Friday, November 28, 2008
Sources- imdb.com, YouTube
In the latest chapter of the saga, argentine officials searched the Buenos Aires offices of Venezuelan state-run oil firm PDVSA. According to the Venezuelan press, authorities are trying to figure out who in PDVSA had alleged contacts with money-smuggling businessman Guido Antonini Wilson (image).
Wilson was caught in August 2007 trying to smuggle $800,000 hidden in a briefcase from Venezuela to Argentina. The money was supposedly from the Venezuelan government to fund then-presidential candidate Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
In an interview granted to the Argentine press earlier this week, Wilson revealed details of his role in the “Maletagate” scandal:
Antonini Wilson revealed details of a conversation with Claudio Uberti, the “money man” and a top ranking Argentine official and direct liaison between former president Kirchner and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, the following day after the incident.Wilson served as the “star witness” at a U.S. federal trial that accused four Venezuelans of trying to cover-up Wilson’s actions. One of them- Franklin Duran- was convicted earlier this month for acting as an “illegal foreign agent.”
“At the hotel in Buenos Aires Uberti told me that Kirchner had asked about me and how I was feeling and that he was prepared to “stand up by me” until the very end”, said Antonini Wilson who accused Uberti of being the man responsible for transporting the money in the Argentine Energy Corporation chartered Lear jet.
Days after being found guilty, Duran filed a multimillion dollar civil suit against Wilson and his wife.
Image- New York Times
Sources- The Latin Americanist, El Universal, MercoPress
According to one estimate there are roughly 2800 people held hostage in Colombia; a quarter of which were kidnapped by the FARC guerillas.
Numerous former hostages took part in the rallies that were called for in October by ex-detainee Ingrid Betancourt. At a rally in Madrid, Spain she urged the FARC to lay down their arms and peacefully free the hostages:
“Are thoughts are with those hostages who are probably chained to trees and living in humiliation. We carry their cross and the chains that we hope will soon break…”Aside from Madrid, smaller protests took place in other international locales like Caracas and New York.
“Ours is a chain of love to free the hostages” added Betancourt… - [ed. personal translation]
Image- El Espectador
Sources- The Latin Americanist, El Tiempo, IHT, Colombia Reports, Bloomberg
According to a recently released report, 49.4% of nearly 56,000 Mexican police officers have failed background and security exams. The number of policemen cited in the report represents roughly one in five of the country’s total number of cops, and were tested by using tests like psychological profiles and polygraph machines.
The report should raise eyebrows north of the border since it cited several northern Mexican states as embarrassingly unskilled:
In Baja California, home to the border city of Tijuana, some 89 percent of police tested failed, and only 4 percent were judged "recommendable." Officers there have been periodically disarmed, detained and investigated by federal investigators and army troops on suspicion of aiding drug traffickers.The shocking report comes at a time when Mexican forces have their backs to the wall in trying to stem the tide of drug-fueled violence. Small strides have been made to combat corruption in Mexico’s police including the arrest yesterday of an officer accused of being involved in a September massacre near Mexico City.
Image- ABC News (“Police investigators work at a crime scene where seven bodies were found gunned down in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, northern Mexico, November 25, 2008.”)
Sources- The Latin Americanist, Toronto Star, AP, La Plaza, IHT
* Eye on elections: Elections throughout Latin America in the year ahead will decide in which way the region will head. Moderate leaders on both the left and right could win the presidency in countries like Chile, Uruguay, and El Salvador. Populist leaders in Bolivia and Ecuador could consolidate their power.
* Guantanamo will close: The U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay will shutdown next year; an estimate that should be expected from the incoming Obama administration. The tricky part, according to the magazine, will be the “moral minefield” of what do with detainees.
* More international cooperation: Increased multilateral cooperation will be vital in the year ahead according to a piece penned by Brazilian president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva. In areas like climate change and international trade “collective action is the only way forward” said Lula.
