Saturday, March 21, 2009

Weekend Headlines: March 21, 2009

* Puerto Rico: A federal jury cleared ex-governor Anibal Acevedo Vila and an associate of all charges including corruption and money laundering.

* U.S.: The families of a pair of Latinos shot dead by New Yorkpolice in 1995 received a small measure of justice via a $1.1 million settlement.

* Venezuela: Endy Chavez, Magglio Ordonez, and the rest of Venezuela’s baseball team hope to be ready for tonight’s World Baseball Classic semifinal against Korea.

* Mexico: The country’s central bank lowered the benchmark interest rate in a move designed to quell fears of a recession.

* Colombia: Mining firm Drummond is facing a new lawsuit brought up by the children of three Colombian coal miners murdered by paramilitaries.

* Brazil: The country’s Supreme Court voted by a 10-1 margin to keep the borders of a massive indigenous reservation.

Image- AP (“Former Puerto Rican Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila greets supporters in front of the U.S. Federal Courthouse as he departs during a recess in his corruption trial in San Juan, Friday, March 20, 2009.”)
Online Sources- BBC News, AP, Voice of America, WTVM, Bloomberg,, The Latin Americanist

Friday, March 20, 2009

Today’s Video: Los Tiburones contra Los Jets

A new version of “West Side Story” has just opened on Broadway. The version is somewhat updated from the original theatrical version which debuted in 1957. The most notable difference between the two, however, has been the translation of several songs and lines into Spanish.

With help from Lin-Manuel Miranda- creator of Tony-winning musical "In the Heights"- two of the musical’s best-known songs ("I Feel Pretty" and "A Boy Like That") become "Siento Hermosa" and "Un Hombre Asi." "It was a tall order, but a really fun challenge," said Miranda as the songs are performed splendidly by Argentine Josefina Scaglione as Maria and Karen Olivo as Anita.

Aside from the language changes the new version also takes on a “gritty realism” by taking on bigotry and racism.

Do the changes make a great play even better or is this a case of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”? See for yourself:

Online Sources- MSNBC, NY1, BBC News, New York Daily News

Cocaine – it’s what’s for dinner

Some stories speak for themselves:
Police in Spain say they have arrested a man who received a postal delivery of a 42-piece dinner set made with 20kg (44lb) of cocaine.

The illicit cups, plates and bowls were dispatched in February from Maracaibo in Venezuela to Barcelona, via London…

Police say the suspect may have been recruited by Venezuelan gangsters, who would have collected the package and then extracted the illegal drugs.

Following a tip-off from their Venezuelan colleagues, Spanish officers pounced on the 35-year-old suspect…
Earlier this month Spanish authorities at Barcelona’s airport nabbed an Ecuadorian trying to smuggle liquid cocaine via aerosol cans as well as a Chilean with a fake leg cast made entirely out of cocaine.

Image- The Telegraph
Online Sources- BBC News, AFP

Accused gun smuggler to Mexico acquitted

In a recent “60 Minutes” report on violence in Mexico, the country’s Attorney General expressed outrage over the ease in which drug gangs obtain arms from the U.S. “The Second Amendment was never designed to arm criminal groups” said Eduardo Medina Mora who emphasized the “shared responsibility” between the U.S. and Mexico to combat violence.

Despite the need to control arms smuggling into Mexico, there was a setback this week:
Criminal charges against a Phoenix gun shop owner accused of supplying firearms to Mexican drug cartels were thrown out of court Wednesday.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Robert Gottsfield ruled
the prosecution's evidence wasn't sufficient to support conviction based on a technical legal issue.

Gottsfield issued a directed verdict of not guilty for George Iknadosian, who faced a 21-count indictment for fraud, money-laundering and other offenses.

Iknadosian, 47, was accused of selling more than 700 "weapons of choice" to straw buyers, knowing that the firearms like A-K 47s were bought on behalf of Mexican narcotics syndicates.
Gottsfield ruled that there was insufficient proof that the “straw buyers” would use the weapons to arm criminals. Nevertheless, prosecutors in Arizona said that they will appeal the verdict and hope to retry Iknadosian.

According to the New York Times, thousands of arms are smuggled from Arizona to Mexico due to the state’s “lenient gun laws and large number of dealers.”

Image- Daily Mail (Weapons seized during a major arms bust in Mexico last November)
Online Sources- New York Times, The Latin Americanist, IHT, Reuters, AlterNet

Controversy over Obama’s civil rights pick

President Barack Obama’s choice to head a key Justice Department (DOJ) post may be Latino yet some Latino activists are disappointed with his pick.

