Saturday, May 30, 2009

Weekend Headlines: May 30, 2009

* Venezuela: President Hugo Chavez enters the third day of a four-day marathon to commemorate ten years of “Alo Presidente”, while he also continues criticizing the anti-government Globovision network.

* Peru: Several soccer players have threatened to boycott World Cup qualifiers as a protest against alleged government intervention.

* Latin America: Stocks throughout the region ended the week with modest gains after weeks of mostly suffering losses.

* Puerto Rico: The start of a wave of layoffs aimed at closing a massive budget deficit began yesterday with the dismissal of over 7800 government workers.

Image- BBC News
Online Sources- The Telegraph, earthtimes, Reuters, Forbes, LAHT

Friday, May 29, 2009

$1 billion awarded in suit against Fidel Castro and Che Guevara

A Miami man was awarded more than $1 billion today in a lawsuit that he filed against Fidel Castro and Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the Miami Herald reported.  Gustavo Villodo blamed them for his father's suicide.  

In 1959, when Che Guevara became head of the Cuban National Bank, he began to seize local firms.  One of those was the General Motors distributorship that was owned by Villodo's father.  The family was financially destroyed.  Villodo was accused of being "a lackey of the United States" and was tortured for several days.  Guevara personally visited him and told him he could either choose to die by firing squad or to kill his son himself.  Three weeks later, Villodo swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills rather than make that choice.

Miami-Dade Judge Peter Adrien stated, "What they did was torture this family and tear it apart."  However, the financial compensation, the largest in such a suit to date, might be hard for Villodo to obtain.  Most of the funds found in a Cuban bank account in New York by the Treasury Department have already been used to pay out other such cases.

Online sources: Miami Herald, Associated Press

¿Por qué no te callas? – Tom Tancredo

NOTE: Every so often, people make public remarks that are so out of bounds that one wishes they would just be quiet. Therefore, we welcome what may be a weekly feature named after this 2007 squabble between Spain’s king and Venezuela’s president.

Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court has been the subject for debate this week among her supporters and detractors. Unfortunately, some of her opponents continue going off the deep end by making increasingly more silly statements.

So far we’ve covered unusual remarks made on her selection as being similar to affirmative action and insinuating that her food preferences cloud her judgment. But that’s small potatoes compared to what emerged from the mouth of Rep. Tom Tancredo yesterday:

Yes ladies and gentlemen, he called the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) "a Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses." (Sotomayor is a member of NCLR). Even if you disagree with the NCLR’s position on issues like affirmative action and immigration, there is no doubt that Tancredo’s mudslinging and inflammatory remarks were unnecessary.

Why don’t you shut up Tom?

Update: Here's the response from NCLR Janet Murguia; note the calm and rational tone of her comments and Rick Sanchez' sympathetic ear.

(Hat tip: this post from Guanabee. Kudos to that blog for its numerous posts blasting the outrageous critiques of Sotomayor).

Online Sources- Gawker, The Latin Americanist

Daily Headlines: May 29, 2009

* Honduras: At least six people were killed and a tsunami alert was issued after a powerful 7.1 magnitude earthquake shook Honduras on Thursday.

* Haiti: Armed smugglers where able to hold off the Coast Guard from intercepting their vessel filled with 60 Haitian migrants.

* Chile: A former army soldier was arrested on Wednesday for the 1973 torture and murder of Chilean singer and activist Victor Jara.

* El Salvador: "I am a man who is not seeking vengeance... only the truth," said President-elect Mauricio Funes who also wept at the trial for his son's murder in France.

Online Sources- BBC News, MSNBC, Guardian UK, Xinhua
Image- Guardian UK

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Notable Quotable: All for love

"I've seen with my own eyes how many brothers of mine serve God as married men and with the blessing of having their own families."
--- Father (soon to be Reverend) Alberto Cutie announced on Thursday that he would join the Episcopalian Church weeks after tabloid photos caught canoodling on the beach with his secret girlfriend.