What are your predictions for the year to come?
(Hat tip: Metafilter).
Image- BBC News
Sources- The Latin Americanist, The Economist, Metafilter
* Haiti: A report from human rights group Amnesty International criticized widespread sexual violence against women and the culture of impunity surrounding the justice system.
* El Salvador: President Tony Saca will travel to the U.S. next month and urge migrants to sign on to a temporary visa program.
* Mexico: Even household pets aren’t immune from Mexico’s rising crime.
Image- BBC News (Peruvian villagers purportedly killed by the Shining Path circa 1980s.)
Sources- miamiherald.com, La Plaza, IHT, MSNBC
Thursday, November 27, 2008
As a tribute to recently deceased animator Bill Melendez here’s the first part of “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving":
A million thanks to my fellow contributors whose insight and knowledge are invaluable. Many thanks to all of you who take the time to read our blog; we’re here to serve you.
Sources- The Latin Americanist, YouTube
We cannot help but contemplate those issues after viewing the following cover from Spanish magazine El Jueves:In the caricature, the well-endowed Obama asks people to “look at the ‘pendulum’ and repeat after me: all is well. All is very well.”
El Jueves specializes in satire and has been notorious for making fun of all sorts of authority figures. This has often gotten the magazine in trouble such as the uproar last year involving a caricature of the Prince of Asturias cavorting with his wife.
So what do you think of the controversial cover? Racist, humorous, or who cares?
(Hat tip: FARK.com).
Image- El Jueves
Sources- The Latin Americanist, El Jueves, Rabat, Wikipedia.com
Recently there has been uproar over Panarin’s prognostication that the U.S. will break up due to the financial crisis. "The country's foreign debt has grown like an avalanche; this is a pyramid, which has to collapse" said the analyst in an interview published on Monday in a Russian publication.
How does the wild Aztlan theory fall into Panarin’s research? To paraphrase the famous song by Los Prisioneros, we might have to take a “Tren al Sur”:
In an interview with the Russian newspaper Izvestia, he outlined how the US would divide along ethnic and cultural lines.If Panarin’s thoughts due come true, would that make Miami the capital of el Nuevo Sur? What would replace the confederate flag? Could there by a civil war based on racial divides?
They are: the Pacific coast with its growing Chinese population; the increasingly Hispanic South; independence-minded Texas; the Atlantic Coast; a central state with a large Native American population; and the northern states where – he maintains – Canadian influence is strong.
Alaska could be claimed by Russia, he said, claiming that the region was "only granted on lease, after all". – [ed. emphasis added]
In the end, those questions make as much sense as the notion of an Aztlan "invasion". Please feel free to go ahead and loosen your tin foil caps.
(Hat tip: Metafilter).
Image- Monsters & Critics
Sources- Fox News, Common Dreams, Huffington Post, The Telegraph, Metafilter
There’s the belief, however, that the first Thanksgiving was not celebrated in New England but thousands of miles away in present-day Texas. No, I’m not joking:
Penny Colman uses this question as a premise for her book. The result is "Thanksgiving: The True Story," a collection of her research in very readable text augmented with charts, maps and pictures. Readers 8-14 will find much information for their own enjoyment and research.Image- Product Reviews
Many debate where the first Thanksgiving took place.
For example, in 1598, a Spanish explorer, Juan de Onate, settled in present-day New Mexico. The account of the settlement's "thanksgiving" was recorded by poet Perez de Villagra in 1610. People in the area consider it the "first Thanksgiving." A re-enactment of Onate's settlement is held annually in San Elizario, Texas.
The Texas Society Daughters of American Colonists in Palo Duro Canon, Texas, declare their location as the "first." In Florida, both La Caroline and St. Augustine believe their cities were the earliest places of celebration.
Sources- Deseret News, Neatorama
* Latin America: “The probability of a young Latin American being a homicide victim is 30 times greater than for a young person in Europe as a whole”, according to a revealing survey released this week.
