Friday, February 18, 2011

World Watch: Bending but not yet breaking

* Middle East: At least 27 people died in anti-government protests in Libya while Bahraini opposition leaders vowed to fight on despite being victims of a violent crackdown.

* Israel: The U.S. was the lone U.N. Security Council member to veto a resolution calling for a halt to new Israeli settlements.

* Italy: Embattled Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi proposed a series of judicial reforms that critics claim are an attempt to protect himself from trials.

* Asia: The Philippine government made a last ditch effort to stop the planned executions of three Philippine nationals imprisoned in China.

Image – Hassan Ammar/Associated Press via The New York Times (“Protesters fled during an assault by Bahrain security forces in Manama on Friday.”)
Online Sources- Xinhua, Time, The Guardian, BBC News, MSNBC

D.R. to U.S. – Stop Haitian deportations

Last month U.S. officials resumed the deportations of undocumented Haitians after a one-year post-earthquake hiatus. Haitian community leaders in the U.S. like Marleine Bastien decried the measure and called it “inhumane and very insensitive”. The head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' committee on migration co-wrote a letter to Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano criticizing the deportations amid so many problems in the Caribbean country.

Over the past few weeks Dominican authorities have cracked down on illegally documented Haitians reportedly in order to contain the spread of cholera from across the border. But that could change amid criticism between Washington and Santo Domingo:
Justice minister Radhamés Jiménez affirmed Friday that Washington doesn’t have the moral quality to request respect of the undocumented Haitians in the country.

Jimenez, who made the statement one day after U.S. ambassador Raul Yzaguirre asked the Dominican Government to respect the rights of those immigrants, said the United States also mistreats immigrants, including Haitians.
Recently one Haitian deportee died after he became seriously ill in a Haitian jail.

The treatment of Haitian migrants in the neighboring Dominican Republic has been a campaign issue for the two candidates vying for Haiti’s presidency. Former first lady Mirlande Manigat pledged that if she became president she would increase dialogue with the Dominican government on the subject of Haitian immigration.

Image- Think Progress
Online Sources- U.S. Catholic Magazine, The Latin Americanist, HULIQ, Dominican Today, Democracy Now

Mexico, U.S. border officials rail against video game

Every once in a while the subject of violent video games becomes a hot topic not only in industrialized countries but also in developing nations of Latin America. In 2009 a Brazilian Senator proposed barring "offensive" video games that "affect the customs, traditions of the people”. Last year the Cuban government was angry over a mission in “Call of Duty: Black Ops” where users try to kill Fidel Castro. The latest controversy has arisen over a particular game’s depiction of a Mexican city.

The third installment of the hit “Call of Juarez” video game series is in the works and it’s expected to go on sale around the middle of this year. Entitled “Call of Juarez: The Cartel”, the game from Ubisoft will be set in the present day rather than the Old West setting of the previous two chapters. Players will "take the law into (their) own hands" on a "bloody road trip from Los Angeles to Juarez," according to Ubisoft’s website.

Community leaders and law enforcement officials on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border are unhappy with the upcoming release of “The Cartel”. "Lots of kids say they want to be a hitman, because they are the ones that get away with everything," said Ciudad Juarez youth worker Laurencio Barraza to Reuters. Though Ubisoft insists that the game is for “entertainment purposes only” the police chief of Brownsville, Texas accused the firm of trying to “capitalize on the violent situation in Mexico.” Another Texan border police official compared the video game to Mexican “narco-corrido” music:
"In games you get hurt, you die and you get another life. In real life, you only die once," said El Paso County Sheriff's Office Commander Gomecindo Lopez. The Sheriff's Office lost a jailer to a shooting in Ciudad Juarez last March that also took the life of his wife and their unborn child. "This goes along the lines of narco-songs that portray cartel leaders as heroes, but both are a gross misrepresentation of who they are. They are criminals."
The dispute over “Call of Juarez: The Cartel” comes as a pair of U.S. federal agents was shot in an ambush in northern Mexico this week. One of the agents was killed in an attack that may be linked to Mexico’s Zetas drug gang.

