Saturday, February 22, 2014

Mexican Drug Capo Joaquin Guzman Captured (Updated)

Update (5:05 PM): Arrested Sinaloa drug gang head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was paraded in front of the press at a news conference in Mexico City:

Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam told reporters that Guzman was captured at early on Saturday morning in"an impeccable operation" carried out by the Mexican navy with "no shots fired."

In addition:
Murillo Karam recognised the collaboration of the US government in tracking Guzmán to a network of safe houses with reinforced metal doors and escape tunnels that made use of the city drainage system and allowed the criminal to escape from an initial operation.

"There were several moments when we could have detained him after that," Murillo Karam said. "We waited until the best moment," he added, claiming this ensured there were no unnecessary civilian casualties.
Update (3:45 PM): Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto confirmed the capture of Sinaloa drug gang head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman:

Peña Nieto also mentioned via his Twitter account that his administration will "work to guarantee the security and State of Law" in Mexico.

Guzman was reportedly captured at a Mazatlan hotel during an operation led by the Mexican marines and with the help of counternarcotics officials from the U.S. and Mexico.

Since escaping from prison in 2001, Guzman led the Sinaloa Cartel to become one of Mexico's most powerful and violent drug gangs.  His personal fortune is estimated to be at more than $1 billion and he was named among the "world’s most powerful people" by Forbes magazine.

Guzman has been named in multiple federal drug trafficking indictments in the U. S. and has been on the most-wanted list of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).  Thus, "El Chapo" could be extradited from Mexico to the U.S. and stand trial.

"It is a significant arrest provided he gets extradited immediately to the United States," said ex-DEA agent Phil Jordan to CNN.  ""If he does not get extradited, then he will be allowed to escape within a period of time." 

Over the last few months several senior members of the Sinaloa drug gang have been either captured or killed.  Yet it remains to be seen what effect this has in a country where 25,000 people have died in drug-related violence over the last few years.

"For Mexico in general it's also a boost, long-term — the less kingpins around, the harder it is for drug trafficking organizations/cartels to operate," Malcolm Beith, a journalist and author of a book on Guzmán, said to USA TODAY. "Short-term, however, it's quite likely violence will plague Sinaloa, as lower-level narcos battle it out for Chapo's turf."

Friday, February 21, 2014

Venezuelan President Threatens to Expel CNN (Updated)

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro threatened to expel CNN from the country due to the network’s coverage of growing unrest.

CNN will leave Venezuela. Enough of war propaganda. If they do not make amends (then) out of Venezuela!” declared Maduro on Thursday.

He accused the U.S.-based news network of “showing the world that Venezuela is in a state of civil war” and instructed Communications Minister Delcy Rodríguez to inform CNN that "an administrative process has begun to take them off the air if they do not mend their ways."

Maduro’s remarks came during a televised event where he showed vandalized Caracas buses allegedly damaged by “violent gangs” allied to government opponents.  As a result, he threatened with taking those responsible for damaging the public transit system to court.

On Tuesday, CNN journalist Karl Penhaul reported on the air that he was held up at gunpoint by a motorcycle gang in Caracas.

“The men on motorcycles rounded on us, the next thing I knew I was staring down the barrel of a chrome-plated nine-millimeter pistol and three armed men then proceeded to rob our crew of all the camera gear, all the transition gear as well,” he said regarding the incident on Monday night.

He further claimed that the “group of armed thugs” was most likely plain-clothed police officers.

Last week the Venezuelan government removed Colombia’s NTN24 from cable TV systems and blocked the news channel’s website from being viewed.  William Castillo, the head of Venezuela’s telecommunications regulator, claimed that NTN24 was “actively supporting destabilizing efforts” by transmitting violent incidents live on the air. NTN24 CEO Claudia Gurisatti called the actions against the network a “censorship of free press, an affront to citizens’ right to be informed and an attack on freedom of expression.”

Venezuela is ranked 116th out of 180 countries in the latest Press Freedom Index report issued by media rights group Reporters Without Borders.

[Update below the page break]

Daily Headlines: February 21, 2014

* Nicaragua: A planned interoceanic canal cutting through Nicaragua could be disastrous to the environment according to some scientists who have studied the project.

* Argentina: Argentine regulators approved a plan that would break up the Clarin media conglomerate over the next six months.

* Brazil: A new study found that despite some economic troubles private equity and venture capital investments in Brazil grew in 2013 to $6.04 billion.

* Mexico: The Mexican government criticized the “unacceptable” use of lethal force in the recent shooting death of national by a U.S. Border Patrol officer who claimed he was being attacked.

