Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tsunami waves graze Latin America's Pacific coast

The above video slideshow from Ecuador’s El Universo provides a glimpse at some of the damage from yesterday’s tidal wave on the Galapagos Islands.

Approximately 1000 people are dead and at least 10,000 missing in Japan as a result of Friday’s massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami. While the tidal wave caused a heartbreaking amount of death and destruction in that Asian country, Latin American states along the Pacific Ocean dodged a major bullet.
  • Mexico
As we mentioned yesterday, waves measuring 70 centimeters (27.6 inches) reached the Baja California peninsula. Officials in other states removed their tsunami alerts despite waves of 1 meter (3 feet) reaching areas such as Guerrero and Oaxaca.
  • Central America
Several countries such as Panama and Honduras suspended their tsunami wave alerts last night after small tidal waves of reached the region’s coast. In El Salvador, for instance, the wave increase was “almost null” though most residents in coastal areas heeded warnings to say away from beaches and ports.
  • Peru
The country’s coast was hit last night with tidal waves measuring between 20 and 40 centimeters (7.9 to 15.8 inches) tall. They caused little material damage though there was one fatality after a man fell to his death at a beach south of Lima.
  • Chile
Waves measuring no higher than 50 centimeters (19.7 inches) hit Easter Island last night though this morning President Sebastian Pinera ordered that the tsunami alert is lifted for that area. The alert remains for the Chilean mainland; thus, delaying the return of tens of thousands of residents evacuated from low-lying coastal areas hours before the tsunami reached land.
  • Ecuador
The lone area that appeared to be hit hard by the tsunami was the Galapagos Islands. A “train of waves” hit the coastline of the islands and flooded several piers and nearby streets. In one instance according to local officials the bottom of the sea could be seen after the surf retreated 30 meters (9.8 feet) and then washed onto the coast. No major damage or fatalities were reported and President Rafael Correa removed the emergency “state of exception” originally declared Friday morning.

The effect of the tidal wave in the Americas paled in comparison to the devastation in Japan. Yet people in the Americas such did not take any chances as governments issued warnings and alerts while most residents in coastal areas heeded them. As the saying goes: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Video Source – El Universo via YouTube
Online Sources- Too many to individually list.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tidal waves from Japan quake reach Mexico

Several hundred people are dead in Japan after this morning’s 8.9-magnitude and a massive tidal wave swept through northeastern parts of the country. The strength of the tremor has led to numerous tsunami alerts being issued by 50 countries along the Pacific Rim including several in Latin America.

A tidal wave hit the northwestern Mexican city of Ensenada but the it was not “higher than the high tide level” according to president Felipe Calderon. A spokesman for the Marines added that the wave of 70 centimeters (27.6 inches) reached the shore at 11:30 am and “did not cause much effect”. Nevertheless, Modesto Ortiz of Ensenada’s Center for Scientific Research warned that subsequent waves reaching Baja California could be as high as one to two meters (3.3 ft. to 6.6 ft.) tall. Additionally, the government early this morning ordered the temporary closing of all activity in Mexican ports located on the Pacific coast.

In Central America, meanwhile, tidal waves are expected to reach the coastline of parts of Guatemala and Panama later this afternoon. Costa Rican authorities do not expect to see a tsunami until 4:00 pm local time, roughly 18 hours since the tremor shook Japan. Classes were suspended for schools located in coastal parts of El Salvador while over 5000 troops and police in Nicaragua were sent to help with civil defense preparations for the upcoming wave.

Regarding South America, the tsunami waves will reportedly hit the coasts of Colombia, Peru and Ecuador during the evening hours. Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa declared a “state of exception” that may include evacuating residents of coastal areas and the Galapagos Islands. A tsunami alert was issued in Peru in anticipation of tidal waves that are expected to arrive there at around 7:30 pm local time. Colombian officials do not expect that waves will be no more than 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) tall though restrictions have been placed on some swimming and small boat use.

