Friday, February 23, 2007

Suggestion and submissions

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Floods and heavy rain jeopardize Bolivians

Hundreds of thousands of Bolivians have been left homeless and in danger after weeks of heavy rains and floods throughout the country. For instance, rising flood waters threaten to inundate entire villages and cities such as the capital of the northeastern province of Beni. Foreign aid is slowly trickling into Bolivia though conditions make it difficult to distribute even the most basic items.

Image- BBC News

Links- BBC News, Reuters AlertNet, UPI, International Red Cross

Maria Elena Salinas: Immigration fee increase is unfair

Univsion anchorwoman Maria Elena Salinas argued that a proposed increase in U.S. immigration fees is unjust and creates an undue burden on illegal immigrants willing to legalize their status. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, illegal immigrants who seek legal residency would see their fees jump from $350 to $645 while the fees to apply for a fiancé visa will skyrocket from $325 to $905. Salinas argued the following in her opinion column published earlier this week:

"Supposing for a minute that a person…would be willing to do whatever is necessary to become a legal resident or U.S. citizen, the new price increase would not benefit him or her in any way.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services claims that the higher fees will help it provide better service, better treatment and shorter waiting time for the applicants…The problem is that the ‘new and improved’ services wouldn't kick in until 2009.

Congress needs to take a serious look at this price hike. The fees have already been increased four times in the past decade. Immigrants from all over the world are willing to pay the high price of becoming an American, but they should not have to support a U.S. agency, especially when the great majority are already helping support this country with their work, their taxes and as consumers".

The proposed fee hike has support from Republicans in Congress, though Salinas noted that several immigrant advocates strongly disagree with the measure.

Links- Orange County Register, South Coast Today, VivirLatino, Voice of America, Arizona Daily Star

Image- National Association of Hispanic Journalists

Argie prez willing to mediate between Chavez and Jewish community

Argentine president Nestor Kirchner expressed his willingness to serve as a liaison between Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan Jewish community. Jews in Venezuela are apprehensive based on supposed anti-Semitism remarks made by Chavez as well as his close relations with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Kirchner is currently on a diplomatic visit to Venezuela where he pledged to strengthen political and economic ties with the Chavez administration.

Links-, Venezuelan Newsletter, The Latin Americanist, Guardian UK

Image- BBC News (The presidents of Argentina and Venezuela strengthen the bonds between their countries)

On this day in Latin American history…

1836- The Siege of the Alamo began in San Antonio, Texas.

1903- The Cuban government leased Guantanamo Bay “in perpetuity” to the U.S. Navy.

1958- Argentine racing legend Juan Manuel Fangio was kidnapped by Cuban revolutionaries.

1974- Mexican rockero Jaime Villarreal was born.

1981- 200 members of Spain’s Civil Guard stormed the parliament in a failed coup attempt.

1990- Former president of El Salvador Jose Napoleon Duarte died from cancer.

2002- Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt was kidnapped by leftist guerillas.

Below is a harrowing video (via YouTube)of the first moments of the 1981 coup when shots rang out through a panicked legislative chamber:

Links- San Jacinto Museum, U.S. Navy, Wikipedia,, BBC News, CNN

Follow-up: Hundreds protest NYU immigrant “game”

Several hundred people demonstrated in front of NYU’s Silver Center (image) criticizing a “Find the Illegal Immigrant” event organized by the university’s student Republican club. Though one of the participants of the “game” admitted the event was “politically incorrect,” several protestors decried the lack of “promoting discussion and dialogue.” Even U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer stepped into the fray by deeming the “game” as “obnoxious.”

Links- WNBC, The Latin Americanist, WABC, WCBS, Washington Square News

Image- Gothamist

Daily headlines: February 23, 2007

* London mayor Ken Livingstone signed off on a deal with Venezuela that allow London buses to receive discounted Venezuelan oil in exchange for British technical help with urban planning in Caracas.

