Innovators and Innovations in the Hemisphere

Americas Quarterly, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Innovators and Innovations in the Hemisphere


POLITICS INNOVATOR

David Reyes

El Salvador

In the notoriously polarized and often corrupt world of Salvadoran politics, federal deputy David Reyes stands out for his commitment to bipartisan governance. Elected in March 2009 to the National Assembly, Reyes, 30, of the conservative Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA) party, has cosponsored a series of bills targeting youth unemployment, greater government transparency and services for Salvadorans with disabilities.

The common thread among these initiatives is that they each received broad-based support across party lines-no small feat in one of the hemisphere's most divided political systems. "By focusing on universally important issues, we have learned to come together to get things done," says Reyes. Confi ned to a wheelchair since birth, Reyes has also pioneered 47 legal statutes that provide guarantees of education, health, building access, and employment for the 60,000 Salvadorans who have physical or mental disabilities. "Growing up in a caring household, where I was never treated differently than my siblings, helped me learn how to persevere despite my physical obstacles," he says.

Increasing transparency is another major goal for Reyes. In 2010, he cosponsored the Ley de Transparencia (Transparency Law), which mandates the creation of a new transparency bureau charged with investigating corruption throughout the federal bureaucracy. The bill, which passed in March 2011, has become a hallmark of the current legislative session.

Reyes' next project is the Ley de Primer Empleo (First Job Law). The bill, introduced in May 2011, seeks to address the root causes of El Salvador's chronically high youth unemployment rate by creating new vocational training programs and reducing red tape for businesses that wish to employ young workers as interns and apprentices. According to Reyes, helping youth fi nd jobs is an urgent national imperative. "Young men and women who drop out of school or who cannot fi nd jobs after completing a degree are more susceptible to the temptations Spanof gangs and other illicit activities," he explains, adding that preventing gang violence "through education and workplace training are important for creating a more secure country."

When Reyes isn't working on legislation or negotiating with colleagues, he sits at the helm of Sin Limites (Without Limits), El Salvador's most active NGO dedicated to protecting and promoting the rights of the disabled. Founded in August 2010, Sin Limites helps coordinate an annual Special Olympics competition and educates companies on how to integrate disabled employees. To date, Sin Limites has helped more than 80 people fi nd jobs in more than 30 companies in San Salvador.

Although Reyes won't say yet whether he will run in the next congressional elections in 2012, he believes ARENA's prospects are good. But perhaps more importantly, Reyes' bipartisan approach offers a model for other legislators in El Salvador and the region. As he puts it, "A sense of common purpose and mutual respect can spill over into other areas."

ARTS INNOVATOR

Telmary Díaz

Cuba

Is it possible to be a female hiphop artist in Cuba without appearing to challenge the regime? Telmary Díaz proves it is. The 34-year-old rapera habanera and leader of contemporary Cuban music is much less interested in being a political fi gure than a cultural one. "Politicians come and go-whether in four or eight years, or 50 or 100," she says. "But 500 years of culture is what is important. That's what I represent, and that's what I do."

Her audience seems to agree. Telmary, who uses only her fi rst name professionally, received a Cubadisco (the Cuban equivalent of a Grammy music award) for best hip-hop record in 2007. She has toured the globe from Colombia to Japan, stopping most recently in New York to perform at the city's ¡Si Cuba! culture and arts festival in June 2011.

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