2016: Taking stock

José Zalaquett

José Zalaquett

Head of the Project at MOOC Chile
Lawyer, Universidad de Chile. Doctor Honoris Causa, by the Universities of Notre Dame and City University of New York.
José Zalaquett

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As the present year draws to an end, we feel bound to fulfill the usual ritual of taking stock of the main events of the past 12 months.

2016 is filled, no doubt, would meaningful events, some expected at one point or another, like Fidel Castro’s death. Some unexpected and for many people scary, like the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States.

Two phenomena came from past years, but they acquired new levels of gravity in 2016 or their consequences became more acutely felt. We refer to the massive immigration to Europe from people running away from destitution in their African home countries, or from the horrors of civil war in of Syria. They were willing to risk their lives navigating the Mediterranean, trying to land in Europe in poorly built ships and indeed many perished in their desperate attempt to reach a better life. The reaction in European countries has been defensive at best and often marked by bigotry. This year, most Western European countries have suspended or greatly diminished their programs of assistance to the Third World (euphemistically named ´cooperation’) on account of the immigration crisis. The second phenomenon we refer to is the threat posed by the so-called Islamic State as well as the use of unmanned aircraft to fight it.

The year was marked also by the peace agreements reached between the Santos government and the FARC guerrilla in Colombia, accord which was rejected by the Colombian people in a plebiscite by the narrowest of margins. The strenuous efforts by Pres. Santos to reach peace after half a century-long conflict earned him the Peace Nobel Prize.

In Cuba, Fidel Castro passed away at the age of 90, nearly 58 years after the triumph of the revolution that brought him to power, and 10 years after he, seriously ill, handed over control of the government and the party to his brother Raul. Fidel´s demise was greeted with sorrow from his diehard partisans and with hope, if not joy, by his opponents and by the exiled Cuban community in Florida. Analysts disagree about the economic and political prospectives for Cuba following Fidel Castro’s death.

The election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States in the most divisive election in memory in that country, took most people by surprise. Trump had raised much concern in many camps because of his announced measures if he were to be elected in the fields of immigration, protectionism, national security and much more. Nevertheless, his election ought not to be surprising. In fact, is in accordance with a generalized mistrust of politics and a tendency to favor outsider candidates and unorthodox measures that is taking place all over the world. This may be seen as a reaction to a feeling of loss of identity and perceived threats against cherished ways of life. In many European countries, including Italy, Spain, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom (consider Brexit) and even Norway, there is a shift in politics towards the right, in some cases the extreme right. The worst-case scenario is, of course, the dawn of a new kind of racism and even fascism. At least, for the years to come, and in all analyses hard right-wing politics are likely to prevail and human rights will be endangered.

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