Friday, May 8, 2009

Today’s Video: Ode to Mother’s Day

To all the mamis (and mother figures) out there we wish you a very happy and enjoyable Mother’s Day!

Online Sources- YouTube

“Tito the Builder” rallies against workers bill

Do you guys remember “Tito the Builder”?

The Colombian-born Tito Muñoz became the de facto Latino spokesman for the Republican presidential ticket last year and even appeared with Sarah Palin at a few of her stump speeches. Though Muñoz showed that the Latino electorate represents different viewpoints, his crackpot rants on the Constitution and against Barack Obama made him appear (for lack of a nicer term) stupid.

Muñoz’ fifteen minutes of fame should’ve been up a long time ago much like Joe the Plumber. Yet both continue to be in the spotlight for the same reason: to share their ire over the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).
Back inside, a Colombian immigrant who owns a small construction company in Prince William County roused the crowd. In October "Tito the Builder," also known as Tito Muñoz, got national attention for standing up for Joe the Plumber.

"There is nothing free in this" bill, he said. "I cannot believe there are senators and representatives who can look us in the eye and say this is a good piece of legislation. ... I don't want the unions to come and take my company."

Then, the crowd chanted his name.
In a nutshell, the EFCA would make it easier for workers to unionize. As to be expected, support for the proposal has come from labor unions like the AFL-CIO and dissenters from pro-businesses groups such as the Heritage Foundation.

I have my own personal reservations on the EFCA mainly over the “secret ballot” clause. But it doesn’t help those who oppose the act when two uninformed louts have become such a vocal part of their campaign.

Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Wikipedia, YouTube, AFL-CIO, Heritage Foundation,

Mexico officially in recession

It’s official; much like its northern neighbor, Mexico’s economic downturn has officially become a recession:
Mexico's economy is in recession and could contract by 4.1 percent this year because of a decline in exports to the United States and a national shutdown to curb a swine flu outbreak, the finance secretary said Thursday.

"It is a fact that we are in recession," Finance Secretary Agustin Carstens told foreign correspondents - marking the first time the government has acknowledged Mexico is already in a recession…

Carstens said gross domestic product could contract 4.1 percent this year, an estimate that takes into account the cost of the swine flu epidemic that forced a five-day closure of many government services and businesses. All businesses were allowed to reopen Thursday.

Carstens added that Mexico’s economic woes may continue for a while since the country may not see economic growth until early next year.

Despite the negative news, the Mexican stock market continued its bullish run this week with the IPC index reaching its highest point since October.

Image- New York Times (The swine flu outbreak forced restaurants in Mexico City this month to either allow take-out service only or close altogether).
Online Sources- Reuters, Bloomberg,

Boricua activists arrested at Capitol

Days before being inaugurated as president, Barack Obama pledged to Puerto Rican officials that he would "enable the question of Puerto Rico's status to be resolved" during his first term. Since that January promise, however, the process of creating a plebiscite on the island to decide Puerto Rico's political status has progressed at a glacial pace.

It should come as no surprise then that some activists have protested and are calling for prompt action by the federal government:
Police escorted six pro-Puerto Rican independence protesters out of the U.S. Capitol Wednesday after they caused a disturbance in the House chamber.

The demonstrators stood up in the House gallery while legislators were debating a bill on the floor and shouted slogans calling for more respect for Puerto Rican right. They group also held up signs reading “111 years of Colony. It’s a shame. End the colony.”
The protesters received visitor’s passes to the House gallery from Puerto Rico's delegate to Congress- Pedro Pierluisi. He promptly decried the demonstrators’ actions which were not “appropriate… to speak one's mind about the political status of Puerto Rico.”

Admittedly, the White House has had much more important issues to handle (e.g. the weakened economy, conflicts abroad) and the disruption at the Capital may have been illegal. Yet it is high time to respect the right to self-determination and allow Puerto Ricans the chance to decide the island’s political status. One may disagree with the viewpoints of the independientistas, but their opinions should matter along with other Puerto Ricans who care for the future of their island.

Image- The Fact Checker (“Demonstrating for statehood, San Juan, Puerto Rico.”)
Online Sources- AP, The Latin Americanist, The Speaker’s Lobby

Luis Ramirez and Every Mother's Sons and Daughters : Seeking Justice by All Means Necessary

Cross-Posted from VivirLatino and the Sanctuary

in 1991, in the rapidly changing immigrant community of Corona, Queens, NYC 19 year old son of Dominican immigrants, Manny Mayi Jr. was beaten to death.