The head of the Catholic Church's Miami archdiocese said he was "deeply disappointed" by the news, yet Cutie admitted that any mass he might perform would be "invalid” had he stayed as a Roman Catholic priest.

It remains to be seen how the move will affect Cutie’s popularity; his youthful looks, warm demenaor, and charisma led him to build a loyal following via numerous television and radio appearances.

Image- CNN
Online Sources- CNN, Reuters, New York Times

Report: Generation shift among Latino youth

A report released by the Pew Hispanic Center has revealed several interesting aspects on Latinos in the U.S.

According to the report, a majority of Latino children (52%) in 2007 were second-generation Americans; that is, they were born in the U.S. to at least one foreign parent. The study also observed that almost 40% of Latino children are third-generation and it’s projected that nearly one in three children in the United States will be Latino by 2025.

The study shows a generational shift in the U.S. Latino population; in 1980, roughly one in ten kids were Latinos and most of them were third-generation (i.e. children born in the U.S. to parents also born there).

What does this all mean? The future Latino populace will be more Americanized and possibly (dare I say) assimilated:
“More and more kids are going to have U.S.-born and U.S.-educated parents,” said Richard Fry, senior research associate at the Pew center, who wrote the Pew study with Mr. Passel. “They’re going to be more American, which means they’re going to be more familiar with American institutions, and that has positive consequences and some negative consequences.”

Dr. Fry said that while Asian students generally had higher graduation rates and scored better on achievement tests than Hispanic students, Asian and Hispanic youngsters learned English at about the same pace. Forty-three percent of foreign-born Hispanic children, 21 percent of the second generation and only 5 percent in the third generation or higher said they were not fluent in English.

But the decline in the poverty rate is less steep, the study found. At 47 percent for first-generation Latino children, the rate falls to 26 percent in the second generation, but then drops to only 24 percent in the third.
Image- AFP
Online Sources- AFP, New York Times, UPI, Washington Post

Amnesty Int’l blasts LatAm human rights abuses

Amnesty International (AI) issued its 2009 report on Thursday and it provides a sobering outlook of global human rights abuses. "Billions of people are suffering from insecurity, injustice and indignity around the world," said an AI release on the report which added that global economic slowdown has exacerbated the problem of abuses. Furthermore, the reports claimed that attention paid to a prompt economic recovery has blocked the need to halt human rights violations.

Latin America and the Caribbean were certainly not exempt from being criticized by AI. Here are a few of the organization’s criticisms:
  • Cuba – While the U.S. trade embargo “continued to have a negative effect on the exercise of human rights”, the Castro regime has engaged in the harassment of political dissidents and restricting freedom of expression.
  • Colombia – A myriad of human rights abuses have occurred including increased internal displacement, “false positives” by the military, continued kidnappings by guerillas, and judicial impunity.
  • Brazil – Indigenous peoples have come under threat as their lands become increasingly encroached while little has been done to turn around socioeconomic inequality in Brazil’s cities.
  • Mexico – Women’s’ rights continue to be violated, migrants moving through Mexico were often attacked by criminals with police complicity, and journalists keep getting killed.
  • Puerto Rico - Police have engaged in racial profiling and have been accused of brutality against migrants from the Dominican Republic.
Not all was negative in the Americas according to AI; the organization praised the upcoming closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison, Nicaragua’s recognition of a local indigenous group, and the prosecution of “Dirty War” crimes in the Southern Cone states.

Image- CNN
Online Sources- Amnesty International, UPI, BBC News

What’s food got to do with it?

Admittedly, I am very pleased with the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. But I also hope that the debate for and against her nomination is based on legitimate reasons like her judicial acumen and previous rulings. (If you have a few hours to spare, for instance, check out this 500+ page document of some cases that she presided).

Sadly, some of the discourse against Sotomayor has been off-base and uneccessary. For example, a few commentators have called Sotomayor’s intelligence into question and have gone as so far as to compare her to Harriet Myers. But even that sounds brilliant compared to other arguments such as one blogger who wrote a diatribe on how Sotomayor’s name should be said.