* A major gold mine in Suriname resumed production earlier this week after a workers' strike halted work for nearly a month.

* Argentina’s president is subtly dropping hints that he may decline another term and would instead support his wife.

* Parts of the Andean region of Peru have been hit by temperatures around the freezing point even though it’s technically summer!

* One of Brazil’s most important ad agencies was purchased by a British firm for over $31 million.

* Ecuador’s Energy Minister expressed hope that the country can rejoin OPEC for the first time since 1972.

* Foreign investment in Panama has doubled since 2005 which has helped feed the country’s high economic growth.

* The former head of Colombian intelligence was arrested yesterday after being accused of having links to right-wing paramilitary organizations.

Links- Guardian UK, UPI,, Living in Peru, Bloomberg, Brandon Sun, Prensa Latina, BBC News

Image- BBC News (Hugo Chavez meeting with London mayor Ken Livingstone in May 2006)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Follow-up: Guatemalan policemen arrested in murders of Salvadoran politicos

Four Guatemalan police officers were arrested in the killings of three Salvadoran politicians earlier this week. Though the motive of the murders of Eduardo D’Abuisson, William Pichinte and Ramon Gonzalez (image) is unknown, El Salvador’s Attorney General believes that it has to do with organized crime. (Surely the fact that those arrested are policemen should raise a red flag).

Links- Washington Post, BBC News, The Latin Americanist

Image- BBC News

Colombia: kidnapped politician may have been sent out of the country

Kidnapped politician and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt may have been sent to another country, according to President Alvaro Uribe. "It is a possibility we have been studying," said Uribe yesterday to French reporters, though he did not provide any specific details.

Calls for Betancourt’s release have come from supporters in Colombia as well as France (e.g. presidential candidate Segolene Royal) where Betancourt also holds citizenship. This Friday will be the 5-year anniversary of Betancourt’s kidnapping along with campaign manager Clara Rojas; both were captured by guerillas of the FARC while Betancourt was running for president.

Speaking of kidnapped politicians, remember Fernando Araujo- the former minister who escaped from his captors in January after being kidnapped for six years? Earlier this week he was named as Colombia’s new Foreign Minister after the previous one resigned a week ago.

Update (February 23, 2007): Juan Carlos Lacompte- Ingrid Betancourt's husband- deemed Uribe's claims as "ridiculous" and deceiving public opinion in Colombia and abroad. (Link in Spanish and via RCN Radio).

Links- Reuters AlertNet, International Herald Tribune, The Latin Americanist, TIME, Wikipedia

Image- Cinemax (Ingrid Betancourt’s husband holding a picture of her during a rally demanding her release)

Brazil says “não” to exporting nuclear parts to Iran

The Brazilian government suspended all sales of nuclear equipment to Iran in anticipation of a U.N. report condemning Iran of expanding its uranium enrichment program. The decree issued by president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva also freezes the assets of any Brazilian company dealing with the Iranian nuclear program.

Ironically, Brazil has been gradually expanding its nuclear program but has received little attention due to Iran’s defiant actions.

Links-, Globe and Mail, Monsters & Critics, The Latin Americanist

Image- BBC News

(Silly) Event- “Find the Illegal Immigrant” at NYU

Controversy is surrounding the bright idea by the student Republican club at New York University (NYU) to organize a “Find the Illegal Immigrant” game today between 11am and 2pm. The “winner” is the first “INS” agent to find the club member wearing an”illegal immigrant” badge. Needless to say, many people on campus are not thrilled with the plans to “play” the game with a protest planned to take place at the same time as the Republican’s event.

It makes no difference how one feels about illegal immigration, but to hold such a “provocative” event is juvenile and disingenuous. It would be in the best interest of the community in general to host a panel discussion or series of speeches on the issue of illegal immigration. Though I disagree with the Minutemen’s goals, I applaud the intent of student organizers at Columbia University to allow Minutemen founder Jim Gilchrist to speak there last year. (Too bad the event ended in fisticuffs). All “Find the Illegal Immigrant” does is encourage partisan division instead of allowing for meaningful debate on illegal immigration. Today’s event by the NYU student Republican club is nothing more than a sad public relations ploy trivializing a very serious topic.

