Friday, February 16, 2007

Cuba: Gov’t defends internet restrictions but supports open-source software

Cuba’s Communications Minister defended government limits on internet usage on the island which is open only to tourists, academics, and government workers. ``The wild colt of new technologies can and must be controlled,'' said Minister Ramiro Valdes; according to the Cuban press, Valdes blamed the U.S. embargo against Cuba (a tactic which has been taken in the past):

“Part of the hostile US policy is to frustrate exchanges with the island by means of pressures exerted on other governments, and includes the persecution of commercial, economic and financial actions against Cuba…the most difficult challenge Cuba faces is because of the US blockade that forces Cuba to access the Internet via satellite instead of by underwater fiber optic cables”.

However, the Castro administration is entering in a new venture with the Venezuelan government in converting computers used by the state to open-source software. In doing so, both countries would join other nations such as Brazil, Peru, and Norway in rejecting the Microsoft monopoly over computer operating systems in order to embrace Linux.

Here is a stirring video (via YouTube) where a student publicly speaks to a Cuban minister and defends Internet usage as a “weapon for combat” in the “fight for truth.”

Links- Kansas City Star, Periodico 26, The Latin Americanist, Reuters, Newsday

Colombia: scandal worsens with arrests of five congressmen

The links between paramilitaries and politicians in Colombia has become more well-known with the arrests yesterday of five congressmen. One of those arrested was Alvaro Araujo (image)- the brother of Foreign Minister Maria Consuelo Araujo - which has heightened calls for her resignation and further investigation of corruption by allies of President Alvaro Uribe.

The links between right-wing paramilitary groups and high-ranking politicians has become increasingly public since Uribe was reelected in May 2006. Opposition groups and human rights activists have denounced president Uribe’s peace process with the paramilitaries, and some want him to be investigated for paramilitary expansion in Antioquia province a decade ago when he was that area’s governor. Three congressmen were arrested in November for their supposed ties to paramilitaries, and confessions by former senior paramilitary leaders have implicated politicians as well as military officers.

Links- Guardian UK, Reuters AlertNet, Los Angeles Times, The Latin Americanist, Plan Colombia and Beyond Blog, Angus Reid Consultants

Image- BBC News

Follow-up: Report on Haiti cleared of bias

Renown British medical journal The Lancet cleared of wrongdoing one of the authors of a report that denounced Haiti’s government. The Lancet’s internal investigation looked at the claims by co-author Athena Kolbe that over 8000 Haitians were killed and 35,000 women were sexually abused under Haiti’s interim government between 2004 and 2006.

Links- International Herald Tribune, The Latin Americanist

Image- Alterpresse (Tires burning in the street in front of a billboard supporting ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristede)

Daily headlines: February 15, 2007

* A Mexican scientist discovered a new species of frog after finding a tiny tree frog preserved in amber and millions of years old. (Image is not of that tree frog, but of the “hypnotoad”- a character from cult animated series “Futurama”).

* Remittances sent by Panamanians to other countries increased by 17.6% in 2006 with most of the money going to Colombia and the U.S.

* U.N. funds are trying to help people in flood-ravaged areas of Bolivia where over 200,000 people have been adversely affected.

* Peruvian and Chinese trade representatives have started the initial steps in creating a bilateral free trade agreement.

* Former president of Colombia ­Ernesto Samper insisted that Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega should help negotiate a peace pact between Colombia’s government and leftist guerillas.

Links- All Headline News, Wikipedia, Prensa Latina, United Press International, Reuters, International Herald Tribune

Image- MacOrama

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Gas deal brokered by Evo and Lula

The presidents of Bolivia and Brazil (image) finalized a deal designed to ease tensions between both countries over natural gas. Brazil will have to pay $100 million more per year in order to get natural gas imported from Bolivia yet Brazil avoided an energy crisis since 50% of its daily gas supply comes from the Andean country.

