reported the rally was cancelled because of “violent protesters” without recognizing Trump's comments and supporters have contributed to that hostile environment.
During an interview with Fox News' talk show host Sean Hannity, Trump complained how media don't report disruption or protesters at Hillary Clinton or Senator Bernie Sanders rallies. However, major outlets like CNN have, indeed, reported protests in their rallies, but unlike Trump, both democratic candidates haven't encouraged supporters to attack the protesters. Furthermore, that hasn't been the case either in the other Republican candidates' campaigns whose rallies haven't been characterized by violence or threats towards protesters, or even journalists as has been the case in Trump's events.
Journalists are depicted in a negative light by Trump as recently as the rally in Dayton, Ohio following the chaos in Chicago. They have not been exempt to the violence at his rallies.
TIME Magazine photographer Christopher Morris was slam-choked by one of Trump's secret service agents for barely stepping out of the media area at a rally in Virginia in late February. A Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields was manhandled by Trump's campaign manager Corey Lewandowski on at a rally in Florida on February 8thThere's a real concern in the members of the press about the freedom of the press under a Trump presidency.

Photo credit: Don Juan Corzo

Using his experience in media's modern mold of Jackass and the Kardashians, the businessman-turned-reality TV star is effectively exploiting the anger in the American population tired of the establishment, specifically the “poorly educated” since they seem to be the easiest to influence with a populist front.
Trump is also deflecting his polarizing effect at the rallies and blaming it on the establishment, and even on President Barack Obama depicting him as a divider. Instead of taking charge of the toxic nature his rallies have grown into, he's excusing his supporters' aggressiveness on peaceful protesters by saying they have “unbelievable anger" at the state of the nation, the economy and the U.S. current position in the world now.
Trump has been asked on repeated occasions directly or indirectly to address his supporters about the hostile atmosphere in his rallies, but he keeps giving evasive answers about how successful his campaign is, or how “loving” and “amazing” his supporters are, or how protesters are really “dangerous,” “bad dudes.”
In his attempt  to further manipulate people's minds, the New York businessman has suggested that while the police are doing a good job maintaining control of the crowds, he wishes they weren't so afraid of acting with strength out of fear of getting in trouble or losing their jobs.
If the University of Illinois was vetted by the Trump campaign as a rally location, Trump knew the risks involved there and pulled the plug on the event in the last minute in “a strongman political tactic,” to create the incendiary situation between protesters and supporters, who had been there for hours waiting to see the candidate.
MSNBC's Chris Matthews told Trump he believed he “could have predicted this” confrontation when the GOP frontrunner told him that “two people that are experts said this increases the vote for Trump.”
Maybe Trump will tone down his provocative rhetoric and try to bring some civility into his campaign, but one only can wonder and brace for what would happen after he gets elected.
As a young protester said in the aftermath of chaos in the university pavilion in Chicago, “I'm for freedom of speech, but not for hate speech.”
Trump would be wise to heed those words, even if he was to become POTUS. 

True Trump Quotes

“Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing,” - Trump on a protester who was attacked by supporters at a rally in Birmingham, Alabama on November 21th, 2015.

“Don’t give him his coat! Keep his coat. Confiscate his coat. You know it’s about ten degrees below zero outside.” -Trump to his security personnel kicking out protesters on January 7th, 2016 in Vermont.

“Knock the crap out of ‘em. Would you? Seriously. Ok? Just knock the hell—I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.”  -Donald Trump on protesters at rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on February 1st, 2016.

“I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell ya.” - Trump on a protester who was kicked out at rally in Las Vegas on February 22nd, 2016.

I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.” - Trump at same rally in Las Vegas.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

El Comandante's way

Originally published in
on March 25th, 2013
 by Don Juan Corzo

It’s really difficult to find a Venezuelan citizen in Texas (or U.S.) who liked President Hugo Chavez; but it wasn’t so difficult to hear many voice their complaints and woeful wishes months ago during Venezuela’s election cycle.
“That bastard is destroying what beautiful Venezuela was once,” said Houston resident Jessica Barbosa several months ago. “He needs to get out of the way and die fast.”
Granted, a lot of the the local immigrant Venezuelan residents are made up of middle to upper class and professionals who left Venezuela in the late 90s and early 2000s because of Chavez. They fled the country to avoid being further affected by his bold, “bullying” economic and political policy changes.

