Venezuela, once Latin America’s richest nation, is today a devastated country. Its democratic system has been destroyed as a result of years of authoritarian rule and government corruption. Political opponents are persecuted and jailed and there is no free press. The economic mismanagement has sparked shortages of food, medicines and the most basic supplies, with a resulting humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions. There is also a severe energy crisis and galloping inflation. And the number of pople leaving the country to escape their desperate situation is alarming.
Nicolas Maduro’s permanence in power is deemed illegitimate by most of the world’s democratic nations, as his re-election in May 2018 was clearly perceived as fraudulent. And at least 54 nations have recognized Juan Guaidó, the president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, as Venezuela’s acting president.
But, despite all this, Maduro is still clinging to power. While many analysts, especially in Latin America, believe that the United States intends to remove Maduro from power by force, the truth is that, despite its strong statements, the U.S. government does not seem to have any appetite to enter into a military conflict in Latin America. And the same can be said of the governments of the region, even when some of them are disproportionately shouldering the burden of Venezuela's refugee crisis, as is the case of Brazil and Colombia.
There are two diplomatic initiatives today that are trying to find a peaceful solution to Venezuela’s catastrophic situation. The first one is conducted by the so-called International Contact Group on Venezuela (composed of envoys of the European Union: Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands and Portugal, plus Uruguay, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Bolivia). This group is trying to reach a negotiated solution between the government and the opposition in Caracas.
The second initiative is an attempt by the Norwegian government to mediate the crisis. Several meetings were held recently between representatives of the Maduro regime and members of the opposition in Oslo. They were supposed to be secret but were apparently leaked by people close to Maduro. So far, none of these initiatives have yielded any results.
Even though it would be highly desirable for Maduro to agree to leave power and call for free and democratic elections through peaceful dialogue, the truth is that all the previous attempts to find a negotiated solution to the crisis that were held so far (including the one promoted by the Vatican in 2016) have failed. This is so because the regime has used these conversations to gain time, divide and weaken the opposition, and secure its permanence in power. Maduro's main interest in welcoming the current diplomatic initiatives is probably to improve his international image and curb the economic sanctions that have been imposed against his regime.
Given this background, it was a mistake for the contact group to publicly state that peaceful negotiations are "the only possible solution" to the Venezuelan crisis (clearly ruling out the possibility of a foreign intervention). The only way for any of these diplomatic initiatives to have a chance is for a credible threat of military intervention to be on the table. Otherwise, as in the past, these talks will only serve to extend the suffering of the population and the growing deterioration of the country.
Adriana Camisar is B’nai B’rith International's Special Advisor on Latin American Affairs. A native of Argentina, Camisar is an attorney by training and holds a Master’s degree in international affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.
As most people are aware, the United States Constitution ensures that everyone who is charged with a crime is provided an attorney. This legal right, which provides a basic level of fairness to all people accused of criminal conduct, is a bedrock of our country’s judicial system. However, what might surprise people is that parties to civil litigation are not guaranteed a right to a lawyer. Fortunately , in 1974, under the Nixon administration, the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) was created to help provide low-income individuals with legal representation for civil proceedings. LSC helps by allocating financial resources to nonprofit legal aid offices throughout the country.
LSC resources help people on a variety of civil matters, including assisting families escape domestic abuse, disaster relief, Social Security disability, federal agency casework, housing and foreclosure cases and consumer fraud. Obviously, older Americans benefit from the services provided by legal aid offices funded through LSC. For example, Anna-Marie Johnson, the executive director of Nevada Legal Services, said to The Atlantic regarding seniors’ dependence on LSC funding: “It may be different in other states, but the largest portion of the population out in the rural areas of Nevada are seniors,” and “there are a lot of housing issues, and there's a lot of need for end-of-life planning like estate planning, wills, guardianships, and other things like that.”
Through the Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA), LSC has been able to help seniors impacted by housing issues. One case involved an elderly disabled veteran living in federally subsidized housing whose only source of income was Social Security. According to LSC, the housing authority indicated his rent would double because he no longer qualified for a two-bedroom apartment. Working with local attorneys at MLSA, it was demonstrated that a reasonable accommodation was needed for a two-bedroom apartment so that he could have adequate space for an exercise machine. Due to MLSA’s assistance, the disabled veteran now pays only 30% of his income towards rent.
In addition, LSC reported a story about nonprofit legal aid organization Kansas Legal Services (KLS), which helped a low-income elderly woman who was victimized by her bank and payday lender. With the assistance of a KLS attorney, the elderly women received money back from the bank and the payday lender altered the original loan to allow the women to more easily afford food and medication.
Clearly, LSC provides critical legal services to older Americans across the country. Therefore, I find it bitterly disappointing that the White House has continually proposed budgets to eliminate LSC. The administration has argued that control of civil legal services for low-income people should be in the hands of state and local governments, who better recognize their constituents’ unique needs. However, that argument is easily countered because the LSC website states, “LSC funds are locally controlled and already set their own priorities based on their assessments of their communities’ needs. LSC distributes more than 93% of its funding to locally run organizations.”
