This blog is for those wanting to keep up to date on all the work that the Vermont Council on World Affairs is doing around the world.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Regimes Without Freedom


Regimes Without Freedom
Tori Breese-VCWA Intern
In 2017, Freedom House ranked 49 countries in the world as “not free.” These nations make up 25% of the total number of countries in the world. In fact, according to Freedom House, 2016 was the eleventh year in a row where global freedom declined (Aghekyan et. al). As Americans, we are prone to forgetting that a large portion of the world’s population does not have all of the same civil liberties that we do, such as freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech. Understanding how these regimes function politically and economically is essential to comprehending the state of international relations today. These regimes span the globe and have a wide array of differences between them. Just a few examples of such nations are China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and Cuba. The uniting factor between all of these countries is their lack of civil liberties.
With the recent discussion of “fake news” in the United States, we should recognize the fact that our constitution guarantees a free press. None of the non-democratic regimes mentioned have this liberty. For example, just last month, Winnie the Pooh was blacklisted in China because of comparisons between the character and the Chinese President Xi Jinping (Lee). While this might seem like a silly example, Chinese censorship has serious implications. Anything mocking or criticizing the government is removed from the press and internet. Censorship therefore prevents people from even seeing news that conflicts with the ideals of the Chinese Communist Party. Maintaining control over what citizens see and hear allows those in power to prevent people from uprising against the government. Russia offers another serious example of the consequences of a lacking freedom of the press. In 2006, Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist who was critical of Putin, was assassinated. Five men were convicted for carrying out the murder, yet it was “clear that this was a contract killing, with $150,000 paid by ‘a person unknown” (Dejevsky).  Therefore, it is not clear who exactly ordered her death, however, it is noteworthy that she was shot on Putin’s birthday, suggesting that the attack was politically motivated. This example demonstrates the fact that journalists in these countries may want to report critically on the government, yet out of fear of retaliation, they may refrain from critiquing those in power.
In Saudi Arabia, one of the most strictly controlled news topics is religion. Saudi Arabia, a close ally of the United States, lacks the freedom of religion. “Islam is the official religion, and all Saudis are required by law to be Muslims. A 2014 royal decree punishes atheism with up to 20 years in prison.” (Aghekyan et. al). Furthermore, the monarchy is governed by Sharia law.  Not only is the religion unanimous, but also it governs the legal system in the regime. Although the government strictly controls worship, an inconceivable act in the United States, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia remain close allies despite their differences. The Saudi government uses religious control to legitimize its monarchy. The Saudi king is thought to not only uphold Islam, but also be restrained by it (Ochsenwald and Philby).
One of the most basic yet most attacked civil liberties is  the freedom of speech. Guaranteed by the first amendment in our constitution, the freedom of speech is often taken for granted here in the United States. In countries such as North Korea, this freedom is nonexistent. The consequences for speaking out against the regime are severe. “The state maintains a system of camps for political prisoners where torture, forced labor, starvation, and other atrocities take place” (Aghekyan et. al). This intense control stabilizes Kim Jong Un’s hold on power. Turning to Cuba, “the Cuban government has refused to guarantee Cuban freedom of speech or peaceful assembly for native Cubans” (FHRC). From books, to movies, to the Internet, Cubans are restricted. Cuba actually has the most restrictive freedom of speech in the Americas, only allowing freedom of speech that conforms to a socialist society (Aghekyan et. al). This control allows Castro to ensure that his people conform not only to his political philosophy, but also his economic ideals. In both of these examples, the reason behind prohibiting freedom of speech is governmental stability.
Although the aforementioned regimes are significantly different from our own, as global citizens, we must take the time to consider the ramifications of the conditions that so many of the world’s people live under. While we may or may not agree with the policies of these regimes, it is paramount that we show compassion for our fellow human beings and respect for different ways of life. One way this effort is achieved is through citizen diplomacy. Ultimately, citizen diplomats work to understand people from around the world.

Works Cited
Aghekyan et. al. “Freedom in the World 2017.” Freedom House,
Dejevsky, Mary. “Who Really Did Kill Russian Journalist Anna Politkovskaya?” The Independent, 13 June 2014.
Lee, Yen Nee. “China Just Blacklisted Winnie the Pooh.” CNBC, 17 July 2017.
Ochsenwald, William L., and Harry St. John Bridger Philby. “Saudi Arabia.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 23 June 2017.