(Disclosure- I’ve been a graduate student at NYU since 2003.)

Update (12:20pm): The local news broadcasts at noon have covered the event and protest; video footage shows a few hundred people protesting in front of the Silver Center where the "game" is occurring. NY1 News interviewed one of the student Republicans who justifies the event yet admitted that it does "ruffle some feathers." Meanwhile, a reporter for the local CBS affiliate read a statement from the president of the New York Young Republicans who is distancing himself from the "game" and worries that it will "perpetuate negative stereotypes" of the Republican Party.

Editorials in NYU's student newspaper and New York's largest Spanish-language newspaper have called the student Republicans to task for their p.r. stunt. The Washington Square News said:

We were starting to write this editorial as if the point or points of the event were policy, reading or even thinking. No one is under that illusion - not even the Republicans themselves. This is a publicity stunt, and everyone knows it.

El Diario/La Prensa has the following to say:

It’s a dramatic stunt to draw attention. And it is certainly offensive to spoof the desperation of people who risk their lives to cross the border. But the College Republicans have a right to freedom of speech. That same right allows people to respond to their views with information and broaden the discussion on immigration.

Image- Personal collection (A view of Washington Square Arch during the 2006 NYU Convocation ceremony)

Links- Gothamist, VivirLatino, New York Daily News, The Latin Americanist

Daily headlines: February 22, 2007

* It’s official- Rigoberta Menchu (image) will be a candidate for the presidency in Guatemala.

* Looks like Romano Prodi will not be visiting Chile and Brazil; he resigned yesterday from his post as Italian Prime Minister.

* U.S. Commerce Secretary (and Cuban exile) Carlos Gutierrez said that it would be a “great disservice” to lift the U.S. embargo on the island.

* Wal-Mart continues its expansion into Central America with plans to open fourteen stores in Costa Rica.

* South Koran auto manufacturer announced plans to export vehicle parts for auto assembly in Brazil later this year.

* A legislative commission threatened ex-Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo with extradition if he refuses to return to Peru where he’s being investigated for corruption.

* Congrats to Mathieu Eugene who will become the first Haitian-born member of New York City’s legislature.

Image- Agencia Informativa Púlsar

Links- BBC News, CNN, Prensa Latina, International Herald Tribune, Reuters, Toronto Star, Gothamist, Guardian UK

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Stats on U.S.-Mexico border: fewer crossings but more deaths

Different sets of statistics have shown mixed results from recent measures taken by the U.S. to secure their border with Mexico. Data from the Department of Homeland Security have shown a 27% decrease in the number of migrants caught by the Border Patrol. As James C. McKinley Jr. reported:

“Border Patrol commanders argue the slackening flow of migrants belies the conventional wisdom that it is impossible to stem illegal migration along a 2,000 mile, or 3,200 kilometer, border. Many veteran officers in the force are now beginning to believe that with sufficient resources, it can be controlled”.

Yet one the other hand there has been a sharp increase in the number of deaths by migrants trying to cross the border. According to a report by the Binational Migration Institute (BMI) at the University of Arizona, 201 people died in 2005 while trying to cross the border compared to only nine in 2000. The director of the BMI said that:

“Since the militarization of the border, people have begun turning to more dangerous crossing areas…People would rather take the risk and cross where there's less chance they will get caught.”

Some recent steps taken by Washington to curb illegal immigration include erecting a 700-mile fence along the U.S.’ southern border, harsher punishments for illegal border crossers, and deploying the National Guard to assist the Border Patrol. But are those measures sufficient to stem the flow of illegal immigration? What do you think?

