Saturday, October 4, 2008

Our new comments policy (updated)

Update (June 9, 2010): Our comments policy has been modified in order to bring you, our readers, fair and relevant comments. Here are the new guidelines:
Any and all comments that are:
  1. Explicitly racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, and/or discriminatory;
  2. Personal attacks/and or insults against blog readers, contributors, and/or commenters;
  3. Spam and/or advertisements disguised as comments;
  4. Violating copyright law;
  5. Irrelevant to the topics discussed in a post;
will be immediately deleted from this blog.

Repeat offenders of The Latin Americanist's comments policy will be banned at the discretion of the blog administrator(s).
Update: Our new comments policy is as follows:
Any and all comments that are:
  1. Explicitly racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, and/or discriminatory;
  2. Personal attacks against blog readers, contributors, and/or commenters;
  3. Spam and/or advertisements disguised as comments;
  4. Violating copyright law;
will be immediately deleted from this blog.
Original Post: The motto of this blog since its inception has been to act as an “English-language forum for all things Latin American”. As such we try our best to provide a platform where all sort of ideas and opinions can be freely discussed and disseminated.

Earlier tonight an anonymous individual left a particularly heinous and vulgar rant against one of our contributors. While most comments are courteous and on the topic, the disgusting comment we read has forced us to institute a new comments policy.

The following policy goes into effect immediately and will be posted on the sidebar starting on Monday:
Comment Policy

Any and all comments that are:
  1. Directly racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, and/or discriminatory
  2. Personal attacks against blog readers, contributors, and/or commenters
  3. Spam and/or advertisements disguised as comments
will be immediately deleted from this blog.
We always appreciate your readership and hope that this new policy will not discourage you from participating on this blog.

Please e-mail us at should you have any questions or concerns on the comments policy or any other aspect of our blog.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Update: Thanks to your feedback supporting our blog as well as providing suggestions to the comments guidelines. We will modify the policy slightly and then post it on the sidebar on Monday.

Thanks again!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Today’s Video: Remembering Rocio Durcal

We end our week with a brief remembrance of famed Spanish singer Rocio Durcal. This Saturday would have been her 64th birthday; alas, she passed away in 2006 after having been diagnosed with cancer.

Below is a classic clip of Durcal’s stirring rendition of “Amor Eterno”:

Sources- The Latin Americanist,, YouTube

Mexico’s Calderon proposes drug decriminalization

The Mexican government’s push to combat drug-related violence has done little to lessen the fear in most Mexicans. Nevertheless, President Felipe Calderon suggested relaxing the penalties against the personal use of certain illegal drugs. In a proposal submitted yesterday to Mexico’s legislature, Calderon recommended that rehab be substituted for jail over possession of narcotics like cocaine, heroin, and marijuana.

Calderon’s plan runs the risk of being rejected not by Mexican parliamentarians but via pressure from the U.S.:
Mexican lawmakers approved a similar bill in 2006 proposed by former President Vicente Fox, who said it aimed to crack down on traffickers and retail drug peddlers without tying up resources to punish addicts. Fox never signed the measure into law amid pressure from U.S. officials and Mexican groups that said it sanctioned drugs and would attract users from abroad.
In another anti-crime proposal submitted to congress, Calderon urged senators to “shake up” Mexico’s notoriously corrupt police.

The Latin Americanist, AP, Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg, Reuters

Advisor: McCain’s ex-“novia” = LatAm experience

I’m really hoping the following statement was mentioned as a joke:

Speaking at an Americas Conference panel discussion Friday on the next U.S. president's Latin American policy, McCain advisor Richard Fontaine started out by mentioning an old Brazilian flame of McCain's, who recently emerged in the press.

''Talking a little about his personal experience, he was famously born in Panama and has traveled all over the hemisphere for many years.'' Fontaine said. ``In fact, I saw, I guess it was last week, that his old girlfriend in Brazil has been found from his early days when he was in the Navy and was interviewed. She's a somewhat older woman now than she was then, but it sorta speaks to the long experience he has had in the region -- in the most positive terms.''

So does that mean that because my former high school flame was of Indian background then I’m an “expert” on India? Based on Fontaine’s “logic” I’m a know-it-all on Italy because my best friend’s family was Sicilian. If experience equals knowledge through osmosis then I must be an advertising whiz since I’ve always enjoyed watching TV commercials.

