Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mexico: Deadly Blast Rocks PEMEX Complex

At last fourteen people are dead after an explosion rocked the administrative headquarters of state-owned firm PEMEX in Mexico City.

According to government officials the blast injured over 100 people and the death toll is expected to rise. Rescuers are attempting to reach some thirty people who are trapped in the basement level.

At around 3:55 PM local time the explosion shook the building adjacent to the 52-storey PEMEX tower. A large plume of smoke rose into the air while three of the floors received extensive damage.

Approximately 3500 people were evacuated from the PEMEX complex and hundreds of police have cordoned off the area.

"It was an explosion, a shock, the lights went out and suddenly there was a lot of debris," employee Cristian Obele told Mexican TV, according to The Guardian.

The cause of the explosion is unknown though initial reports allege that it may have been an overheated air conditioning unit or a buildup of natural gas.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong and Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebard surveyed the damage in the evening. Peña Nieto had previously tweeted that he “deeply regrets the deaths of Pemex workers and colleagues.”

Thursday’s blast comes about four months after thirty people died due to an explosion at a PEMEX natural gas plant in northern Mexico.   Such incidents are a black eye against PEMEX according to a security analyst interviews by Reuters:

Attack on Afro-Uruguayan Activist Not Bias Assault Says Judge

A court decided that the controversial assault last month against an Afro-Uruguayan activist was not a bias attack and, thus, skipped charging Ramirez’ aggressors with racism.

Judge Juan Carlos Fernández Lecchini said yesterday that the accused and the victim had taken “competing” views as to whether or not racism was the motivation behind the assault on Tania Ramirez outside of a Montevideo nightclub on December 14, 2012. He claimed that the views taken by Ramirez and her attackers had not been “proven in one way or another” and “one cannot be persuaded when there isn’t anything to imbalance to opposite perspectives.”

Fernández Lecchini did leave the door open to the possibility of having racism being used as evidence against the accused.  In the meantime, he went ahead with charging the three suspects with attempting to commit serious injury. If convicted, the accused (including a fourth suspect still on the loose) could face prison sentences of twenty months to six years.

Prosecutor Carlos Negro agreed with the attackers' claims that the assault was only a “street fight” and he backed the judge’s ruling.

“Every time one person insults another it would be defined as discriminatory since we shouldn’t forget that all insults contain some form of discrimination,” said Negro to the Subrayado website on Thursday.

Ramirez’ supporters, such as her boyfriend, vehemently disagreed with the judge’s decision:

“The assault began verbally with racial slurs.  What does it take for this to be racist, a tattooed swastika or a Ku Klux Klan hood? 
What if the attack had been the other way around with four black women beating up a white lady? I’m certain the police would’ve found the attackers the very next day,” he said in reference to the over one month police took to arrest Tania’s attackers.
Fernández Lecchini remarks also left a sour taste in the mouths of several Afro-Uruguayan government officials and activists. 

“If we live in a country where striking a person and calling her a “dirty black” (negra motuda) isn’t a racist act then we are lost,” noted Juan Raúl Ferreira, a member of the National Human Rights Institute.

Days after Ramirez was attacked several thousand people took to the streets of Montevideo and participated in an anti-racism march.  Among those who participated in the protest were politicians representing numerous affiliations, social organizations like the Israeli Committee of Uruguay and members of Ramirez’ family.

Earlier this month a campaign led by Afro-Uruguayan activists announced their petition to Spain's Royal Academy of the Spanish Language seeking to remove the phrase "to work like a black person" (trabajar como un negro) from its famous dictionary.

"We ask you to revise the permanence of this expression in your dictionary, while we find ways to eliminate all discriminatory expressions from our plazas, our schools, our playgrounds and our homes," said an online petition that has been signed by at least 21,000 people.

According to the most recent national census, eight percent of the roughly 3.2 million Uruguayans categorize themselves as being of African descent.  Yet Afro-Uruguayans reportedly receive salaries twenty to thirty percent less than their white counterparts while forty percent of Afro-Uruguayans live below the poverty line.

Video Source– YouTube via user SubrayadoHD (Security camera footage recorded the attack of four women, three minors and one of their mothers, on Tania Ramirez outside a Montevideo nightclub).

Online Sources – Diario El Pais, Subrayado, El Observador, Terra Colombia

Daily Headlines: January 31, 2013

* Cuba: Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez claimed that she would soon travel abroad after receiving her passport under Cuba’s recently implemented migration reforms.

* U.S.: In an interview with Telemundo, U.S. President Barack Obama expressed his hope that major immigration reform can become a reality before the end of this year.
* Colombia: Peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC are renewed today amid growing tensions over the rebels’ latest military offensive.

