Friday, March 6, 2009

Today’s Video: All that’s missing is Raul Velasco

We end our week with one final music video from Venezuelan funksters Los Amigos Invisibles.

My favorite song by the band just so happens to be the first one I heard from them: “Cuchi-Cuchi.” Yet the video I enjoy the most is for "Si Estuvieras Aqui". From the Day-glo polyester suits to the vintage shots of fawning girls in the audience, the boys appear in an ode to classic Latin American variety shows like Sábado Sensacional and Siempre en Domingo.

Have we mentioned that Los Amigos Invisibles will be in concert tonight?
Online Sources- Bowery Ballroom, The Latin Americanist, YouTube, Wikipedia

”Angel of Death” keeps mum

Argentina’s road to rectify the horrors of the “Dirty War” has been arduous and difficult. The crimes committed by the military regime between 1976 and 1983 can never be forgotten. Steps have been taken so that those guilty of crimes like torture and receive their deserved punishment.

Therefore, it is disheartening to read that a character nicknamed the “Angel of Death” should feel that he can get away with his crimes:
Two notorious figures from Argentina's military dictatorship refused to testify Thursday before a judge investigating the 1977 kidnapping and disappearance of a 17-year-old Swedish girl, government news agency Telam reported…

Imprisoned former navy officers Alfredo Astiz and Jorge Acosta refused to respond to a federal judge's questions in court on Thursday, Telam reported. The hearing was closed to the public and court officials could not be reached…

Astiz, known as the Angel of Death, is accused in dozens of abuses under the dictatorship's campaign against leftist dissidents and suspected sympathizers, including the disappearance of two French nuns and the founder of the famed human rights group, Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Wikipedia, IHT
Image- BBC News

Latin America angles for more nuclear power

A few Latin American countries are hoping to realize their plans for nuclear expansion, according to this article in Americas Quarterly.

Right now only six nuclear power plans in Latin America exist, with a pair each in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil.

But more countries are hoping to join that list, including Chile, Venezuela and Uruguay. Meanwhile, Brazil and Argentina want to double or triple their existing capacity.

The author of the article, Sharon Squassoni, senior associate in the Nonproliferation Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, argues that even if this nuclear increase happens, it most likely will not reduce dependence on energy produced by fossil fuels. For example, she writes, in Mexico, eight new reactors still would only mean nuclear power accounts for 12 percent of electricity generation.

As the Times notes, Chavez is trying to get Brazil, France, Iran and Russia on board, but so far no one seems to be signing on.

Source: Americas Quarterly, Times

Photo:, Laguna Verde nuclear power plant in Veracruz, Mexico

China lauds Latin American ties

A Chinese news outlet has acclamations for two recent Chinese diplomats' visit to Latin America.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and Vice Premier Hui Liangyu visited in February.

The story reports that Latin American diplomats and scholars are very happy with the visit and say it positions both regions better for strategic communication. The article also explains that the economis complement each other; primary products in Latin America help China's economy, while China's investments and commodities can help Latin American countries, said Gustavo Gerardo, chairman of the Asia-Argentina Assocation.

China issued its first policy paper on Latin America and the Caribbean last year. Read more here.

Source and photo:

Russell Athletic loses schools over unfair labor moves

Over the past month, apparel manufacturer Russell Athletic has lost its contracts with several U.S. universities over allegedly unfair labor practices in Central America.

The University of Minnesota, Cornell University, and Purdue University are just a few of the schools who had or will soon have their licensing rights with the Atlanta-based clothing manufacturer cut.

Their actions are based on a November report by the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC)- a labor-rights monitoring group representing 185 colleges and universities. According to the WRC, Russell engaged in unfair labor practices at their Honduras plants which included threatening workers who wanted to unionize. A January report by another workers rights group backed the WRC’s findings; thus, setting in action the chain of schools cancelling licenses with Russell.

A statement by Russell execs denied the anti-labor charges:
"The decision was not related to the unionization of that plant. In fact, we had recognized the unionization of that plant even before the global slowdown, on Oct. 3, 2007. Given that fact, the claim that we were engaged in anti-union activity in closing the plant is clearly false."
Not all WRC-affiliated schools have cut ties with Russell; Princeton University officials decided this week to keep their merchandising deal.