Last year, Marcelo Lucero was killed.

At the start of the new year Wilter Sanchez was nearly killed.

In February of this year Jose Sucuzhañay, an Ecuadorian immigrant was beaten to death.

Speaking Spanish can get you beaten.

And most recently, Luis Ramirez was beaten and killed and those accused got away with murder.

I could go through recent and not so recent history and clearly see a pattern and practice of hate that has been growing. A pattern and practice of racism, nativism, fueled by the media and government, eaten up by the mainstream public.

People in Shenandoah celebrated, went out into the streets and rejoiced after an all-white jury found Brandon J. Piekarsky, 17, and Derrick M. Donchak, 19, guilty of lesser charges and acquitted them of criminal homicide and aggravated assault.

And then people have the nerve to ask why are more Latinos not more active in the fight for immigration change?

This is not just about laws, this about lives.

So what do we as a community do?

In the case of Marcelo Lucero, the Feds have stepped in to investigate a pattern and practice of hate crimes against Latinos while local law enforcement did nothing.

The Feds are considering opening an investigation into the 18 year old killing of Manny Mayi jr.

18 fucking years.

Federal investigations and federal hate crimes legislation will not bring sons and daughters like Angie Zapata back. Civil rights statutes do not equal justice against individuals and a society that sends the message that our lives are worth less because of what we look like, how we speak, and where we come from. Pero, they are weapons people can get behind in addition to other strategies.

MALDEF has a petition that all people should get behind. It asks that the United States Department of Justice to intervene and conduct an independent and comprehensive investigation of the brutal murder of Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania.

It is not the answer. It will not save our lives and the lives of our children. That HAS to happen on multiple fronts that include direct action, legal action, media strategies and education.

Think of all the mothers without their children this coming Sunday, Mother's Day.

Sign the petition . Our lives cannot wait.

Soldiers Arrested in Colombia.

The Colombian government has arrested more than 20 soldiers believed to have killed civilians in order to pass them off as as rebels or paramilitaries, the BBC reported.

There are currently about 1,500 other cases under investigation.

President Uribe asserted, "Just as there are human rights violations, which should become known and punished, and we hope become a thing of the past...there are also plenty of false accusations.  Just as we have to demand total transparency from our soldiers and police, we also have to demand total impartiality from the justice system."

Photo credit:
Online sources: BBC

Daily Headlines: May 8, 2009

* Latin America: Brazil and Argentina have become the latest countries to confirm cases of the swine flu, while Haiti overreacted and rejected a Mexican ship carrying food aid.

* Venezuela: Authorities are looking into the murder of labor union leader Argenis Vasquez.

* Colombia: The country invited former Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku to speak at a conference then expelled him after he was wanted in Serbia on war crimes charges.

* Latin America: According to the International Monetary Fund, Latin America and the Caribbean will recover faster than economies in developed countries.

Image- BBC News
Online Sources- LAHT, AP, Xinhua, MSNBC, Reuters

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Today’s Video: Pablo Ferro

The late film director Stanley Kubrick once described Pablo Ferro as a “genius”. While that may seem over-the-top, the Cuban-born artist has worked for over three decades as a director, editor, and producer. He is best-known for his creativity as title designer for movies like “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”, “A Clockwork Orange”, “L.A. Confidential”, and “Napoleon Dynamite”.

A documentary about Ferro is reported to be released next year. The following is the trailer for what should be a superb film:

Online Sources- YouTube,, Wikipedia

Venezuelan beetle named after Stephen Colbert

Some stories speak for themselves:
“What has six legs and is way cooler than a spider?” asks a riddle on the cover of a birthday card recently sent to Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central.

The answer - Agaporomorphus colberti - a diving beetle from Venezuela that was recently identified by entomologists Quentin Wheeler of Arizona State University and Kelly Miller of the University of New Mexico.

“Last year, Stephen shamelessly asked the science community to name something cooler than a spider to honor him,” Wheeler said. “His top choices were a giant ant or a laser lion. While those would be cool species to discover, our research involves beetles, and they are way cooler than a spider any day.
Online Sources- ecospeak

Mexico: Swine flu deaths increase

I don’t know about you, but I’m up to my eyebrows with the barrage of media coverage on the swine flu outbreak. It’s not that the story is “dumb” as one website recently wrote, but the amount of hysteria behind some of the reporting is annoying.