Video Source – teleSUR via YouTube (Video uploaded on August 2013).

Online Sources- NPR; CNN; New York Times; BBC News

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Obama Denounces “Unacceptable Violence” in Venezuela

The war of words between the U.S. and Venezuelan governments continued amidst increased violence and political tensions in the South American country.

On Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama denounced the “unacceptable violence” in Venezuela and criticized officials for not “focusing on the legitimate demands of the Venezuelan people.”

In a possible reference to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s order of the expulsion of three consular officers, Obama also called on the Venezuelan government to stop “making up false accusations” against U.S. diplomats.

“Along with the Organization of American States we call on the Venezuelan government to release protesters it has detained and engage in real dialogue,” said Obama at a press conference towards the end of a summit with the Canadian and Mexican heads of government.

Earlier today, the Venezuelan foreign ministry replied by blasting Obama for a “new and crude interference in the internal affairs of our country.”

“We await the declaration where the U.S. government explains why they finance, support and defend opposition leaders who promote violence in our homeland,” mentioned the communiqué.

The Venezuelan government and opposition sectors have accused each other of promoting unrest that has claimed the lives of at least six people over the past week.  One of these victims was twenty-two-year-old university student Génesis Carmona who passed away during an anti-government demonstration on Tuesday. Interior Minister Miguel Rodríguez Torres claimed this afternoon that Carmona was “killed by a bullet from her own ranks.”

Daily Headlines: February 20, 2014

* Panama: Work on a major expansion of the Panama Canal is expected to resume today after a two-week hiatus due to disputes over cost overruns and financing the project.

* Latin America: According to a new Gallup poll 58% of people in the U.S. have a favorable view of Mexico compared to 47% of respondents last year.

* Haiti: “I am going to share with the pope the reality of Haiti: speak to him of our riches, of our weaknesses and our limits,” said Chibly Langlois, who on Saturday will become Haiti’s first Roman Catholic Cardinal.

* Bolivia: How did unrest in Bolivia eleven years ago affect a recent Indian court ruling regarding water services?

Video Source – euronews via YouTube

Online Sources- Reuters; Gallup; GlobalPost; Business Standard

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Daily Headlines: February 19, 2014

* Venezuela: Famed Venezuelan composer, actor and musician Simón Díaz died on Wednesday at the age of 85 according to a Tweet from his daughter.

* Brazil: A British court ruled that the nine-hour detention of Brazilian David Miranda - the partner of the journalist at the center of the Edward Snowden intel leaks – at Heathrow airport last year was legal.
* U.S.: A U.S. Border Patrol agent shot and killed a man near the U.S.-Mexico boundary line in California after he was allegedly struck in the face with a rock.

* Guatemala: Authorities in Guatemala arrested three people believed to be linked to the 2011 murder of Argentine folk singer Facundo Cabral.

Video Source – YouTube user GJRFLAMERICH (Simón Díaz performs arguably his most well-known song, “Caballo Viejo”, in this clip from a 1998 concert).

Online Sources- El Universal; Huffington Post; UPI; GlobalPost

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Venezuelan Expats Protest Against Government

Scores of Venezuelans residing abroad have participated in protests amidst the heightened poetical tension in their homeland.

In Miami, approximately 700 people participated in a rally that was held days after three people were killed following an anti-government protest in Caracas. 

The marchers, who were mostly made up of the growing Venezuelan diaspora in south Florida, reportedly held signs denouncing the Venezuelan government led by President Nicolás Maduro.

“I went to the protest because I'm a student and I identify with what young people in my country are going through,” said one of the demonstrators at Sunday’s event.  “Venezuelans have already gone through so much and it's a shame that this is happening”.

Hundreds of other expats in other parts of the U.S. as well as in Latin America held protests in solidarity with Venezuelan university student marchers opposed to the Maduro regime. 

“In this age of technology neither Venezuelans or the world could understand what was going on (in Venezuela) because there are no more independent and free media outlets,” denounced María Fernanda Flores, the former vice president of het Globovisión TV network who took part in a protest over the weekend in New York city.  (Globovisión, whose editorial content showed opposition to the Venezuelan government, was sold last year to a group allegedly with close ties to the government.)

“You’re on Your Way Out, Maduro”, “SOS Venezuela” and “No More Lies” were the slogans of the signs held by 300 protesters who gathered at Mexico City’s iconic Angel of the Independence statue on Sunday.