There are a few exceptions like Venezuelan Ricardo Moreno, a former pastor and an organizer for the non-profit Bread for the World, who upon learning about Chavez’s death at the Washington D.C. airport, started crying and shared a moving story on Facebook about that moment.
After ruling for 14 years, President Chavez´s passing on March 5th came as a shock to many supporters and detractors despite his unusual long absence from the public eye since December 9th.
“El Comandante,” as he was referred to by his followers; had been battling cancer since June 2011 and had travelled constantly back and forth between Cuba and Venezuela.
His presence and influence can be described tritely, but literally as larger than life, and his biggest critics can’t deny that fact. That’s likely why many people were in disbelief through their grief or their joy for his sudden death.
He may have been harshly critical of United States, but many U.S. political leaders and pundits were eager to likening him to a dangerous dictator in the world arena. The truth is the former child of impoverished teachers never quite fit that mold, despite unproven accusations or paranoid assumptions (on both ends).
This was almost evident on my visit to Venezuela at the end of summer 2012 when the country was in full swing for the presidential election. However, my entrance into the country was very discouraging at first.

“You’d better not identify yourself as an American journalist if you don’t want to run into trouble with the authorities there,” warned Chief Editor Orlando Gamboa for La Opinion, a renowned Colombian newspaper near the Colombia-Venezuela border.
The concern, he said, is that I could be detained for possibly being a spy for the U.S. government if I asked too many questions or took too many photos as a freelance journalist.
There seemed to be a blend of tension and relaxation in the air through the journey in Simon Bolivar’s land, which made for an ironic but intriguing oxymoron. There were reserves of military armed squads everywhere on the highways, small towns and cities; but the odd aspect of it was that it felt absolutely non-threatening. The soldiers were not only stern watchmen; surprisingly, they were also friendly in many instances.
The prospects of Venezuela being a menacing rogue nation as suggested by some U.S. leaders seemed nonexistent. Even Venezuelan residents critical of “El Comandante” agreed that the imagery of political killings and nightmarish gulags was absurd; nothing similar to what some in Chavez’s political oil circle were accused of in the Middle East.
But the question really was if Venezuela’s nationalist government with its cult of personality could eventually evolve into a real merciless crackdown on detractors, and not by simply ridiculing or censoring them.

For now Venezuela does face the difficult challenge of controlling violent crime, which, of course, was already an issue in previous administrations. But the murder rate increased alarmingly under Chavez’s watch and there are possible explanations by some residents.
“Chavez has created an entitlement attitude from the people in the working class in Venezuela,” said business owner Cesar Carrillo. “If someone sees you with a nice cell phone or jewelry, they’re more likely to rob you because you owe it to them.”
On the same token there are those who feel having elitists like Yale-educated Henrique Sales or Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles in office would only benefit the affluent in the end.
Despite apparent shortcomings in Chavez’s leadership, his earthy charisma was undeniable and every speech (in his weekly TV address) he made to the Venezuelan people, seemed to be genuine and candid to the extreme. Some experts felt keen in calling him a political master, and surely he had attained that denomination by his many years in politics and his insatiable reading of philosophy, history and politics. But at his core, he was truly an extraordinary common man for the Venezuelan people.

Several channels promoting Chavez dominated the television screens, including some targeted at the youth. Music videos and shows pushed hip-hop or reggaeton lyrics that made you think of indoctrination of past historical nationalist structures.
While traveling around the country, one could witness the endless Chavez campaign enterprise in large and small signs through highways and towns with the charismatic leader’s smiling face stamped on.
Then-candidate Capriles’s campaign message was scarce in contrast, and when found, it was many times vandalized with sprayed-canned name-calling or caricatured.
There seemed to be no interest by Chavez’s government in establishing a serious political debate with Miranda’s governor. There were no typical negative campaign ads you may see in U.S. against the challenger. To call Capriles a “dummy” or to draw Mickey Mouse ears on his picture was enough to win.

There were many people campaigning for “El Comandante” in towns and roads around the country with such enthusiasm, even fervor, it was almost hard to believe what some of Chavez critics would say.
“They don’t care about Chavez. The government is paying those people to go out to rallies and to campaign on Chavez’s behalf,” said Oscar Yanez, a restaurant manager.
According to several of those interviewed, the reasoning behind their loyalty or servitude to Chavez was split into two groups. The ones that gave their support to keep getting handouts, and the ones that kept doing it out of fear of losing what they had with Chavez. There were many citizens eager to say they were strong supporters of Chavez in the early years, but had become disillusioned with his actions after some time.