Nevertheless the story is vital in that it has turned the lives of thousands of people upside down, particularly in Mexico. Mexico City is slowly returning to some sane level of normalcy after days of going through a virtual shutdown. Yet Mexican President Felipe Calderon urged his countrymen to be vigilant when he said today that “it is not the time to sing victory songs or say this is over.”

Calderon’s warning against complacency is well-founded after authorities confirmed a rising death toll from the swine flu:
The death toll from the A/H1N1 flu epidemic in Mexico has climbed to 44 as of late Wednesday, the health minister said Thursday.

Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova Villalobos also said the number of confirmed cases of the disease increased from 90 a day earlier to 1,160 on Thursday…

He said the two victims died earlier but were just confirmed as having had the virus.
Cordova mentioned yesterday that a World Health Organization specialist arrived in Mexico to work on a vaccine for the alternatively named AH1N1 virus.

Meanwhile, the acting chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today that only 10% of the nearly 900 swine flu cases in the U.S. came from people who traveled to Mexico.

Image- New Zealand Herald (“A man waits for a train to stop in Mexico City”).
Online Sources- Xinhua, The Latin Americanist, AP, The Telegraph, Bloomberg, BBC News

Chile expanding China language program

For some in the Americas, China’s increasing inroads into the region is a
reason for worry and concern though for others it’s a prime chance for economic growth and development. It is no wonder then that (as we mentioned in 2006) Latin Americans are taking a greater interest in how to speak Mandarin and learn about Chinese culture.

Several governments in the Americas are eager to expand educational opportunities in order to fulfill that growing demand:
The Chilean Education Ministry announced on Wednesday the expansion of Chinese education in the country's high schools.

According to the ministry's plan, the number of high schools that run Chinese courses as a foreign language will rise from five to 10 in 2009 and the number of high school students learning Chinese will rise to 1,700 from 850 in 2008.

Rodrio Fabrega, chief of the "Languages Open Doors" program, said the country's demand for talents who can speak Chinese is increasing particularly in economic, cultural and tourism sectors, since a free trade deal between the two countries took effect in October 2006.
Image- The Globalist
Online Sources- Xinhua, The Latin Americanist, AFP

Spain busts Cuban smuggling ring

Ask the average person about Cuba and immigration and they’ll most likely visualize balseros packed onto rafts or other makeshift vessels trying to make their way to Miami. In recent years, however, Cubans have increasingly looked at other means to make their way off the island such as being smuggled by land across the U.S.-Mexico border. Oftentimes, reaching the U.S. is a harrowing ordeal as evidenced by the results of a recent Spanish investigation:
Spanish authorities have arrested 29 people suspected of forging credit cards to finance an elaborate scheme to smuggle Cubans into the U.S. from Mexico, police said Wednesday.

The organization hacked credit card data to steal more than euro400,000 ($530,000) from customers at restaurants and bars around Spain, a police statement said…

Police said the group brought Cubans to Nicaragua to work in companies serving as fronts for the smuggling gang.

In Nicaragua, the group got help from a senior official of a Spanish NGO, police said.

From that Central American country, Cubans were eventually brought to Spain with fake papers stating they had jobs waiting for them, then given forged passports to travel to Mexico. There, members of the smuggling ring would aid them in sneaking across the U.S. border, the police statement said.
It may be possible that a deeper, more significant thawing in the icy relations between Cuba and the U.S. could help stem the tide of migrants fleeing the island. In the meantime, however, many Cubans continue to take the risks of seeking a better life in the U.S.

Image- BBC News (Mexican soldier patrols one of the country ports)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, AP, Reuters,

Manny Ramirez to be suspended over drugs

Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Manny Ramirez will be suspended for fifty games by Major League Baseball (MLB) due to a positive test for banned drugs.

Ramirez’ anticipated suspension comes after the Los Angeles Times broke the news this morning of his failed test. The outfielder- whose superb play has helped the Dodgers to a major-league leading 21-8 record- took responsibility while also claiming that he did not purposefully take illegal drugs:
"Recently I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid, which he thought was OK to give me," Ramirez said in a statement issued by the players' union.

