Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Caribbean states blast “aid for trade” plan

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. Obstacles abound during talks at the WTO meeting for reforming global farm trade. Developing states, especially those in Africa and the Caribbean, expressed anxiety over a joint IMF-World Bank proposal to tie aid with increased participation in world markets.

Violence rattles Guatemalan prisons

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. Gang wars, corruption, and squalid conditions have led to large amounts of violence in Guatemalan jails. Nevertheless, a security expert claimed that prison life is better than putting up with the poverty that is wrecking the country.

Indigenous tribal summit in Brazil

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. Five hundred tribesmen from Brazil and Paraguay will meet this week in order to discuss various topics including land rights. (RadioBras)

Venezuela denies rumors over purchasing a nuclear reactor

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. Rumors of Argentina selling a nuclear reactor to Venezuela are false, according to Venezuelan officials. (El Universal)

Red Cross: Natural disasters displace more people than armed conflict

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. UN officials warned that ecological problems will produce approximately fifty million environmental refugees worldwide by the end of the decade. Diminishing soil and water conditions have been the main impetus for migration out of Latin American and the Caribbean to the US and Europe. (The Guardian)

Recovery efforts at a minimum in flood-soaked Guatemala

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. The death toll remained at 652 person skilled in Guatemala as a result of torrential rain and flooding that also claimed the lives of over one hundred in several other Central American countries. Guatemala has urgently sought $21.5 million in aid from the UN, while UNICEF has sent emergency relief to Central America and southern Mexico.

Peru newest UN Security Council member

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. The UN General Assembly elected Peru as the lone representative of Latin American and the Caribbean to the Security Council. Peru will start its two-year term on the Security Council on January 1, 2006; in doing so, it replaces Brazil. (ABC)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Undocumented immigrants in US drive even though it may be illegal

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. In order to maintain their livelihoods, thousands of undocumented immigrants in the US drive automobiles even though it is illegal in some states. In Kentucky, for example, illegal immigrants who want to drive are required to apply for a state license, yet many documents are not in Spanish. (Kentucky)

Nick Buxton reports on tragedy in Bolivia

Brother's struggle for justice
-By Nick Buston

Nestor knew his brother didn't have long to live. David's eyes were dilating, raw flesh exposed in his gut region, the sheets of the bed were soaked in blood. Outside Nestor could hear gunshots and the sound of flares streaking past the hospital window.

As Nestor screamed for something to be done, he was told there was nothing they could do and that he should prepare to say goodbye. "I felt both furious and helpless," recounted Nestor. "I made a promise then to my brother that I would ensure justice was done." His brother fought on, clinging desperately to life, but two days later he lost consciousness. On 18 October 2003, David Salinas died.

David was a popular 29 year old man with seven brothers and sisters who lived in El Alto, the impoverished and largely indigenous city adjoining the capital La Paz. He worked in a pasta factory with his younger brother Nestor and spent much of his spare time playing football.

"He was really liked in the neighbourhood," said Nestor. "No-one could believe he had been killed." But during September and October 2003, David was one of 67 men, women and children to be killed in cold-blood by armed forces sent out to crush protests by then President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada.

Two years later, no-one has yet been brought to justice for the deaths. No-one has yet taken responsibility for murders that have changed the lives of over 60 families for ever. In one family, both parents were shot leaving a fourteen-year-old looking after six of his brothers and sisters.

For Nestor, it led him to helping set up an association of families of those killed, and the start of a legal and political battle that has taken over his life and will need international solidarity to secure the promise he made to his brother.

I went to visit Nestor as several weeks of activities started to commemorate the events of what is universally known as "October 2003." It's a date that everyone in Bolivia understands like 9-11 in the US.

In a cramped office in a busy neighbourhood in El Alto which had been part of the war-zone in October 2003, we talked frequently interrupted by calls to his mobile from radio stations, the arrival of other family members of the association, and a student who had put together a video of testimonies.

"It's madly busy at the moment. I am one of the youngest "dirigentes" in El Alto," laughed 29 year-old Nestor. "I wouldn't have believed a few years ago that I would be regularly having meetings with Supreme Court officials, the Fiscal General, Senators and Congressmen, but that's part of life now."

Nestor explained that he had become involved when his mother came back from a meeting with the authorities in late October. "She was crying, saying that their requests for justice just led to abuse. Look, they're dead now, there's nothing more you can do, she was told." It was an echo of the voices of the doctors in the hospital.

"I resigned from the pasta factory, and helped set up the Association of the Families of those who died defending our Gas (ASOPAG in Spanish)." The Government offered each family about $5000 in compensation. "That was the price they set for each head," said Nestor bitterly. "But that's not what we were after. We wanted justice."

