Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hugo Chavez backs Russia in Caucasus crisis

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez supported Russia’s position in its dispute with Georgia. “We support Russia. Russia is right and is defending its interests,” remarked Chavez on Friday as he backed Russian recognition of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions from Georgia. Chavez also accused the U.S. of exploiting Georgia to try to counter Russia.

Venezuela and Russia have established closer political and economic ties; last month, Chavez visited his counterpart Dmitri Medvedev where both signed agreements on energy and arms.

Coincidentally, on the same day Chavez made the above remarks the Wall Street Journal published a scathing (perhaps too harsh?) editorial declaring a new “axis of evil”:

The term "axis" has been overused in recent years, and in misleading contexts. But Russia, Iran and Venezuela are acting very much as Japan, Italy and Germany did in the 1930s, when each took advantage of each other's aggressive moves to extend their own regional power at the expense of liberal democracy -- and, as a result, propelling the world to the brink of war.

The chessboard of traditional competitive geopolitics is back with a vengeance…The third player in this new axis, Venezuela's President Chavez, hopes for an oil and natural gas monopoly over the natural resources of neighbors like pro-Chavez satellites Bolivia and Ecuador.

Image- BBC News

Sources- PRESS TV, IHT, The Latin Americanist, Reuters UK, Wall Street Journal

U.N. report: Positive growth in LatAm and Carib.

The global economy may be slowing down yet increased growth is expected for latin America and the Caribbean according to a recently released report.

The U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and Caribbean predicted that the region’s economy would expand by 4.7% this year; the sixth straight year of positive growth for the region. Peru (8.3 %), Panama (8.0%), and Uruguay (7.5%), will post the highest increases as the report also notes a steady decrease in regional unemployment since 2003.

Not all was good news in the study as some economic indicators are unfavorable in the region:

Still, inflation could average as much as 10 percent, led by rising food prices, which may push 15 million more people into poverty – leaving 190 million people in poverty, or 35 percent of the region's population, CEPAL said.

Widespread interest rate hikes could also boost local currencies, making exports less competitive and further slowing regional growth to 4 percent next year amid continued volatility in world financial markets, CEPAL warned.

In April, the World Bank issued its own report which predicted that Latin America’s economy would keep being strong and “better prepared for an economic slowdown in the United States.”

Image- Agencia Peruana de Noticias (Peruvian textile factory)

Sources-, The Latin Americanist, MercoPress, Dominican Today

Daily Headlines: August 30, 2008

* Argentina: A pair of former generals was sentenced to life in jail for the roles in the disappearance of a provincial senator during the “Dirty War.”

* Brazil: Actress Reese Witherspoon helped promote a campaign to combat domestic violence during a trip she made to Sao Paulo.

* Chile: According to a car rental company Chilean roads are among the worlds most dangerous.

* Bolivia: President Evo Morales set December 7th as the date for the country’s constitutional referendum.

Image- Los Angeles Times (“Relatives of people who disappeared during Argentina's 1976-83 military dictatorship hold placards with images of their missing kin in court in San Miguel de Tucuman, in the northern province of Tucuman.”)

Sources- IHT, AFP, The Telegraph, BBC News

Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain picks Sarah Palin as running mate

Earlier today, Republican presidential hopeful John McCain introduced Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his choice for Vice President.

The mother of five becomes the first female vice presidential candidate since 1984 and has been a widely popular governor since she came to power in 2006. Yet she is under investigation for her firing of the state’s former Public Safety Commissioner and her staunch social conservative views could turn off Hillary Clinton supporters who are considering backing the GOP.

In terms of foreign policy experience hers is practically nonexistent. Palin’s biography in the very useful describes “no issue stance yet recorded” on foreign policy. Her lack of foreign policy experience pales compared to the Democrats choice for vice president.

In the end that may be a moot point since international affairs will be touted as one of McCain’s strong points. Yet it is worrying that someone who aspires to be the second-in-charge in the U.S. have such little knowledge in international affairs.