Links- International Herald Tribune, The Latin Americanist, KLTV

Image- New York Times (U.S. National Guard troops by the Colorado River in Arizona)

Follow-up: Dengue outbreak rolls through Paraguay

Paraguayan health officials claim that an outbreak of dengue fever has claimed 9000 victims and has even killed three people. Approximately 500 people affectedly dengue are admitted into Paraguayan hospitals daily, and the Pan American Health Organization notes that there are more dengue cases this year than all 2006.

Neighboring countries worry that the dengue outbreak will spread across the Paraguayan border, as we reported last month.

Links- Prensa Latina, MercoPress, The Latin Americanist

Image- (Doctors examining samples for dengue)

French judge goes after Pinochet’s allies

Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet may be dead and buried but that doesn’t mean that his collaborators are immune from justice. A French judge has issued orders against seventeen Chilean officers who served under Pinochet and may be involved in the disappearances of four Frenchmen between 1973 and 1975. One of the French citizens who disappeared under the Pinochet regime was the personal doctor to Pinochet’s predecessor- Salvador Allende.

Links- International Herald Tribune, The Latin Americanist, Wkipedia

Image- BBC News (2001 Chilean protest by relatives of the “disappeared)

Experimental AIDS vaccine tested on Dominican prostitutes

175 prostitutes from the Dominican Republic are being used as guinea pigs in a trial of a possible AIDS vaccine. Though the number of AIDS deaths has decreased in the Caribbean, nearly 75% of Caribbean AIDS cases are in the Dominican Republic and Haiti and prostitution remains as a risky though viable option for impoverished women. The sex workers involved in the medical trial are compensated for their participation though one of them notes the pride in participating by saying that "we are doing it for the world."

Image- El Paso Times (Dominican prostitutes outside a night club)

Links- The Latin Americanist, International Herald Tribune

Daily headlines: February 21, 2007

* Songs satirizing the U.N.’s mission in Haiti have become all the rage during the country’s carnival celebrations.

* As part of his plan to combat corruption in law enforcement, Mexican president Felipe Calderon said that soldiers will get a retroactive 46% pay increase.

* Chilean stocks plummeted to its lowest point since a region wide stock slump in June 2006.

* Peruvian president Alan Garcia responded strongly to “outlandish” accusations by former presidential candidate Ollanta Humala.

* Did you know that the leading opposition figure to Colombia’s president is a former guerilla member?

* Some insight into the infamous 1969 “Soccer War” between El Salvador and Honduras via the Guardian UK.

Links- International Herald Tribune, USA TODAY, Reuters, The Latin Americanist, Living in Peru, Newsday, Guardian UK

Image- CNN (Haitians enjoying carnival in 2003)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Investors ready to pounce on a post-Fidel Cuba

A growing number of businesses are preparing to invest in Cuba in the hope that Raul Castro will be a more pragmatic leader than his ailing brother Fidel. One leading Miami-based investor told Voice of America that:

"For those of us who've been listening to Raul since he took over power last August, he's taken a much more conciliatory posture towards the U.S. Now how far will he go towards free elections, releasing the political prisoners, compensation for confiscated property, return to capitalism, how far will he go and how soon will he do it? That would be the key, in my view, towards the U.S. resuming trade with Cuba and we'll just have to see."

Not everyone believes that Cuba will radically change once Fidel dies, a scenario postulated by Orlando Sentinel columnist George Diaz. Even the state of Fidel’s health is unknown as conflicting accounts vary though the latest news is that he is in “stupendous” condition.

Links- Voice of America, The Latin Americanist, Orlando Sentinel, International Herald Tribune

Image- Diario Granma (September 2006 photo of a convalescing Fidel Castro)

Bush pushes for free trade pact with Panama

Free trade was one of the main topics discussed when Panamanian President Martin Torrijos met his U.S. homologue at the White House on Friday. President George W. Bush said that the White House would “work in good faith to get an agreement done” and encouraged Congress to approve of a free trade deal with Panama.

