CIPR | Center For Inter-American Policy & Research

Tulane University

From the classroom to the headquarters of the Organization of American States, Tulane students debate regional politics at Model Assembly

April 24th, 2011

Photo courtesy of Pheriche Robinson

By Shearon Roberts

This Spring semester, Tulane students picked up reading Venezuelan newspapers daily, and following the 'tweets' of President Hugo Chavez via Twitter, in an effort to completely put themselves into the shoes and minds of Venezuelans for the 2011 40th Model Assembly of the Organization of American States. The meeting held March 29 to April 2, took place in Washington, D.C. at the OAS headquarters and the Fairmont Hotel with university students from not only the United States but Brazil, the Bahamas and of course Venezuela.

Tulane's students were even able to measure the success of their preparations to represent Venezuela at the annual Model Assembly, as they huddled with other Latin American student delegations, to defend and bargain for Venezuela's stance on the agenda's resolution.

"There was so much bargaining and politicking. Even during breaks and in the evenings, people were caucusing to gain support for their resolutions – it was crazy," said Katharine Anne Glenn, a Tulane junior Political Science and Latin American Studies double major, from Waukee, Iowa.

"I didn’t realize how much fun it would be, bonding with my peers from Tulane and having the opportunity to meet other students from around the hemisphere," said Glenn who later got a chance to actually meet the students from Venezuela who were representing Costa Rica at the Assembly, and who encouraged Glenn and her Tulane classmates to visit the country.

The annual Model OAS Assembly allowed Tulane students to interact with university students throughout the Western Hemisphere in a setting that allowed them to explore international relations, political science, economics and history through the regional OAS, said Dr. Edith Wolfe, Tulane's Stone Center Assistant Director for Undergraduate Affairs. Wolfe and Political Science professor Dr. Martín Mendoza served as faculty advisors for this year's delegation that consisted of Tulane students Sean Pluta, who headed up the group, David Cisneros, Nain Martinez, Andrew Morrell, Katherine Glenn, Noah Montague, Caitlin Ribeiro, Phylicia Martel, Pheriche Robinson and Bianca Falcon.

The Tulane delegation was selected through participation in a club portion for a Spring semester class on the OAS. The 2011 Assembly delegates prepared arguments as representatives of Venezuela on topics such as "Women in Political decision making," "Reconstruction in Haiti," and revisiting the OAS' 10-year Democratic Charter.

"We gained experience speaking intellectually about Venezuela, and debating in a forum of other students studying the same thing," said Sean Pluta, the head delegate, who is a sophomore Latin American Studies and International Development double major at Tulane, from Denver, Colorado. "We learned how to prepare for situations in life that require us to present our platforms, and defend it against equally equipped opponents."

Pluta, who hopes to work for either the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund on such issues as economic adjustment politics in Latin America, said his first time participating in a model assembly gave him a preview of how such international organizations function.

For Katharine Glenn, who plans to attend law school after Tulane and study International Law, the Model OAS Assembly allowed her to see foreign policy at work.

"I loved getting to represent Venezuela, everyone was fighting us at the Model because we were in opposition of the United States," Glenn said. "At one point, there was a coalition developed against us. I didn't think people would be so intense about it, but that encouraged us to play the game in the same way."

For Economic, Spanish and Italian triple major Pheriche Robinson, the trip allowed her to meet a professional economist who studied real-world loans during a visit to the World Bank and the International Development Bank. She also realized that at school, it might seem easier to immerse herself in the other languages she studies: Spanish and Italian, but her first time Model Assembly experience pushed her to think for 9 hours a day as a Venezuelan.

"Venezuela was interesting because it really represents the idea of 'multipolarity,' said Robinson, a Northern California native. "The United States, after the fall of the USSR, was the world's only superpower, but now countries such as Venezuela are trying to have their voices heard on the world stage."

The Tulane student delegation said as Americans, the Model Assembly encouraged them to take an international look on issues. "It was a great experience to get to represent Venezuela because they are arguably the Latin American country farthest away from common American ideology," Pluta said. "It was a challenge to enter another mindset and not just argue for what the Venezuelans argue for, but to understand why they are the way that they are."

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