Not all was lost during the Americas Conference which is taking place in Miami. Surrogates for McCain and Barack Obama argued on issues relating to the region such as immigration and Cuban policy (Because heaven forbid McCain and Obama can’t do it on their own when they debate each other.)

The forum also gave the chance for Latin American politicos like Dominican President Leonel Fernandez to discuss topics such as free trade and voter apathy.

Image- The Telegraph (Former Brazilian model and ballerina Maria Gracinda Teixeira had a whirlwind one week tryst with John McCain in 1957).

Sources- The Latin Americanist,, MarketWatch

Latino disenfranchisement in Florida?

The voter registration deadline for the pivotal battleground state of Florida is coming up on Monday. But could the state’s anti-voter fraud law prevent thousands of Latinos and other prospective voters from having their ballots count?

The Voter Registration Verification Law was passed in 2006 and stipulates that voters must show proper ID matched against a federal database. If there’s no match then they can vote with a provisional ballot which becomes official only if they can prove their identity within 48 hours.

Floridian electoral officials said that the law is fair and will be enforced on Election Day. Yet several groups contend that the “no-match law” would create more problems than will be solved:

To demonstrate how easy it is to be tossed out by the new verification process, Tirso Moreno, a coordinator for the Farmworker Association of Florida, held up his driving license and social security card.

The social security card showed his formal name - including his mother's maiden name and father's last name - while the driving license was shortened to include only his father's last name.

"I don't think this electoral system has the ability to deal with the differences between the two cultures," said Moreno. It's a particular hardship for people whose first language is not English, he said.

Image- CNN

Sources-, Los Angeles Times, Orlando Sentinel, South Florida Times, Guardian UK

Daily Headlines: October 3, 2008

* Venezuela: First it was Spain and now it’s France who supports Venezuela’s desire to develop a civilian nuclear energy plan.

* Chile: The government agreed to compensate one of the country’s “top investigative journalists” for censoring her 1999 book.

* Puerto Rico: The FBI arrested “prominent Puerto Rico lawmaker” Jorge de Castro Font for allegedly being involved in an extortion scheme.

* Mexico: Mexico’s government may revise their proposed 2009 budget due to worries over the U.S. financial crisis.

Image- CNN (“Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro and France's Bernard Kouchner speak in Paris on Thursday.”)

Sources- Bloomberg, MSNBC, The Santiago Times, IHT, The Latin Americanist

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Today’s Video: Biden, Palin square off

Update (10:40pm): The structure of the debate was more energetic than last Friday’s presidential debate; hence, both Biden and Palin were better able to communicate their ideas (or lack thereof if you’re cynical) than last week.

Much like last week neither candidate scored a knockout blow despite what the spinmasters will try to emphasize.

Palin’s homespun “gee golly gosh” approach worked best in the first half of the debate which focused manly on domestic isues. Though I disagreed with most of her ideological arguments she touched on the important bullet points in a very affable, easygoing manner. Meanwhile, Biden was too verbose, flustered, and was not as receptive to the average American compared to Palin. (Several times he tripped over his own words like when he said “$400 million” rather than “billion.”)

As the second half of the forum focused on foreign policy, however, Biden came across as more of a statesman than Palin. Her folksy nature was absolutely out of place in discussions over areas like Iran’s nuclear plans and the military presence in Iraq. (Her lowest point had to be her “shout out” to third-grade school students during what I believe was a discussion on Pakistan and terrorism).

Even more pathetically than last week, Latin America was mentioned only once. Palin included “the Castro brothers” during a disjointed ramble on the world’s dictators. (Biden touched on Spain regarding John McCain’s recent comments against Spanish PM Zapatero). Neither candidate touched on critical regional topics like immigration, counternarcotics, or any of the Hemisphere’s leaders. In that regard (and the fact that foreign policy was limited to the Middle East), the debate was a downer. To be more exact, the lack of talk in the debates on regions like Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian peninsula has been annoying and upsetting.

The next two debates will be on October 7th and 13th and will involve only the presidential candidates.

