Friday, August 31, 2007

Quote of the Day: Crime and (trying to figure out the) punishment

“Crime is not just about prosecution; it's not just about justice.”

“I am addressing the criminals that I want to talk directly to. I know some of you are watching me.”

--Guatemalan presidential candidates Alvaro Colom and Otto Perez Molina, respectively, comment on crime during last night’s presidential debate.

Immigration was another hot topic highlighted during the debate with two of the candidates calling "heroes" the Guatemalan migrants that enter the U.S.

The election is set for September 9th and a poll released today has Colom with a 3% lead over Perez Molina.

Sources- CNN, Bloomberg, Guanabee, Prensa Latina

Image- BBC News

Cuban boxers won’t go to championships

The fear of possible defections has led to Thursday’s decision by the Cuban boxing federation to pull out of this year’s World Boxing Championships. According to a statement by the federation:

“We will not expose a Cuban team again to the excesses and provocations that in this case would occur in Chicago, in U.S. territory, an ideal location for merchants and traffickers to act freely with the complicity of U.S. authorities.”

Earlier this month, Fidel Castro wrote that “Cuba will not sacrifice one bit of honor” by participating in the tournament. His warning came in the aftermath of the eleven-day disappearance of Cuban pugilists Erislandy Lara and Guillermo Rigondeaux (image) during the Pan American Games in July.

The World Boxing Championships serves as a qualifying event for the 2008 Olympics, though Cuban boxers have the chance of being in two other tournaments to qualify for the games.

Sources- CBC, Reuters Africa, The Latin Americanist, BBC News

Image- BBC News

Chavez the mediator visits Colombia’s Uribe

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is visiting Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe in a bid to broker a peace deal with Colombian guerillas. Despite the doubts by some members of the Colombian government, Chavez expressed hope that something could be worked out:

“‘I ask God that I can contribute in the issue of this humanitarian swap, in the search for peace, a peace for all of us,’ Chavez said after stepping off his plane in Bogota before meetings with Uribe at the president's farm outside of capital.”

At the heart of the discussion is the hard-line taken by guerillas and government over the creation of a demilitarized zone and how to go about with a possible hostage exchange. Still, there is cautious optimism by the families of hostages on Chavez’ mediation:

“‘The kidnappers say they admire Chavez. They might not obey him, but they do take note,’ (Ingrid) Betancourt's husband, Juan Carlos Lecompte, said. ‘It's the first time I see there could be a small light at the end of the tunnel.’”

Sources- Bloomberg, International Herald Tribune, Prensa Latina, Reuters

Image- RCN

Major U.S.-Mexico border crossing closed

The U.S.-Mexico’s busiest border crossing at San Ysidro, California was shut down by California police nearly two hours ago. Vehicular traffic was brought to a virtual standstill (image) on the verge of the Labor Day weekend as U.S. authorities worried over possible disruptions by protests in Tijuana.

In June, traffic between Tijuana and San Diego was disrupted by nearly 10,000 demonstrators.

Speaking of Mexico and protests, the Teamsters filed a lawsuit on Wednesday to prevent a pilot program allowing Mexican trucks to drive on U.S. highways. The plan- which was supposed to have gone in effect in 1995 under the North American Free Trade Agreement- is expected to start this weekend.

Sources-, O.C. Register,, Bloomberg


Bachelet and Simpson Miller remain on “Most Powerful Women” list

In a testament to the growing power of women and politics in the Americas, the heads of state from Chile and Jamaica reappeared in this year’s edition of the Forbes “100 Most Powerful Women”. Chilean president Michelle Bachelet fell from 17th last year to 27th place while Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller jumped eight spots to the 81st position.

Bachelet has had difficulties in her first year in office facing problems like the Transantiago fiasco and recent violent protests. Yet Forbes praised Chile’s strong economic standing as well as Bachelet's initiatives to improve social services.

Despite problems with crime and possible corruption, Forbes praised Simpson Miller’s efforts to improve Jamaica’s health care system and the promotion of women in sports. Her office is up for grabs, however, as polls show her party tied with the main opposition party only days before the general election this Monday.

