Friday, September 24, 2010

World Watch: Asleep at the switch

* Congo: A preliminary report from the U.N. found that peacekeepers “failed” to protect residents of an eastern Congo town where over 300 people were raped by militia troops.

* India: Organizers of the Commonwealth Games in India have come under scrutiny for a myriad of problems from shoddy construction of venues to the use of child labor.

* Iran: President Barack Obama blasted his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for suggesting that the U.S. government may have been behind the 9/11 attacks.

* Asia: Relations between Japan and China are expected to improve after Japanese authorities released a detained Chinese fisherman.

Image – BBC News
Online Sources- The Telegraph, Voice of America, AFP, CNN

De Musica Ligera: A “bomba” of sound

Earlier this month the latest edition of the Bumbershoot arts and music festival was held in Seattle, Washington. Mary J. Blige and Bob Dylan were among those who headlined Bumbershoot but the event also included several acts from Latin America such as Garotas Suecas and Ozomatli. One of these bands was the brilliant Bomba Estereo, a group that combines electronic beast with traditional Colombian music like the cumbia. “A little on the edgy side, the psychedelic effects seamlessly blend into glamorous electronic carnival,” was the way music blog Aurgasm described Bomba Estereo. See and listen for yourself:

Online Sources- Bumbershoot, YouTube, Aurgasm

Daily Headlines: September 24, 2010

* Paraguay: Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo could be absolved in the latest paternity suit against him after DNA test results emerged in his favor.

* Guatemala: Missouri’s Supreme Court agreed to look at the case of a Guatemalan mother whose son may have been illegally adopted.

* Mexico: To the victor belong the spoils… except perhaps if you’re Mexican soccer players Carlos Vela and Efrain Juarez.

* Argentina: Not everyone in the Argentine province of Chabut is pleased with a plan to create a group of kiddy cops.

Image – EFE
Online Sources- BBC News, CNN, LAHT, Kansas City Star

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Top Colombian rebel killed (Updated)

In a breaking story the second-in-command to one of the world's oldest rebel groups was reportedly killed yesterday.

Senior Colombian government officials claimed that Jorge Briceno (alias Mono Jojoy) of the FARC was slain in a military operation that took place yesterday. In remarks made moments ago by Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera, the attack hit "the mother of all FARC camps" that served as the "strategic nerve center" of the guerillas. Rivera also called on other rebels, including supreme leader alias Alfonso Cano, to "give up" and warned that the military would continue its offensive against the guerillas.

Rivera's press conference came shortly after President Juan Manuel Santos leaked the news regarding Briceno's death. "This is the biggest blow against the FARC, even more than the death of Raul Reyes (in 2008)" said Santos who is currently in New York for the U.N. General Assembly.

According to BBC News, Jojoy's death represents "a major coup" for Santos and "is likely to seriously affect rebel morale." Twenty other rebels were supposedly also killed though it hasn't been mentioned if there were any hostages at the same site were Briceno was slain. (Update: Speaking of the hostages, could the death of Briceno force Cano's hand to seek dialogue with the government? Colombian political website La Silla Vacia touched on this possibility).

The attack against Briceno comes after weeks of intensified combats between the FARC and Colombian security forces. On Sunday alone, for example, at least 27 guerillas were killed during a battle in southern Colombia.

As noted in The Guardian, the FARC began as a "peasant army in the 1960s" yet grew in power primarily via the illicit drug trade. The rebels have been seriously weakened in recent years and suffered several military setbacks such as the death of Reyes and rebel founder Manuel Maralunda.

Online Sources - BBC News, CNN, El Espectador, MSNBC, The Guardian
Image - BBC News

Daily Headlines: September 23, 2010

* Venezuela: With days to go before Venezuela’s legislative elections recent polls show that the ruling Socialist Party is expected to keep its National Assembly majority though by a slimmer margin over opposition groups.

* Nicaragua: “The race to rule Nicaragua is shaping up as a choice between two modern-day caudillos” according to this article in the Los Angeles Times.

* Mexico: Tropical Depression Georgette is nearing Mexico and expected to drop from 4 to 6 inches of rain on certain parts of the country.

* Haiti: Now it’s official – Wyclef Jean dropped his campaign for the Haitian presidency.

Image – Miami Herald
Online Sources- Reuters, CNN, AHN, Los Angeles Times

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Nuestro Cine: On the air

From Mexico to Honduras members of the media in Latin America and the Caribbean have faced dangers in recent months while exercising their profession. Yet perhaps the most infamous act of violence against a journalist in the region was the murder of Jean Dominique.