Image- France24 (“A woman participates in a protest against violence and organized crime in Mexico City, on February 13. Gunmen burst into a home in the border city of Ciudad Juarez and killed a woman and her two teenage daughters, state officials said Tuesday.”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, The Guardian, BBC Mundo, Reuters, Houston Press, The Escapist, NPR,

Ads Nauseam: Who's the real f-g?

Ads and commercials have become increasingly prevalent in our modern society such as the expanded use of product placements in TV programs. Yet sometimes ads are used for more altruistic ends like trying to challenge machismo in Latin America.

"The macho man – stereotypically stoic, male chauvinist, and violent – appears on the run" based on a new crop of ads according to an article earlier this week from the Christian Science Monitor's website. These commercials run in several different countries and emphasize that it's acceptable to be a sensitive man who helps around the house and views women as equals. In some countries these ads were effective such as Ecuador where ads claiming that "machismo is violence" were credited with an increase in domestic violence denunciations.

The Chilean Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs tackled machismo in an ad that asked "who is the real faggot?" While that word is generally used as an anti-gay slur, the aim of the ad was to redefine the meaning of the word "faggot". Thus, a simple was created: "Maricón, el que maltrata a una mujer." ("A faggot is one who mistreats women.")

See for yourself how simple imagery and a jarring slogan helped create a powerful ad:

What do you think of the Chilean "maricón" piece and the other ads?

Video Source - YouTube
Online Sources - BBC News,,

Daily Headlines: February 18, 2011

* Haiti: Ex-first lady Mirlande Manigat and musician Michel Martelly officially began their presidential campaigns yesterday in an anticipation of a decisive runoff on March 20.

* Venezuela: Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela claimed at a Senate hearing on Thursday that Venezuelan influence in Latin America is “in marked decline.”

* Honduras: Fifteen Cuban migrants were detained after traveling by sea over twelve days and then landing on a Honduran beach.

* Peru: Peruvian farmers will send samples of 1500 potato types to Norway’s “doomsday” seed vault for safeguarding.

Image – Eduardo Munoz/Reuters via CBC News (“Presidential candidates Michel Martelly, left, and Mirlande Manigat, right, attend a ceremony in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 13. The two will contest a run-off election on March 20.”)
Online Sources- AFP, MSNBC, LAHT, BBC News

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Brazil: Supreme Court apologizes for "inappropriate" Tweet

Yesterday Nir Rosen resigned from his position as a fellow at New York University (NYU) after posting several insensitive Tweets regarding a sexual assault against journalist Lara Logan. “This incident is a testament to social media's far-reaching influence and the increasing need for its users to take caution before posting,” said an editorial in today’s edition of NYU’s student paper. It is surely a lesson that Rosen has learned the hard way though he wasn’t the only public figure this week to commit a Twitter faux pas.

A message was published under the Brazilian Supreme Court's Twitter account calling for Senate president Jose Sarney to resign. “Listen up: now that Ronaldo’s retired, when will Sarney decide it’s time to hang up his boots?” said the message that was posted on Tuesday. (The Tweet refers to soccer star Ronaldo who retired on Monday).

The Tweet was subsequently deleted and an apology to Sarney was published on the Supreme Court’s website. The note said that an as of yet unidentified court employee wrote “inappropriate messages for which this court offers its deepest apologies." Additionally, it’s unknown if the worker was fired for his/her Tweet.

The eighty-year-old Sarney is a veteran of Brazilian politics including serving as president between 1985 and 1990. A 2009 The Economist article cheekily titled “Where dinosaurs still roam” blasted Sarney and his “semi-feudal politics.”

On a related and more light-hearted note, the Brazilian press highlighted today the trouble of one particular Twitter user:
American Sarah Law Wu, who goes by the nickname Sarney on Twitter and saw her page overrun by Brazilians who mistook her for the Senator, was amused by the mistake…

When the confusion began last week, she wrote: "People of Brazil, for the love of the dear baby Jesus, I am not Jose Sarney.”

