Saturday, May 16, 2009

Weekend Headlines: May 16, 2009

* Argentina: Nestor Kirchner – Former president. Current First Hubby. Future Congressman?

* Latin America: On one hand, the budget to the struggling anti-Castro stations Radio and TV Marti is expected to be cut. On the other hand, the White House supposedly wants to launch similar stations aimed at Venezuela.

* Colombia: Rest in peace Rafael Escalona; the Colombian vallenato legend passed away this week at the age of 81.

* Peru: Some indigenous peoples upset with rumored privatization plans have reportedly declared an “insurgency” against the Peruvian government.

Image- AP (“Argentina's former President Nestor Kirchner, bottom left, delivers a speech as his wife Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez, top second from left, and his son Maximiliano, top left, seen on a video screen, during his launching congressional campaign in La Plata, Thursday, May 14, 2009”).
Online Sources- El Universal, Reuters, MSNBC,

Friday, May 15, 2009

Today's Video: Reversal at Gitmo

Perhaps the moral of this story is "the more things change the more they stay the same"?

Online Source - YouTube

U.S. to end “war on drugs”

Break out the bongs and hidden bags of coca leaves! The “war on drugs” is going to finally become a remnant of the past.

Oh wait…
The Obama administration's new drug czar says he wants to banish the idea that the U.S. is fighting "a war on drugs," a move that would underscore a shift favoring treatment over incarceration in trying to reduce illicit drug use.

In his first interview since being confirmed to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske said Wednesday the bellicose analogy was a barrier to dealing with the nation's drug issues.

"Regardless of how you try to explain to people it's a 'war on drugs' or a 'war on a product,' people see a war as a war on them," he said. "We're not at war with people in this country."
In summary, all that well really change is the rhetoric behind counternarcotics efforts. How quaint.

Love him or leave him, I’ll leave the last word to the late comedian Bill Hicks (language NSFW):

(Hat tip: Wonkette).

Online Sources- Wonkette, Wall Street Journal, Dailymotion

Cuban activist halts hunger strike

After over three months of not eating solid foods, Cuban political prisoner Jorge Luis ''Antúnez'' Garcia said that he will end his hunger strike.

As reported on the Miami Herald’s website, Garcia admitted that his protest had left him “very thin” and his weight dropped nearly seventy pounds. Nevertheless, one of Garcia’s family members said he felt a “healthy pride” in his which apparently included the drinking of liquids.

Garcia’s demonstration was done to call attention to the imprisonment of his activist brother-in-law as well as to force the government to fix the house his sister lost in a 2008 hurricane.

A former political prisoner, ''Antúnez'' has not been shy in speaking out against the Castro regime and he has vowed to carry on a new “series of confrontational acts”:
Antúnez has been on hunger strikes before, especially while serving a 17-year sentence for ''enemy propaganda'' and sabotage resulting in a public protest in a plaza and his subsequent attempt at prison escape.

He was released from prison in 2007 after serving his full term. A year later, the Cuban government revealed that he had accepted funds from a Miami organization founded by Santiago Alvarez, a hard-line Miami exile activist with ties to terrorism who is serving a prison sentence for arms trafficking.

Earlier this year, Antúnez was quoted criticizing programming on the U.S. government's Radio and TV Marti but later balked when he felt his comments were misconstrued to suggest he does not support the anti-Castro broadcasts.
Image- Havana Journal (Image of Jorge Luis Garcia before his hunger strike)
Online Sources-

Daily Headlines: May 15, 2009

* Brazil: The country’s government has released documents online related to the abuses during the military junta between 1964 and 1985.

* Mexico: Four U.S. citizens who reportedly crossed the border for “a night at the Mexican clubs” where found killed in Tijuana.

* Puerto Rico: Puerto Rican electoral officials reinstated the legal status of the Puerto Rican Independence Party.

* Argentina: British officials have laid claim over an offshore area including the contested Falkland Islands weeks after Argentina made its own petition.