Image- The Telegraph (“As an upholder of gun rights and a fierce opponent of abortion, Sarah Palin will help woo the strong Republican core who still doubt John McCain's record Photo: AP”)

Sources- BBC News, Bloomberg, CNN, Foreign Policy Passport,, The Latin Americanist

Honduran prez defends ALBA alliance

Honduran president Manuel Zelaya supported his decision to have Honduras enter the ALBA trade bloc. In remarks made to Reuters, the Honduran leader said that the move was necessary in order to combat poverty in his country:

President Manuel Zelaya, a logging magnate seen as a moderate liberal, told Reuters that oil-rich Venezuela's offer to double international aid to the country, one of the poorest in Latin America, is unrivaled.

"I have been looking for projects from the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, Europe and I have received very moderate offers ... that forces us to find other forms of financing like ALBA," Zelaya said in an interview at his presidential palace…

"The war between communists and right-wingers is over, and if what we have now is not giving results, we have to turn to alternatives like ALBA," which also includes Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Dominica, he said.

The ALBA alliance is spearheaded by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez who observed that “the courage of President Zelaya has no comparison.”

The move is expected to ruffle some feathers in Washington especially since Honduras was vital as a base for the anti-communist, U.S.-backed Contra rebels in the 1980s. Conservative ex-President Ricardo Maduro warned Zelaya not to “bite the hand that feeds you” by joining the ALBA. Yet “Honduras did not ask permission from any imperialist country to join ALBA," emphasized Zelaya as he accepted joining the trade bloc.

Image- BBC News

Sources- Reuters, PRESS TV, IPS, euronews, MarketPlace

Fat Joe bashes Daddy Yankee over McCain

Puerto Rican rapper Fat Joe bashed reggaetonero Daddy Yankee over his recent endorsement of John McCain. In remarks made to MTV News, the rapper blasted his countryman and called him a sell-out after his appearance with the presumptive GOP presidential nominee:

"I opened the newspaper and got sick to my stomach," Joe continued. "I felt like I wanted to vomit when I seen that. The reason why I called him a sellout is because I feel he did that for a [publicity] look, rather than the issues that are affecting his people that look up to him. How could you want John McCain in office when George Bush and the Republicans already have half a million people losing their homes in foreclosure? We're fighting an unjust war. It's the Latinos and black kids up in the frontlines, fighting that war…

I feel real disgusted that Daddy Yankee would do that. Either he did that for a look, or he's just not educated on politics"…

"If he believes John McCain is the better candidate for the Latinos," Joe said, "we could sit down. Even if he wants to get into a debate, we can debate anywhere — New York, Puerto Rico."

While Democratic nominee Barack Obama wowed over 82,000 followers with his acceptance speech last night in Denver, McCain is preparing to announce who his running mate will be.


Sources-, MTV News, NPR, Reuters, The Latin Americanist

Daily Headlines: August 29, 2008

An all follow-up edition of Daily Headlines this morning looks at updates to news stories we’ve recently covered:

* Mexico: By an 8-3 vote Mexico's Supreme Court voted to uphold Mexico City’s abortion law that has been in place since April 2007.

* Cuba: The trial of Cuban punk rocker Gorki Aguila is expected to start today after he was detained on Monday supposedly for his outspokenness against the Castro regime.

* Caribbean: The death toll from Tropical Storm Gustav has grown to 60 as the storm continues ravaging through the Caribbean.

* U.S.: In the wake of the Postville raids residents of another Iowan town worry that theirs could be the site of the next immigration crackdown.

Image- Associated Press (“A doll representing a fetus, right, and crosses displayed by anti-abortion activists sit at Mexico City's central Zocalo square during a protest against the legalization of abortion, Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2008... Signs next to the doll read in Spanish "I want to live" and "Vote for me, vote for life." (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)”).

