Friday, November 7, 2008

Today’s Video: A hint

We have a special surprise for your, our readers, which we will post this weekend.

Here’s a small hint:

Sources- YouTube

Amnesty Int’l leader criticizes Chile

The head of Amnesty International criticized Chile’s government for not doing enough to curb discrimination in the post-Pinochet era:
Concluding a one-week visit to Chile on Friday, Amnesty International’s Secretary General Irene Khan issued an assessment of the human rights situation in the country and a set of recommendations addressed to the Chilean government.

"Despite some positive steps taken by successive democratic governments in the last 18 years, Chile’s record on human rights leaves much room for improvement," said Ms. Khan.

"We call on President Bachelet to use the remaining 17 months of her time in office to create a decisive and lasting legacy of human rights reform."
During her visit, Khan met with indigenous rights activists including leaders of the Mapuche community. “Indigenous peoples are severely discriminated and marginalized in Chile,” observed Khan who also called for the government to pass laws protecting indigenous peoples.

As we’ve noted before, Chile’s government has come under fire for its supposedly unjust repression of the Mapuches. In April, Bachelet enacted a new policy for Chile’s indigenous tribes though some have alleged that the plans have so far come up short.

Image- (Activists protest last month in favor of indigenous rights)
The Latin Americanist, Amnesty International, UNPO, Mapuexpress

Reports: Dozens killed in Haitian school collapse (includes update)

Update #2: According to a UPI report on Saturday, two children have been rescued alive. However, the official death toll has grown to eighty and counting.

Update #1:
As of Friday night the AP is reporting at least thirty dead though AFP cites a government official who claims that the death toll is fifty.

Original Post: In a developing news story, at least ten people have died when a school collapsed near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Red Cross workers, U.N. troops, and others rushed to the school which on a normal day holds hundreds of students. “Students lay crushed under blocks of concrete while crying and screaming parents tried to find their children” reported Reuters while BBC News mentioned the following:
A Haitian Red Cross worker, Michaele Gedeon, described a scene of horror for CNN television:

"The whole school collapsed on the kids, and you know on the phone you can hear so many, so many children, you know, crying, crying. And saying, 'This one is dead, that one is dead'.

"It's a school building that collapsed on the children. They were in their classrooms."
It’s unknown what caused the school to fall this morning though Haiti’s infrastructure has been hit hard by a series of recent tropical storms.

Image- BBC News
The Latin Americanist, Reuters, Canadian Press, BBC News

Gay marriage debated in Mexico City

The Latino electorate in three states has received plenty of blame for backing ballot proposals banning gay marriage. (The reality, of course, is not that simple and straightforward).

South of the border, meanwhile, legislators in Mexico’s capital are debating opposing bills centering on gay marriage. One proposal from councilwoman Leticia Quezada calls for expanding the law to allow homosexuals to wed, adopt, and receive social security benefits. A competing bill by conservative legislator Maria de la Paz Quiñónez demands that marriage be defined as a union between “two biologically distinct persons.”

Mexico City has permitted civil unions among gays since 2007, a measure that has drawn fire from the Catholic Church and Mexico’s federal government. Marcelo Ebard- Mexico City’s leftist mayor- has publicly backed Quezada’s bill:
“The Law of Societies in Coexistence was already approved and I do not see why other instruments in the same direction are not due to approve. Which do these tools try to do? Allow that people can live freely with their sexuality and have relations with the pair that choose.” – [ed. personal translation]
Image- MSNBC (“Antonio Medina, right, and Jorge Cerpa kiss each other after signing their civil contract, the first in Mexico that offers same-sex couples the same rights as marriage.”)
Sources (English)-
The Latin Americanist, Guanabee,
Sources (Spanish)-
La Cronica de Hoy, Milenio

Argentina protests Falklands constitution

The latest round in the dispute between Argentina and the U.K. over the Falklands Islands came about yesterday.

A new charter for the Falklands is expected to take effect on January 1st. According to British officials, the new charter grants more autonomy to the island while "retaining sufficient powers for the UK government to protect UK interests."