Original post: Vice presidential candidates Sarah Palin and Joe Biden will square off tonight (9pm EST) in a debate from St. Louis. With two gaffe-prone candidates taking the stage the forum may not be as dull as last week’s presidential debate.

Political satire blog Wonkette provided their version of a debate drinking game. Pay attention to the following items tonight whether your drink of choice is non-alcoholic or a Chilean wine not named “Palin Syrah”:
PALIN evades a question by mentioning state rights.
BIDEN says he takes the train home every day…
PALIN blames Iraq for 9/11.
BIDEN blames McCain for 9/11…
BIDEN makes a sarcastic joke that goes right over Palin’s head, along with about half the viewers.
PALIN says anything comically retarded about Russia or Canada.
Fellow contributor Maegan la Mala will be liveblogging the debate via twitter. Unless the forum is a snoozefest my quasi-expert reaction will be coming up later. In the meantime, Reuters preview the discussion:

Sources- The Latin Americanist, BBC News, decanter, Wonkette, MSNBC, Vivirlatino, Reuters

Spain approves “self-deportation” plan

The Spanish parliament approved a “self-deportation” program for unemployed immigrants. The program- which had been proposed in July- would permit jobless immigrants to receive unemployment benefits and other incentives so as long as they agree to stay out of Spain for three years.

Spain’s government claims that it is a necessary measure as a result of rising unemployment rates which Labor and Immigration Minister Celestino Corbacho controversially claimed is linked to increased immigration. Yet politicos on both the left and right have blasted the plan:

The decree which was approved two weeks ago by Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was backed by Congress except for two political parties: the conservative Popular party (PP) and the pro-communist alliance United Left (IU).

PP deputy Rafael Hernando said that the measure does not resolve “any problems like the massive influx of immigrants.”

For his part, IU leader Gaspar Llamazares doubted the effectiveness of the plan which he called “symbolic legislation” and a “populist measure.” - [ed. personal translation]

The “self-deportation” program comes about as the center-left Zapatero administration has proposed several harsh measures designed to control immigration. Corbacho announced yesterday plans to substantially cut the number of family reunion visas as well as halting all visas to low-skilled workers.

An estimated 3 million immigrants have entered Spain over the past decade mostly from Eastern Europe, Northern Africa, and South America.

Image- BBC News (Ecuadorian immigrants protested the tightening of Spanish immigration laws in 2001)

Sources (English)- The Latin Americanist,, Reuters Africa, Typically Spanish

Sources (Spanish)- Milenio

New poll shows discontent with US policy towards Latin America

A new poll released today by Zogby and the Inter-American Dialogue suggests that the US government policies towards Latin America are at sharp odds with public opinion.

“The poll results indicate that American public opinion is far more open and flexible on issues of importance for US relations with Latin America than current policy would suggest,” noted Peter Hakim, the president of the Inter-American Dialogue.

The poll, which was conducted of "likely voters" (and disaggregated by likely presidential vote preference, among other factors) suggests that a majority of voters disagrees with US current policies on immigration, those towards Cuba, and the war on drugs throughout the region.

Not surprisingly, the survey indicates that 85% of those likely to vote for Obama support improving diplomatic relations with Venezuela (as opposed to 15% of the likely McCain voters polled). Likewise, the survey suggests that Obama supporters are almost 3 times more likely to back changes to US Cuba policy than McCain supporters, who prefer the status quo. (I can't help but wonder what would have been the breakdown of answers to the question "What year is it: 2008 or 1984?").

For more information, see the PDF of the survey data and a related article in today's Miami Herald.

Immigrant flow slows

The Pew Center reports today that fewer undocumented immigrants are entering the United States.

The Center said the U.S. economy "generated worry" among Hispanics but offered no concrete reason for the shift.

In March, the Center estimated about 11.9 million illegal immigrants were in the States, compared to 8.4 million in 2000. The report says the population is rising but the growth rate is slowing.

About 80 percent of undocumented immigrants come from Latin America, the report found.

Read the CNN article here.

Source: CNN

Photo: MSN, border fence

Obama urges Hispanic turnout

Barack Obama told a crowd of Hispanics in New Mexico to start "voting your numbers."

Previous presidential elections have brought close margins for Hispanic voters, supporting Al Gore barely in 2000 and helping Bush inch to a win in 2004.

