Saturday, May 10, 2008

Daily Headlines: May 10, 2008

* Mexico: Esteban Robles became the second senior law enforcement official shot and killed this week in Mexico City.

* Latin America: Foreign investment in Latin America and the Caribbean reached record highs in 2007 according to the United Nations.

* Chile: Some animal rights groups are upset that hundreds of pets have been left behind by evacuating residents of villages surrounding the erupting Chaiten volcano.

* Brazil: Contrary to remarks made by a senior U.S. diplomat, Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim doesn’t believe that Iran is using Latin America to threaten U.S. security.

Image- MSNBC (“A Mexican Federal Police officer pauses during a ceremony to honor officers recently killed in Mexico City, Friday, May 9, 2008.”)

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

Friday, May 9, 2008

Congrats Alison!

Quick note - We’ll be off this Monday; instead, we’ll be blogging on Saturday.

In the meantime, eagle-eyed readers of our blog might have noticed that one of our contributors- Alison Bowen- was unable to post this week. Why? As she wrote to me in an e-mail message yesterday:

This week is CRAZY for me -- I just got engaged and have been turned upside down!

Congratulations Alison to you and your fiancée; you are an invaluable part of this blog and we’re all very happy for you!

Sources- Alison Bowen


WSJ: Chavez, FARC in deep cahoots

According to an article published in today’s Wall Street Journal, (WSJ), there are very deep ties between Venezuela’s government and Colombia’s FARC guerillas. The report alleged that their data was based on “more than 100 new files” taken from laptops seized after the controversial Colombian army raid in Ecuador last March:

These documents indicate Venezuela appears to be making concrete offers to help arm the rebels, possibly with rocket-propelled grenades and ground-to-air missiles. The files suggest that Venezuela offered the FARC the use of one of its ports to receive arms shipments, and that Venezuela raised the prospect of drawing up a joint security plan with the FARC and sought basic training in guerrilla-warfare techniques.

The article goes on to note that separate statements from the Venezuelan government and the FARC have denied the documents that are supposedly from the seized computers. In addition, the piece said that international police organization Interpol is currently investigating the legitimacy of the computer files.

Several bloggers have reacted to the WSJ piece; for instance, questions the validity of the anonymous sources cited in the piece. Meanwhile, the Heritage Foundation’s blog has accused “liberals in Congress” of helping the FARC based on legislators' relations with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

Image- CNN

Sources- AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Latin Americanist, Reuters UK,, The Foundry

Bolivia to Hold Vote of Confidence (or not) Regarding Morales and his Reforms

In the wake of the Santa Cruz autonomy vote, the people of Bolivia will vote in the referendum on whether President Evo Morales, his vice-president and nine governors should stay in office.
Morales agreed to the referendum after the Bolivian Senate backed the vote. Morales has two more years left in his term as the nation's first indigenous president, where his efforts to reform, especially with regard to indigenous rights and national control of industries. One has to wonder if it is also good old fashion anti-"indio" feelings.

If more than 53.74% of voters , their margin of support at the December 2005 election , reject them, a new general election will be held.

Sources : The Latin Americanist, BBC

Mexico's National Police Chief Killed

Edgar Eusebio Millán Gómez, the head of the National Mexican Police, was killed yesterday outside his home. He is the highest ranking Mexican police official to be killed since the country launched a campaign against the drug cartels a little over a year ago. The fingers seem to be pointed at the drug cartels for this latest incidence of violence, that has claimed at least 6,000 people in the past 2 1/2 years.

Millán Gómez was cut down shortly before 1 a.m. outside his apartment building in the Colonia Guerrero neighborhood, a poor section of Mexico City that associates say he chose because it is close to law enforcement offices. He died after being rushed to a hospital. Two bodyguards were injured in the attack but are expected to survive. One suspect was captured. Millán Gómez's family was under police protection, a law enforcement source said.
Suspicion immediately centered on the Sinaloa cartel, a violent drug gang that has waged full-scale battles with federal police and the Mexican military. Mexican law enforcement officials believe the cartel has recently sought to cripple rivals and broaden its control of drug trafficking here -- a business that U.S. authorities estimate generates as much as $23 billion a year.
Source : Washington Post

Daily Headlines: May 9, 2008

* Chile: The massive cloud of ash from the erupting Chaiten volcano in Chile has spread through parts of South America and has raised health concerns as far away as Buenos Aires, Argentina.

* Caribbean: Introducing the newest weapon in the “war on drugs” - Britain's Prince William.