* Dominican Republic: The global economic slowdown has taken its toll on tourism in the Dominican Republic.
* Brazil: The country’s annual inflation rate has hit its highest point in over three years.
Sources- Reuters, Canada.com, IHT, Bloomberg
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
In the following video from The Nation’s website, Penn gives his views on Chavez including a strong critique of the mainstream media:
Sources- The Nation, YouTube, Reuters, AP
Gutierrez met with (Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich) and told the governor he would like to be a "caretaker" senator for the next two years working to get comprehensive immigration reform passed in the Senate instead of fund-raising to get re-elected to the Senate in 2010, Gutierrez said.Gutierrez won his ninth term in the House this month and has since called on Obama to tackle immigration reform once he enters office.
But Blagojevich said he was looking for someone who wanted the post long-term, Gutierrez said. "It's basically over -- unless he calls me back," Gutierrez said.
Image- Chicago Public Radio
Sources- AP, chicagotribune.com, Chicago Sun-Times, Bellville News Democrat, abc7chicago.com
The country’s Supreme Electoral Council announced last week that Sandinista candidates won in 105 of the 146 races in dispute including the capital, Managua. Yet the opposition claimed that there was widespread fraud and that President Daniel Ortega abused his power in the run-up to the November 9th vote.
U.S. officials have also criticized the Ortega administration over the elections; last week, the U.S. representative to the Organization of American States called for an outside audit of electoral results. More drastic measures were taken yesterday:
Citing “deep concern” over Nicaragua's democratic process, the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) announced yesterday that it is freezing $64 million in aid pledged to Nicaragua over the next year and a half…Nicaraguan authorities replied by calling the MCC’s decision “unacceptable” and “unethical.”
“We had hoped, for the sake of the Nicaraguan people, that the government would continue the country's trend towards peaceful, democratic and credible elections,” Ambassador (John) Danilovich said. “I am afraid recent evidence shows that this is not the case.”
Image- AP (“A supporter of Nicaragua's Sandinista National Liberation Front, FSLN, waves a partisan flag next to a billboard with the image of Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega in Managua, Thursday, Nov. 13, 2008.”)
Sources- The Latin Americanist, New York Times, AP, Tico Times, AFP
Medvedev is expected to meet with his Venezuelan counterpart- President Hugo Chavez- later today. Both leaders will preside over military exercises next Monday with the Russian fleet consisting of ships like a nuclear-powered cruiser and submarine destroyer.
Venezuelan and Russian officials have rejected allegations that the war games are designed to anger the U.S. State department officials have tried to play down the affair:
Sean McCormack, the US state department spokesman, said: "I don't think there's any question about ... who the region looks to in terms of political, economic, diplomatic and as well as military power.Medvedev is in the midst of a four-nation tour of Latin America which included the signing of political and economic agreements with Peru and Brazil.
"If the Venezuelans and the Russians want to have a military exercise, that's fine. But we'll obviously be watching it very closely," he said.
Some analysts interpret Russia’s actions as a security threat to Colombia- Venezuela’s neighbor and staunch U.S. ally. Yet Russia's foreign minister met President Alvaro Uribe last week and promised that the exercises will not go near disputed areas.
Image- BBC News
Sources- BBC News, AFP, AP, Reuters, Times Online, Al Jazeera English
The right-to-die bill was modifies an existing law by allowing those “suffering incurable diseases and a life expectancy of under six months” to refuse medical treatments designed to keep them alive. Yet it cannot be classified as euthanasia since the bill doesn’t permit assisted suicide.
The proposal was unanimously backed by the Senate including members from the ruling conservative National Action Party (PAN):
“I have seen cases where the family loses all they have due to doctor’s stubbornness,” (leading PAN legislator Ernesto) Saro said. “Another problem is that hospitals don’t have enough equipment.”Naturally, Mexico’s Roman Catholic Church is expected to oppose the measure.