In response, the Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Taina said that a formal protest will be launched:
"This British unilateral act mainly constitutes a new and open violation of the 31/49 Resolution taken in 1976 by the UN General Assembly, which urges both parties in dispute (Argentine and United Kingdom) to abstain from taking decisions to introduce unilateral decisions," said the ministry.
Over 800 soldiers (mostly Argentine) were killed in the 1982 Falklands War which resulted when Argentine forces tried to retake the British-owned islands. Subsequent Argentine governments have tried to strengthen their claim on the islands located 300 miles off the Argentina’s coast. "The sovereign claim to the Malvinas Islands is inalienable," declared Argentine President Cristina Kirchner in a speech last April.

Image- AFP (“Argentine Malvinas (Falklands) war veterans and relatives of the fallen mark the 25th anniversary of the war in 2007.”)
The Latin Americanist, AFP, BBC News, AHN, Wikipedia

Daily Headlines: November 7, 2008

* U.S.: Will New Mexico governor and Obama backer Bill Richardson be named the next Secretary of State?

* Venezuela: The country’s mining minister said that Russian firms will help in the development of two important gold projects.

* Mexico: A gruesome discovery was made when a handcuffed and beheaded man was hung from a highway overpass in Ciudad Juarez.

* Colombia: Plan Colombia funds have failed to reach their goal of reducing drug cultivation by 50% according to a General Accounting Office report.

Image- Top of the Ticket
The Latin Americanist, UPI, Guardian UK, The Australian, BBC News

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Could a Latino be the next Supreme Court justice?

Is it possible that we may soon have the first Latino judge ever appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court? An article from AFP wonders if that could be possible under an Obama administration:
Already observers are weighing in on what Obama could do in the key decision on replacements for the highest court in the land.

"It is quite likely he would choose a woman or a minority," said Nathaniel Persily, a law professor at Columbia University in New York.

"If he could find a Hispanic woman, that would be ideal, the best choice," he added…

Hispanics are an ever-growing demographic in the United States, making up 15 percent of the population.
It’s estimated that several justices could be appointed in the next few years, especially to replace leftists judges like John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Which Latinos could Obama nominate to the Supreme Court? Here are several possibilities:
  • One of the top candidates is Sonia Sotomayor- a justice on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. She is of Puerto Rican background and “one of the nation's most prominent Hispanic judges” according to the National Journal Magazine.
  • Another option is Ninth Circuit appeals judge Kim McLane Wardlaw. A 2007 entry in SCOTUSblog predicted that she could replace Justice David Souter next year.
  • A dark horse candidate could be Judge Jose Alberto Cabaranes. The federal appeals judge has extensive experience though his current age (68) is his biggest obstacle to being nominated.
  • The truly adventurous gambler might place a wager on Judge Marilyn Milian. She’s best known for bringing her “sassy style of justice” to TV sets weekdays on “The People’s Court”. (Don’t laugh! There have been more controversial picks.)
Image- BBC News
The People’s Court, Wikipedia,, CBS News, AFP, National Journal Magazine, SCOTUSblog

Postville plant seeks bankruptcy

The Iowa meat packing company involved in a massive immigration raid filed for bankruptcy on Tuesday.

The bankruptcy filing for Agriprocessors stated that the firm owes between $50 million and $100 million to approximately 400 creditors. First Bank had planned to foreclose the factory located in Postville though that was prevented by the bankruptcy filing.

Agriprocessors is one of the largest purveyors of Kosher meat in the U.S. and its closure could be “potentially devastating” to the Jewish community. Also “devastating” was the impact of the May 12 raid where nearly 400 illegal immigrants were arrested by authorities. A court interpreter claimed allegations of abuse against the workers who were mostly from Mexico and Central America. Additionally, the costs of the raid and subsequent proceedings have been estimated by on Iowan daily to be a minimum of $5.2 million.

Image- New York Times
The Latin Americanist, New York Times,, AP

Cuban-American Reps. win in Florida

The Republican Party lost big on Election Day aside from the presidential race; the Democrats majority in the House of Representatives was strengthened and they are close to having a filibuster-proof Senate. Yet after suffering their “worst electoral drubbing in more than three decades” one of the few victories for the GOP occurred in Florida.