Maryland labor secretary Thomas Perez is the state’s highest-ranking Latino politico and was recently named as chief of the DOJ's civil rights division. Yet backers of Thomas Saenz- counsel to Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa- believe that he was unfairly overlooked due to his strong work for immigrants’ rights:
Conservatives have criticized Saenz’s work, according to the Daily Journal and the Los Angeles Times. An editorial in Investor's Business Daily called him "a man who has dedicated his life to promoting illegal immigrant 'rights.' "

Law professor Maria Blanco of UC Berkeley told the Daily Journal that she has learned the White House had offered the position to Saenz but withdrew it because of expected opposition by anti-immigrant groups. Blanco was a member of the presidential transition team for Barack Obama and is executive director of UC Berkeley’s Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity & Diversity.

The National Council of La Raza has issued a statement expressing "profound disappointment" that Saenz didn’t get the job.
Saenz’ backers have refrained from critiquing Perez’ numerous qualifications. Yet as the Los Angeles Times noted, Perez “appears to have little if any public record on hot-button immigration issues". Some politicos are even worried that picking Perez signals a low priority by the White House towards immigration reform.

On the other hand, supporters of Saenz may be overreacting and overlooking Perez’ potential. As the LA Daily blog observed, perhaps Obama decided that the “ potentially volatile mix of California identity politics with the potential revival of acrimony over immigration reform was not worth spending political capital now needed elsewhere.”

Image- Baltimore Sun (“Maryland Labor Secretary Tom Perez has been selected by the Obama administration to head the Justice Department's civil rights division”).
Online Sources- Los Angeles Times, LA Daily, ABA Journal

Shooter of Chilean Students in Florida Indicted

Dannie Roy Baker, who shot a group of Chilean students in Florida, killing two, was indicted Wednesday on multiple charges.

Wednesday the Walton County Grand Jury returned an indictment against Dannie Roy Baker before Circuit Judge Kelvin Wells for two counts of First Degree Premeditated Murder with a Firearm; three counts Attempted First Degree Premeditated Murder with a Firearm and one count Shooting at, into or within a Building. Count one of the Indictment was for the death of Racine Libia Balbontin Argandona, count two was for the death of Nicholas Pablo Corp Torres. The other three counts were also for Chilean nationals shot in their apartment.

Baker could face the death penalty if convicted.

While there is no dou
bt in my mind that Baker should be tried and that this killing was a hate crime driven in part by anti-immigrant forces that have spilled into the U.S. psyche. Pero seeking the death penalty, in my opinion, is taking the one bad apple approach, treating hate crimes as aberrations instead of as something that is built into the history of the U.S.

Source: Immigration Talk With a Mexican American

Daily Headlines: March 20, 2009

* Mexico: Police nabbed Vicente Zambada- the son of the head of the Sinaloa drug cartel- and accused him of helping run one of Mexico’s most notorious drug gangs.

* Cuba: "There are still innocent people there," admitted the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell in reference to Guantanamo detainees.

* Venezuela: Representatives of Japan and Venezuela signed several key energy agreements including Japanese exploration of the oil-rich Orinoco Belt.

* Argentina: Thousands of Argentines protested around the country on Wednesday demanding that the government do more to combat rising crime.

Image- AP (“Military officers escort alleged drug trafficker Vicente Zambada during his presentation to the media in Mexico City, Thursday, March 19, 2009.”)
Online Sources- Reuters, New York daily News, Bloomberg, CNN

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Today’s Video: Manny’s sticky wicket

After seeing the Dominican Republic implode in the World Baseball Classic, Manny Ramirez is trying out a secret weapon for the next version of the tournament:

Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, YouTube

Study: Record number of U.S. births in ‘07

The number of births in the U.S. reached a record high in 2007 according to a National Center for Health Statistics report released on Wednesday.

Over 4.3 million babies were born in the U.S. thus representing a growth of 1%. Increases were found in numerous categories including age and for most races.

