Saturday, April 23, 2011

Today’s Video: The Passion

Appropriate for Easter is the following depicting an updated version of the Passion for an audience in Rio de Janeiro's Cidade de Deus (City of God) favela:

Video Source - Associated Press via YouTube

Weekend Headlines: April 23-24, 2011

* Haiti: Eyebrows were raised among U.S. diplomats and the U.N. after eighteen legislative candidates including sixteen from the ruling Unity party apparently received a surge in votes.

* Ecuador: According to a recent poll most Ecuadorians would back President Rafael Correa’s major judicial reforms that will be up for a vote in a referendum next month.

* El Salvador: The U.S. deportation trial of an ex-Salvadoran defense minister accused of condoning human rights abuses during the 1980s was postponed until May.

* Mexico: The U.S. State Department expanded its travel warning on Mexico and advised against “nonessential travel” to parts of five states.

Image – Getty Images via BBC News (Last February, Unity party presidential candidate Jude Celestin was disqualified due to reports of electoral fraud in the first round of voting).
Online Sources-, Reuters, MSNBC,

Friday, April 22, 2011

World Watch: Seeking change in Syria

* Syria: Security forces reportedly killed at least 49 people during nationwide protests against President Bashar al-Assad.

* Vatican: Pope Benedict XVI took on questions related to faith, mortality, and other subjects in a televised interview that aired on Good Friday.

* World: People in nearly 200 countries observed Earth Day, which was created in reaction to a 1969 oil spill off the California coast.

* Asia: Tensions rose between neighboring countries Thailand and Cambodia after four soldiers were killed in a disputed border region.

Image – AP via (“Syrian antigovernment protesters march during a demonstration following Friday prayers near Damascus, Syria, on April 22. Security forces fired live bullets and tear gas Friday at tens of thousands of people shouting for freedom and democracy in several areas across the country.”)
Online Sources- Reuters, Voice of America, The Telegraph, Bloomberg

Today’s Video: The grim legacy of "Papa Doc" (Updated)

April 22nd is an important date in the history of several Latin American and Caribbean countries. Eleven years ago, the Elian Gonzalez affair came to a stunning climax in a pre-dawn raid in Miami. Meanwhile it was on this day in 1997 that seventy-one hostages held in the Japanese ambassador's residence in Peru were freed in a military operation.

On this day four decades ago Haitian dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier died at the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince. The "president for life" ruled the Caribbean country with an iron fist and a cult of personality. His fourteen years in power came with the help of the ruthless Tontons Macoutes militia while his kleptocracy led to worsening poverty for the Haitian populace.

The following is part of a 1966 documentary that gave a critical look at the many problems in Haiti under Duvalier:

Duvalier's death led to the presidency by his son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, who would continue his father's checkered legacy. A popular uprising in 1986 forced "Baby Doc" to flee Haiti yet he controversially returned in January. Francois may've died in impunity but Jean-Claude could soon face trial on charges of corruption and human rights abuses.

Update: Blogger Kevin Alvarez brings up the possibility that Haitian president-elect Michel Martelly could provide a full pardon to "Baby Doc."

Online Sources - RPP, The Guardian, BBC News, Voice of America
Video Source - Wolfson Archive via YouTube

Daily Headlines: April 22, 2011

* U.S.: According to a University of Central Florida study the percentage of Latino players in the major leagues dropped slightly to 27% though it’s at its lowest point since 1999.

* Cuba: The Ladies in White dissident group received the State Department’s Human Rights Defender Award yesterday.

* Honduras: Will exiled former president Manuel Zelaya return to Honduras next month?

* Argentina: An upcoming book alleges that the Israeli government sent weapons to Argentina during 1982’s Falklands War with Britain.

Image - (St. Louis Cardinals star Albert Pujols is one of the top ballplayers in the game today).
Online Sources-, AFP, Dominican Today, The Telegraph

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Today’s Video: Walking on water

Millions of Jews and Catholics this week are observing Passover and the Holy Week, respectively. One of the most unique Holy Week celebrations can be found in Nicaragua where, as the following video report from teleSUR shows, the Stations of the Cross is performed on water:

Video Source - teleSUR via YouTube

Rousseff, Messi make Time's "influential" list

One of the world’s best soccer players and one of Latin America’s most influential leaders have been named to Time magazine’s list of the world’s most influential people.