Chilean authorities have put the nation under high alert over the possibility that a tsunami could reach the country’s coast in the early morning hours of Saturday. President Sebastián Piñera urged Chileans to remain calm and continue with their normal routines though some are likely still shaken from the February 2010 tremor and tsunami that killed over 500 people. A “preventive evacuation” is underway on Easter Island and residents will be taken to high ground until the alert is lifted.

Other parts of Latin America may not be under tsunami alert, but they have been affected by today’s events in Japan. Both the Argentine and Venezuelan governments have offered to send humanitarian relief to the Asian country. The Japanese consulate in Curitiba, Brazil has offered additional services and help to expats seeking information about friends and loved ones on their homeland. Puerto Rican emergency services will hold training for a mock tsunami on March 23rd.

Online Sources – Too many to individually list!
Video Source - CNN

Daily Headlines: March 11, 2011

Note: The big news of the day is the massive earthquake and tidal wave that have officially killed about 100 people in Japan. Later today we will discuss this latest natural disaster and how it pertains to Latin America.

* Latin America: Mexican telecom tycoon Carlos Slim was ranked by Forbes as the world’s wealthiest person while the number of Brazilian billionaires spiked over the past year.

* Peru: Scandal has hurt several presidential candidates who have been accused of accepting funds from suspected drug traffickers.

* Guatemala: The U.S. government could be sued by attorneys representing hundreds of Guatemalans secretly infected with syphilis between 1946 and 1948.

* Bolivia: President Evo Morales blasted the U.S. and the U.N. for issuing recent reports criticizing Bolivian anti-drug efforts.

Image – Jeremy Piper/AP via CBC News (“Mexican telecoms tycoon Carlos Slim Helu is the world's richest person according to Forbes magazine. Here, he is pictured at the Forbes Global CEO conference in Sydney on Sept. 29, 2010.”)
Online Sources- Reuters, CNN, The Globe and Mail, BBC News

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Nuestro Cine: “Presumed” censorship?

Last year we briefly looked at Mexican documentary “Presunto Culpable” (“Presumed Guilty”). Today we revisit the film after it landed in a recent controversy.

The film focuses on Antonio Zuniga, a man accused of murder, and the efforts of his lawyers and supporters to free him. “Presunto” not only reveals what appears like a weak case against Zuniga but also shows numerous shortcomings of the Mexican judicial system.

In the two weeks “Presunto” was shown in Mexico it became a box-office hit and the country's highest-grossing documentary. But last week a judge issued an injunction against screening “Presunto” after one of the movie’s figures, a key prosecution witness, claimed that he did not give permission to appear in the film. As written in Global Voices, the decision led to anger among some bloggers including concerns over freedom of expression as well as conspiracy theories claiming “the judicial system does not want the film to bring to light all the irregularities in its administration.”

The clamor over “Presunto” being pulled from theaters grew over the past several days culminating in a higher court ruling yesterday to bring the movie back:
The three-judge tribunal unanimously voted against the decision to pull the film saying that, despite the potential negative attention to the plaintiff, to force the film out of theaters "caused damage to the interests of society and contravened the regulations of public order, given that society has an interest in seeing respected the right to information enshrined in the sixth article of the Federal Constitution."
If you are in the U.S. you can view “Presunto Culpable” in its entirety for free via this PBS website until March 31st. Otherwise, the following is the trailer for the documentary that has caused quite a stir in Mexico:

Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, The Hollywood Reporter, Huffington Post, Global Voices, Variety
Video Source – PBS via YouTube

Daily Headlines: March 10, 2011

* Colombia: The family of a U.S. geologist killed in Colombia filed a lawsuit against Chiquita and accused the food company of hiring guerillas for security.

* Guatemala: Could Guatemala’s Sandra Torres de Colom follow in the footsteps of Argentine Cristina Fernández de Kirchner by becoming the latest First Lady turned President?