A trio of Cuban-American politicos- Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, and Mario Diaz-Balart- faced difficult battles against Democratic opponents. At times the campaigns got heated with ugly accusations and for a while it seemed iffy that the three representatives would all be reelected.

The Latino electorate in Florida may’ve leaned towards the Democrats in the presidential race yet Ros-Lehtinen and the Diaz-Balart brothers (image) held on to their seats:
With nearly all of the votes counted in Miami-Dade, and all of the precincts reporting in Collier County, Mario Diaz-Balart emerged with a 52 to 48 percent victory…

Lincoln Diaz-Balart scored a remarkably large double-digit win over former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez to win his ninth term on Capitol Hill...

Ros-Lehtinen cruised to her 11th term with 58 percent of the vote to vanquish her challenger, Colombian-American businesswoman Annette Taddeo…

''It had all the makings of me going down,'' Ros-Lehtinen said. ``If I can make it in this election, I can make it in any election.''
Image- Time
The Latin Americanist, MarketWatch, Los Angeles Times, South Florida Sun-Sentinel,

Today’s Video: Hangovers vs. suicides

Admittedly the following clip from last night's episode of "South Park" isn't related to Latin America. Yet it's too silly and pokes fun of Tuesday's post-electoral "celebrations":

Source - South Park Studios

Daily Headlines: November 6, 2008

* Colombia: According to CNN the U.S. will withhold aid to three Colombian army units involved in the disappearance of eleven teenagers.

* Latin America: Representatives for the Venezuelan and Argentine governments blasted the conviction of a businessman at the “Maletagate” trial.

* Cuba: Paging William Shatner – Priceline got fined $12,250 for breaking U.S. travel sanctions on Cuba.

* Honduras: A new tropical depression has formed in the Gulf of Mexico and threatens flood-ravaged Honduras along with other Central American and Caribbean territories.

Image- (“On guard: Colombian soldiers watch over a cocaine seizure this week.”)
The Latin Americanist, CNN, IHT, Bloomberg,, Reuters

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Today’s Video: In the name of the Diego, the Messi, and the holy Hand of God…

After days of speculation, Diego Maradona was officially named yesterday as the coach of the Argentine men’s soccer team. That news was definitely welcomed by members of the Church of Maradona who praise all things of the soccer legend:
Church members celebrate Maradona's 48th birthday in the video, which they refer to as the year D.D. 48 ("Despues," or "After" Diego). Included in the procession is an oversized rosary — sorry, goalary — which includes 34 beads, the number of goals Maradona scored for Argentina.
This video below shows Diego’s disciples worshipping their hero:

Sources- The Latin Americanist, IHT, Deadspin, CNN

Colombian army chief quits

The head of Colombia’s army quit amid a growing scandal involving the armed forces.

The largely successful military strategy promoted by the government helped General Mario Montoya dodge allegations of ties to right-wing paramilitaries. Yet the accusations came into the limelight along with suspicions of “false positives” by the army. An investigation recent opened into the disappearances of eleven teenagers who were supposedly kidnapped and murdered by troops who then claimed that the teens were guerillas shot in combat.

Montoya’s resignation came days after Colombian President Alvaro Uribe dismissed 27 officers for their alleged roles in the “false positives” scandal. Uribe defended Montoya despite strong accusations by Human Rights Watch and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights of human rights abuses by the armed forces.

Colombia’s human rights record could become a conflicting point between the Uribe administration and U.S. president-elect Barack Obama:
Uribe's government has been under pressure to come down hard on rights abusers in an army that has benefited from $5.5 billion in U.S. aid provided to Colombia during the Bush administration. That aid has helped rebuild Colombia's once-incompetent military into a potent force that has pushed back rebel groups and made much of the country safer.

The Colombian government has been especially cognizant of the new political realities in the United States, with Uribe recently suggesting that he believed Barack Obama would probably win the presidency. Obama, as well as Democratic congressional leaders, have said Colombia needs to improve its human rights record if it expects the United States to approve a free-trade agreement.
Image- Al Jazeera English
The Latin Americanist, Reuters, UPI, New York Times,, BBC News

Latino vote vital in Obama win

Barack Obama’s triumph in yesterday’s presidential election crossed racial, religious, and gender lines. The much sought-after Latino vote was critical to the Illinois senator’s win.