Nestor then recounted the events that led up to the dark months of October 2003. The Government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (Goni) had been elected narrowly in 2002 and been responsible for enacting a series of
neo-liberal economic policies such as privatisation and IMF economic reforms that had led to increasing economic division and social tension.

In September 2003, a proposed new tax in El Alto, imprisonment of an indigenous leader for an act of communal justice, and the announcement of a new gas contract exporting gas through Bolivia's long-held enemy Chile (for depriving Bolivia of access to the sea in the early 20th Century) led to an explosion of protests and blockades across Bolivia. Nationalisation of gas emerged as one of the main demands.

The first deaths took place on 23 September, when an attempt by the Government to "rescue" tourists trapped in Sorata led to shootings in Warisata which claimed the lives of 6 people including an 8 year-old girl, Marlene Nanci Rojas Ramos. As protests intensified, La Paz found itself cut off. To free up the roads and in particular get access to household gas blocked inside various refineries,
Goni and his Ministers passed an executive order calling on the army to open the blockades and saying that any "damage to goods or people...[was] guaranteed by the State."

On the 11th October, the army arrived in El Alto and the shootings started. David Salinas was one of the first to be killed. Shot whilst trying to help someone had been injured.
The shootings, however, didn't crush the protests. Instead even more people took to the streets demanding Goni's resignation. He eventually resigned and fled the country on the 17th October.

That's when the real struggle began. The families organised themselves into associations of those killed and the hundreds who were also injured and set up a Committee to bring Goni to Justice. It took them a year to get Congress to agree to authorise legal proceedings against Goni and his Ministers.

They were eventually shamed into acting, when the families dug up the bodies of their loved ones in October 2004 to carry out autopsies. Finally the Government announced the trial of 9 Ministers who could finally be sentenced in November this year.
Meanwhile, the Bolivian Government on 22 June this year filed a request with the US Government to notify Goni, and two Ministers (Carlos Sánchez Berzaín and Jorge Berindoague) of the need to return to Bolivia for a trial. Almost four months later, the Government is yet to even receive a response from the US Government.

It appears that the US Government has chosen to sit on the application and do as little as possible to help those seeking justice. Goni before becoming President lived much of his life in the US. It is well-known that he has many friends in the US administration, and has managed to successfully sell his story there that the deaths were results of responding to "terrorists" and "narco-traffickers".

"Goni was a President who did everything that the US and its associated international institutions like the World Bank asked him to do. Bolivia was the perfect pupil. When they said privatise, he privatised," said Rogelio Mayta, a lawyer for the families when I ask him why it has taken so long to extradite Goni.

"If 67 people had been shot dead by the military on the streets of New York, can you imagine that two years later no-one would have been brought to justice," Rogelio decries. "Could the Government could get away with delays in taking action?"

So the families of those killed have been forced onto the streets again, this time with weekly processions to the US embassy to demand the immediate notification of Goni and his ministers of a trial. On the first week, they were tear-gassed by police, but were back this Thursday with photos of their loved ones and banners: "We want justice", "We won't forget our dead. We won't forget why they died. We won't forget who killed them."
"To be honest, at times, my energy to fight goes up and down," says Nestor. "I don't always understand the whole legal process. But I have a deep pain inside and can not allow myself to do nothing."

He becomes angry when I cite Goni's statements that he was saving democracy by preventing a coup. "Look who was killed. A child of five, a pregnant woman, mothers of families. Are you saying they wanted to overthrow the country? You don't kill for democracy. You don't violate human rights for democracy."

Victories like the Congress authorising the legal process against the Ministers have enabled him to keep fighting. He says if they fail to get justice to begin with, they will keep looking at alternatives.

For Nestor, his fight is also a wider struggle against impunity. "We are not just fighting for the families, but against a culture of impunity. If we allow Goni to remain free, we allow impunity. That means that people who take decisions to kill remain free and can kill again."
A personal fight has become entwined in a wider struggle against a culture of impunity that has led to massacres across the Latin American continent - under Pinochet in Chile, Fujimori in Peru and Guatemala under years of military rule to name just a few. It has led his association to contacts with many families across Latin America who lost loved ones, shot or "disappeared" by the military.

"When we finally see Goni in prison, we will have made a huge historical step in the fight against impunity and I will have kept my promise to my brother."

Take Action
Your support could really help the families. When I asked what people could do, Nestor said the first thing is put pressure on the US administration to deliver the notification of trial to Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, Carlos Sánchez Berzaín and Jorge Berindoague. You can send a message to the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice by posting a
message on their website. He also said some of the families are in dire need of financial assistance after losing their principal income-earners. If you would like to make a donation, contact me and I will liaise to pass on any money.

