Friday, December 11, 2009

Vandalized Coffins Laid at Celebrity Mausoleum in Venezuela

“The cemetery has become an iconic emblem of our national tragedy,” said Venezuelan anthropologist, Fernando Coronil . “In our daily struggle to maintain a civil order against multiple transgressions against property and propriety, not even the dead can now rest in peace.”

The Cementerio General del Sur is a large cemetary where the mausoleums of statesmen, movie stars, aristocrats and thousands of commoners are laid to rest. However, this peaceful site has had a recent influx of violence and kidnappings.

Grave robbers are looting various graveyards for human bones, answering demand from some practitioners of a fast-growing transplanted Cuban religion called Palo that uses the bones in its ceremonies.

Most people do not even bother visiting the site anymore, they fear that they will be attacked by thugs or vandals.

Here are what Venezuelans have to say about the matter, according to
“I still cannot comprehend how this happened,” said Jesús Blanco, 42, a horse trainer who went into despair in February when he visited the grave of his father, Melecio, and found the coffin pried open and his entire skeleton missing.

José Francisco Ceballo, a former manager of the Cementerio del Sur, caused a stir in May when he said the cemetery was “in chaos.” That month, he said, inspectors found at least 475 coffins looted of remains.

“We must take care since it is easy to blame paleros for all the ills of Venezuela,” said Samuel Zambrano, 34, a palero leader.

“At that moment, I felt like I wanted to leave this world,” said Ms. Santos, 40, a public servant. “Then I realized what could happen to my body if I died,” she said, “and I sat down to cry.”

Photo Source

Regional court faults Mexico over femicides

In a landmark decision, the Interamerican Court of Human Rights (ICHR) blasted Mexico’s government for irregularities and lax investigation in the deaths of women in Ciudad Juarez.

The ICHR’s decision- made in November but publicized on Thursday- found a litany of problems by federal investigators including forcing innocent people to confess, mishandling evidence, and impunity against suspected officials. The court further ruled that the families of the three female victims mentioned in the case should be given $800,000 in compensation.

The binding decision- that the Mexican government said it would abide- was highly praised by local human rights groups and victims rights organizations:
Activists said that the 156-page decision strikes a blow for justice in a circumstance in which many of the dead were impoverished young factory workers.

"It represents hope for thousands of people, of mothers, of desperate family members with nowhere to turn for help, no one to bring them justice," said Irma Guadalupe Casas, director of Casa Amiga, a Ciudad Juarez group that works with victims' families.
Some Mexican activists further claim that as many as 500 women have been slain in the border city since 1993.

Image- Los Angeles Times
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, AP

Latinobarometro releases new poll

The new Latinobarometro poll released this week brings to bear some interesting data, and has already made excellent fodder for news analysts and bloggers alike. The poll spans 18 contries of the region through October of this year. There are some interesting findings herein, but rather than rehash, let's give credit where it's due; here are links to some of the better English-language analysis of this poll data out so far:

Yesterday's Economist presents tables and analysis in typical Economist fashion (incisive while tongue in cheek).
Bloggings by Boz offers his take on the most interesting findings.
The AQ Blog offers a concise yet heavily-hyperlinked summary of the poll.
El Universal takes its obligatory jab at Chavez.

 Other conclusions welcome... 

What’s Mel Zelaya’s next move?

With the results of Honduras’ national elections in the books, it remains to be seen what ousted president Manuel Zelaya will do next.

Earlier this week, Zelaya sought to leave the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa where he has been for over two months. The de facto government reportedly accepted Zelaya’s request to go to Mexico only under the condition that he resigned from the presidency. Zelaya subsequently refused and claimed that he would stay in the presidency until his term ends on January 27.

In the latest action, Zelaya admitted earlier today that he would leave the embassy by the end of next month:
Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya says he will leave the Brazilian Embassy in Honduras by Jan. 27, when his presidential term ends, according to an interview broadcast Friday.