Other women in the Americas are attempting to emulate Bachelet and Simpson Miller by being elected as heads off state. Guatemala’s Rigoberta Menchu is a distant 5th place in the latest polls though her influence could be vital in a likely runoff. Meanwhile, Argentine First Lady Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is the odds-on favorite to succeed her husband.

For the second straight year, German chancellor Angela Merkel heads the list. She is followed by Chinese vice-president Wu Yi, businesswoman Ho Ching, and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Sources- Forbes, The Latin Americanist, Angus Reid Consultants,

Image- BBC News

Daily Headlines: August 31, 2007

* A bomb scare forced the temporary evacuation of over 10,000 people from Latin America’s tallest building: the Torre Mayor skyscraper in Mexico City (image).

* At least eleven people died after two trains collided outside of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil yesterday afternoon.

* Ecuador’s government became a minority shareholder in the Telesur television network.

* A Panamanian legislator indicted for the murder of a Puerto Rican soldier during the 1989 invasion of Panama is one step closer to becoming head of the country’s parliament.

* Follow-up: Nearly 1600 Colombians who fled to Ecuador over the past week could return home after the government promised increased security.

Sources- AHN, Bloomberg, The Latin Americanist, International Herald Tribune, Forbes, Reuters

Image- BBC News

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Quote of the Day: Breaking up is hard to do

“In Florida, (immigration attorney Ralph) Pineda's clients include Dahianna Heard, a Venezuelan woman whose husband was shot last year by insurgents while he worked as a contractor in Iraq. The couple's son, who is a U.S. citizen, faces an uncertain future if his mother is deported.”

--An article from the Associated Press notes that more than eighty foreign-born widows are in danger of being deported from the U.S. due to their husbands’ death before immigration paperwork was approved.

The article highlights the case of Jacqueline Coats- an immigrant from Kenya- who is about to be deported after her U.S. citizen husband passed away last year trying to rescue two drowning kids.

Sources- Guardian UK,

Protests across the Americas

Over the past week numerous anti-government protests have taken place across Latin America. Here are some of them:

  • Nearly 700 protesters were arrested in Chile as marchers clashed with police in the capital, Santiago (image). The protest yesterday was organized by the country’s main labor union against what it deemed as the “neoliberal model” still upheld by President Michele Bachelet.
  • Despite the high arrest count in Chile, things got very ugly in Honduras when a teacher was killed. A hotel owner in Santa Rosa de Copan was arrested after “losing his patience” and firing his gun into a multitude of marchers.
  • Several groups opposed to Bolivian President Evo Morales called to “defend democracy” during protests in six of the country’s nine states on Tuesday. Some violence was reported as organizers urged people to stay home and shut down businesses.
  • Lastly, several hundred Argentines rode motorboats with protest banners along the Uruguay River as they expressed their anger at a controversial pulp mill soon to open near the river. Argentina’s government has joined environmentalists who allege that the Finnish-owned mill will greatly pollute the river which serves as a border between Argentina and Uruguay.

Sources- Bloomberg, AHN,, Voice of America, International Herald Tribune, Forbes, Migrant Tales

Image- BBC News

Princess Di photo to be auctioned for Peru

Problems have mounted in providing aid to survivors of Peru’s deadly August 15th earthquakes; thousands are living in squalor conditions as relief groups have run out of tents and blankets. A spokesman for Doctors Without Borders said that the situation is so dire that “it's like one day after the quake.” Complaints have grown against President Alan Garcia who has yet to deliver on a promised $1900 per homeowner.

In the midst of all those troubles Peruvian photographer Mario Testino said that he will raise money by auctioning an autographed photo of Princess Diana (image). The photo- which appeared in a 1997 issue of Vanity Fair- is appropriate to raise funds for Peru according to Testino:

“I have decided to auction an image of Diana to help the people in Peru because, for me, Diana went out of her way to help people.”

The auction will be held in London on November 20th.