"Unfortunately, the medication was banned under our drug policy. Under the policy that mistake is now my responsibility. I have been advised not to say anything more for now. I do want to say one other thing; I've taken and passed about 15 drug tests over the past five seasons."
According to baseball columnist Tom Verducci, Ramirez did not test positive for steroids but for a so far publicly unknown substance that “was clearly defined as a banned performance enhancer according to the drug agreement between baseball and its players association.”

Ramirez will thus becomes the second high-profile MLB star this year to be linked to performance-enhancing drugs after New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez confessed in February to having used steroids.

Online Sources- ABC News, USA TODAY,, New York Daily News, Los Angeles Times

Daily Headlines: May 7, 2009

* Peru: Lori Berenson- a U.S. citizen controversially convicted for aiding Peru’s Tupac Amaru rebels- gave birth yesterday to a baby boy in Lima.

* Brazil: Heavy flooding in northeastern Brazil have killed at least fifteen people and left over 180,000 homeless.

* U.S.: Popular Latino catholic priest Alberto Cutié has come under fire after paparazzi snapped photos of him at a beach embracing and passionately kissing a woman.

* Venezuela: The country’s inflation rate rose slightly in April though the overall rate is a worrying 28.3%.

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

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Today’s Video: Stuck in China

One of the most controversial aspects of the swine flu outbreak was the forced quarantine of approximately 150 Mexicans in China. Some of the formerly sequestered Mexicans returned to their homeland this week and five of them vented their frustration after arriving in Mexico City:

Some choice quotes from the above video include:
“Each person has his or her own story.”

“(A mother of three) was taken to a dirty, bloody hospital and prohibited from being visited by consular officials.”

“(Chinese officials) took me to a mobile laboratory with other Mexicans and left me there for five hours without water or permission to use the bathroom.”

“There were about six t seven kids with us (in quarantine).”

“We were discriminated”.

Online Sources- Reuters, YouTube

Soccer player suspended over swine flu “prank”

Some stories speak for themselves:
Hector Reynoso, a defender for Mexican club Chivas of Guadalajara, has been provisionally suspended for the remainder of the Copa Libertadores, South America's annual club championship…

Reynoso spit at Sebastian Penco of Chile's Everton last Wednesday in the waning moments of a 1-1 tie in Vina del Mar, Chile. Then he pressed down on each nostril and blew at Penco, telling him: “Now you have swine flu.”

There are no indications that Reynoso actually has swine flu, or that Penco contracted it, but the damage was done. CONMEBOL, soccer's governing body for South America, said it would settle on a permanent suspension in the next few days. It issued a statement yesterday saying: “This situation, lamentable in its own right, was aggravated by the risk of a possible infection of the disease AH1N1.”
Reynoso has apologized to Penco which the Chilean reportedly accepted.

Reynoso’s stunt is the least of Chivas’ troubles regarding the swine flu. Copa Libertadores matches involving Chivas and fellow Mexicans San Luis were postponed after Colombian and Chilean officials refused to allow their venues to be used as alternatives to flu-stricken Mexico.

Image- Sydney Morning Herald
Online Sources-, AP, Guardian UK

Dole Foods in Colombian paramilitary lawsuit

A lawsuit filed last week alleged that Dole Foods were in cahoots with Colombian paramilitaries.

Much like a previous lawsuit against fellow banana importers Chiquita, the plaintiffs claimed that the company knowingly hired rightist paramilitaries to intimidate and murder labor union activists. One of the attorneys for the plaintiffs said that he will use testimony from a former paramilitary commander who admitted responsibility for some of the deaths mentioned in the suit and claimed that Dole made regular payments to his cohorts.

A statement from Dole denied the “baseless allegations” brought up in the lawsuit. “These terrorists have every reason to lie by making false allegations against international companies like Dole in order to minimize their own culpability and reduce their jail time,” mentioned Dole’s Executive Vice President in the statement.

The case was filed days after an NGO report partially blamed paramilitaries for a startling increase in Colombia’s displaced population:
Some 380,000 Colombians were forced from their homes last year by the continuing armed conflict, a local human rights group has said.