In addition, President Torrijos called for more cooperation between both countries in developing biofuels as an alternative to dependence on foreign oil.

Links- CNN, Voice of America

Image- Voice of America

Gruesome murder of three Salvadoran politicians in Guatemala

A trio of politicians representing El Salvador in the Central American Parliament were brutally murdered yesterday. According to Guatemalan authorities, the bodies of Eduardo D'Aubuisson, William Pichinte and Jose Ramon Gonzalez as well as their chauffeur were shot and burned to a crisp in a car abandoned approximately 20 miles from Guatemala City (image).

Eduardo D'Aubuisson was the son of infamous political leader Roberto D'Aubuisson- founder of the ARENA political party and mind behind several death squad murders including that of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Links- BBC News, International Herald Tribune, Reuters AlertNet, Wikipedia

Image- Voice of America

Pope warns that “family values” in L. America are in danger

During a meeting with Latin American bishops, Pope Benedict XVI cautioned that “family values” in the region are in trouble and that the Church should establish a greater media presence in the Americas. "Divorce and free unions are increasing, while adultery is looked upon with unjustifiable tolerance," said the Pope though he refrained from endorsing Church members to positions of political leadership such as that of a Paraguayan bishop running for president.

Pope Benedict XVI mentioned a list of challenges facing the Church in Latin America that will be discussed during a region wide religious conference in Brazil in May. They are the following:

  • the need for recognition of religious liberty (legally by countries)
  • growing hedonist secularism
  • proselytism from sects
  • legislation opposed to the family (e.g. only supporting heterosexual marriage)
  • migration
  • education
  • the formation of public opinion (“to respond to the challenge of sects”)

Links- Catholic News Service, Catholic World News, Catholic Online, Zenit News Agency

Image- (Catholic church located in Nicaragua)

Mexico miners strike on anniversary of tragic mine blast

Miners from all over Mexico held a strike yesterday to commemorate the one-year anniversary of a deadly mine explosion in Coahuila. Sixty-five miners died and their relatives protested the lack of a through investigation against the Coahuila mine owner as well as the woeful lack of safety regulations so that the tragedy in Coahuila does not happen again.

Our coverage of the February 2006 Coahuila mine disaster can be read here, here, and here.

Links- San Jose Mercury News, Reuters, The Latin Americanist

Image- (Relatives of the miners killed in the Coahuila mine blast pray at an alter)

Daily headlines: February 20, 2007

* Mexico’s economy slipped for the third consecutive quarter due to several factors including a decline in exports to the U.S.

* Ultimatum by Ecuador’s president: give me a favorable constitutional assembly or I quit!

* A journalist who used to be a member of the Sandinista government was assassinated on Sunday outside his Nicaraguan home.

* Argentina president Nestor Kirchner will sign several agreements with Venezuela during his visit to Caracas later this week.

* Rest in peace Juan Vicens- an ambassador for basketball in Puerto Rico.

* Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi will visit Brazil and Chile as part of his first trip to Latin America since assuming office in April 2006.

Links- FreshPlaza, Monsters & Critics, People’s Daily Online, Ireland On-line, International Herald Tribune, Sports Illustrated, Prensa Latina

Image- (Mexican maquiladora worker)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Chavez to Caribbean- join me in the fight against U.S. imperialism

"Down with U.S. imperialism! Long live the people of this world. We must join together and we will be free," extolled Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez during his tour of the Caribbean over the weekend (image). As part of his calls for greater Caribbean cooperation with Venezuela, Chavez traveled to Dominica to open an oil refinery for Venezuelan petroleum. (Ironically, local environmentalists are upset with Venezuelan involvement with the oil facility in Dominica inasmuch as Chavez’ recent rhetoric has favored promoting environmental causes).

Speaking of Venezuelan oil, figures released on Friday showed that Venezuelan oil exported to the U.S. has hit its lowest point since 1994.