Image- BBC News
Sources- The Latin Americanist, Reuters, Al Jazeera English, Bloomberg, Canadian Press
* Caribbean: The death penalty will return to Jamaica after a twenty year moratorium.
* Brazil: Troops have been sent to calm tensions in a remote Amazonian town where residents are tired of excessive logging.
* Colombia: Osama bin Laden has been found…as a Colombian policeman’s disguise.
Image- AFP (“Fernando Verdasco celebrates his win” for Spain in the Davis Cup finals.)
Sources- Christian Science Monitor, Guardian UK, BBC News, The Latin Americanist, Bloomberg
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
A similar situation has developed with a Japanese man who has stayed in Mexico City’s Benito Juarez airport since September. The main difference, however, is that Hiroshi Nohara could leave but doesn’t want to.
(By the way, this is the musical reference made in the post’s title.)
Sources- AHN, snopes.com, imdb.com, YouTube
Coffee-growing nations should buy Starbucks and create their own distribution chain as the U.S. company grapples with slowing sales, Colombia's coffee federation chief said in an interview published on Sunday…Personally I could care less if a takeover happens so as long as Silva and his cohorts stay far away from the cheapo coffee carts.
"I am going to propose to my colleagues that we chip in to buy Starbucks. This will reinforce our fight to defend coffee origins," (Gabriel Silva) said. "What I am proposing is not so difficult. With $200 million to $300 million, the coffee world could control Starbucks."
Image- BBC News
Sources- The Latin Americanist, Reuters, IHT
Fruit company Dole was cited for mistreating workers in the Philippines though a labor rights activist also claimed that Costa Rican laborers face a similar situation. Multinational firm GE was placed on the list over allegedly firing a whistleblower who denounced corruption in Brazil. According to a court filing, former company attorney Adriana Koeck accused GE execs in Brazil of participating in a "bribing club" designed to circumvent tax laws.
The biggest wag of the finger related to Latin American was directed at oil giant Chevron. As we’ve mentioned before, a lawsuit in Ecuador claims that Texaco (now owned by Chevron) dumped billions of gallons of toxic wastewater in the Amazonian jungle. One “environmental expert” claimed that the company could lose as much as $16 billion in the lawsuit while the work of Ecuadorian indigenous activists has been recognized abroad.
Having argued vociferously that Ecuadorian courts were fair and impartial, Chevron is now unhappy with how the litigation has proceeded in that country. So unhappy, in fact, that it is lobbying the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to impose trade sanctions on Ecuador if the Ecuadorian government does not make the case go away.(Hat tip: Metafilter).
Sources- The Latin Americanist, Christian Science Monitor, Metafilter, alternet.org, MSNBC
According to the Washington Post, the Virginia Commission on Immigration will soon send the governor a list of two dozen recommendations. The board worked for over a year on the proposed reforms which mostly consist of helping immigrants instead of penalizing them:
The panel's recommendations include increasing the number of English classes, shortening Medicaid residency requirements and extending in-state tuition to immigrants who meet certain criteria, The Washington Post…reported Monday.Naturally, politicos on both sides of the aisle are critical of the reported suggestions; one Prince William County legislator claimed that “it was pretty clear the fix was in from the beginning.” Yet the commission’s ideas represent a necessary compromise designed to push the immigration debate forward rather than be stuck in petty bickering. The status quo on immigration has been an unmitigated failure. Hopefully, states like Virginia will comprehend that a more proactive approach on immigration is the best way to go.
Image- Christian Science Monitor
Sources- The Latin Americanist, Washington Post, New York Times, UPI
The flooding in Brazil has affected energy supplies coming from other countries while some parts of Santa Catarina have been completely cut off from receiving any help:
"Mattresses, food, blankets -- these are the main necessities we need to look after our displaced people," Joao Paulo Kleinubing, the mayor of badly affected Blumenau town, told Globo News television channel.Landslides have also killed six people in Colombia as heavy rains have hampered rescue efforts.