Sources- The Latin Americanist, Associated Press, Guardian UK, Reuters, Los Angeles Times

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Today’s Video: Richardson at the DNC

We’re very aware that you-know-who will soon speak at the last night of the Democratic National Convention. Yet earlier in the evening New Mexico governor Bill Richardson spoke in front of tens of thousands at Invesco Field. Richardson- who endorsed Barack Obama after his own failed presidential bid- pulled several punches against John McCain and the Bush/Cheney:

Sources- CNN, The Latin Americanist, YouTube

EU to appeal WTO banana ruling

The E.U. will appeal an April decision by the WTO based on a complaint brought up by Ecuador. The panel found that European tariffs on banana imports against Latin American countries including Mexico and Costa Rica were excessive and discriminatory.

According to a statement issued today by the E.U.:

“The proposal on bananas made in Geneva was made in the context of the Doha Round'' of global trade talks, the (European Commission) said. ``The failure to reach agreement in Geneva on the Doha Round also meant no agreement was reached on bananas.''

The EU is basing its challenge to the WTO judgments on two points. The panel ``completely disregarded'' evidence showing that Latin American banana suppliers' access to the bloc rose more than 10 percent, according to the commission, which said it also had ``significant systemic concerns'' about judges' interpretation and application of relevant WTO provisions.

Though the WTO decision came in favor of Latin American banana producers, it may’ve hurt those suppliers in the Caribbean who were receiving referential treatment from the E.U.’s policy.

As we mentioned yesterday, Brazil has appealed to the WTO for sanctions to be placed against the U.S. based on a 2007 ruling.

Image- Sky News

Sources- Forbes, Bloomberg, The Latin Americanist, Reuters

Colombian gov’t under eye of ICC

This week’s visit of the chief prosecutor from the International Criminal Court (ICC) has placed additional attention on Colombia’s government.

Luis Moreno Ocampo’s three-day trip to Colombia concluded yesterday as he examined the alleged government links to paramilitary groups. After meeting with government officials and the victims of paramilitary violence, Moreno Ocampo vowed that he will “go after the people who may be considered among those most responsible.”

The ICC could subsequently open a formal investigation not only centering on Colombia’s “para-politics” scandal but also regarding ties between politicos and the FARC guerillas.

Despite having a 90% approval rating among his countrymen, Moreno Ocampo’s visit comes at a particularly sensible time for Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. In what has been a troubling trend for relatives of senior government officials, the brother of the country’s justice minister was accused of doing illicit favors for drug smugglers. Uribe, meanwhile, continued to reject allegations over a supposed 2006 vote-buying scheme in Congress that would lead to his reelection.

According to Colombia’s Cambio newsmagazine, the political climate is stormy as a result of the attacks between Uribe and who he perceives are his foes:

The (political) environment is hot…accusations and allegations come and go. There’s a feeling of an institutional crisis and the president, symbol of national unity…has acted as an agitator. Although he has enjoyed high levels of popularity, it does not justify that he risks the state of law by delegitimizing the Supreme Court and the opposition.

More so, it could be costly to his public image that he looks for fights with whoever gets in his way especially when the public wonders why the lawyers of paramilitaries were received by Cabinet officials. - [ed. personal translation]

Image- Al Jazeera English (“Santos, the Colombian vice-president, left, accompanies Moreno-Ocampo [AFP]).

Sources (English)- Colombia Reports, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Inside Costa Rica, Al Jazeera English, The latin Americanist, Reuters

Sources (Spanish)- Cambio

Wikileaks to auction Chavez’ e-mails

“Document-leaking site” Wikileaks will auction off to the media what they claim is secret information relating to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. According to a statement on the website, they will give to the highest bidder three years of e-mail messages between Chavez and an aide pertaining to items such as “CIA activities in Venezuela, an incursion by the Colombian Army and how Chavez has managed his government.”

The controversial scheme may be ethically unsound and could fail according to an article on’s Threat Level blog:

University of Minnesota media ethics professor Jane Kirtley laughed when told of the scheme.