According to one demographer, increased immigration and a growing minority population are two factors that explain the “minor baby boom”. Examining data on Latinos, however, reveals a slightly more complex picture:
  • The birth rate for Latina teens was one of the few categories that decreased; it fell 2% in 2007 to 81.7 births per 1,000.
  • Latinas have the highest rate of children compared to other racial groups – nearly three children per woman.
  • Just over one in two babies born to Latinas were born to unwed mothers.
Red flags were raised in that the report found growth in births to unwed mothers as well as teenage moms. Why that’s the case is a factor that tends to be politicized:
“The 14 years with teenage birth rates going down was one of the great success stories in public health, and it’s possible that it’s coming to an end,” said Sarah S. Brown, chief executive of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a private group in Washington…

Still, the reasons for the steep decline and recent reversal are poorly understood. The discussion is colored by politics: some liberals say “abstinence only” sex education and restrictions on distribution of contraceptives are only leading to more pregnancies, while conservatives tend to blame the ever more permissive social climate.
Image- Latina
Online Sources- UPI, USA TODAY, Reuters, New York Times, MSNBC, Guardian UK

Peter Gabriel campaigns for Juarez justice

Lately most of the news emerging from Ciudad Juarez involves the constant shootouts and murders related to the drug trade. Overlooked, however, are the mysterious deaths of nearly 400 women in that border city.

Most of the women murdered in Juarez over the past 25 years are between 17 and 22 years of age and have suffered from sexual abuse akin to the “releasing (of) wild instincts.” Yet recent goings-on in Juarez have to do with the inexplicable disappearances of eighteen preteens since the beginning of 2008.

Several celebrities including Jane Fonda and Salma Hayek have campaigned to bring justice to the unsolved femicides in Juarez. The latest celeb to campaign for women in Juarez is Peter Gabriel:
Musician and activist Peter Gabriel is to present Mexico's President Felipe Calderon with a petition signed by more than 1,000 people asking him to act on the hundreds of unsolved murders of women in the Mexican border city Ciudad Juarez.

Gabriel is due to perform in Mexico City on March 27, and is expected to make his appeal to Calderon then, El Pais reports.

Peter Gabriel is a prominent human-rights activist, and in 1992 founded the nonprofit group Witness, which uses video and online technologies to bring human-rights violations to light.

The actions of famous people like Gabriel and Hayek being much needed attention to crimes against women. More importantly, they help highlight the efforts of brave ladies in Mexico who have dedicated their lives to ensure that justice can be served.

Online Sources- La Plaza,, The Latin Americanist, Javno, NPR

Key “anti-Chavista” under indictment

An indictment was issued today against former Venezuelan presidential candidate and chief opposition figure Manuel Rosales.

The current mayor of one of Venezuela’s main cites- Maracaibo- is being sought for corruption charges during his time as governor of Zulia. According to prosecutor Katiuska Plaza, Rosales is being accused of "illegal enrichment" and a warrant may be formally issued within the next twenty days.

For his part, Rosales reacted angrily and accused President Hugo Chavez of masterminding the charges him. "This is an order that Chavez gave at the end of last year and has been insisting on. We all know that in Venezuela the separation of powers does not work," Rosales declared this morning to reporters. Later in an interview on CNN en Español, Rosales added that Chavez is a “dictator” leading Venezuela on a path towards “totalitarian state”.

Image- (Manuel Rosales casting his ballot during his unsuccessful run for the presidency).
Online Sources- El Universal, AP, Reuters

Another Fujimori to the Peruvian presidency?

Could Keiko Fujimori follow her dad’s footsteps to the Peruvian presidency? That could be a very real possibility according to a pair of recent polls.

As reported by Living in Peru, a survey conducted by Ipsos Apoyo found that Keiko was favorite to be president in 2011. The 33-year-old daughter of disgraced ex-president Alberto Fujimori was tied for first with 19% support. Another poll by Católica University found her in the top three picks for the presidency.

Alberto is currently under trial on murder and kidnapping charges related to his presidency in the 1990s. Despite the infamy surrounding him, Keiko has taken full advantage of his political base. She is currently a congresswoman having run in a party loyal to her father whose primary goal is to get him absolved of his conviction for arms smuggling.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Keiko explained briefly why she should be president:
I assumed my first public charge when I became part-time first lady at 19 years old after my parents divorced. I have experience in social projects and a great aptitude for public service. If I can help my country, I will do it.
Image- RPP
Online Sources- Los Angeles Times, Living in Peru, MSNBC, Xinhua

Daily Headlines: March 19, 2009

* Cuba: Bloggers and the mainstream press have been highly critical of Mexican ex-foreign minister Jorge Castañeda’s claim that Hugo Chavez plotted to overthrow the Castro regime.

* Uruguay: The country’s legislature passed a bill permitting terminally ill patients the opportunity to reject “life-prolonging treatments.”

