Friday, October 29, 2010

Daily Headlines: October 29, 2010

* Argentina: Will the death on Wednesday of former president Nestor Kirchner ease tensions between Argentina and Britain over the Falklands?

* Mexico: At least eleven people died in a pair of attacks in Ciudad Juarez and Mexico City.

* Central America: A minor diplomatic spat has developed over the alleged incursion of Costa Rican police into Nicaraguan territory.

* Brazil: The offshore Libra field may hold as much as 16 million barrels of oil, which would make it the biggest crude find in the Americas since 1976.

Image – ABC News (“Tens of thousands of Argentines paid tribute on Thursday to Nestor Kirchner, shown in this 2005 file photo, the powerful former leader whose death robbed President Cristina Fernandez of her husband and most trusted ally.”)
Online Sources- The Telegraph, BBC News, LAHT, Bloomberg

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Daily Headlines: October 28, 2010

Note: Blogging will be very light today. Therefore we present an expanded edition of today’s “Daily Headlines”.

* Guatemala: Vice President Rafael Espada claimed that about 1500 Guatemalans, not roughly 700 as initially claimed by the U.S., were victims of secret medical experiments on venereal diseases.

* Argentina: “Viva Nestor” and “Cristina you are not alone” were just some of the notes left on the gates of the Casa Rosada presidential palace by Argentines mourning the death of ex-president Nestor Kirchner.

* Mexico: Current president Felipe Calderon and his predecessor Vicente Fox find themselves on opposite sides of the California Proposition 19 debate.

* Cuba: Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr may’ve pled guilty and avoided trial yet his sentencing hearing has become a contentious affair.

* Haiti: The country’s cholera outbreak has killed at least 300 people and has spread to areas closer to the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

* Colombia: Major regional air carrier Lan Airlines will expand after buying Colombia’s Aires for over $32 million.

Image – CNN (Secret experiments on syphilis and gonorrhea were conducted on hundreds of Guatemalans in the 1940s. They were similar to another infamous example of U.S.-conducted experimentation: the Tuskegee experiment pictured above.)
Online Sources- Christian Science Monitor, CBC, The Latin Americanist, Reuters, Xinhua,
The Tico Times, Bloomberg,

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Violence, shmiolence - Tourism up in Mexico

It’s a daily occurrence that the press reports on violence in Mexico, such as the suspected murder of a U.S. tourist or the massacre of thirteen people. One might assume that such a steady drumbeat of news focusing on violence would turn visitors off from travelling to Mexico. That is not the case, however.

There has been a 19.2% increase in foreign visitors to Mexico from January to August of this year compared to the same period in 2009 according to data released this month by Mexican tourism officials. The State Department may have issued travel advisories in March yet over 4.3 million of the 7.1 million foreign travelers in the first eight months this year came from the U.S.

Mexico Tourism Minister Gloria Guevara said in a local radio interview that over 22 million foreign visitors are expected to visit this year, a significant boost compared to 2009 when global economic woes and the swine flu caused a big dip in tourism.

Not all is good news; for instance, tourists are concentrated mainly on coastal resort areas that are for the most part immune from rampant violence. Furthermore some tourists have had difficulty adapting to stricter currency regulations that went into effect last month. The head of tourism in the state of Colima even accused U.S. consular officials of using violence as an excuse to prevent tourism. Yet the figures presented weeks ago were very promising according to the Los Angeles Times:
The sharp increase in visitors to Mexico is also significant because (tourism) analysts have predicted only modest growth in travel worldwide. International air travel, for example, was up 6% in August compared with a year earlier, according to the International Air Transport Assn…

Mexican tourism officials attribute Mexico's tourist increase to a marketing campaign that kicked off in July, with the tagline "Mexico, the place you thought you knew."
Image- MSNBC (“Students from the United States on spring break in Cancun, Mexico, in 2003.”)
Online Sources- Los Angeles Times, The Latin Americanist, BBC News, NPR, USA TODAY, El Universal

Argentina: Ex-president Kirchner dies

Nestor Kirchner, former Argentine president and husband to current head of state Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, died this morning of a heart attack.