"Ethically speaking, why don't they just publish it?" Kirtly asked. "They pride themselves on being a new breed of news delivery"…

Stephen Aftergood, who runs a complementary and competing site called Secrecy News that focuses on U.S. government documents, called the e-mail trove a "coup" for Wikileaks. But Aftergood also doubts the auction model will attract quality media outlets.

"It looks like Wikileaks is still looking for the optimal method to distribute its materials," Aftergood said. "I think it will automatically rule out publications like The New York Times and others that might devote significant attention to an in-depth look at such internal e-mails but would not pay for them."

Wikileaks has come under intense scrutiny over its leaking of documents such as a 2003 Guantanamo Bay ops manual. The site had been taken offline in February as part of a lawsuit brought up by a Swiss bank. Wikileaks returned after that lawsuit was dropped in March.

Image- Time

Sources- Threat Level, editorsweblog, The Latin Americanist, BBC News, Guardian UK

Daily Headlines: August 28, 2008

* Puerto Rico: Daddy Yankee’s publicist denied reports that the reggaetonero originally offered to endorse Barack Obama before giving his allegiance to John McCain.

* U.S.: Controversial Latino artist Andres Serrano is working on a new exhibit centering on crap (literally, not so much critically).

* Venezuela: Ex-London mayor Ken Livingstone visited Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in order to “act as an advisor” on Caracas.

* Dominican Republic: A representative of the Dalai Lama cited “exhaustion” as to the reason why the spiritual leader cancelled his upcoming visits to Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

Image- AFP (“John McCain (L) is endorsed by Latin recording artist Daddy Yankee during a news conference in Phoenix, Arizona” last Monday).

Sources- AFP, Village Voice, The Latin Americanist, Wonkette, Guardian UK

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Today’s Video: Sweden’s greatest export

Eat your heart out ABBA; I’ll take Nina Persson (a.k.a. the blond who sang 90s one-hit wonder “Lovefool”) any day of the week. Here she is singing bossa nova classic “Desafinado”:

Sources-, YouTube,

Mexico: Top court learning towards abortion law

Mexico’s highest court appears to be leaning in favor of a Mexico City law that decriminalized certain forms of abortions. After three days of deliberations, seven of the eleven Supreme Court judges have backed the controversial law:

José Ramón Cossío Diaz y Juan Silva Meza pointed out that the Constitution doesn’t explicitly mention anything over the right to life…

Cossio said that the project presented by Sergio Salvador Aguirre Anguiano came from the premise that the right to life is an absolute condition.

Yet he believed that the right to life doesn’t exist either constitutionally or internationally. [ed. personal translation]

A minimum of eight judges are needed to uphold the law which was passed last year and decriminalized first semester abortions in Mexico’s capital. Not only is the Supreme Court expected to uphold the law, but according to El Universal they will create a “series of jurisprudential criteria” backing a woman’s right to abort.

The law has been opposed by several influential groups including Mexico’s federal government as well as the Roman Catholic Church.

Since the law went into affect in April 2007, an estimated 12,262 women aged between 18 and 29 have had abortions legally in Mexico City clinics. Yet a New York Times article found that those who have sought abortions face numerous obstacles including from doctors who claim to be conscientious objectors.

Image- BBC News (Pro-choice protestor carries a sign saying “In favor of the right to choose").

Sources (English)- MSNBC, New York Times, The latin Americanist, Fox News

Sources (Spanish)- Milenio, El Universal

WTO talks must resume says Brazil’s Amorim

Global trade talks that stalled last month must resume ASAP said Foreign Minister Celso Amorim earlier today. “I'm still hopeful that we can still make an effort, but it has to be very fast,” observed Amorim during a visit to Canberra where he met with his Australian counterpart.

The Doha Round of trade talks broke down in July when countries could not reach a compromise over agricultural tariffs. One of the sticking points during negotiations revolved around biofuels with Brazil pressing the U.S. and E.U. to permit increased ethanol imports.