* Ecuador: An Argentine appeals court opened the doors for Ecuadorian plaintiffs to collect billions of dollars in an environmental damages case against Chevron.

Video Source – YouTube via AFP

Online Sources- Reuters, Huffington Post, The Latin Americanist, IOL, Businessweek

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Daily Headlines: January 30, 2013

* Venezuela: The U.N. human rights office expressed concern over “an alarming pattern of violence in Venezuelan prisons” in the wake of a recent deadly riot at the Uribana prison.

* Haiti: Will an aggressive campaign to promote tourism in Haiti help revive a country still ailing from a major earthquake that struck two years ago?

* Peru: Legislators are considering approving a proposal that would protect the “near threatened” Andean condors.

* Mexico: Electoral authorities claimed they found violations made by the campaign of defeated presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Video Source – YouTube via Al Jazeera English

Online Sources- Huffington Post, The Latin Americanist, NBC News, NPR

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Obama, Senators Present Aims for Immigration Reform

U.S. President Barack Obama unveiled his goals for comprehensive immigration reform on Tuesday afternoon.

Obama emphasized that “now is the time” for reform and presented plan in order to accomplish this based on better border enforcement, cracking down on businesses that knowingly hire undocumented workers, improving the legal immigration system and a pathway for citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.

Regarding the final point, Obama said that a potential road for citizenship should include “passing a background check, paying taxes, paying a penalty, learning English, and then going to the back of the line behind all the folks who are trying to come here legally”. 

"The question now is simple.  Do we have the resolve as a people, as a country, as a government to finally put this issue behind us? I believe that we do," said Obama during a speech in Nevada.

The president also praised a reform plan presented by a bipartisan group of senators yesterday as “very much in line with the principles I've proposed and campaigned on for the last few years.”
Much like Obama’s immigration goals, the plan from the “Gang of Eight” coincides on the same basic principles.  Yet the Senate proposal differs in a few ways such as making a road to citizenship for undocumented immigrants conditional on stronger border enforcement.

The proposals have been met with cautious optimism among some Latino pro-immigration campaigners:

Daily Headlines: January 29, 2013

Note: Before we get to today's headlines I would like to apologize for the absence of posts on Monday. Unlike the temporary shutdown of the blog earlier this month, I was too sick with a nasty cold to focus on blogging yesterday.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

* Brazil: Police detained four people connected to Sunday's deadly nightclub fire in Rio Grande do Sul that killed over 230 concertgoers.

* Guatemala: A Guatemalan court ordered ex-dictator Efrain Rios Montt to stand trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity committed roughly three decades ago.

* Mexico: Authorities in the northern state of Nuevo León found twelve bodies that may all be members of the Kombo Kolombia music group missing since a concert last Thursday.

* Ecuador: A former judge alleged that he was issued a bribe in order to find Chevron guilty of dumping chemicals in the Ecuadorian rainforest.

Online Sources: NPR, Reuters, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Latin Americanist

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Brazil: Nightclub Fire Kills 233 People (UPDATED)

At least 232 people were killed as a result of a fire that swept though a nightclub in the southern Brazilian province of Rio Grande do Sul.

The blaze, which also injured over 100 people, occurred in the early morning hours of Sunday at the Kiss nightclub in the city Santa Maria.

Most of the victims, including attendees of a local university’s party, were said to have died from smoke inhalation.  Some of the victims also died of asphyxiation caused by a stampede of club attendees.

"There was so much smoke and fire, it was (a) complete panic and it took a long time for people to get out, there were so many dead," survivor Luana Santos Silva told Brazil’s Globo TV network.

The cause of the fire is unknown though several eyewitnesses said that it might have been caused by a flare lit on stage by the Gurizada Fandangueira band.  The group’s guitarist, Rodrigo Martins, claimed that the blaze “might have happened because of the Sputnik, the machine we use to create a luminous effect with sparks. It's harmless, we never had any trouble with it”.

Other eyewitness accounts alleged that the club’s security guards blocked the emergency exits since they erroneously believed that the crowds were trying to escape a fight.

“(The guards) blocked a lot for several minutes, I don’t know how many.  But you could’ve been dead or alive within one minute,” said one witness.

Another factor leading to such a high death toll may have been that the nightclub was overcapacity.  As many as 2000 people may have been crammed into the club even though Rio Grande do Sul firefighting chief Colonel Guido Pedroso de Melo said no more than half that should have been inside.

In the meantime, some families of the deceased are trying to make sense of such a terrible tragedy: