Saturday, December 22, 2007

Poll: The top headlines of 2007

We've covered discussed plenty of news stories on this blog this year that have covered many subjects like politics, sports, and the arts. With 2007 coming to a close in just over a week, we're interested in knowing what you, the reader, find as the most intriguing and important headlines of this year.

Below is a poll of roughly two dozen news stories that have affected the Americas in 2007. Please feel free to participate and vote for what you feel are the top headlines from this year.

The poll is multiple choice so you can choose more than one answer if you wish.

The poll will close on Sunday December 30 and we will post the top 10 news stories according to your votes on December 31 and January 1.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Video of the Day: "Mil Horas"

Just for the heck of it, a rock en español classic - "Mil Horas" from Argentine group Los Abuelos de la Nada.

(Video link):

Source (English)- YouTube
Source (Spanish)-

Reports: Cuban custody case was high priority for Florida

According to an article from the Associated Press, Florida’s government spent lots of manpower and money were spent in the custody case of a Cuban girl:

E-mails obtained from the state through an open-records request and other documents show that the Department of Children & Families spent more than $250,000 and accepted many hours of free legal assistance in its unsuccessful effort to have a wealthy Cuban-American couple, former sports agent Joe Cubas and his wife, become the permanent guardians for Rafael Izquierdo's 5-year-old daughter.

In addition, the Miami Herald reported that top officials were worried that the case would get out of hand much like the 2000 ordeal over Elian Gonzalez:

'I imagine both parties will likely try to involve the `court of public opinion,' '' wrote Flora Beal, a Miami spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Families. ``This could become an Elian-like situation.''

Her e-mail, among documents in the case obtained by The Miami Herald, referred to Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy at the heart of a 2000 custody controversy that ended explosively when federal agents seized him from his relatives' Little Havana home. And the administrations of both former Gov. Jeb Bush and his successor, Charlie Crist, took unusual steps to make sure that didn't happen again, sources told The Herald.

Earlier this month, a settlement was reached which would grant Inquired custody of his daughter while affording visitation rights to the Cubas.

Sources- Associated Press,,, PBS, The Latin Americanist

Image- (Images of Rafael Izquierdo and Joe Cubas)

Five indicted over “Maletagate”

A U.S. grand jury indicted five men charged with acting as “undeclared Venezuelan agents” working in the U.S. The accused- four Venezuelans and one Uruguayan- allegedly tried to cover up the smuggling of over $800,000 destined for Argentina.

In other developments in the “Maletagate” hullabaloo, an Argentine prosecutor claimed that he saw the businessman who tried to smuggle the money at the country’s presidential palace two days after the money was seized. The accusation comes days after prosecutor Maria Luz Rivas Diez said that she would expand the charges against Guido Antonini Wilson to include money laundering.

According to the New York Times, U.S.-Argentina relations have become much weaker as a result of the “Maletagate” investigation:

Thursday’s indictment caps a week in which relations between Argentina and the United States appeared to hit a new low. Mrs. Kirchner has reacted angrily to the investigation, which became public just two days after she was sworn in, saying it is meant to drive a wedge between Argentina and Venezuela.

American officials have denied that the case was brought to try to thwart Mr. Chavez.

Sources- Reuters, The Latin Americanist, Bloomberg, New York Times, BBC News

Image- BBC News

Chavez praised Petrocaribe, met with Castro

Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez called for an expansion of the Petrocaribe oil program during a summit of affiliated nations being held in Cuba. “Despite the Yankees, our gas is at the service of Venezuela first, and next to our brothers in the Caribbean,” declared Chavez earlier today as he also called for some countries to use social services to repay the oil exported from Venezuela.

In addition, Chavez met for over two hours with Fidel Castro yesterday. A brief account in Granma said that the leaders discussed several topics including the Petrocaribe plan, political affairs between Cuba and Venezuela, and “the international situation.”

What is Petrocaribe? According to a 2005 BBC News article:

The Petrocaribe initiative aims to reduce the prices Caribbean nations pay for oil imports. Venezuela already gives preferential treatment to communist Cuba and other nations…

Mr. Chavez has pledged highly preferential oil prices, with Caracas picking up 40% of the cost if oil is selling at more than $50 a barrel, as it is now.

He has promised further concessions to the Petrocaribe signatories if prices hit the $100 a barrel mark.