Earlier this week, Brazil appealed to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to impose sanctions against the U.S. over cotton subsidies. The request was made after a WTO panel upheld a 2007 ruling that concluded that U.S. subsidies unfairly undercut foreign competitors.


Sources- Xinhua, IHT, Guardian UK, Forbes, Reuters India

Cuban punk rocker arrested says bandmates

Cuban punk rock musician Gorki Aguila of band Porno Para Ricardo was detained by authorities according to members of his band. A statement on Porno Para Ricardo’s website said that police arrested Aguila in Havana while the band was recording their latest album. A more recent entry on the band’s site expressed worry that Aguila will be jailed for his beliefs:

Aguila was detained without motive several hours after his father found out that he would be put on trial for dangerous citizenry. (For those that don’t know that term, it has to do with a law that sanctions those convicted with one to four years of jail based solely on their political beliefs…

Gorki Aguila is about to be sentenced based on his real motive of expressing songs against the Cuban political system and his right to be human. [ed. personal translation]

Aguila’s criticism of the Cuban government was documented in a 2007 CNN interview where he observed that “communism is a failure.”


Sources (English)- CNN, UPI, BBC News

Sources (Spanish)- Porno Para Ricardo

Storm kills at least 19 in Hispaniola

Gustav may’ve been downgraded to a tropical storm yet that didn’t stop it from battering the island of Hispaniola. The storm reached land with winds nearing 100 miles per hour as Gustav claimed the lives of at least ten Haitians and an entire family of seven on the Dominican Republic.

Unfortunately the worse of Gustav may yet to be seen:

“Though Gustav has temporarily weakened overnight due to its interaction with Haiti, this storm remains likely to explode into a major hurricane over the northwestern Caribbean'' on Aug. 29, said Jim Roullier, a senior energy meteorologist with Planalytics Inc., a forecaster based in Wayne, Pennsylvania.

The storm weakened from a hurricane overnight as it crossed southwestern Haiti. As much as 25 inches (64 centimeters) of rain may fall in parts of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, eastern Cuba, Jamaica and the Caymans, the center said.

In anticipation of Gustav, Cuban authorities issued hurricane alerts for eastern parts of the island and “emergency preparations” are also being done at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay.

The price of crude oil is expected to increase for a third straight day as energy producers worry over the safety of offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

Image- (“A man makes his way through heavy rains caused by the approaching of Gustav Hurricane in Havana, Cuba on Tuesday.”)

Sources- AFP, Bloomberg, UPI, IHT, MarketWatch, Reuters,,

Daily Headlines: August 27, 2008

* U.S.: A Census report concluded that the average Latino household income increased slightly yet so did the Latino poverty rate (21.5%) and more Latinos are uninsured than any other racial category.

* Venezuela: Has Hezbollah increased its presence in Latin America by taking advantage of closer relations between Venezuela and Iran?

* Ecuador: Most Ecuadorians would vote in favor of a new government-backed constitution according to a recent poll.

* Chile: President Michelle Bachelet is pushing a bill that would facilitate equal pay for equal work.

Image- AFP (“Men eat free lunch at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen.”)

Sources- Associated Press,, Reuters UK,, Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Today’s Video: Barack Obama do Brasil

Several candidates running for office in Brazil have used the image of Barack Obama to call attention to their campaigns. The Democratic presidential hopeful has been praised (though not publicly endorsed) by Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. According to EFE news agency, six candidates have taken advantage of a loophole in electoral law and registered with the name of “Obama”:

Mayoral candidate Claudio Henrique dos Anjos…registered as the “Barack Obama of Belford Roxo” since, much like the black U.S. senator, he aspires to be a pioneer if elected.