Image- BBC News (Brazilian researchers have examine thousands of documents on the country’s past).
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Guardian UK, MSNBC, LAHT, AFP

Thursday, May 14, 2009

”Don’t ask, don’t tell” for Peruvian police

A few days ago we reported on how Uruguay’s government will drop a ban against homosexuals joining the military. Hence, it may be possible that gays can openly serve in the military in Uruguay before U.S. soldiers get that chance.

In nearby Peru, however, authorities engaging in a cleanup of the country’s police forces have decided to target gay officers:
Peru has announced that it will ban homosexuals from the police force for damaging the image of the institution.

The law is one of several new regulations put forward by the Interior Minister, Mercedes Cabanillas…

The law states that any police officer who has sexual relations with someone of the same gender will be indefinitely suspended from the police force.

The same applies to officers who have extra-marital relations - their actions are also deemed to cause scandal and denigrate the institution's image.
Peru's ban on homosexuality in the police and military was in the books as recently as 2004. Yet the new rule tries to emulate the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell policy" by refusing to openly acknowledge gay police officers. (Is it any wonder why critics of the measure consider it as unconstitutional?)

As one Uruguay takes two steps forward in its treatment of gays, Peru takes five steps back. How unfortunate and sad, to say the least.

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

E.U. vows strong antidrug efforts in LatAm

European Union (EU) representatives vowed that they will cooperate closely with their Latin American counterparts to stem the flow of illegal narcotics.

"The EU has expressed its solidarity and preparedness to help solve the security situation," Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout said in reaction to the talks held between EU members and several Latin American states including Mexico, those affiliated with Mercosur, and countries in Central America. Ministers acknowledged that there’s a strong “need to build bridges on both sides”, as one EU rep mentioned, in order to combat the drug trade and ensure security in transit areas.

Nicaraguan State Secretary Valdrak Jaetschke Whitaker expressed hope that the discussions could lead to more equitable, fair relations between the regions:
(…)Whitaker also pointed out the differences or "asymmetries" between Europe and Central America that must be taken into account before "a region of stability and prosperity" can be built.

"What we were hoping was to see a much more flexible approach on the European side," he said.

He called for a partnership agreement that "recognizes that we are different, that each of us has different perspectives, but that we respect these differences," and added he "wanted a good agreement which is always better than a quick agreement."
Online Sources- Xinhua, Huffington Post, AFP

Haitians migrants dead in boat capsizing

Tragedy in the waters off of Florida as at least ten Haitian migrants were killed yesterday when their boat overturned.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the migrants were apparently trying to go to the U.S. illegally from the Bahamas when their vessel capsized on Wednesday. The boat was allegedly overloaded in what officials claim to be a smuggling operation. Sadly, authorities admitted that the death toll could rise as rescue operations continue.

Despite the myriad of difficulties in Haiti, U.S immigration policy has been largely inhumane in the treatment of migrants from that Caribbean county. It is an injustice that two legislators (Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rep. Barney Frank) are trying to right by pushing temporary protected status for Haitians.

Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, AP, AFP, YouTube, UPI, Reuters

Today's Video: Blondie en Espanol

Just for the heck of it:

Guatemala’s Colom denies masterminding murder plot

At least 1000 people rallied outside of Guatemala’s National Palace against President Alvaro Colom who has been accused of masterminding the murder of a lawyer. Among those protesting were opposition politicos who have called for the prompt resignation of the center-left leader.

Not to be outdone, several hundred supporters of Colom also rallied in the Guatemalan capital. Thankfully, both demonstrations were reportedly peaceful and without major incident.

In a video released earlier this week, attorney Rodrigo Rosenberg claimed that officials including Colom were after him due to an influential client he represented. The video was publicized on Monday by his representatives, less than 24 hours after he was slain.

Colom has vehemently denied the allegations and has called on the FBI and UN to come to Nicaragua and investigate the Rosenberg case. "This government is not alone, this government stands by its people and we are going to defend the rule of law and democracy until the end," said Colom in a nationally televised address.

Colom has received support from the Organization of American States which passed a resolution approving the Guatemalan government "in its obligation to preserve the institutions of democracy and the rule of law". Meanwhile, U.S. ambassador Stephen McFarland said that an FBI agent had been dispatched to help out.