"There is still a risk of landslides if it rains again so we are telling people in risky areas to leave their houses and seek shelter"…
"My son is lost, we don't know whether he's alive or dead," one man, identified as Mario, told Globo News before breaking down in sobs.
Image- BBC News
Sources- BBC News, AP, Bloomberg, CNN, Reuters
Regional elections held on November 23rd, 2008, broke a historic record for levels of participation in regional elections in Venezuela, with 65.45% voter turnout. The Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in Washington, D.C. considers it important to state the following for U.S. public opinion:These elections represent the unquestionable political maturity and commitment to democracy of the Venezuelan people. Likewise, they confirm the unquestionable democratic character of the government of President Hugo Chávez, and they are an example of the independence, transparency and efficiency of the Venezuelan Electoral Branch, which is one of the most advanced in the world.
Over 130 international invitees witnessed the elections. In a public address, President Hugo Chávez congratulated the Venezuelan people for what he considered an example of the affirmation of the democratic nature of the Venezuelan people, and successes for the 1999 Constitution and for the Venezuelan political system. He also immediately recognized offices won by the opposition and called upon their leaders to abide by democratic principles, to dedicate themselves to governing, and not to engage in the schemes that diverted them from the democratic path between 2000 and 2003.
The President also emphasized that in this government “we are respectful and we will be respectful of the will of the majority.” These elections confirm the strengthening of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) as the major political force in the country. The Venezuelan people elected PSUV candidates in 17 of 22 governorships with significant margins of victory and a national turnout of almost 6 million voters. No interpretation of these electoral results can avoid this reality. Without a doubt, the central government is stronger from this great popular support after 10 years in office and over 11 elections. Yesterday’s elections were the twelfth electoral process of the last 10 years.
The people and government of Venezuela have once again shown their commitment to change and to participatory democracy, and their respect for constitutional order. The elections’ results are a clear reflection of the deepening and dynamic nature of our democracy during the leadership of President Hugo Chávez Frías.
* Bolivia: Evo Morales lifted the martial law over a region that had been the site of violent protests two months ago.
* South America: The presidents of Argentina and Mexico vowed to better coordinate efforts to combat crime.
* Brazil: Indigenous groups are hoping to increase their political participation in order to better influence government policy.
Image- BBC News
Sources- Houston Chronicle, The Latin Americanist, IHT, Bloomberg
Monday, November 24, 2008
Billions of dollars in remittances are sent south of the border though the amount has dropped over the past few months. The country’s middle class is shrinking while the income gap continues to widen. The country’s yearly growth has slowed to its lowest rate in five years and is expected to keep decreasing.
In the latest bit of bad news for Mexico’s economy, it was revealed earlier today that inflation has shot up:
Mexico's inflation rate jumped in early November to a seven-year high, raising pressure on the central bank to hold off on interest rate cuts despite a sharp slowdown in the economy…Recently the media has hit on the trend of more Mexicans returning from the U.S. due to the faltering economy there. Will that trend continue despite Mexico’s troubles?
Higher prices for food and energy drove the increase, though economists said a rise in costs for other types of goods should sound alarms that a recent slump in the peso currency was leading importers to raise prices.
Image- La Plaza (Mexican auto factory)
Sources- The Latin Americanist, Fox News, Guardian UK, AP
(…) An Egyptian cleric assured that (Shakira) “could be a lovely person. Yet beauty is something relative that cannot be found in the butt or legs of a woman, but in her moral values”…Great, another pathetic rant in order to promote “moral values.”
Khaled Al-Gindi said: “it’s like being a prostitute. In this country we respect moral values ahead of the values of a superficial appearance.” - [ed. personal translation]
Of course, it’s easy to rant against someone who is as immoral as to help spearhead a Latin American charity or to take time from her whorish schedule to meet with world leaders. Oh the horror of such ghastly behavior! Avert your eyes from such a sight!