Online Sources- Minnesota Public Radio, BusinessWeek, MSNBC,, The Daily Princetonian,, Journal & Courier,

Morrissey: I was interrogated by ICE

Q: What does English singer Morrissey and some of his rabid Latino cult following now have in common?
A: Troubles with U.S. immigration authorities:
Morrissey was reportedly interrogated by US immigration officials in Atlanta when entering the country to begin his world tour …

In a blog posting on his MySpace page, Morrissey wrote: "I have survived the interrogation of Atlanta's immigration officials and Myrtle Beach shall have me tomorrow night (Friday), and the world from then onwards ... if the world can take it.
Image- Guardian UK
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist,

Two Distinct Visions of Colombian/U.S. Relations

While Colombia continues to extradite some paramilitary leaders to the U.S. with concerns that such actions will shield them from Colombian justice, one former U.S. FARC hostage is concerned that some extraditions are based on drug trafficking and not for kidnapping.

Earlier this month, the Colombian Supreme Court denied a request by the United States to extradite Gafas for our kidnapping. The court issued a statement explaining they denied his extradition "because the crimes for which he is wanted were committed in national territory." Similarly, though the extradition request for Cesar was approved, it was approved for drug trafficking not for our abduction.

...Colombian President Uribe has extradited over 800 criminals to the US, more than any other president in the history of Colombia. In his time as president he has worked forcefully and skillfully with the United States to put criminals in their place and see that justice is served. But despite Uribe's diligent efforts, the situation with Gafas and Cesar demonstrates the fraught and difficult questions that need to be answered as America confronts terrorism in its own backyard. In Colombia and in other locations around the world, the War on Terror is unavoidably tied to the War on Drugs. Both are important and crucial to keeping America safe, but making drugs the only grounds for extradition sets a dangerous precedent and risks undermining our country's ability to combat terrorism.
But is Plan Colombia and the war on drugs really about justice and terrorism? If so, why the hell isn't it working?

An October report from the Government Accountability Office found that coca-leaf production in Colombia had increased by 15% and cocaine production had increased by 4% between 2000 and 2006, and recommended cutting funding. Plan Colombia has cost U.S. taxpayers over $6 billion.

Plan Colombia has also failed to promote human rights. Broadly speaking, the practical political meaning of Plan Colombia in the Colombian political context has been: "Washington supports the Colombian government, and therefore the Colombian government can do whatever it wants without restraint." The human consequences of this political blank check have been disastrous.

In may ways the issue boils down to whose rights are more valued and whose values are considered rights. What I mean is that in the fight against "terrorism and drugs" being waged by the U.S. it seems that by any means necessary is ok (and by extension the actions of Uribe) however when it comes to those labeled as leftist terrorists, we want different standards applied.

Sources : The Latin Americanist, Huffington Post

Daily Headlines: March 6, 2009

* U.S.: Alex Rodriguez’ recent woes continue; a hip injury to the star third baseman may leave him out of play until May.

* Cuba: Journalist and poet Normando Hernandez Gonzalez has been transferred from the hospital ward where he was being treated for multiple ailments back to the prison where he has been held since 2003.

* Mexico: Genetically modified material “contaminated” native corn in southern Mexico according to a scientific study.

* Panama: After meeting with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Panamanian President Martin Torrijos said that his country will join the Petrocaribe oil alliance.

Image- New York Daily News
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, AHN, MSNBC, Bloomberg, LAHT

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Today’s Video: Tuning in to Los Amigos Invisibles

We’ve been making light of Los Amigos Invisibles all week long and promoting their concert Friday night in New York. Thus, why not show them performing live…sort of.

Below is the Venezuelan group’s groovy rendition of “Las lycras del avila” on KCRW:

Online Sources- Bowery Ballroom, The Latin Americanist, YouTube

Chile, Argentina to strengthen Antarctic claims

Legislators from Chile and Argentina met on Thursday in order to prepare a common front against Britain over Antarctica.

Until this year, no country can have a claim to the continent yet offshore parts of the continent contain valuable and untapped oil and gas reserves. Therefore, eleven countries including Britain, Chile, and Argentina have made claims to portions of Antarctica. Making things more difficult to sort out is that parts of the claims of those three nations overlap.

The U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf will give its decisions over the claims this May. In the meantime, Chile and Argentine legislators hope to strengthen their claims of sovereignty on Antarctica:
“This a historic milestone since it will be the first time members of Congress from both countries meet ahead of the bi-centenary celebration of 2010”, said Chilean deputy Carlos Abel Jarpa…

“We want to clearly signal the rights of Argentina and Chile over those vast frozen territories and adjoining platform”, said Argentine deputy Ruperto Godoy.
Image- Daily Mail
Online Sources- AP, MercoPress, WAND, the Latin Americanist, Reuters

Colombia extradites ex-paras to the U.S.

On separate occasions, Colombian authorities extradited two former paramilitary heads to the U.S. where they await trail on drug charges.