Zelaya said in the telephone interview with Globo TV that he wants to leave soon but did not say where he will go. He has been holed up in the embassy in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa for three months under threat of arrest if he sets foot outside the building…

The top-ranking Brazilian official at the embassy also told Globo TV that Zelaya must leave by Jan. 27. Francisco Catunda did not say where Zelaya might go, saying only that it would be "another destination."
In the meantime, President-elect Porfirio Lobo has been attempting to gain global recognition for the elections that have been largely repudiated. Only five countries in the Americas have publicly backed the elections yet one of them is the U.S. "We salute the Honduran people for this achievement and we congratulate President-elect Lobo for his victory. These November 29 elections marked an important milestone in the process moving forward, but not its end," asserted Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday.

Image- AFP (“Honduran soldiers and policemen stand guard behind a fence outside the Brazilian Embassy.”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Xinhua, New York Times, AP

All-immigrant high school among U.S. best

The latest U.S. News and World Report on the top high schools in the U.S. named an all-immigrant school as one of the best in the country.

New York City’s Newcomers High School was ranked in sixth by the magazine ahead of better-known private institutes in the metropolis. Newcomers specializes in assisting youth have arrived in New York in the past year and teaches not only the usual academics but also aspects of U.S. culture. Of the roughly 1000 students enrolled from 30 countries, about 90 % of pupils move on to a four-year college.

The school’s principal knows all too well what it’s like to try to assimilate to life in the U.S.; a quality much appreciated by his students:
"For many students, they were at JFK [airport] Wednesday, and today they are here," said Principal Orlando Sarmiento, a native of Colombia. "This is a little Ellis Island"…

"From the very beginning, we stress that we have very high expectations and then we work hard to meet the needs of the whole child," said Sarmiento, a founding teacher at the school, which is making its debut on the list…

"It's really cool," said Eric Leon, 18, who emigrated from Ecuador. "The people are great. I understand better these cultures. I feel more like home."
Image- New York Daily News (“Newcomers High is one of 12 NYC public school among U.S. News & World Report's best 100 high schools. Above, Newcomers teacher Catherine Del Frate with students.”)
Online Sources- New York Daily News, NY1, NBC New York

Today's Video: Feliz Hanukkah!

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah starts at sunset tonight and lasts through sundown December 19, and what better way to celebrate than with the Hip Hop Hoodios:

The Latino-Jewish hip-hop duo released their latest album earlier this year.

Online Sources - NPR, New York Times, YouTube

Daily Headlines: December 11, 2009

* Venezuela: Hundreds of protestors including university students marched on Wednesday in honor of an undergraduate killed during a recent demonstration.

* Guatemala: Authorities are looking into how documents relating to the murder investigation of lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg were secretly leaked to the local press.

* Brazil: One of the men sentenced for the murder of nun and rain forest activist Dorothy Stang waived his right to a new trial.

* Cuba: A U.S. federal judge reduced the sentences of two members of the “Cuban Five” – a group of Cubans sentenced in 2001 for spying.

Image – CNN (“Students demonstrate against the death of Jesus Ramirez in Caracas, Venezuela, on Wednesday.”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, BBC News, AP, LAHT, Kansas City Star

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor's scholarly semantics

The U.S. Supreme Court this week presented a unanimous verdict in a suit regarding attorney-client privileges. Justice Sonia Sotomayor read the court’s opinion on Mohawk Industries Inc. v. Carpenter, a decision Bloomberg described as a “setback to businesses”. The ruling also implicated “an expansive view of executive power on the ‘state secrets privilege’" that was championed by the Bush administration and upheld by the Obama White House.

Aside from granting her first high court opinion, Sotomayor reportedly had a hand in a change in semantics that could become de rigueur in future verdicts:
In an otherwise dry opinion, Justice Sotomayor did introduce one new and politically charged term into the Supreme Court lexicon.

Justice Sotomayor’s opinion in the case, Mohawk Industries v. Carpenter, No. 08-678, marked the first use of the term “undocumented immigrant,” according to a legal database. The term “illegal immigrant” has appeared in a dozen decisions.
The Supreme Court’s use of a more neutral phrase is a welcome move though ultimately what matters most is the content of their verdicts and how they will affect Americans.