Similar events where held in major cities in Europe and Asia such as in Paris where 200 demonstrators rallied in front of the Eiffel Tower over the weekend.

Social media has played a key part in helping to spread the word about the protests, which was the case in Philadelphia where demonstration organizers relied on Facebook and Twitter to promote their event.  Social networking has also been vital in disseminating information into and out from Venezuela but it has also led to a “virtual battle” between backers and detractors of the Maduro regime.  Despite denials from Venezuelan officials, a spokesman for Twitter accused the government of being behind a disruption in service last week. A global campaign of hackers was then formed and they infiltrated numerous government websites:
On Friday, government domains were plastered with the branding of Anonymous, LulzSec and several other lesser-known groups and individual hackers. By Saturday, it seemed as if the Maduro government could do little to contain the online onslaught…
Over the weekend, hackers coordinated their attacks by communicating on a number of IRC (internet relay chat) forums in a blur of English, Spanish and Portuguese. With each passing moment, new links to defacements and downed sites made their way from IRC to social media…
The PSUV account was (hacked and) then used to circulate images of the police repressing anti-government protesters. Party officials regained control of the account on Monday afternoon.
On Tuesday, supporters of opposition activist Leopoldo López accompanied him as he surrendered to authorities and was placed under arrest for his supposed role in last Wednesday’s post-protest violence. 

I am handing myself over to an unfair justice system,” said López in front of a reported crowd of 10,000 individuals mostly clad in white.  “May my imprisonment serve to wake the people up,” he added.   

López, whose tactics of street protests and direct confrontation with the government has put him at odds with others in the opposition, is expected to be taken from prison to a court hearing on Wednesday.

Maduro lashed out at his Colombian and Chilean counterparts after the former, President Juan Manuel Santos, called on the government and opposition to engage in peaceful dialogue.  President Sebastián Piñera of Chile, meanwhile, called on all actors in Venezuela to respect freedom of expression and human rights.

“Do you really believe you can come to me and give me lessons on democracy President Santos when what I’m doing is defending Venezuela?” asked Maduro in front of a crowd of tens of thousands of sympathizers and employees of state-owned oil firm PDVSA.

That’s enough, dammit!” declared Maduro at the pro-government demonstration where he also labeled López as the “political head of Venezuela’s fascist right.”

Maduro did not mention the U.S. State Department, which blasted the Venezuelan government’s recent decision to expel three consular officials accused of conspiring.

“We have seen many times that the Venezuelan Government tries to distract from its own actions by blaming the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela,” according to a State Department statement issued on Tuesday. “These efforts reflect a lack of seriousness on the part of the Venezuelan Government to deal with the grave situation it faces”.

Video Source– YouTube user CadenaTres

Online Sources – Reuters; BBC Mundo; U.S. State Department; El Universal;; La Nacion; The Latin Americanist; VOXXI; Bloomberg; Ultima Hora; Variety; Miami Herald

Daily Headlines: February 18, 2014

* Honduras: A United Nations-affiliated report released yesterday found that Honduras continues to have the world’s highest homicide rate even though the rate in murders dropped 6.5% last year.

* U.S.: Is the "fear of deportation" be one of the main reasons behind sagging Latino enrollment in health care programs covered under the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare?

* Mexico: The proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, expanding free trade and easing travel restrictions are topics likely to be discussed by the heads of the U.S., Canadian and Mexican governments at the  “Three Amigos” summit that starts today.

* Brazil: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff clamed that her country will become the world’s top producer of soybeans by the end of this year.

Video Source – AFP via YouTube (“In Honduras, the military police is a highly visible presence in the most violent region of Tegucigalpa and the San Pedro Sula, where residents have been plagued by violent gang crime”).

Online Sources- CBC News; Herald Sun; New York Times; Time

Monday, February 17, 2014

Daily Headlines: February 17, 2014

* Cuba: The Cuban government decided to suspend consular services with the U.S. and announced that consular assistance will “only be provided for humanitarian cases.”

* Puerto Rico: Over a year after Puerto Rican voters in a nonbinding plebiscite opted for statehood, a new U.S. Senate bill proposed creating a binding referendum to decide if Puerto Rico should become a state.

* Mexico: “I make a very good case for curbing immigration,” Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón joked after he won the Bafta for best director on Sunday.

* Brazil: An independent safety inspector will examine possible structural damage at the Arena Pantanal soccer stadium that was hit by a fire last year and is expected to host World Cup matches in June.
Video Source – PRESS TV via YouTube

Online Sources- CNN; The Latin Americanist; LAHT; The Guardian; Reuters