In the meantime, we continue to ask that you please contribute to the Peruvian aid efforts despite the problems mentioned above. Click here to find out how to donate to charities like CARE and the American Red Cross.

Sources- International Herald Tribune, The Latin Americanist, Reuters, BBC News

Image- CBC

Daily Headlines: August 30, 2007

* 2005: Argentine soccer great Diego Maradona traveled to Colombia for gastric bypass surgery. Friday: Maradona will arrive in Colombia for cosmetic dental surgery.

* Brazil’s government issued a text detailing the crimes and human rights abuses committed under military rule from 1964 to 1985.

* A volcano erupted yesterday on an uninhabited area of the Galapagos Islands.

* Could the use of nuclear power spread across Latin America?

* One of Costa Rica’s most vital reefs is being decimated by algae caused by untreated sewage and other trash dumped into the sea.

Sources- BBC Sport, Xinhua, MarketWatch, Reuters AlertNet, People’s Daily Online, BBC News

Image- (Diego Maradona cheering from the stands during the 2006 World Cup)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Quote of the Day: The aftermath of Katrina and immigration

“We were like the first to be cleaning all of the destruction up and all of the debris and all of the junk and all of the dirt and all of the mud…Now that there's hardly any work left, now they're arresting us all.”

--Isabel Aredo- a Peruvian immigrant in Biloxi, Mississippi- comments on the Latino immigrant influx to the Gulf States in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Two years after the storm ravaged New Orleans and several southeastern states, those areas are dealing with the consequences of thousands of immigrants that migrated to assist the reconstruction process.

(One recent QOTD looked at the impact of Latino immigrants on the cuisine in New Orleans).

Sources- The Clarion Ledger, Reuters, The Latin Americanist

Image- NPR (2005 image of “Jose Gandara and his partner (who) haul discarded refrigerators to the Jefferson Parrish landfill for $200 a day.”)

Candidate killed as Guatemalan political violence intensifies

A candidate running for local office in Guatemala was killed in the latest example of political violence. Clara Luz Lopez- who was part of the political faction backing Rigoberta Menchu’s presidential bid- thus becomes one of approximately forty candidates or senior party officials murdered in Guatemala according to The Telegraph.

Menchu- who won the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize- stopped her campaign due to low popularity and lack of funds. Yet with less than two weeks to go in the elections she criticized the violence that has gotten out of hand:

“It is not the first attack, nor is it the first (person) who loses his her life in this campaign…Encouraging violence leads to more violence.”

Center-left candidate Alvaro Colom continues leading the polls for the presidency though his 22% is far behind the majority needed to avoid a runoff.

Sources-, BBC News, Prensa Latina, Angus Reid Consultants, People's Daily Online

Image- (According to the caption: “Congressional candidate Hector Montenegro holds a picture of his murdered daughter Marta Cristina”)

Juan Luis Guerra leads Latin Grammy nominees

Dominican singer Juan Luis Guerra led the nominations for this year's Latin Grammy Awards. In a ceremony this morning in Miami, Guerra was chosen five times including for album of the year and record of the year.

Not far behind him were Puerto Rican pop star Ricky Martin and hip-hop/reggaeton duo Calle 13 with four nods each. Other notables that were nominated include Miguel Bose, Zoë, Daddy Yankee, and Kinky.

Last week Guerra was announced as the winner of the Latin Grammy's Person of the Year award based on his music and charitable work.

The Awards ceremony will take place on November 8th from Las Vegas.

Sources (English)- International Herald Tribune, The Latin Americanist,

Sources (Spanish)- Primera Hora

Image- VivirLatino

Elian redux? - Parents battle over Cuban girl’s custody in Miami

A custody battle currently taking place in south Florida may possibly boil over like the affair over Elian Gonzalez in 1999 and 2000. However, the complexities of the case reveal a different story.

Cuban fisherman Rafael Izquierdo is in court seeking custody of his biological daughter who was taken legally to the U.S. in 2005 with his consent by her mother- Elena Perez. Shortly after, Perez attempted suicide and the state of Florida took custody of the girl. She would soon be adopted by Joe Cubas- a former sports agent who represented several Cuban defectors including Orlando “el Duque” Hernandez.