On Thursday, Ever “HH” Veloza was extradited to the U.S. after he was handed over to Drug Enforcement Administration agents in Bogota. Veloza- who admitted to being involved in at least 2500 murders- thus becomes the seventeenth former paramilitary figure to be sent to the U.S. in less than a year.

Veloza was supposed to be extradited last year but it was delayed so that he could confess to his crimes. He was captured by police in 2007 despite taking part in negotiations for Colombian president Alvaro Uribe’s controversial paramilitary demobilization program.

Officials have promised that Colombian prosecutors will have sufficient access to “HH” while he’s jailed in the U.S. Still, some victim’s rights activists in Colombia have their doubts:
"There was no reason for an extradition with such urgency," said Ivan Cepeda, spokesman for the National Movement of Victims of Crimes of the State. "We didn't ask that he not be extradited, just that it be delayed until he could confess to everything."

Prosecutor Nubia Chavez said Veloza has acknowledged 480 murders by fighters under his command, including the 2004 killing of another notorious warlord, Carlos Castano. She said hundreds of others remain unsolved.

"I think he was able to confess to about 50 percent of his crimes," Chavez told the AP.
Veloza’s extradition comes roughly 24 hours after a DEA plane shipped ex-paramilitary leader Miguel Angel Mejia to Miami. According to the State Department, Mejia and his late brother, Victor ran the “Twins Cartel” which shipped 68 tons of cocaine to the United States and Europe.

Image- AP (“Police officers escort former paramilitary boss Miguel Angel Mejia Munera upon his arrival from a high security jail to the police wing of Bogota's airport.”)
Online Sources- Reuters, The Telegraph, Voice of America, AP

Brazil: Raped girl aborts twins

A nine-year-old Brazilian girl who was impregnated after being allegedly raped by her stepfather underwent an abortion yesterday.

The child- who’s identity is being kept private- would’ve had her life in danger had she allowed the pregnancy to continue according to doctors. (At the time of the abortion the eighty-pound girl was in her fifteenth week of pregnancy). "She is very small. Her uterus doesn't have the ability to hold one, let alone two children," said Fatima Maia- the director of the hospital where the abortion was performed.

The 23-year-old man accused of violating his stepdaughter currently sits in jail where he awaits trial. Local media reports that he allegedly had been abusing the girl since the age of six and that he paid her for his sexual abuse.

Abortion is illegal in Brazil yet judges can make exceptions in cases of rape or if the mother’s life is in danger. (Both circumstances appear to be the case here).

Ideally, local religious officials should provide compassion and understanding to a girl who had been traumatized and the victim of rape. Sadly that was not the case:
A Roman Catholic archbishop says the abortion of twins carried by a 9-year-old girl who allegedly was raped by her stepfather means excommunication for the girl's mother and her doctors.

Despite the nature of the case, the church had to hold its line against abortion, Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho said in an interview aired Thursday by Globo television.

"The law of God is higher than any human laws," he said. "When a human law — that is, a law enacted by human legislators — is against the law of God, that law has no value. The adults who approved, who carried out this abortion have incurred excommunication."
The Archbishop’s comments were strongly (and rightly) rebuked by Brazilian authorities; "I believe the position of the church is extreme, radical and inadequate," Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporao said.

Online Sources- FOX News, Reuters, AP,,

Census: Latino school, college enrollment grows

Census data released today showed steady growth in Latino school and university enrollment nationwide.

According to the AP, the Census information from 2007 revealed that Latinos:
  • make up approximately 25% of kindergartners with most of them being born in the U.S.;
  • are roughly 20% of all K-12 students though in several western states (e.g. Arizona, California) they make up at least 40%;
  • form 12% of all full-time undergraduate and graduate students, up from 10% in 2006.
What does this mean? For starters, the Latino youth of today will be the voting electorate of tomorrow. Education is already a very important concern to the Latino community and should be more so in the future. Thus, the debate over No Child Left Behind laws and federal college aid may soon heat up. Language will also gain more prominence, especially whether to scrap or modify bilingual education classes. Lastly, it may force politicos to get their heads out of the sand and do something useful on immigration reform.

What do you think?

Image- WNCT
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, AP, UPI

Daily Headlines: March 5, 2009

* U.S.: According to prosecutors an imprisoned Salvadoran killed former government intern Chandra Levy in 2003.

* Mexico: The country’s Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a Mexico City ordinance permitting first trimester abortions.

* U.S.: A Rhode Island school administrator was put on leave after he grabbed a Dominican flag from a pair of students and stepped on it.