* Haiti: With ten days to go until Haitians head to the voting booth the latest polls indicate that Michel Martelly has a slim lead over rival Mirlande Manigat.

* Mexico: Details have emerged over the agreement reached last week by presidents Felipe Calderon and Barack Obama that will allow Mexican truckers to operate in the U.S.

Image – Getty Images/Luis Acosta via CBS News (Chiquita had been previously sued for allegedly hiring illegal paramilitaries to act as security at their Colombian plantations).
Online Sources- Bloomberg, BBC News, Herald Sun, CNN, The Latin Americanist

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Woman’s Worth: Recognition

Today we’ll examine the recognition given to a pair of women from the Americas as part of our feature this week in honor of International Women's Day.

Yesterday the U.S. State Department gave their “International Women of Courage” award to ten women including Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez and Mexican Deputy Attorney General Marisela Morales Ibañez. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Morales for her efforts to start a federal witness protection program in order to protect those trying to help in the combat against powerful Mexican drug gangs. “She has shown an unfailing drive to combat organized crime and corruption, and a valiant dedication to the protection of citizen security and human rights,” said Clinton.

The forty-year-old Morales has held her post since March 2010 though she has worked in the Attorney General’s office for several years. In 2008 she headed Operación Limpieza (“Operation Clean Sweep”), which led to the arrest of 35 public officials linked to the Beltrán Leyva drug gang.

After receiving her award Morales told the press that she recognized the risks run by both men and women in law enforcement and emphasized that she and her comrades have a “willingness to overcome those fears” that could’ve held them back.

Along with Belarusian Nasta Palazhanka, Sanchez could not make it to the ceremony yesterday since she was not permitted to travel by the Cuban government. Despite her absence, the outspoken blogger and activist told Europa Press that she was “very proud” to have received her award:
“More than anything I share this honor with nine other women who have pursued notion of development in other countries, and her risking their lives to defend their ideals,” she explained…

“Although its happen many times before I am not accustomed to staying in Cuba because I’m prevented from traveling. In the meantime I will take advantage of my time...because one day I hope to teach someone how to use the Internet or open a Twitter account”.
In the following video via the Oslo Freedom Forum, Sanchez discusses why she became a blogger and the problems with Internet access in Cuba:

Online Sources- U.S. State Department, Milenio, El Universal, EFE, Europa Press,
Video Source - Oslo Freedom Forum via YouTube

Daily Headlines: March 9, 2011

* Central America: The International Court of Justice ruled that Nicaragua and Costa Rica must refrain from sending civilians or security forces to the disputed border area known as Calero Island.

* Haiti: The Provisional Electoral Council claimed that they are taking steps so that the presidential runoff on March 20th is not plagued by the same problems as last year’s first round.

* Mexico: U.S. immigration officials confirmed that criminology student turned police chief Marisol Valles Garcia has left Mexico and sought asylum across the border.

* Colombia: Guerillas freed 22 oil contractors after the kidnappers faced intense pressure fighting the army.

Image – Tico Times (Costa Rica and Nicaragua have disputed Calero Island since last year).
Online Sources- UPI, MSNBC, CNN, Reuters

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

World Watch: Red Rover

* Libya: According to the AP a Red Crescent official claimed that pro-Gadhafi soldiers are preventing the escape of tens of thousands of refugees attempting to leave Libya.

* Denmark: The country’s immigration minister was fired after she wrongly refused granting citizenship to three dozen stateless Palestinians.

* Yemen: At least several dozen protesters are reported to be injured after security forces fired on anti-government demonstrators.

* Ivory Coast: A protest against the massacre of seven women ended with soldiers shooting and killing four people.

Image – Spencer Platt/Getty Images Europe via The Guardian (“Libya's border with Tunisia has seen thousands of migrant workers crossing over – but the number has fallen dramatically.”)
Online Sources- ABC Online, MSNBC, BBC News, The Guardian

Report: Mexican rural, indigenous women face challenges

Illiteracy and insecurity are just some of the problems Mexican rural women face according to a report released on International Women's Day.