(Hat tip: ImmigrationProf Blog via Think Progress).

Online Sources- ImmigrationProf Blog, New York Times, Think Progress, Bloomberg, CNN

Pope to Obama: Drop the Cuban embargo

In his Nobel Peace Prize Award acceptance speech, U.S. President Barack Obama said that the “moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct” led him to order the closure of the jail at Guantanamo. Earlier today, Pope Benedict XVI had his own message on Cuba for Obama:

In addition to calling for improved U.S.-Cuba relations and an end to the embargo against the island, the Pope also called for expanding religious freedoms. The Pope emphasized that he did not wish for the Church to meddle into Cuban politics though he does want to “continue to nourish the ‘extraordinary spiritual and moral heritage that contributed in a decisive way to forging the Cuban soul’."

The pontiff also criticized abortion by calling on Cubans to respect life from conception to its “natural end.” (Most forms of abortions are legal in Cuba except in pregnancies after twelve weeks and for minors without parental consent).

Online Sources- YouTube, AP, Spero News, CNA, IPS, El Espectador

Daily Headlines: December 10, 2009

* Latin America: Could strict anti-smoking measures in Latin American countries like Colombia, Guatemala, and Panama help combat the global “tobacco epidemic”?

* Cuba: Supporters of the Castro regime reportedly tried to shout down a protest in Havana by the "Women in White" opposition group.

* Mexico: Mexican troops have engaged in “frequent and in some cases routine” human rights abuses while trying to combat crime according to Amnesty International.

* Venezuela: The Venezuelan government has accused exiled opposition leader Manuel Rosales of violating the terms of his political asylum in Peru.

Image – CBC
Online Sources- Guardian UK, BBC News, AP, LAHT

Former Costa Rican President Dies at Age 82

After complications from open-heart surgery, a former leader of Costa Rica has died. Former President Rodrigo Carazo Odio died on Wednesday at the age of 82. He won the presidency by running as candidate under the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) and governed Costa Rica from 1978 to 1982. During his presidency he tried to remain neutral during the Sandinista rebellion in Nicaragua, but but later sided with the Sandinistas. Some accomplishments of his were helping to create the University for Peace, and making positive changes toward environmental preservation and protection. He also promoted the oil industry and the tourist industry and the development of national parks. He notably helped to create the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and helped to create the American Institute of Human Rights.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

LatAm calls for action vs. climate change

The global climate talks in Copenhagen are in peril with wealthy and poor nations quarreling as well as developing countries feuding amongst themselves. That hasn’t stopped several Latin American states from trying to get their voices heard during the negotiations, however.

One of those nations is Costa Rica who joined with five other countries to advocate for the world to put their differences aside and effectively address climate change. The so-called “Green Group” including Cape Verde, Iceland, and the United Arab Emirates issued a joint statement touting each state is "a small point of green reference inside its own region, and all these points are related between them to establish an efficient world network".

In addition, Brazilian representatives to the summit have advocated the use of biofuels such as ethanol. Though Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva two years ago said that biofuels could “’un-warm’ the planet”, officials at the summit have tried to counter heavy criticism over farmlands being used for ethanol rather than for growing food.

Whatever results come out of the conference remain to be seen. Yet it is painfully clear that more action needs to be taken to tackle the problems of climate change. Just take a look at Peru:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Online Sources- MSNBC, BBC News, Xinhua, Guardian UK, Monsters & Critics

Brazil considering video game ban

We first mentioned last August that the Venezuelan legislature was looking into banning violent video games and toys as a way to combat high crime rates. The measure was eventually passed last month in a move backed by some parents while decried by others.

Now comes word that Brazil is looking into banning “offensive” video games. The bill introduced by Senator Valdir Raupp would “curb the manufacture, distribution, importation…(of) video games that affect the customs, traditions of the people, their worship, creeds, religions and symbols” and would carry a punishment of one to three years in prison.