The Center for Human Rights and the Displaced, Codhes, says this is a 25% rise on 2008 and brings the total displaced since 1985 to 4.6 million…

"The great majority live in severe conditions of poverty," the Codhes report said, while their own land and property had fallen into the hands of others in a "de facto expropriation".
Image- Guardian UK (“Two members of the AUC paramilitary group search a bus on the road to Santa Fe de Ralito in northern Colombia.”)
Online Sources- BBC News, AP,

China becomes Brazil’s top trade partner

In yesterday’s post on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s postponed tour of Latin America we mentioned how U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was not pleased over “disturbing” inroads made by Iran and China into the region. Surely she won’t be happy with the news that China has surpassed the U.S. as Brazil’s leading trade partner:
According to the trade balance released by (Brazil's Ministry of Development, Industry and Exterior Trade), the sum of Brazil's exports and imports with China reached 3.2 billion U.S. dollars in April, over the 2.8 billion dollars in its trade with the U.S.

Trade Minister Welber Barral said the change was "historic," as the U.S. has been Brazil's biggest trading partner since the 1930s.
The change may be sustainable since China’s economy continues to grow while that of the U.S. is in recession according to one Brazilian official. This should permit a diversification of exports to China and boost Brazil’s trade surplus added Barral.

Could China make such strong economic inroads in other Latin American nations? Stay tuned…

Image- Mercopress (Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping met with Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva last February)
Online Sources- Xinhua, The Latin Americanist, Reuters, LAHT

Daily Headlines: May 6, 2009

* Bolivia: Despite denying being involved in a failed assassination plot against President Evo Morales, the government has implicated several key Bolivian opposition figures.

* U.S.: A woman appointed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to a local commission resigned after making ridiculously disparaging remarks about Mexico and the swine flu outbreak.

* Cuba: Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus is expected to soon introduce a bill designed to boost U.S. farm exports to Cuba.

* Venezuela: Seventeen people, mostly Venezuelan troops, were killed when a military helicopter crashed near the border with Colombia.

Image- BBC News
Online Sources- WNYC, The Latin Americanist, Reuters, CBS News

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Today’s Video: Flares + confetti = fire!

To paraphrase this song:

The cup, the cup, the cup is on fire

The cup, the cup, the cup is on fire

The cup, the cup, the cup is on fire

We don't need no water let the player burn

Burn Corinthians burn

Corinthians’ victory over Santos in Brazil’s Paulista state soccer tourney last weekend nearly ended on an ugly note:

(Hat tip: The Offside).

Online Sources- The Offside,, YouTube

New Basque leader vows to combat ETA

The new leader of the Basque government in Spain said that he will combat armed separatist group ETA.

"I will be a president who will fight ETA day in and day out," Basque Socialist Party leader Patxi Lopez said to the regional legislature shortly before he was elected as Basque President. Lopez became the first non-nationalist Basque head in three decades after he was backed by two of Spain’s traditional parties: the leftist socialists and the right-wing Popular Party.

With no-pro-ETA groups elected to the Basque parliament, Lopez’ minority government will focus on combating the separatists as well as improving the region’s ailing economy:
"We are closer to the end of ETA but we have not arrived at that point yet," he said in a reference to a recent wave of arrests of members of the outfit in Spain as well as across the border in France.

In its latest statement ETA warned that Mr. Lopez's government would be its "priority target"…

His government plans to abolish subsidies for associations representing imprisoned ETA, ban public tributes to members of the outfit and provide Basque police with more means to fight the group.

It also intends to halt a program aimed at making Basque the main language in school, with children given the option to study mainly in Spanish if their families want them to.
As we’ve mentioned previously, rumors have linked ETA to other rebel armies such as Colombia’s FARC.

Image- BBC News
Online Sources- Time, The Telegraph, The Latin Americanist, AP

Mexican trade, travel hit hard by flu fears

It appears that the number of deaths and illnesses from the deadly swine flu has leveled off in Mexico and the country is trying to slowly return to some level of normalcy. In the meantime, Mexico’s economy has been battered as a result of international reactions to the outbreak.

Last week, three airlines have temporarily cut flights to Mexico: U.S. Airways, Continental Airlines, and United Airlines. American Airlines can be added to that list after announcing today that it will book 25% fewer flights to Mexico. Some passengers have opted to nix traveling to Mexico after carriers such as U.S. Airways permitted cancelling or rebooking free of charge.

Cuba, Ecuador and Argentina have temporarily suspended flights to Mexico thus hurting an already an ailing airplane industry and a Mexican economy undergoing a recession. (These measures are peanuts, however, compared to China’s profiling and forced quarantine of Mexicans regardless of whether or not they have swine flu symptoms).

