Saturday, August 14, 2010

Nuestro Cine: One man's trash is another man's treasure

Last month we highlighted a screening of the Mexican film "La Cuerda Floja" ("The Tightrope") at New York's El Museo Del Barrio and as part of the Rooftop Films series. With the series in its final week Rooftop Films will once again present another great Latin American film a El Museo: "Waste Land." This documentary shows a project by Brazilian artist Vik Muniz focusing on the garbage collectors at the world's largest dump in Rio de Janeiro. Muniz enlists the pickers to create images of themselves using trash, and their artwork reveals their deep emotions and aspirations.

If you're interested in attending tonight's event please note that the screening costs $10 and starts at 9:00 pm (doors open at 8:00). If you cannot make it please check out the trailer to this very interesting film:

Weekend Headlines: August 14-15, 2010

* Uruguay: Recently declassified papers showed that in 1970 then-U.S. President Richard Nixon wanted Uruguay’s government to issue death threats against the Tupamaro guerillas.

* Bolivia: The government started negotiating with demonstrators on Saturday in order to find a solution to protests that have hurt the country’s mining industry.

* Haiti: Researchers believe that the massive earthquake that shook Haiti in January was caused by a previously unknown fault.

* Mexico: President Barack Obama signed into law a $600 million border security bill that focuses on the U.S.-Mexico border and was opposed by some Indian tech firms.

Image – (Image of “Earth President” Richard Nixon from the animated series “Futurama.”)
Online Sources- NPR, Voice of America, CBC, The Latin Americanist

Friday, August 13, 2010

Daily Headlines: August 13, 2010

* Cuba: Fidel Castro marks his 84th birthday after having made several recent public appearances and amidst a rumored rift with his brother/Cuban president Raul.

* Colombia: Investigators are examining who was behind a car bomb that was detonated near a major radio station in Bogotá.

* Argentina: Legislators approved a proposal that would ban mining and oil drilling on the country’s Arctic glaciers.

* U.S.: Congress officially passed a $600 million bill deigned to reinforce security along the Mexican border.

Image – ABC News (“Former Cuban President Fidel Castro waves upon his arrival for a special session of the Cuban Parliament, on August 7, 2010 in Havana.”)
Online Sources- Miami Herald, The Guardian, Reuters, Bloomberg

More Crazy Expats in Latin America

This time in Panama. A few weeks back I got a text that a suspected "serial killer" was on the loose, suspected in the deaths of multiple people in the idyllic Bocas del Toro province near the Costa Rican border.

About a week later, the suspect, "Wild Bill Cortez" (real name: William Holbert) was arrested with his wife and suspected accomplice while crossing a river between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

In one of those truly too shocking to be made up stories, Wild Bill (as he is universally known in Panama) is now charged with murdering five American expats to steal their properties. Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli called the saga "one of the first cases of serial murders in Central America."

The remains of all five were found in a shallow grave on the property he took after after killing one of the suspected victims - a hotel on a remote Bocas Island that he dubbed "Hacienda Cortez."

To gain possession of Hacienda Cortez, Bill is suspected of having killed Michael Brown along with Brown's wife and teenage son. It turns out Brown was in the witness protection program, having cooperated with authorities to turn in drug dealers in the US years before.

Questions remains as to whether more victims will emerge.

To get a full idea of Bill's craziness, check out this ABC News/Nightline video with footage from Bill's time as an outspoke white supremacist in his native North Carolina.

Image Source: ABC News ("Wild Bill" Cortez (Holbert) in Panama)
Online Sources: ABC News, CBS News, Nightline

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Argentina Minister Pledges Peace

After a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Argentina's foreign minister says the country wants to become a "bridge builder."

Héctor Timerman pointed out that former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner helped resolve a dispute between Colombia and Venezuela.

"We believe in dialogue, in giving dialogue priority in working jointly, in being -- accepting toward different philosophies of government and not letting that become an impediment to a solution," Timerman said.

At the news conference, Clinton, who called Timerman a "very familiar and welcome presence here in Washington," complimented Argentina's efforts toward a more peaceful region.

However, the two disagreed on Honduras. The United States wants to recognize the country's new government after last year's coup, but Argentina and other countries are not yet convinced.

Read the entire transcript here.