Kirchner, who had undergone a pair of arterial procedures earlier this year, passed away in his home province of Santa Cruz despite the intervention of medical staff to revive him. The former president between 2003 and 2007 died reportedly with his wife by his side after he was rushed to a nearby hospital.

Numerous regional and world leaders sent messages of condolences to the Kirchner family and solidarity to the Argentine people. Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva declared three days of mourning over the “very sad” news of Kirchner’s death. A moment of silence was held at a meeting of the Organization of American States while Uruguayan president Jose Mujica philosophically said “life goes on, but it is a reminder to everyone that life can be taken from us at any moment."

Prior to his presidency Kirchner served as Santa Cruz governor, and at the time of his death he was serving as both a congressman and as president of the UNASUR bloc. As UNASUR head he helped broker a meeting earlier this year where the Colombian and Venezuelan government agreed to reestablish diplomatic ties.

His time in the Casa Rosada was defined by overseeing Argentina’s economic recovery after a profound crisis that he blamed on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) “dictatorship”. He helped bring some political stability after the country had five presidents in a tumultuous two weeks and he spearheaded justice reforms that led to human rights trials of members of the “Dirty War” junta.

His detractors, however, criticized him for consolidating political power for himself and his wife as well as his fiery speeches against figures such as political elites and the IMF. Other opponents were upset with his kirchnerismo populism that included raising the minimum wage and pensions while also increasing government control of the economy.

Kirchner was said to be a candidate in next year’s presidential elections and his death was described by The Economist as “a political cataclysm.” Argentina is a “country that seems to be condemned to living between tragedy and drama” wrote Eduardo van der Kooy in regarding the nation’s unsure political future.

Kirchner’s body will be in view at a public wake on Thursday at the Casa Rosada presidential palace, reportedly the first time this will be done for a former president.

Image- Al Jazeera English
Online Sources- The Telegraph,, El Universal, BBC News,, BusinessWeek, The Guardian, The Economist

What the Pending Republican Sweep Means for Latin America

It's becoming more and more likely that the Republicans will take over the US House of Representatives, and may even grab the Senate. Domestic economic issues are the primary reason Republicans are poised to make big gains, and hence will take up most of the time and focus when the newbies arrive on Capitol Hill.

But lots of important work still gets done outside the glaring eye of cable news. Foreign Policy has highlighted some of these changes, and there are indeed some important potential shakeups with regard to US policy towards Latin America.

One of the Obama administration's most prominent diversions from Bush-era policy has come on Cuba. Though any further thawing is made very difficult by Cuba's continued detention of USAID contractor Alan Gross, the Obama admin has reversed the Bush administration's tightened restrictions on travel to the island by Cuban-Americans as well as cultural and educational groups. Despite international and elite public opinion against the sustained isolation of Cuba, the US' Cuba policy is driven by a large by a critical political constituency in a swing state: Cuban-Americans in Miami/Dade County, Florida.

So it's very interesting that Cuban-born Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is poised to take over the House Foreign Affairs Committee should the Republicans re-take the house. Ros-Lehtinen is a prominent advocate of the hard-line Cuban exiles and is unlikely to budge an inch towards any gestures made by anyone in Cuba with the Castro surname.

On the trade issue, the US still has pending free trade agreements with Panama and Colombia. The Colombia deal has been subject to more Congressional scrutiny, with many union-backed Democrats pushing for deeper environmental or labor rights protections before signing off. Especially given the current economic climate, there will likely be a push by pro-trade conservatives to get the treaties through on the grounds of boosting the economy. Trade may be one of the areas the Obama admin can tout bi-partisan success with the new Republican majority.

Colombia has received heaps of money over the years to support its fight against drug production and trafficking. The Plan Colombia era is definitely drawing to a close, as concerns about drugs and violence in Mexico take center stage in most Americans' minds. Expect a shift of resources and attention, as well as finger-pointing, towards Mexico and to a lesser extent Central America.

Sen. Jim DeMint, staunch opponent of the Obama admin's reaction to the Honduras coup last year, is poised to become significantly more important as Congress' resident Tea Party leader (assuming he can beat out Alvin Greene). DeMint doesn't like Chavez and has used his position in the minority to block confirmation of nominations to key Latin American-related posts in the admin. With Venezuela increasingly cozying up to Iran, expect some fun hearings and zingers, at the very least.

