Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Today’s Video: Crunch time

We’re going to take a few days off since some of the contributors (like yours truly) are grad students swamped with finals, projects, and term papers. We’ll return with normal blogging on Monday. In the meantime, please check out the blogs on our blogroll for all the latest news and stories on Latin American and Latino affairs.

Take care, everyone!

Online Sources- South Park Studios

Spanish judge to investigate Gitmo abuses

A Spanish magistrate said that he will investigate abuses committed at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

In a ruling issued on Wednesday, Judge Baltasar Garzon said that he will probe the "perpetrators, the instigators, the necessary collaborators and accomplices" behind illicit actions taken at Gitmo. The judge mentioned that recently declassified papers “revealed what was previously a suspicion: the existence of an authorized and systematic program of torture and mistreatment of persons deprived of their freedom”.

Garzon’s move came after four former detainees detailed torture allegations including "sexual abuse" and "beating". (Two of them were acquitted and “similar charges against two others were shelved.”)

Garzon’s decision was unrelated to a separate investigation against several former White House officials including ex-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Spanish Attorney General Candido Conde-Pumpido declared weeks ago that that case had “no merit” and could be used as a political “toy.”

Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Guardian UK, AFP, CNN

Abortion banned in Dominican Republic

By a 167-32 vote, legislators in the Dominican Republic backed a constitutional amendment prohibiting all forms of abortion.

The measure adds a clause to the Dominican constitution stating that “the right to life is inviolable from conception until death” and also acknowledges the country's stance on the death penalty which has been prohibited since 1924.

The Catholic Church in the Dominican Republic launched a massive campaign in its push to bar abortion even cases of incest or rape. Nevertheless, the move was decried by human rights groups, women’s rights organizations, and the Dominican medical community:
(…) the Dominican Gynecology and Obstetrics Society Wednesday warned that the number of maternal deaths will increase considerably, with the approval of the article that bans the interruption of pregnancies…

Moreover Association of Housewives Committees president Rosario Lopez said she regrets that the Assembly members approved the article without including some exceptions to protect women and doctors. “It strongly draws our attention the urgency with which the Assembly members approved this article without Dominican society and especially the women, being given the opportunity to consider the opinion of a team of professionals, as we had suggested.”
The controversial measure was initially proposed by President Leonel Fernandez and he reportedly pushed lawmakers from his party to support it.

Image- Guinness World Records
Online Sources- Dominican Today,, Cleveland Leader,

The Other Outbreak: Grisi Siknis Cases Increase in Nicaragua

An outbreak of grisi skinis, or "crazy sickness" in the indigenous language of Miskito, is being reported in Bilwi, Nicaragua. In the last two months, more than 80 new cases of the disease, which causes hysteria followed by a coma-like state, have been reported.

The Miami Herald reports that, "Grisi siknis is a powerful and puzzling cultural-bound syndrome that afflicts Nicaragua's indigenous and ethnic communities, mostly young adolescent Miskito women. Outbreaks have been reported as far back as the early 1800s. Some health experts say the illness is more mental than physical. However, it behaves similar to other viral outbreaks in that it's contagious and can last for months or years."

The government has yet to issue a response to the outbreak, while locals are taking matters into their own hands. Evangelical reverends are saying grisi siknis is a signal of the end of time, Catholic priests are performing preventive exorcisms, and local traditional healers are providing herbs and medicinal potions.

Pablo McDavis, a professor in the Indigenous Diseases Department at the Uraccan University, has been studying the sickness for the past few years. McDavis told the BBC, "We have taken samples of blood from patients while suffering an attack and, in a lab, we can't detect anything. Drugs or injections tend to only increase a patient's aggressiveness. Clinically we can't detect anything. It is like an outbreak. If an attack is not contained quickly, it can spread throughout an entire community."

Image- La Prensa

Online sources- Miami Herald, BBC

Peru and China Make Trade Deal Official

The Associated Press reported that Peru signed a free trade agreement with China on Tuesday. The article states that trade between China and Peru reached $5.5 billion in 2007, up from $2 billion in 2004. This was "mostly on the strength of mineral exports from the Andean nation."

The pact is not without critics. Many Peruvians fear that it will force manufacturers to close due to cheaper imports.

This is China's second trade deal in the region. It has an existing agreement with Chile.
Online sources:

Daily Headlines: April 29, 2009

* U.S.: It was bound to happen – some anti-immigrant groups and right-wing commentators have exploited concerns over the swine flu outbreak in a pitiful attempt to further their political viewpoints.

* Venezuela: The brouhaha over Manuel Rosales continued yesterday after Venezuela recalled its ambassador from Peru.

* Mexico: Seven police officers were killed and three injured during a series of shootings in the border city of Tijuana.

* Colombia: A U.S. federal court sentenced Colombian drug trafficker Eugenio Montoya to thirty years in jail.

Image- AFP (“International travelers arrive at Bradley Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport.”)
Online Sources-, BBC News, Guardian UK, MSNBC, LA Daily

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Today’s Video: Much "achoo" about nothing?

Is the news over the swine flu outbreak blown out of proportion and as terrible as is being reported? “Face it: this story is dumb” mentioned Gawker in a post this morning which admonished the press for using scare tactics and creating a panic. A similar critique was described on “The Daily Show” Monday night:
The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Snoutbreak '09 - The Last 100 Days
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisFirst 100 Days

What do you think?

Online Sources- Gawker, Comedy Central, The Latin Americanist

Transsexual Chilean plays in female tennis tourney

A Chilean woman became the first transsexual to play in a professional women's tennis tournament in over thirty years.

Thirty-seven-year-old Andrea Paredes von Roth was born as Ernesto Paredes and underwent a sex change operation in 2000. Paredes began her tennis career as a man but would endure discrimination in the years after her gender change. The Chilean Tennis Federation refused to let her rent tennis courts for her training while the International Tennis Federation passed rules in 2005 effectively barring her from competing. (The ITF would later clear Paredes to compete).

Paredes made her debut last week in Buenos Aires in a Futures tournament where she was beaten 6-0, 6-0 by Britain’s Nicola Slater. Nonetheless, Paredes vowed to live her dream on the tennis courts:
"I'm tough. I've had to be. I won't let the comments get to me. I'm going to get on with playing tennis. I've had to fight all the way. People said it wasn't possible, and I had to have hormone tests with the ITF last year, so it was a big step for me to finally have the chance to play tennis. It has been my aim to play a professional match, and I've done that, but I want to go on and play more matches. All the players here in Argentina have been very tolerant and understanding of me, and I haven't had any nasty comments from anyone. They've been very nice to me. I believe that the people in Argentina are much nicer and more understanding than they are in Chile, and maybe that's because there are a lot more transsexuals in Argentina."
Image- Revista Tennis
Online Sources- The Telegraph, Milenio,, Pravda

Bolivia, Paraguay reaches border agreement

Bolivia and Paraguay have settled a long-running dispute over the Chaco region of South America.

With Argentine President Cristina Kirchner serving as a guarantor, Paraguay’s Fernando Lugo and Bolivia’ Evo Morales signed the deal on Monday in Buenos Aires. Lugo and Morales agreed to resolve their differences over the Chaco area which was the basis for the bloody Chaco War in the 1930s.

Both presidents called for a new era of diplomacy between Bolivia and Paraguay yet also blamed the Chaco War on “foreign interests”:
Mr. Morales blamed multi-national oil firms - in their quest for natural resources - for fuelling the Chaco war, which claimed 100,000 lives.

The key energy companies operating in the region at the time were US Standard Oil, backed by Bolivia, and the Anglo-Dutch Shell Oil Company, supported by Paraguay.

President Lugo expressed the hope that natural resources could now "be developed and used by both countries without any foreign intervention."
The Chaco region is over 400,000 square miles in size and has been dubbed as "the last South American frontier".

Image- (The Chaco region was hit hard by a drought last year which affected livestock and the sparsely populated indigenous peoples living there).
Online Sources-, Wikipedia, BBC News, PRESS TV

Swine flu outbreak spreads; death toll rises

The following is an update of some of the most important recent developments regarding the swine flu outbreak:

* The World Health Organization raised its alert level for the outbreak to 4, which means that person-to-person infection is occurring and governments should be ready to deal with local outbreaks. One WHO official said that the outbreak may turn out to be a “very mild pandemic”. Yet the WHO also warned that it could become a very deadly global pandemic akin to the 1918 flu outbreak which killed over ten million people.

* Mexican officials reported that the swine flu death toll there has grown to approximately 152 people. Thus, Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard announced today that all movie theaters, convention centers and museums would be closed. In addition, Ebrard ordered that all restaurants serve take-out service only until May 5th.

* Several Latin American countries are on high health alert and taking cautionary steps to prevent the spreading on the disease. Cuba will severely limit flights from Mexico and Peru has “initiated a nationwide precautionary plan”. Nevertheless, there may be eight possible cases of swine flu in Chile and eleven travelers with flu-like symptoms in Brazil.

* U.S. health officials raised the total of swine flu cases to 64 in the states of New York (45), California (10), Texas (6), Kansas (2), and Ohio (1). Canada, Israel, France, New Zealand, Costa Rica and South Korea reported new cases today. Several countries including the U.S. and Canada have urged their citizens to avoid nonessential travel to Mexico.

* The origin of the outbreak has led some scientists to center on the southern state of Oaxaca where the first case was detected. Yet residents in one town in the Gulf state of Veracruz have blamed a U.S.-owned firm that runs several pig breeding farms.

Image- Guardian UK
Online Sources- Too many to list!

Daily Headlines: April 28, 2009

* Venezuela: Maracaibo mayor and key opposition figure Manuel Rosales was granted political asylum in Peru days after he left Venezuela.

* Latin America: “A senior IMF official” said last week that Latin America should be able to rebound well from the global economic crisis once it ends.

* Brazil: Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega called on developed countries to “clean up their financial system(s)” in order to overcome the weakened worldwide economy.

* Puerto Rico: Over the weekend, hackers disrupted a number of local web sites for mega-companies like Google, Microsoft, and Coca-Cola.

Image- (“Picture taken on March 25, 2009 of Venezuela's top opposition leader Manuel Rosales during a press conference organized by opposition governors and mayors to claim their pacific resistance against President Hugo Chavez, in Caracas.”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, BBC News, Reuters, CNET News

Monday, April 27, 2009

Today’s Video: Feliz cumpleaños Willie Colon!

Tomorrow is the 59th birthday of Puerto Rican salsa legend Willie Colon. In honor of this, the following video is of Colon accompanying the late Hector Lavoe over two decades ago:

Online Sources-, YouTube

The misadventures of 00-pendejo

Some stories speak for themselves:
A British intelligence officer undermined a large anti-drugs operation in South America by leaving a computer memory stick on a bus, it has been claimed.

The blunder risked the lives of dozens of undercover agents and their informants whose details were contained on the stick, according to reports.

Security bosses were forced to suspend operations against drugs barons in Colombia and relocate the compromised agents, amid fears that they would be targeted for retribution.

An officer working for the Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA) left the memory stick in her handbag on a bus after landing at El Dorado airport in Bogota, where she was to start a new position working with MI5 and MI6 to gather information on the cocaine trade…

A spokesman for Soca, which was established in 2006 as Britain's answer to the FBI, said that the loss took place in the early days of the agency "whilst staff were still working to the data-handling policies of precursor agencies."

Image- Daily Mail
Online Sources- The Telegraph

Controversy over immigrant child detention in U.K.

One of the sticking points in the already heated immigration debate in the U.S. centers on families split over immigration restrictions. For instance, a pro-immigrant group filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration in January to seek a halt to deportations.

A similar controversy has developed in the U.K. over the arresting and detaining the children of immigrants who seek asylum. "We are particularly concerned at what appear at times to be significant discrepancies between policy guidance and what happens in practice to children, young people and families during arrest, transportation and detention," said English Children's Commissioner Sir Al Aynsley-Green. He also made 42 recommendations for improving conditions at the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre including developing community-based alternatives and using detention only used as "a last resort".

Speaking for the government, Justice Secretary Jack Straw rejected the recommendations and claimed that Britain “comes under criticism mainly for being too humane towards asylum seekers not the other way round.” Yet as one former detainee- a 15-year old girl- told the BBC, staying at Yarl’s Wood was like being jailed:
It was like a prison. The windows only opened four inches, and to get to the main ward there was 20 doors locked on you.

And there was just a little park, you could only see the sky because there was really big walls around it.

[I was in there for] three months. I got in a depression a lot when I was in there.

I was thinking 'why would I deserve this when every other child is outside there doing something different every day, and I do the same thing every day?'.
Image- BBC News
Online Sources- Guardian UK, BBC News, Reuters, Times Online, The Latin Americanist

Israeli “diplomatic offensive” targets LatAm

Iran has recently forged closer ties with several Latin American governments such as Venezuela. This has alarmed some U.S. foreign policy wonks as well as the Obama administration. Such concerns have also worried the Israeli government who, according to an article in the local press, is preparing to counterbalance Iran’s influence in the Americas:
In the coming months Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman will launch a diplomatic offensive against Iran in African and Latin American countries, believing that efforts must be invested in these continents as well, and not just in the United States and Europe…

"I attribute great importance to these countries. We shouldn't invest only in the US and Europe. The fight against Iran's nuclearization should be expanded," Lieberman explained to his staff, adding that it is was even more important today to strengthen the ties with African and Latin American countries, in light of Iran's growing influence in those regions.
Lieberman didn’t say how the “diplomatic offensive” will promote Israel’s standing in the region which took a big hit over the Gaza offensive months ago.

Image- BBC
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Ynetnews

Correa rolls to victory

President Correa was today announced victor in the presidential election of Ecuador, garnering just over 50% of the vote to win his reelection outright in the first round against the former president Lucio Gutierrez and business magnate Alvaro Noboa.

In the legislative election, sources suggest that Correa's Movimiento País coalition may yet have an absolute majority, already having likely won 61 of 124 assembly seats, with more to be determined and and with the likelihood of adding voting blocs with smaller parties.

With the consolidated legislative power, fears abound that Correa's ideological bents will cloud his ability to manage the economic storm facing the country, and critics cite his poor economic record to date as proof that his handling has not been deft. Nontheless, Correa has maintained his popularity with the working and lower classes of Ecuador. “Correa is better than the thieves that came before him,” said one Quiteño street vendor quoted in the NY Times.

With a new 4 year mandate, Correa is set to become the longest serving president in Ecuador's troubled political history since Jose Maria Velasco Ibarra (who himself never officially served more than 3 consecutive years).

At 46, Correa will soon be the youngest president in Latin America (outgoing Panamanian President Martin Torrijos is also 46).

For more coverage, check out:

Daily Headlines: April 27, 2009

* Nicaragua: A California judge on Thursday dismissed two pesticide lawsuits against Dole that were brought up by Nicaraguan plantation workers.

* Latin America: Films from Chile, Uruguay and Peru are in the running for top honors at next month’s Cannes Critics' Week.

* Cuba: Three out of every five people in the U.S. support reestablishing diplomatic ties with Cuba according to a recent Gallup poll.

* Dominican Republic: Amnesty International warned that certain “constitutional and legal reforms” being considered by the government could hurt the rights of women.

Image- ABC News
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Bloomberg, Amnesty International, AFP, UPI

Sunday, April 26, 2009

High alert over Mexican swine flu outbreak

As many as 81 deaths- including five on Sunday- have been officially blamed on an outbreak of swine flu in central Mexico including Mexico City. President Felipe Calderon asked residents to “maintain calm and collaborate with authorities” in order to prevent the speared of the disease to other parts of the country and abroad.

As a preventative measure, the Mexican capital was like “a strange zombie movie” according to one resident after the government shut down all kinds of public spaces. Soccer matches at the Estadio Azteca were played sans aficionados and Sunday masses were empty as people were urged this weekend to stay at home and avoid outside contact. Local schools have been ordered to remain closed until this Wednesday though Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard warned that other public areas may be off limits this week unless the outbreak lessens.

In comments made today on CNN en Español, Dr. Elmer Huerta observed that it’s not known exactly how the swine flu outbreak occurred and why it has hit Mexico so hard. The World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the outbreak has "pandemic potential" and several countries are on high alert.
  • U.S.: The government "will declare today a public health emergency in the United States," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said after at least twenty cases of swine flu have been confirmed. Several cases have been detected in the border states of California and Texas but others as far away as New York City.
  • Canada: Health officials today confirmed six cases of swine flu; much like the aforementioned case in New York, several patients are high school students who recently traveled to Mexico.
  • New Zealand: Health Minister Tony Ryall declared that ten students who recently returned from Mexico are "highly likely" infected with swine flu after having tested positive for influenza A.
  • Europe: French and Spanish authorities are testing five people for possible infection though tests conducted in the U.K. on a British Airways cabin crew member proved negative.
According to the WHO, the swine flu isn’t transmitted by eating pork meat as long as it’s cooked at high temperature. Symptoms include fever, cough sore throat and body aches though may also include pneumonia and death in extreme cases.

Image- Al Jazeera English
Online Sources- NY1, Xinhua, BBC News, Times Online, AP, Al Jazeera English, Bloomberg, The Telegraph, Reuters, CRCHD