* Ecuador: Between fifty and eighty additional troops were recently deployed along Ecuador’s border with Colombia.

* Peru: British researchers studied a Peruvian hospital and concluded that ultraviolet lights may drastically reduce the spread of tuberculosis in medical clinics.

Image- Guardian UK
Online Sources- CNN, Machetera, Reuters, Xinhua, AFP

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Notable Quotables: Adios death penalty

"Regardless of my personal opinion about the death penalty, I do not have confidence in the criminal justice system as it currently operates to be the final arbiter when it comes to who lives and who dies for their crime"...

"Faced with the reality that our system for imposing the death penalty can never be perfect, my conscience compels me to replace the death penalty with a solution that keeps society safe."
---Governor Bill Richardson signed a law on Wednesday repealing the death penalty in his home state of New Mexico.

New Mexico thus becomes the fifteenth state to abolish the death penalty.

Image- AFP (Governor Bill Richardsonat the 2008 Democratic National Convention).
Online Source- CNN

Obama says he backs immigration reform

I’ll believe it as soon as I see his signature signing a fair and ample immigration reform law. Until then, it's merely rhetoric:
President Barack Obama said Wednesday he still supports "comprehensive immigration reform," even though he rarely mentions it anymore. Asked about the emotional and politically delicate topic at a town hall format in Southern California, the president said the nation must find a way to strengthen its borders while also giving about 12 million illegal immigrants a path to possible citizenship.

"If they stay in the shadows," he said, some employers will exploit them, hurting wages and work conditions for all American workers.

Obama said illegal residents who have been in the United States a long time and have put down roots should have a mechanism for achieving legal status. They would have to learn English, pay a significant fine and "go to the back of the line" of those applying for legal entry, he said.
Earlier in the day Obama pledged to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) that he will present plans for immigration reform sometime this year. Obama will convene a public forum on the issue "probably in two months," according to Sen. Bob Menendez.

Admittedly the president has had other important and pressing issues to tackle since he was inaugurated in January. Yet Obama, much like leading politicos on both sides of the aisle, cannot diminish the problems with the current immigration system.

In short: immigration reform now!

Image- AFP
Online Sources- AFP, Dallas Morning News, Christian Science Monitor, AP

World Bank: Beware the ides of protectionism

World Bank chief Robert Zoellick warned against countries engaging protectionist policies as a way of combating the global economic crisis.

"Leaders must not heed the siren-song of protectionist fixes, whether for trade, stimulus packages, or bailouts," Zoellick said. Zoellick also advised that “economic isolationism” would compound rather than solve the problems created by the world economic downturn.

Despite a November pledge against doing so 17 of the G20 countries imposed trade restrictions. For instance, Zoellick’s report comes as the U.S. and Mexico are in a tiff over trade. Zoellick highlighted the protectionist policies of several Latin American states:
(…) The most obvious trade restrictions -- raising tariffs, or taxes on imports -- represent only about a third of all measures taken. Some countries are taking a direct approach. Ecuador [ed. – not a G20 country]… has raised tariffs on more than 600 items. But most are taking more creative steps that fall into the gray area of what is considered legal under international trade law.

Argentina, for example, has put new licensing requirements on auto parts, textiles, televisions, toys, shoes and leather goods that create a new layer of bureaucracy for overseas exporters.

The next G20 summit is expected to take place next month in London, England.

Image- AFP (“A diplomat is seen at the World Trade Organization headquarters in Geneva.”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Washington Post, Xinhua, AFP

E.U.: Cuba open to human rights discussion…sort of

Human rights were one of the main topics addressed during high-level meeting on Wednesday between Cuban and European Union (E.U.) diplomats.

European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel visited Havana nearly five months since the E.U. and Cuba reestablished diplomatic ties. During a press conference with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, Michel said that Cuba would be willing to discuss human rights on the island. Furthermore, representatives from both areas will meet in Brussels in May in order to talk about strengthening political relations.

There was a point of discord after Michel claimed that they would be open to discussing the jailing of political prisoners. Rodriguez quickly corrected Michel and declared that possibly reforming the Cuban penitentiary system was out of the question. Michel added that Cuba’s foreign policy will “continue to adhere to the revolution with the absolute consistency they have from 1959 until this moment."

(Michel replaced Felipe Perez Roque who was sacked last month in a cabinet shakeup by President Raul Castro).

