Saturday, August 8, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor sworn-in (Updated)

Update (7:00pm):
In a brief ceremony held this morning, Sonia Sotomayor was sworn-in as the newest U.S. Supreme Court justice. Sotomayor pledged to the Constitutional Oath and the Judicial Oath; the latter of which was televised live for the first time:

Sotomayor thus becomes the third woman and first person of Latino background to be a judge on the U.S.' top tribunal. Though she has spent over seventeen years as a federal judge, she will be the second-youngest current Supreme Court justice at the age of 55.

Sotomayor replaces David Souter and is not expected to disrupt the balance of five conservative and four liberal judges. She will have plenty of cases to analyze when the new term starts on October 5th and she will be present at a unique set of hearings next month:
Her first test will come Sept. 9, when the justices hear an unusual second round of arguments in a campaign finance case to consider overturning the century-old ban on corporate political giving. The case concerns a documentary film critical of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, then a candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

Later in its 2009-10 term, which formally starts in October, the court will consider the ability of private citizens to sue over religious monuments on public property, determine the constitutionality of a government agency that oversees the accounting industry and consider whether youths can be sentenced to life in prison for crimes other than murder.
Sotomayor has been assailed by her critics since being nominated to the Supreme Court in May including labeling her as a "racist" and focusing on her infamous "wise Latina" remarks. One conservative commentator implied that she could spell doom for the Obama administration should she show "a clear liberal philosophy" on the high court.

Original Post:
Sonia Sotomayor will be sworn-in soon as the first Latina, third woman, and 111th U.S. Supreme Court justice. We'll have more details later, but in the meantime you can check out the historical swearing-in ceremony via MSNBC. (Update: Streaming video feed removed).

Online Sources - MSNBC, CNN

Weekend Headlines: August 8-9, 2009

* U.S.: One of the U.S.’ leading Latino politicians- Mel Martinez- said that he would resign from the Senate one year before the end of his term.

* Mexico: The country’s Supreme Court will launch its own investigation into a deadly June daycare center fire that killed 49 kids.

* Puerto Rico: An FBI agent has been charged with “negligent homicide” in the death of a Puerto Rican policeman participating in a joint raid.

* Paraguay: One year after his historic election win, Fernando Lugo has reportedly faced more lows than highs in the Paraguayan presidency.

Image- BBC News (Mel Martinez said he would quit early from the Senate in order to spend time with his family.)
Online Sources- LAHT, AFP, MSNBC, Christian Science Monitor

Friday, August 7, 2009

Today’s Video: Green (not golden) showers

Some stories speak for themselves:
New TV ads are encouraging Brazilians to save water — by urinating in the shower. Brazilian environmental group SOS Mata Atlantica says the campaign, running on several television stations, uses humor to persuade people to reduce flushes. The group says if a household avoids one flush a day, it can save up to 4,380 liters (1,157 gallons) of water annually.

SOS spokeswoman Adriana Kfouri said Tuesday that the ad is "a way to be playful about a serious subject."
So what do you think of this conservation via urination ad? Health risk or as Seinfeld’s George Costanza said "It's all pipes! What's the difference?"

(Hat tip: The Consumerist.)

Online Sources- The Consumerist, YouTube, AP

Brazilian Court: Extradite Cordero

Brazil's Supreme Court approved the extradition of Manuel Cordero to Argentina this week.

Cordero, a former Uruguayan Army colonel and intelligence officer, is wanted for his involvement in Operation Condor in the 1970s. He is accused of torturing, disappearing and murdering leftist Uruguayan activists in the infamous "Automotores Orletti" clandestine detention center in Buenos Aires.

Cordero fled to Brazil from Uruguay in 2004 after an investigation was launched against him in his home country that would have led to his immediate arrest. In 2007 he was detained in Brazil. He has been on house arrest since December of last year.

Cordero will be sent to Argentina due to the fact that, under a Mercosur treaty, the country where the events originally took place has priority when asking for extradition.

Online sources- AFP, El Espectador, Wikipedia

Daily Headlines: August 7, 2009

* Honduras: Roughly 24 hours after police and protesters clashed in Tegucigalpa tensions continued when soldiers occupied public hospitals where workers went on strike against the de facto regime.