Exit polls indicated a clear majority opting for him by a near 2-to-1 margin with an “overwhelming” number of young Latinos supporting him according to one source. The myth that Latinos would shy away from an African-American candidate was not to be especially in battleground states like New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado.

The impact of the Latino vote was best felt in Florida- one of the key battleground states won by the Democratic candidate. “A huge influx of Central and South Americans in South Florida and a large Puerto Rican population in the Orlando area” along with a shifting Cuban-American electorate are cited as the reasons why 57% of Floridian Latino voters chose Obama.

Why did the Latino community opt for Obama rather than Republican candidate John McCain? Columnist Andes Oppenheimer explains:
My opinion: Hispanics voted Democratic primarily because they are among the hardest hit by the economy and by the Iraq War.

But, as we have reported repeatedly in this column over the past two years, Latinos have good grounds for resenting the Republican Party's growing anti-immigrant stance. Many Republicans in Congress -- not McCain -- in some cases have bordered on racism.

McCain has a history of goodwill toward Hispanics and had sponsored a comprehensive immigration bill that advocated both securing the border and giving an earned path to legalization to undocumented immigrants.

But as the election neared, he shifted toward a let's-first-secure-the-border rhetoric to woo his party's hard-line anti-immigration vote, and the Republican Party's campaign platform pretty much advocated the unconditional deportation of millions of undocumented workers.
Image- Jackson County Floridian (“A campaign worker for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., center, registers new citizens to vote after a naturalization ceremony in Miami Sept. 16, 2008.”)
Sources-,, Guardian UK, Reuters,, Dallas Morning News, CNN

Breaking news: Communiqué From Venezuelan Embassy in US

The following message of congratulations and solidarity, based on a translation of a message from the Venezuelan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was sent via email (and subsequently posted online) this morning by the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, DC:

Communique of Ministry Foreign Affairs

(Unofficial Translation). On this day of hope for the American people, President Hugo Chávez, on behalf of the people of Venezuela, congratulates the people of the United States and President-elect Barack Obama for an important victory in an election that has captured the attention of international public opinion.This historic election of an African American to lead the most powerful country in the world is a sign that the changing times which originated in South America could be reaching the doorstep of the United States.

From the homeland of Simón Bolívar, we are convinced the time has come to establish new relations between our countries and in our region, based on the principles of respect for sovereignty, equality and true cooperation.From every corner of the world cries have rung out clamoring for change in international relations and the construction, as the Liberator Simón Bolívar would have said, of a world of balance, peace and of human coexistence.The government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela reaffirms its will and determination to build, based on the absolute respect of sovereignty, a constructive bilateral agenda for the well-being of the Venezuelan and American peoples.

Caracas, November 5, 2008

You be the judge: opportunistic diplomacy from a savvy minister, or the signalling of the start of a new relationship?

The last straw in Mexico?

Mexicans across the country are expressing outrage at what may become the symbolic last straw in its losing battle against rampant criminality. Javier Morena, the five-year old son of fruit vendors in a poor barrio of Mexico City and who disappeared on October 26, was found to have been murdered by kidnappers who injected his heart with acid -- as the AP reports, "a new low even for this country’s brutal gangs."

Many reports suggest that popular reaction to Morena's murder recalls similar emotions stirred after the death of 14 year-old Fernando Marti in August, during which over 100,000 people marched across Mexico City in solidarity against the rising tide of crime in the country.

According to published estimates, the number of kidnappings through September 2008 has already eclipsed the record high from all of last year.

Sources: AP, New York Times, Univision, El Economista

LatAm newspapers highlight Obama’s victory

Last night’s historical presidential election win by Barack Obama has become the top headline in newspapers worldwide. Latin America was certainly not an exception to this according to the following headlines in today’s online editions:
  • Diario Granma (Cuba) – Obama to the White House
  • El Heraldo (Honduras)- Barack Obama represents generational shift
  • El Mercurio (Chile) - Obama becomes first president of color in U.S.
  • El Mundo (El Salvador) – An “improbable” voyage into U.S. history
  • El Tiempo (Colombia)- “Change has come to the United States” declares Obama in first speech as president-elect
  • Folha da Sao Paulo (Brazil) – Obama becomes first black U.S. president in voting that changed electoral map
  • Milenio (Mexico)- And Obama steamrolled
Image: Clarin (Headlines in several international dailies on Obama’s presidential win)
Sources- See above

Daily Headlines: November 5, 2008

* Mexico: The country’s interior minister along with eight others died last night after their plane crashed in Mexico City.