* Brazil: The country’s senior human rights official admitted that Brazil could take in Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Image- AFP (“Photographs of Chandra Levy are displayed during a 2002 memorial”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Guardian UK, CNN, FOX News, LAHT

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Today’s Video: Viva gorditas!

We continue this week’s video theme in honor of groovy Venezuelan band Los Amigos Invisibles with their tongue-in-cheek tribute to zoftig ladies: “Las Gorditas de Mario”.

(Note: Video possibly NSFW and/or if you’re a prude).

Once again, we remind you that Los Amigos Invisibles will be playing in concert in New York this Friday night.
Online Sources- Los Amigos Invisibles, Bowery Ballroom, The Latin Americanist, YouTube

Prison riot shakes Ciudad Juarez

The last thing violence-ridden northern Mexico needed was a deadly prison riot. Alas, it happened today:
At least 20 people have been killed during a prison riot in the troubled Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez, local authorities have said.

Violence erupted at about 6am (13:00 GMT) between three rival gangs at the city's state prison, Carlos Gonzalez, Chihuahua state police spokesman, told the Associated Press news agency on Wednesday.

At least two of those killed were police officers, Red Cross medical sources told Reuters news agency.
It has also been reported that the prisoners were armed and had set fire to several cell blocks.

The riot occurred in a week where 7000 federal troops were deployed to regain control of a city dominated by drug gangs. Dozens of these officers were called upon to quell the uprising at the Cereso prison.

Admiral Mike Mullen- chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff- is expected to arrive in Mexico later this week in order to discuss the spillover of violence into the U.S. as well as counternarcotics efforts.

Image- CNN
Online Sources- Al Jazeera English, BBC News, AFP

Cuban-American Senators reject dropping Cuba restrictions

Cuban-American Senators on both sides of the aisle have shown their doubts over passing a spending bill which includes a provision to relax travel and remittance restrictions to Cuba.

Republican Sen. Mel Martinez has reportedly “been working behind the scenes” to defeat the omnibus spending bill. The Floridian representative believes that the policy changes would only benefit the Castro regime at the cost of Cuba’s populace. Loosening remittance requirements “would provide the regime with an extra revenue of cash and would help maintain repressive policies" in Cuba, according to Martinez.

Meanwhile, the Senate's only Cuban-American Democrat has his qualms over the $410 billion spending bill. Much like Martinez, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez is upset that the Obama administration isn't seeking anything in return from the Cuban government. “I'm sure if we were making significant foreign policy changes about our policy toward Venezuela, or Israel or Africa, the administration would be up in arms about having foreign policy changes made without their input ,” added Melendez who is playing hardball by upholding the confirmations of a pair of Obama's science appointees.

Democrat Sen. Evan Bayh and Russ Feingold announced their opposition to the omnibus bill earlier today. On Tuesday, however, Senate Majority Leader believed that the proposal would pass:
"I'm not wild about some of the Cuba provisions in this bill myself," Senator Harry Reid, a Democrat, told reporters. "There are a couple of those that I don't like very much, but it's not enough to bring the bill down, in my opinion."

With Congress facing a deadline on Friday to pass the massive $410 billion bill to fund many government operations, an aide to Reid told reporters it did not appear that foes of loosening sanctions on the communist-run island had enough votes to strip the provisions.
Image- (New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez- a Democrat- is unhappy with provisions on Cuba that are part of the omnibus spending bill)
Online Sources-, Scientific American, AP, Reuters,, FOX News

GAO: Deputizing police for ICE doesn’t work

The intended targets: serious criminals such as drug smugglers.

Those who are arrested: usually minor offenders for crimes like loitering and public urination.

A report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that the deputizing of local law enforcement officers to serve as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents has been mostly a failure.

Aside from mostly targeting minor infractions as described above, the GAO study also found that officers “misuse(d) their authority” due to a lack of federal supervision under the program known as 287(g).

The 287(g) program has been employed by numerous local agencies nationwide. The most notable example being by controversial Arizonan sheriff Joe Arpaio who recently paraded illegal immigrants in striped suits and chains in front of the media.

The GAO report comes in anticipation of a House committee hearing later today on suspected racial profiling in federal immigration policy:
Representative Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, which will hold the hearing on Wednesday, said in a statement that “the record is incomplete, at best, as to whether this program is a success.”