Sources: State Department, CNN


Report Describes Undocumented Parents' Children

A new report shows that children born to undocumented immigrants make up 8 percent of all newborns in the United States.

The Pew Hispanic Center report, released this week, says 340,000 of the 4.3 million children born in 2008 were born to undocumented immigrants.

Undocumented immigrants are also the parents of 7 percent of all children younger than 18.

All children born in the United States become citizens, so this means that the four out of five of all children of undocumented immigrants born are U.S. citizens. Politicians have recently criticized this allowance lately, saying children of undocumented immigrants should not get citizenship. One million children of undocumented immigrants were born outside the U.S.

Read the complete report here.

Source: Pew Hispanic Center


Daily Headlines: August 12, 2010

* Latin America: The Argentine campaign to push Iran for the extradition of several suspects behind the 1994 AMIA bombing received a key ally yesterday, while Brazil continues to back granting asylum for an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning.

* Peru: Indigenous leader Alberto Pizango could run for president as part of a newly organized Amerindian political party.

* Bolivia: Residents of the mineral rich Potosi region have reportedly “paralyzed” the country’s mining industry after several days of protests against the government.

* Paraguay: President Fernando Lugo has been ordered to take yet another paternity test.

Image – El Colombiano (86 people died in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA center in Buenos Aires).
Online Sources- AFP, Reuters, BBC News, Sydney Morning Herald, Huffington Post

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Today's Video: Feliz cumple, Cantinflas!

Thursday is the birthday of a Mexican actor whose birth name was Mario Moreno, but was better known as "Cantinflas."

Cantinflas may be famous to some for his supporting role in the 1956 film "Around the World in 80 Days," a movie regularly listed as one of the worst winners of the Best Picture Oscar. Yet he was one of the Americas' most famous comedic actors whose star shined bright during the "golden age" of Mexican cinema. His impact on Mexican popular culture cannot be understated and his way with words led to the word "cantinflear" to be recognized by the Real Academia Espanola. His portrayal in some films and plays as a defender of the poor against authority was not always an act, as a 1940 Time article observed:
A few weeks ago in the course of rehearsing a revue he introduced an acid skit on Mexican election scandals. Although his show had not yet opened, the Government promptly closed the Folies Bergere Theatre where Cantinflas holds forth. Protesting the ban as a violation of his civil liberties, Cantinflas spoke softly but sternly to a couple of officials, soon persuaded them that his followers would not permit the Government to gag him. The Folies Bergere reopened, with Cantinflas joyously needling the Government more sharply than ever.
In the following video clip, Cantinflas appeared as a mystery guest on a 1960 episode of "Where's My Line?" Did the celebrity panel identify him? Watch and see:

Looking for answers in Mexico

As we mentioned on Monday, there has been an increased push behind rethinking Mexico’s counternarcotics strategy. Legalization of certain drugs was one suggestion backed by former Mexican president Vicente Fox “as a strategy to weaken and break the economic system that allows cartels to earn huge profits". In the face of increased pressure to produce better results current president Felipe Calderon has been forced to admit that his policies may need to be modified.

"I know that the strategy has been questioned, and my administration is more than willing to revise, strengthen or change it if needed," admitted Calderon after one of a series of meetings designed to seek solutions to Mexico’s drug problems. He admitted that his government as working on a plan to combat money laundering and agreed with the need to provide more social opportunities to youth. Yet he also defended his overall strategy against violent cartels and was skeptical of drug legalization.

At a meeting with judicial officials on Wednesday, Calderon got on the offensive and questioned the apparent lack of prosecution against suspects accused of violent crimes. “There are a large number of people who are detained in police actions, caught in the act or in the company of other criminal suspects, and notwithstanding that, the number of people who are finally brought to trial or convicted is significantly less,” mentioned Calderon.

Since Calderon took office nearly four years ago an estimated 28,000 people have been killed in Mexico. Despite an anti-drug strategy that includes millions of dollars in U.S. aid the Mexican government is seemingly overwhelmed by the strength of the gangs:
Scarcely a decade after Mexico took a giant step toward genuine multiparty democracy, traffickers now may pose a long-term danger to its stability. Rising chaos "requires us to change our view of the problem, that it is no longer a matter of organized crime but rather of the loss of the state," the leading newspaper El Universal said in an editorial in June.
Image- The Guardian (“Military and forensic experts inspect the body of a man killed outside a nightclub in the Mexican border city of Ciudad” Juarez.)
Online Sources- The Guardian, The Latin Americanist, AP, New York Times, Seattle Times, Reuters

World Watch: The cutting edge

* Ethiopia: Scientists have discovered a set of bones that may have been used to cut meat 3.4 million years ago, nearly 80,000 years earlier than previously believed.