* Peru: A state of emergency was declared for southern Peru amid days of violent protests against the government and a recently passed mining law.

* Latin America: China’s future influence in Latin America has been mapped out in a “policy paper” issued by the Chinese government.

* Dominican Republic: Energy officials met yesterday to figure out a way to stop roaming electricity blackouts that sometimes last up to 20 hours.

Image- AFP
The Latin Americanist, Time, AFP, Xinhua, Dominican Today

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Barack Obama becomes President–elect

According to numerous major media outlets (CNN, MSNBC, BBC News) Barack Obama will become the next president of the U.S.

He thus becomes the first African-American president in U.S. history and the first sitting senator since 1960 to win the highest office in the U.S.

As of this post, Obama won at least 333 electoral votes with seven states to be decided.

More on this development tomorrow.

Image - Canadian Press

Liveblogging the election on VL

We'll resume regular posting on Wednesday morning with the hope that a new president will be known by then.

Tonight, I'll be at the Vivirlatino blog where they're liveblogging tonight's electoral actions. Please feel free to join the discussion and let your voice be heard!

In the meantime here's a map based on NBC data on the presidential election.

See you tomorrow!

Puerto Rican governor loses reelection

Puerto Rico’s embattled governor lost his reelection bid as he’s been caught in the middle of scandal.

Just a short moment ago, Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vila conceded and congratulated the New Progressive Party’s (PNP) Luis Fortuño for winning today. Though a recent poll indicated a tight race between Vila and Fortuño, the latest official figures have Fortuño winning by nearly 10%.

Acevedo Vilá’s term has been hurt be a federal investigation into alleged election fraud and corruption. Yet it also appears that the weakening economy on the island may have been the main factor in Fortuño’s win:
At least 60,000 people have lost manufacturing jobs in recent years on the island, an unprecedented sales tax hit wallets hard, murders are on the rise and the island never quite recovered economically from a fiscal crisis two years ago that furloughed state workers…

''These are hard times in Puerto Rico. Aníbal hasn't done a thing for [Puerto Rico],'' said single mother Wanda Hernandez, 45, of Bayamón. ``There's little work, and the price of everything has gone up.''
Acevedo Vila is allied to the Democratic Party and he backed Barack Obama’s presidential bid. Conversely, Fortuño is a member of the Republicans and a supporter of John McCain’s campaign.

Fortuño’s victory could be vital in terms of Puerto Rico’s future political status; Acevedo Vilá’s party backed commonwealth status for the island while the PNP prefers statehood.

Image- Univision
Sources (English)-
The Latin Americanist,, Wikipedia,, Angus Reid Consultants
Sources (Spanish)-
Union Radio, El Caribe

Open Thread: Election Day

We'll be back a little later with more on Election Day including ballot initiatives as well as the race for Puerto Rico's governor.

In the meantime, we want your feedback. For now this will be an open thread to discuss any little tidbits on the election. Please post your comments below.

In the meantime, have you ever wondered how the Electoral College works? Take it away, Schoolhouse Rock!

Sources- YouTube

Obama vs. McCain – Views on the Americas

What could Latin America expect from the next U.S. president? An article by David Adams in last Thursday’s St. Petersburg Times serves as a primer to possible policy changes with the next commander-in-chief. Here’s how the two major candidates feel about Cuba and Venezuela according to Adams:
CUBA: A McCain administration would stick with the four-decades-old economic embargo. McCain says he would try to strengthen it through greater international support. Bush tried that but didn't get anywhere.

Obama says he would immediately lift recent restrictions on Cuban-Americans traveling to the island and sending money to their families there. He says he is ready to meet with Cuban leader Raul Castro, though it is not clear under what conditions...

VENEZUELA: Both candidates have expressed concern over President Hugo Chavez's antidemocratic ways.