Image- Al Jazeera English (“Rodrigo Rosenberg's video was posted on the YouTube website after he was killed.”)
Online Sources- Al Jazeera English, AP, AFP, Reuters

Daily Headlines: May 14, 2009

* Latin America: Over two months after visiting Mexico U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that she will tour El Salvador and Honduras in early June.

* Mexico: Researchers concluded that the gene map of Mexicans is one-of-a-kind and “that a full-scale genomic mapping project would be wise both scientifically and economically.”

* Chile: Chilean president Michelle Bachelet will meet for the second time with Barack Obama at the White House on June 23.

* Brazil: The country’s main stock index plummeted in trading on Wednesday to its lowest point in two months.

Image- AFP
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Xinhua, Bloomberg, MercoPress, Reuters

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Today’s Video: Fox on Mexico’s drug battles

No not this Fox. Rather, it’s Mexican ex-president Vicente Fox who gives his two cents on antidrug efforts in Mexico and narcotics users in the U.S.

Online Sources- FOX News, YouTube

Could a Latino be next on the Supreme Court?

Weeks after Barack Obama was elected president, we examined the possibility of a Latino judge being appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. That possibility has grown after Justice David Souter announced that he will vacate his post later this year.

One of the top names being mentioned to replace Souter is Sonia Sotomayor. She is a justice on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, is best known for agreeing with labor in the Major League Baseball strike of 1995. Sotomayor is “one of the nation's most prominent Hispanic judges” according to one law magazine. Her detractors consider her as a bully and not too bright though one former colleague wrote that she’s “entitled to be judged on the merits against a very strong pool of prospective nominees" instead of being smeared.

Despite the hoopla around Sotomayor, perhaps Obama has his eye set on another Latino judge. District Judge Ruben Castillo recently made's top 10 list of prospects for the high court. According to the AP, another Latino justice is reportedly on the presidential shortlist:
Among those under consideration are Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and U.S. Appeals Court judges Sonia Sotomayor and Diane Pamela Wood. California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno is also under review by Obama…

Most of the people confirmed as under consideration have been mentioned frequently as potential candidates. Moreno — the sole man on the known group of top candidates — is the newest name to emerge.
Online Sources- Hispanic Business, National Journal, Think Progress, The Hill, The Latin Americanist,, AP, BBC News

Uruguay to drop gay military ban

So far, the Obama administration has waffled on what to do with the asinine and much-derided “Don't ask, don't tell” policy in the military. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said today that the president is working with legislators to find a "durable legislative solution." Yet an estimated 12,500 troops (such as West Point graduate Dan Choi) have been expelled since 1993 from the military due to their sexual orientation.

While the U.S. is moving at a snail’s pace to correct a terrible wrong, one South American country has resolved to take more immediate measures:
Uruguay is moving to lift a ban on homosexuals joining the armed forces…

The law had barred people with what it called "open sexual deviations" from entering the military academies.

It includes homosexuality among the "mental illnesses and disorders" that make a person unsuitable to join the armed forces.

The new decree states that sexual orientation will no longer be considered a reason to prevent people entering the military.
This could conceivably mean that gays can openly serve in the military in Uruguay before their U.S. counterparts get that chance.

Small world, huh?

Image- (Troops at the Uruguayan Battalion headquarters received the vice president in 2007).
Online Sources- ABC News, Wikipedia, MSNBC, AHN

Venezuelan "Sistema" founder wins prestigious prize

He is Jose Antonio Abreu- the mind behind the critically acclaimed National System of Venezuelan Youth and Children's Orchestras. Also known as El Sistema, the network has taught music to thousands of mostly impoverished youths including abused kids and children with disabilities. The system is best known for its most famous graduate- Los Angeles Philharmonic music director Gustavo Dudamel- and has been copied in more than twenty countries.

For his work, Abreu was named as the co-recipient of Sweden’s biggest music award: the Polar Music Prize. "Driven by a vision that the world of classical music can help improve the lives of Venezuela's children, he created the music network El Sistema, which has given hundreds of thousands the tools to leave poverty" said the Swedish Royal Academy of Music about Abreu. Along with the deserved recognition, Abreu will also receive $128,000 at a gala ceremony in Stockholm on August 31.

