Saturday, November 25, 2006

Film, film, film!

Last Friday we examined several exhibitions in the U.S. highlighting Latin American art ranging from Fernando Botero to miniature nativity scenes. With the weekend upon us we provide you with several films from the Americas that are airing in theaters around the U.S. Enjoy!

* Cautiva is a thriller from Argentina that is reminiscent of drama La Historia Oficial, a 1985 film that I viewed several years ago on the orphaned children of those “disappeared” during the Dirty War period. In the case of Cautiva, Cristina is a teenage girl has her world turned upside down when she is forced to live with the relatives of her biological parents years after they “disappeared” in the early-1980s. One critic observed “a film initially gripping in its moral shades of gray turns black-and-white, devolving to its final, less than bold statement: Mass murder is bad”. More than anything Cautiva deftly analyzes the psychological repercussions of mass murder from a victim’s perspective.

* Cocaine Cowboys is a documentary that examines how Miami channeled the Old West by becoming a hotbed of violence as the drug trade blossomed there during the 1970s and 1980s. Numerous key figures in law enforcement and drug dealing were interviewed for the film such as former Medellin cartel hitman Jorge Ayala who is currently serving three consecutive life sentences in a U.S. maximum security prison. The documentary goes beyond the aura of Miami Vice and Scarface by showing how several factors came together to transform Miami into a center for the narcotics trade.

* The U.S. immigration debate tends to focus on illegal immigrants making their way into and living in the U.S. Mark Becker’s documentary Romantico does examine that but also looks at how Mexican immigrant Carmelo Muñiz returned to his homeland to visit his ailing mother after desperately trying to eke out a survival in San Francisco. Romantico not only provides a hard look at the difficulties of being an immigrant in the U.S but also the tough decisions one must make to help one’s cherished family.

* The Magic Gloves is an absurdist comedy centering on Alejandro, a Buenos Aires taxi driver who adores disco dancing and undergoes several unusual adventures after a pair of yuppies mistake him for someone else. His whole life is flipped upside down yet Alejandro (played by Vicentico, the leader of famed rock group Los Fabulosos Cadillacs) still trudges through it with nary a complaint. Reviews for The Magic Gloves have been mixed though they praise Vicentico’s acting as the film’s protagonist.

Any other films that should have been included in this list? Tell us in the comments!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Pre-Incan city found in Peruvian tombs

Archeologists in northern Peru discovered tombs with remnants of an ancient city dating back approximately 1000 years. The tombs yielded artifacts like breastplates, knives, and ceramics that belonged to the Sican Culture, who lived along the northern coast of Peru from 800 to 1300 AD.

Links- Daily Telegraph (Australia), Discovery Channel Canada, Wikipedia

Image- BBC News

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Polls: Chavez up by 30+% over Rosales

Update (November 27th): Not to be outdone, Chavez organized his own political rally in Caracas on Sunday where he promised supporters of a "knockout" victory. (Link via BBC News).

Update (November 26th):
Rosales' supporters are not giving up without a fight as hundreds of thousands of people rallied in Caracas on Saturday. (Link via CNN).

Original post: Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez (image) may well be on his way to a landslide reelection victory on December 3rd if the latest poll numbers hold true. An Ipsos/Associated Press poll conducted last week showed 58% support for Chavez while Manuel Rosales trailed a distant second with 25%. Rosales vowed to accept defeat if the election were to be “clean” and without fraud, and electoral observers from the OAS and European Union are preparing to ensure that the election is free and fair.


Links- Angus Reid Consultants, International Herald Tribune, Reuters, El Universal (Venezuela)

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News briefs on Mexico

* “Things are going to change because we are working together” said Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (image) on Monday during a ceremony at Mexico City’s Zocalo where he declared himself as the country’s “legitimate president”.

* Taking a page from Chile’s “Chicago Boys” president-elect Felipe Calderon named a team of U.S.-educated economists to his Cabinet on Tuesday.

* One of the world’s most accurate radio telescopes began to work on Wednesday perched approximately 14,000 feet on top of a southern Mexican volcano.