* Cuba: Remember the “gala" held by Cuban exiles in honor of Luis Posada Carriles? As was to be expected, the Cuban government was none too happy over the soiree.

* Dominican Republic: The gives a positive review of president Leonel Fernández, who is running for a third term.

Image- CNN

Sources- The Latin Americanist, AFP,, Reuters

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Today’s Video: Bert and Ernie talk politics

It’s silly.

It’s juvenile.

It has no direct relation to Latin American affairs.

Yet it’s funny:

For the record, I’m not gung-ho on any of the presidential candidates.

(Hat tip: Wonkette).

Sources- Wonkette, YouTube

Argentine farmers strike again

Thousands of Argentine farmers went on strike today over tax increases on food exports. Protesting farmers have withheld crops and blocked the progress of trucks as the end came to a 30-day truce created after a previous strike. That stoppage lasted three weeks and led to food shortages throughout Argentina.

Government officials have equated the farmers’ actions with “extortion” and called the strike “irresponsible.” Rural leader Alfredo De Angeli disagreed:

“We want to seriously negotiate and not to be teased or told one thing and then take that back” he said. “The only thing (the government) does is fool the people, yet the people believe in us and ask that we do not weaken our position.” - [ed. personal translation]

Image- CNN (Argentine farmers protesting against the government in March)

Sources (English)- Guardian UK, Bloomberg, The Latin Americanist

Sources (Spanish)- Clarin

Iran threatens U.S. via LatAm, says diplomat

U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere Thomas Shannon remarked yesterday that Iran is gaining influence in Latin American in order to threaten U.S. security. “It's a way to push back on us” in case the U.S. enters in a conflict with Iran, said Shannon during a conference in Washington.

Shannon brought up the accusations against Iran over the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires and also added that:

“…we remind them about the continuing relationships that exist in the region between groups in Latin America and groups that we consider to be terrorist in the Middle East, especially Hezbollah and Hamas.”

In recent years, Iran’s government has strengthened ties with a few Latin American countries including Venezuela and Nicaragua.


Sources- AFP, Reuters, Americas Society, The Latin Americanist

Texan county, feds finalize deal on border barrier

There may be some indecision at Homeland Security over what will be done with the “virtual border fence” along the Arizona-Mexico border. Yet the U.S. government reached a final deal with the Texan county of Hidalgo over their plans for a border barrier.

The $113.9 million project will stretch along 22 miles of the Rio Grande and will include a physical wall and a system of levees. The federal government will pay nearly $66 million and construction is estimated to start in two months.

Both the feds and local officials feel that the project will tackle concerns over illegal immigration and flood control. Yet some Hidalgo County businesses have mixed feelings:

Tony Domit, president of Domit Construction and Development…[said that] there were good intentions behind the decision to break the project down into segments to give local companies a shot at being able to afford the smaller projects. But he doubted if a local company could handle even one segment because of the amount of credit required to back the financing…

“It’s impressive. My view: a waste of money by the federal government, but we are going to get a part of that waste down here.”

Image- KVEO

Sources- New York Times, The Monitor, The Latin Americanist

Daily Headlines: May 8, 2008

* Brazil: Consumers in Brazil are among the world's most environmentally friendly according to a study by the National Geographic Society.

* Mexico: Is the “Plan Mexico” counternarcotics program working? The Center for International Policy investigates.

* Costa Rica: Vice Premier Hui Liang of China traveled to Costa Rica in order to strengthen ties between both countries.

* Venezuela: Work has stopped at the Isidora gold mine as laborers have demanded that the government take over the mine.

Image- TreeHugger

Sources- Center for International Policy, AFP, Xinhua, Reuters

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Today’s Video: Postales de Leningrado

Last month we talked about “100% Venezuela”, a film fest at New York University that highlighted Venezuelan movies. “Desnudo con Naranjas” received the Audience Choice Award, while “Postales de Leningrado” was one of three movies which received special mention. The trailer to that 2007 film is shown below:

Sources-, The Latin Americanist, YouTube

Brazil: Jury overturns verdict in nun murder

A Brazilian jury acquitted a rancher who was convicted last year in the killing of nun/activist Dorothy Stang. Vitalmiro Vastos de Moura was sent to twenty years in jail along with Rayfran das Neves for killing Stang. Yet de Moura was set free with testimony from das Neves who claimed that de Moura did not give him the gun used to murder Stang in 2005.

Stang’s family was understandably disappointed with the court’s decision:

Sister Dorothy's sister Marguerite Hohm had watched the two-day long trial from her home in the US via a live internet feed.