Links- BBC News, BusinessWeek, The Latin Americanist

Image- Agencia Nova

U.N. okays more time for troops in Haiti

Earlier today, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved an eight-month extension for U.N. peacekeepers to be in Haiti (image). The resolution- drafted by Peru- also urged troops to step up their operations against criminal gangs though some ambassadors argued that eight months would be insufficient time to combat rampant gang violence.

Links- International Herald Tribune, Reuters, The Latin Americanist

Image- CNN

Argie gov’t tells Alberto Gonzales that they have a “firm policy of opposition to torture”

Argentina’s government was stern in its opposition to state-inflicted torture during a visit to Buenos Aires by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. According to an article cited in the blog of conservative author Andrew Sullivan:

“(Argentine Minister of the Interior Anibal) Fernandez said that Argentina's cooperation had a limit: he mentioned explicitly Gonzales' famous memos and explained to him the goverment's disagreement with their substance. He added that the Argentine government is part of the International Crimes Tribunal and supports the application of the statute of Rome, which it created, and the Geneva Conventions”.

Little else is mentioned in the English-language media about Gonzales’ visit to Argentina aside from the fact that he spoke at a Jewish center that had been bombed by terrorists in 1994. Odd isn’t it?

Links- Andrew Sullivan-The Daily Dish, Washington Post, The Latin Americanist

Image- Washington Post

News stories on Venezuela

* “It had been days since she had given me any attention. How are you, Condoleezza?” asked Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (image) before launching into a verbal tirade on TV against U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “'Condoleezza turned again to disparaging me and said that I am destroying the country's economy - this shows that there is now an economic plan against Venezuela,” said Chavez in response to comments made by Rice during a Congressional hearing last week.

* Not all assessments of Chavez are doom and gloom, however. Take this article from Reuters that examines how he is carefully plotting his plans for nationalization in spite of his fiery rhetoric. As the article mentions:

"Despite molding himself on Latin American icons such as Che Guevara, since taking office in 1999, Chavez has avoided the pitfalls of others revolutionaries by keeping relative peace with international markets while pushing his leftist agenda…Without the distractions of such head-on fights, Chavez has armed himself with the ability to legislate by decree and can focus on consolidating power by clipping central bank autonomy and use redistricting to shape Venezuela's electoral map”.

Indeed, Chavez’ policies have been seen favorably by investors since the government has negotiated with several private firms before purchasing them.

* On the other hand, doling out threats isn’t exactly the most diplomatic way to run a revolution. In the same televised speech he responded to Condi Rice, Chavez threatend to nationalize private supermarkets if they try to hoard food or break price controls on basic goods.

* “The Venezuelan state's intelligence apparatus is ready to launch any investigation in order to guarantee the operation of our strategic resources” mentioned the country’s Interior Minister in reaction to threats by Al-Qaeda to attack suppliers of oil to the U.S. such as Venezuela and Mexico.

* Apparently you can’t joke around in Venezuela anymore as a local court fined a humorist for writing a satirical article of Hugo Chavez talking with his nine-year-old daughter.

Links-, Monsters & Critics, The Latin Americanist, Reuters, BusinessWeek, International Herald Tribune, Sydney Morning Herald, Guardian UK, El Universal

Image- China Daily

Daily headlines: February 15, 2007

* Will Cuba change once Fidel Castro dies? Several experts on the island’s politics give their perspectives in this article.

* The head of one of Rio de Janeiro’s top samba groups was gunned down yesterday mere days before Carnaval celebrations are to begin.

* A plummeting birth rate and more elderly people may contribute to a population crisis in Chile that’s similar to several western European countries.

* Better late than never- congrats to the Dominican Republic for winning this year’s Caribbean Series (which may soon expand to six teams).

* Canadian plane manufacturing giant Bombardier announced plans to build plants in Mexico starting in 2010.

Links- Miami Herald, Mercopress, The Age, Bloomberg, ESPN,

Image- Sabouki’s Cartoons (caricature of Fidel Castro)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

South American flowers bloom during Valentine’s Day

Ah yes, Valentine’s Day; a time when flowers are a de rigueur gift and the floriculture industry is working overtime trying to fulfill the high demand. But did you know that over 85% of all the flowers sold in the U.S. come from South American nations like Ecuador and Colombia? Trade preferences since the early 1990s gave a big boost to the South American flower industry and allowed the U.S. market to be nearly saturated with inexpensive, but high quality flowers.

