Saturday, October 14, 2006

Ecuadorian presidential elections in the homestretch

The four main candidates for Ecuador’s president (from left to right): Rafael Correa, Alvaro Noboa, Leon Roldos, and Cynthia Vitieri

Many headlines from the world press have focused on tomorrow’s election for Ecuador’s next president. Here is a sample of what some of them have said over the past few days:

* The International Herald Tribune provides a small guide to the elections via articles on facts surrounding Election Day (e.g. mandatory voting and local elections aside from the presidency) , and brief biographies of the four main candidates (including front-runners Rafael Correa and Alvaro Noboa).

* Reuters notes how ex-finance minister Rafael Correa has slipped a bit in the latest polls while business magnate Alvaro Noboa leapfrogged center-left candidate Leon Roldos.

* Time magazine demonstrates how to use fear-mongering in order to gain attention via its headline entitled “Is Another Chavez on the Rise in Ecuador?

* BBC News highlights the past decade of political instability in Ecuador as one of the main factors on the minds of voters.

* The Chicago Tribune points out how U.S. and Ecuadorian business interests are worried over a possible victory by Correa. An example of this from MarketWatch is how Correa vowed to renegotiate private oil contracts if he wins the presidency.

* Voice of America mentions how Correa’s vice presidential candidate admitted that Chavez is a “friend” of Correa though Correa would not emulate Chavez’ harsh anti-U.S. rhetoric if elected.

* The Scotsman mentions how Correa’s youth and charisma have worked to advantage, but also notes that traditional parties may unite against him in a possible runoff.

Links- International Herald Tribune, Time, BBC News, Chicago Tribune, MarketWatch, Voice of America, Reuters, The Scotsman

Image- Pravda

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Afternoon briefs: October 14

* Scientists removed the DNA of Argentine ex-president Juan Peron in order to verify a paternity claim by a 72-year-old woman.

* A Cuban who may have been the world’s oldest man passed away this week; approximately 6 weeks ago the world’s oldest woman (from Ecuador) died.

* Honduran police found 7 bodies buried in a well that may have been killed by street gangs.

* Mixed reaction from the public at a recent measure in the Dominican Republic to place a “last call” for alcohol consumption in bars and restaurants.

* Brazil’s president leads Geraldo Alckmin by 10% according to a poll released yesterday.

Links- BBC News, Mumbai Mirror, The Latin Americanist (blog), CNN, CBS News, Monsters & Critics

Image- photostogo.com (Juan Peron’s tomb)

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Event: Colombian comedian Andres Lopez in Miami and NYC

One of Colombia’s most famous stand-up comedians-Andres Lopez- has been touring the U.S. and will be performing this weekend in Miami and New York City. Lopez has gained critical acclaim for his stand-up show entitled “La Pelota de Letras” (“The Lettered Ball”) which is an insanely humorous look at Colombian life from the 1960s to around the present time. (Personal disclaimer- I nearly busted my ribs laughing while viewing the pirated DVD of “La Pelota de Letras” with family in Bogotá last year!)

Saturday October 14

WhatAndres Lopez in “La Pelota de Letras”

WhereJames L. Knight Center, 400 SE 2nd Avenue, Miami, Florida

When…8:00pm (show starts)

Tickets…Via Ticketmaster or via the Knight Center box office at 305-372-4633

Cost…$55 to $75

Sunday October 15

What…Andres Lopez in “La Pelota de Letras”

WhereTown Hall, 123 West 43rd Street, Manhattan, New York City

When…7:00pm (show starts)

Tickets…Via Ticketmaster online, Ticketmaster outlets, or via the Town Hall box office at either 212-840-2824 or 212-307-4100

Cost…$45 to $70

Image- NYC Mosaico (blog)

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Congressional candidate channels the spirit of Hannibal for an immigration ad

I don’t know whether to laugh or cringe: Republican candidate for Congress Raj Peter Bharka is filming a campaign ad where three elephants and a Mariachi band “illegally” cross the U.S.-Mexico border. (Mind you, “illegally” is in quotations since U.S. Border Patrol authorities do not believe that the actual crossing was against the law). Bharka’s point behind the ad is to demonstrate the gross lack of security along the U.S.’ southern border.

Historical reference- Hannibal famously crossed the Pyrenees and Alps in the 3rd century AD with several pack elephants.

Pop culture reference- Raj Peter Bharka was “fired” in the second season of “The Apprentice.”

Image- DCist (blog) (Stampy the elephant from an episode in the first season of “The Simpsons”.)