The report by a Mexican peasants’ rights group found that most of the country’s thirteen million indigenous and rural women face many challenges. According to the Central de Organizaciones Campesinas y Populares (COCP) one out of every ten peasant women have some level of secondary education and that a third of indigenous peasant women are illiterate.

The conditions these women face affect their families; for example, children of these women tend to suffer from malnutrition. According to COCP, some families face difficulties when women migrate abroad due to a “lack of alternatives”. The report also claims that those women who work as migrant workers usually face abuses at the hands of their employers such as earning roughly half as much as their male counterparts.

With so few options available and increasing number of indigenous and rural women are getting involved in the drug trade. COCP president José Jacobo Femat told Mexican daily Excelsior that growing corn has become much less lucrative compared to narcotics. As a result, rural areas have become much more insecure and corrupt according to Femat.

The extreme situation face by rural women in Mexico raises the need for more action to be taken by the private and public sectors to help them move forward. The problems of rural women has not gone lost on the head of the U.N.’s agency against hunger:
“Gender equality is not only a noble idea but also crucial for agricultural development and food security,” said Food and Agriculture Organization director-general Jacques Diouf, according to the DPA news agency.

He insisted “we should promote gender equality and the potential of women in the agrarian field in order to…beat hunger and extreme poverty.”
Image- SDP Noticias
Online Sources- SDP Noticias, Excelsior, El Universal, Telam

Ecuador: Women earn one-third less than men

Since the first International Women's Day was celebrated one hundred years ago women around the world have made great strides in seeking gender equality. Yet there is still much that can be done, as can be seen in the South American country of Ecuador.

Ecuadorian women earn 33% less than their male counterparts according to the country’s national statistic agency. Roughly one-third of Ecuadorian woman who are of legal working age have a job compared to 54% of men. In addition, the highest sector of female employment is self-employment, which employs about two out of every five working Ecuadorian women.

The sobering news on employment also extends itself to other areas where 13.7% of women have university-level education and a paltry one in 200 (0.5%) have post-graduate experience.

Interestingly enough, a median of women surveyed scored an eight out of a scale of ten when asked how satisfied they felt with their lives. But the data on jobs and education have some women’s rights representatives worried:
“It’s a lack of employment justice not only because women earn less for the same job but also since they have less opportunities to work due to motherhood and being responsible for the family”, said Fundación Desafío president Virginia Gómez de la Torre.
Online Sources- Terra Peru, El Universo, La Hora, Voice of America

Guatemalans call for end to violence against women (Updated)

Usually the notion of “femicides” in Latin America is related to the hundreds of women killed in northern Mexico. Sadly other countries in the region have seen an increase of female homicides with little action being done to bring the perpetrators to justice.

As part of International Women's Day thousands of women including some representing forty women’s rights groups marched today through the streets of Guatemala City. Aside from advocating greater gender equality and increased economic opportunities the demonstrators also called for an end to violence against women. “In Guatemala, violence and repression against women has worsened,” said a statement from the protet’s organizaing committee.

Numerous human rights and women’s rights groups have expressed their worries over Guatemalan “femicides.” "We are deeply concerned that these crimes are not ceasing,” said the head of Guatemala’s commission on "femicide" to AFP. Amnesty International urged the government to do more to combat violence against women such as “initiating effective investigations into killings, improving police training and ensuring prosecutions are effective".

Last year president Alvaro Colom pointed out advances made to protect women such as “tribunals specialized in femicides (and) offices for attention (to women's rights).” But this past Saturday alone eight women were slain including one lady who reportedly “had her hands and feet bound and had been shot several times in different parts of her body.”

Earlier today the national police revealed hat 11,832 cases of violence within the family occurred in 2010 while so far this year there have been over 3,000 cases. Other government figures have been just as disturbing:
According to official figures, 685 women were killed in Guatemala in 2010.