Argentine futbol star Lionel Messi and Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff were two of the 100 figures selected to the U.S. newsmagazine’s list. Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet described the numerous challenges Rousseff including being a female head of state and leading an “emerging nation” that is Brazil. Yet Bachelet praised Rousseff as a “courageous fighter” who “offers precisely that virtuous combination of wisdom and conviction that her country needs.”

Rousseff thus emulates her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who appeared on the Time list in 2004 and 2010.

Even though Lula hand-picked his former Chief of Staff to follow him, Rousseff has somewhat distinguished herself from him. Compared to Lula she has taken on a less charismatic and more administrative tone during her almost four months in the presidency. Rousseff has also differed from Lula in the foreign policy arena in that she is more willing to tackle global human rights violations.

Lionel Messi may’ve ended up on the short end of Barcelona’s Copa del Rey finals loss on Wednesday to bitter rivals Real Madrid. Yet ex-French international and former Barca teammate Thierry Henry couldn’t help but compare Messi to an Argentine soccer legend:
It's not normal, what he does. I know the expectation that builds up around top players, but it doesn't bother Messi. He's a competitor: he doesn't want to lose, not even in training. He reminds me of Diego Maradona, the way he dribbles past people, the way you can kick him and he'll just bounce up and carry on running with the ball, then score a goal — it's ridiculous.
Egyptian internet activist Wael Ghonim, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were in the top ten of the list that was voted on by Time readers.

Image- Eraldo Peres/Associated Press via CBC News (“Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, right, shown with artist Isabel Mendes da Cunha signed a law Tuesday in Sao Paulo granting grandparents visitation with grandchildren in cases of divorce.”)
Online Sources- Time, AS/COA Online, Al Jazeera English, AFP

Mexico: Ecologist caught in crossfire

A Mexican ecologist critical of forest deforestation at the hands of narcotraffickers became one of the latest victims of the country's drug-related violence.

Javier Torres Cruz was murdered on Monday in his hometown of La Morena in the southeastern state of Guerrero. For several years he criticized local political chiefs and drug traffickers who sought to raze the forest in order to plant poppy plants, which can be used to produce heroin, opium and morphine. In 2008, for instance, he charged rancher Rogaciano Alba Álvarez with threatening and harassing peasant families to let go of their lands.

Torres Cruz also accused drug gangs linked to Alba Álvarez of the 2001 killing of human rights activist Digna Ochoa even though authorities eventually deemed her death as a suicide.

Torres Cruz’ outspokenness also made him the target of local officials who tried to spread unproven rumors that his work with peasant communities linked him to guerillas. He claimed that the army was behind his kidnapped and torture for ten days in December 2008. Mexico’s national human rights body subsequently called on Guerrero authorities to take precautionary measures to protect Torres Cruz but the recommendations were reportedly ignored.

So far no suspects have been arrested in the assassination of Torres Cruz though his family alleged that his killers where a group of hitmen linked to Alba Álvarez. (Alba Álvarez currently sits in prison having been convicted of drug trafficking and illegally using arms belonging to the military.)

Even though Guerrero Gov. Angel Aguirre belongs to the country’s top leftist political party (PRD, in Spanish), leaders of the PRD urged that he stop “the persecution” of local peasant communities. In addition, members of a Mexican lawyers association plan to denounce Torres Cruz’ death to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

Image- CBC News (Murdered ecologist Javier Torres Cruz denounced the felling of forest trees in order for drug gangs to grow poppy plants similar to these uncovered in Canada.)
Online Sources- EPA, El Universal, La Republica, CNN Mexico, Radio Formula, La Jornada de Guerrero

Daily Headlines: April 21, 2011

* Peru: A study released this week concluded that the soaring price of gold has led to an increase of deforestation in the Peruvian rainforest region of Madre de Dios.

* Guatemala: Officials warned that the country is facing a nationwide “nutritional risk alert” since tens of thousands of impoverished Guatemalans suffer from malnutrition.

* Haiti: Now it’s official - Michel Martelly was officially declared as Haiti’s president-elect.

* Ecuador: A court threw out a lawsuit by a “prominent” law firm alleging that Chevron engaged in a “smear campaign” related to a multibillion dollar environmental damages lawsuit in Ecuador.