On the heels of a Human Rights Watch report blasting Brazilian police for widespread abuse, Raupp’s measure appears to be superficial to combat the problem of increased violence appears to be superficial. Indeed, this was what one tech commentator said as quoted by Foreign Policy’s Passport blog:
CNET's Dave Rosenberg has lambasted Brazil's move, suggesting they deal with "larger social issues, including lack of parental oversight," instead. They praise the US system of industry self-regulation, which relies on ratings to isolate children from violent games.
What do you think? Would a video game ban work in Brazil and/or Venezuela or is it like placing a bandage on a flesh wound?

Image- The Telegraph (Still taken from the “Manhunt 2” video game)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Foreign Policy Passport, MSNBC,,, CNET, Miami Herald

Miercoles Musical: The best non-Spanish language Christmas song ever!

I hope you'll forgive me for copping out by including an English-language song for this week's Miercoles Musical. But I must confess that I'm in feeling festive and in the holiday spirit (albeit a little peeved due to my apartment having no heat!) Thus, the following Yuletide treat via the terribly underrated* New Wave rockers The Waitresses:

* Yes I know that they're generally seen as one-hit wonders whose only hit was "I Know What Boys Like" but they had a great and varied sound in songs like "Make The Weather" and "Bruiseology". And now I'll come down from my musical soapbox!

Online Source - YouTube

Daily Headlines: December 9, 2009

* Latin America: Aside from discussing economic issues representatives of the Mercosur bloc agreed to not recognize the results of the recent Honduran presidential election.

* Bolivia: Now it’s official – Evo Morales won reelection to a second five-year presidential term.

* Brazil: According to the local press President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will soon sign a decree raising the minimum wage and retirement payments.

* Puerto Rico: Boricua boxer Miguel Cotto has been targeted by a former employee in a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Image – LAHT (Presidents of the Mercosur group met at a summit this week in Montevideo, Uruguay).
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Xinhua, Bloomberg, AP, LAHT

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Hispanics news event-driven

The Pew Research Center released a study yesterday reporting that the majority of Hispanics in the media are portrayed in event-driven news, not through "focused coverage of the life and times of this population group."

The study, available here, is on, the journalistic arm of the research center.

The biggest headlines, from February to August, were Sonia Sotomayor, the drug war in Mexico, H1N1 and immigration issues.

Only 57 stories analyzed focused on the lives of Hispanics in the U.S.

Newspapers were most likely to write about Hispanics, and they were least likely to be featured on cable television.

Read more key findings here.

Source: Pew Research Center

Photo: levellers.files.wordpress.comter.

Morales neighbors cheer re-election

Now that everyone's reasonably sure Bolivian President Evo Morales will remain in the office, bring on the accolades.

Neighboring countries are complimenting the victory.

Cuba's official Granma said the win "shows again its democratic vocation and that it is possible to change."

Chile's foreign minister, Mariano Fernandez, called the outcome "heartwarming."

And Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez spoke up too, using "overwhelming" and "great joy" to laud the outcome.

We're still waiting on the official results, but exit polls show a 35 percentage lead between Morales and his competitor, former Governor Manfred Reyes Villa.

Read more accolades here.

Source: ChinaView


Daily Headlines: December 8, 2009

* Colombia: Shakira spoke at Oxford University in front of 400 students and emphasized the need for universal access to education.

* Brazil: According to a recent poll the country’s improving economy has strengthened President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s popularity but not that of his possible successor.

* Venezuela: "Thousands of missiles are arriving," claimed president Hugo Chavez in reference to arms including missile launchers that were received by Venezuela from Russia.

* Chile: Six people including four doctors have been charged with the 1982 death of former President Eduardo Frei Montalva.

Image – Oxford Mail

Online Sources- Washington Post, Reuters, BBC News, Guardian UK

Monday, December 7, 2009

Today’s Video: Counting backwards?

Did electoral fraud take place in the recent Honduran presidential elections or is it a silly conspiracy theory? Take a look at this video and judge for yourself:

Online Sources-, YouTube

Crime Blotter: LatAm Style

  • The Venezuelan Interior Minister says up to 20% of violent crimes in the country are committed by the police. Not good.