* Inflation in Mexico grew by 0.51% in November and up to 4% for this year.

* In spite of protests Wal-Mart's Mexican division received the final authorization to open its own banking unit.

Links- Sign on San Diego, Wikipedia, Houston Chronicle,, El Financiero (Mexico), The Latin Americanist (blog), Reuters

Image- Gulf News


Thanksgiving thoughts

Yesterday I celebrated Thanksgiving with my family here in New York City. It was just the four of us- mom, two brothers, and I- and we enjoyed a relatively low-key dinner. It was all very nice and pleasant though that did not lessen the pain of my father not being there.

You see, my dad passed away over a year ago from a sudden but fatal heart attack. It has difficult moving on day-by-day since we were such a close-knit family. Not a day goes by when we don’t think of him even though we were not on the best of terms when he died. For him Thanksgiving was the best of the day of the year since it represented the pinnacle of family unity and togetherness. It was a day where he would return home from work physically tired and spent but with a spirit of joy and bliss at being in the company of his loved ones. He would sit beaming with pride at the head of the table satisfied in the knowledge that we were enjoying a bountiful meal that he helped prepare the weekend before Thanksgiving. Sometimes he would take us out after the meal - full bellies and all- to gaze and admire at the holiday decorations around the neighborhood. It would always be an unforgettable night.

In his absence, Thanksgiving has taken a changed meaning for my family. More than anything it represents the gratitude that we have for having known him and for remembering all the positive things he represented. He was a very caring man who sacrificed a lot in his life-such as giving up a cushy lifestyle in Colombia to move to the U.S. in 1972- to give his future progeny a better living. He faced far too many obstacles but he would always overcome them with hard work and determination. I learned so much from him and still do today as my family continues to be as close and unified as he envisioned us to be. In the wake of his passing my mother, brothers, and I have taken things in baby steps with the hope and faith of a brighter future. Perhaps in the future I will raise my own family and then I should aspire to be half the man he was in my lifetime.

For all that I am eternally grateful and to me that is what Thanksgiving is all about.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Daily headlines: November 23rd

* Hate crimes against transvestites and other minorities in Guatemala have increased this year; sadly, they have been met with impunity by law enforcement authorities who are sometime involved in the crimes themselves.

* The World Bank issued loans totaling about $520 million to fund a controversial mill project along the Uruguay-Argentina border.

* Heavy rains in Central America have killed five people in Panama and possibly two more in Honduras.

* New Zealand’s government lent its public support Chile’s application to be a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

* Peruvian prosecutors issued a new arrest warrant against disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori who is currently exiled in Chile.

* Soccer officials in Argentina lifted a ban on preventing visiting fans to attend matches, which had been put in place in order to curb rising violence during games.

Links- Reuters, The Latin Americanist (blog), MercoPress, International Herald Tribune, MSN Money, BBC News, ESPN Soccernet

Image- the Gully (Guatemalan lesbians protesting for their civil rights)

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Congrats to our contest winner!

A few weeks ago we held a contest where we asked you guys to explain what you like best about Latin American music in order to win a free CD of Colombian music. After sifting through many entries we have a winner! Here’s the winning essay:

Latin American music beautifies life in all its glory. The music speaks about the love, passion, tragedy, and misery that Latin American countries and people have experienced. One of my favorite Latin American groups is El Grupo Niche---whenever I hear the music, my soul is taken to another place, far far away, where the beat pulses through my veins and through my heart. Latin American music uplifts me, even in the worst of times---it makes me leave life's troubles behind and wisks me to a place in the depth of my soul where I sit, listen, breath, and love.