He was best known for his outspokenness in denouncing the injustices in Haiti under the brutal Duvaliers as well as exposing corruption after Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted from the presidency for a second time. The contestant threats against his life led him to flee into exile twice, yet he would return to his native homeland to bravely continue reporting. The intimidation against Dominique would lead to his murder in 2000 when he was shot multiple times outside of Radio Haiti-Inter, the independent radio station he founded in the 1960s.

The 2003 documentary “The Agronomist” examined Dominique’s life and his tragic death. His legacy lives on in the bravery of journalists who believe, as Dominque said in the video below, that you “cannot kill the truth”:

Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Wikipedia, YouTube

Daily Headlines: September 22, 2010

* Brazil: Brazil, along with the emerging economies of India and China, have over taken the U.S. as the best places to invest according to a Bloomberg survey.

* Cuba: The Castro regime continues to make major changes in response to a weak economy; the latest move was the firing of a key cabinet member.

* Chile: While Chileans celebrate the bicentennial, the government and jailed Mapuche activists continue to air their disagreements with each other.

* Ecuador: Is there an Italian term similar to schadenfreude?

Image – The Globe and Mail (“A technician of the Brazilian state oil company Petrobras works on the GASENE natural gas pipeline in Itabuna, Bahia state.”)
Online Sources-, LAHT, Miami Herald, The Latin Americanist, Bloomberg

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Senate defeats Dream Act

Pardon me for being cynical but quell surprise.

In a near-party line vote this afternoon the U.S. Senate voted against debating a military funding bill that included an amendment for the Dream Act. The 56-43 vote was four Senators short of being able to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed with the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The measure received strong support from Latino lawmakers such as Luis Gutierrez who in a letter called the Dream Act a “common sense piece of legislation” designed to help “talented and deserving immigrant students.” Other congressmen like Sen. Scott Brown disagreed and deemed it as a “form of amnesty to certain illegal immigrants.”

The Dream Act would provide a path for citizenship to illegal immigrant youth under certain strict criteria. Those eligible would receive conditional legal residency for six years, then two years to graduate college with a minimum bachelor’s degree or successfully serve in the armed forces. The National Immigration Law Center has allegedly estimated that about 725,000 undocumented youth would benefit from the Dream Act if it ever becomes signed into law.

Both Democrats and Republicans have accused each other of political posturing leading in to today’s vote. Despite playing a key role in backing a failed 2007 stab at bipartisan immigration reform Sen. John McCain threatened to lead a filibuster against the NDAA. Opponents to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid claimed that he tacked on the Dream Act to the NDAA in order to gain Latino support for his reelection campaign. (Reid was one of three Democrats to back blocking the bill though he reportedly did so “as a procedural tactic.”)

The Dream Act has mobilized Latino youth in favor of the measure and to take part in protests and other acts of defiance. (The image above came from demonstrators who spelled out their opinion with their bodies on a Floridian beach). "We tell them we're targeting Republicans and Democrats. There can be no more excuses,” said one student to ABC News after he took part in a sit-in at Sen. Diane Feinstein’s Washington office.

Online Sources- Chicago Sun-Times, CNN,, America’s News Online, ABC News, Politico, BBC News, Christian Science Monitor

Report: Rebels not Colombia’s most dangerous group

At least 26 members of the FARC rebels including a “senior commander” where killed over the weekend by the Colombian military. While the government hailed the actions as "a blow to the terrorist heart” of the guerilla, could it be possible that they are not as dangerous as they are said to be?

In a report released last week the Bogota-based Indepaz think tank concluded that newly formed criminal groups is the “main source of violence” in Colombia. Using government data Indepaz found that these groups are estimated at over 13,000 members located in 29 of the country’s 32 departments.

Among these new criminal organizations are groups deemed as “narcoparamilitaries”, offshoots of Colombia’s AUC paramilitary group that was demobilized under previous president Alvaro Uribe. Entities with names like the Black Eagles and Rastrojos lack the political slant of the AUC yet “combine the production and exportation of cocaine with actions of extreme violence.”

The government under current president Juan Manuel Santos has reignited the military offensive against the resurgent rebels. Yet an article in The Economist recently noted that such a strategy could be shortsighted:
Mr Santos promptly vowed to “intensify the offensive” against the FARC. But such plans may require diverting resources from other security priorities, such as soaring urban crime. That is attributed primarily to fighting for control of retail drug sales and extortion rings among gangs, many of which are led by former right-wing paramilitary fighters…By attacking the government, the FARC may inadvertently be strengthening the heirs of the fighters that battled them in the 1990s.
Image- The Guardian (“The 'Rastrojos' drug trafficking group.”)
Online Sources- The Guardian, CNN, La Tercera, The Economist

Daily Headlines: September 21, 2010

* Haiti: A report issued by the Global Campaign for Education concluded that Haiti is one of the world’s worst countries for children seeking an education.

* Mexico: The government made “an indirect criticism” of a Ciudad Juarez newspaper whose directors sought a “truce” with violent drug gangs.

* Paraguay: President Fernando Lugo surprisingly fired the country’s military chiefs in order to "institutionalize the structure of the armed forces".

* Uruguay: Neighbor Argentina will likely be pleased with the decision by Uruguayan officials to deny entry to a British warship bound for the disputed Falkland Islands.

Image – Portland Press Herald (“A woman bags charcoal at the Corail-Cesselesse emergency relocation camp in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where more than 5,000 victims of the catastrophic Jan. 12 earthquake live in tents. She sells the charcoal to camp residents for cooking.”)
Online Sources- Sydney Morning Herald, CNN, The Guardian, The Latin Americanist, BBC News

Monday, September 20, 2010

Argentina: Ex-strongman Videla justifies “cruelty”

Ex-Argentine leader Jorge Videla defended the Dirty War regime during his time in power as he took to the stand in the human rights trial against him.

Videla is accused along with twenty other former military officers of the deaths of 31 political prisoners in the central Argentine city of Cordoba. Last Thursday he testified that while the dictatorship was “cruel” it did not take pleasure in repressing political opponents. “We were not sadists or involved in any illicit activity,” said the 84-year-old who also defended the role of the military during his time in office from 1976 to 1981. “There is no good or bad military,” said Videla and added that army personnel did not take part in the torture against prisoners of Cordoba’s Penitentiary Unit #1.

Earlier in the week Videla tried to paint himself as a victim of a conspiracy against him as well as the Army itself. He reportedly felt “intimidated” and “threatened” by the testimony of former members of the Montoneros guerillas. Yet they are only a handful of the minimum 120 witnesses who have or will testify to the malice under Videla’s watch. Their testimony seriously undermines Videla’s claims and brings to light some of the repression during the Dirty War:
David Andenmatten, a survivor who lives in Switzerland, told how the guards raped detained women and didn’t even have “doubts about torturing the disabled”.

Another witness, Daniel Eduardo Bozano, confirmed that torture did take place in (Penitentiary Unit #1).
Tens of thousands of Argentines were killed or "disappeared" during Videla’s reign, which came after a military coup deposed of President Isabela Peron. He has been in prison since 2008 after the Supreme Court nullified a 1990 presidential pardon granted by then-leader Carlos Menem.

Image- EPA
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, TeleSur, Diario Los Andes, Terra Argentina, EPA, Los Angeles Times, BBC News

Mexican newspaper seeks “truce” with drug gangs

Last week we briefly mentioned how the International Press Institute deemed Mexico the world’s most dangerous country for journalists. “In the first eight months of 2010, 52 journalists were killed because of their work…and it's 52 too many,” said the interim director of the media watchdog group in her grim assessment. It should not come as a surprise then that the heads of the biggest newspaper in one of Mexico’s most violent cities have tried to take a unique precaution.

An editorial published in Sunday’s edition of El Diario de (Ciudad) Juarez appealed to the area’s drug cartels in the name of security for their journalists. "We ask you to explain what you want from us, what we should try to publish or not publish, so we know what to expect,” said the editorial which was published days after gunmen killed an El Diario photographer.

Aside from seeking a “truce” with the criminals, the editorial also blasted Mexican president Felipe Calderon for his “inadequate strategy” against the drug gangs as well as U.S. Secretary of state Hillary Clinton:
The main obligation to protect the citizenry is lost in sterile discussions on whether Mexico is equal or worse than Colombia twenty years ago; a statement issued by…Clinton and backed by press as serious as the Washington Post. It is also lost…in the onerous expenditure used to celebrate the Bicentennial, resources that would have been better spent on reinforcing the pale security forces.
Though the editorial emphasized that it would “not surrender” a senior member with the Committee to Protect Journalists expressed disappointment with El Diario. "The fact that they're giving up is really bad. It's an indication that the situation is out of control," said Carlos Lauria to the AP.

Image- BBC News
Online Sources- El Diario de Juarez, The Latin Americanist, Sify, AFP, AP, New York Daily News

Daily Headlines: September 20, 2010

* Puerto Rico: A new stamp in honor of the late and great Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos was dedicated last week and should currently be available for purchase.

* Haiti: With roughly five weeks to go until Haiti’s presidential elections some eyebrows have been raised over President René Préval’s ties to the national election commission.

* Guatemala: A U.S. court sentenced a former Guatemalan soldier to ten years in prison for trying to cover up his role in the brutal 1982 Dos Erres massacre.

* Ecuador: The plaintiffs in the environmental damages case against oil giant Chevron raised their damage claim from $27 billion to “a range of $40 billion to $90 billion.”

Image – EFE
Online Sources- New York Daily News, Christian Science Monitor, BusinessWeek, BBC News