Obama's words are part of a somewhat under the radar effort to garner Hispanic votes. Most Hispanic Democrats supported Hillary Clinton in the primary races, and Obama started adamantly vying for their votes in the summer. Hispanic voters make nearly 10 percent of the voting population, a potential swing vote.

New Mexico governor Bill Richardson supports Obama.

Read the story here.

Source: Guardian

Photo: Podcasting News

Daily Headlines: October 2, 2008

* U.S.: Could Nobel prize for literature judge Horace Engdahl’s rant against U.S. authors hurt Junot Diaz’ odds of winning the prestigious prize?

* Ecuador: Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht has reached a deal with the Ecuadorian government over the state of a hydroelectric plant.

* Paraguay: President Fernando Lugo talks land reform, foreign policy, and liberation theology in this great interview last week on “Democracy Now!”

* Costa Rica: Costa Rica could join the Central American Free Trade Agreement before the end of the year now that their deadline got extended.

Image- Time Out New York

Sources- Democracy Now, Voice of America, Guardian UK, IHT, The Latin Americanist

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Today’s Video: Tlatelolco – four decades later

October 2, 1968 was one of the most infamous dates in Mexican history. It was on that day that the Tlatelolco massacre occurred in Mexico City where dozens (if not a few hundred) people were gunned down by Mexican forces. The killings occurred days before the Summer Games as the authoritarian government tried to justify the actions during a peaceful student march.

Then-Interior Minister Luis Echeverría is under house arrest and could possibly be tried for his role in the massacre. Yet in the four decades since the massacre justice has been far from served which was why Amnesty International called on President Felipe Calderon “to establish the truth” and help bring those responsible to justice.

The clip below is from a Spanish-language Discovery Channel documentary on the Tlatelolco massacre. It describes how the growth of the Mexican student movement and the increasingly repressive nature of the government would lead to that fateful day at the Tlatelolco square.

Sources- The Latin Americanist, Wikipedia, YouTube, IPS, Herald Sun

LatAm could benefit over crisis says Carlos Slim

The $700 billion economic bailout plan may’ve been passed by the U.S. Senate tonight yet it has received great opposition domestically and abroad. The lack of a bailout sent Latin American stocks tumbling on Monday though leaders like Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez have vehemently rejected the rescue package.

Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim has some misgivings over the bailout though from a different angle as Lula and Chavez. Rather than purchase bad assets, Slim proposed that the U.S. government take up majority ownership of ailing investment banks. The telecom mogul praised Berkshire Hathaway head Warren Buffett for investing $5 billion in Goldman Sachs and also claimed that the financial crisis could be helpful to the Latin American market.

In remarks made to the foreign media on Tuesday, Slim added that China should take a more active role in helping the U.S.

Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, one of the world's richest men, said Tuesday that China should lead rescue efforts for the US financial crisis, and that worldwide stock markets needed better rules.

"China is now the most important country to help responsibly in this crisis"…

"China has great liquidity, large resources, surpluses in its current accounts and a lot of capital flow," he said.

"There is a systematic crisis in the whole financial system and the problem is that everything is interconnected."

Image- MSNBC

Sources- The Latin Americanist, BBC News, Monsters & Critics, Bloomberg, IHT, Reuters, AFP

Spain’s Calderon: “Racist” photo was a “bad mistake”

Remember the brouhaha caused during the Olympics by the Spanish basketball team’s “racist” photo? At the time, team member and Toronto Raptors player Jose Calderon tried to show contrition by noting that “some of my best friends in Toronto are from China.” Now he has gone a step further in asking for forgiveness:

"It was a mistake, a bad mistake," the Raptor guard said of the picture, which showed members of the Spanish national team pulling back the corners of their eyes. "We weren't meaning to do anything hurtful, I take that like a lesson. ... I wanted to tell the people what I am, I've never had that problem before in my life and it will never happen again."

Calderon sent emails in the last week or so to more than 100 fans who wrote him to say they were hurt by the picture.

"I wrote to the people who really cared about it, the people who emailed me and people who really thought I was saying something bad," he said. "It was a bad mistake, I wanted to tell them."

Calderon’s contrition appears sincere enough since he’s been remorseful ever since the controversy began. Yet as a cynic I cannot help but wonder how if this has anything to do with Spain’s bid for the 2016 Games.