Sources (English)- CNN, Reuters, AFP, BBC News

Sources (Spanish)- Granma

Image- Cuban News Agency

Brazil vs. E.U. in beef dispute

The Brazilian government has criticized the European Union for putting restrictions on its beef exports. According to Brazil's Agriculture Ministry (via Xinhua):

The statement slammed the EU move as "unnecessary, disproportional and unjustified", shortly after the European Commission tightened restrictions on Brazilian beef exports to the27-nation bloc from Jan. 31.

Though Brazil is the world’s top exporter of beef, the E.U. found “a number of serious and repeated deficiencies in Brazil's animal health and traceability systems.” Previous cases of foot-and-mouth disease in Europe influenced the bloc;s decision of allowing Brazilian beef exclusively from “an approved and restricted list of holdings” which meet the E.U.’s guidelines.

Image- BBC News

Sources- Xinhua, Guardian UK, Bloomberg

Daily Headlines: December 21, 2007

* Thieves stole a pair of paintings worth over $100 million from the Museum of Art of Sao Paulo.

* The Mercosur trading bloc signed a key free trade agreement with Israel earlier this week.

* Immigrant children are five times more likely to be diagnosed with lead poisoning that U.S.-born kids in New York City, according to a study to be published next month.

* Follow-up: Danish prosecutors filed an appeal against seven people who were acquitted of terrorism charges; the accused sold shirts bearing the logos of rebel groups including Colombia’s FARC.

Sources- BBC News, Bloomberg, International Herald Tribune, The Latin Americanist, Monsters & Critics

Image- Gulf Times (Pablo Picasso’s “Portrait of Suzanne Bloch” was one of the pieces nicked in a robbery carried out yesterday in Brazil)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bloggers of the world unite!

The last time we focused on blogs we linked to an innocent-looking “readability” exam which turned out to be a spam Trojan horse. Instead of linking to what could be malicious software, we’ll take a look at posts recently published by some of the blogs in our Blogroll.

Do you know of a blog that should be added to the Blogroll? E-mail us at and let us know!

Sources- Babalu Blog, Guanabee, Bloggings by Boz, Chileno, Latin America News Review, Foreign Policy Passport, Plan Colombia and Beyond,, Rolling Stone, Ricardo’s Blog, Two Weeks Notice, The Latin Americanist

Video of the Day: The Panama invasion

On this day in 1989 nearly 28,000 U.S. troops invaded Panama as part of an operation to capture the country’s leader- Manuel Noriega. Noriega would eventually be detained in January 1990 and was soon replaced by Guillermo Endara.

The following is a video clip of an Academy Award winning documentary entitled “The Panama Deception”. The film is highly critical of the invasion and highlights the estimated 3000 civilians killed, alleged media manipulation, and international condemnation of “Operation Just Cause”.

(Video link):

What do you think of the invasion and/or the documentary?

Sources- YouTube, BBC News, Wikipedia

Everyone's Favorite Racist Presidential Candidate to Drop Out

Tom Tancredo's campaign has tanked (insert collective ::awwwwww:: here). Rumor has it that the Republican Presidential hopeful from Colorado, who based his run almost entirely on hate for immigrants, will announce the end of his run today. He's ranked on the bottom of every poll I've seen among his Republican running mates and looking at some of the things he's said, no wonder. He makes even the most conservative conservative look downright liberal.
Never shy about stirring controversy, Tancredo told a radio talk-show host that "you could take out" Islamic holy sites should terrorists ever launch a nuclear attack against the United States.
When asked if he meant bombing holy sites like Mecca, Tancredo answered: "Yeah" and said he was "just throwing out some ideas."
Via / AP & You Tube

Cubana Bigamist Points to Flaws in Immigration System

You know what they say about Latina women, right? Well the fact that one Cubana stands accused of marrying 10 to 23 undocumented men has nothing to do with that. In what is a growing underground industry, Eunice Lopez allegedly married undocumented men for money and if they didn't pay she would threaten to expose them and their status.

Such things are actually pretty common in the Latino community with citizens often being asked and offered money to marry an undocumented friend of a friend or citizens selling marriage vows for thousands upon thousands of dollars and then falling off the face of the Earth. Eugenia got caught is the difference.

But a completely different analysis brought up by a fellow blogger really hits the nail on the societal head. Bint Alshamsa writes:
I understand that bigamy is a crime and we can go back and forth about whether that should even be the case, but what about if Lopez had only married one guy at a time, after legally divorcing the husband she was with before? Why should it be a crime for one person to marry someone in exchange for money?
When Catharine Zeta Jones married Michael Douglas it was rumored that their pre-nup stipulated that she would receive 3.2 million dollars for every year that they remained married. Now, tell me, if that's allowable under the law, why is it illegal for someone to marry someone if the main reason for doing so is to secure citizenship? Why is government in the business of deciding whose reasons for marrying should be valid?
Things that make you go hmmmm. I'm sure race has nothing to do with this whatsoever.