* Peru: Families of policemen killed during incidents in the Peruvian Amazon last June have accused the government of doing very little investigating into the circumstances of the officers’ deaths.

* Caribbean: Weather experts estimate that there could be as few as three hurricanes in the Atlantic this year.

* Cuba: The White House’s top counterterrorism adviser said that closing the detention center at Guantanamo would “help in combating terror recruitment” yet was unsure if the jail will close by the January deadline.

Image- AP (“Riot police officers throw rocks to students during a protest at the National University in Tegucigalpa, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2009.”)
Online Sources- Bloomberg, AFP, MSNBC, CNN, The Latin Americanist

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Today's Video: 200 down, 1260 to go

Thursday marked 200 days of Barack Obama in the U.S. presidency; a term that in its brief time has had its highs and lows regarding Latin American relations. What can we anticipate in the remaining 1200 days of his time (so far) as president? In a recent program entitled "Viva la Evolucion", Al Jazeera English examined what steps the White House can make towards the Americas and what these relations could signify on a global level:

(Click here to watch the second part of "Viva la Evolucion".)

(Hat tip: Metafilter).

Online Sources - YouTube, Metafilter, CNN,

World Watch: Remembrance

Our blog covers issues affecting Latin America and Latinos in the U.S., yet it’s about time that we focus on some of the news stories making headlines beyond the Americas. Our newest daily feature- World Watch- will examine some international articles of interest.

* Japan: Nearly 50,000 people gathered in Hiroshima to mark the 64th anniversary of the world's first atomic bomb attack and remembered the 260,000 killed from the blast.

* World: According to CNET News, a “pro-Georgian blogger” with several social network accounts was targeted in a denial of service attack that lead to massive delays in Twitter and Facebook.

* Palestine: Human Rights Watch criticized Palestinian militant groups including factions allied to Hamas for rocket attacks targeting Israel.

* U.S.: Rest in peace film director John Hughes; please say “hi” to Principal Vernon for us.

Image- AFP (“Smoke billows 20,000 feet above Hiroshima after the first atomic bomb was dropped on the city” in 1945.)
Online Sources- CNET News, Voice of America, CNN, Time

Study: Latino groups have differing cancer risks

According to a medical study released this month, migrants from at in America to the U.S. face a higher risk of cancer than in their countries of origin.

Researchers at the University of Miami studied cancer registries in Florida with those in nations like Cuba and Puerto Rico and concluded that the increase ranges from 40% to 100%. ``It's related to becoming overweight, a lack of exercise, eating rich food and red and processed meats,'' said the study’s head author- Dr. Paulo Pinheiro- regarding the changes between lifestyles in developing countries to that in the U.S.

More striking, however, is that the study found great differences in cancer rates of different Latino subpopulations. “We always talk about Hispanics as a whole group…But when we separate the different subpopulations, there are significant differences” emphasized Pinheiro. The study’s results seem to prove him right:
The results indicated that these population groups showed different patterns of cancer once they moved to the United States; Mexicans had the lowest rates of cancer overall and Puerto Ricans had the highest rates of cancer. Cubans' risk of cancer most closely resembles that of non-Hispanic whites. Similar to the U.S. non-Hispanic white population, Cubans and Puerto Ricans seemed to acquire higher risk for diet-related cancers relatively quickly.

Furthermore, Cuban males had higher incidence of tobacco-related cancers; Puerto Rican men had high incidence of liver cancer; and Mexican women had a higher incidence of cervical cancer.
Pinheiro added that the UM study coincides with research conducted in the 1980s that found that Puerto Ricans who moved to New York where more susceptible to certain forms of cancer than their counterparts on the island.

Image- The Telegraph
Online Sources- Science Daily, ABC News, Bloomberg, Miami Herald

Protests grow in politically split Honduras

Tensions rise in Honduras while Manuel Zelaya and Roberto Micheletti continue their political impasse.

In the capital city of Tegucigalpa, police fired tear gas and water cannons at reportedly pro-Zelaya demonstrators. Approximately 400 people rallied the Autonomous University of Honduras yesterday as some protestors threw rocks at police. Officers subsequently retaliated and arrested four people.