(Hat tip: Deadspin).

Image- Guardian UK

Sources- The Latin Americanist, Deadspin, Torontoist,, Typically Spanish

Daily Headlines: October 1, 2008

* Latin America: In a worrying trend, the growth in money transfers to Latin America continues to decrease according to an Inter-American Development Bank report.

* Bolivia: The Russian ambassador to Bolivia claimed that both countries will strengthen ties and possibly "approach the level" of its partnership with Venezuela.

* Chile: The Chilean government will supposedly seek compensation from foreign banks that held of accounts of late ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet.

* Colombia: A Bogota-based human rights group claims that at least 270,000 Colombians were displaced due to armed conflict between January and June.

Image- (“Jaouad Khadim, manager of Murphy's Market in City Heights, helped Carmen Pavon send money…to family in Veracruz state.”)

Sources- MSNBC, The Latin Americanist, USA TODAY,,

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Today’s Video: R.I.P. Dionicio Morales

Latino activist Dionicio Morales recently died at the age of 89. Described by publisher of the Hispanic Link news service as “the most consistent Mexican American civil rights leader that I've been associated with”, Morales opened the doors to many of his peers and to future generations of Latinos:

He was organizing garment workers in the early 1960s when he decided to do something to help residents of the largely Hispanic neighborhoods east of downtown Los Angeles who lacked health care, job training, child care and other services.

He created the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation in 1963 and called the White House for help. He was referred to the Mexican Embassy, where by chance then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson was meeting with Mexico's ambassador about the same issue...

The Mexican American Opportunity Foundation has since grown to serve more than 100,000 people. It provides a variety of services, including English classes and immigration assistance, mainly to people with low and moderate incomes.

In the clip below from 2005, Morales reflected on his work but also tried to inspire his audience to keep striving to overcome the obstacles still facing the Latino community. (Part 2 here).

(Hat tip: Guanabee).

Sources- Guanabee, YouTube, Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury News

Alberto Gonzales still under fire

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) named a special prosecutor to look into alleged misconduct during the time of ex-Attorney Gen. Alberto Gonzales. Gonzales quit from his post over a year ago amid accusations that nine U.S. attorneys were fired due to political motivation.

Special Prosecutor Nora Dannehy’s investigation could lead to criminal charges against Gonzales relating to obstruction of justice.

A DOJ report released yesterday blasted Gonzales:

In a report released Monday, the Justice Department's Inspector General detailed "substantial evidence" that partisan politics played a key role in the 2006 "unprecedented removal" of the nine officials.

It also said Gonzales "abdicated his responsibility to safeguard the integrity and independence of the department," Inspector General Glenn Fine's office said.

The 390-page report said Gonzales "bears primary responsibility for the flawed US attorney removal process."

Image- BBC News

Sources- The Latin Americanist, BBC News, AFP,

Latin American stocks fall

More news on plunging Latin American stocks reacting to a convulsing U.S. economy:

Business Week said Sao Paulo's Ibovespa stock index dropped 13.8 percent.

Many Latin American leaders are insisting U.S. financial problems will not have a large impact on Latin America.

MarketWatch reports that equity markets in Latin America posted steep losses.

Finally, Reuters reports the Morgan Stanley Capital International Latin American stocks index fell 12.64 percent.

Welcome to “Americatown”

Could this be the future of U.S. immigration debate?

Will the economic crises force us all to flee the country and set up our own little villages filled with U.S. immigrants? HBO seems to think so, and just greenlit a drama series titled Americatown. But since most "towns" across the country are crammed with both truly authentic and incredibly commercialized representations of their countries of origin, what would an Americatown be filled with?

In Americatown, our financial crisis causes a mass exodus out of the Americas and into other countries. The new series takes places about 25-40 years in the future, and follows a group of newly evacuated immigrants in a big foreign city.

It may seem like a crazy though to imagine neighborhoods filled with tens of thousands of norteamericanos in San Salvador or Buenos Aires. (Pre-revolutionary Havana doesn’t count as a precursor). But with things like this going on perhaps the idea behind Americatown is not so far-fetched.

(Hat tip:

Image- CBS News (Photo of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, possibly early 20th-century).