Sources : The National Ledger and My Private Casbah

Daily Headlines: December 20, 2007

* Follow-up: Brazil’s government faces an uphill battle to fix the country’s prison system after the controversy over putting a teenage girl in an all-male adult jail.

* Three former Chilean military officers were fine and sentenced to ten years in prison over a murder committed during the rule of ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet.

* Mexican state oil-firm PEMEX may lose its monopoly over oil refinement and pipelines if a proposal by the country’s Senate is passed.

* The U.N. will investigate possible corruption by peacekeeping forces in several operations such as those in Haiti, according to a spokeswoman on Tuesday.

Sources- Bloomberg, The Latin Americanist, International Herald Tribune, AFP

Image- Christian Science Monitor (2002 image of Brazil’s notorious Carandiru jail)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Chavez: U.S trying to divide

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez responded that the U.S. was trying to divide Latin America after U.S. agents accused his government of trying to funnel $800,000 to influence Argentina's recent lection.

U.S. officials say three Venezuelan businessmen were actually agents who tried to sneak a suitcase of cash to the campaign of Cristina Fernandez, who won the election.

Chavez denied this claim and added that the United States is trying to ruin his name and come between Latin American countries.

Read more here

Link and photo: Reuters

Bill proposes extra aid for Latin America

Senate majority leader Harry Reid is leading lawmakers' effort to craft a bill that will redirect funding from military programs to assist Cuba democracy programs and aid counter-drug trafficking programs in Colombia.

The bill allocates $45 million for Cuba, five times current funding, and will fund democracy activists.

The support is included in a $516 billion government spending bill and replenishes much funding cut during the Bush administration.

Link: Houston Chronicle

Photo: Fox News

Uruguay legalizes gay unions

Uruguay has become the first Latin American country to legalize civil unions for homosexuals. Couples have to live together for five years before they are eligible for the unions, which give them the same rights married couples have for inheritance, pensions and child custody.

The Senate passed it unanimously and the president is expected to sign it into law.

Link: Reuters

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Video of the Day: The Argentinazo

Wednesday is the sixth anniversary of heavy rioting in Argentina which was triggered by the near-collapse of the country’s economy. Disturbances around the country escalated after then-president Fernando de la Rua declared a state of emergency on December 19, 2001. He would resign the next day though civil unrest would continue.

The following video is from an Argentine “alternative (radio) channel” which offered a retrospective look in 2006 of the Argentinazo. Footage from the 2001 riots are shown as well as varied reactions by people who looked back at those dark days in Argentina’s history.

(Video link):

Sources- CNN, BBC News, YouTube, Wikipedia

Colombia: FARC to supposedly release three

Colombia’s largest rebel group- known by the acronym FARC- will allegedly free three hostages later this month.

According to a report from Cuban-based agency Prensa Latina, the kidnap victims are to be released to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez; Chavez had briefly served as official mediator between the FARC and Colombian government until last month.

The three hostages to be freed according to the statement are local politician Consuelo Gonzalez, Clara Rojas (an aide to Ingrid Betancourt), and her son Emmanuel who was born out of a relationship between Rojas (image) and one of her kidnappers.

The communiqué from the FARC also blasted the Colombian government for their “diplomatic barbarism” in removing Chavez as liaison and praised French premier Nicolas Sarkozy.

Some family members of hostages have expressed relief at the FARC’s gesture:

“Not only my family but all of Colombia deserves this happiness,'' Ivan Rojas, Clara's brother, told Bogota-based W Radio. ``We had lost hope''…

“We've always said that Chavez was the perfect person for this, because they listen to him, they respect him,'' said Juan Carlos Lecompte, Ingrid Betancourt's husband, in comments broadcast by Colombia's RCN television.

Image- RCN

Sources (English)- Bloomberg, Xinhua, The Latin Americanist

Sources (Spanish)- El Tiempo, Prensa Latina,

Bush admin reacts to letter by Fidel Castro

Two Bush administration spokespersons commented on a letter issued yesterday by Fidel Castro:

  • White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said that the letter was “interesting” though hard to figure out what Castro meant.Perino also added that the White House will continue “to work for democracy on the island.”
  • State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey was more critical of Fidel’s letter. “You know, it's the old country song 'how can we miss you if you won't ever leave.' And I'm also not sure, when he's referring to the younger generation, whether he means young guys like his 78-year-old brother,” noted Casey.