Sometimes unproven quotes seem to carry a life of their own to start or spread a tale, but one case seemed probable among them. Dr. Dolores Prieto, a chief physician, has a nice house that would categorize her at least as upper middle class. Her home office had wooden walled-book shelves filled of literary works that could be considered progressive, artsy or even leftist.
“I used to support President Chavez 100 percent, but I changed my mind when I saw things going bad,” said Prieto. “The country is a disaster, just like our hospital has been the last few years.”
And there is Maria Gonzales, a Colombian woman who lives and owns her clothing business in Venezuela. “I’m forever thankful for having someone like Chavez. He gave me a chance in life to become successful and independent when no one else would in Colombia,” Gonzales said. According to Maria, Chavez gave her money to start her business in Venezuela many years ago.

Going against his advice to me in summer 2012, La Opinion editor Gamboa was in Venezuela in the middle of March to follow on the country’s footsteps after Chavez’s death, and he declared the Bolivarian revolution is still very much alive.
“It was an incredible experience. The people have decided to play this one for keeps, and they’re in the streets by the millions to keep Chavez’s dream alive,” Gamboa said. “I think [VP] Maduro will win. The military supports him to the end.”
A special election will pick an new president on April 14th. and while there are several candidates running in the ballots, Governor Capriles and Vice President / Interim President Nicolas Maduro are the only serious contenders.

“Many Venezuelans love and hate Hugo Chavez for the same reason. Because he reminds them of themselves; of the culture of social entitlement that exists in Venezuela, way before he came to power,” said Andres Segura, a physician who has mixed feelings about Chavez’s ways.
Generally, someone who’s bold enough to express himself in such a way about the Venezuelan people would probably be offending quite a few of them. But then again, He may be entitled to say it because he’s Venezuelan too.

*The names of some of the subjects interviewed were changed by request.

Syria’s cruel intentions

Originally published in
on February 11th, 2013 
by Don Juan Corzo

Nearly two years since the Syrian uprising started in March 2011, the conflict has escalated into an all out civil war. A year ago the ongoing slaughter of apparently peaceful demonstrators and civilians was shown to the world uncensored via traditional media and social media.
The massacre of tens of thousands of people back in 1982 by the Syrian regime in the city of Hama is well known, though almost forgotten internationally. Its media coverage domestically was “censored,” and what could have been officially labeled as crimes against humanity went unpunished.
It was been virtually impossible for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to repeat his father’s effective cover-up of genocide of Syrians 30 years ago. The access to the Internet with apps and web sites like Twitter and Facebook have shown the world the indiscriminate killing of his citizens despite the limited access of the press (and in some cases, even the recent murders of foreign journalists).
As a journalist, I intended to write a piece last year about Syrian people living in Houston who could tell the stories of relatives or friends who were able to communicate the atrocities they were facing back in their homeland.
There were many contacts I gathered especially in the southwest part of town or the suburbs where many of them reside. There were schools teachers, mechanics, small business owners and college students in my list. I called, emailed and spoke to a several of them, but basically they all refused to speak to me and neither replied emails nor called me back.
A few of them just referred me to web sites or Facebook pages that were put up decrying the violence against Syrians or in protest of the Syrian government. I sent messages trying to reach those hosting those sites or pages, but I never got a response.
I wondered why these people were unwilling to communicate with me and perhaps help further expose Al-Assad’s bloody crackdown on his citizens through family and friends living in the U.S.

The reason
“They’re all afraid of talking to you,” finally relented one of my contacts who asked to remain anonymous. “If you write about any Syrians in Houston speaking against the Al-Assads, and they reveal anything negative about the government, worse things can happen for their families and friends.”
“Sam” (not his real name) stated the government's goons could track down any family or friend of those speaking against Asad to the press in the U.S. and hurt them or kill them in retaliation. So writing a story on that angle had to be postponed indefinitely.
A year later, the ongoing conflict has turned literally into hell on earth for Syrians every single day. Because of the ruthless crackdown of a cruel dictator, the once peaceful demonstrators, who were labeled “terrorists,” and  attacked have morphed into the Free Syrian Army, made up of former soldiers and armed rebels who won’t stop until Assad is gone.
The scarce international support for Syria’s government by countries like China and Russia hopefully will wane slowly, and the end of a decades’ long oppressing regime will come to an end.