University director Julieta Castellanos claimed that she was beaten by police while attempting to restore calm. "I went out to talk with the members of the student board and the police hurt us. I am not going to allow that; we are going to sue the police," said Castellanos over Wednesday’s disturbances.

Zelaya visited Mexico this week where he received the support of President Felipe Calderon. He will soon travel to Brazil to meet with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and other officials. Micheletti claimed that protestors were weakening Honduras’ already fragile economy while military leaders appeared on local TV to defend the coup against Zelaya:
The joint chiefs of staff insisted Tuesday that the military acted to save Honduras from dictatorship. Honduras' Supreme Court had ordered Zelaya's arrest on abuse of power charges for trying to hold a referendum on changing the constitution in defiance of court rulings declaring the vote illegal.

"What the armed forces did on June 28 was the defense and survival of the state, which was under threat," Rear Adm. Juan Pablo Rodriguez said on "Face to Face," a show on local Channel 5 television. He was accompanied by military chief Gen. Romeo Vasquez and two other generals.
Image- AFP
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, AP, Bloomberg, AFP, Xinhua, Voice of America

Senate confirms Sonia Sotomayor

In a historic move, Sonia Sotomayor is set to become the first Latina judge on the U.S. Supreme Court after winning Senate confirmation this afternoon.

The 68-31 vote was marred by legislators voting along party lines with all Democrats backing her along with only nine of forty Republicans. It was expected that she would be approved by the Senate, though such a partisan divide is a rarity in Supreme Court confirmation votes. This week’s debate on the Senate floor set the stage for today’s divisive vote with most GOP legislators portraying her as "a liberal judicial activist" and even as a racist. Democrats insisted that she was "a mainstream and qualified judge" worthy of being on the Supreme Court.

Much was also made in recent days over the perceived slight that Republican votes against her symbolized opposition to the Latino community though the counterargument was made that Latinos care more about other issues. In the end, it’s up to Sotomayor to prove her judicial mettle on the high court which could come very soon. (According to MSNBC she will be sworn in as early as Saturday).

Online Sources- CBC, Politico, New York Times, Reuters, MSNBC

Daily Headlines: August 6, 2009

* Argentina: A former Cabinet minister and local human rights groups have butted heads over claims that the number of disappeared during the “Dirty War” is exaggerated.

* Mexico: Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy is holding up millions of dollars in antidrug aid to Mexico after claiming that little has been done against police and military abuse.

* Bolivia: The world’s highest ski run located in the Bolivian Andes has disappeared due to climate change.

* Colombia: The mind behind a pyramid scheme that defrauded thousands of average Colombians was convicted for money laundering.

Image- Sydney Morning Herald (“This file photo shows Argentinean soldiers frisking a civilian at a checkpoint in Buenos Aires in 1977.”)
Online Sources- Bloomberg, LAHT, BBC News, CNN, The Latin Americanist

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Daily Headlines: August 5, 2009

* Paraguay: IPS examines Paraguay’s Open Wings (Alas Abiertas) project that uses dance to empower children with disabilities.

* Argentina: Mounting debts among many teams has forced the indefinite postponement of Argentina’s upcoming soccer season.

* Brazil: How deep is the hysteria over swine flu in Latin America? Enough for one Brazilian priest to recommend that parishioners avoid shaking hands during daily mass.

* Bolivia: A pair of Iranian lawmakers has blasted the government’s decision to grant Bolivia a $280 million loan without legislative approval.

Image- El Mundo
Online Sources- Bloomberg, PRESS TV, BBC News, IPS

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Today’s Video: Los Ebanos Ferry

Did you know that there’s a hand-pulled ferry that operates on the Rio Grande between the U.S. and Mexico? The Los Ebanos Ferry is one of the last of its kind and has been in regular operation since 1950. The service between Los Ebanos, Texas and nearby Ciudad Diaz Ordaz, Mexico helps local residents who would otherwise be forced to travel sixty miles to the nearest border crossing.

Despite the ferry’s historical significance and benefit to the community, it may be forced to shut down due to the planned border barrier. Thus, we hope you enjoy this brief video on the unique Los Ebanos Ferry:

Online Sources- Reuters, YouTube

Bolivia’s “grey gold” mine

It’s been estimated that Bolivia holds most of the world's reserves of lithium, a mineral that could be a promising alternative fuel to power hybrid cars and batteries for some electronic devices. With global demand increasing for lithium, foreign firms, the Bolivian government, and indigenous residents are all staking their claim to the reserves located beneath the Uyuni Salt Flats.