Links- The Simpsons Archive, Wonkette (blog), My San Antonio, Roman History Books and More (blog), Wikipedia

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Peruvian rebel leader faces verdict at retrial

Abimael Guzman- leader of Maoist rebel group the Shining Path- is awaiting the verdict at his retrial in Peru where he may be sentenced to life in prison. In 1992, Guzman was tried and convicted by a secret court but that verdict was ruled unconstitutional in 2003.

The Shining Path had been one of the deadliest rebel groups in the Americas and has been behind the deaths of 70,000 people in the 1980s and early 1990s. Their deep impact on the history and sociopolitical structure of Peru has even led to the creation of a Shining Path museum in the capital of Lima.

Update (October 14): Guzman was found guilty in his retrial and was sentenced to life in jail. (Link via CNN).

Links- BBC News, International Herald Tribune, Wikipedia, Reuters

Image- BBC News (Abimael Guzman after being arrested in 1992)

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Saca and Chavez in the assassin's crosshairs

What does the center-right president of el Salvador have in common with Hugo “Bush is the devil” Chavez? Both have recently claimed to have been the targets of assassination attempts.

El Salvadoran president Tony Saca claimed several days ago that police foiled an assassination plot against him masterminded by a Cuban-American who supposedly worked as a recruiter for private security jobs in Iraq.

In the meantime, Venezuelan head of state Hugo Chavez alleged that a sniper tried to kill him during a visit last month to western Venezuela.

Image- cummingsdesign.com

Links- Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Newsweek (U.S.), Guardian UK, The Latin Americanist (blog)

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IMF: Latin America needs improved bank supervision

A senior official with the International Monetary Fund advised Latin American governments to do a better job overseeing their banks in order to avoid future problems. “Now is the time to ensure that supervisors can do their jobs without undue constraint or interference” said the deputy managing director of the IMF at a conference last week.

Links- Reuters

Image- costaricatropics.com (Central Bank of Costa Rica)

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Morning briefs: October 13

* Brazil and Colombia are the top two Latin American nations in student drug consumption.

* Venezuela’s government will not devalue its currency and the U.S. dollar-Venezuelan Bolivar exchange rate will continue to be fixed.

* A brief follow-up: the three Mexican fishermen rescued in August after spending nine months lost at sea will get $3.8 million for the rights to turn their tale into a feature film.

* A survey published on Wednesday showed that 79% of Panamanians support plans to expand the Panama Canal.

Links- Prensa Latina (Cuba), Business Week, All Headline News, The Latin Americanist (blog), International Herald Tribune

Image- answers.com (Marijuana leaves)

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Free trade at center of Bush-Garcia meeting

President Bush assured his Peruvian counterpart that he would convince Congress to pass a bilateral free trade agreement. “We are looking to have a free trade agreement that is focused internally and that will benefit our entire population,” said Peruvian president Alan Garcia after a meeting at the White House on Tuesday (image).

Links- People’s Daily Online (China), International Herald Tribune

Image- Voice of America

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Haitian arms embargo partially lifted

The U.S. government relaxed some of its arms embargo against Haiti as a move to help combat rampant violence. The change to the embargo- which was established in 1991- will permit the Haitian government to apply for licenses to equip police but will continue to restrict individuals and private firms from buying arms.

Image- haitixchange.com

Links- CBS News (U.S.), radiojamaica.com

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Ollie North: Ortega presidency = “problems aplenty” for the Americas

Syndicated columnist and Iran-Contra protagonist Oliver North sounded the alarm over the possibility of Daniel Ortega’s returning to the presidency in Nicaragua. North’s Chicken Little analysis declared that Ortega’s possible return to power would assist “anti-American leftists” who have exploited elections in order to come to power, and laid blame at “the striped-pants set” in the U.S. State Department for being passive and not helping the anti-Ortega opposition. North also observed that there are “millions of our southern neighbors” who have placed “their lives on the line to achieve and preserve democracy” including the presidents of Colombia (Alvaro Uribe) and El Salvador (Tony Saca). (Funny how he neglects to mention Chile’s Michelle Bachelet and Argentina’s Nestor Kirchner, huh?)

Links- FOX News (U.S.), Wikipedia, olivernorth.com, rotten.com, The Latin Americanist (blog)

Image- Time (1986 cover of then-president Daniel Ortega)

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Morning briefs: October 12

* The latest polls have indicated that Brazil’s president (image) has increased his lead over Geraldo Alckmin from 7% to 11%.

* Venezuelan soldiers admitted to firing at Guyanese miners near the border shared by both countries, though the details of the incident are muddled.

* Leaders from around Latin America denounced North Korea’s nuclear test on Tuesday.

* A brief follow-up: Chilean students threaten to resume protests several months after violent clashes with police.