Lastly, though a domestic policy issue, immigration reform will also be significantly affected. Whether the new Republicans can or will make any more progress than the last time their colleagues took up immigration will be a huge issue (that will not escape the eye of cable news) remains to be seen.

Image: Washington Post ("Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) holds a copy of the constitution of Honduras during a press conference with interim President Roberto Micheletti at the presidential house in Tegucigalpa.")
Online Sources: Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, Foreign Policy, The Hill, Real Clear Politics,, Just the Facts

Daily Headlines: October 27, 2010

* Latin America: Uruguay’s Diego Forlan (image), Argentine Lio Messi, and Maicon of brazil are among the finalists for this year’s Ballon d'Or.

* Bolivia: President Evo Morales met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in order to attract more Iranian investment and to strengthen bilateral ties.

* Panama: Is President Ricardo Martinelli turning into a “strongman”?

* Peru: Ecuador has joined Peru’s claim seeking the return of thousands of Incan relics being held by Yale University.

Image – The Guardian
Online Sources- Time, Reuters, Xinhua, USA TODAY

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

U.N. to U.S.: Drop Cuba embargo

For the nineteenth straight year the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) voted to condemn the U.S. for its embargo on Cuba.

Only Israel (with its own issues concerning embargoes) joined the U.S. in opposing the nonbinding resolution that was backed by 187 members earlier today. All Latin American and Caribbean nations on the backed the resolution regardless of the political ideology espoused by their respective country’s leaders.

The measure called for “ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba."

Before the vote took place envoys from the U.S. and Cuba presented their diverging views on the embargo that turned fifty this month:
Introducing the measure, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez dismissed Washington's moves. "Two years after President Obama pledged to seek 'a new beginning with Cuba', facts confirm that nothing has changed," he said…

Saying the embargo was part of a policy to promote human rights in Cuba and did not include humanitarian goods, (U.S. delegate Ronald) Godard said the United States sold $533 million in agricultural products, medical devices, medicine and wood to Cuba in 2009.
As was written in a recent article, the detention of a U.S. contractor in Cuba and the possible changes after the Congressional midterm elections next week “may already have cooled what had once appeared to be a warming of relations” between the U.S. and Cuba.

On a related note, the Cuban government introduced on Monday several small business reforms as well as a package of new taxes.

Image- France24 (“A Cuban man reads the "Gaceta Oficial" (Official Gazette) newspaper in Havana. Cuba Monday unveiled rules for broader self-employment which it hopes can pick up slack as the Americas' only communist government lays off half a million state workers over six months.”)
Online Sources- Bloomberg, People’s Daily Online, Xinhua, Washington Post, Reuters, CNN, Americas Quarterly

Yes Men prank Chevron

It looks like back to the drawing board for the ad staff representing Chevron after their latest campaign backfired.

Last week the oil giant launched the “We Agree” ad campaign touting “the company’s plans in producing energy responsibly and in supporting the communities in which it operates.” A new website was launched trying to put a positive spin on the company and press releases were sent to media outlets including (apparently) to this blog's e-mail address.

Before the launch of Chevron’s campaign, however, the ads became targets for “activist-performers” The Yes Men. Along with the Rainforest Action Network and Amazon Watch, a fake campaign with the “We Agree” tagline was released along with a legitimate-looking website. One of the faux ads (similar to the above image) read, "Oil companies should fix the problems they create" next to a stamp reading "We agree". The pranksters even sent a fake reaction from a Chevron attorney who deemed the stunt as "environmentalist subterfuge."

What does Chevron’s campaign have to do with Latin America? As Reuters reported:
Chevron is currently fighting a $27 billion lawsuit in Ecuador dating back 18 years that contends Texaco, which Chevron bought, caused significant environmental damage in the Amazon through faulty drilling techniques.