“The Long Road: Pursuing Cuban Freedom of Speech.” Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, www.fhrcuba.org/2014/01/long-road-pursuing-cuban-freedom-speech/.












Wednesday, July 26, 2017


The Current Political Climate in Turkey
Tori Breese - VCWA Intern*

On July 15th, 2016, Turkey’s political stability was shaken as the Turkish military attempted a coup d’état against democratically elected President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a member of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Although ultimately unsuccessful in removing Erdoğan from power, the coup resulted in the death of 241 citizens and law enforcement personnel. The government declared a state of emergency following the coup, allowing for the imprisonment of thousands of soldiers and the removal of over 100,000 public officials from their jobs (Human Rights Watch). The initial governmental crackdown was just the beginning of a rising authoritarian movement in Turkey. The state of emergency allowed the president and his cabinet to enact decrees without the approval of parliament, several of which conflicted with human rights standards and Turkey’s domestic laws (Human Rights Watch). The government then extended the state of emergency through the end of the year, raising questions about the legitimacy of democracy in Turkey.
Many Turks who were jailed or fired were alleged to be followers of the cleric Fethullah Gülen. Gülen advocates for Turkish nationalism, a conservative Islamic lifestyle, the importance of education, and a worldview that aligns with the West. Gülen was exiled from Turkey and currently lives in Pennsylvania. The government accuses Gülen’s followers of enacting the coup and categorizes it a terrorist organization. Because of the Gülen movement’s association with education, about 28,000 teachers have been labelled as terrorists (Human Rights Watch). According to the AKP, Gülen’s followers do exactly as he says, and so all, even those who couldn’t possibly have been behind the coup, are legally considered terrorists. Gülen-affiliated schools and universities were shut down. Media outlets and civic organizations, some of which were only judgemental of the Turkish government, were also terminated.  By broadly defining his enemies, Erdoğan seizes the opportunity to remove not only Gulenists, but also any other opposition, including the press, academics, liberals, and Kurds. As he continues to act in a more authoritarian manner, Erdoğan further secures his power by removing any who oppose his regime.
On April 16th, 2017, Turks voted “yes” on a referendum that allows Erdoğan extensive executive powers, including the authority to dismiss Parliament at will. The decision effectively changed the government from a parliamentary system to a presidential system. Following this referendum, Erdoğan can now run for re-election, extending his time in power until 2029 (Fox, McLaughlin, Masters). Having him in power for so long could result in the triumph of authoritarianism in Turkey. The government argues that the reforms will result in quicker governmental decision-making by avoiding slower parliamentary procedures. The president himself stated that the referendum was “the most important governmental reform of our history” (Kingsley). This increase in power has allowed Erdoğan to continue to arrest and suspend his opposers. In May, the president made the executive decision to extend the state of emergency indefinitely until Turkey has reached “welfare and peace” (Kingsley). Although the coup that occurred over a year ago was the original reason for the state of emergency, Erdoğan now has the authority to extend it for however long he wishes, allowing him to keep a tight grip on power. The Council of Europe has warned Turkey that, if it governs using emergency powers for too long, the government will eventually lose its democratic legitimacy (Kingsley).
What-To-See-In-Istanbul-Turkey-7.jpg So, why did the majority of Turks vote “yes” on this referendum that allowed Erdoğan even more power to arbitrarily arrest and fire people? Supporters hope that a more powerful executive will lead to a stronger Turkey.  In the 1990s, the country suffered through a devastating recession and inflation issues, so many want to avoid a repeat economic crisis. Another key issue of concern to citizens is the threat of terrorism, which has been a huge problem in the past year for the country. Many Syrians have crossed the border into Turkey. This migration is a threat to national security, as Erdoğan has brought Turkey to be deeply involved in the Syrian conflict, backing the rebels to fight against Assad. In addition, the Kurds, who are also fighting in Syria, have been pushing for autonomy in Turkey. Finally, Turkey’s polarized political climate has made it a hotspot for terrorist attacks.
The main opposition party of parliament, the Republican People’s Party, began a 280-mile march from Ankara to Istanbul on June 15th, 2017 (Kilicdaroglu). Marchers carry signs stating the purpose of the march: “Justice.” Along the way to Istanbul, thousands of Turks of various political affiliations have joined. Marchers are protesting Erdoğan’s recent anti-democratic tactics and violations of the rule of law. Erdoğan, on the other hand, described the march as “a march for terrorists and their supporters” (Kilicdaroglu). On July 9th, marchers finally reached Istanbul and rallied for the state of emergency to be lifted and the rule of law to be restored. The rally remained peaceful, as police officers monitored protesters but did not interfere. The march was successful in raising awareness for injustices going on in Turkey; however, it is not yet clear whether the demonstration will cause a significant change in the Turkish government. Following the march, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the Republican people’s party, said “Nobody should think this march has ended; this march is a beginning” (Gall).