* North Korea: World soccer governing body FIFA will investigate alleged abuses against players and the coach of North Korea’s World Cup squad.

* Pakistan: U.N. officials are seeking $460 million in international aid for thousands of victims in flood-ravaged areas of Pakistan.

* Iraq: Eleven people including eight Iraqi soldiers were killed in an attacked by presumed insurgents.

Image – The Guardian
Online Sources- Voice of America, Globe and Mail, BBC News, Bloomberg

Colombia and Venezuela to restore political ties (Updated)

We'll have more details later today on the meetings between the presidents of Colombia and Venezuela. In the meantime, it appears as if cooler heads have finally prevailed after too many months of political disagreements:

Venezuela and Colombia agreed to restore diplomatic relations and vowed to step up security along their border to prevent Marxist guerrillas and drug traffickers from mounting attacks or using dense jungle for hideouts.

The two countries will form joint committees to work on any lingering issues, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said yesterday after meeting with his Venezuelan counterpart. Hugo Chavez. The nations had been locked in a dispute over Colombian accusations that Venezuela was harboring rebels.

The next step may be the restoring of trade between the neighboring states and traditional allies.

Update: With the restoring of some political ties the next stage may come next week when Colombia's foreign minister travels to Venezuela. Among topics to be discussed may be resuming bilateral trade and initializing "socioeconomic projects" along the Venezuela-Colombia border area.

The positive gestures by Chavez and Santos have been welcomed by leaders throughout the Americas as well by the European Union. According to AHN some politicos in the region belive that the pact shows "the growing importance of the Union of South American Nations and the declining role of the Organization of American States, which includes the United States as a member."

The fence-mending by the presidents of both countries could continue with Colombia hoping to improve ties with southern neighbor Ecuador. Meanwhile, a new rift has developed between Venezuela and the U.S. after the designated envoy to Caracas publicly criticized the Chavez administration.

Online Sources - The Latin Americanist, Bloomberg

Image - Al Jazeera

Daily Headlines: August 11, 2010

* Cuba: Jury selection began yesterday in the military trial of Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr of Canada.

* Latin America: Mexico's top tribunal ruled that same-sex marriages in Mexico City must be recognized nationwide while Costa Rica's Constitutional Court blocked holding a referendum on gay civil unions.

* Dominican Republic: Over 30,000 truck drivers staged a 24-hour strike in order to protest the proposed increase to the fuel tax.

* Haiti: Former U.S. President George W. Bush traveled to Haiti and touted a $500,000 grant for thousands of mango farmers.

Image – CBC (“This courtroom sketch shows Canadian Omar Khadr sitting through jury selection at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Tuesday. The sketch was reviewed by the U.S. military”).
Online Sources- Al Jazeera English, ABC News, BusinessWeek, BBC News, MSNBC

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Today's Video: The Taino

Monday was the International Day of the World's Indigenous People, an occasion that serves to remember that some indigenous groups in the Americas face problems related to poverty and culture clashes. The following video examines the decendents of the Taino peoples of the Caribbean whose numbers were greatly diminished after coming into contact with European explorers centuries ago:

World Watch: Wild weather

* Pakistan: According to U.N. estimates the number of people affected by major flooding in Pakistan could exceed victims of recent natural disasters including January’s earthquake in Haiti.

* China: Over 1100 people are said to be missing after a massive mudslide in northwestern China killed over 300 residents.

* Russia: A reported 30% of Russia’s grain crops have been wiped out as a result of a heat wave affecting several areas including Moscow.

* Europe: Lastly in our weather themed World Watch at least nine people have died in central Europe as a result of flash flooding.

Image – The Telegraph (“A family takes refuge on top of a mosque while awaiting rescue from flood waters in Sanawa, a town located in the Muzaffar Ghar district of Pakistan's Punjab province”).
Online Sources- Bloomberg, Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Xinhua

Report: Argentina poor in meeting women’s healh needs

Argentine women are suffering due to a lack of enforcement of health care laws and policies, concluded a report published by Human Rights Watch today.