The promise of riches from the “grey gold” has lead the state-owned mining firm to drill into the salt flats in order to figure out the exact size of Bolivia’s lithium reserves are. Results of the digging project will be revealed in December and an accurate number can be given to the estimates that range from big to massive:
According to official Bolivian figures, Salar de Uyuni, which sits 3,700 meters high near the crest of the Andes Mountains in the southern part of the country, could hold 140 million tons of lithium.

But the US Geological Survey has a much more conservative estimate, at 5.4 million tons, although that still amounts to about half the world's reserves.
Could the lithium reserves turn Bolivia’s fortunes around much like the discovery of vast oil reserves on the Arabian Peninsula over seventy years ago? We’ll have to wait and see.

Image- MSNBC (“Piles of salt lay on the salt flats of Uyuni, Bolivia, where the population has harvested salt for years. Underneath the salt lies the world's largest lithium reserves. Lithium is the key component for electronics batteries and electric car batteries.”)
Online Sources- BBC News, New York Times, LAHT, Sydney Morning Herald, Lonely Planet

Juanes to head possible Cuba concert

Colombian pop-rocker Juanes is not shy from organizing concerts for peace; he was one of the main minds behind the March 2008 “Peace Without Borders” gig along the Colombia-Venezuela boundary. Yet it appears that Juanes is planning a second set of the “Peace Without Borders” series next month in Cuba.

According to execs at the Cuban Music Institute, Juanes will give a concert in Havana on September 20th. The Cuban press reported that the concert will be attended by several musicians from Latin America and Juanes have traveled to Cuba last June to speak with officials. Juanes' manager- Fernan Martinez- gave more details to the AP including Juanes’ personal meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
For now, Martinez said, the show will feature at least Juanes and Spanish singer Miguel Bose.

"Following the lead of the first concert ... the event will use music as a tool to transcend politics and demonstrate unity of peoples beyond borders," Martinez said.

He said Juanes, who has started a foundation to help land-mine victims, met with Clinton "to present the concept for the concert" and that "the requests for U.S. artists are currently in process with the Treasury Department."

Martinez said the singer also met recently with Treasury officials and Congress, as well as leaders of key Cuban exile groups in Miami to help ensure U.S. stars come for the show.
If Juanes is able to pull off this concert, would it be fair to compare him to better known humanitarian musicians?

Image- El Espectador
Online Sources- Escambray, AP, The Latin Americanist

Ecuador to Take Over Radio and TV Stations

President Correa announced this week that the Ecuadorian government will be taking over "many" radio and television stations.  

He stated that this was due to irregularities but did not specify what kind or which stations would be taken over.  He also denied that these actions were a threat to freedom of expression in Ecuador.

The Correa government previously fined TeleAmazonas twice for not confirming its reporting. This announcement comes on the heels of President Chavez's announcement that Venezuela will nationalize approximately three dozen radio stations.

Online sources-  Associated Press, Wall Street Journal
Image Credit- BBC

Mexico’s Calderon backs Honduras’ Zelaya

Ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya received some important support from a Latin American leader this afternoon. But it wasn’t from one of the socialist/populist presidents or even one on the moderate/pragmatic side of the left. Rather, it was from Mexico’s center-right president Felipe Calderon:
"We receive Zelaya with open arms as we have always done and as we will always do with our brother Honduras," he said. "From the day of the dastardly coup, we have shown solidarity with Honduras and supported the reinstatement of Zelaya as the country's president."
At a joint press conference with Zelaya in Mexico City, Calderon also backed the compromise plan created by Costa Rica’s Oscar Arias to restore democratic order and avoid a civil conflict in Honduras. For his part, Zelaya emphasized that “reversing this coup is a challenge for the international community.”

In Honduras, meanwhile, the country’s Congress approved part of the Arias plan that would grant political amnesty to Zelaya. Nevertheless, one leading legislator warned that he could still face fraud charges while de facto president Roberto Micheletti boasted that Zelaya "will never be able to return to the presidency."