Image – Reuters via (“View of an illegal gold mining camp, near the Amazon city of Puerto Maldonado.”)
Online Sources- Monsters and Critics, Reuters, LAHT, MSNBC

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Today’s Video: Wild weather in Colombia

"Rain rain go away,

Come again some other day."

The sooner, the better for thousands of Colombians affected by a very wet and harsh winter:

Video Source - newsntn24 via YouTube

World Watch: Back to the Gulf

* U.S.: One year after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill the recovery along the Gulf coast of the U.S. is reportedly slow but promising.

* Libya: Tim Hetherington, an Oscar-nominated film director and war photographer, was killed while covering battles between rebels and pro-Gadhafi forces.

* Syria: President Bashar al-Assad is expected to lift the emergency law that has been in effect since 1963 though it may be insufficient to calm growing antigovernment protests.

* Nigeria: Reelected president Goodluck Jonathan faces a bit of bad luck in that his rival, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, will contest last weekend’s electoral results.

Image – Dave Martin/AP via (“In this June 12, 2010 file photo, crude oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon spill is seen inside a wave as it washes ashore in Orange Beach, Ala.”)
Online Sources- Reuters, Voice of America, BBC News,

Bolivia to sign coca eradication deal with U.S., Brazil

The governments of Bolivia and the U.S. have not always been on the same page regarding illegal narcotics. In 2008, Bolivia expelled thirty Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents while both governments engaged in a tit-for-tat removal of each country’s ambassadors. In January U.S. officials blasted Bolivian president Evo Morales for trying to overturn a global ban on coca chewing, followed by Morales criticizing the U.S. for having “no morality to either speak out or question how Latin American countries fight narcotrafficking.”

But the bitterness between both governments could be a thing of the past based on actions this week. According to a senior Bolivian defense official, the Andean country will take part in a pilot coca eradication program along with Brazil and the U.S. According to the Bolivian government DEA agents would not return to Bolivia but the program would provide help in the removal of “illegal and excessive” amounts of coca.

The key component to the deal may be the financial assistance to be received by Bolivia:
Morales has ruled out the DEA's return but this week the vice-minister of social defense, Felipe Cáceres, said the government would accept $250,000 from Washington for satellite monitoring of manual eradication of illicit coca crops.

The deal, expected to be signed this week, was part of a joint initiative with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and Brazil, which will contribute $100,000 to the satellite tracking.
The program comes three weeks after Bolivian justice minister Sacha Llorenti hinted that “a framework agreement” was being sought by the three contries in order to combat drug trafficking.

Image- AP via BBC News (“A Bolivian vendor sits among bags of coca leaves, that sell for about $140 (£70) each, as she waits for customers in La Paz.”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, BBC News, ABC Color, The Guardian, EPA

Argentine rockers convicted in nightclub blaze

An Argentine appeals court convicted a local rock band in the infamous “Caso Cromañón” (“Cromañón case.”)

In their decision handed down today, the Criminal Appeals Court found the members of Los Callejeros “criminally responsible” for the deadly 2004 nightclub fire that killed 194 people. All six men were also found guilty of negligence and face sentences of five to eleven years of prison.

The tribunal thus reversed a 2009 verdict that initially absolved the band members and placed the main verdict of guilt on the owner of the Cromañón nightclub, Omar Chaban. Chaban, who originally faced twenty years in prison, could be behind bars for as much as eleven years after the court reduced his charge to negligence.

Other figures, including the group’s current manager and several former local officials, also had their sentences reduced. A separate tribunal will soon decide the definitive sentences for all the defendants.

Tensions were high at the courtroom as police officers clashed with soon of the relatives of the deceased who were barred from entering the main courtroom. Their pain was worsened by the ruling that some of them viewed as “incomplete justice” while others criticized the court’s decision to remove a massive makeshift memorial built in memory of the victims.

Most of the dead from the 2004 blaze were teens and young concertgoers though the tragedy could’ve been averted. According to a Spanish-language article from the AP:
According to eyewitnesses the fire in the nightclub occurred after a flare was lit and hit the ceiling.

Most of the young concertgoers died asphyxiated and trapped while trying to flee the packed disco which had its emergency exit closed shut. Los Callejeros were in charge of security and the entry of concert attendees.