Chevron has said Texaco repaired damage in all areas of the jungle for which it was responsible, that the courts in Ecuador have been biased and that plaintiffs lawyers have engaged in misconduct. A verdict in the case could come in the next few months.
Adam Werbach in The Atlantic compared Chevron’s “failed” campaign to other ad blunders such as Kentucky Fried Chicken donating a fraction of their sales to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation while also launching their grease-laden “Double-Down” sandwich. (“It's hard to sell a sandwich with 32 grams of fat and be a respected voice in the fight against breast cancer.”)

In April The Yes Men falsely represented Royal Dutch Shell and issued a faux apology to “all inhabitants of Nigeria’s Niger Delta for the many years of human rights violations, for which Shell takes full responsibility.” The group’s most famous hoax, however, was in 2004 when one of their members appeared live on the BBC while pretending to be a Union Carbide exec and subsequently “apologized” for the Bhopal chemical disaster.

Image- unEARTHED (“The Yes Men's latest victim is Chevron's "We Agree" ad campaign. Image courtesy of”)
Online Sources- Stock Briefings, The Atlantic, Mother Jones, Museum of Hoaxes, Consumerist, AFP, Reuters

Haiti hit by cholera outbreak

We’ve previously used the Spanish-language saying “llover sobre mojado” (“raining where its already wet”) to describe the numerous maladies to hit Haiti. The latest woe for the Caribbean nation now involves a cholera outbreak that has killed over 250 people.

The death toll from the outbreak has slowed since it was detected roughly one week ago. A pair of rural provinces, Artibonite and Center, has been especially hit hard though a few cases have already been reported in other regions. As of yesterday the confirmed number of Haitians with cholera has been around 3342, an increase of over 300 compared to Sunday.

Of particular worry to health officials is that the outbreak could become widespread to the capital city of Port-au-Prince, which continues to slowly rebuild after being rocked by a major earthquake last January. "Entry of the disease into the camps will be devastating," said Dr. Louise Ivers, Partners in Health chief of mission in Haiti to ABC News over the possibility that the cholera could spread into relief sites inhabited by thousands of quake survivors. So far only five cholera cases have been reported in Port-au-Prince though Haitian authorities were quick to pint out that they have been isolated and treated.

Officials in the neighboring Dominican Republic are also on high alert to prevent the speared of disease from crossing the border. Authorities have temporarily tightened the restrictions on visiting Haitians though that has created some inconveniences:
Dominican authorities barred Monday the entry of thousands of Haitian merchants and buyers on their way to take part in the traditional binational market that was suspended because of the cholera epidemic affecting Haiti…

The Dominican Republic also blocked Sunday the entrance to its territory to Haitian clergy who were going to take part in a meeting for peace in both countries, religious sources said.
The outbreak comes as the U.N.’s main representative on Human Rights for Internally Displaced Persons warned that “a profound humanitarian crisis” continues in Haiti.

Image- Al Jazeera English
Online Sources- Voice of America, Reuters, The Latin Americanist, ABC News, LAHT

Daily Headlines: October 26, 2010

* Brazil: With days left until Brazil’s presidential elections ruling a poll released yesterday showed that Dilma Rousseff continues to lead Jose Serra by double digits.

* Puerto Rico: As of this Monday there have been 777 murders in Puerto Rico, 47 more compared to the same date in 2009.

* Costa Rica: The country received the 2010 Future Policy award in recognition of their commitments to biodiversity.

* Central America: Hurricane Richard became a tropical depression on Monday but not before drenching parts of Honduras and Belize.

Image – MercoPress (“Dilma Rousseff, the first woman president of Brazil?”)
Online Sources- Bloomberg, AHN, LAHT, Reuters

Newsweek Says My Country is Better Than Yours

Newsweek, which was recently sold off by the Washington Post Company for $1, decided to rank the world's "best" countries. It's a gimmick, but a good one, because who can resist either the euphoria or righteous indignation that from comes seeing something they either adamantly agree or disagree with.

#30: Chile: 2nd best among "Middle Income" countries.
#35: Costa Rica
#40: Panama
#42: Peru
#44: Uruguay
#45: Mexico: Solidly middle-of-the-road in all categories, including 54th for "Quality of Life." Will be interesting to see if that changes with security situation in future rankings.
#46: Argentina
#48: Brazil: Lula was given mention as of the 10 most respected world leaders and the country is noted for having the most plastic surgeons per capita.
#50: Cuba: 5th worst for "Political Environment" but #20 in "Education" and #29 in "Heath;" best "Quality of Life" for all "Middle Income" countries.
#55: Dominican Republic
#62: Colombia
#68: Paraguay: Solid on "Education" and "Heath" indices but 3rd worst on "Economic Dynamism."
#70: Ecuador
#71: Venezuela: Dead last in "Economic Dynamism." Ouch.
#72: El Salvador
#75: Nicaragua
#76: Honduras: 10th from last in "Economic Dynamism."
#77: Bolivia
#84: Guatemala

One thing that seriously dragged down several countries was the "Economic Dynamism" ranking. I'm amazed to see that Latin American countries hold the bottom three spots (of the 100-country index), with Venezuela, Ecuador, and Paraguay at 100, 98, and 99. Bolivia comes in at 94, Honduras at 90, Nicaragua at 85 and even Uruguay at 84. What happened to being la Suiza del Sur?

Interestingly, Communist Cuba beats on those countries on "Economic Dynamism," coming in at #72.

By comparison, the US was 11th overall - 2nd in "Economic Dynamism" but 26th in "Education" and "Health."

Image Source: Newsweek
Online Sources:, Newsweek

Monday, October 25, 2010

World Watch: Up in smoke

* World: According to a study released today people who are heavy smokers in middle age greatly increase their risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia later in life.

* U.S.: The largest U.S. arms sale ever took place last week when Saudi Arabia purchased up to $60 billion in military aircraft.

* Indonesia: “No immediate reports of damage or injuries” have been mentioned after a magnitude 7.7 earthquake that shook off the western Indonesian island of Sumatra today.

* Afghanistan: President Hamid Karzai admitted that he received cash from Iran yet tried justifying it by claiming that “friendly” countries like the U.S. do the same thing.

Image – CBC (“The brain is not immune to the long-term consequences of smoking two packs of cigarettes per day, the researchers found. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press).“)
Online Sources- MSNBC, Al Jazeera English, Reuters, CNN

Arte Para la Gente: Love in the time of jazz

Can animation be considered as art? We briefly pondered that question recently while profiling the life of forgotten Argentine animation pioneer Quirino Cristiani, and we'll reexamine that query with Chico and Rita.

Chico and Rita is primarily a love story between two Cubans, the former a dazzling piano player and the latter a stunning jazz singer. They became enamored with each other while growing up in Havana in the 1940s yet their love comes under a great price after they go their separate ways.

Plot aside, the beauty of Chico and Rita comes from the soundtrack scored by celebrated Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés. His music reflects the up-and-coming jazz sounds of the mid-20th century from the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo. Furthermore, the visuals are rich and stunning with plenty of attention paid to detail. The Telegraph praised the visuals by designer Javier Mariscal as "ravishing, especially his cityscapes of New York, Vegas and pre‑revolutionary Havana."

Could Chico and Rita be classified as "art"? We'll let you decide for yourself by watching the film's trailer:

Chico and Rita
was released at the Toronto International Film Festival last month and will be featured at other film fests and screenings in Britain starting in November.

Online Sources - The Latin Americanist,, The Telegraph
Video Source - YouTube

Daily Headlines: October 25, 2010

* Bolivia: President Evo Morales said that the government will go ahead with or without a foreign partner in the production of lithium batteries.

* El Salvador:
What does the information on the conflict in Iraq disclosed by WikiLeaks have to do with El Salvador's civil war?

* Latin America: The Christian Science Monitor analyzed the improved state of democracy in contemporary Latin America.

* U.S.:
The Floridian convicted of killing two Chilean students last year will stand trial in April and could be sentenced to the death penalty.

Image - Scientific American ("Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is the largest salt pan in the world. Beneath its crust is found the world's largest concentration of lithium, estimated at 5.4 million metric tons by the U.S. Geological Survey—or roughly half of the world's reserves.")
Online Sources -
Miami Herald, The Latin Americanist, Christian Science Monitor, The Independent, CBC, BusinessWeek