Meanwhile, the Obama administration spoke out on Wednesday over imprisoned Cuban dissidents:
The administration of US President Barack Obama called Wednesday on Cuba to free political prisoners immediately and to improve human rights on the communist-ruled island.

The State Department issued the appeal on the sixth anniversary of the Castro government's crackdown on 75 civil society activists known as the "Black Spring"…

"We call upon the Cuban government to immediately release these and other political prisoners being held in Cuban jails and to undertake measures to improve human rights conditions in Cuba," Wood said.
Image- Portland Tribune
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Prensa Latina, BBC News, AFP, Reuters

U.S.: Hezbollah increases LatAm influence vis-a-vis Iran

Iran has increased its ties with several Latin American countries in recent years; thus unnerving U.S. government officials. In January, for instance, Defense Secretary Robert Gates deemed Iran as a “subversive threat” to the region.

Last November former CIA official John Kiriakou wrote in the Los Angeles Times against the possibility that Iran run “a terrorist base of operations in the United States’ backyard.” To this, fellow blog contributor Miguel had the following response:
(…) With respect to Latin America, where US policy has rarely been multi-dimensional, it will be easy for the new Obama administration to bite into this wedge issue for fear of looking soft. Doing so, though, will only hamper its ability to engage difficult, independent-minded leaders such as Chavez, Morales, or even Lugo. And to be clear, I think engagement -- yes, talking -- is good. Clearly, Iran is a country to be taken seriously, and clearly, it's a different story if evidence surfaces that these LAC governments are harboring terrorists (and not just visa-free Iranians). Thus, I hope that the new administration doesn't just take the bait, that they listen to the credible intel reports from current CIA staff, and if possible, can avoid having it's first LAC policy statement being just another Monrovian ultimatum about who should or shouldn't play with whom.
It appears as if the new administration has “taken the bait”:
The commander of U.S. forces in Latin America (Admiral James Stavridis) says the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah is involved in drug trafficking in Colombia. The admiral is worried about increased Iranian and Hezbollah activities throughout the region…

"We have seen in Colombia a direct connection between Hezbollah activity and the narco-trafficking activity," he said.
Stavridis also warned that Hezbollah activities have been concentrated around the shared border area between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.

Do you agree with Stavridis? Is he accurate in characterizing the Iranian “threat” to the Americas or is he grossly exaggerating? Are you surprised that U.S. officials are making the same claims under both the current and previous White House?

Image- BBC News (Hezbollah militants hold a 2008 rally in Beirut)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Voice of America, Los Angeles Times, Reuters

U.S. to “militarize” southern border?

Mexico’s rampant violence, especially in its northern border states, has put the U.S. government on high alert. Senators on both sides of the aisle expressed their deep concerns during a hearing on Tuesday.
"The insatiable demand for illegal drugs in the United States keeps the Mexican drug cartels in business every day," said Sen. Dick Durbin while Sen. Arlen Specter highlighted the “enormous threat” of violence spilling over from Mexico.

During the hearing, the head of Northern Command explained the possibility of militarizing the border. “I think the best response is an integrated approach and we're working toward that aggressively," (Air Force Gen. Gene) Renuart said over the drafting of comprehensive plans by U.S. officials.

According to an “anonymous source” to the AP, the border plan would involve increased deployment of offciers:
Thirty-seven agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are being deployed to the region. An official familiar with the plan said the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency is considering reassignment of at least 90 officers to the border…

The deployments are part of President Barack Obama's first moves to boost federal security sources on the U.S. side of the border.

The additional immigration agents would double the size of an ongoing ICE task force that has been working with other federal agencies to fight the criminal organizations contributing to the border violence.
Assuming that information is true, it will be interesting to see if this will significantly affect migrants trying to illegally cross the border. Will certain areas be crossed less often? Could the numbers of arrests along the border change significantly? Might the move decrease drug and/or human smuggling?

What do you think?

Image- BBC News
Online Sources- Voice of America, AP, Reuters, AFP

Daily Headlines: March 18, 2009

* Cuba: Cuban human rights group Ladies in White held a prayer meeting in Havana to protest the detention of dozens of journalists and dissidents.

* El Salvador: President-elect Mauricio Funes said that it “would be a priority” for El Salvador to strengthen economic and political links with the U.S.

* Venezuela: The country’s crude oil reserves increased to 172 billion barrels; thus placing Venezuela in the world’s top three.

* Panama: The country has become a prime meeting area for Mexican and Colombian drug cartels according to Panama’s chief counternarcotics prosecutor.