However, there are some pitfalls associated with the Latin American floriculture industry; one of them has to do with the abuses faced by laborers in Colombia:

“Whether young or old, they complained about the lack of protective equipment and clothing, which leaves them exposed to pesticides in the fields and to the fungicides that flowers are dipped in prior to shipment. These chemicals cause widespread headaches, asthma, nausea, and impaired vision, plus miscarriages among pregnant women. The repetitive tasks and long hours in assembly-line jobs have also left many flower workers with painful carpel tunnel injuries”.

In addition, there is the risk that the same chemicals applied to flowers remains when the get exported abroad. Poor government oversight and worry from competition in Africa and Asia cause flower growers to sometimes curtail the rules. Yet the floriculture industry will not slow down anytime soon so as long as demand is high around this time.

Update: On April 12, 2007 the Associated Press issued a correction over several points made in the last link to this blog post.

Image- (Flower cutter doing her job in a Colombian greenhouse)

Links- New York Sun, Pittsburgh Star-Telegraph, Wesleyan Argus, Discovery Channel

Bolivian bloggers shed light on demonstrations

Global Voices Online looked at several posts by Bolivian bloggers discussing the country’s debate over nationalization. For instance, Willy Andres described some of the demands made by protestors in the city of Camiri against president Evo Morales:

“-Pressure the government into consolidating budgets and ensuring conditions so that the Management of the Exploration and Exploitation of YPFB and operate.
-Restore the closed and marginal fields of the country that did not have the investment necessary to operate”

Meanwhile, blogger Palabras Libres mentioned what he heard on a Bolivian radio broadcast from the protest area:

“A woman with tears in her eyes said, “we will not go backwards in the fight.” Camiri is located in the foothills of the mountains where the gas is plentiful. A representative of the Guaraní Peoples Assembly asked, “How could an indigenous government repress its own brothers like that?”

It looks grim in Bolivia with divisions between pro- and anti-Morales forces getting deeper. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the situation will improve anytime soon.

Links- Global Voices Online, BusinessWeek, Willy Andres, Palabras Libres

Image- Voice of America (Bolivian miner protesting earlier this month)

Politicos call for “dialogue” with Cuba

The head of the Organization of American States (OAS) Jose Miguel Insulza has called for OAS member states to initiate “at least a significant dialogue with Cuba.” Insulza did not gar far enough to recommend that Cuba be made a member state though he observed that talks with Cuba should be done “the sooner the better.”

Meanwhile, the Deputy Speaker the British House of Commons said that the European Union should establish closer ties and “maintain a dialogue” with Cuba. “We hope that the European Union will continue to work with the Cuban government so that there will be improvement in some things that have been a little difficult,” said Sylvia Heal during a visit to Havana.

Links- Reuters, Guardian UK

Uruguay: Malnutrition kills second model sister

Eliana Ramos died from malnutrition this week only six months after her elder sister Luisel died of heart failure from anorexia. Luisel died while on the catwalk at a Montevideo fashion show while younger sister Eliana was found dead at home.

The deaths of several models due to excessive and irresponsible weight loss- including a Brazilian model last November- has rekindled the debate over “how thin is too thin” in the fashion industry. Some steps have been taken to try to remedy the problem like banning ultra-thin models from top fashion shows in Spain and Milan though not everyone agrees with those measures.

Links- Raw Story, VivirLatino, The Latin Americanist, Ireland Online, MSNBC, The Australian, CBC News

Image- Monsters & Critics (Models on the catwalk during Fashion Week in New York City)

Daily headlines: February 14, 2007

* Prosecutors in Argentina have formally requested the extradition of former president Isabel Peron (image) about a month after she was arrested in Spain on charges of human rights abuses.