Abreu’s dream to teach music to Venezuelan youth has helped push El Sistema to prominence:
"Art education is an essential component of the educational system," says Abreu, a deceptively soft-spoken man with the fiery social conscience of a Jesuit reformer, speaking at El Sistema's central offices here. "It cannot be a peripheral element. It's not possible that a child would have access to an arts education as an option, by accident or out of charity. Because an aesthetic formation is that which touches our sensibility. Art and religion influence, definitely, the formation of our values."
Abreu will receive this year’s Polar Music Prize along with British musician Peter Gabriel; as we mentioned in March, he has lent his humanitarian efforts to bring justice for the hundreds of unsolved deaths of women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Online Sources- AHN, CBS News, The Latin Americanist, Los Angeles Times, BBC News

Orbitz to Obama: Drop Cuba travel limits

The possibility of a thawing in U.S.-Cuba relations has caught the attention of business interests eager to tap the potential market on the island. Such is the case with the tourist industry who’s hoping that the decades-long U.S. trade embargo and other restrictions will soon be dropped:

Online travel outfit Orbitz has recently begun the “Open Cuba” campaign aimed at influencing the White House to expand tourism to Cuba. “Why can't all of us visit this alluring neighbor and play a part in transforming the relationship between two countries?” wrote Orbitz chief exec Barney Harford in a statement launching “Open Cuba”. A poll commissioned by Orbitz found that roughly two in three people in the U.S. back scrapping travel restrictions to Cuba; similar polls have shown most people want the limits removed though not as much as the Orbitz poll.

Obviously the lifting of travel limits would help Orbitz’ profit margin, especially in the midst of a weakened economy and less airline travel. But is it high time for the U.S. restrictions to be scrapped or (as I believe) it’s too soon and more conditions have to be changed on the island?

What do you think?

Online Sources- Guardian UK, Huffington Post, The Latin Americanist, CNN,

Daily Headlines: May 13, 2009

* Ecuador: Archeologists examining Ecuador’s Waorani concluded that nice guys don’t always finish last and aggressive male behavior is usually seen as a turn-off by women.

* Dominican Republic: The families of eighteen Dominican migrants missing at sea for over three weeks have called on the U.S. Coast Guard for help.

* Chile: Workers at the Lomas Bayas copper mine in northern Chile have been on strike for about a week and are protesting against insufficient pay.

* Venezuela: Three people were arrested and over two tons of cocaine was confiscated in a drug bust by Venezuelan authorities.

Image- (Leaflets against machismo were handed out at a 2001 Chilean protest against femicides).
Online Sources- MSNBC, Reuters, LAHT, The Telegraph

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Today’s Video: Enjoying the “Chiki-chiki”

The latest edition of the Eurovision Song Contest is being held this week in Moscow, Russia. Odds are some god awful ballad or a nauseating pop song will win though there have been a few recent exceptions. (One entry caused controversy before the contest began since it features an Arab-Israeli duo).

Several of last year’s entries emphasized humor over the mock pomposity and seriousness of the competition. One of them came straight from the mind of David Fernandez Ortiz under the guise of faux-argentine singer Rodolfo Chikilicuatre. "Baila el Chiki-chiki" (“Dance the Chiki-chiki”) parodied reggaeton music and poked fun at the 2007 “¿Por qué no te callas?” incident.

One word: genius!

Online Sources- YouTube, Wikipedia, New York Times, The Latin Americanist, NPR, Reuters

A year after Postville raid, returned immigrants recover

What happens after a Latin American town's residents get kicked out of the United States in a major immigration raid?

The Chicago Tribune digs into just that question, reporting from San Jose Calderas in Guatemala.

The reporter, Oscar Avila, follows one woman who hoped to prosper in America after paying $12,000 to cross the border and instead was caught up in the Postville, Iowa, raid one year ago.

The raid had a heavy impact on the small community of 3,800, especially combined with fewer remittances in general heading to Latin America.

The town's crime is rising and kidnappers are targeting returned immgirants, assuming they have more money from their less than $7/ hour jobs in Iowa.