Image- AP (“Relatives of jailed dissidents, members of the group called "Ladies in White," pray during a meeting in Havana, Tuesday, March 17, 2009.”)
Online Sources- LAHT, Bloomberg, The Latin Americanist, Al Jazeera English, MSNBC

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Today's Video: Favela tourism

A German developer has invested over $500,000 in order to build ten luxury villas on top of a Rio de Janeiro slum. Will tourists jump at the chance to live near Rio's poor or will they be too scared to show up? You decide:

Online Source- Reuters Video

Reports: Awful medical care in detention centers

Medical conditions at immigration detention centers are substandard and are “dangerously inadequate” according to a pair of advocacy groups.

The Florida Immigration Advocacy Center and Human Rights Watch each released reports on Tuesday that detail the substandard and woeful medical care provided at U.S. detention facilities.
Both groups gave a litany of problems in the centers from unskilled staff to bureaucratic red tape. Overcrowded facilities would be less of an issue if immigration officials were to halt detaining the elderly or those have serious health issues according to the reports.

As one eyewitness reportedly mentioned, some mentally disabled detainees received terrible treatment:
Marlene Jaggernauth, 43, who entered the U.S. 32 years ago as a lawful permanent resident from Trinidad, was arrested by ICE agents in 2003. Because of an old shoplifting charge, Little said, immigration agents labeled her an ''aggravated felon'' and jailed her. She was separated from four children, including 6-year-old twins and a 14- and 15-year-old…

Jaggernauth, who had a full-time job at Florida Atlantic University as an administrative assistant, said she witnessed deplorable conditions while detained, including an elderly German woman who appeared to suffer from paranoid schizophrenia.

''She was hearing voices,'' Jaggernauth said. ``Rather than help her, the guards joined in making fun of her.''
Online Sources- South Florida Sun-Sentinel,, Human Rights Watch, AP

Four years prison for “Maletagate” defendant

Venezuelan businessman Franklin Duran was sentenced to four years in jail for his role in the “Maletagate” affair.

Duran had been found guilty in a U.S. federal court last November for conspiracy and acting as an “illegal foreign agent.” Prosecutors hoped for at least thirteen years in prison for Duran while his attorneys tried to get a reduced sentence and insisted that he was not a “spy” for the Venezuelan government. Ultimately, however, District Judge Joan Lenard admonished Duran for committing a "very serious offense against the United States'' and included a $175,000 fine in the sentence.

So what did the “Maletagate” case entail? As the Miami Herald’s website explained:
Durán, 41, the only defendant among five Latin American men indicted in 2007 to fight the charges at trial, was accused of traveling to South Florida to lead the coverup of the hemispheric political scandal.

The men were charged with working on behalf of Venezuela's spy agency to silence a colleague, Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson, who had been caught with a suitcase stuffed with $800,000 on a plane flight to Argentina in August 2007. Prosecutors said the money was a gift from (Venezuelan president Hugo) Chávez to Argentina's leading presidential candidate, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. She won the election…

Three of his co-conspirators -- including a former business partner who testified against him -- pleaded guilty and received terms of 15 to 34 months.
Image- BBC News
Online Sources- BBC News,, Bloomberg, The Latin Americanist,

Roberto Bolaño wins major literary award

Chilean author Roberto Bolaño died in 2003 though he has received plenty of posthumous praise. The English-language translation of “2666” has wowed the world of literature and high expectations continue over the recent discovery of several “lost” manuscripts.

Before passing away, Bolaño wrote in one of his journals that “I am sure I will die unpublished.” Surely he would’ve never imagined that his work would receive major awards but that was the case last week:
Death is proving no barrier to the late Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño, who…added the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction to his roster of prizes.

The esteemed American award was given to Bolaño for his epic final novel 2666, which NBCC board member Marcela Valdes described as a "sexy, apocalyptic vision of history", a "work so rich and dazzling that it will surely draw readers and scholars for ages". Accepting the posthumous award on Bolaño's behalf, his translator Natasha Wimmer recalled he had once said that "posthumous" sounded like a Roman gladiator, the Associated Press reported.
Aside from Bolaño, Mexican-American writer Juan Felipe Herrera shared best poetry honors for his work praising Chicano identity.

The awards carry no cash prize yet are very prestigious and are the top literary honor in the U.S. Dominican author Junot Diaz won the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction in 2008.