McCain adviser Otto Reich, whom Bush appointed as his top State Department official for Latin America, says the United States should suspend all Venezuelan oil imports, 10 percent of the U.S. total. That would send prices higher in the United States, experts say, and Chavez would likely have no problem selling his oil elsewhere.

Obama is more willing to sit down and work out their differences. "It is important for us not to overreact in relation to Chavez," he said in one recent interview. "What we must do is to make him understand that we do not want him to continue spreading anti-U.S. feelings" in the region and that "we are interested in a respectful dialogue."
Meanwhile, the very useful has taken both the Democratic and Republican campaigns to task for inaccurate, exaggerative, and incorrect statements. An article issued last week blasted Obama and McCain for issuing “misleading and false” Spanish-language ads.

Image- ITV News (“Custom-made Cabbage Patch Kids” of the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates).
St. Petersburg Times,

Have you voted yet?

If an 86-year-old recently-naturalized U.S. citizen weakened by Parkinson’s can make it to the polls then you should too (assuming you’re a registered voter):
The picture of (Maria) Reyes holding her small U.S. flag (during her citizenship ceremony) has an Ellis Island quality to it, tinted with loss and hope. I've watched new citizens being sworn in, and it's impossible not to be moved by all the people who have escaped hunger and war, united by the desire for a second chance…

Reyes, who has trouble speaking because of her illness and so reverts to the more comfortable Spanish, had not decided on the entire raft of propositions and other matters on Tuesday's ballot when I spoke to her last week. But she is discussing them with her daughter one by one, Reyes said, because she considers voting a matter of pride and duty.

"I'm praying for this country every night," she said, and for the welfare of 14 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, one great-great grandchild, and a great-nephew now serving in Iraq.
Eight years ago I voted in my first presidential campaign while living in Miami, Florida. My preferred presidential candidate lost but that was nothing compared to the humiliation and shame of watching one’s vote being caught into the nightmare of recalls, hanging chads, and possible disenfranchisement. Yet the right to vote is something which has bee fought for (literally and figuratively) throughout the decades. It’s something to be taken advantage of and a cornerstone of a democratic society.

I mailed in my absentee ballot two weeks ago so I missed the long lines reportedly in precincts around the country. Nevertheless, there’s a great sense of personal pride in being able to exercise the right to vote and to have something of a voice in the political realm.

Image- AP (“Voters fill out their ballots for the general election in Dearborn, Mich. on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya).”)
Los Angeles Times, CNN

Poll: Who would Latinos pick for prez?

Last month, we asked if the Latino electorate could represent an “October surprise.” The more appropriate term might be “November surprise” according to an Univision/Reuters/Zogby poll released today:
In the final stretch to the presidential election, more than three quarters of likely Hispanic voters say they support Democrat Barack Obama over Republican John McCain, a study found…

78 percent of a sample of 1,016 Latino likely voters favored Sen. Obama, with 13 percent supporting McCain, an Arizona senator…

Hispanics make up 15 percent of the U.S. population and 9 percent of the electorate, and could be a critical swing voting bloc in battleground states in the U.S. Southwest as well as Florida on Tuesday.
The survey conducted last week also found the economy was the most vital topic in this election for Latinos, followed by health care and immigration.

Image- CNN
The Latin Americanist, Reuters

Daily Headlines: November 4, 2008

Note: Since our upcoming posts will focus on the U.S. elections, today’s batch of “Headlines” is going to be longer than usual.

* Latin America: Congrats to Marilson Gomes dos Santos of Brazil and Britain’s Lewis Hamilton for winning the New York Marathon and Formula One championship, respectively.

* Dominican Republic: Five migrants who survived being lost at sea for over two weeks resorted to cannibalism to stay alive.

* Cuba: The island is hosting its annual trade fair which is expected to be attended by thousands of foreign business representatives.

* Colombia: Indigenous protests continued into a fourth week after talks between native leaders and President Alvaro Uribe failed.

* Mexico: Two senior police officers were among the 29 people killed in drug gang-related violence on Monday.

* Argentina: Believe it or not, Diego Maradona will become the next coach of the Argentine men’s soccer team.

* Venezuela: “The ideas of the ruling team are very bad ideas” said ex-Polish leader Lech Walesa in his criticism of Venezuela’s government.