Sarah earned the nickname of her aunt, who read stories about Gen. David Sarnoff.
Image- TechCrunch
Online Sources- Washington Square News, The Huffington Post, NPR, The Economist, Folha Online, Terra Brasil

¿Por qué no te callas?: German Cardona

It’s been several months since we lasted named our figure to our “¿Por qué no te callas?” hall of shame. (Named after this 2007 squabble between Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez). But we cannot ignore an exaggerative comparison made by Colombia’s transportation minister German Cardona.

Colombian tuckers have been on a national strike for over two weeks in protest against government plans to remove “minimum freight rates”. Truckers set up blockades in several major cities including Bogota where tractor-trailers have impeded some traffic since Monday.

Government and truckers’ union reps are at this time discussing a solution ahead of tonight’s government-imposed deadline to end the strike. Before that, however, there was a war of words between transportation minister German Cardona and Bogota mayor Samuel Moreno over the role of the federal government in the strike. This led Cardona to make the following comments to the press on Wednesday:
(Moreno’s call to dialogue) was insufficient for the minister who compared the strike with the attacks on New York’s World Trade Center ten years ago.

“It’s as if the mayor of New York would have said at the time that the attacks were the responsibility of the U.S. government. Here it’s everyone’s responsibility. I was mayor of a major city and I had to assume those responsibilities”, said Cardona.
Cardona’s comparison of the truckers’ strike to the incidents of 9/11 was silly and uneccesary. It’s insensitive to compare a work stoppage that may be a major invencience to Colombians with brazen attacks that killed at least 3000 people. While there have been minor incidents in Bogotá and other parts of the country they pale in comparison to the wanton destruction and loss of human life nearly a decade ago. His point may have been to criticize Moreno but he instead sounded juvenile by bringing up the 9/11 attacks.

Cardona thus joins the likes of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (who claimed that illegal immigration was causing “terrorist attacks” in her state) and Colombian soccer coach Jorge Luis Pinto (who compared his suspension from the touchline to being imprisoned in Guantanamo) to our list of dishonor.

Why don’t you just shut up Mimister Cardona?

Image- AP via
Online Sources-, El Espectador, Reuters, The Latin Americanist,

Daily Headlines: February 17, 2011

* U.S.: Congrats to Latina civil rights pioneer Sylvia Mendez who was one of fifteen recipients of the Medal of Freedom this week.

* Ecuador: A small population of Ecuadorians with a dwarfism disorder may hold clues in the prevention of age-related diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

* Latin America: In its annual report the Committee to Protect Journalists decried "a rise in censorship” in Latin America by “government repression, judicial interference, and intimidation from criminal groups."

* Haiti: Will an endorsement by musician Wyclef Jean provide a boost to the campaign of presidential candidate Michel Martelly?

Image – Olivier Douliery, McClatchy-Tribune via The Orange County Register (“President Barack Obama presents human rights activist Sylvia Mendez with the 2010 Medal of Freedom in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday.”)
Online Sources- NPR, Reuters, San Jose Mercury News

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

World Watch: Bumps on the road

* Middle East: One person died when Bahraini police used tear gas in an attempt to clear out protesters while demonstrators in the Iranian capital of Tehran clashed with police.

* Italy: Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said that he was “not worried” over going to trial despite the possibility that he could be imprisoned for fifteen years over the “bunga bunga” sex scandal.

* Japan: Officials temporarily suspended Arctic whaling due to pressure from a conservation group popularized by the TV series “Whale Wars.”

* Space: A massive solar flare was emitted from the Sun and it could possibly interfere with the Earth’s electrical power, communications systems and satellites.

Image – Reuters/Hamad I Mohammed via CBC News (“Family members and supporters of Fadel al-Matrook, a protester who was killed Tuesday morning during police clashes in Bahrain, carry his coffin to the funeral in Manama on Wednesday.”)
Online Sources- The Telegraph, Voice of America, Reuters, BBC News, MSNBC

Bolivia’s Morales blasts U.S. anti-drug efforts

Bolivian president Evo Morales and White House officials do not see eye to eye in terms of how best to combat illegal drugs. In 2008 Morales expelled the Drug Enforcement Agency from operating in Bolivia after the U.S. ambassador was accused of plotting to oust him. More recently the U.S. and Bolivian government have been at odds over Morales’ push to overturn a global ban on coca chewing. The latest chapter in the disagreement between both countries could further worsen diplomatic relations.