Image- LAHT
Online Sources- Guardian UK, The Telegraph, Latina, Bloomberg, CBC, The Latin Americanist

Vatican backtracks over girl’s abortion

Earlier this month, a nine-year-old Brazilian girl who was repeatedly sodomized and allegedly raped by her stepfather aborted the twins inside her. Despite the extreme nature of her case, one Brazilian Catholic official excommunicated the doctors and mother of the child (but oddly not her stepfather). One Vatican authority condemned the abortion and deemed it worse than the rape which got the girl pregnant.

The religious remarks blasting the abortion have themselves been criticized by the Brazilian government and the local medical community. Even the Vatican has been forced to backtrack as demonstrated by comments made by one “influential prelate”:
Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, criticized what he called a "hasty" public declaration of the excommunication of the girl's mother and the doctors who aborted the girl's twins.

The girl "in the first place should have been defended, hugged and held tenderly to help her feel that we were all on her side" he wrote in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, March 15…

"Unfortunately, this is not what happened and it has impacted the credibility of our teaching, which appears in the eyes of many as insensitive, incomprehensible and devoid of mercy," he said.
Fisichella emphasized that abortion is "always condemned by moral law as an intrinsically evil act." Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see such an important Catholic official acknowledging the difficult circumstances surrounding the girl’s pregnancy and demonstrating compassion instead of condemnation.

Image- Daily Mail (The statue of Christ the Redeemer oversees Rio de Janeiro.)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Time, CNN, Catholic News Service, AP, Reuters

Daily Headlines: March 17, 2009

* Bolivia: Numerous indigenous communities celebrated the redistribution of thousands of acres of land by the government.

* Latin America: Wiseass remark of the week goes to Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell for his reaction to rumors that Russia might use military bases on Venezuela or Cuba.

* Chile: Trade, the environment, and technology are some of the areas to be addressed during President Michelle Bachelet’s five-day visit to India.

* U.S.: Wal-Mart’s expansion plans include revamping two of its Texas superstores into massive “Supermercados de Walmart”.

Image- Guardian UK (2008 image of Bolivian indigenous demonstrators backing President Evo Morales)
Online Sources- Reuters, AFP,, earthtimes,

Monday, March 16, 2009

Today’s Video: More than just teammates?

Who cares how macho you’re not as long as you win the game. I suppose that’s the message in the following ad for Mexico’s Sol beer:

(Hat trick: AdFreak.)

Online Sources- AdFreak, YouTube

IADB: LatAm remittances to decrease in ‘09

Remittances to Latin America and the Caribbean are likely to decline in 2009 after posting nearly a decade of growth according to an Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) report released Monday.

According to the study the growth in remittances during 2008 was only 1%, yet the decrease began late last year with slumps regionwide from Mexico to Ecuador. This could spell bad news across the region; remittances represent at least 12% of Gross Domestic Product in seven Latin American countries.

Why the expected slide in remittances? The weakening global economy and stricter U.S. immigration policy are two factors along with less favorable exchange rates between some currencies and the dollar. Yet IDB president Luis Alberto Moreno doesn’t predict a major change in migration trends:
“(Remittance) flows will be affected by length and severity of the crisis and the ability of migrant workers to weather this storm,” said Luis Alberto Moreno...

"Our take is that migrants are likely to exhaust all other options before considering a return to their countries of origin," he said. "Remittances reflect a strong commitment to family and community, and senders have shown in the past that they will do anything in their power to fulfill that obligation."
Image- Foreign Policy
Online Sources- IHT, Voice of America,, The Latin Americanist

Mexico retaliates over freight dispute

Mexico’s government shot back at a U.S. trade decision by raising the tariffs on about 90 imports.

President Barack Obama’s signing of a $410 billion government spending bill last week helped relax travel restrictions to Cuba. But the newly signed law also put the brakes on a pilot program permitting widespread access of Mexican freight trucks into the U.S.

The cross-border program has been mired in controversy ever since the debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the early 1990s. Several special interests groups supported (Mexico, commerce groups) and opposed (environmentalists, labor unions) the plan. The topic heated up in 2007 when the Bush administration relaxed the rules to permit 500 Mexican trucks greater access beyond a very narrow zone just above the border.

Mexican ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhan called the measure “protectionism” and threatened to take retaliatory action. Today the Mexican government did just that:
Mexico says it will increase tariffs on about 90 U.S. products in retaliation for last week's decision to cancel a pilot program that allowed some Mexican trucks to transport goods within the United States.

The Mexican Economy Department says the U.S. decision violates a provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement that was supposed to have opened cross-border trucking years ago.