Cuban-American activist and attorney Pedro Freyre told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that the case will not be like the hullabaloo over Elian:

"It is being decided as Elian should have been ... instead of being decided in the streets of Miami," he said. "The fact pattern in this one is different, and it just got handled differently from the beginning."

The ardor of the Cuban exile community also appears to have cooled since the Elian case, Freyre said. That could be partly because of a generational shift, he said.

"We're all a little older and wiser and disconnected," said Freyre, who is not involved in this case.

In testimony yesterday the girl’s half-brother alleged that Perez was very physically abusive towards him and his siblings but also described Izquierdo as “not a bad guy.”

Image- BBC News (Elena Perez sits in court behind Rafael Izquierdo)

Sources- BBC News, Times Online, Baltimore Sun, International Herald Tribune, PBS

Daily Headlines: August 29, 2007

* Scientists discovered a new “golden frog” (image) whose home is a small area in central Colombia.

* China continues to make inroads into Latin America; the latest example being plans for increased oil exploration in Peru.

* Chile’s Supreme Court has upheld a life sentence for a retired officer convicted of overseeing the deaths of twelve guerillas in 1987.

* Mexico’s economy grew by a less-than-expected 2.5% in June.

* Millions of dollars in foreign aid from Sweden to Nicaragua will be phased out over the next four years.

Sources- MSNBC, Bloomberg, International Herald Tribune, Reuters

Image- FOX News

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Video of the Day: Getting rid of Fidel

With rumors of Fidel Castro’s health buzzing about, we present the trailer for a controversial British documentary on him entitled “638 Ways to Kill Castro”. The 2006 film examined the many failed attempts by the C.I.A. to eliminate the Cuban leader in the near fifty years since the island's Revolution. The snippet from the film provides interesting insight into the post-Revolutionary relations between the U.S. and Cuba (video link):

Sources- BBC News, Guardian UK, YouTube

Colombia seeking extradition of Israeli mercenary

The Colombian government has sought the extradition of an ex-Israel Defense Force officer convicted of training Colombian drug cartels in the 1980s. 61-year-old Yair Klein (image) was arrested yesterday by Russian police at Moscow's Domodedovo airport and he awaits a ten year prison sentence after being tried in absentia six years ago.

Colombian authorities had been on the hunt for Klein for nearly a decade before the arrest in Russia:

“According to the existing information, Klein served a prison term for a similar crime in Sierra Leone in the 90s, but he managed to escape from the labor camp and to return to Israel. He took a job of a representative of a commercial firm there and often traveled abroad.

The Colombian law enforcement agencies submitted documents, which showed that Klein had been an instructor in illegal armed groups for some time. The Colombian court sentenced some of the mercenaries working with him to long prison terms, but Klein again managed to escape. After that the Colombian police appealed to Russia for help.”

The private armies owned by drug barons over two decades ago and trained by Klein would become incorporated into right-wing paramilitary groups.

Sources- Haaretz, International Herald Tribune, ITAR-TASS

Image- Alalam News Network

“Life tastes good” except when it tastes funny in Mexico

Consumer advocates in the U.S. have raised concerns over the use of a possibly carcinogenic sweetener added to the Mexican version of Coca-Cola Zero. Despite a Federal Drug Administration ban against sodium cyclamate, Mexico overturned its ban on the chemical shortly before Coca-Cola Zero was launched there.

Blog Mark in Mexico denounced the “anti-American lies, half truths, superstitions, myths and fables” against Coca-Cola Zero in Mexico. Yet several Mexican bloggers have been alarmed over the use of sodium cyclamate in the drink:

"One Web site calls Coca-Cola Zero 'poison,' while another accuses Coke of using sodium cyclamate in Mexico because it is cheaper than other sweeteners."

Coca-Cola has been involved in other controversies in the Americas; the “Killer Coke” campaign protesting antiunion violence in Colombia has led to the banning of Coke products in several U.S. and British universities.

p.s. Click here for the reference made in the post’s title.