Quite possibly the most off-the-wall criticism of Sotomayor is the insinuation that her culinary affinity for “platos de arroz, gandules y pernil - rice, beans and pork” would somehow cloud her legal judgment. That possibility was first mentioned in an article on The Hill and later followed up by Talking Points Memo:
(The Hill's Alexander Bolton said) "a source I spoke to said people were discussing that her [speech] had brought attention...she intimates that what she eats somehow helps her decide cases better."

Bolton said the source was drawing, "a deductive link," between Sotomayor's thoughts on Puerto Rican food and her other statements. And I guess the chain goes something like this: 1). Sotomayor implied that her Latina identity informs her jurisprudence, 2). She also implied that Puerto Rican cuisine is a crucial part of her Latina identity, 3). Ergo, her gastronomical proclivities will be a non-negligible factor for her when she's considering cases before the Supreme Court.
Have you heard any other irrelevant criticisms of Sotomayor? Conversely, have there been any arguments made in her favor that were way far too positive? Please let us know via your comments.

Image- CBS News
Online Sources- The Hill, Talking Points Memo, The Plank, Wonkette, New York Times

Today’s Video: Barca and Messi conquer Europe

The must-watch individual battle in yesterday’s Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United was between super strikers Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo had several solid chances for the Red Devils at the very beginning of the match yet it was Barca who got on the board first with a Samuel Eto’o goal in the tenth minute. From then on in, it was the Spanish side which had complete control of the game especially via the solid midfield troika of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta.

The coup de grace was a well-placed header by Messi in the second half; a fitting reward for the great Argentine striker and for a team that managed a historic treble:

Link: Barcelona 2-0 Man Utd

Online Sources- The Offside, New York Times,, BBC Sport

Crime Becomes Election Issue in Argentina

The Wall Street Journal reports today that crime is becoming a major issue in the upcoming mid-term elections in Argentina.

In April, a truck driver was shot 21 times by a 14 year-old in an attempted robbery. Following that incident, several thousand people protested in the streets. Additionally, a recent poll done by the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires showed that 38 percent of those surveyed responded that at least one person in their family had been a victim of crime in the past year.

Ex-president Nestor Kirchner's main rival in the election, Francisco de Narvaez, has increasingly made crime an issue. His website features a "map of insecurity" where citizens can post crimes happening in their neighborhoods. He has also proposed a 50 percent increase in the security budget.

Online Sources: Wall Street Journal,

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Californians flock to Mexico for cheap health care

Whether it is to fill car tanks with gasoline or to obtain medicine, people in the U.S. have for decades flocked south of the border to take advantage of cheaper goods and services. Hence, the results of one study on traveling to Mexico for inexpensive health care should come as no surprise to anyone.

According to paper published today in the journal Medical Care, at least 1 million Californians head each year to Mexico for cheap health care. "What the research shows is that many Californians, especially Mexican immigrants, go to Mexico for health services," said the lead author of the study. The report cited cost and lack of insurance as the main reasons for such a health care exodus.

Furthermore, the study said that about half of the cross-border patients are Mexican immigrants; hence, that data may place doubt on the idea that Mexican workers are weighing down Californian hospitals and clinics.

The study’s conclusion provides some helpful advice on both sides of the border:
"Mexican immigrants are the most likely to seek medical, dental, and prescription services in Mexico. A large number, but small percentages, of US-born nonLatino whites purchase prescription drugs there. Although proximity facilitates use, access and acceptability barriers in the US medical care system encourage immigrants to seek care in Mexico who would be helped by expanded binational health insurance."
(Hat tip: Guanabee).

Image- El Economista
Online Sources- Guanabee, Science Daily, The Latin Americanist, Booster shots, San Diego Union-Tribune

OAS waffles on Cuba readmission issue

Several Latin American leaders such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez have pushed for the readmission of Cuba into the Organization of American States (OAS). Yet representatives at Wednesday’s OAS Permanent Council meeting couldn’t unite on a proposal for Cuba’s possible return.

During the reported three hours of debate, Nicaragua and Honduras introduced separate plans to permit Cuba to return to the OAS since the country was shunned in 1962. In a surprise move, the U.S. put on the table its own resolution inviting Cuba "to initiate a dialogue… regarding its eventual reintegration into the inter-American system consistent with the principles of sovereignty, independence, non-intervention, democracy." (The State Department emphasized that the proposal meant “no change of policy” to Cuba though that didn’t stop Cuban-American legislators from blasting the move).

In the end, the council agreed to create a working group to present a single recommendation at the OAS General Assembly meeting next week in Honduras. It may be seen a step towards progress by OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza who remarked in March:
Insulza, in an interview in Medellin, Colombia, said the 1962 OAS resolution that banned Cuba from the Washington-based assembly because of its links to communism, China and the Soviet Union no longer makes sense.

“One of the countries has disappeared and the other is buying a lot of U.S. Treasuries,” Insulza said at the Inter- American Development Bank’s annual meeting. “Please, if they’re going to be excluded, let’s come up with some better criteria.”
Online Sources- Miami Herald, Reuters, Bloomberg, El Universal, U.S. State Department

Treasury targets Colombian drug trafficker

Most discussions on U.S. assistance to antidrug efforts in Colombia highlight the increased militarization of the armed forces and doing battle against guerillas and other criminal factions. Yet part of the counternarcotics battle also centers on white-collar crimes involving the billions of dollars from the drug trade.

Case in point: the U.S. Treasury has moved to freeze the assets of accused Colombian drug trafficker Pedro Antonio Bermudez Suaza. The Treasury also blacklisted 14 companies in three Latin American countries and targeted thirteen people linked to Suaza including family members and business associates. The actions prohibit any U.S. bank or consumer from doing business with the man arrested in October 2008 and facing charges in a U.S. federal court.

According to Treasury officials, the move hampers money laundering operations by Mexican and Colombian drug gangs:
"When Mexican authorities captured Bermudez Suaza, they took down a major conduit of cocaine between the Colombian and Mexican drug cartels," said Adam J. Szubin, director of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control. "Today's designations expose Bermudez Suaza's numerous illicitly-obtained assets in his hometown of Medellin, Colombia as well as those in Mexico and Panama."
Image-BBC News
Online Sources- Colombia Reports, NASDAQ, Reuters

Daily Headlines: May 27, 2009

* Ecuador: Demonstrators at Chevron’s annual shareholders meeting are expected to rally for several environmental causes such as the company’s purported dumping of toxic water in Ecuador.

* Peru: Indigenous leaders and the government are holding talks in order to end a six-week protest over land rights in the Amazon jungle.

* Mexico: Twenty-seven “high-ranking” officials including ten mayors were arrested and charged with cooperating with drug gangs.

* Cuba: Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez said that he would “love” to join Cuba outside the Organization for American States and create a separate regional entity.

Image- MSNBC
Online Sources- BBC News, Bloomberg, Houston Chronicle, El Universal, The Latin Americanist

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Notable Quotable: Heaven on Earth

"It truly frustrates me to hear those who attack us constantly talking about God, and what the bible does or doesn't allow…We are not asking anything from God. We are asking for our legal rights here on the earth. He'll decide up there what we do or don't get."
--- Alfonso Guerrero- half of the first gay Latino couple to legally marry in California last June- provides a sensible explanation on the needlessly contentious issue of gay marriage.

On Tuesday, California’s top court voted 6-1 to uphold a ban on gay marriage (via Prop 8) but recognized the legality of those unions that took place before the measure was approved last year in a statewide referendum. As this report shows, the court’s Solomon-like solution seemingly pleased nobody:

The debate of gay marriage has also manifested itself in the state of New York where Latinos participated in competing pro-gay marriage and anti-gay marriage rallies two weeks ago. Expect Latinos to be increasingly targeted as both sides campaign for their respective causes; one group against gay marriage has prominently featured photos of happy-looking Latino families in the web ads.

Online Sources- Blabbeando, Reuters, Indecision Forever, OC Weekly

China defends meds sold in LatAm

Back in 2006, at least 100 Panamanians died after being inadvertently poisoned by products from China such as toothpaste and medicine. Chinese officials blamed Panamanian manufacturers for altering the labels on products while China was accused of having weak safety regulations for items being exported. As recently as a year ago, Chinese suppliers were blamed for tainted doses of the blood thinner heparin which were then used in the U.S.

On Tuesday a senior member of China’s food and drug agency pointed fingers at the foreign media for sensationalism:
(…) Bian Zhenjia, deputy head of the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), said China was being unfairly blamed for the problem, especially by foreign media which claim the country is a major exporter of fake drugs.

"I do not agree with what the foreign media say. The Chinese government has always paid a lot of attention to cracking down on fake drugs," Bian told a news conference.

The problem was that sometimes overseas companies ignored Chinese regulations and did business with unregistered firms, he said.

"We hope that we can work hard together with the rest of the world and crack down on fake drugs, not hype up the problem and launch attacks," he said, adding some reports on fake drugs from China were simply false.

"If the international community can give us information on fake drugs, we will resolutely investigate. There is no ambiguity about this," Bian added.
In the situation involving Panama three years ago, both Chinese distributors and middlemen in Spain and Panama were to blame for the needles deaths of so many people. Bian’s remarks are irresponsible in pointing the finger at others while his country’s government has been asleep at the switch. It will take more than executing the former head of the SFDA to fix such a serious problem.

Image- New York Times (“Tianqi is one of three brands of Chinese toothpaste that were discovered (in 2007) to contain small amounts of a chemical found in antifreeze.”)
Online Sources-, Reuters, AFP, New York Times, MSNBC

Bolivia, Venezuela in Iranian nuclear dealings?

It’s no secret that Iran has increased its political and economic influence with several countries in South America. (Much to the chagrin and ire of the U.S. State Department). Yet an Israeli report leaked to the press alleges that Venezuela and Bolivia have gone too far and sold uranium to Iran.

"There are reports that Venezuela supplies Iran with uranium for its nuclear program…Bolivia also supplies uranium to Iran," according to a Foreign Ministry document cited by the mainstream media. If the allegations are true then it would mark the first time either country has been linked to Iran’s much-maligned nuclear enrichment program.

Bolivia’s government responded to the allegations with a strong denial:
Bolivia denied supplying uranium to Iran for its nuclear program, saying Tuesday it has never produced the metallic element, a key ingredient for nuclear energy and weapons.

Mining Minister Luis Alberto Echazu dismissed allegations in a secret Israeli government report, saying "there isn't even a geological study (of uranium deposits), much less export" of uranium to another country…

Bolivia has some uranium deposits but they aren't being exploited, said mining director Freddy Beltran, a subordinate of the mining minister who handles technical issues. His comments were published Tuesday by the Bolivian daily La Razon.
Venezuela’s government has yet to reply to the Israeli paper despite the additional accusation that Hezbollah has established cells in northern Venezuela and on Margarita Island.

The document was released not-so-coincidentally one week before Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon is scheduled to attend the Organization of American States general assembly in Honduras.

Image- BBC News (Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad)
Online Sources- CNN, AFP, AP, The Latin Americanist, MSNBC

Rightists unhappy with Sotomayor nomination

As Miguel mentioned in his post this morning on the Sonia Sotomayor nomination, “conservatives are likely to start an offensive on her opinions before the public can become enamored with the symbolism her nomination represents.” That offensive has already gone underway.

Republican senators have thus far been guarded in their reaction to Sotomayor as RNC head Michael Steele said that the GOP “will reserve judgment on Sonia Sotomayor until there has been a thorough and thoughtful examination of her legal views." That hasn’t stopped some Republicans from voicing their displeasure like Mitt Romney who called her nomination “troubling”.

Several conservative groups have also launched salvos against the career jurist. "Judge Sotomayor is a liberal judicial activist of the first order who thinks her own personal political agenda is more important than the law as written," said the counsel to the Judicial Confirmation Network. The president of Judicial Watch accused her of being a judge who “shares Obama's activist judicial philosophy… (and) will put her feeling and politics above the rule of law.” Despite her years of judicial experience and strong academic background, one of the ugliest critiques implied that her nomination was Affirmative Action-like:
"Sotomayor is not one of the leading lights of the federal judiciary and would not even have been on the shortlist if she were not Hispanic," said Ilya Shapiro, editor in chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review.
When all is said and done, however, Sotomayor may be confirmed with relative ease; Democrats make up 59 of 100 Senators and, as The Economist observed, the GOP may not want to rock the boat too hard and allow “more Hispanic and female voters will desert the Republican Party.”

Image- AP
Online Sources- CNN, AHN, Wall Street Journal, The Economist, AP, Politico, The Latin Americanist

Sotomayor tapped as Souter's replacement

Sonia Sotomayor, the federal judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, has been nominated this morning by President Obama to the Supreme Court. If confirmed, she would become the first Hispanic justice to serve on the high court (she is of Puerto Rican descent).

Sotomayor, who was raised by a single mother, rose through Princeton University and Yale Law School and was appointed as a federal justice by President George H.W. Bush and elevated to the appeals court by President Clinton in 1998.

Prior Latin Americanist coverage on Sotomayor here and here.

Conservatives have signalled that they will oppose the nomination, though it appears unlikely that they will be able to gather enough congressional support to effectively impede the confirmation. GW law professor Jonathan Turley considers Sotomayor "the highest-risk nomination Obama could pick."

It's clear that Sotomayor's
opinions reflect what conservatives consider judicial activism (she once suggested that the US appeals courts are "where policy is made.") Her status as a Latina woman with an impeccable resume makes her a very strong candidate, and conservatives are likely to start an offensive on her opinions before the public can become enamored with the symbolism her nomination represents. At 54, she would become the second youngest justice on the current court (after Chief Justice John Roberts, less than a year her junior).

Sources: NY Times, CNN, Judicial Network

Daily Headlines: May 26, 2009

* Panama: According to the local press, the bidding process for expanding the Panama Canal may be delayed after the three offers have gone at most 35% over budget.

* Latin America: Puerto Rico reported its first case of the swine flu yesterday while Ecuador's infected count shot up from 10 to 24 over the weekend.

* Mexico: In a gruesome crime, two teens are accused of killing a Central American migrant by assaulting him and then cutting his head off.

* Caribbean: Sixteen people are presumed dead in the Dominican Republic and Haiti as a result of two weeks of heavy rain.

Image- MSNBC
Online Sources- UPI, Bloomberg, LAHT, MSNBC, AFP

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Notable Quotables: Lugo on celibacy

"I believe that only God is perfect, and everything a human being does is imperfect…Therefore celibacy is also an imperfect question for a man or a woman."
---In an interview with Argentine newspaper Clarin, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo gives his two cents on the celibacy vows taken by Catholic clerics.

A former Roman Catholic bishop, Lugo admitted last April to fathering a child while in the priesthood. Lugo has denied being the father in two subsequent paternity claims.

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

Lula, Uribe, and the reelection conundrum

The topic of reelection has been a topic of concern for several Latin American leaders from Lionel Fernandez to Rafael Correa. The presidents of Brazil and Colombia have recently faced that some issue though their replies have been decidedly different.

Dilma Rousseff- the likely presidential candidate for Brazil’s ruling Worker’s Party- became ill last Monday and was forced to be hospitalized. Though she was discharged the following day, some allies of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva began to ask for him to run for a third term. Lula’s response was curt and to the point:
"I haven't discussed this possibility. Primarily because there is no third term (under Brazil’s constitution). Secondly because Dilma is fine."
In Colombia, meanwhile, the country’s Senate approved a proposal to hold a nationwide referendum designed to allow President Alvaro Uribe to run for a third straight term. A myriad of scandals have dented Uribe’s armor such as the ties between politicos and paramilitaries, corruption in the intelligence community and possible “influence-peddling” by Uribe’s sons. Uribe’s popularity among Colombians remains high (70%) though it has slipped gradually over the past year.