Links- Monsters and Critics, Voice of America, International Herald Tribune, ITAR-TASS (Russia), The Latin Americanist (blog)

Image- Voice of America

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Event tonight: Lou Dobbs on “The Daily Show”

CNN anchor and syndicated columnist Lou Dobbs (image) will be tonight’s guest on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Dobbs- whose strong views against illegal immigration have earned him support and derision- will be on “The Daily Show” in order to promote his latest book.

(“The Daily Show” will air at the following times in the U.S.)

Image- Mother Jones (U.S.)

Links- CNN, Comedy Central, My Space in Cyber-space (blog), The Subway Canaries (blog)

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Argentina: Death squads may be linked to witness’ disappearance

Argentine authorities and human rights activists worry that a possible resurgence in right-wing death squads may be behind the disappearance of a former political prisoner. Jorge Julio López (image) - a key witness in the trial of a human rights abuser- has gone missing for almost a month and his disappearance has caught the attention of many Argentineans. Prosecutors that worked with López have received anonymous death threats and are worried over their safety.

Image- Seattle Times

Links- Times of India, BBC News, International Herald Tribune

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CFR: Experts debate U.S. policy towards Cuba

Today’s news that the U.S. government will strengthen trade sanctions with Cuba provides a perfect segue to a debate over U.S. policy in the nascent post-Fidel Castro era. The discussion held on the Council on Foreign Relations website, pitted Philip Peters- vice president of think tank the Lexington Institute- and Dennis Hays- former executive vice president of the Cuban American National Foundation.

Both gentlemen agreed on some points (e.g. change in Cuba must come from within the island) yet Peters argued that the embargo has not weakened the political regime and that “today’s policy- a series of weak measures that don’t back up the false toughness of our regime-change rhetoric- does nothing to promote change”. On the other hand, Hays contended that opening the island to American tourism would be ineffective against changing Raul Castro’s regime, and that economic sanctions have politically and economically weakened the island.

Links- BBC News, Council on Foreign Relations, Lexington Institute, Cuban American National Foundation

Image- BBC

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Mexico may take border wall dispute to U.N.

Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez admitted that the Mexican government may take up legal recourse with the U.N. over the U.S.plans to build fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. Opposition in Mexico runs high against the border plan and has raised the ire of President Vicente Fox and president-elect Felipe Calderon.

Links- People’s Daily Online (China), The Latin Americanist (blog), International Herald Tribune

Image- Der Spiegel (Germany)

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Morning briefs: October 11

* Kudos for singer Shakira, who will donate proceeds from a concert to an arts school in Colombia, as well as Argentine actress Mia Maestro (image), who is lending her efforts against an often fatal ailment called Chagas disease.

* An accused Guatemalan war criminal was deported from Canada after spending 2 years hiding in the basement of a Toronto church.

* Accusations of fraud have tainted elections in the Mexican state of Tabasco.

* Brazil’s currency has reached its highest point in weeks due to increasing popularity by opposition presidential candidate Geraldo Alckmin.

Links- National Post (Canada), CBS News (U.S.), San Jose Mercury News (U.S.), signonsandiego.com, Bloomberg (U.S.)

Image- The Tribune (India)

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Follow-up: Scandal continues to rock Church in Mexico

A Mexican judge ordered a Roman Catholic priest to stand trial in the rape of a 9-year-old boy in 1999. The setback to Rafael Perez Sanchez has come on the heels of allegations that the Mexican Catholic Church knowingly covered up the actions of a priest accused of child abuse in Mexico and the U.S.

In a related note, Church officials in Colombia have been accused of their own cover-up after a priest confessed in a radio interview to abusing children in Colombia and the U.S. in the 1960s.

Links- NDTV (India), Mercury News (U.S.), The Latin Americanist (blog), Catholic Online

Image- bluffton.edu (Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral)

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Alaska to Chavez: Don’t send us cheap oil

Several villages in Alaska have refused to accept discounted heating oil from Venezuela based on Hugo Chavez’ recent anti-U.S. comments. “I don't want a foreigner coming in here and bashing us. Even though we're in economically dire straits, it was the right choice to make,” said one community leader. Over the past two years, Citgo- owned by the Venezuelan government- has sent millions of gallons of cheap heating oil to states across the U.S. including Connecticut and New York.

Links- CNN, The Latin Americanist (blog)

Image- The Seattle Times (Alaskan citizen filling an oil drum with inexpensive Venezuelan oil).

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New bird species found in Colombia

A British-led expedition found a new bird species located in the remote Yariguies Mountains in Colombia. The new type of bird- the Yariguies brush finch- can be distinguished via its colorful blend of yellow, black, and red plumage.

Several days before that, scientists unearthed an ancient one-of-a-kind burial ground in Peru.

