Friday, April 12, 2013

Political Violence Mars Venezuelan Presidential Race (Updated)

Six people in Venezuela died on Thursday during a massive rally in support of interim leader and presidential candidate Nicolás Maduro.

According to the Venezuelan press, among the dead were two ladies aged 24 and 28 who were gunned down while riding a motorcycle at the event that took place in Caracas.

Another victim, a 35-year-old man, was killed as he set off fireworks near the headquarters of state-owned oil firm PDVSA.

Sympathizers of opposition candidate Henrique Capriles were also targeted this week in several acts of electoral violence. 

At least seven student demonstrators on a hunger strike in the Venezuelan capital city were seriously injured on Monday when they were physically attacked and hit by Molotov cocktails.

The next day the head of an opposition campaign activist was killed in Táchira while fourteen people were injured on Wednesday during clashes between Chavistas and anti-Chavistas after a Capriles event in Merida.

The violence occurred in the midst of a very tense campaign period that officially ended yesterday with massive, competing rallies.

Maduro emphasized that he is the rightful successor to recently deceased President Hugo Chávez and pledged to continue his policies of the so-called Bolivarian Revolution.

"I hope to live up to the responsibility he (Chavez) gave me, I aspire to live up to these people. They may know the poor of our country that will have me as his protector, his father, President…the Christ of the poor in Latin America,” declared Maduro at an event in downtown Caracas.

Capriles, meanwhile, spoke to hundreds of thousands of backers in in the northern city of Acarigua, and promised to tackle government corruption and improve the country’s economy.

“I ask you for the opportunity to show that I can indeed govern and make things right,” said Capriles who added that if elected to the presidency on Sunday he would scale back Chávez-era social programs.

Daily Headlines: April 12, 2013

* Cuba: “I guess nothing rhymes with Treasury,” quipped White House press secretary Jay Carney who denied Jay-Z’s insinuation that U.S. President Barack Obama approved the musician’s recent trip with Beyoncé to Cuba.

* Chile: An estimated 100,000 protesters took to the streets of Santiago yesterday in one of the largest demonstrations for education reform in Chile.

* U.S.: Roughly two out of three respondents to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll back creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that currently have jobs in the U.S.

* Brazil: Rio de Janeiro’s government banned public transport vans in touristy neighborhoods after a visitor from the U.S. was gang raped in such a vehicle last month.

Video Source – YouTube via Associated Press

Online Sources- The Guardian, CBS News, ABC News, Businessweek

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Uruguayan Congress Approves Gay Marriage Bill

Uruguayan legislators overwhelmingly backed a proposal legalizing same-sex marriages and, as a result, may soon become the second Latin American country to permit such a practice.

The proposal was backed by 71 of 92 members of the lower house of Congress on Wednesday in a vote held days after the Senate approved the bill by a 23-8 vote.  It is expected to be signed into law within two weeks by President Jose Mujica.

"I agree that family is the basis of society but I also believe that love is the basis of family. And love is neither homosexual nor heterosexual," said opposition lawmaker Fernando Amado of the center-right Colorado Party according to Reuters.

Aside from permitting gay marriages, the Marriage Equality Law grants rights to same-sex couples that had formerly given exclusively to heterosexuals.   Under the proposal gay couples have the chance to choose the order of the surnames of the children they adopt and also permits those in same-sex relationships to undergo in-vitro fertilization procedures.

The plan further updates the 101-year-old law on divorce and increases the age of consent for sexual relations to 16 from the current 12 years old for girls and 14 for boys.

The plan was opposed by conservative elements including a few opposition legislators who voted against the proposal. Uruguay's Roman Catholic Church reportedly claimed that marriage equality is "not justice but an inconsistent assimilation that will only further weaken marriage."

Brazil's Supreme Court voted last year in favor of allowing same-sex couples the same legal rights as married heterosexuals.  It is in that country where a key lawmaker has come under fire for his homophobic remarks:

Daily Headlines: April 11, 2013

* U.S.: Tens of thousands of protesters including Latino migrants and activists took part in marches yesterday calling for fair and comprehensive immigration reform.

* Guatemala: Guatemala became the eighth Latin American country in the past two years to recognize Palestine as a sovereign state.

* Mexico: A Mexican court sentenced to 38 years in prison a man convicted of murdering crime reporter Regina Martinez in 2012.

* Brazil: Officials with world soccer governing body FIFA are none too pleased at the constant delays in the construction of new stadiums for next year’s World Cup.

Video Source – YouTube via user Noticias MundoFox

Online Sources- Reuters, ABC News, Jerusalem Post, BBC News, The Latin Americanist

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Daily Headlines: April 10, 2013 (Updated)

* Brazil: Latin America's biggest defense trade fair takes place this week in Rio de Janeiro where deals could be made between international firms and governments with growing military budgets.

* Chile: Work resumed at state-owned Codelco after a 24-hour strike though tensions continue between management of the copper giant and labor unions seeking better worker conditions. 

Update: A Chilean court suspended work at the Barrick-owned Pascua Lima gold mine due to alleged environmental threats to indigenous communities.

* Argentina: Catholic officials in Argentina are hoping Pope Francis will grant sainthood to three priests and two seminarians murdered in a 1976 “Dirty War” massacre.

* Cuba: Authorities in Cuba handed over a U.S. couple accused of kidnapping their two sons and fleeing by boat to the Caribbean island.