Sources- The Latin Americanist,, io9,

Daily Headlines: September 30, 2008

* Ecuador: As was anticipated, a large number of Ecuadorian voters (roughly 70%) passed the country’s massive new constitution.

* Brazil: The country’s National Institute for Space Research reported an alarming 228% spike in Amazon deforestation between August 2007 and last month.

* Argentina: According to a study published in The Lancet, nearly half of injecting drug users in Argentina are HIV-positive.

* Colombia: Are military commanders pressuring troops to kill people in combat including accidently murdering innocenct civilians?

Image- Christian Science Monitor (“My vote: A supporter of President Rafael Correa showed a new Ecuadorean Constitution autographed by Mr. Correa on Sunday after the country voted in the new charter.”)

Sources- MSNBC, The Latin Americanist, Press Association, Reuters Alertnet

Monday, September 29, 2008

Today’s Video: R.I.P. Paul Newman

Renowned actor and philanthropist Paul Newman passed away over the weekend at the age of 83. “The Hustler,” “Cool Hand Luke”, and “Slap Shot” were just some of the movies he appeared in though he was also known for his charitable work. His death has been mourned by many from film expert Roger Ebert to the average Iranian.

Below is a clip to “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” where Butch and the Sundance Kid confront Bolivian bandoleros:

For my part, I’m extremely grateful for Newman’s benevolence since I was able to go free of charge with my junior high school classmates to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Connecticut. That trip not only allowed me to bond with friends whom I still hold dear today but also allowed me to be a more independent person. Rest in peace Paul, and thanks.

Sources- Chicago Sun-Times, NPR, Canadian Press, Wikipedia, YouTube

Spain backs Chavez nuclear push?

Shortly after returning from his state tour abroad, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez claimed that Russia will help the South American country develop a nuclear energy program. “We certainly are interested in developing nuclear energy, for peaceful ends of course, for medical purposes and to generate electricity” said Chavez who received an offer last week from the Kremlin to construct a nuclear reactor.

According to AFP, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos gave his conditional approval of Chavez’ nuclear ambitions:

"Lo importante en todo lo que es lo nuclear es estar en conformidad con la AIEA", afirmó el ministro de Asuntos Exteriores español, en una entrevista con la estatal Televisión Española (TVE)…

"Si es para utilización militar como es en el caso y las sospechas que puede tener con Irán, entonces la comunidad internacional le pide que se conforme a las peticiones del Consejo de Seguridad" de la ONU, añadió el ministro español

Translation – “What is important is that any nuclear plans are in accordance with the (International Atomic Energy Agency)” said the Foreign Affairs Minister to Spain’s TVE…

“If it’s for military use like is the case that we suspect with Iran then the international community will request that Venezuela will conform to the appropriate (UN) Security Council resolutions.

It remains to be seen whether other European countries will be as flexible with Chavez as Spain.

Image- The Moscow Times

Sources (English)- The Latin Americanist, CNN, The Telegraph, Xinhua

Sources (Spanish)- AFP

Puerto Rican politicos unite behind Obama

Hillary Clinton may’ve won the Puerto Rican Democratic primary and the island’s political parties generally don’t get along with one another. But earlier today several “high-profile representatives” representing some of Puerto Rico’s main political parties got together to campaign in favor of Barack Obama. The politicos united in an Orlando rally to urge mainland Boricuas to vote for Obama though Puerto Rican residents on the island do not have the right to vote.

Why Obama? The president of Puerto Rico's Senate explains:

* Obama has offered to settle the statehood, commonwealth or independence debate by involving the White House and the U.S. Congress in supporting the island’s decision.
* Obama’s platform includes an offer of parity for federal funding between Puerto Rico and other states on issues such as Medicaid and Medicare.
* Obama represents a radical change from a George W. Bush administration that many believe has largely ignored island issues.

In a visit to Florida earlier this month, Republican presidential candidate John McCain advocated a referendum to decide Puerto Rico’s political status. “It seems to me that we should be guided by a referendum where the people of Puerto Rico decide what their future should be,” said McCain at a town hall meeting held in Orlando.

Image- Time (Barack Obama campaigning in Puerto Rico earlier this year).

Sources- The Latin Americanist, Politico, Orlando Sentinel,

LatAm economists, leaders differ over bailout

A controversial $700 million bailout was defeated by U.S. legislators on Monday, thus triggering a massive 777 point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Other stock indices in the Western Hemisphere also plummeted in trading today. The Morgan Stanley Capital International Latin American stocks index sunk to its lowest point in a decade with a 12.6% drop. Brazil's Ibovespa index nosedived by over 10% this afternoon before closing with a 9.5% loss. Meanwhile, Argentina’s Merval index plunged by 8.7% while Mexico’s main index tumbled by over 6%.

Regional financiers panicked over the lack of a bailout unlike Latin American leaders who have been upset at the plan from the get go. Presidents like Michelle Bachelet and Leonel Fernandez expressed resentment at their northern neighbor for advocating helping tycoons instead of the impoverished masses. As Fernandez mentioned yesterday at a forum with ex-Chilean president Ricardo Lagos:

In light of the current financial crisis, Lagos and Fernandez both questioned international economic institutions in relation to Latin America.

Lagos criticized the unregulated free markets as showing "arrogance," insisting instead that the market should focus on improving citizens' lives by alleviating poverty and bettering education and health care - a premise for which he received rousing applause.

Fernandez agreed. "Globalization needs rules," he said, pointing to the hyperinflation, debt and deficits that free-market policies caused in his country, which resulted in a distrust of democracy.

Image- (“Traders work on the floor of the Brazilian Mercantile and Futures Exchange in Sao Paulo, Monday.”)

Sources- AFP, Reuters, BusinessWeek, IHT, Guardian UK, Brown Daily Herald

Volz memoir in the works

Eric Volz, the American who was convicted of murdering his Nicaraguan ex-girlfriend in 2007 and then freed earlier this year after serving time in a Nicaraguan prison, has contracted with St. Martin Press in New York to produce his written memoir of his ordeal, according to his website.

Personally, I have remained fascinated by the story -- perhaps because I am roughly his age and work in Central America. Yet there is something Dostoyefsky-like about most all of the elements of the bizarre back-story, from the accounts of his alibi and innocence and the clearly biased trial he underwent to accounts of his personality as a devious expat or as a social entrepreneur working on an eco-tourism magazine that both the leftist Nicaraguan press and the unflinching American support launched over the internet spoke about (on opposite ends) with absolute certainty. In the media hodge-podge that existed around his case, I don't know that anything new or convincing will result from his memoir, and it will apparently follow what appears to be the generally supportive book released last month (The Bridge, by Michael Glasgow).

Still, I am curious to see what sort of tone it takes; since I imagine that such a memoir would offer insight into the mind of the writer, if not unbiased facts on the case (a la OJ's If I Did It). I would also hope that the book focuses on moving forward in the case, and not just Volz's own harrowing Nicaraguan Midnight Express story -- after all, there is still a murderer on the loose in San Juan del Sur.

To me, the more interesting story, regardless of what truth emerges or in which one believes, is the cultural touchstone that his case has come to symbolize in Nicaragua; in newly Sandinista Nicaragua, where anti-Americanism is again on the rise, Volz's name now invokes all things disdainful about American imperialism and exceptionalism.

On both trips I've taken to Nicaragua this year, I have found myself asking taxi drivers if they still talk about Volz's case. "Not too much anymore," they've told me. But once asked if they think he was innocent or guilty, they invariably launch into a soliloquy about foreign privilege, media bias, corrupt courts, small-town ruralism in Nicaragua, and a number of other issues not even so closely connected to his case -- all which goes to show how deeply Eric Volz's case struck at the heart of a country with a lot of open wounds.

Daily Headlines: September 29, 2008

* Venezuela: President Hugo Chavez’ trip abroad continued with a deal for 1 million laptops from Portugal and then chatting with Fidel Castro in Havana.

* Mexico: In response to rampant crime several legislators have suggested restoring the death penalty.

* Nicaragua: The stepdaughter of President Daniel Ortega dropped her case against him accusing him of child abuse and rape.

* Brazil: Could the G8 be expanded to include Brazil? One Italian official hopes so.

Image- Guardian UK (“Hugo Chavez visits Fidel Castro in hospital, August 2006. Photograph: AFP-Getty.”)

Sources- MSNBC, IHT, El Universal, Reuters India, Monsters & Critics