Department officials told a news conference Monday that the measure will affect about $2.4 billion in trade: 90 agricultural and industrial products from 40 U.S. states.
Despite the limits placed over Mexican trucks, Canadian tractor-trailers have unrestricted access into the U.S.

Image- Truthdig
Online Sources-, Los Angeles Times, AP, MSNBC, The Latin Americanist

ICE wants to deport dead immigrant

The family of a deceased man claimed that U.S. immigration officials tried to deport him back to Central America.

Nasin Mauricio Rivera was supposed to attend a deportation hearing in November 2008 after he was arrested for a restraining-order violation. Yet he died suddenly in August and his body was subsequently shipped to his native El Salvador for burial. Nevertheless, his deportation case remains open since Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials rejected the photocopy of Rivera’s death certificate presented by his family at the deceased’s immigration hearing.

Representatives and family of the deceased man are understandably miffed at ICE’s incompetence:
"To us, it's a matter of principle -- a dead person should not be deported," said immigration attorney Edgardo Quintanilla…

"It's the most ridiculous thing I have heard," (Rivera’s widow, Blanca Ramirez) said.
Immigration reform cannot come soon enough.

Image- Los Angeles Times (“Blanca Ramirez, right, with her daughter, Amy Rivera, doesn’t understand why the deportation case against her late husband is proceeding.)”
Online Sources-, Los Angeles Times

Obama reaches hand to Latin America

The Voice of America reports today that the Obama administration has begun their outreach to Latin America.

Obama met with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva Saturday, and he announced he will send Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Latin America before the April Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

Assistant Secretary of State or Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon said the summit is a chance for a fresh start and "a spirit of engagement and constructive dialogue."

In particular, Shannon said the U.S. will reach out to Bolivian President Evo Morales.

Clinton is scheduled to visit Mexico City and Monterrey March 25 to 26. Biden ewill visit Chile and Costa Rica.

Read the story here.

Source and Photo: VOA

Salvadoran leftist wins presidency

Voters in El Salvador elected journalist and TV commentator Mauricio Funes to the presidency; thus, overturning over two decades of conservative rule.

Right-wing candidate Rodrigo Avila conceded to Funes late last night after it appeared that Funes’ slim 2%-lead would not be overcome. Afterwards, Funes pledged to unite El Salvador after the divisive campaigns run be Avila and himself:
"This is the happiest night of my life, and I want it to be the night of El Salvador's greatest hope," Funes said. "I want to thank all the people who voted for me and chose that path of hope and change"…

Funes promised to crack down on big businesses which he says exploit government complacency to evade taxes.

"The time has come for the excluded, the opportunity has arrived for genuine democrats, for men and women who believe in social justice and solidarity," he told a rally of roaring supporters early Monday.
Funes would become El Salvador’s first leftist president since the country’s bitter civil war ended over two decades ago. El Salvador thus becomes the latest Latin American state with a leftist leader.

(Despite talk of a "pink" tide, the region’s leftist leaders are not all cut from the same cloth. President in the region are populist (Hugo Chavez, Rafael Correa), moderate (Michelle Bachelet, Tab Vasquez), and centrist (Alan Garcia, Oscar Arias).)

Much like the 2008 presidential victory of Alvaro Colom in Guatemala, Funes’ electoral platform of social change appealed to Salvadorans more than Avila’s law-and-order rhetoric. Funes symbolized a “fresh face” for the guerillas-turned-political-party FMLN according to one analyst who also noted that he never fought with the rebels during the civil war.

Image- MSNBC (“Mauricio Funes of the Farbundo Marti National Liberation Front party delivers his victory speech in San Salvador Sunday night after winning the presidential election.”)
Online Sources-, BBC News, Al Jazeera English, Reuters, NPR,

Daily Headlines: March 16, 2009

* Mexico: Members of the “emo” youth subculture continue to be harassed and discriminated according to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission.

* Bolivia:
“It is time for the international community to reverse its misguided policy toward the coca leaf” wrote Bolivian president Evo Morales in a New York Times opinion piece published on Friday.

* Latin America: Over 300 journalists were killed in the Americas from 1987 to 2008 according to the Inter American Press Association.

* Nicaragua: President Daniel Ortega and U.S. officials are at loggerheads over the withholding of $62 million in aid to the Central American nation.

Image- Rolling Stone
Online Sources- New York Times, eTaiwan News,, The Latin Americanist, MSNBC