The nightclub was allowed to be open and functional despite not complying with safety regulations. The uproar over the incident cost then-Buenos Aires mayor Aníbal Ibarra to lose his post.
Image- AFP via BBC News (Nearly 200 people died in the República Cromañón nightclub fire in December 2004.)
Online Sources- Buenos Aires Herald,,, La Nacion, El Nuevo Herald

Crossing into Mexico for gasoline…again

As former baseball player Yogi Berra once said: “it’s déjà vu all over again.”

In June 2008 we mentioned that drivers in the U.S. were crossing the border in order to fill up in cheap gasoline. Gas stations in northern Mexico were enjoying “brisk sales” since gasoline prices in states like Texas was roughly $4 per gallon.

Nearly three years later, history is repeating itself. More drivers are crossing into Mexico seeking inexpensive gasoline subsidized by state-owned PEMEX. Even though the price of Mexican gas was increased this month for the forth time this year, it’s still approximately $2.94 to $3.31 a gallon compared to prices as high as $4.20 a gallon in California. Additionally, U.S. drivers can legally bring Mexican gasoline across the border and it isn’t subject to duty taxes. Hence, increased traffic at border crossing points:
Residents of Eagle Pass, Tex., just across the border from the northeastern Mexican town of Piedras Negras, are finding the deep discount worth the lengthy wait times at the crossing. The California border crossing at San Ysidro, a major thoroughfare between San Diego and Tijuana, is also seeing sharp increases in wait times due to the cheaper gas on the other side.
Crossing the border to get Mexican gas is not a foolproof plan as some commuters are hesitant over the security risk of driving in risky parts of the border region. In 2008 the AAA Auto Club warned that Mexican gas is “made with a different formula…(that) can ruin the emission control equipment on American cars and cause them to fail emissions tests.”

With oil prices steadily going up due to several factors, one may expect to see more drivers allured by cheap Mexican gasoline for short-term gain. Déjà vu, indeed.

Image- LAHT
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Hispanic Tips, Reuters, Time, El Universal, CNN, MSNBC, Wikipedia

Daily Headlines: April 20, 2011

* Cuba: While Fidel Castro made a surprise appearance deemed by blogger Yoani Sanchez as “a great public requiem”, U.S. officials urged more freedoms for Cubans.

* Peru: Conservative presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori tried to appeal to moderate Peruvians by “swearing to God” that she would not grant a pardon to her disgraced father, ex-president Alberto Fujimori.

* Argentina: Fuel shortages could hit Argentines this Easter weekend due to a twenty-day strike haling output of the country’s largest oil producer.

* Haiti: President-elect Michel Martelly is expected to meet with World Bank and IMF officials as well as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during his visit this week to Washington.

Image – Javier Galeano/AP via The Guardian (“Fidel and Raúl Castro at the Cuban communist party congress in Havana”. Fidel’s unannounced appearance included his relinquishing of all party and state posts for the first time in decades.)
Online Sources- Huffington Post, AFP, ABC-CBN News, MarketWatch, Voice of America

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Today’s Video: Race

Back in 1993 PBS aired "Americas," a seven-part series based on the book by the same name from Professor Peter Winn. One of the episodes focused on perceptions of race in the Dominican Republic including tensions with neighboring Haiti and the policy of blanquismo promoted by ex-strongman Rafael Trujillo.

These themes will likely by discussed in tonight's first chapter of "Black in Latin America," a series hosted and narrated by historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Tonight's episode examines the complexities of race in Haiti and the Dominican Republic and also "diffuses and defuses some of the most incendiary components of the race discussion" according to The A.V. Club.

The series runs in four parts and future episodes will focus on countries like Cuba and Brazil. In the meantime, the following is a brief preview of what may be a promising series:

Online Sources - The A.V. Club, Wikipedia
Video Source - PBS via YouTube

De Musica Ligera: Feliz aniversário, O Rei!

Today is the seventieth birthday of Roberto Carlos, one of Brazil’s premier singers and composers of the past several decades. He is best known for his adult contemporary hits during the 1970s and 80s including “Amigo” and “Cama y Mesa”. Yet it was in his early years where he was a key member of the “Jovem Guarda” (“Young Guard”) musical genre, which would serve as the precursor to the popular Brazilian music (MPB) movement.

Unfortunately numerous celebrations for have been put on hold since he has been mourning the death of his eldest stepdaughter last Friday. (This came almost a year since his mother, Laura Moreira Braga, died at the age of 96). Despite such difficult personal setbacks, Carlos continues to forge ahead with his musical career that has spanned over fifty years.