“I want to enter the history books as the first black to govern Belford Roxo much like Barack Obama wants to make history as the first black U.S. president” said Dos Anjos to O Globo…

Jovelino Selis, candidate for the ruling and socialist Worker’s Party…will dispute the elections as “Barak Obama” (without the c) and Alexandre Nunes Jacinto…as "Alexandre Barack Obama". [ed. personal translation]

Though nearly 200 candidates registered with the Brazilian president’s nickname of “Lula”, Obama’s run for the White House has piqued the curiosity of Afro-Brazilians who want their own role model. In the Reuters video below, a “group of politically engaged Afro-Brazilians” have even taken to the streets to garner support and donations for Obama:

Sources (English)- Reuters India, Bloomberg

Sources (Spanish)- El Tiempo

LPGA tour mandates English-language rule

The world’s’ premier women’s golf tour will impose an English proficiency requirement by next year. According to an article from Golfweek magazine and as reported on several news outlets, the new rule would obligate LPGA golfers with two years experience to learn English or else face suspension.

LPGA brass allegedly told players that the measure is needed since they want players to interact with corporate sponsors; coincidentally (or not), the LPGA has been suffering from decreased sponsorships which have included the cancellation of a few tournaments.

There are 121 international players from 26 countries on the LPGA Tour, including Lorena Ochoa (Mexico), Julieta Granada (Paraguay), Nicole Perrot (Chile) and Marisa Baena (Colombia).’s Bob Harig believes that the new rule “goes overboard” yet a few golfers appear to be fine with the move:

Angela Park - born in Brazil of South Korean heritage and raised in the United States - said the policy is fair and good for the tour and its international players.

"A lot of Korean players think they are being targeted, but it's just because there are so many of them," Park said.

Seon-Hwa Lee, the only Asian with multiple victories this year, said she works with an English tutor in the winter. Her ability to answer questions without the help of a translator has improved in her short time on tour.

"The economy is bad, and we are losing sponsors," Lee said. "Everybody understands."

Image- (Lorena Ochoa after winning the 2008 Morelia Championship)

Sources- Canadian Press, Golfweek,,, CBC, UPI,

Remittances to Mexico keep falling

The percentage of remittances to Mexico fell by its lowest margin in 12 years as Mexican Central Bank president Guillermo Ortiz Martinez confirmed yesterday.

Over the first half of this year an estimated $11.6 billion was sent to Mexico yet the percentage dipped by 2.2% in the previous quarter. That amount was greater than expected by economic experts who originally predicted a drop of 1.5 to 2%. Unfortunately, the trend will continue according to Ortiz Martinez who observed that several factors accounted for the decrease in remittances:

The weakening U.S. economy, especially in the construction sector…the problems facing those who migrate into the U.S. including the increased vigilance along the border, and the difficulties undocumented immigrants face when finding work. – [ed. personal translation]

Mexico’s economy has been hurt by the recent changes after having experienced years of double-digit increases in money transfers. According to one official in the state of Michoacán, rural communities have been especially hit hard since remittances serve as their main source of income.

The problem of lower remittances has affected the entire region; as we noted in March, a report from the Inter-American Development Bank showed that Central American economies are reeling from slower growth in money transfers.

Image- La Voz

Sources (English)- Washington Post, Council on Hemispheric Affairs, The Latin Americanist, The Statesman

Sources (Spanish)- Excelsior, El Sol de Mexico,

Atlanta competitiveness forum closes; Chile tapped for 2009

The 2008 America's Competitiveness Forum closed out last week, and plans are already underway to hold the 2009 forum in Santiago, Chile.

The forum, which has grown exponentially in size and cache since its inauguration in 2007, has so far only been hosted in Atlanta.

Global Atlanta: "'The Chileans get it. They understand the value of trade and how important it is to their economy,' said Walter Bastian, a deputy assistant secretary of commerce and one of the forum’s main organizers."

English press coverage lacking

I may be more attuned to press coverage issues than normal lately, but I think it's notable that the forum has received remarkably little press coverage in the United States (try googling "competitiveness forum Atlanta" in google news, then try "foro competitividad atlanta" and note the difference). Moreover, the most-read English-language online coverage of the event is from the local (Atlanta) media.