Links- International Herald Tribune,, Jamaica Gleaner, Radio Jamaica, The Latin Americanist,

Image- CBS News

Follow-up: Colombian minister quits over “para-politica” scandal

Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Consuelo Araujo (image) quit from her post earlier today and paid the price for last Friday’s arrest of her brother- a key senator and ally of the president. Though President Alvaro Uribe initially supported her, concerns over the Colombian government’s image abroad led him to withdraw his support.

The administration of President Alvaro Uribe has come under fire lately due to accusations of corruption by his political allies and quarreling with neighboring countries. He has even been accused by the former director of Colombia’s federal statistics office of having purposefully manipulated data on crime. Uribe has maintained high popularity amongst Colombians though that may change very soon as his administration becomes more embroiled in scandal.


Links- Guardian UK, Angus Reid Consultants, The Latin Americanist, BBC News, CNN

Boos for “Bordertown” in Berlin

Jennifer Lopez’ latest film-”Bordertown”-was not very well received by the press during its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival last Thursday (image). Lopez was supposedly on the verge of crying after critics cited “dialogue and massive plot holes as major problems in the film”. Reuters’ Kirk Honeycutt- who was at the press screening had the following to say about the film:

"(Borderwown) wants to be a thriller, a piece of investigative journalism, a political soapbox and a vehicle for Jennifer Lopez. It serves none of these masters well. There also is something disingenuous about a movie that claims that the media on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border are too afraid or corrupt to expose the hundreds of rapes and murders of Latina factory workers in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua, Mexico…Good thing a Latino made this movie, though: A white director would stand accused of the worst sort of stereotypes about Mexican males, rich or poor.”

Not everyone is a critic of “Bordertown”: human rights group Amnesty International awarded Lopez for her leading role in the movie.

Image- MSNBC

Links- Monsters & Critics, All Headline News, Reuters, VivirLatino

Mapuche battle Benetton and Chilean government over land rights

Indigenous Mapuche peoples (image) in Argentina and Chile have fought over the past few years in order to regain that they claim is theirs. Last week, the Mapuche in Argentina tried to reclaim lands in the Patagonia region that have been legally owned by Italian clothing firm Benetton. Negotiations between the Mapuche and Benetton have had little success as a Spanish-language article in Upside Down World observed:

“The (November 2004) negotiations in Rome ended with Benetton publicly announcing the donation of ‘2500 productive hectares’ to the argentine government for distribution to the Mapuche. Yet the donation never occurred; the State rejected the land offered by Benetton because the land was useless.”

Acquisition of land by foreigners has become a hot topic in Argentina with critics calling one U.S. millionaire’s purchase of vast wetlands an attempt “to help the US military gain control of the country's natural resources”.

Meanwhile, nearly twenty members of the Mapuche were arrested after occupying part of the Chilean resort town of Lican Ray. Over fifty protestors claimed that the land is “sacred” and that the government had unlawfully claimed it without compensation.


Links- Upside Down World, Guardian UK, The Santiago Times, Wikipedia

Daily headlines: February 19, 2007

* Juan Pablo Montoya (image) was somewhat disappointing in his first Daytona 500 yesterday after his car had mechanical problems and finished in 21st place.

* Malnutrition amongst thousands of Guarani-Kaiowa indigenous people in southwestern Brazil has gotten worse as the government suspended a food distribution program from them.

* Nicaraguan tourism is trying to rebound from its image as a war-torn country ravaged by violence.

* Security was tight around Rio de Janeiro as thousands of Carnaval revelers celebrated.

* Profits for Coca-Cola fell by 22% over than past year inasmuch as sales in Latin America rose by 7% during that same period.

* Donald Trump announced plans to create a $2billion luxury resort on the Dominican Republic.

Links- FOX Sports, CBS News, USA TODAY, BBC News, Bloomberg, Huston Chronicle

Image- Salem News