The U.S. has “no morality to either speak out or question how Latin American countries fight narcotrafficking” said Morales according to the Bolivian press. He added that the diplomatic row between the U.S. and Argentina over seized military equipment in Buenos Aires demonstrated that Washington “negotiates with the world’s drugs.” Morales questioned that “if (the U.S.) was able to enter illegal dugs and weapons into Argentina then how would it be in other Latin American countries?”

Morales’ ire with the U.S. also included criticizing plans to slash U.S. antidrug aid to Bolivia in half to about $10 million. Supporters and detractors of Morales decried such a move though they differed on who is to blame:
Opposition legislator Luis Felipe Dorado said that this “is the consequence of President Morales’ policies. If there are problems with the (Catholic) Church or with indigenous groups he blames the U.S. Is this the way he wants to attract foreign investment?”...

“It is impossible to compare Bolivian relations to that of the U.S. since one has to take into account the ideologies of each country…In the case of the North American country it’s complicated because the U.S. is capitalist and Bolivia is on a path towards socialism,” said (senator of the ruling MAS coalition Julio) Salazar.
Image- EP/ABI via Europa Press
Online Sources- Democracy Now,, BBC News, El Nuevo Herald, FM Bolivia

Colombia: ”Para-politics” lawyer caught bribing a witness

There is an old saying that says, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” A prominent Colombian lawyer is learning that lesson the hard way after being faced with an incriminating video.

Attorney Ramón Ballesteros tried to coerce a witness in a trial where his client, ex-Congressman Luis Alberto Gil, stands accused of conspiring with right-wing paramilitaries. Ballesteros was arrested during legal proceedings on Tuesday after a video secretly taped by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration that showed him meeting in New York with former paramilitary David Hernandez. In the video (part of which is shown in the news report below) Ballesteros offered Hernandez $100,000 to retract his accusations against Gil and instead claim that he was being unfairly pressured by a Colombian high court judge.

After being arrested Ballesteros initially insisted that he was merely meeting with Hernandez to plan how he should testify in front of the court but he then confessed to wrongdoing after seeing the video.

Ballesteros faces between four to eight years if convicted of bribery and witness tampering though he could only serve half of the possible sentence since he confessed to his crimes.

For several years Hernandez served as a Colombian army lieutenant while also moonlighting as a high member of a paramilitary bloc. He has been imprisoned in the U.S. since 2008 and is under witness protection testifying against former Colombian legislators and members of the military for their supposed links to the paramilitaries.

The “para-politics” scandal has implicated dozens of former lawmakers including Mario Uribe, the cousin of former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe.

Video Source- YouTube
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, CM&, RCN Radio, Terra

Daily Headlines: February 16, 2011

Before we get to the headlines I want to take a moment to apologize for the lack of posts on Tuesday. Hopefully it won’t happen again today.

* Brazil: Ronaldo retired from soccer after an extraordinary eighteen-year career that included playing for several of the world’s top clubs, becoming the top goal scorer in World Cup history and being a part of Brazil's 2002 World Cup winning team.

* Latin America: Can ad campaigns in several countries make a significant dent in machismo culture?

* Nicaragua: A former member of the Contras turned criminal gang leader was shot dead on Sunday.

* Mexico: MVS radio rehired journalist Carmen Aristegui eight days after firing her over controversial comments on President Felipe Calderon.

Video Source – YouTube via Soccer by Ives
Online Sources- NPR, LAHT, MSNBC,

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Daily Headlines: February 15, 2011

* Argentina: A diplomatic row is developing after Argentina seized the cargo of a U.S. military plane allegedly containing arms and surveillance equipment.