Image- El Universal
Online Sources- Xinhua, AFP, Al Jazeera English, Bloomberg

Daily Headlines: August 4, 2009

* Peru: The country’s Shining Path guerillas are undergoing a resurgence with their latest attack on the southern lowland city of Ayacucho killing five people.

* Bolivia: In a pioneering step, Bolivia has become the first South American state where indigenous people can govern themselves.

* Brazil: Did you know that the number of Twitter users is growing faster than most countries like the U.S. and Japan?

* Mexico: According to a survey of local analysts, Mexico’s economy will go down by a whopping 6.9% this year.

Image- CNN (“Police in Lima, Peru, carry coffins of officers killed in a November ambush by suspected Shining Path rebels”.)
Online Sources- Bloomberg, LAHT, Reuters, MercoPress

Monday, August 3, 2009

Is the “pink tide” going out to sea?

Latin American politics over the past decade has been defined by a plethora of leftist leaders who have been elected to the presidency in what some have deemed the “pink tide”. These government chiefs range from the socialist/populist (Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega) to the more moderate/pragmatic (Uruguay’s Tab Vasquez, Brazil’s Lula). Yet several emerging center-right figures may help send the “pink tide” out to sea.

Take the case of Chile. Center-left President Michelle Bachelet leads the governing Concertación coalition which has won all four presidential elections since the country’s return to democracy in 1990. With Bachelet unable to run for a second straight term, the Concertación is pinning its hope on former president Eduardo Frei. But with five months before the presidential election it’s conservative opposition leader Sebastian Piñera (image) who holds a big lead over Frei. According to a survey released last week pollster MORI, Piñera would get 43% of the vote compared to Frei’s 21%. Should there be a second round, Piñera would win 46% versus 30% for Frei according to the MORI poll.

The Concertación alliance isn’t the only moderate-left government in danger of being voted out, wrote Rodrigo Orihuela in last week’s Guardian UK. Uruguay and Brazil are two other countries where “the mellow, well-behaved left that the international right is willing to praise from time to time” may be out of power within the next 14 months. Orihuela believes that this could occur due to the status quo ruling at a time of economic hardship and “the difficulty popular regional leaders have finding younger and charismatic heirs.”

Should center-right candidates win the presidency then other moderate leaders on the left may become less centrist in order to consolidate their power. Barry Goldwater famously said that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice” yet the last thing Latin America could afford are a set of leaders amassed on the far part of either side of the political spectrum.

What do you think, fair reader?

Image- La Opinion
Online Sources- NACLA, Reuters, NASDAQ, Guardian UK,

Wylcef for Prez?

CBS' 60 minutes aired this updated version of its original story on Wyclef Jean's Yele Haiti project and legend on the troubled island. The story is a very inspiring look at an immigrant and rock-star who remembers his roots and whose name is now mentioned along with Bono and Angelina as the global icons of celebrity development work. At the same time, I find much more enigmatic.

"People are also starting to ask whether Wyclef intends to capitalize on his popularity to take his career in another direction," Scott Pelley voices over, as he interviews Wyclef in the back of a car cruising through Cite Soleil, where passersby gawk and chant. He asks Wyclef if he'd like to run for president some day, to which Wyclef replies vapidly: "No, that's the whole catch. Like I don't wanna be president. I can't trade my rock and roll life for that."

Watch CBS Videos Online

Daily Headlines: August 3, 2009

* U.S.: Family of Jose Sucuzhañay was present at the dedication of the Brooklyn street corner where he was murdered in a suspected hate crime.

* Argentina: Representatives of President Cristina Kirchner’s government will meet with farm leaders threatening to go on strike over Argentina’s weakened economy.

* Cuba: "We are ready to talk about everything, but ... not to negotiate our political and social system," declared Cuban President Raul Castro in a speech to the country’s legislature.

* Colombia: A symbol of Colombia’s continued armed conflict- the roughly 2000 displaced people in Bogota’s Tercer Milenio Park- agreed to leave the site after four months of peaceful occupation.

Image- New York Daily News (“A business card belonging to Jose Oswald Sucuzhanay” who was slain in December 2008.)
Online Sources- AFP, Colombia Reports, NY1, Reuters, The Latin Americanist