  • Guatemalans must be getting really fed up with crime: On Sunday group of vigilantes in Panahachel beat a suspected criminal to death and threatened to burn three women after dousing them with gasoline. Sunday's incident marked the third straight day of mob violence against suspected criminals

  • Guatemalan Retired Col. Marco Antonio Sanchez was sentenced to 53 years in prison for his involvement in the disapearence of eight people in the village of El Jute in 1981. Sanchez is the first person convicted of failing to respect the rights of civilians.

  • Brazilian thieves pulled off a $6 million heist after tunneling from a rented house into an armored car company

  • Also in Brazil, authorities busted 11 people who sold fake US work visas to 4,500 people over the course of 7 years.

  • Online Sources:, Houston Chronicle, AP, Yahoo! News
    Image Source: AFP via BBC

    Young couple forced to stay in Chile

    An English immigration law designed to combat forced marriages has wrecked havoc on a British teen and her Chilean husband.

    18-year-old Amber Aguilar married 19-year-old Diego Andres Aguilar Quila last year. His visa expired in August and faced with the choice of advancing her career in her native Britain or live with her husband in Chile she choose to cross the Atlantic with him. Yet when they wanted to legally return to Britain, the couple where rejected by immigration authorities. A change in immigration law only five days after they wed will force them to stay in Chile until both are 21-years-old.

    Earlier today the court’s decided against the couple, a decision that their family viewed as unfair:

    Her mother Helen Jeffery, a 57-year-old head teacher, said both families were angered by the ruling...

    “The cruel irony is that the actual effect of the rule is to force my daughter to live thousands of miles from her family and prevent her going to university in the UK, despite the fact nobody would ever suggest her marriage was anything but genuine.”

    Image- Guardian UK

    Online Sources- The Telegraph, The Press Association

    Morales triumphs in Bolivian elections

    In the biggest Latin American story of the weekend, Bolivian president Evo Morales easily won reelection to a second term.

    According to exit polls the Andean leader triumphed over his conservative rival- former governor Manfred Reyes- with between 61% and 63% of the vote. Official results are expected in the coming days while foreign observers have reportedly “praised the election for its transparency and fairness.”

    Morales’ victory was further strengthened by supposed gains made by the pro-government Movement Toward Socialism (MAS, in Spanish) party in the Bolivian legislature. MAS is expected to have won at least two-thirds of the seats; thus, Morales is expected to have a strong mandate to push through his polices such as greater state control of the economy.

    Why did Morales and his cohorts win so easily? He has gained wide support among Bolivia’s indigenous and poor, as well as charm:

    (…) for a majority of voters, it is Morales who will give Bolivians their best chance at moving forward, and he is a man they simply like and trust. "He's a really charismatic candidate. ... He's a president who has represented the people since his first day in office," says Tatiana Albarracín Murillo, a young lawyer and Morales supporter who lives in La Paz. "He's the first indigenous president of Bolivia – that affects his image. That along with his honesty, and the way he resolves problems from day to day, make him a very likable person. At the same time other groups, for the same characteristics, hate him. Even today, there are people who can't believe an Indian is president."

    Image- Sydney Morning Herald (“Ballots for change ... an indigenous woman casts her vote during the presidential elections which returned the President, Evo Morales. Much of his support came from Bolivia’s indigenous majority.”)

    Online Sources- Christian Science Monitor, BBC News, The Telegraph

    Daily Headlines: December 7, 2009

    * Mexico: According to the Government Accountability Office only two percent of U.S. counternarcotics aid under the Merida Initiative has been sent to Mexico.

    * Chile: Thousands of Chileans honored the late folk singer Victor Jara who was tortured and killed days after a 1973 military coup.

    * Colombia: At a conference in Colombia the U.N. warned that major cuts would be made to anti-landmine funds unless countries ante up and help.

    * Cuba: U.S.-Cuba migration talks that resumed in July after years of suspension will be put on hold again until February.

    Image – AP (“Soldiers guard next to a transportation warehouse where a tunnel was found, near the US-Mexico border in Tijuana, Mexico, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009.”)

    Online Sources- Los Angeles Times, AP, Al Jazeera English, Voice of America