“Without objective data, we cannot evaluate the effectiveness of this program, nor can we determine whether better results could be achieved by other means, such as increasing the number of ICE agents,” he said…

Representative Lamar Smith, Republican of Texas, who was instrumental in getting the program started in 1996, said, “Law enforcement officials believe that this voluntary program works.” He added, “Those who are serious about public safety should call for its expansion.”
The GAO report comes days after research and advocacy group Justice Strategies blasted the 287 (g) program for ineffectiveness and racial profiling. Additionally, the Migration Policy Institute recently concluded that most immigrants detained by ICE were nonviolent offenders.

Image- ABC News
Online Sources-,, the Latin Americanist, New York Times, AP, UPI

Bolivia proposes thawing icy relations with U.S.

Political relations between the U.S. and Bolivia have been pretty low since Evo Morales became president of the Andean country. In September, U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg was expelled from La Paz; in return, the White House suspended key trade benefits with Bolivia.

Yesterday the Bolivian government proposed normalizing relations with the U.S. despite the disagreements between both countries. There’s just one teeny-tiny catch:
Bolivia is ready to normalize relations with the United States but only if the US government is willing to recognize the new place the coca leaf has in Bolivia's constitution, a top official said…

"We're ready to resume and redirect our relations, and from State Department information we have we know they are also ready," Deputy Foreign Minister Hugo Fernandez told a press conference in La Paz…

"Our constitution doesn't allow any disdain for the coca leaf, and if the United States can't accept this, it’s difficult to see how we can reach an agreement."
Fernandez’ gesture is certainly a welcome one and ideally should be taken seriously. Realistically, however, it will most likely be rejected by the White House since the U.S. and Bolivia don’t see eye-to-eye on counternarcotics efforts.

A better move would be for both the Morales administration and the White House to engage in bilateral discussions on drugs, trade, etc. Admittedly it may be difficult to get officials from both countries to sit at the same table, but it's possible with Congress pushing for improved relations between both countries.

Online Sources- LAHT, AFP, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, The Latin Americanist

Daily Headlines: March 4, 2009

* U.S.: Labor Secretary Hilda Solis made her first public appearance five days after being confirmed and assured a crowd of Miami union supporters that "there's a new sheriff in town."

* Cuba: Raul Castro sacked Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and vice president Carlos Lage because they were seduced by the “honey of power” according to ex-dictator Fidel Castro.

* Venezuela: State-run oil company PDVSA will slash production costs by 40% partly due to the low price of crude oil.

* Argentina: The nation’s government and farmers reached a deal that may hopefully avoid repeating the crippling strikes of 2008.

Image- (“Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis spoke at a community meeting Monday evening at Greater Bethel AME Church in the Overtown neighborhood of Miami.
Online Sources- Voice of America, Bloomberg, Reuters, MSNBC, Xinhua

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Today’s Video: Funk a la Venezuela

On Monday we posted “Playa Azul” by Los Amigos Invisibles; thus, why not shine a spotlight this week on the funky Venezuelan band.

Today’s music video- “Yo no sé” (“I don’t know”)- is a single from the group’s 2008 album entitled “Super Pop Venezuela”.

Don’t forget that Los Amigos Invisibles will be playing at New York’s Bowery Ballroom this Friday night!

Online Sources- Los Amigos Invisibles, Bowery Ballroom, The Latin Americanist

Phil Collins: Tour Guide

Some stories speak for themselves:
Singer Phil Collins said his life now revolves around the Alamo.

Collins is in town, set to appear at local events commemorating the anniversary of the siege and battle of the Alamo. Though he's mulling the idea of recording a tribute cover album of 1960s songs, he said he's making the Alamo “my main thing” as a collector, history buff and possible author.

“Basically, now I've stopped being Phil Collins the singer. This has become what I do,” he said Monday, standing beside a 13-foot-by-15-foot model of the 1836 Alamo compound that will open to the public this week…

“He's very well read,” said Jim Guimarin, who owns the History Shop and has traveled with Collins to battle sites.
Perhaps Collins was hallucinating about being one of General Santa Ana’s soldiers when unleashing his faux-Mexican accent in “Illegal Alien”:

(Hat tip:

Online Sources-,, YouTube

Puerto Rico’s economic woes

As we mentioned this morning, Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño is expected to announce massive public layoffs as part of his austerity plan for the island. The plan might also include several tax increases and the forced retirement of public workers with a minimum of thirty years on the job.

The plan is likely to meet with widespread opposition from numerous sectors but it might be necessary due to Puerto Rico’s frail economy. According to Government Development Bank President Carlos Garcia the island is going through its third consecutive year in recession with little hope for immediate recovery. Garcia added that the island’s credit rating has fallen to junk status and is close to the dreaded non-investment status.