According to the study, there have been problems with the distribution of contraceptives to women including “being given expired contraceptives in public health centers, or were given one form of birth control at one visit, and then another at the next.” The study further noted an instance when a judge allegedly told a rape victim that she “must not have been very traumatized” from being violated due to the way she dressed.

The report also focused on abortions, which are legal in Argentina only in exceptional cases like if the mother’s life is in danger. Yet the human rights group said that doctors tend to delay or even reject performing legal abortions and ties forces some women to seek illegal and high-risk abortions. Hence, the report claimed that the lack of proper access to contraception is why nearly 40% of Argentine pregnancies end in abortion.

One of the most vulnerable groups at risk are women with disabilities despite Argentina recently ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities:
"Women and girls with disabilities face all the same barriers as women without disabilities, and then some," (Americas director Jose Miguel) Vivanco said. "Apart from straight-up access issues - are there ramps at clinics, or is information translated into Braille or sign language, for example - there is a larger question of prejudice. Some doctors just don't think women with visual or hearing disabilities, have sexual relationships or can remember to take their contraception."
Image- EFE
Online Sources- Human Rights Watch, MSNBC, BBC Mundo, The Guardian

India peeved over U.S. border bill

Earlier today the U.S. House of Representatives approved a measure to provide $600 million in funds for enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border. The bill, which was also approved by the Senate last week, would be used to pay for items like 1000 new Border Patrol officers and unmanned surveillance drones. The “emergency spending” proposal has not been without controversy, however, particularly on how it’s being paid.

After some wrangling over whether or not to use unspent stimulus funds to pay for the bill, legislators decided to raise funds by increasing the fees to several visa programs including the H-1B and L program. Under these visa plan employers can legally and temporarily hire skilled foreign workers, particularly from countries like India. Hence, it should come as no surprise that Indian officials have voiced their disappointment with the proposal:
In a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, India's Commerce Minister Anand Sharma said the bill unfairly targets Indian companies and estimated it would cost the country's firms an extra $200 million a year.

"It is inexplicable to our companies to bear the cost of such a highly discriminatory law," Sharma wrote.
Members of India’s software companies slammed the measure; Infosys Technologies chief exec S. Gopalakrishnan warned that India’s tech sector would lobby hard against the bill. The president of India's National Association of Software and Services Companies added that the bill is an “indirect form of protectionism" that could hinder the U.S. economy.

Complicating matters was bill co-sponsor Sen. Chuck Schumer who compared Infosys to criminal auto shops known as “chop shops.” Nevertheless, Schumer defended the measure and added his hope that “now our attention must turn to comprehensive (immigration) reform.”

The proposal could become law in September after Congress’ summer recess.

Image- The Hindu (“Wipro is one of the Indian companies which will be affected following a border security bill that was passed to raise the visa fees of Indian companies operating in the U.S. by $2,000.”)
Online Sources- Kansas City Star, AFP, The Economist, Reuters, AP, Washington Post,

New Colombian president tries to mend fences

In his inauguration speech on Saturday new Colombian president Juan Manual Santos took a conciliatory tone on several domestic and foreign policy issues. In the 72 hours since his talk he has concentrated on mending fences and trying to keep his campaign promise of having a “national unity” government.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is expected to meet with Santos today with the primary aim of normalizing relations between the neighboring states. Political ties between both countries have been weak especially in light of recent accusations accusing Venezuelan officials of knowingly harboring Colombian rebels. In anticipation of the visit Chavez urged Colombia’s FARC to halt the armed struggle and “release all their hostages.”

In addition, both leaders will likely tackle the possibility of restoring billions of dollars in lost bilateral trade. One point of contention could be the possibility that Santos will request the Venezuelan government to pay as much as $800 million to Colombian exporters.

Despite leaving office with high popularity outgoing Colombian leader Alvaro Uribe has left behind plenty of challenges for his successor to tackle. Aside from the rifts with Venezuela and Ecuador, Uribe butted heads with the high courts over several areas including the balance of power between the judiciary and the executive branches. Yesterday, however, Santos met with numerous senior magistrates in order to better promote dialogue and understanding. Interior Minister German Vargas Lleras promised that the government will not “interfere in judicial decisions” beyond procedural steps.