Thankfully, Congress and the private sector legal community don’t agree with proposals to eliminate LSC. For instance, the most recent budgets passed by Congress allocated increased levels of funding for LSC. In addition, in 2017, 150 of our country’s major law firms signed a letter to the White House advocating funding for the program. The private sector firms argued that their pro bono legal services work in conjunction with legal aid agencies that receive money from LSC. The law firms stated they would not be able to provide the same level service to low-income individuals without the partnership of LSC funding.
If we want every person to be treated equally under the law, fully funding LSC is an important step in the right direction. Despite the White House’s proposed budgets, bipartisan congressional support and the private sector have stood strong to ensure that LSC can continue to help low-income seniors navigate civil legal matters.
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Assistant Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
Lists of names, sorted by country of origin. Columns that provide ages and places of birth and death. Last names listed alphabetically, first names that you can find on a typical Hebrew school roster. Entire families follow, line by line. A grandparent, Mark, age 75; his child, Emanuel, age 40; and then the grandchild, Benjamin, age 7. An entire family, murdered by the Nazis.
These names became a program with the goal of remembering the victims of the Holocaust by reading their names aloud and in public spaces. This is the tribute to the six million Jews, one and a half million of them children, who were murdered. As the names of victims are read aloud, they are remembered. For many on these lists, it is the only time their name will be said aloud, as their entire family was murdered or there is no one left to remember them.
The program was inspired by the poem “Unto Every Person There is a Name” by Zelda, which begins “Unto Every Person there is a Name bestowed upon him by God and given him by his father and mother”. The program is held each year on Yom Hashoah, which is observed on the 27th of Nissan. The date was chosen by the Israeli Knesset to serve as Holocaust Remembrance Day. This year, the commemoration will be on May 2nd.
The program was created to remind us that the victims were not just a number. Every individual had a name. They loved, worked and enjoyed their lives until they were murdered by the Nazis.
How do we remember each year? How do you bring more information to the participants who are part of the remembrance ceremonies? As survivors are passing away, the second and third generations of their descendants have committed themselves to bear witness. It is up to the Jewish community to support them in this task. B’nai B’rith became the North American coordinator of this program in 1989 and has brought the program to the community and campus for 30 years. Those who participate share stories of their experiences. Dignitaries and schoolchildren from public and parochial schools attend as readers. Passersby stop to listen and then ask if they can read as well. The readings take place in public places such as parks, in front of Holocaust monuments, the US Capitol (before 9/11), courthouse steps and shopping malls. It has also been held in cooperation with community events with synagogues, JCCs and Holocaust museums.
I remember when Congressman Jerome Nadler came to the District One ceremony in New York City in 1994. The program chair that year, Charles Friedman, president of the Leo Baeck Unit, shared a story about his family’s experiences during Kristallnacht. At another ceremony, B’nai B’rith leader Margarete Goldberger, who was saved as a child by the Kindertransport, was randomly given a list to read that included the name of a school friend in Germany who had not been able to flee the country in time. There are many memories that span the program’s 30-year history. Please share your own experiences at a program with us so that we can include these personal stories in our commemorations.
Names are also read on campus in conjunction with our partner, the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity. This year, over 130 campus programs were scheduled on campuses as part of their “We Walk to Remember” program. The brothers of AEPi wore stickers that said “Never Forget” and passed out information about the Holocaust as they walked silently through their campus. They proudly recognize their duty to be part of the remembrance, and we are grateful for their commitment to make this a part of their campus activity.
An international committee convened in Israel develops a theme and includes readings that relate to the topic. Alan Schneider, director of the B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem, represents B’nai B’rith on this committee. The program is also under the auspices of the of President of Israel Reuven Rivlin, who sends a message of thanks to the communities that take on this important activity. This year, the theme is “The War Within the War: The Struggle of the Jews to Survive during the Holocaust”.
The names are available via a database. In many communities, the printed pages become part of an “Unto Every Person There is a Name” binder and are saved from year to year, as the lists take on a special significance to those who gather to remember them. Treated as a sacred object, the pages are brought out for special commemorations.
There is an ongoing project to collect as many names as can be found as part of the “Pages of Testimony Project”. In accordance with the Yad Vashem Law passed by the Israeli Knesset in 1953, Yad Vashem established a Hall of Names and maintains a database of information about victims of the Holocaust. To date, there have been 4.8 million names of Shoah victims documented in the Central Database of Shoah Victims.
B’nai B’rith International is grateful to Kurt and Tessye Simon (of blessed memory) for their support of the Unto programming. You can find information about the Unto Every Person There is a Name program at this link: http://www.bnaibrith.org/unto-every-person.html.
Rhonda Love is the Vice President of Programming for B'nai B'rith International. She is Director of the Center of Community Action and Center of Jewish Identity. She served as the Program Director of the former District One of B'nai B'rith. In 2002 she received recognition by B'nai B'rith with the Julius Bisno Professional Excellence Award. Rhonda has served on the B'nai B'rith International staff for 41 years. To view some of her additional content, click here.
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