Sources- Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mark in Mexico, Salud, Las cosas por las que vale la pena vivir!, Noches de Café y Luna, TIME, Gothamist, Monsters & Critics

Image- Sydney Morning Herald

Puerto Rico gov’t major player in DynCorp ops on island

In yesterday’s “Daily Headlines” we mentioned how Puerto Rico’s governor called for the return of National Guard troops from Iraq. During an annual conference of the National Guard, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá said that:

“We must unite despite our political beliefs and ideologies to bring our troops back….We cannot push our troops to the devastation of extreme combat.”

Vilá’s comments may have been well-intentioned, but he may have some explaining to do after an investigation by El Diario/La Prensa showed that the Puerto Rican government is a major investor in DynCorp’s operations on the island.

DynCorp- one of the main private contractors in Iraq- was originally hired by the Puerto Rican government for “helicopter repairs” at the civilian airport in Aguadilla. Yet subsequent agreements between the Puerto Rican Ports Authority and DynCorp expanded the company’s role in Aguadilla for “repairing of military helicopters to then be donated by the U.S. Army” for operations in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. Moreover, other documents showed that DynCorp has tried to hire “assessors” in Puerto Rico for work in the Middle East.

Rafael Hernandez Airport used to cover part of Ramey Air Force Base, and is currently the “home base” to the U.S. Coast Guard and Puerto Rico Air National Guard.

Sources (English)- The Latin Americanist, Iraq Suppliers, University of Puerto Rico,

Source (Spanish)- El Diario/La Prensa

Image- U.S. Coast Guard (Coast Guard station at Aguadilla, Puerto Rico)

Daily Headlines: August 28, 2007

* Chile's Supreme Court is expected to decide later today on the fate of former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori (image).

* Hearings will be held by Puerto Rico's civil rights commission after ten officers were arrested for planting drugs in numerous arrests.

* Free trade has not paid immediate dividends to Guatemala, according to this Center for International Policy report.

* The French government is on the alert for the possible extradition of ex-Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega to the European country.

* Could floating hotels alleviate problems with housing in Brazil’s bid for the 2014 soccer World Cup?

Sources- Living in Peru, International Herald Tribune, Center for International Policy, Reuters UK, Xinhua, BBC News

Image- BBC News

Monday, August 27, 2007

Quote of the Day: “Score one for Obama” on Cuba, says L.A. Times

“The astonishing thing here is that after the U.S. has tried for nearly 50 years to force a regime change in Cuba by way of economic embargo with no success whatsoever, Obama is one of the few presidential contenders who dares to suggest that it's time to try something different…The U.S. shouldn't lift all economic sanctions on Cuba until the island's regime makes progress on democracy and human rights, but policies such as the travel ban and limits on remittances are simply counterproductive. Score one for Obama.”

--A Los Angeles Times editorial published on Saturday praised Barack Obama’s initiative to lift part of the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

As we mentioned last week, the Illinois senator called for relaxing restrictions on travel and remittances from Cuban immigrants in the U.S. to the island.

Image- Caribbean Net News

Sources- The Latin Americanist, Los Angeles Times, CNN

Hundreds of Colombians bolt to Ecuador; guerillas reject Chavez proposal

Approximately 1600 Colombians have escaped to neighboring Ecuador for almost a week as the civil conflict in their country has escalated. Though aid groups observed that the refugees are “scared and hungry”, they are having their basic needs met and immigration authorities are trying to sort how many refugees will stay in Ecuador. The number of refugees is expected to grow, according to the U.N.; thus adding to the over 250,000 displaced people already in Ecuador.

Meanwhile in a follow-up story, a spokesman for Colombia’s FARC guerilla group turned down a peace offer made by Hugo Chavez. FARC leader Raul Reyes welcomed Chavez’ intervention, but refused the suggestion of having peace negotiations in Venezuela:

“We continue to maintain that any exchange, being a problem deriving from an internal conflict, must be resolved within Colombia…We are not going to hand over prisoners in Venezuela.”