Pele may’ve earned the nickname of "O Rei" (“The King”) for his prowess on the soccer field though the same nickname has been given to Roberto Carlos. It’s a deserved label for such a prolific and well-respected musician whose influence throughout the Americas cannot be overlooked.

The following comes from the early 1970s and is, in my view, one of his most underrated hits: “Se eu pudesse voltar no tempo” (“If I could turn back time”).

Video Source - YouTube
Online Sources- eBand, La Republica, Jornal O Norte

Daily Headlines: April 19, 2011

* Costa Rica: Researchers working off Costa Rica's Pacific coast will extract rocks over one mile below the surface in order to study tectonic plate movements and perhaps gain a better understanding of the effects of climate change.

* Cuba: One of president Raul Castro’s key economic reforms will come to fruition after the Communist Party congress approved permitting Cubans to buy and sell their homes.

* Mexico: The country’s antitrust agency hit the Carlos Slim-owned America Movil telecom firm with a record $1 billion fine.

* Latin America: The presidents of Peru, Colombia, Chile, and Mexico are expected to meet later this month in order to sign a multilateral trade pact.

Image – Reuters/Juan Carlos Ulate via Reuters (“The JOIDES Resolution, a U.S. scientific vessel, is docked at Costa Rica's Pacific port of Puntarenas April 15, 2011.”)
Online Sources- Huffington Post, Bloomberg, BBC News, UPI

Monday, April 18, 2011

World Watch: Good luck Goodluck

* Nigeria: Incumbent Goodluck Jonathan was declared the winner of the country’s presidential election amid riots in several northern cities.

* Burkina Faso: A jailed student who died under mysterious circumstances in February has served as the catalyst for unrest including a mutiny of disgruntled soldiers.

* Syria: State Department officials denied allegations that the U.S. is trying to undermine the Syrian government by working closely with opposition groups.

* U.S.: Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai may’ve run the fastest recorded marathon in Boston but athletics officials will not certify his run as a new world record.

Image – AP via ABC News (“Nigerian incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan cast his ballot in Otuoke, Nigeria, Saturday, April 16, 2011. Nigerians chose their president in an election Saturday many hoped would show how Africa's most populous nation could hold a credible vote without the violence and rigging that marred previous ones, though children cast ballots and party officials helped others press their inked fingers to paper.”)
Online Sources- Reuters, Voice of America, Al Jazeera English, CNN

Cuba: Castro pledges political, economic reforms

This weekend marked the fiftieth anniversary of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and it was commemorated with a military parade in Havana. The future was also a very important theme this weekend among Cuban leaders, however, as president Raul Castro introduced reforms including ten-year term limits for the country’s politicos:

Castro’s term-limits were one of over 300 proposals introduced by the 79-year-old president during the Communist Party conference. He suggested the elimination of the island’s ubiquitous rationing books, which he deemed “a disincentive for work.” He also proposed introducing supply and demand to some areas of the economy and also claimed that the government is analyzing whether to legalize the sale of cars and homes.

In his lengthy speech at the summit Castro said that he stopped short of backing some changes including the concentration of property in private hands. He emphasized that "there will never be room for shock therapy" in Cuba.

Castro’s proposed reforms, which are expected to be backed by 1000 delegates at the congress, have received mixed reactions from Cubans. “What they are doing is this -- winning time to stay in power. This is a cancer that is now in its final stages,” said Laura Pollan, leader of the Ladies in White dissidents group, to Reuters.

Video Source – euronews via YouTube
Online Sources-, The Guardian, Reuters, USA TODAY

Daily Headlines: April 18, 2011

* Peru: President Alan Garcia denied that he would grant disgraced and imprisoned ex-President Alberto Fujimori a pardon for human rights abuses.

* Mexico: The police chief of Tamaulipas was fired in the wake of at least 145 bodies found in mass graves.

* Haiti: For the second time this year U.S. immigration authorities deported a group of Haitians to the Caribbean country.

* Latin America: According to the U.N. only half of Latin America’s 600,000 people infected with AIDS receive medical treatment.

Image – Reuters (“Peru's Former President Alberto Fujimori listens to the judge during the reading of the sentence of his trial at the special police headquarters in Lima April 7, 2009.”)
Online Sources- Bloomberg, BBC News,, Xinhua