Perhaps this is natural given the regional theme of the event, but given that it was in Atlanta and run by the US ITA, when else do we get nearly half a dozen presidents and some of the richest people in the world together and get less coverage of it? I suspect this lack of coverage reflects a general indifference to the region.

See earlier post on the Atlanta forum.

Daily Headlines: August 26, 2008

* Latin America: A Food and Agriculture Organization report concluded that food supply exceeds demand in the region and that the global food crisis actually began five years ago.

* Caribbean: Bad news for the Caribbean as Hurricane Gustav is expected to gain strength while en route to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba.

* Cuba: The country needs “a new socialist program” since “Cubans are frustrated, alienated and hopeless” according to a statement issued by some former communist leaders on the island.

* Brazil: The government plans to spend over $28 million on a new guns-for-cash campaign.

Image- MSNBC (“A peasant holds ears of corn during a (2007) demonstration in Mexico City against the price rise of corn, the staple food of low income Mexicans.”)

Sources- BBC News, Xinhua, MSNBC, Monsters & Critics

Monday, August 25, 2008

Today’s Video: Olympic plans for South America

The Beijing Games is a done deal yet what are the odds that the Gaems could be held in latin America? It’s been four decades since the Games’ lone appearance in Latin America (Mexico City 1968) yet that hasn’t stopped two countries from vying for the Olympics.

Peru’s government pushed hard to host the Games in 2016. That bid was pursued months after the deadline to submit bids and would thus be automatically rejected by the IOC. Though that hasn’t stopped President Alan Garcia from the lofty aspiration of holding the Games in 2020, the odds are microscopic that Peru’s Olympic aspirations will come true.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is one of the official finalists for the host city of the 2016 Games. Rio has a solid chance especially after having hosted the Pan American Games last year. Yet Rio faces very stiff competition from the likes of Tokyo, Prague, and Madrid.

Should Peru or Rio de Janeiro soon host the Games? Check out Rio’s candidate city video:

Sources- Bloomberg, Living in Peru, EcoWordly, Los Angeles Time, The Latin Americanist, IHT, YouTube

State of the debate: education

A good deal of reflection on the failings of Latin American primary and secondary school systems has been seen in the press, in both languages, over the past few months. This may be in part due to the recent SERCE study's revelation that most most children in the region (with the exception of Cuba) are failing to learn at adequate levels, and it most certainly has to do with a number of elections (both national and regional) coming up in late 2008 and early 2009. "Education in Latin America," of course, is a fragmented theme in and of itself; comparing Chile to to Paraguay or Argentina to Honduras is increasingly irrelevant.

That said, and with no promise of coherency, what follows are some musings on the state of the education debate across the region. If anyone is reading, I'd love to hear some comments or reactions....

To me, what is perhaps most noteworthy of the current debates on education is that the regional debates seem to have taken a marked shift from rebukes and lamentation to action-oriented discussion on progress.

For one, more and better press coverage is apparent, too. Several newspapers cover the issue of "quality" in education with more regularity, as opposed to just the usual fare of teacher strikes and low investment. Some (though very few) papers have added "education" sections. Honduras, for example, has even created a nearly 24/7 channel devoted to issues on education (albeit paid for by the government). All in all, coverage is not great, but it's moving upward.

Sec0nd, some countries are taking action. Andres Oppenheimer, of the Miami Herald, wrote an Op-Ed yesterday praising the Mexican government for reacting to the dismal performance of schools by signing the unprecedented "Alliance for the Quality of Education" with the powerful teachers' union (regionally, only Chile, and arguably El Salvador's Plan 2021, have accomplished quality-based agreements on a similar scale). Most agree that the Mexico agreement is a political win for President Calderon, but the results will be watched closely in order to gauge whether it catalyzes real progress or not.