* Representatives of a Haitian migrants group appeared in front of Venezuela’s National Assembly to denounce abuses against Haitians residing in Venezuela.

* Globalization at work- NPR has an audio story of how the best Iranian chef in Washington, D.C. is El Salvadoran.

* “Venezuela is a great ally of the peace process” said Colombia’s foreign affairs minister after meeting with her Venezuelan counterpart on Tuesday.

* The deaths of approximately 500 brown pelicans in Costa Rica may not be due to aviary flu according to preliminary exams.

* An upset in the first leg of a CONCACAF Champions Cup quarterfinal as Mexican title holders Chivas de Guadalajara lost 2-1 to Caribbean champion W Connection of Trinidad and Tobago.

Links- El Universal, Reuters UK, CBS News, NPR, People’s Daily Online, International Herald Tribune, The Latin Americanist, The Age


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Catholic Church peeved over Carnaval condom giveaway

Catholic bishops in Brazil are unhappy over a government initiative to give away 35 million free condoms during Carnaval. The government stared to hand out the free condoms on Sunday in a campaign that includes advertisements and with the official slogan “With condoms, the good feeling goes on after the party is over.” Nonetheless, Church officials allege that the ten-day campaign will promote promiscuity amongst revelers.

Links-, Reuters, Monsters & Critics

Image- BBC News (Brazilian condoms designed with the logos of some of the country’s most popular soccer clubs)

U.S. meatpacking towns face hardships from December immigration raids

Several towns across the U.S. have been reeling since immigration raids were conducted last December in Swift & Company meatpacking facilities. According to the mayor of Marshalltown, Iowa (one of the locations targeted by the raids):

“'There's probably more fear in the immigrant community since the raid’, says Mayor Gene Beach. A community summit will be held Feb. 26 to discuss ways to change immigration laws so ‘people who want to work and contribute to the community’ can stay legally. ‘We really are dealing now with what can we do to make changes in the policies in Washington,’ he says.

Meanwhile, schools in Grand Island, Nebraska are suffering from drops in attendance due to children that have had one or both parents arrested during the raids, while Cactus, Texas- home to the largest Swift plant searched y federal agents- is slowly turning into a ghost town.

Swift & Company expects to return to normal capacity by May though it's unknown if any of the towns will recuperate from the repercussions of the December raids.

Links- VivirLatino, USA TODAY, Sioux City Journal, Boston Globe, Pioneer Press

Image- (Young girls consoling each other after U.S. immigration officials arrested the mother of three of them)

E.U. ultimatum to Nicaragua- change abortion law or you get no aid

Officials from the European Union are threatening the Nicaraguan government of withholding economic aid unless the country modifies its strict anti-abortion law. The statue prohibiting all forms of abortion was passed last October and trumps a previous law that had permitted abortions under extreme circumstances.

Update: On the topic of abortion, three medical clinics in the Dominican Republic were shut down after having performed abortions which (like Nicaragua) are illegal in all cases. (Link via International Herald Tribune).

Links- Lifesite, The Latin Americanist


Capoeira’s heritage endangered by its popularity

Globalization has the ability to blur concepts of national identity (as we mentioned a year ago) and heritage. This is precisely the anxiety in the minds of some Brazilians who worry that the international popularity of capoeira is destroying its traditional heritage steeped in hundreds of years of Brazilian history and culture. Even the country’s government has stepped in and is campaigning to designate capoeira as an “intangible heritage of humanity…meant to preserve cultural traditions needing protection in the face of globalization.”

Capoeira is a form of martial arts dance that is distinguished by acrobatic and fluid movements set to music and chanting. It is absolutely thrilling to watch; a veritable feast for the eyes and soul. Don’t believe me? Then take a close look at this video made by good friend Julie in 2005 on capoeira.

Image- World of Stock

Links- International Herald Tribune, Wikipedia, NYU, The Latin Americanist

Daily headlines: February 13, 2007

* Is this global warming at work? – Science agencies in several Andean countries report that their glaciers are retreating at faster than average rates.