Guatemala has one of the highest murder rates in the world, but less than 4% of cases end in a successful conviction...

Guatemala's high rate of violent crime is widely seen as a legacy of the 1960-96 internal conflict between the state and left-wing guerrillas, in which more than 200,000 people were killed, most of them by the army.
Update: On Monday, PBS NewsHour examined the issue of violence against women in Guatemala. It is worth taking a look at this gut-wrenching report.

Online Sources-, Prensa Libre,, LAHT, BBC News

A Woman’s Worth: Argentina's activist "abuelas"

We will feature a series of video posts this week in honor of International Women's Day. This year marks the centennial celebration of the date that began “as an offshoot of increased labor unrest in the early 20th century.” Over the past hundred years the role of women and their contributions have changed and we hope to honor that throughout the week.

As we mentioned briefly on Saturday, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) gave a notable award to Argentina’s Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo (“Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo” in Spanish). The Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize was bestowed upon the Argentine human rights activists in honor of their “tireless battle for human rights and peace by standing up to oppression, injustice and impunity.”

The “Abuelas” were founded in 1977 with the aim of finding babies stolen during the “Dirty War” period. In the 34 years since their creation, the group has reportedly identified over 100 children whose biological parents where either killed or “disappeared” under the brutal military regime.

Their tireless work has been crucial in the trial of former junta presidents Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone, who stand accused of masterminding the kidnapping of 34 children for illegal adoption. Through meticulous research the “Abuelas” hope to bring some measure of justice to those whose lives have been forever changed:
"The most real proof that there was a system in the thefts is the living proof, the children who regained their identities," said Agustin Chit, a lawyer for the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who are among the plaintiffs. "It's all the documents that the grandmothers in these 33 years were able to collect. There is no perfect crime and there wasn't in this case in relation to the systematic plan. Even the bureaucracy of the state apparatus left behind many documents."
Last September a 32-year-old attorney became the 102nd case of recuperated identity by the “Abuelas”. After undergoing DNA tests it was revealed that his mother gave birth to him while she was being held by the authorities at the infamous ESMA facility. Both of the man’s biological parents “disappeared” and were presumably killed while they were detained by the military.

Online Sources- EFE, The Telegraph, CNN, The Latin Americanist
Video Source – C5N via YouTube

Daily Headlines: March 8, 2011

* U.S.: Military trials at the Guantanamo prison will resume after a two-year hiatus according to a decision made by the White House yesterday.

* Ecuador: A U.S. federal judge extended his temporary order preventing Chevron from paying a multibillion-dollar verdict in an Ecuadorian environmental damages case.

* Latin America: A study conducted in seven countries including Mexico and Colombia found that diabetes cases often go undiagnosed or are poorly treated.

* Peru: The prestigious Dakar Rally, which for its past three editions has been held in Argentina and Chile, could be expanded to Peru for 2012.

Image – Mark Wilson/Getty Images via The Guardian (“Barack Obama had promised to close Guantánamo within a year of taking office in January 2009.”)
Online Sources- Living in Peru, BusinessWeek, The Telegraph, MSNBC, The Latin Americanist

Monday, March 7, 2011

Daily Headlines: March 7, 2011

* South America: Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli said that he would backtrack on a controversial mining law while opposition was raised over a planned open-pit gold mine in neighboring Colombia.

* Brazil: As Brazil increases its prominence on the world political and economic stage so has their favorability around the world according to a poll by the BBC World Service.

* U.S.: Did the former head of the Cuban American National Foundation provide funds to suspected bomber and ex-CIA agent Luis Posada Carriles?

* Mexico: Over 700 homosexual couples have tied the knot in Mexico City during the first year that the metropolis legalized same-sex marriages.

Image – AFP via BBC News (“Indigenous Panamanians blocked a major road with their protest” last month against a controversial mining law.)
Online Sources- BBC News, The Advocate, Sify, Reuters, GlobalPost