Whereas Lula provided a prompt and direct answer to the question of a possible third term, Uribe has been largely evasive. Last week he admitted that it would be "inappropriate to stay on as president because the country has a lot of good leaders" yet he has not committed to the possibility of running in 2010. Despite numerous figures vying for the presidency and growing criticism from the media and even some of his allies, Uribe continues to hem and haw.

One takes the high road while the other seems to take the low road. The democracies in Brazil and Colombia will be tested by how much power they’re willing to grant their leaders. Lula made the right choice; will Uribe do the same?

Image- LAHT
Online Sources- Too Many to list!

Bolivia, U.S. mend weak ties

For the past few years relations between Bolivia and the U.S. have been contentious and weak. The lowest point of their bilateral relations was the expulsion of ambassadors from both countries in September and included the Bush administration cutting key trade benefits to the Andean country.

Recently, however, both countries have gradually improved their diplomatic ties. In March, Bolivian Deputy Foreign Minister Hugo Fernandez proposed normalizing relations with the U.S. Last week’s visit of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon to meet Bolivian president Evo Morales may have served as the next step in improving affairs:
Bolivia and the United States have signaled a willingness to restore ties after nearly three years of diplomatic spats following a two-day visit here by a top US diplomat…

Morales said the Bolivian government wanted to "improve relations" with Washington, but stressed he wanted to see "cooperation without pre-conditions."

Shannon said he believed the Bolivian government had shown a sincere desire to improve relations and move to a new stage in diplomatic ties.
Shannon thus became the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit La Paz since relations hit its weakest point eight months ago. As a Reuters article noted, Shannon’s visit symbolized “the Obama administration's drive to improve ties with leftist leaders in Latin America who have been highly critical of U.S. foreign policy.”

Image- BBC News
Online Sources- Reuters, The Latin Americanist, AFP

Three’s a charm for Castroneves at Indy

A few weeks ago he was staring at a possible six-year jail sentence for tax evasion. Today he celebrated an emotional victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Brazil’s Helio Castroneves won his third Indy 500 race today after having been victorious in 2001 and 2002. Castroneves was drowning in tears after his Indy 500 triumph where he captured the pole and lead for most of the race. The Brazilian celebrated his win with his trademark climbing of the safety fence before chugging the ceremonial bottle of milk at Victory Lane.

Castroneves was targeted by prosecutors who accused him and one of his sisters of trying to evade about $2.3 million in taxes via a shell company in Panama. The last of the charges was dropped on Friday after a jury exonerated him in April. The ordeal reportedly left him drained but not enough for him to lose control in today’s race:
"You guys don't understand," Castroneves roared from the winner's circle as a 250,000-strong crowd roared back just as loudly. "You guys kept me strong"…

"Towards the end," Castroneves said. "I didn't touch anything on the car. When I got in the front, it was, 'Never look back.'"

He paused one more time to choke back tears.

"This race is magical. It was a tough beginning," he added, "but this is the best month of May ever."
Image- AP
Online Sources- AP, Reuters, Bloomberg

Weekend Headlines: May 24, 2009

* Cuba: The U.S. State Department has offered to restart negotiations with Cuba on legal immigration, but how will the Castro regime respond?

* Nicaragua: Several groups decried President Daniel Ortega’s initiative to place greater government control on NGO activities.

* Ecuador: Citing shaky negotiations, President Rafael Correa refused to sign a free trade deal with the European Union.

* Mexico: Could the economic slowdown serve as an opening for Mexico’s Banco Azteca to expand into the U.S.?

Image- BBC News (“The US has recently eased curbs on visits to Cuba.”)
Online Sources- AFP, LAHT, Bloomberg, UPI