Sadly, this hasn’t been the first time the pop star has been targeted by theocrats; last year, conservative factions in Afghanistan helped push “Draconian new media legislation” in response to her moves at a televised concert.
(Hat tip: Guanabee).
Image- daylife.com (“Colombian-born pop star Shakira performs at a concert near the Giza pyramids in Cairo, Egypt Wednesday, March 28, 2007.”)
Sources- The Latin Americanist, Guanabee, IHT, Minuto Uno, Sydney Morning Herald
As the following video from last night’s CBS Evening News shows, Postville’s people are desperately trying to survive:
Watch CBS Videos Online
Sources- The Latin Americanist, desmoinesregister.com, chicagotribune.com, CBS News
Google's empire is planning an expansion in Latin America.
Director of Business Development John Farrell said he wants to open bigger offices in Mexico City, where he is based, and continue the "triple digit growth" in the region.
Google already bought Brazil's Akwan Infomation Technologies in 205, which became the company's research center in Latin America. They also opened departments in Sao Paulo, Mexico City and Buenos Aires. Google employs 1,000 people in Chile and Colombia.
Asked how Latin American users are different, he said Mexico and Brazil are the biggest consumers of YouTube in the world.
Read more about Google's aspirations here.
Source: Miami Herald
A foreign policy report released today urges Barack Obama's administration to put Latin America at the center of its foreign policy concerns.
The Brookings Institution scheduled the report for release today and offers some policy changes.
The one that Obama might question is the encouragement of free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. Obama seemed hesitant to support this while campaigning.
They suggest lifting travel restrictions on Americans to Cuba and taking the country off the list of state-sponsored terrorism sites.
The report also suggested the America's relationship with Venezuela might benefit from the new administration, which is seen as caring more about the soceity's poor and "downtrodden."
Read more here.
As we mentioned last week, some polls in the weeks leading to the election predicted that Chavez’ party (known by the Spanish acronym PSUV) would lose approximately one-third of governorships. Yet election authorities claimed that the opposition only captured five of the country’s 22 states. The PSUV consolidated its power in rural areas including the state of Barinas which was won by Chavez’ brother Adan.
The quantity of the opposition’s gains was few yet where they won was vital. The two states that the PSUV lost- Miranda and Zulia- are among Venezuela’s most populated. Furthermore, the capital city of Caracas and most of its surrounding neighborhoods were won by opposition candidates.
Though the electoral results may force the government and opposition to work closer together, both sides tried to spin the results in their favor:
"A new stage is beginning," Mr. Chavez said. "For me, as the leader of the Venezuelan socialist project, the people are telling me: 'Chavez, keep on the same path.'"Sunday’s elections were punctuated by a high voter turnout (image); electoral officials estimated approximately 65% of roughly 17 million eligible voters went to the polls. Such high figures forced some polling stations to remain open hours after they were supposed to close.
Opposition leader Manuel Rosales said: "What's important is that the map of Venezuela has started to change."
Sources- The Latin Americanist, Xinhua, Al Jazerra English, CBC, Bloomberg, Guardian UK
* Puerto Rico: The island’s embattled governor- Aníbal Acevedo Vilá- auctioned off “two fighting cocks” in order to pay for $1.6 million in legal fees.
* Uruguay: The country’s legislature lacked sufficient votes to overcome a presidential veto on a bill that would’ve decriminalized first trimester abortions.
* Ecuador: Does a community of Ecuadorian dwarfs hold clues that could lead to a cure for cancer?
Image- ABC News (“The coffin containing the body of Ecuadorean citizen Marcelo Lucero arrives at Gualaceo, Ecuador to be cremated, Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008. Lucero, who lived in the U.S., was killed Nov. 8 during a racist attack in Long Island, New York. (AP Photo).”)
Sources- ABC News, The Latin Americanist, Gothamist, miamiherald.com, AFP