Indigenous protests against free trade agreement in Colombia

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. Six thousand Colombian indigenous people protested around the city of Tolima on Monday to voice their opposition to an upcoming free trade agreement between Colombia and the US. This march was an antecedent to a national strike this Wednesday by one of Colombia’s main labor unions. *Article in Spanish* (El Tiempo)

Mixed reaction to Mexican housing plan for poor

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. This article, originally found in the LA Times, describes how the Mexican government has encouraged homeownership by poor Mexicans through affordable mortgage plans. However,critics claim that the government’s plan exacerbates overdevelopment in already congested urban areas. (Concord Monitor)

Argentine minister claimed that Venezuela wants a nuclear reactor

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. Rafael Bielsa confirmed yesterday that Venezuela is interested in buying a nuclear reactor from Argentina. In anticipation of a possible controversy with the Bush administration, Bielsa noted how “we have sold four reactors to various countries and the U.S. voiced no objections.” *Article in Spanish* (Clarin)

Foot and Mouth Disease found in Brazil

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. Blood samples taken from cattle in a Brazilian state bordering Paraguay and Bolivia have shown traces of Footand Mouth Disease. (MercoPress)

Compromise upcoming in Bolivia

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. Political leaders in Bolivia are close to reaching an agreement that has greatly hurt that country’s political process including suspension of this year’s presidential elections. Controversy over a Bolivian Supreme Court decision last month on electoral seats served as the impetus for the constitutional crisis. (FT)

Monday, October 10, 2005

New Coelho book to have print run of 8 million

Brazilian author Paulo Coelho's new book, The Zahir, will have a first print run of 8 million copies and will be distributed in 83 countries. Coelho penned the novel, which he described as '60% autobiographical', from his current home in France. (National Post)

Lopez Obrador woos Mexican voters

Former DF Mayor and Democratic Revolution Party member Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is the leading contender in Mexico's upcoming presidential elections, and is seeking votes through small scale events and speeches, due to his lack of money for mass advertising and his pledge not to accept cash from special interests. (

Haiti's elections postponed

Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council has postponed elections originally scheduled for November 20th, indicating that they may take place up to a month later. (Miami Herald)

Number of detained Cuban migrants at 10-yr high

US officials say that the number of Cuban caught trying to migrate to the United States across the Florida Straits has reached a ten-year high, with 2,712 Cubans intercepted in the last year. (Mercury News)

Pat Robertson calls Hugo Chavez a 'nuclear threat'

Two months after suggesting the United States should assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, televangelist Pat Robertson accused Chavez of negotiation 'with the Iranians to get nuclear material, and [sending] $1.2 million to Osama bin Laden after September 11th'. Robertson declined to say how he had come across this information. (VOA)

Rain and flood cause damage in Guatemala

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. Photo collage depicts the effects of torential rain and flood waters in southwestern Guatemala. More than 500 are dead and 180,000 have been without homes. (El Periodico, Spanish)

IMF: Dominican economy is improving

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. The sub-minister of Western Hemispheric Affairs for the IMF declared that the economy of the Dominican Republic has improved dramatically over the past year. He praised policy changes made by President Fernandez’s administration and noted how inflation has fallen approximately sixty percent since August 2004. (Diario Libre, Spanish)

Schwarzenegger vetoes driver’s license bill

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. On Friday, California’s governor vetoed a bill that would have allowed illegal immigrants to obtain a special type of driver’s license. Schwarzenegger voiced concerns over national security in justifying his decision. (Mercury News)

Soccer summary: World Cup Qualifying

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. Ecuador and Paraguay secured their tickets to next year’s World Cup after the penultimate round of games this weekend. Uruguay remains in the final playoff spot due to their 0-0 tie with Ecuador, though the “charruas” are only one point ahead of Chile and Colombia and four points in front of Venezuela. Meanwhile, Costa Rica qualified to the World Cup with a 3-0 thrashing of the U.S. In spite oftheir loss to Mexico Saturday night. Guatemala can stillmake the last playoff spot if they win their final game later this weekand Trinidad and Tobago loses.

Immigrant labor worries New Orleans’ leaders

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. Civic and union leaders in New Orleans are worried over increasing numbers of immigrant labor working in the cities. Officials, including New Orleans’ mayor, believe that these jobs are better suited for the thousands of residents left jobless and homeless from Hurricane Katrina. (KSL)

Brazilian bishop stops hunger strike

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. Last Thursday, Bishop Luis Flavio Cappio ended an eleven day hunger strike against an environmental project in northeastern Brazil. Cappio’s protest received the attention of Brazil’s president, and it was negotiations with government officials that helped stop Cappio’s hunger strike. (BBC)

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Regional Spanish

Dear readers,

We are compiling a database of regional Spanish words that are spoken almost exclusively in one country or area of a country. Please help us by sending us words or phrases, including Spanish (from Spain), US Spanglish/border Spanish, Mexican regional, Chilean, or any words that are unlikely to be known outside of your local region. Thanks in advance!

Taylor Kirk