* Peru: Rest in peace Yma Sumac, the "Nightingale of the Andes."

Sources- Metafilter, YouTube, Reuters, New York Times, IHT, CNN, IPS, Reuters, MSNBC, Canadian Press

Monday, November 3, 2008

Venezuelan found guilty in “Maletagate” trial

Venezuelan businessman Franklin Duran was found guilty in a U.S. federal court for his supposed role in the “Maletagate” scandal.

After six days of deliberations, the jury found Duran guilty of the charges of conspiracy and acting as an illegal foreign agent in the U.S. Duran’s lawyer alleged that he would appeal the case and that the trial served as a “political circus.” (These claims were vehemently denied by federal prosecutors).

Prosecutors alleged that Duran had been sent by the Venezuelan government to the U.S. in order to cover-up the actions of U.S.-Venezuelan citizen Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson. Wilson had been caught last year trying to smuggle $800,000 from Venezuela to Argentina, supposedly for President Cristina Kirchner’s campaign. Despite being wanted in Venezuela, Wilson would agree to work with the FBI and testify against Duran.

According to the New York Times:
Whether intentional or not, the eight-week trial in Miami revealed an extensive cover-up effort by Venezuelan officials that reached the highest levels of government, and laid bare a business culture in Venezuela that involves regular bribes and kickbacks to high government officials and members of the military.

The trial provided little in the way of evidence that American national security was somehow threatened by the presence of the Venezuelans, who spent much of their time on the phone and in South Florida restaurants trying to convince the man caught with the suitcase, Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson, to keep the truth about the money under wraps.
Duran faces a maximum sentence of fifteen years in jail.
Image- BBC News (Franklin Duran along with four other defendants were arraigned in December 2007)
The Latin Americanist, MSNBC, Bloomberg, Voice of America, New York Times

Bolivia: Gov’t suspends U.S. anti-drugs ops

Bolivian President Evo Morales said Saturday that his government will take over all counternarcotics operations run by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in the Andean country. "Personnel from the DEA supported activities of the unsuccessful coup d’état in Bolivia," said Morales in reference to disturbances in September. It’s unknown if Morales will boot DEA staff from Bolivia, while one “senior U.S. State Department official” called Morales’ claims "false and absurd."

Diplomatic relations between Bolivia and the U.S. have slowly deteriorated, especially after the ambassadors to both countries were recalled in September.

Morales’ move could be viewed as retaliation for the U.S. removing trade benefits to Bolivia last month. White House officials claimed that they suspended the trade preferences due to Bolivia’s “failure to cooperate” with U.S. anti-drug efforts, though according to an article from the CBC:
Despite its recent conflicts with the U.S., Bolivia has been more successful at controlling cocaine than the U.S. ally in the region, Colombia.

The UN has estimated that Bolivia's coca crop — coca is chewed or used in tea in Bolivia, but can be refined into cocaine — increased five per cent in 2007, a fraction of the 27-per-cent jump in Colombia.

Bolivian police working with the DEA agents seized much more cocaine after Morales became president in 2006.
Image- CNN
The Latin Americanist, Los Angeles Times, BBC News, CBC

Merger to create largest bank in SouthAm

A pair of Brazil’s biggest banks will merge and create South America’s largest private financial group.

Executives for Banco Itau announced on Monday that they will purchase Unibanco Holdings with the merger creating an entity with about $265 million in assets. The newly-former Itau Unibanco Holding SA will strengthen Brazil’s financial system and encourage lending, according to the country’s financial minister.

Shares in both banks increased during trading on Monday though Itau shares are down 26% year-to-date, and Unibanco shares have lost 39%. In order to compete with the new mega-bank, financial firms like state-owned Banco Brasil SA and the private Banco Bradesco SA may have to look into expanding:
The market hadn't been expecting Itau to purchase its smaller rival, but it had anticipated "Unibanco to be absorbed by someone else. There are too many banks here in Brazil and some kind of consolidation was to be expected," said Claudio Freitas, senior Latin American markets analyst at Zacks Investment Research.