As we mentioned last month, several analysts believed that there’s a rift between Santos and Uribe due to the “hypersensibility of the outgoing president and the independence of the incoming”. According to The Economist:
The new president’s instincts are still undeniably conservative, and no one is expecting wholesale changes to Mr. Uribe’s successful strategy of aggressively confronting the FARC. But voters who were hoping for a more worldly and pragmatic successor to the combative Mr. Uribe should be pleased with Mr. Santos’s debut in office.
Image- AFP (“Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos arrives at Guaranda municipality.”)
Online Sources- BBC News, Financial Times, Reuters, The Latin Americanist, El Espectador, The Economist, El Tiempo

Daily Headlines: August 10, 2010

* Chile: President Sebastián Piñera has requested international aid in the attempted rescue of 33 miners trapped 450 yards beneath the surface.

* Guatemala: Arrest warrants have been issued against sixteen people including a former presidential candidate over clashes during a 2006 prison takeover.

* Bolivia: According to officials new deposits of natural gas have been found in an old field and will be destined for export to Argentina.

* Mexico: Airline Mexicana’s woes continued with the suspension of fifteen international flights due to the firm’s fragile financial situation.

Image – Al Jazeera English (“Authorities said 130 rescue workers had been dispatched to try to save the trapped miners.”).
Online Sources- New York Times, BusinessWeek, Reuters AlertNet, Vancouver Sun

Monday, August 9, 2010

Reefer Madness: Legalize Drugs in Mexico?

The violence stemming from Mexico's war on drug cartels is well known. Now, with a population growing ever more weary of the gruesome brutality of the cartels, former Mexican president Vicente Fox is adding his voice to the legalization debate, calling for broad legalization as a way to wrest money and power from the cartels.
"Legalization does not mean that drugs are good ... but we have to see (legalization of the production, sale and distribution of drugs) as a strategy to weaken and break the economic system that allows cartels to earn huge profits," Fox wrote in a posting over the weekend. "Radical prohibition strategies have never worked."
He might be referring to the US experience with Prohibition in the 1920s (let's hope because he caught a sneak peek of the new HBO drama Boardwalk Empire about liquor barons in Atlantic City during Prohibition).

But Fox has some work cut out for him when it comes to convincing current Mexican president Felipe Calderón to get on board with his ideas. Calderon recently called for an open debate on legalization, signaling a possible willingness to move to an even broader liberalization than already exists in Mexico. But Calderón remains publicly skeptical that full-on legalization would serve the broader good of weakening the drug trade's negative role in Mexican society:
'If you legalize, for example, the high price of drugs in the black market would go down, and that would reduce criminals' financial capacity, that may be right. But totally liberalizing the drug market, and even the price reduction itself, are two factors which will lead millions and millions of young people to use drugs,' Calderon said.
Fox's call follows the assertion by César Gaviria of Colombia, Fernando Cardoso of Brazil and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico to legalize marijuana across Latin America.

I imagine that any proposal to legalize would lead to howling from American politicians, who do after all hold the purse strings on significant parts of the anti-drug budget. But it would interesting to see to what extent, given that there's growing recognition that the 40-year-old "War on Drugs" hasn't produced many results for all the invested time, treasure and lives.

The turning of elite public opinion may give Mexico and other countries the political cover to take the drug fight in a new direction.

Image Source: New York Post
Online Sources: Reuters, YouTube, HBO, Yahoo! News, Reuters, Wikipedia, The Guardian, Wall Street Journal

Daily Headlines: August 9, 2010

* Mexico: Several hundred journalists marched through in Mexico City on Saturday while calling for greater protection against the intimidation and threats from drug gangs.

* U.S.: According to a federal government report Latino adults have lower rates of alcohol and narcotics use compared to the national averages though there are “significant differences in rates of adult substance use among various Hispanic-American groups”.

* Brazil: Ruling party candidate Dilma Rousseff held a 5% lead over opposition presidential candidate Jose Serra in a poll taken days before last week’s TV debate.

* Peru: Will a Russian spy and his Peruvian-born wife receive the green light to migrate to the South American country?

Image – CBS News (“Journalists march in Mexico City August 7, 2010 to protest kidnappings and other attacks on reporters. The banner reads, "For our right to know and the right to inform.”).
Online Sources- NY1, Reuters, Al Jazeera English, USA TODAY