Links- Guardian UK, BBC, ABC News (U.S.)

Image- BBC

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Morning briefs

* During a debate Monday night, Ecuadorian presidential frontrunner Rafael Correa (image) vowed to ally with the presidents of Brazil and Bolivia if he were to be elected this Sunday.

* Hugo Chavez warned of a U.S.-backed plan to overthrow Bolivian president Evo Morales.

* Thousands of protestors from Oaxaca arrived in Mexico City after marching for almost three weeks into the capital.

* Jenna Bush will spend a week in Paraguay visiting president Nicanor Duarte as well as participating in a UNICEF program.

Links- SABC News (South Africa), USA TODAY, International Herald Tribune, Guardian UK

Image- SABC News (South Africa)

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Monday, October 9, 2006

Would “Vespucci Day” be better than “Columbus Day”?

Today is Columbus Day, a holiday throughout most of the Americas and generally commemorated as a day of Italian pride and heritage. Though Columbus was certainly one of the most important European explorers to land in the western hemisphere, his legacy has had a dark side based on his exploitation of indigenous peoples and passiveness towards genocide of the natives. Mary Annette Pember- a Native American journalist- notes how celebrations of Columbus Day in the U.S. “cunningly twist the facts” in an attitude that dismisses Native American “grievances as political correctness gone awry.” Jamaica Observer columnist Franklin Knight takes a more tempered view though he acknowledges that Columbus was “an arrogant and persistent dreamer” who “was neither singularly bold nor uniquely adventurous for his day and age.” Maegan at Vivirlatino cites an organization called “Transform Columbus Day” that “rejects the celebration of Christopher Columbus and his legacy of domination, oppression, and colonialism.”

The reality is that it is very difficult to extricate the positive myths surrounding Christopher Columbus from the American psyche. To replace Columbus Day with a holiday celebrating indigenous peoples would be “akin to asking for a sea of change in the national psychology,” as Pember noted. Nonetheless, I propose renaming Columbus Day in favor of Italian explorers whose contributions were not as tainted as Christopher Columbus (who may not have been Italian by birthright). A case could be made for cartographer and explorer Amerigo Vespucci, whose name gave birth to calling the western hemisphere “America.” Why not Antonio Pigafetta who was one of a handful of survivors from Ferdinand Magellan’s famed voyage around the world between 1519 and 1522 or Giovanni da Verrazano- the first European to explore the Atlantic coast of North America. Surely a strong case could be made for Giovanni Caboto (more commonly known as John Cabot) who was Genoa-born and lays claim to being the first European explorer to set foot on the North American mainland since the Vikings. These gentlemen are not only sources of Italian pride but also beacons of discovery and exploration whose legacies carry far less of a stigma than Christopher Columbus.

Links- Wikipedia, BBA Communications, Thinkquest, Order Sons of Italy in America, Transform Columbus Day, Salt Lake Tribune, Jamaica Observer, Vivirlatino

Image- colindavies.net (Statue of Christopher Columbus in Pontevedra, Portugal)

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Venezuelan opposition in David vs. Goliath battle to unseat Chavez

With Election Day approximately 2 months away, opposition candidates for the Venezuelan presidency are trying to make inroads against Hugo Chavez' high popularity. Of the twenty offical candidates hoping to dethrone Chavez this December two have the best chance to do so: Benjamin Rausseo- a pro-business and pro-Washington candidate best known as a comedian- and Manuel Rosales, who was cheered on by tens of thousands of supporters at a campaign rally in Caracas over the weekend.

Links- BBC, The Latin Americanist (blog), Monsters & Critics

Image- The Economist (U.K.)

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How’s Fidel doing? It depends on who you ask

Conflicting information has emerged from the U.S. and Cuba on the health of ex-strongman Fidel Castro. On the one hand, current leader Raul Castro continues to claim that Fidel is gradually recuperating from surgery performed in late July. On the other hand, rumors have surfaced that Fidel is in the advanced stages of terminal cancer and on his deathbed.

In a slightly related note, a Cuban study showed about half of the centenarians in Cuba’s Villa Clara province were able to live long on a steady diet of coffee and cigars while maintaining a decent amount of sex. (Perhaps that explains why Fidel Castro still isn’t dead).

Image- Monsters and Critics (Cuban billboard that says "we're doing fine.")

Links- Malaysia Star, International Herald Tribune, The Latin Americanist (blog), news.com.au

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Week in review: October 2 to October 8

Monday October 2

Tuesday October 3

Wednesday October 4

Thursday October 5

Friday October 6

Saturday October 7

Sunday October 8

Links- Too many to list!

Image- Government of Alberta (Canada)

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