"I saw the judge shaking hands with the defendants and I didn't understand what was going on," Ms Hohm told the Associated Press news agency. "We're very saddened."

Stang had allegedly been the target of Brazilian ranchers who disliked her opposition to the exploitation of poor and indigenous peoples by large landowners.

Sources- The Latin Americanist, Los Angeles Times, Guardian UK, BBC News, earthtimes

Image- MSNBC

Cuban exiles honor Posada Carriles

Over 500 guests participated in a dinner last Friday honoring wanted ex-CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles. According to remarks by one of the event’s organizers, the gala aimed to “recognize Posada as a great Cuban, a man of dignity and decency and as a great patriot who has suffered a lot.”

Posada Carriles spoke at the event and claimed that Cuba will soon come “to the end of a terrible stage.” Meanwhile, Venezuela's ambassador in Washington blasted the dinner as “outrageous” and an example of White House hypocrisy in fighting terrorism.

Last year, Posada Carriles was released by a federal judge after he was detained on immigration charges. He is wanted by Cuba and Venezuela for terrorism charges based on his supposed masterminding the 1976 bombing of Cuban jetliner and several hotel bombings in Havana.

Sources- The Latin Americanist, Los Angeles Times,, AFP


iPhone to be sold in LatAm via America Movil

Last month we mentioned how Apple planned to sell the much-lauded iPhone in Latin America. Those plans are coming to fruition with today’s announcement from Mexican firm America Movil claiming that they will distribute the phones later this year.

According to a report on the region’s largest cell phone operator:

America Movil…which operates in 16 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as the United States, did not disclose financial details. It did not say if it was an exclusive accord.

Today’s announcement coincides with Apple’s deal with Vodafone to sell the iPhone in ten countries including Australia and India.

Speaking of America Movil, the company agreed to pay $480 million to Ecuador’s government in order to operate there.

Sources-, Endgadget Mobile, The Latin Americanist, Reuters Africa

Image- Guardian UK

Mobile Banking : Coming to a Latin American Country Near You

Today, Telefonica announced that they were launching a new mobile banking program in Latin America, aimed at populations who don't have banking access but have cell phones. The official numbers say this move could impact 175 million consumers.
"Building on a number of other major Telefónica initiatives aimed at reducing social and economic exclusion, the project's principal aim is to improve financial access in Latin American markets by providing an m-banking solution to some of the most vulnerable in society - those groups that do not currently have access to banks or financial services," said Matthew Key, CEO of Telefónica Europe.
There have been complaints in some Latin American countries about Telefonica and their pricing policies.

Sources : MediaBistro, Cellular News

Colombia Extradites Parailitary Leader to US

Today Colombia extradited Carlos "Macaco" Jimenez to the United States. This is the first time that a former right-wing paramilitary boss has had to face U.S. justice for drug trafficking.
Jimenez was a leader of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC).

Colombia has a histpry of being willing to "throw the book" at left-wing paramilitaries and those involved in the drug trade, but (some say because of ties to the government) has not done the same with right-wing paramilitaries.
This was a smart move by Uribe," Bogota-based security analyst Pablo Casas said of the Jimenez extradition. "It sends a message to emerging criminal groups, commanded by former paramilitaries, that the government will be tough on them. It also shows U.S. Democrats that Uribe is serious about confronting the paramilitaries."

Sources : BBC Mundo and Reuters

Daily Headlines: May 7, 2008

* Argentina: Some veterans of the Falklands War are upset at a local publisher who issued textbooks showing the Falklands Islands as belonging to Great Britain.

* Mexico: According to a study released last month, $2.5 billion in bribes were paid in 2007 by Mexicans.

* Latin America: Government representatives from several countries will meet at a summit in Nicaragua to discuss ways to react to the global food crisis.

* Colombia: Canadian Trade Minister David Emerson said that he was “cautiously optimistic” that his country could reach a free trade deal with Colombia.

Image- BBC News (2005 image of Argentine war veterans commemorating the Falklands War)

Sources- NPR, The Latin Americanist, AFP, Bloomberg,

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Today's Video: Chile's Chaiten volcano

Emergency evacuations took place on Tuesday in a pair of southern Chilean towns after the Chaiten volcano erupted in lava and heavy ash. Over 4000 residents of Chaiten and Futaleufu have left for safer areas as the formerly dormant volcano spewed a huge column of smoke.