The “Elephant in the Room” challenge in Obama’s reelection

Originally published in
on November 16, 2012
by Don Juan Corzo

It’s easy to see why U.S. President Barack Obama was elected for a second term to run a country that was looking into possibly enduring a second Depression four years ago. Arguably, a great number of high-ranking members of the Republican party knew his reelection was inevitable (e. g. Karl Rove) and nevertheless, put in all its chips in the game hoping that its poker face would give it the edge to turn the hand dealt by a progressive America.

Though there were powerful individuals and groups with enough artillery to provide the necessary tools, so to speak, to prevent a reelection, at the end of the day, Obama was a more palatable option for the masses and the elites or, in other words, what more pessimistic voices referred to as “the lesser evil.”

Why did so many people have such strong feelings of dislike and even hate for our 44th President? Allow us to rephrase that question, because folks around the world overwhelmingly felt most agreeable with Obama’s leadership. How come so many American citizens felt so strongly against Obama’s helming America’s recovery?
There are several reasons that can be put forth to explain why the race count in the popular vote had a gap wide enough to securely grant us a winner, but it was still close enough to be split closer in the middle.

A. Disappointment: What some media like Forbes Magazine or Fox News liked to refer to as “Obama Zombies” showed up in lesser numbers to vote for their leader due to a gradual disappointment because Obama didn’t turn out to be their Messiah-in-waiting. These folks stood by the sidelines as a non-voting bloc in protest of an apparently continuity of the status quo and not enough “Hope and Change.” Some joined forces with the Occupy Wall Street Movement and others joined the legions of libertarian leaders like Texas congressman Ron Paul; while others simply sulked complaining about a two-party dictatorship that caters mostly to the wealthy and the powerful. It can be said that the Left and the liberals were let down by Obama when he turned out to be such a centrist. He has even been compared to his predecessor in many ways, among other things, for failing to pursue prosecutions of big bank honchos after the 2008 economic collapse and for cultivating warring habits despite being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. There are obvious reasons why the president didn’t turn out to be their savior, but that will be another column.

B. Bigotry: It started in Obama’s first run for the White House in 2008 with individuals and groups voicing their disapproval and outright anger at the prospect of having a black president residing in the White House. One such group was the infamous the Ku Klux Klan, which posted messages or videos online voicing angry threats of violence. There were also such signs of prevalent racism seen at gatherings on the campaign trail of former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. After election, the Koch-sponsored grass roots movement the Tea Party arose from the people feeling there was too much government control and wasteful spending. But dangling from anti-government rhetoric came out the claim that newly elected President Obama was not a U.S. citizen, but possibly a Kenyan-born child who tricked the American people. That charade was continued up to the election cycle this year with media-obsessed billionaire Donald Trump’s ludicrous comments and propositions. There were still instances of traditional folks from the Heartland and Deep South still unhappy about retaining a black man as the POTUS, while ignoring his racial heritage is truly half white and half black.

C. Misinformation: Large numbers of conservative- leaning Americans were bombarded by right-wing propaganda about how a liberal President was leading the nation into a socialist path and his plans to destroy America’s core Christian and capitalistic values. In reality, the President attempted from the first day in office to be a centrist by even trying to recruit Republicans in his cabinet to reconcile differences between the Democrats and the Republicans accentuated under the Bush administration. His attempt at working with the GOP to bring change for the benefit of the American people was rejected by the Right moving further to the right. Many small business owners were led to believe that under the President Obama’s proposals, they were faced with ill-conceived policies to hurt them when all that was wanted is to return to the taxation of the wealthiest as seen in the healthier economy before 2001. And it begs the question, did President George Bush ever invite any Democrats to join his administration? Moreover, was it noted how Bush was absent from campaign events and fundraisers for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney while President Bill Clinton dominated headlines and stages while campaigning on behalf of Obama?

There are, of course, other reasons for the given outcome in the presidential race discussed and dissected on other media sources, but these are the some of the ones least discussed and, in essence, what the some of the GOP leadership hoped would have handed former Governor Romney the keys to the White House on election day. What they didn’t count on was the progressive minds in America and the refusal of the people to go back to the Dark Ages. The Great Old Party is, indeed, a dying breed if they don’t adapt to a new world. I didn’t say it. Darwin did.