Another key question currently up for debate is whether the poorest countries of the region have the resources and poltical will to fix their own education systems. Last week, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias wrote a scathing Op-Ed in the Washington Post, arguing that education (among other social services) need the help of the US. My own response is to agree with the need for better / more relevant US aid, though I also believe that education must first become a priority of the countries themselves (the US wouldn't be much help in that cause, anyhow). Nicaragua, on the other hand, has largely done this with its education policy (with the exception of Cuban teacher trainers), but has done so less with the focus on improving quality, and more on seeking to reduce "neoliberal" influence on their schools. In my view, this is unliekly to make the needed difference, either - especially if it's only sustained for another 2 years of Sandisita government.

Anyhow, how the US will change it's aid system to better assist the needs of Latin America's poor will be an important question for the upcoming US presidential debates - though sadly, one that will not likely get much airtime.

In the meantime, it will be just as interesting to see how the national debates on education reform continue to take shape, and whether they will cause bolder actions, make significant investments in their own systems, or continue to do more of the same.

Daddy Yankee endorses John McCain

Puerto Rican reaggaetonero Daddy Yankee backed with Republican presidential hopeful John McCain during a campaign appearance this morning in Arizona.

Don't believe me? Then watch this:

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As one could see in the above video, the musician briefly commented that McCain has always been “a fighter for the Hispanic community… a fighter for the immigration issue.” McCain, in turn praised “Ramon” for being married fifteen years and for “making the right choices” in his youth.

Both men met earlier this month in private with Yankee not committing to an endorsement. Yet McCain spokeswoman Hessy Fernandez said that the meeting proved that “John McCain is someone who can appeal to anybody.”

The locale for today’s event “was carefully chosen” according to Politico since Central High School is the largest high school in Phoenix whose student body is 75% Latino.

Mercifully, neither performed a duet of “Gasolina” though who knows if that’s not in the works for next week’s Republican National Convention. (If Ricky Martin can perform for a dancing George W. Bush at the 2001 inauguration ball then anything’s possible!)

Sources- Political Radar, BBC News, Politico, NESN, From the Road

Chavez to PDVSA: We need better athletes!

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ordered state-run oil firm PDVSA to "open an office of competitive sports" in response to the country’s performance during the Beijing Games. Several athletes thanked Chavez for his support during the leader’s weekly television show, though some in the local media weren’t pleased by the lone bronze medal won in women's taekwondo:

In a recent editorial, Tal Cual newspaper editor Teodoro Petkoff slammed Chavez for touting Venezuela's medal-winning chances ahead of the Olympics while sending an oversized and unprepared delegation to China.

"The megalomaniac thought the increased number of athletes was an achievement," Petkoff wrote. "Someone more careful would know it wasn't sensible sending athletes without winning possibilities."

In other comments made yesterday, Chavez announced a $950 million additional investment for Venezuela’s petrochemical industry and denied that he would eliminate private property.

Image- Union Radio (Dalia Contreras Rivero won Venezuela's only medal in Beijing.)

Sources- AFP, Bloomberg, IHT, Reuters UK

Daily Headlines: August 25, 2008

* Mexico: Congrats to the squad from Matamoros, Mexico who made it all the way to Little League World Series championship game yesterday.

* Venezuela: U.S. drug czar John Walters claimed that “impunity” from Venezuela’s government is allowing more cocaine to be smuggled from there.

* Honduras: Family Minister Selma Ucles resigned as a protest against an upcoming visit of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega who has been accused of sexually abusing his stepdaughter.

* Colombia: Earth to Colombian presidential advisor José Obdulio Gaviria: thousands of displaced people still roam the country.

Image- New York Times (“Jorge Villafranca of Matamoros, Mexico, advancing to third on a wild pitch, ahead of the tag by Roberto Valera of Barquisimeto, Venezuela.”)

Sources- New York Times, The Latin Americanist, IHT, Reuters, Guardian UK