Congrats to Jessica Scanlan who will soon receive her copy of Nueva Colombia, a compilation album now on sale from Chonta Records. Thanks to Jessica for her excellent essay, Robert at Chonta Records for helping with the contest, and everyone who enjoys good music from musicians like Samuel Torres (who performed at the “Encuentro of Colombian Musicians” concert earlier this month):

Peru: Ruling party suffers local electoral losses

Peru’s APRA political party lost several key seats in municipal elections over the weekend which may undermine the rule of President Alan Garcia. Independent candidates captured 20 of 25 regional government seats while Lima’s incumbent conservative mayor held his post. Most of the candidates in the political faction representing Ollanta Humala (Garcia’s opponent in this year’s presidential elections) lost, thus diminishing Humala’s political influence.

In a similar story, Paraguay’s ruling Partido Colorado won 3 out of every 4 municipalities in last weekend’s elections including the historical election of Asuncion’s first female mayor.

Links- People’s Daily Online, Reuters, International Herald Tribune, MercoPress


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Democrats and the Cuban embargo: change on the horizon?

In the aftermath of the U.S. midterm elections earlier this month I speculated that “it would be safe to say that the embargo on the island (of Cuba) will keep its current course.” However, Foreign Policy magazine’s blog claimed that the embargo in Cuba may be “on the chopping block” once Democrats take control of Congress this January. They cite the promotion of two staunchly anti-embargo Democrats (Senator Max Baucus and Representative Charlie Rangel) to head key Congressional committees as a sign that the embargo’s days may be numbered.

Will the embargo on Cuba end in spite of it being low on the Democrats’ list of priorities? Or is the Cuban exiled community to powerful to allow that to happen?

What do you think?

Links- The Latin Americanist (blog), Foreign Policy Passport (blog), VivirLatino (blog)


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Mistrial declared in trial of Colombian guerilla leader

A U.S. federal judge declared a mistrial yesterday in the trial of senior FARC member Ricardo Palmera, better known by the moniker “Simon Trinidad”. Prosecutors said that they will retry the case of Palmera (image) who had been accused of aiding terrorists as well as being involved in the kidnapping of 3 U.S. citizens in Colombia.

Links- Reuters, USA TODAY

Image- BBC News

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Daily headlines: November 22nd

* What are the Bush twins (image) doing in Argentina?

* Iran threatened to take legal action against an Argentine court decision which implicated Iran's goverment in a 1994 Buenos Aires bombing.

* Electoral observers from the Caribbean and the Americas have arrived in St. Lucia to oversee next month’s parliamentary elections.

* Spain's Banco Santander announced plans to add more than 6 million customers from Brazil and Mexico over the next 3 years.

* Legal representatives from Guyana and Suriname are preparing for hearings next month to settle a 44-year border dispute between both countries.

* Financial analysts in the U.S. are hoping that Nicaraguan president-elect Daniel Ortega can turn the country’s economy around, according to Reuters.

Links- Wonkette (blog), International Herald Tribune, The Latin Americanist (blog), Jamaica Gleaner, MarketWatch,, Reuters

Image- BBC News

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

“I’ve got a secret”

We're going to end things a little early today but let's have a bit of fun first? In the comments section to this post take your best guess as to what Chilean president Michelle Bachelet is whispering to Canadian PM Stephen Harper during a photo-op at last weekend's APEC summit. (More images from the APEC summit via Wonkette).

New York court rules in favor of day laborers

A federal judge ruled yesterday that “a virtual zero tolerance policy” in the suburban village of Mamaroneck discriminated against immigrant day laborers. Judge Coleen McMahon wrote in her decision that “the fact that the day laborers were Latinos, and not whites, was, at least in part, a motivating factor in the defendants’ actions.” The ruling is landmark in that it could affect how immigrant day laborers are treated in other U.S. communities, like the Pennsylvania town of Hazelton which was featured on 60 Minutes last Sunday.

Links- WABC, New York Times, FOX News, CBS News

Image- Gotham Gazette (Day laborers on Long Island)

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Peruvian stock market is the world’s best performer

Do you know what the world’s hottest stock market is located? No, not in New York or Tokyo or London. Believe it or not, the answer is Peru whose stock market gained an astonishing 149% return this year mainly due to favorable figures from metals. However, financial experts say metals will not make such formidable gains next year though Peru’s economy is expected to keep growing by nearly 6% in 2007.