Works Cited
Fox, Kara, Eliott C. McLaughlin, and James Masters. "Turkey Referendum: Erdogan Declares Victory." CNN. N.p., 17 Apr. 2017. Web. 25 July 2017.
Gall, Carlotta. "‘March for Justice’ Ends in Istanbul With a Pointed Challenge to Erdogan." The New York Times. N.p., 09 July 2017. Web. 25 July 2017.
Kilicdaroglu, Kemal. "A Long March for Justice in Turkey." The New York Times. N.p., 07 July 2017. Web. 25 July 2017.
Kingsley, Patrick. "Erdogan Claims Vast Powers in Turkey After Narrow Victory in Referendum." The New York Times. N.p., 16 Apr. 2017. Web. 25 July 2017.
Kingsley, Patrick. "Erdogan Says He Will Extend His Sweeping Rule Over Turkey." The New York Times. N.p., 21 May 2017. Web. 25 July 2017.
"Turkey Country Chapter." Human Rights Watch. N.p., 12 Jan. 2017. Web. 25 July 2017.
"Turkey: UN Human Rights Council Should Address Continuous Deterioration of Freedom of Expression and Other Human Rights." Human Rights Watch. N.p., 17 May 2017. Web. 25 July 2017.

*Opinions expressed in think pieces do not necessarily represent the views of the VCWA

Friday, June 2, 2017

Sustainable Agriculture and Trade: A Project for Kazakhstan


This week, the Vermont Council on World Affairs and the International Visitor Leadership Program hosted a group of travelers who came all the way from Kazakhstan to learn about Vermont's agriculture. The goal of this project was to expose Kazakhstani producers and government officials to technologies by US farmers to manage their enterprises with sustainability and sound environmental practices in mind. Particular attention was focused on techniques that ensure more food and more climate-resilient food systems, optimal yields, and greater commercial opportunity.

Visiting us we had Ms. Bakytgul Ainakanova, a senior lecturer of Seifullin Kazakh Agro-Technical University, Mr. Viktor Aslanov, director of the research bureau "Grain & Olive Kazakhstan," Mr. Oktyabr Khurmetbek, Ph.D., the deputy dean of education at Seifullin Kazakh Agro-Technical University, and Mr. Nikolay Latyshev, the editor-in-Chief of Agrarian Sector, National Information-Analytical and Popular-Scientific Journal.

Our first stop of the trip was to Audet's Blue Spruce Farm, where we met with family farmer Marie Audet. The farm has over 1500 cows and produces over 3.6 million gallons of milk per year. Blue Spruce Farm is best known for being the pioneering "Cow Power" farm in Vermont, using a biodigester to convert the methane produced from cow manure to power more than 300 homes. The remaining liquid and plant fibers are separated using a mechanical separator. The fibers are cooked at 100 degrees for 21 days until they are the consistency of peat moss. The fiber produces is used as bedding for the cows and sold to other farms, gardeners, and landscapers. The liquid is stored in a manure pit and eventually used as an improved liquid fertilizer, reducing the need to purchase fossil fuel based fertilizers. The group had a great time seeing cows get milked, looking at the barns, at discussing mitigating waste and environmental impacts of the farm setting.

Once back in Burlington, the group met with the Laboratory Director Guy Roberts, Ph.D., to discuss The Vermont Agricultural & Environmental Laboratory’s research and its relationship with the Vermont Department of Agriculture and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. The Vermont Agricultural & Environmental Laboratory (VAEL) provides analytical services to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (AAFM) and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR). The AAFM supports and encourages the growth and viability of agriculture in Vermont while protecting the working landscape, human health, animal health, plant health, consumers, and the environment through its various divisions, while the ANR focuses on sustaining Vermont’s natural resources while protecting the health of Vermont’s peoples and ecosystems. 

On Thursday, the group met with Joshua Faulker, the program coordinator for UVM's Center for Sustainable Agriculture. UVM was established as a U.S. Land Grant University. Founded in 1994, UVM’s Center for Sustainable Agriculture conducts research and outreach to assist Vermonters in their efforts to move forward as leaders in sustainable agricultural practices. The Farming and Climate Change program addresses the agricultural implications of the Northeast’s changing climate, developing programs to ensure that Vermont agriculture will remain productive, profitable, and environmentally friendly in the face of increased precipitation, higher temperatures, and more frequent periods of drought. The program also educates farmers about their role in mitigating the greenhouse gas problem by reducing emissions. Joshua then accompanied us to show the group around Philo Ridge Farm in Charlotte, VT. The farm is part of The Vermont Grass Farmers' Association (VGFA), which was founded in 1996 as a non-profit organization with the mission to help farmers generate wealth through grass-based farming. Its membership consists of farmers, non-profits, and land owners who work to support a more environmentally and economically sustainable agricultural model. The VGFA is a farmer-driven organization that promotes, manages, and oversees managed grazing outreach and education programs for Vermont producers.  Juan Alvez, Pasture Program Technical Coordinator,  gave the group a tour on the active research site, and discussed programs that seek to support grazing and grass farmers throughout the state of Vermont.

That afternoon, the group made their way over to Saint Michael's College where they met with Kristyn Achilich, Education and Workforce Development Co-Chair of Vermont Farm to Plate.
Vermont is continually ranked as the most dedicated state to locally sourced agriculture throughout the U.S. The Vermont Farm to Plate (F2P) program implements a strategic plan, enacted by the Vermont legislature in 2009, to:  Increase economic development in Vermont’s farm and food sector; create jobs in the farm and food economy; improve access to healthy local food for all Vermonters with minimal use of fossil fuels.  Representatives from the F2P program met with participants to discuss the challenges and rewards en route to the 2020 strategic plan aimed at strengthening all components of Vermont’s food system.

To end the trip, the group made their way to Jericho Settlers Farm in Jericho, VT to meet with Christa Alexander. Jericho Settlers Farm is a 200 acre farm producing 25 acres of certified organic vegetables, flowers and herbs for their Year Round CSA programs, farmstands and wholesale customers.  They rotationally graze, hay, and cover crop approximately 175 acres of land for their sheep flock, pigs, and poultry.  In addition, they manage over an acre of crops in our hoophouses and greenhouses year round.  They specialize in year round vegetable production, specializing in salad greens and root vegetables.

Thank you to everyone who provided their time and insight to our group to learn as much as they can while they're here in our beautiful state!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

International Group for Tourism and Economic Development

This past week, the Vermont Council on World Affairs and the International Visitor Leadership Program hosted a group of people from all over the world. The multi-regional project on Tourism and Economic development came to Vermont to learn about how our state promotes a large multi-seasonal tourism industry. With us we had Mr. Ahmed Farid Essarhane, the director of the Bab El Djazair Travel Agency in Algeria, Ms. Azra Dzigal, a ministry advisor for the Bosnia and Herzegovina Federation Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Ms. Kadri Jalonen, a tourism coordinator for the Ida-Viru County Government of Estonia, Ms. Evangelia Zampetoglou, the education manager of the Institute of the Greek Tourism Association, Mr. Raoul Chollet Rochin, a Federal delegate for the Fondo Nacional de Fomento al Turismo National Tourism Foundation of Mexico, Ms. Dragana Cenic, the general director for spatial planning for the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism of Montenegro, Mrs. Maria Cheggour, a professor of Tourism Studies, English Language and Communication at Cadi Ayad University in Marrakech, Morocco, and lasly Mr. Ilia Nikolaevich Markov, the ECO of the Ural Cultural Center in Russia.

The group started the trip off with a drive down to Woodstock, Vermont. Regarded as the gateway to Vermont’s rural heritage, Woodstock features one of the finest operating dairy farms in America and a museum of Vermont's rural past. Billings Farm features many aspects of farm work, including care of the Jersey cows and other livestock, milking of the herd, crop rotation, and feed production. The group took a tour of Billings Farm and Museum and met with Director David Simmons to discuss the museum's role in showcasing Vermont rural heritage.
Afterwards, the group went to the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, Vermont’s only National Park Unit. The park was gifted to the American people by Mary and Laurance Rockefeller in 1992 and plays an important role in the tourism sector of the Upper Valley region of Vermont. It has formed a unique partnership with the town of Woodstock and the nearby Billings Farm and Museum. The group took a walking tour of the park with Assistant Superintendent Christina Marts and discussed the park’s role in promoting tourism, their partnership with Billings Farm and Museum, and the effects of both entities on tourism in Woodstock and in Vermont’s Upper Valley.
The group then had lunch and a Round Table Discussion with staff from Billings Farm and Museum, Marsh Billings Rockefeller NHP, Woodstock Chamber of Commerce, and other area nonprofits involved in the tourism industry.

The group departed from Woodstock and headed up north to Montpelier, where they met with Deputy Commissioner Steven cook of the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing. The VDTM promotes Vermont’s travel, recreation, cultural, and historic attractions, as well as the state’s goods and services. They work in coordination with public and private sector partners to market the state to a global audience for the economic benefit of all Vermonters. The group had an interesting conversation with Cook about how the different seasons effect tourism in Vermont, and learned that August was the most popular month for tourism. The group also got to see the VDTM's twitter page called @ThisisVT, which is unique because each week, Cook chooses a new Vermonter to run the twitter page and promote Vermont life and culture.

On Tuesday, the group started the morning off going to the University of Vermont to meet with Director of the Vermont Tourism and Research Center, Lisa Chase and Research Specialist Bill Valliere. The center began as a partnership between the University of Vermont and the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing. Today it collaborates with educational institutions, government agencies, local communities, non-profit organizations, and private sector businesses across the country. Lisa Chase was in her office in Brattleboro, so Bill set up a skype call so the group could talk about ecotourism and agritourism in Vermont and discuss relevant research projects.
 
The group then spent the afternoon down in Killington, Vermont. Killington is the largest and most visited ski area in the Eastern United States and has the largest vertical drop in New England. Killington draws visitors year round to ski, mountain bike, and golf. In 2015, the resort received a permit from the state allowing them to add zip lines and a mountain coaster. The group met with Director of Operations Rich McCoy, who discussed strategies to attract guests to the resort and best practices for promoting Killington in a saturated ski market.


The group had a fantastic time traveling around Vermont to some of the most popular tourism destinations. Thank you to everyone who took part and made this possible for our International Visitors!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Enhancing Provincial Council's Oversight and Advisory Capacity: A Project for Afghanistan


This week the Vermont Council on World Affairs and the International Visitor leadership Program hosted a group traveling all the way from Afghanistan. The project was for Enhancing Provincial Council's Oversight and Advisory Capacity by learning about various government systems in the United States and Vermont. We were fortunate enough to have five politicians from five of the 31 different Afghanistan provinces  to learn about the many diverse political systems that we have here in Vermont. With us we had Mr. Amruden Wali of the Kunduz Province, Mr. Mohammad Noor Rahmani of the Sar-e Pul Province, Mr. Firozuddin Aimaq of the Baghlan Province, Mr. Karim Atal of the Helmand Province, and Mr. Sayed Azim Kabarzany of the Heart Province, all accompanied by their Dari language interpretors Noor Durrani and Mohammad Azis. The group spent Monday and Tuesday traveling around Vermont and Burlington meeting with various organizations to discuss political and government structures with their counterparts.

On Monday morning we met with Shelburne Town Manager Joe Colangelo to discuss town governments. What is unique about Colangelo's role as Town Manager is that he functions very much like a town Mayor. The difference between a Mayor and a manager is that a Mayor is elected for his position, whereas the manager is hired for his job and he has no set term. What we learned from Colangelo is that different towns in Vermont and all around the nation have extremely varied government systems, which makes it difficult to collaborate directly with other towns. Mr. Mohammad Noor Rahmani called Colangelo "young and energetic," and we learned a lot about Shelburne's politics in comparison to surrounding Vermont towns.