Sources- International Herald Tribune, Reuters AlertNet, Reuters UK, The Latin Americanist, Forbes

Image- Harvard University Gazette (Colombian refugees in the Ecuadorian border town of Lago Agrio)

Peru: Debate over tuna and liquor snafu

In the aftermath of the deadly August 15th earthquakes in Peru two unusual stories have emerged:

* The Peruvian and Venezuelan governments quarreled over the handing out of tuna cans with the faces of Hugo Chavez and Peruvian opposition leader Ollanta Humala (image). Peruvian president Alan Garcia deemed the aid as “electoral propaganda” though the Venezuelan ambassador to Peru denied that “party politics” were involved in earthquake assistance from Venezuela.

* In the meantime, the Peruvian government has backtracked from a promotion of the country’s most popular liquor- Pisco. The drink’s label was changed to “Pisco 7.9” (the magnitude of the quake) and was meant as gratitude for international aid. Yet the initiative was stopped after a flurry of public and media criticism, particularly from the city of Pisco which suffered more than 300 deaths and major damage after the tremors.

Image- Living in Peru

Sources- Guardian UK, Seattle Times, UPI, BBC News, The Latin Americanist

Border mayors join to protest barrier

The mayors of the border towns of El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico joined to head a protest at a bridge spanning the Rio Grande. Despite what one organizer of the "Hands Across El Rio" demonstration dubbed as a “low turnout,” El Paso Mayor John Cook was proud of the historic embrace with Juarez Mayor Hector Murguia Lardizabal during the protest against U.S. government plans to build a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border:

“Today is a historic day in the expression of friendship between two mayors, two cities and two countries. It is necessary for Washington and Mexico City to understand that our border doesn't separate us, it joins us.”

Both mayors join a long list of politicians, businessmen, and other leaders who have expressed their displeasure with the U.S. border fence plan.

Image- The Epoch Times

Source- Houston Chronicle, Reuters, The Latin Americanist

Embattled Attorney General Gonzales quits

Beleaguered U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will officially quit from his post effective September 17th according to a statement from him this morning. "I have lived the American dream," said the Mexican American Gonzales in his account after news reports earlier this morning hinted at his resignation.

Gonzales’ tenure as Attorney General had been filled with controversy over several issues like the accused partisan firing of eight federal attorneys and his staunch support of a warrentless domestic spying program. Bipartisan opposition to Gonzales had been growing over the past months and that has been reflected in reactions from several prominent Democrats and Republicans today:

“Better late than never."

-Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards

"I'm glad he's stepping down so the department can move forward with its important work."

-Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

President Bush blamed Gonzales’ critics for creating “months of unfair treatment” leading to his resignation is expected to publicly comment on Gonzales’ resignation at approximately 11:50am. Bush has always been a strong supporter of Gonzales and publicly defended him as recently as August 9th.

Solicitor General Paul Clement will be acting attorney general though rumor has it that Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff is one of the favorites to succeed Gonzales.

Sources- BBC News, CNN, ABC Online, Wikipedia, RTE, FOX News, The Latin Americanist, Bloomberg, Forbes

Image- CBC

Daily Headlines: August 27, 2007

* Headline: “Chavez offers billions in Latin America”. In other news, the Earth revolves around the Sun and there are twelve months in a year.

* Congrats to top-ranked Mexican golfer Lorena Ochoa who won her third consecutive LPGA tournament yesterday.

* The Brazilian city of Santos will build a museum in honor of soccer legend Pele.

* Puerto Rican governor Aníbal Acevedo Vila called for the return of National Guard troops from combat in Iraq.

* Over 150 British legislators have signed a motion calling for the end of arms sales to Colombia.

* Follow-up: Brazil’s justice Minster said that “visa irregularities” led to the deportation of two Cuban boxers that had gone missing during the Pan American Games.

Sources (English)- Yahoo! News, International Herald Tribune, Independent Online, ESPN, The Latin Americanist,

Source (Spanish)- El Diario/La Prensa

Image- MSNBC