The video below shows the activity of the Chaiten volcano and how nearby residents try to cope with it:

New Cuban "Freedoms" Now Extend to Computer Ownership

Add being able to own a computer to the list of freedoms Cubans now have under Raul Castro. Last Friday, The island's communist government put desktop computers on sale to the public for the first time.
A tower-style QTECH PC and monitor costs nearly US$780 (euro505). While few Cubans can afford that, dozens still gawked outside a tiny Havana electronics store, crowding every inch of its large glass windows and leaving finger and nose prints behind. The Cuban PCs have Intel Celeron processors with 80 gigabytes of memory and 512 RAM and are equipped with Microsoft's Windows XP operating system. Both could be violations of a U.S. trade embargo, but not something Washington can do anything about in the absence of diplomatic relations with Havana.
What has not been lifted however, is the ban on internet access from Cuban homes.
Some people buy limited e-mail access on the black market, usually sharing an account with the authorized holder, who usually works for the state. Even if they could access the Web, Cubans can't shop on line because they don't have credit cards.

Source : NYT,
Image Source : Huffington Post

Dominicans in the U.S. Sending Less Dinero Back to the Isla

According to the non-profit organization the Quisqueya Foundation, 22% of Dominicans in the U.S. will stop sending money back to the Dominican Republic. Now only about half of the Dominicans in the U.S. send money back home. In a similar study conducted in 2006, the number was 76%. Reasons cited for the drop include the faltering economy in the U.S. (meaning U.S. Dominicans have less money to send home) and anti-immigrant sentiment that has made it harder for Dominicans in the U.S. to find work.

Those that still send money back will try to make up the difference by sending more money, an expected 10% increase.

Sources : 7 Dias, Remolacha

Daily Headlines: May 6, 2008

* Brazil: Going to visit Rio de Janeiro? A company is offering tourists tours of the city’s poorest neighborhoods including the “chance to meet armed drug dealers.”

* El Salvador: Let’s hope this doesn’t give Don Francisco any wild ideas – a former Salvadoran TV host has launched himself as a presidential candidate.

* Mexico: A mass quinceañera party was recently held in Mexico City for a few hundred impoverished familes.

* U.S.: Little by little, plans for a national Latino museum are coming true.

Image- NPR (“Brazilian soldiers patrol the Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro, March 2006.”)

Sources-,, Christian Science Monitor, BBC News

Monday, May 5, 2008

Today’s Video: Santa Cruz – the aftermath

Over the weekend we showed videos of before and during the autonomy vote in the Bolivian region of Santa Cruz. With one-third of the votes counted, the pro-autonomy vote leads by roughly a four-to-one margin. Both the U.S. and Venezuelan governments have opined over yesterday’s referendum while tensions continue between factions for and against Morales administration.

The following video is a news report from Bolivian television which alleged that voting irregularities and high abstentions took place during Sunday’s vote:

Sources- The Latin Americanist, Xinhua, Reuters India, YouTube, AFP

Guatemala: Adoptions temporarily suspended

Adoptions in Guatemala will be suspended for a month while paperwork is sorted out, according to government officials. As the Associated Press reported earlier today:

A Guatemalan official says that 2,286 pending adoptions will be suspended for at least a month while officials review related paperwork.

Attorney General Baudilio Portillo says Monday's decision was made after lawmakers asked his office to review adoptions on a case-by-case basis.

Adoptions council chief Elizabeth de Larios says additional DNA testing could be required to ensure some babies are in fact being given up by their birthmothers.

The move is similar to one instituted by Vietnam last month after both countries have come under fire over illegal adoptions. Nevertheless, the Guatemalan government’s decision has worried some of the hundreds of adoptive parents in the U.S.

Image- BBC News

Sources- International Herald Tribune, The Latin Americanist, MSNBC, FOX News

Chile: Bachelet’s popularity creeps up

The popularity of Chilean president Michelle Bachelet has steadily increased over the past few months according to rent poll numbers. The poll conducted by Chile’s CERC showed that 50% of respondents approved of Bachelet’s mandate compared to 46% in a December CERC poll. The increase may not seem like much, but it’s notable when one notes that an October poll by Adimark Gfk had her approval rating at a mere 35%.

Over the weekend, Bachelet visited several small towns in the southern part of the country that have been evacuated due to the erupting Chaiten volcano.

Despite the optimistic poll numbers, Bachelet has faced several recent obstacles over indigenous issues, health care, Cabinet reshuffling, and public transportation.

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

Image- The Hindu (The President of India with Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet last month in Santiago)

Argentine farmers threaten with striking again

Farmers in Argentina have threatened with striking again this week and possibly repeating a three-week protest which led to heavy food shortages throughout the country. With a 30-day truce between farmers and the government about to end, the head of Argentina's Agrarian Federation observed that “there's lots of unease” between both sides.