During the afternoon on Monday we were fortunate enough to have the time to get to explore the Vermont State House in Montpelier. The group loved seeing all the historic pieces displayed throughout the house, as well as the Senate and the House meeting rooms. While we were there, we had the pleasure of meeting Representative Jill Krowinski, House Majority Leader who talked a little bit about the work that the Vermont State Representatives take part in.
 
After we left the State House, we went on over to meet with the Vermont League of Cities in Towns in Montpelier. There we met with the executive director of the program, Maura Carroll, who explained the importance of having representation of all the towns in the state of Vermont. The League provides various types of insurance around the state, and the organization offers a Municipal Assistance Center for consultation on a wide range of municipal issues for citizens around the state.

On Tuesday, we spent the day in Burlington City Hall meeting with various members of the Burlington government system. First we met with members of the Burlington City Council. Out of a total of 12 councilors, we had the opportunity to meet with four councilors. Joan Shannon discussed the importance of having both a strong Mayor and a strong City Council Government, and that neither can do without the other. All councilors are part time, and they work with the Mayor to discuss the needs of the city. They deal with everything from passing resolutions, city ordinances and charter changes, to the construction of the town center, to things as specific as fixing pot holes in the roads.

Next we got to meet with Bob Rustin, the Burlington City Treasurer. Rustin has the immense responsibility of overseeing all of the city's finances. He creates monthly reviews for the city council, oversees all city taxes, and prepares monthly budgets that get reviewed by the council. He also organizes all city elections. Last March there was the town meeting election, and Rustin was responsible for arranging ballots, hiring and scheduling election workers, and organizing and reporting the results. In addition, Rustin is required to keep track of all documents, licenses and certificates such as land records, birth records, marriages, etc. The meeting provided an immense amount of information to our Afghan visitors about the many different responsibilities that our local leaders are in charge of, and provided insight to various methods of organizing city works.

Lastly, the group met with members of Burlington's Neighborhood Planning Assembly. Created 35 years ago, the goal of the assembly was to bring the different areas of Burlington together to discuss the different issues as well as keep an open line of communication. Burlington is divided into eight different wards, or neighborhoods, and each month different neighborhoods get together for a meeting to discuss whatever issues have developed and proposing possible solutions. Providing a public dialogue is essential because it gives an opportunity for members of the community to voice any of their concerns and be involved with the city's planning. Each neighborhood in Burlington has its own unique issues, and having the monthly meetings with the National Planning Assembly offers a space for the community to get involved.

Throughout the various meetings, our group of Afghan Politicians were able to get a sense of government in Vermont in a neighborhood scale, a town and city scale, a state scale as well as a national scale. The Vermont Council on World Affairs would like to thank the members of the Afghanistan provincial councils, their incredible translators, and the many #802Diplomats we met along the way.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Recap: Cuba Trip 2017

I stepped off the plane, on a beautiful warm day, and the realization suddenly hit me. I had just set foot in the country that I haven't been allowed to visit my entire life. Here as part of the Vermont Council on World Affairs' 2nd Annual Cuba trip, I wasn't sure what to expect, but images of Fidel, '55 Chevies, cigars, and Hemingway ran through my mind.

Tom Clavelle under the Cuban flag

For 8 sun-filled days, a congenial group of 20 curious Vermonters immersed ourselves in the culture of the Caribbean's largest island. Our travels began with a relaxing morning on the beautiful beaches and aqua blue waters of Veradero. Then off to Havana, Cuba's largest city and capital, where we spent the next 3 days exploring its bustling streets, visiting a local elementary school, attending the traditional Canon Firing Ceremony, and learning about the country's intriguing history. Who had ever heard of Jose Marti before? Turns out he's the greatest Cuban martyr/hero, from the late 1800s, stirring his countrymen to revolt against the Spanish. Evenings were spent in some great local eateries, followed by a relaxing time on the outside porch of the President Hotel, listening to the upbeat Cuban music of local bands. And no trip to Cuba would be complete without a visit to Hemingway's home, Finca Vigia.