* U.S.: An anti-immigrant “border vigilante” was convicted for murdering a nine-year-old child during a botched home invasion.

* Peru: A dispute lasting over a century may come to a close after Yale University pledged to return hundreds of artifacts taken from Machu Picchu.

* Honduras: Investigators are looking into what caused a plane crash that killed fourteen people.

* Mexico: At least eighteen people were killed yesterday in a town located in the northern Mexico state of Tamaulipas.

* Cuba: A pair of Cuban-American senators is trying to tighten travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba.

Image – Press TV
Online Sources- ABC News, UPI,, MSNBC, Xinhua, BBC News

Monday, February 14, 2011

Chile: Tempting fate?

On Friday Chilean President Sebastián Piñera admitted that the government has not done enough to rebuild coastal areas affected by last February’s earthquake and tidal wave. “It has taken us much longer than people would have liked and we know that we are still behind but not from lack of initiative” said Piñera to the press.

Since Piñera ‘s comments were made a number of tremors have shaken the same region hit by last year’s major tremors. Perhaps one can call it a case of sheer coincidence:
An earthquake measuring 6.6 magnitude on the Richter scale hit off the coast of central-southern Chile Monday, causing no casualties or material damage…

The northern Chilean region of Atacama was struck by a series of moderate quakes last week, causing panic among the local population as the geologists have been warning of an eventual outbreak of tectonic energy in the region.

On Friday a 6.8-magnitude earthquake was registered in Concepcion, capital of the central-southern region of Bio Bio.
Image- AFP via Herald Sun (“Shaky ground: A local resident hurries to abandon the waterfront after an earthquake in Constitucion, south from Santiago, on February 11, 2011.”)
Online Sources- La Tercera, The Latin Americanist, Xinhua

Ecuadorian court fines Chevron $8.6B

Do you usually view the glass half-full or half-empty? Depending on your perspective a key Ecuadorian court ruling made on Monday is either historic or a Pyrrhic victory.

The eighteen-year lawsuit against Chevron came to a climax when a judge ruled that Texaco (now owned by Chevron) was liable environmental damages in the Ecuadorian rainforest. The court decreed that the oil company pay a reported $8.6 billion fine and apologize publicly or risk doubling the damages figure.

Naturally representatives for the plaintiffs and the defendant viewed things differently. “The Ecuadorean court’s judgment…is the product of fraud and is contrary to the legitimate scientific evidence,” according to a statement from Chevron. Indeed, the company may not have to pay it since arbitrators ordered Ecuador to "take all measures” to suspend the enforcement of any fine against Chevron. Furthermore, Chevron has no assets in Ecuador and the company is expected to appeal the case.

Meanwhile, a joint statement from Amazon Watch and Rainforest Action Network praised the court decision as one that punishes Chevron for “waging unprecedented public relations and lobbying campaigns to avoid cleaning up the environmental and public health catastrophe.” More importantly, however, the court’s decision may have serious repercussions for the future conduct of major multinationals:
"This ruling is an intermediate step. The appeals could go on for many years," said John van Schaik, oil analyst at Medley Global Advisors in New York.

"But the fact that the Lago Agrio court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs sends a signal to oil companies that, more than ever, they need to be good corporate citizens," he added.

"The ruling shows that times have changed, and companies need to take environmental concerns seriously."
The marathon-like lawsuit in Ecuador has gone through plenty of twists and turns that at times made it look more like a soap opera than a legal proceeding. Earlier this month, for example, Chevron failed a federal racketeering lawsuit against Fajardo and other attorneys representing the Ecuadorian plaintiffs.

Image- El Universal (Mexico)
Online Sources- Bloomberg, Reuters, AFP, MSNBC, The Latin Americanist,

Colombian prez claims “dry” canal to rival Panama’s

The big news out of Colombia is the freeing of four hostages by the FARC rebels since Wednesday. Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos (image) was highly critical of the guerillas especially in light of the delayed liberation of two kidnap victims yesterday. Yet another set of comments by Santos hinted at what could be a major economic feat for Colombia.