Banking stocks have been under pressure as the credit crisis has spilled over into Latin America, prompting Brazil's central bank to move to ease tighter credit conditions. Freitas said the Itau deal appears to have been accelerated by turmoil the global financial market.

Investors will now monitor any word from Banco Bradesco (BBD), currently Brazil's largest private bank. "They will now have to find ways to grow in Brazil too," added Freitas. "They will never accept being second" in the market.
Image- BBC News
Canadian Press, BBC News, Bloomberg,

Poll reveals LatAm views on U.S. election

A recent poll by Chile-based Latinobarometro revealed several interesting findings that Latin Americans have on the U.S. presidential election. This AP article on the poll chose to emphasize how “two in three Latin Americans either don't care who wins… or don't think the outcome will matter.” Yet there are other interesting findings in the survey:
  • Latinobarometro's director finds it “very interesting” that only 41% of Venezuelans had knowledge of the election despite Hugo Chavez’ “trying to demonize the U.S. government.” Yet eight other countries had lower percentages than Venezuela including states with populist leaders similar to Chavez (Bolivia, Ecuador) or moderate leaders (Panama, Peru, Honduras).
  • The group with most knowledge of the election is youth aged 18 to 25, while support of the candidates based on wealth differs from country to country.
  • Pluralities in all of the eighteen surveyed countries prefer Barack Obama over John McCain. McCain’s support came highest in countries with rightist leaders (Colombia, El Salvador) while Obama received at least 40% backing in four states (Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Brazil, Uruguay).
  • On average, roughly 22% of responders believed that the next president would pay more attention to Latin America as the Bush administration has done.
Latinobarometro, AP

Today's Video: A reminder...

Consider this as a friendly reminder for tomorrow:

(Hat tip: mental_floss).

Source - YouTube, mental_floss

Ibero-American Summit: That's a Wrap

Over the weekend, the presidential envoys packed up and left El Salvador after the 18th Iberoamerican Summit there. As promised, I'm updating last week's mid-summit post. Sadly, there is little else to show for it.

Very little newsworthy items come out of this summit, and very little agreement was voiced in the individual speeches. Examples include:
  • Ending the US embargo against Cuba

  • Condemning capitalism as a failed economic model

  • Ensuring cost-free access to primary and secondary education in all countries of the region

None of these ambitious ideas, however, are clearly reflected in the final "Declaration of El Salvador" (which, as it happens, I have been unable to find in full text online -- kudos to anyone who can post it...). This Univision news link summarizes the main items of the declaration.

Much of the news coverage of the event focused on negative aspects; empty speeches, protests and counter-youth summit held across the city, where youth leaders bemoaned the bluster of politicians that fail to take necessary actions.

It's hard to blame them; El Salvador is considered one of the most unsafe countries in the region to be a young person. Meanwhile, Dominican president Leonel Fernandez made a statement in his speech that "any country that dedicates less than 4% of it's GDP to education has a failed education system" - that same day in his home country, the minister of education told the press that he hoped that the budget for the coming year would dedicate 2.5%.

Minor ironies and gaffes aside, perhaps most newsworthy were the notable absences and late arrivals. While 22 heads of state were invited, three (those of Uruguay, Cuba, and Venezuela) were absent, while those of (Honduras, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil) arrived late and/or left early. Also making headlines in El Salvador were the numerous women's groups protesting the summit because of Daniel Ortega's presence (after a nearly decade-long case, charges of sexual abuse of his stepdaugther were recently dropped in Nicaragua)

Sources: Listin Diario, Hoy, Prensa Grafica, Xinhua, AFP, IPSNews, Univision

Daily Headlines: November 3, 2008

* Mexico: Border Patrol agents found seven Mexican army troops who claimed to have accidently crossed the border into the U.S.

* U.S.: According to this article, one former plant worker who was arrested and deported after the Postville immigration raid is still owed vacation pay.

* Haiti: “We Haitians are living like animals, and the government doesn't care” said one irate Haitian as only two-thirds of aid have yet to be delivered to the storm-ravaged country.

* Peru: Protests continued into the weekend as marchers rallied against the government and a recently passed mining law.

Image- MSNBC (June 2008 photo of a Mexican military convoy)
The Latin Americanist, Des Moines Register, UPI, CNN, Voice of America, Reuters