Video Source – YouTube via user portalfab (Video created by the Brazilian Air Force for the ninth edition of the LAAD Defense and Security expo that began on Tuesday.)

Online Sources including Update- NBC News, GlobalPost, Dialogo Americas, Washington Post, Al Jazeera English, ABC News

Monday, April 8, 2013

Today's Video: Border Beats

Documentary filmmaker Les Blank passed away last Sunday at the age of 77.

He was best known for directing "Warner Eats His Shoe" but for nearly fifty years he was behind dozens of documentaries on a variety of subjects.  One of his films, "Chulas Fronteras," examined the impact of norteño music along the U.S.-Mexico border region.  This 1976 film features musicians including Flaco Jiménez, Lydia Mendoza and Los Alegres de Teran and provides a glimpse of life among migrant workers in the U.S.

The following is a brief excerpt of "Chulas Fronteras," which was selected in 1993 for preservation as part of the U.S. National Film Registry:

Unfortunately there will be no new posts on Tuesday.  We will return on Wednesday, and apologize for any inconvenience. 
Video Source - YouTube via user Fliefer

Online Sources - NPR;

Argentine Falklands Vets Reflect on Thatcher’s Death

Argentine military veterans of the Falklands War have reportedly reacted negatively to the death on Monday of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

“(She) died in impunity and without having gone on trial.  She should not be remembered as someone who contributed to a lasting peace,” said Mario Volpe, head of the La Plata Center for Ex-Falklands Troops. 

As Volpe told Diario Los Andes, the “Iron Lady” had a chance to peacefully end the war over the disputed islands but she blundered during the infamous attack on the Argentine warship General Belgrano.

“By deciding to continue the war with the sinking of the Belgrano, Thatcher was no different (Argentine dictator Leopoldo) Galtieri".

The 323 Argentines killed during the sinking of the Belgrano was nearly half of all Argentine military deaths during the 74-day conflict. 

The action against the Belgrano was highly controversial in Argentina since the vessel was sunk outside of a Maritime Exclusion Zone around the islands and the ship may have been heading towards port.  The sinking was also questioned at the time in Britain, which included this memorable exchange on TV involving Thatcher.  Nevertheless, months after the war ended she was reelected as Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, one of the survivors of the Belgrano sinking chose to remember Thatcher as someone who was doing her job.

“She was presiding over her country and she tried to defend Britain’s interests,” said José Luis Ferreira who nearly died after enduring sub-freezing waters for twenty-four hours.

“There was never a rivalry between people but it was a conflict between countries,” said Ferreira who also criticized those countrymen who have “inhumanely” celebrated Thatcher’s death.

For other Argentine military vets, the wounds of war and resentment towards Thatcher have given way to another battle for their overdue pensions.

“I felt sad and sorry at the same tome because sage was a proud and pedantic women.  One doesn’t feel bitterness but instead sadness over what happened thirty-one years ago,” said former troop Eber Roberto Nieto.

In contrast to their Argentine counterparts, British veterans of the Falklands War chose to remember Thatcher in a far more positive light:

Chilean President Mourns “Great Loss” of Margaret Thatcher

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera expressed his condolences over the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on Monday.

“I wish to express my condolences and solidarity with the family of Margaret Thatcher and the British people,” said Piñera at an event this morning.

“She was a brave woman who faced her obstacles and always had a strong attitude to solve problems.  (Her death) is a great loss not only for Britain but for the entire world,” added Piñera.

During her eleven years in power,  the “Iron Lady” had close ties with numerous conservative leaders including former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and ex-Chilean strongman Gen. Augusto Pinochet.  It was under her rule that in 1980 Britain lifted its arms embargo with Chile that had been put in place since the Pinochet-led military coup d’état against the civilian government.  According to the Chilean press, Britain sent over $160 million worth of weapons to Chile including missiles and jet fighters. 

The relationship between Thatcher and Pinochet was strengthened during the Falklands War of 1982.  Even though the military regimes in Chile and Argentina were close allies during the infamous Operation Condor, the Pinochet regime would send Britain intelligence information regarding Argentina.

Thatcher was steadfast in supporting Pinochet after both leaders left their respective posts of power.  In 1999 she blasted British leaders for contemplating the extradition of Pinochet to Spain where he faced charges of human rights abuse.

“Today I break my self-denying ordinance and for a very good reason - to express my outrage at the callous and unjust treatment of Senator Pinochet,” declared Thatcher who had largely been out of the public eye since departing 10 Downing Street in 1990.

“What is planned there is a show trial - lingering death in a foreign land,” she said.

In the end, Pinochet would not be extradited to Spain.  He would eventually return to Chile and die in impunity in 2006.  Thatcher was one of the few international figures who mourned the death of someone she considered her “friend.”

Speaking of Pinochet, Wikileaks revealed today that the Vatican allegedly turned a blind eye to atrocities committed in Chile during the first few weeks of the military junta:

Daily Headlines: April 8, 2013

* Brazil: A Brazilian federal prosecutor will look into allegations that former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was involved in a vote-buying scheme known locally as the mensalao scandal.

* Chile: The body of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda is scheduled to be exhumed today and will be examined to determine if he died due to cancer or if he was murdered.

* Panama: Expansion of the Panama Canal has neared the halfway point though the major construction project is running eight months behind schedule.

* Argentina: Argentina advanced to the Davis Cup semifinals where they will face defending champion Czech Republic.

Video Source – YouTube via euronews

Online Sources- Miami Herald, Bloomberg, Al Jazeera English,