The pitiful state of Puerto Rico’s economy can best be represented by the problems with its pension gamble gone wrong:
The government of Puerto Rico borrowed $2.9 billion through pension bonds in 2008, betting that it could reap annual returns of 8.5 percent investing the money, while paying its bondholders 6.5 percent.

“The risk is minimal,” says Jorge Irizarry, who was chairman of the Employees Retirement System of Puerto Rico from August 2007 through December 2008…

So far, Puerto Rico’s wager isn’t paying off. The 8.5 percent expected rate of return has instead been a loss of more than $200 million, according to a Dec. 12 presentation by fund administrators to legislators.

“It was an arbitrage transaction, and the market has turned against us,” says Carlos Garcia, former president of Banco Santander Puerto Rico, who replaced Irizarry as chairman of the pension fund in January. “I don’t know if the benefits intended will be realized.”
It remains to be seen if Fortuño’s strategy will work. With such a weak economy on the island it’s hard to imagine it getting worse and plunging Puerto Rico into a deeper quagmire.

Image- mental_floss
Online Sources- Bloomberg, Caribbean Net News,, El Reportero Las Vegas, The Latin Americanist,

More travel advisories issued against Mexico

In the past few days several advisories have been issued on traveling to Mexico. Each of these warnings comes in addition to a State Department warning issued last month.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) urged college students to avoid parts of Northern Mexico during spring break. A spokesman with the agency’s Los Angeles office said that he “would discourage traveling to places like Tijuana and Rosarito due to drug cartel violence affecting these areas.”

Though the ATF does not usually issue such warnings, the agency also warned that tourists should avoid smuggling weapons into Mexico which may fall into the hands of criminal groups.

Meanwhile, Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs warned its countrymen on traveling to Mexico. Canadians travelling to Mexico "should exercise a high degree of caution," said the advisory issued last Friday and, much like the ATF warning, placed special attention to northern Mexico.

Despite the warnings travel agents in both the U.S. and Canada observed that Mexico continues to be a very popular tourist destination:
Patrick Evans, spokesman for Student Travel Agency, said more students are booking domestic vacations this year, but destinations in Mexico are still very popular.

“Cancun and Cabo are still some of our most-purchased packages overall,” Evans said.

More than 30,000 people will travel to Mexico through STA for spring break this March and April, a number comparable to past years, he said.
Image- Minneapolis Star Tribune (“Students during Spring Break 2008 at the Cocobongo nightclub in Cancun, Mexico.”)
Online Sources- CTV, CBC, ASU Web Devil, Sherwood Park News, The Latin Americanist, AP, Contra Costa Times

Lula warns against global protectionism

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva issued a stern warning against countries considering economic protectionism.

Last month, Lula considered appealing to the World Trade Organization (WTO) over so-called “Buy American” clauses in the Obama administration’s $787 billion stimulus bill. Yesterday, Lula went further in critiquing protectionist measures:
"If the United States, Europe, Brazil close themselves, the crisis could become much bigger and produce chaos instead of a solution," Lula told industry leaders in Sao Paulo during a visit by Jan Peter Balkenende, the prime minister of the Netherlands…

Lula also intends to speak against global protectionism and for the completion of the WTO's Doha round at the Group of 20 meeting of leading economies in London next month.

"The Doha round was almost finished but we had elections in the United States and then India and politics dominated. Now, nothing stands in the way," said Lula. "The Doha round is more of a political than a financial decision."
Lula’s comments came on the same day as the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) identified Brazil as one of the “key emerging markets of the world.” Yet the USTR’s annual report also issued its own warning that the Doha round will not be renewed unless other countries are more open to U.S. goods.

The USTR report was the first issued under Barack Obama's presidency and also examined free trade. The USTR advised Congress to go ahead and approve a free trade pact with Panama as well as to work out disagreements to soon ratify a bilateral agreement with Colombia. NAFTA shouldn’t be scraped altogether, said the USTR, but suggested that Mexico and Canada revise several provisions in order to aid U.S. workers.

Online Sources- Bloomberg, Reuters, The Latin Americanist,, Economic Times, Radio Netherlands Worldwide

Castro shakes up Cuban cabinet

Cuban president Raul Castro fired ten members of his cabinet on Monday in a move that he cited would make the government “leaner and more responsive.”

Among those who were let go were leading officials including Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and vice president Carlos Lage. Most of the sacked officials will be replaced senior ministry bureaucrats; for instance, chief diplomat Perez Roque will be replaced by a deputy- Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla.

Several of the ministers who were let go had been highly loyal to previous president Fidel Castro and might have had their own aspirations for the presidency. The timing of the move is interesting as it comes at a time of a potential thawing in U.S.-Cuba relations.

According to several anonymous “academics” interviewed by IPS, the cabinet reshuffling will not lead to significant changes in Cuba. (Ed. – it would've been very helpful to know who these sources are):
Academics who spoke to IPS do not see, however, major novelties in the shakeup, nor do they believe it will bring about the hoped-for changes in the economic sphere. "Perhaps it is early to express an opinion, but for now I just see more of the same," said one, who asked to remain anonymous…

Another academic, who also asked not to be identified, said institutional structures should be simplified at all levels, "to ensure that productive enterprises or units have the necessary autonomy."
Image- CBS News
Online Sources- IPS, The Latin Americanist, BBC News, AP, Al Jazeera English, Reuters

Daily Headlines: March 3, 2009

* Guatemala: President Alvaro Colom claimed that there have been “credible” death threats against him from Mexican hit men employed by drug gangs.

* Puerto Rico: Governor Luis Fortuño is expected to announce later today that hundreds, possibly thousands, of government workers will be laid off in the next few weeks.

* Dominican Republic: President Leonel Fernandez fired over 700 police officers days after he vowed to “cleanse the government of corruption.”

* Latin America: Fourth quarter profits for telecom giant Telefonica jumped by 89% partly due to higher growth in Latin America.

Image- The Telegraph
Online Sources- Caribbean Net News, CNN, Bloomberg, LAHT

Monday, March 2, 2009

Today’s Video: Cool and cooler (revisited)

Generally I hate to repeat videos that have been recently shown. But with sub-zero temperatures and nearly a foot of snow outside The Latin Americanist HQ I can think of no better music video than this one of Los Amigos Invisibles:

Speaking of Los Amigos Invisibles, the Venezuelan funksters will be playing at New York’s Bowery Ballroom this Friday night. If you can dig your way out of the snow then go see them live and on stage!

(Hat tip: Brooklyn Vegan).

Online Sources- Los Amigos Invisibles, Brooklyn Vegan, IHT, Bowery Ballroom, The Latin Americanist

Drug gangs behind Guinea-Bissau assassination?

The assassinations of Guinea-Bissau’s President Joao Bernardo Vieira and his Army chief have highlighted the importance of West Africa to the global drug trade. (The drug “highway” runs from South America and the Caribbean to Western Africa and then into Europe and Russia).

Experts consider the former Portuguese colony as Africa’s first “narco-state” under the late Vieira's rule. "It’s an easy country to actually be active if you're mafia, an organized crime lord", said a senior official with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime to BBC News. The power vacuum in Guinea-Bissau may bring more instability to the country, while nations in the area like Senegal, Sierra Leone and Guinea face potential collapse.

Vieira was gunned down by mutinous soldiers hours after his rival- military commander Gen. Batista Tagme Na Waie- died from a bomb attack. But were Latin American drug gangs the brains behind the dual murders? An article in brings up that possibility:
In recent years, Colombian drug cartels have begun flying small planes across the Atlantic, landing on tiny islands dotting the Guinean coastline. Since Guinea-Bissau has no navy to patrol its waters, the cartels were free to unload tons of cocaine destined for Europe. The drugs were then distributed to impoverished African migrants, who would carry the drugs north by boat to the shores of France, Italy, and Spain…

"This recent set of killings can be explained [as] the action of the drug traffickers, who would not allow anything to get in the way or to obstruct their links with Europe," says David Zounmenou, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Tshwane, formerly known as Pretoria.
Vieira's killing comes days after authorities arrested the son of Guinea’s late president and accused him of drug trafficking.

Image- CBC (“President Joao Bernardo Vieira of Guinea-Bissau, shown here in 2006, died early Monday morning. (Thierry Charlier/Associated Press).”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Yéle Haiti, Voice of America, Times Online, The Telegraph, BBC News,

Wyclef Jean joins Haitian immigration rally (includes update)

Speaking of immigration protests, several thousand people rallied in Arizona against the harsh crackdown under controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio. (Link via Reuters).

Original Post
Critically acclaimed musician Wyclef Jean and his brother, Melky, were two of approximately 250 people present at a protest in Florida against mass deportation to Haiti. According to
Pointing to the widely discriminatory immigration policy in the U.S. that favors some over others, Jean said, `It's important that Haitians get the justice that our Cuban brothers and sisters get. This is not a Haitian cause, it's a human being cause.''

And he added, `To help Haiti you can't deport 30,000 people. It's like putting more sand on the beach. It's not right that people that have been here for 20 years get deported and are sent away from their kids. They deserve a fair chance.”
Protestors at the rally held outside an immigration deportation center also called for the granting of temporary protected status to Haitians, a move that was rejected in January by then-Homeland security head Michael Chertoff.

An estimated 30,000 Haitians await deportation despite a worsening political and economic situation there. U.S. and Haitian officials have butted heads over the immigration situation, especially after Haitian authorities refused last month to accept additional deportees.

Wyclef helped create and run Yéle Haiti- a charitable organization that organizes projects such as distributing food to storm victims and granting scholarships for children.

Online Sources-, The Latin Americanist, Yéle Haiti, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Video contradicts police assault by Latino

Charges were dropped against a Latino accused of assaulting two police officers in Prince George's County, Maryland.

The pair of cops claimed in a sworn statement that 30-year-old motorist Rafael Rodriguez “became enraged” and beat up the policemen after being pulled over for a minor traffic infraction. Yet a video taken from one of the police cruisers showed that the cops- not Rodriguez- were the ones doing the assaulting. (As well as acting rather boorishly):
At one point, one of the officers -- it is not clear which one -- appears to mock Rodriguez by using an exaggerated accent as he repeats the suspect's assertion that another officer had told him that the blue-tinted lights on his car were permitted…

The two officers eventually walk back to the Geo Prizm. Wynkoop goes to the driver's side door and tells Rodriguez that he is issuing him a citation.

In accented English, Rodriguez, a permanent legal resident originally from El Salvador, responds, "I don't like your attitude."

The video shows Wynkoop ordering Rodriguez to turn off the car engine and get out of the vehicle. Rodriguez does not immediately do so, and Wynkoop opens the door and pulls him out. Rodriguez does not appear to strike either officer.

Wynkoop slams Rodriguez against the car and handcuffs one hand. Suddenly, Wilson pepper-sprays Rodriguez -- but also Wynkoop, who cries out, "I can't see, dude!"

The three men go out of camera range, then Rodriguez comes back and sits down near his car. Seconds later, Wynkoop returns, grabs Rodriguez by the shoulders and slams him against the Prizm. At this point, Wilson strikes Rodriguez several times in the head with his retractable police baton.

The three men again go out of camera range, and Rodriguez is heard repeatedly crying, "Don't kill me!"
Who knows how many years Rodriguez would’ve spent unfairly in jail had he been convicted. Were it not for the video Rodriguez would’ve gone down a creek without a paddle. Instead, it’s the lying, deceitful policemen who face possible punishment for their callous arrogance.

Online Sources-, WTOP

Were Chilean teens killed due to xenophobia?

The shooting deaths of two Chilean students in Florida last Thursday has raised suspicions that the murders were done out of hatred.

Nicolas Corp, 22, and Racine Baldontin, 23 died and three of their friends were injured after a neighbor fired several rifle shots into their residence. "There were no indicators, no complaints of bad noise or something," said a Miramar Beach police spokesman over why Dannie Baker perpetrated such a horrible action. Yet neighbors such as the one in the video below claim that the motive may’ve been xenophobia:

The murders have understandably “caused commotion in Chile” according to the country’s consul in Florida. “We are a quiet country that's not used to those guys that go there you know with a gun and kill children,” added Chilean journalist Macarena Retamal to one Floridian news outlet.

Assuming that the murders were committed based on hatred; it is absolutely disturbing that someone could commit such actions on defenseless people. Yet whatever Baker’s motive might have been, the fact of the matter is that two bright young adults with plenty of talent have been tragically and unjustly snuffed out.

Online Sources-, AFP, YouTube,, Detroit Free Press

Daily Headlines: March 2, 2009

* Colombia: Banana giant Chiquita wants a dismissal of a class action lawsuit relating to the company’s links to brutal right-wing paramilitary groups.

* Venezuela: President Hugo Chavez ordered the army to temporarily takeover rice processing factories that have supposedly evaded government-imposed price caps.

* Dominican Republic: Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden resigned yesterday amidst allegations that he skimmed payments to Dominican baseball prospects.

* El Salvador: Mauricio Funes of the leftist FMLN has a slim lead over Rodrigo Avila with thirteen days left until Salvadoran presidential elections.

Image- ABC News
Online Sources-, Reuters, The Latin Americanist, Angus Reid Consultants, CBC

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Today's Video: Drugs, violence, and Mexico

Tonight's "60 Minutes" examined the escalating violence hurting Mexico and the "high stakes" it has on its northern neighbor. Entitled "The War Next Door", the report presented by Anderson Cooper looks at the security issues raised by the conflict in Mexico and how the government appears to be waging a losing war:

Watch CBS Videos Online

What do you think of the report?

Online Source- CBS News