According to Mexican Finance Minister Agustin Carstens the swine flu outbreak could lead to as much as a 0.5% loss in economic growth. It’s no small wonder then that the Mexican government is planning a massive “swine flu stimulus package”:
The Mexican government plans to bring in a 17.4 billion peso...[ed. - US$1.3 billion] stimulus package aimed at supporting the tourism industry and the small business sector, Finance Minister Agustin Carstens said Tuesday.

Health insurance premiums will be temporarily cut for small firms, while airlines and cruise ships will see their taxes cut.

Mexican hotel occupancy rates have been cut in half in the wake of the outbreak of swine flu, while many airlines have cancelled flights to the country. The outbreak, which has its roots in Mexico, has led the World Health Organization to raise its global pandemic alert level to five on a scale that tops out at six.

The Mexican economy has lost the equivalent of $2.59 billion Cdn [ed. – roughly US$2.4 billion] due to the swine flu outbreak, the finance minister said.
Image- AP (“A street vendor wearing a protection mask as precaution against swine flu. sells flowers at the San Ysidro crossing port in Tijuana, Mexico, Friday, May 1, 2009.”)
Online Sources- Reuters, Al Jazeera English, MarketWatch, CBC, USA TODAY, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, ABC News

Ahmadinejad nixes Latin American tour

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has postponed his planned tour of Latin America according to a government statement.

Ahmadinejad’s proposed visit to Venezuela, Ecuador and Brazil was supposed to have started Wednesday yet he postponed it yesterday without publicly providing a reason why. According to one report, however, the timing of the visit was “not well programmed” since it would have meant less time for Ahmadinejad to campaign for reelection.

Representatives for the Iranian and Brazilian governments are planning a future meeting date for Ahmadinejad and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Nevertheless, the planned visit peeved off several thousand Brazilians who protested in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Furthermore, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concern over the “disturbing” inroads made by Iran in Latin America:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday defended new moves to engage anti-US leaders in Latin America as a way to check what she called "disturbing" Iranian and Chinese inroads in the region…

"I don't think in today's world ... that it is in our interest to turn our back on countries in our own hemisphere," Clinton told diplomats and other State Department staff.

She described the new world as "a multipolar world where we are competing for attention and relationships with at least the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians," adding such countries can soon fill the void.

"If you look at the gains, particularly in Latin America, that Iran is making, that China is making, it's quite disturbing," the chief US diplomat said.

"They're building very strong economic and political connections with a lot of these leaders. I don't think that it's in our interests," Clinton said.
Online Sources- AFP, Brazzil Magazine, Monsters & Critics, Bloomberg

Cinco de Mayo…revisited (again)

As we alluded to last night, today is Cinco de Mayo- a very important day in Mexican history. It is not the country’s day of independence; rather, it’s the commemoration of one of Mexico’s most famous military victories.

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, we’re reproducing our annual post showing some of the best-known military battles in Latin American history. Enjoy!

* Battle of Crête-à-Pierrot (1802) - One of the first major battles in the Haitian Revolution. Though the French would win the battle, Haitian rebels ultimately prevailed after the French suffered massive losses.

* Battle of Chacabuco (1817) - Despite being outnumbered by nearly a 3:1 margin, Jose de San Martin and Bernardo O’Higgins led Chilean forces against the Spanish in this battle fought just outside Santiago.

* Battle of Boyacá (1819) - El Libertador Simón Bolivar commanded about 3000 soldiers including “a small British Legion” in this battle which would assure independence for Nueva Granada.

* Battle of Ayacucho (1824) - This was the decisive battle for Peru’s independence; as a result of the Independence army’s victory, Spanish forces agreed to leave Peru.

* Battle of Cerro Corá (1870) - The final battle in the brutal War of the Triple Alliance which would lead to Brazilian occupation of Paraguay for several years.

* Battle of Celaya (1915) - “The single bloodiest battle of the Mexican Revolution” which led to the beginning of the end for Pancho Villa’s forces.

* Battle of Carrizal (1916) - Battle between U.S. Expeditionary Forces and Mexican troops nearly led to a war between the neighboring nations.

* Battle of Yaguajay (1958) - A turning point in the Cuban revolution; the battle was won by rebel forces led by Fidel Castro and would soon lead to the end of Fulgencio Batista’s rule in Cuba.