Cuba Trip group

Next morning, after an interesting tour of a cigar factory, we headed south for a few days in the coastal city of Trinidad, best known for its well-preserved Cuban culture. On the way from Trinidad to Santa Clara, located in the center of the country, we stopped by for a morning visit and lunch at the El Nicho waterfalls. It was one of the highlights of the trip, taking us deep into the beautiful Cuban mountain countryside. Santa Clara is the place where the Cuban Revolution took hold, and where revolutionary hero (and honorary Cuban) Che Guevera is memorialized. The concept of revolution is deeply engrained in the country's history, and while the presence and influence of Fidel Castro was everywhere, we were quite struck by the simplicity of his final resting grounds.

Historic street in Cuba

Looking out over the island as we flew back to Montreal, I wished I could have stayed a few days longer. The Cuban people were very welcoming and friendly, excited to see Americans coming to explore their great country. While it's often been referred to as the country that got "stuck in time", my sense is that it is destined for some big changes in the next 5-10 years. I guess one more reason to go back!      


Post and photos by Tom Clavelle, Cuba Trip 2017 participant

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Recap on the VCWA Ambassador Series: "U.S. and a Region in Conflict"



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Panelists and moderator Peter Calvelle discuss U.S. and a region in conflict*
Last week’s VCWA Ambassador Series, The United States and a Region in Conflict: on Turkey, Syria, Iraq and the Kurds was a success by all means. Speakers on the panel included Ambassador Robert Ford, former U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, Kurdistan Regional Government Representative to the U.S., and Abdülhamit Bilici, journalist and former Editor-in-Chief of Turkey’s largest daily newspaper, currently living in exile in the U.S.


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Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman*     
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Ambassador Robert Ford*
The event was moderated by VCWA board member Peter Clavelle; the night’s discussion revolved around the protracted conflict in Syria and Iraq, U.S. foreign policy in the region, the potential of a Kurdish state, and the meaning of the rise of Turkish authoritarianism to the U.S., as well as to Turkey’s neighbors.


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Peter Clavelle*
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Abdülhamit Bilici*
With over 100 in attendance, it was no surprise that there were many rich questions for the speakers, some of which touched on Iraqi Kurdistan’s sentiments on the PKK in Turkey, predictions of how the current administration will address the war in Syria compared to the previous one, and tensions between Turkey and the U.S. in regards to U.S. support of the Kurds’ fight against ISIS.


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The evening closed out with a reception where speakers and attendees had the opportunity to mingle over Turkish hors d’oeuvres, and ask any final burning questions of the experts. This panel presented a unique opportunity for Vermonters to get more than a soundbite on a topic that affects all of us in a greater capacity than we may realize.


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A reception following the panel featured the opportunity to meet speakers and Turkish food!*

After the panel finished Thursday evening, it may have been the end of the excitement for Vermonters in attendance, but activities continued the following morning as the VCWA met once again with Ms. Rahman and Mr. Bilici at the Center for Media & Democracy to record two programs, featuring interviews with the speakers by Peter Calvelle. These interviews allowed a more in-depth discussion on each of the speakers’ respective backgrounds and more country-specific information. Be sure to keep an eye out on social media and your e-newsletters for these programs-- we’ll update with links as soon as they’re available!


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VCWA Executive Director Patricia Preston (right), Abdülhamit Bilici, and I at the CCTV studio*


We sincerely hope that the programming provided expanded your knowledge and perspective on the topics discussed during the event and that you found value in attending because, well, this is what we do: the VCWA brings Vermont to the world and the world to Vermont by curating opportunities for Vermont community members such as yourselves to listen to, and engage in, civil discourse with leaders, experts, and influencers from all over the world in order to build a stronger, more globally aware community.


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We thank Champlain College for providing an excellent space, the Center for Media & Democracy for covering the event and interviews, our speakers and moderator, the VCWA Board of Directors for sponsoring the event, and of course, all of the Vermonters who attended and who support our organization. We couldn’t have done it without you!



This post was written by Chelsea Beaulieu, VCWA Program Assistant

*All photos taken by Kathryn Ashley McNeish