In order to prevent a possible strike, the Argentine government agreed today to lower restrictions on the exportation of beef. Yet the secretary of the Argentine Rural Society (ARS) believed that the government’s actions will hurt ranchers’ activities:

ARS secretary Javier Jayo said that the resolutions published today in the Official Bulletin…”obstruct” beef exportations because the selling of beef abroad will depend on the permission of Customs officials. …

The resolution will return to a system that “was outdated and obstructs exportations. It is not a solution.” – [ed. personal translation]

Image- BBC News

Sources (Spanish)- Clarin

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

Cinco de Mayo...revisited

Today is the celebration of Cinco de Mayo; the commemoration of the Mexican victory over the French in 1862’s Battle of Puebla, not Mexico’s Independence Day. (That would be on September 16th).

For some, the date is used to enjoy cheap margaritas and getting wasted. For our part, we’re going to reproduce part of last year’s Cinco de Mayo post and look at several other important military battles in the history of Latin America:

* Battle of Crête-à-Pierrot (1802) - One of the first major battles in the Haitian Revolution. Though the French would win the battle, Haitian rebels ultimately prevailed after the French suffered massive losses.

* Battle of Chacabuco (1817) - Despite being outnumbered by nearly a 3:1 margin, Jose de San Martin and Bernardo O’Higgins led Chilean forces against the Spanish in this battle fought just outside Santiago.

* Battle of Boyacá (1819) - El Libertador Simón Bolivar commanded about 3000 soldiers including “a small British Legion” in this battle which would assure independence for Nueva Granada.

* Battle of Ayacucho (1824) - This was the decisive battle for Peru’s independence; as a result of the Independence army’s victory, Spanish forces agreed to leave Peru.

* Battle of Cerro Corá (1870) - The final battle in the brutal War of the Triple Alliance which would lead to Brazilian occupation of Paraguay for several years.

* Battle of Celaya (1915) - “The single bloodiest battle of the Mexican Revolution” which led to the beginning of the end for Pancho Villa’s forces.

* Battle of Carrizal (1916) - Battle between U.S. Expeditionary Forces and Pancho Villa’s troops nearly led to a war between Mexico and their northern neighbors.

* Battle of Yaguajay (1958) - A turning point in the Cuban revolution; the battle was won by rebel forces led by Fidel Castro and would soon lead to the end of Fulgencio Batista’s rule in Cuba.

Image- Everyday Weekender

Sources-, The Latin Americanist, Vivrlatino, PBS, Wikipedia

Daily Headlines: May 5, 2008

* U.S.: Good news - Pulitzer-prize winning novel "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" will be turned into a movie.

Bad news - Author Junot Diaz
(image) worries over how the book will be portrayed in the film and whether Dominican actors will be used.

Honduras: At least 18 prisoners died during fights on Saturday at the main jail in the capital, Tegucigalpa.

Puerto Rico: Chelsea Clinton visited university students on the island last week in order to drum up support for her mother's presidential campaign.

* Colombia: Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is "
the main hope" for the liberation of kidnapped politician Ingrid Betancourt, according to remarks made by her husband.

Image- Guardian UK
BBC News, The Latin Americanist, New York Daily News, USA TODAY, Reuters

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Today’s Video: Voting in Santa Cruz, Bolivia

A controversial referendum took place on Sunday in the region of Santa Cruz, Bolivia over the autonomy of the area. Exit polls showed that 84% of voters chose for the energy-rich region to have greater autonomy though that number was not surprising since pro-government factions urged followers to boycott the referendum.

In addition, violence broke out across the region with nearly two dozen injured and one woman who died after inhaling tear gas. President Evo Morales made note of the disturbances in a speech on Sunday night and added that the referendum "failed categorically."

Below is a very brief clip on Sunday's events as reported by Colombia's Noticias Caracol:

Sources- Reuters, Bloomberg, Monsters & Critics. Mercopress, YouTube

Daily Headlines: May 4, 2008

* Chile: Nearly all 4500 residents in the town of Chaiten have been evacuated due to volcanic eruptions which started on Thursday.

* Venezuela: State oil company PDVSA anticipates 2008 crude oil production to reach 3.45 million barrels per day though some experts claim that their estimates are too high.

* Argentina: “Your life is in our hands,” is what kidnappers supposedly threatened a human rights activist with as he was held hostage for two anxiety-ridden days.

*U.S.: Some residents of Los Angeles are unhappy with a new regulation affecting the area's ubiquitous taco trucks.

Image- BBC News

Sources-, Reuters, Los Angeles Times, New York Times