Image- (“Mexicans wearing period costumes re-enact the battle of Puebla during an anniversary in Mexico City May 5, 2008. The battle marked the defeat by Mexican troops and local Indians in the central state of Puebla of an invasion by a much better-equipped French force in 1862. Firing homemade shotguns loaded with gunpowder, hundreds of men dressed as female Indian peasants with blackened faces, straw hats and embroidered blouses fought mock running battles against French invaders in white bloomers.”)
Online Sources- Wikipedia, The Latin Americanist

Daily Headlines: May 5, 2009

* Cuba: How difficult is it to be a blogger in Cuba? According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Cuba is one of the "10 worst countries to be a blogger."

* Brazil: The country’s Bovespa index hit past the 50,000 mark for the first time since September as stocks rallied over an optimistic commodities outlook.

* Colombia: Sixth time may be the charm for Colombian president Alvaro Uribe who wants to outlaw the personal use of several narcotics.

* Venezuela: No reports of damage or casualties were made after an earthquake measuring 5.3 on the Richter scale shook coastal Venezuela.

Image- MSNBC (Yoani Sanchez is Cuba’s best-known blogger and author behind the critical “Generation Y” site.)
Online Sources- MSNBC, Bloomberg,, The Latin Americanist, AFP

Monday, May 4, 2009

Today’s Video: Viva pandering

Yes folks, it’s that time of the year again: the U.S. president lends lip service to Mexico in honor of Cinco de Mayo.

Quick history lesson: Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s independence day!

Online Sources- Wikipedia, YouTube

Business magnate triumphs in Panama elections

Four years ago, Ricardo Martinelli earned a scant 5% support in Panama’s presidential elections and finished last. On Sunday, voters chose the multimillionaire supermarket tycoon to become the isthmus’ next leader.

Panama’s electoral board declared Martinelli the winner Sunday night against government-backed candidate Balbina Herrera. "We will be working in a government of national unity," said Martinelli in a statement after his victory was announced.

Why should we care about Panama and president-elect Ricardo Martinelli? Here are five quick reasons:
  1. Change vs. status quo: The media has mainly focused on Martinelli’s victory as that of a rightist candidate bucking the so-called “pink wave” of leftist governments. Yet his win represents that of a candidate promising to buck against the status quo and traditional parties. Is it no wonder that he campaigned with the slogan "for a real change"?
  2. Start of the “green wave”?: The trend that could form in the Americas is that of very wealthy people winning the presidency. As professor Greg Weeks noted in his blog, billionaire Sebastian Piñera is the odds-on favorite to win Chile’s presidency while El Salvador’s defeated right is trying to unite around ex-president “and very rich businessman” Alfredo Cristiani.
  3. The expanding canal: Martinelli will preside over the planned completion of a third set of locks to the Panama Canal. His business background could work to his advantage with the canal and other infrastructure improvements under his planned public works program.
  4. Free trade: Worries over Panama as a tax haven has stalled the bilateral free trade pact in the U.S. congress. Nevertheless, Martinelli vowed that he would make the agreement “a major goal” during his administration.
  5. A rightist populism?: Martinelli appealed to the voters by promising to "walk in the shoes" of the Panamanian masses and his campaign had some populist overtones. Yet he also pledged to promote tourism and encourage foreign investment into Panama.
Image- BBC News
Online Sources-,, Xinhua, Reuters, Two Weeks Notice, AFP

Supreme Court rules in key immigration case

A unanimous ruling today by the U.S. Supreme Court (USSC) will likely have broad implications on immigration and law enforcement.

In a 9-0 verdict, the USSC ruled that the crime of identity theft is limited to those who knowingly and purposefully stole the documents of others. In his majority opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer observed that the plaintiff in the case- Ignacio Flores-Figueroa- did purchase and use false documents to obtain work in Illinois. Yet it was not conclusively proven that Flores-Figueroa knew that the fake Social Security number was not his. Thus, according to the USSC, Flores-Figueroa should not have been charged with "aggravated identity theft" which would’ve landed a mandatory sentence of two years in prison.
Breyer rejected government concerns that the court's ruling might make it more difficult to prosecute false document cases. "In the classic case of identity theft, intent is generally not difficult to prove," Breyer wrote. "Where a defendant has used another person's identification information to get access to that person's bank account, the government can prove knowledge with little difficulty. The same is true when the defendant has gone through someone else's trash to find discarded credit card and bank statements."
Charges of identity theft have been levied against hundreds of undocumented immigrants arrested in dozens of workplace raids. In the case of the May 2008 Postville, Iowa raid over 270 workers charged with identity theft opted for “fast-track” deportation proceedings. The “arbitrary nature of the law” was contested, however, when over 100 workers faced lesser charges since their identification numbers were made up.

Image- NPR
Online Sources- Iowa Independent,, AP, The Latin Americanist, Los Angeles Times

"Sugar" will leave you feeling sweet, sentimental

"Sugar is not a baseball movie," implores one IMDB comment. I might argue that it most certainly is, and a great one (albeit a unique one) at that, because the comment struck me because it offers a defense for those that might quickly label the film another sports flick, which it isn't.

The movie about a young Dominican baseball player will be sweetly appreciated by several groups. Anyone with a penchant for the immigrant experience in the US will be touched by its depiction of universal moments such as the first restaurant order, the US culture gulches, and the ensuing self-identity exploration. Baseball enthusiasts -- particularly purists -- will fall in love with the unglamorous minor league locker room and travel scenes, the historical anecdotes (from Roberto Clemente to Vic Power) and subtle MLB cameos (such as Jose Rijo). Cinephiles will appreciate the understated narrative, free from overly dramatic moments and the imbuing of realistic humanity in all of the characters -- none of which can be painted easily in one dimension, despite the limited screen time for anyone besides the title character.

The non-professional actor who interprets Sugar,
Algenis Perez Soto, does a serviceable job in his first role, but his performance is not a really striking one -- which may not be an accident. Instead, both the movie and the title character feel like a vehicle for us to explore each of these themes through his eyes -- with much left to our own interpretation. We are left with the feeling that we witnessed a simple, not too uncommon and altogether human experience -- without any of the bells and whistles we might expect in the typical Hollywood telling of a coming of age story.

That this indie-styled movie is getting a billing in major, national theatres like Loews is thus all the
more remarkable. While it won't likely be breaking any box-office records, it will get a much larger viewership than it would have if its directors weren't the writers / directors of the 2006 Oscar-nominated Half Nelson. As the summer blockbuster season approaches, I hope this marks a trend.

Other recommended reviews:

Interview with Santiago Roncagliolo

The Boston Globe published a short interview with Peruvian writer Santiago Roncagliolo over the weekend. Roncagliolo, who lives in Spain and was the youngest author to ever win the prestigious Alfaguara prize in 2006, discusses his political thriller Abril Rojo . The book, set in Peru in 2000, tells the story of an assistant prosecutor who is trying to solve a mystery around several murders. He thinks that they may be related to the Shining Path at a time when everyone around him insists that the movement is dead.

Roncagliolo told the Globe, "This is also a moment in Peru (and in Spain) when people are considering their violent histories, searching for a new way to understand. And remember, in Peru we are the first ones writing on this subject who were not participants, not suspects. And we are writing at a time when there are no absolute truths."

The English version of the book, translated by Edith Grossman, was released last week as Red April.

Photo credit: Alfaguara
Online sources: Boston Globe,

Daily Headlines: May 4, 2009

* U.S.: Will the White House flip-flop and revive the military commission system to try Guantanamo detainees?

* Nicaragua: President Daniel Ortega has come under fire from the opposition for the “intolerant and immoral state-party-family confusion that in exercising power he promotes against Nicaragua’s weakened democracy and its institutions.”

* Ecuador: Now it’s official - Rafael Correa won last week’s presidential election in Ecuador.

* Argentina: Lionel Messi scored two goals and provided an assist in Saturday’s historic 6-2 thrashing by Barcelona over bitter rivals Real Madrid.

Image- AFP (“A US flag flies at Camp Justice” located on Guantanamo Bay.)
Online Sources- Guardian UK, BBC News, The Latin Americanist, LAHT, New York Times

Sunday, May 3, 2009

PREAL launches bilingual blog on education

A new blog in both Spanish and English has been launched by the Partnership for Educational Revitalization in the Americas (PREAL), which covers education-related news in the hemisphere, particularly as it relates to education policy reform.

While I am biased on the matter, I think the blog offers a unique perspective on education reform trends in the region and the only truly inter-regional scope, with analysis on the education systems in the US, Central America, the Caribbean and South America. The subject matter ranges from analyses on mayoral takeovers in NYC and DC and teacher incentive programs to regional union activity and global debates education standards / evaluations.