Links- Reuters Italia, Bolsa de Valores de Lima

Image- Latin Focus (Growth in Peruvian stock market over the past decade)

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Daily briefs: November 21st

* Thousands of demonstrators protested outside of Fort Benning in the U.S. state of Georgia calling for the closing of the military school formerly known as the School of the Americas.

* A Brazilian researcher claimed that he found evidence proving that the U.S. planned to overthrow Brazil’s president months before a 1964 coup.

* Two terrible tragedies in Central America as a downed tree crushed a Nicaraguan church killing 11 people while 15 people died in a fire in Guatemala City.

* During a visit to China, Colombian vice president Francisco Santos said that China is becoming a new money-laundering center for drug gangs.

Links- Reuters AlertNet, Reuters, CNN, International Herald Tribune,

Image- Sisters of Providence on Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods (2003 protest against institute formerly known as School of the Americas)


Monday, November 20, 2006

Telesur reporter arrested in Colombia

A reporter for the Telesur news network accused of terrorism charges was arrested earlier today upon arriving in Bogotá, Colombia. Telesur issued a response declaring the arrest of Fredy Muñoz as a “surprise” and warned that such an action is “against freedom of the press and represents a sign of intimidation.” (Last link in Spanish).

Image- étapes (blog)

Links- International Herald Tribune, Telesur

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Reports describe human rights abuses by gov'ts in Haiti and Mexico

A report released by a Port-au-Prince-based human rights group says that nearly 2000 Haitians died unjustly during the interim government in place after the 2004 coup against Jean-Bertrand Aristede. The interim government “failed in its obligation to protect the rights of everyone” according to the National Human Rights Defense Network in its two years of power before the country’s new legislature swore in a new set of Cabinet ministers. (Earlier this year the head of the U.N.’s human rights agency condoned Haiti’s government for illegally jailing thousands of political activists).

Meanwhile, Mexico’s government published a report on Saturday implicating three former presidents for widespread human rights abuses from the 1960s to the early 1980s. The report stated that “the authoritarian regimes” of ex-presidents Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, Jose Lopez Portillo, and Luis Echeverria were behind “massacres, forced disappearances, systematic torture and genocide to try to destroy a sector of society that it considered ideologically to be its enemy.”

Links- Miami Herald, The Latin Americanist (blog), People's Daily Online,

Image- (Jailed Haitians in 1997)

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Regional politicos support Puerto Rican “independistas”

Over the weekend, a conference of Latin American political parties met in order to provide support to Boricua “independistas.” Though the conference consisted mainly of left-wing parties, other political leaders spoke out in support of Puerto Rican independence; one of them, Panamanian president Martin Torrijos, declared that “no form of colonialism can be justified.”

Links- Prensa Latina, Dominican Today

Image- BBC News (Puerto Ricans marching in favor of the island’s independence in 1998)

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IADB pardons multi-billion dollar debt for L. American nations

The Inter-American Development Bank announced on Friday that it will pardon the debts of five Latin American nations from around the region. The debt forgiveness plan- which will be between $2.1 billion and $3.5 billion- affects Nicaragua, Bolivia, Guyana, Haiti, and Honduras.

Links- San Jose Mercury News, Bloomberg

Image- Pravda

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Daily headlines: November 20th

* Electoral authorities in Ecuador halted the bank accounts of presidential candidates Alvaro Noboa (image) and Rafael Correa due to campaign overspending.

* A New York court ruled on Friday to free $91 million of Cuba’s frozen assets in order to pay the families of two Americans killed during the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.

* Costa Rican president Oscar Arias is calling for harsher controls of the weapons trade in Latin America.

* Nicaragua’s president signed into law a bill passed last month that bans all types of abortions even if the expecting mother was raped and/or her health is at risk.

* Once again, violence marred this weekend’s soccer league action in Argentina as fans blocking team buses forced the postponement of the San Lorenzo-Racing Club match.

Links- People’s Daily Online, Guardian UK, New York Newsday, BBC, The Latin Americanist (blog)

Image- Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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