According to remarks made to the Financial Times, Santos said that the Colombia is in talks with the Chinese government in order to build a “dry” canal between the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines. "I don't want to create exaggerated expectations, but it makes a lot of sense ... Asia could be the new motor of the global economy," said Santos on the 491-mile rail line that would run near Colombia’s northern border with Panama.

The $7.6 billion project would be funded and run by Chinese firms and could easily rival the expanding Panama Canal.

The plans mentioned by Santos would represent the latest expansion of Chinese economic expansion into Latin America. If completed, the “dry” canal could have serious repercussions with Colombia’s main trade partner:
Latin American exports to China leapt nine times between 2000 and 2009 in real terms, to $41.3bn. That was a far higher rate of increase than for exports overall, although from a low base; by 2009 China accounted for just under 7% of all exports from the region.

China is Colombia's second largest trade partner after the US, with bilateral trade rising from $10m in 1980 to more than $5bn in 2010.

But the FT suggested Bogotá also hoped the rail proposals would encourage Washington to push for ratification of a free-trade agreement signed by both governments four years ago, but yet to be approved by Congress.
Image- BBC Mundo
Online Sources- BBC Mundo, Reuters, The Telegraph, The Guardian, El Tiempo

The money trail

What does a former Haitian dictator deposed in an uprising 25 years ago have to do with an Egyptian strongman who quit his post last Friday? As the saying goes, it’s all about the Benjamins.

Hours after Hosni Mubarak stepped down from the Egyptian presidency, Swiss officials began the process of freezing his assets in that country’s banks. "The (government) intends in doing so to avoid any risk of embezzlement of Egyptian state property,” according to a statement issued by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. The communiqué also threatened with retaining assets not only from Mubarak but also members of “his circles.”

Estimates of Mubarak’s personal wealth vary and it’s unreported how much he might have stashed away in Swiss private banks. Yet there is the possibility that those funds could be returned to Egypt as part of the Swiss government’s push to peel away at the historic secrecy of the country's banks.

As we mentioned neatly two weeks ago, a Swiss law has gone into effect that could permit the return of assets stolen by corrupt politicians to be returned to their countries of origin. That law was nicknamed after Haiti’s Jean-Claude Duvalier and was created after a court ruling nearly forced the return of millions of dollars from his accounts back into his hands. Instead, the “Duvalier Law” will help in the transfer of approximately $6 million to "programs of public interest aimed at improving the living conditions of the (Haitian) population."

It remains to be seen if the “Duvalier Law” will be applied to Mubarak’s assets though one Swiss official implied that it could be possible. “If a given government holding banks accounts in Switzerland is ousted and there is evidence of corruption, we will react swiftly to see whether there are chances of returning the property to its rightful owners," said Valentin Zellweger, head of the department for international law at the Swiss government, to IPS.

Duvalier, who recently returned from exile, may face trial in Haiti on several charges including corruption and misappropriation of public funds.

Image- AFP via ABC News (Australia)
Online Sources- NPR, The Latin Americanist, CNN Money, The Telegraph, Slate, IPS

Daily Headlines: February 14, 2011

* Puerto Rico: University of Puerto Rico Jose Ramon de la Torre resigned on Friday amid ongoing student protests against a government-imposed $800 yearly fee.

* Argentina: Defending Olympic men’s soccer Argentina will not defend their gold medal in the London 2012 games.

* U.S.: A Latino activist in Utah urged the Mexican government to bar granting visas to Mormon missionaries until the LDS church takes a stance against an “enforcement-only” immigration bill.

* Ecuador: A judge ordered the release of the indigenous leaders who were jailed on February 1st and charged with “terrorism and sabotage”.

Image – AP Photo/El Nuevo Dia, Carlos Giusti via (“University students are detained by police during a protest inside the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Monday Dec. 20, 2010. Students are on indefinite strike to protest an $800 yearly fee that takes effect next year to help reduce the system's budget deficit. Students already pay $49 per credit.”)
Online Sources- UPI, LAHT,, MSNBC, The Latin Americanist