* Brazil’s largest private bank reported record profits in 2006.

* A mass grave was found in Chihuahua, Mexico with 4 bodies that may have been killed due to drug violence.

* Most Costa Ricans approve of the work of president Oscar Arias, according to a recent poll.

* In Davis Cup action over the weekend Chile was unable to overcome a 2-0 deficit and fell to defending champions Russia 3-2.

Links- amNewYork, People’s Daily Online, Monsters & Critics, Reuters, Angus Reid Consultants,

Image- Living in Peru (Major changes to a Peruvian glacier between 1978 and 2002)

Monday, February 12, 2007

KKK resurgence due to sentiments against immigration

The Klu Klux Klan (KKK) is enjoying a resurgence due to anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S., claims a new report from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). According to the ADL’s civil rights director:

“If any one single issue or trend can be credited with reenergizing the Klan, it is the debate over immigration in America. New groups [are] sprouting in parts of the country that have not seen much activity.”

The ADL’s report observed growth in KKK activity in 18 states from the South (e.g. Alabama, Texas, Florida) to the Northeast (e.g. Pennsylvania, New Jersey). Needless to say the KKK is happy to have added support as one white supremacist noted:

“We are booming, and we're waking up middle-class America. We believe illegal aliens are going to be the straw that broke the camel's back.”

And thus we have yet another reason why comprehensive, realistic immigration reform is needed as soon as possible.

Image- (Cover of a 1924 KKK anti-immigration pamphlet)

Links- Christian Science Monitor, All Headline News, The Indianapolis Star

Report finds low employment rate for disabled Hispanics

As a physically disabled Hispanic in the U.S. the following disturbs me: a report entitled Proyecto Visión and recently released by the World Institute on Disability showed that Hispanics with disabilities suffer from a very low employment rate. According to the director of the report:

“Many disabled Latinos live down to…diminished expectations. They become overwhelmed by isolation, are disconnected from the service delivery system and don't have disabled Latino professionals to look up to or network with. Unfortunately, even those who do access resources often are not receiving appropriate service.”

Not all the news in the Proyecto Visión is grim, however, in that it describes several steps that can be taken to improve vocational programs as well as how employers can better attract disabled Hispanics into the workforce. Hopefully necessary improvements can be taken by the government and the private sector in order to improve the lives of disabled Hispanics who face the difficulties of belonging to at least two minorities groups in the U.S.

Links- Ability Magazine,


Karl Rove on immigration – “I don't want my 17-year-old son to have to pick tomatoes”

If the Republicans are serious in courting Hispanic voters then they would be best from making juvenile and insensitive comments like those mentioned last week by Karl Rove (image). The White House advisor tried to defend the president’s immigration proposals by saying the following nugget of wisdom:
“I don’t want my 17-year-old son to have to pick tomatoes or make beds in Las Vegas.”

Rove’s bout with foot-in-mouth syndrome was confirmed by the White House though a spokesman claimed that Rove’s remark was taken out of context. Regardless, it was a very stupid and irresponsible thing to say especially for someone so close to President Bush.

Links- USA TODAY,, Andrew Sullivan: The Daily Dish


Daily headlines: February 12, 2007

* Ex-Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega (image) should be returned to Panama as a “prisoner of war” after he’s released from jail, claimed Noriega’s attorney.

* Is Argentina’s economy improving? The Associated Press believes so, though Mercopress interviewed a French political scientist who said that the economy is not doing well enough.

* During a diplomatic visit to Mexico, Arizona governor Janet Napolitano promised to investigate the shooting deaths of three migrants near Tucson.

* A dozen Guatemalans have filed a lawsuit against a Connecticut nursery alleging that they were coerced, misrelated, and paid insufficiently.

* A senior I.M.F. official said that Latin America needs to promote more overseas trade in order to sustain reasonable growth rates.

* Russian oil giant Lukoil discovered over 100 million barrels of petroleum in an area of Colombia near the base of the Andes Mountains.

Links- CBS News, Mercopress, Bloomberg, Guardian UK, MarketWatch,