Read more about San Jose here.

Source: Chicago Trib

Photo: Rally after raid, AP via

Who is Sergio Bendixen?

Real Clear Politics put out this interesting interview on Sergio Bendixen today.

Bendixen, principal Bendixen & Associates, is a Peruvian immigrant and coordinator of President Obama's Latino voter outreach campaign, and has been a key Democratic consultant for decades. He is widely considered one of the most influential people in American politics, yet relatively unknown. RCP labels him "the most under appreciated and under reported man in American politics"

The story comes in the wake of his own firm's poll, as well as a Latina Magazine poll that shows that over 80% of Latinos support Obama through his first 100 days in office.

Sources: RCP, Latina Magazine, Politico

Hugo Chavez and His Vergatario

Venezuela's President Chavez may be telling Globovision to not scoop him or else, one thing's for sure, he's got balls ( and a sense of humor).

How else to explain his launching the "Vergatario" and stifling laughter as he says it.

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez this month will launch a $15 mobile phone complete with a camera, WAP internet access, an FM radio and MP3 and MP4 players.

The phone is called the Vergatario, which is derived from a slang word for "penis."

Sources : The Latin Americanist, Scanner

Chavez Threatens Media Outlet

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is threatening to shut down the television station Globovision for announcing an earthquake in the country before the government. He has stated that they caused unnecessary panic and accused the station of "media terrorism", according to the AFP. ''You are playing with fire, manipulating, inciting hate and much more. All of you: television networks, radio stations, papers,'' President Chávez said. "Don't make a mistake with me.''

''They are trying to shut us because we gave good information before they did,'' Alberto Ravelli, Globovision's general manager, told the Miami Herald. `"This is crazy. They don't want any information on the air inside or outside of the country on what's really happening.''

Image: Miami Herald
Online sources: AFP, Miami Herald

Daily Headlines: May 12, 2009

* Guatemala: In an unusual case, a video of a dead Guatemalan lawyer emerged where he claimed that President Alvaro Colom plotted to kill him.

* U.S.: According to a new study conducted by the University of Washington, roughly four out of every five Latinos back President Barack Obama.

* Chile: Chile’s government said they would be willing to analyze a Bolivian proposal allowing the landlocked country access to the sea via a tunnel.

* Colombia: The International Monetary Fund approved granting a $10.5 billion short-term line of credit to Colombia via a new lending program.

Image- CNN
Online Sources- BBC News,, LAHT, Bloomberg

Today's Video: We'll be back

Sorry for the lack of posting on Monday which should have been done more diligently by yours truly. I was sidelined by academic and health reasons though hopefully regular blogging can resume on Tuesday.

In the meantime, here's a classic song performed reasonably well in Spanish by the late Johnny Cash:

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bolivian Ministers Seek Asylum in Peru.

Three ministers who served under former Bolivian president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada are seeking asylum in Peru, the Associated Foreign Press reported over the weekend.

They fled Bolivia after the Morales administration revealed plans to bring formal charges against them on May 18th. The ministers are accused of aiding the killing of 65 people in October 2003 when the government put down a popular uprising using the military and security forces. Peru's foreign minister, Jose Garcia Antonio Belaunde, affirmed that one minister has already been granted asylum while the other two applications are still under review.

This incident comes on the heels of a similar tension in the region. Peru granted asylum to Venezuelan opposition leader Manuel Rosales, which resulted in Venezuela recalling its ambassador from Lima.

Online sources: AFP, Reuters

Daily Headlines: May 11, 2009

* Brazil: At least 44 people have been killed and an estimated 126,000 are homeless due to heavy rains and torrential flooding in northern Brazil.

* Caribbean: The recent lynching of a Haitian migrant in the Dominican Republic has highlighted simmering tensions between the neighboring countries.

* Colombia: A hospital in Bogota has been fined over $5000 for refusing to perform an abortion which would have been legal.

* Guatemala: Researchers in the U.S. have warned that some children adopted from Guatemala may not be vaccinated for polio or measles.

Image- MSNBC
Online Sources- Independent Online, Dominican Today, LAHT, UPI