Castro’s letter- which was read on Cuban television- implied that he would “retire” and allow younger generations to come into power:

"My basic duty is not to cling to office, much less to obstruct the rise of younger people, but to pass on experiences and ideas whose modest value arises from the exceptional era in which I lived," Castro's letter said, according to a CubaVision anchor.

According to Lucia Newman- ex-CNN Cuba correspondent and Al Jazeera's Latin American editor- Castro’s letter “reinforced” the possibility that he could serve as “an elder statesman.”

Sources- Reuters, AFP, CNN, Al Jazeera

Image- BBC News

Guatemala: Ex-dictator won’t be extradited

A Guatemalan constitutional court refused a Spanish judge’s request to extradite a former dictator and seven others.

Efrain Rios Montt was accused of “crimes against humanity” during his 1982-1983 regime by a Spanish magistrate in June 2006. Yet the Guatemalan court decided that Spain did not have the jurisdiction to try Montt and his cohorts.

1992 Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu- who filed charges against Montt in 1999- blasted the court’s decision:

"This only confirms the reason why I did not trust the Guatemalan justice system and filed the complaint in Spain in 1999," Menchu said of the ruling, which was handed down last week but not announced until Monday.

Benito Morales, Menchu's lawyer, said he would ask the court to reconsider the ruling.

Menchu said the former officials "can no longer leave the country because international arrest warrants are still active elsewhere."

Despite being accused of some of Guatemala’s worst atrocities, Rios Montt ran unsuccessfully for president in 2003.

Sources- Voice of America, Reuters, Associated Press, Wikipedia, BBC News

Image- BBC News

Controversy over tear gas tactics by Border Patrol

The U.S. Border Patrol has increasingly used tear gas and pepper spray in their operations along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Though the use of chemicals has been previously used by the Border Patrol against smugglers, the agency's top official in San Diego said that it’s being used more frequently due to increased attacks along the Mexican side of the border. “We have been taking steps to ensure that our agents are safe,” said Mike Fisher who added that Mexican authorities have been slow in responding to agents’ pleas for help.

A spokesman for the Mexican consulate in San Diego said that they’ve asked the Border Patrol to stop using “these kinds of devices.” In addition, some residents of border towns argued that agents’ tactics are too aggressive and heavy-handed:

Residents of the area's hillside shanties and muddy streets say the Border Patrol's measures neglect their welfare. Some agents, they say, show compassion, even apologizing for the tactics. But others are defiant and continue saturating areas despite their pleas.

"I said to the agent, 'Put yourself in my place. I have two children,' " said Robis Guadalupe Argumeo, who added that her home has been gassed three times since August, most recently after a verbal exchange with an agent Saturday. "He said, 'I'm the policeman of the world. No one can touch me.' "

Sources- AHN, Associated Press, Xinhua, Los Angeles Times

Image- New York Times

Eric Volz to be freed

A U.S. citizen who had been convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend had his verdict overturned by a Nicaraguan court yesterday.

Eric Volz had been sentenced to 30 years in jail in 2006 though his defense claimed that he was two hours away when the crime occurred and ten witnesses testified in his favor. Volz' conviction was based on a single eyewitness account as well as some circumstantial evidence.

Nicaragua’s Attorney General told the local press that he would appeal the court’s ruling which would eventually allow Volz to walk free from prison.

Earlier today, Volz’ mother expressed worry about her son’s safety and criticized the Nicaraguan press for “taking justice into their own hands.” She may have a point based on the rhetoric from this article in one Nicaraguan daily:

Volz’ family wasted economic resources on private armed bodyguards during the trial and then with programs on U.S. TV channels that insulted the Nicaraguan justice system…

It’s worth clarifying the manipulation by the appellate judges with the scene of the crime…According to expert testimony, the amount of blood found on the seen of the crime was caused by the heinous manner in which Volz and Chamorro murdered the young girl. - [ed. personal translation]

Sources (English)- Associated Press, CNN,, Tico Times

Sources (Spanish)-


Daily Headlines: December 18, 2007

* As part of a series on religion in Latin America, the Christian Science Monitor looks at Brazilian favela dwellers that have been increasingly drawn to Pentecostal movements.

* Answer: Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

Question: Who will be the next person to be portrayed as a tattoo on Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona’s body?

* Several Caribbean countries reached a new trade deal with the European Union according to one E.U. official.

* Follow-up: “(Fujimori) acts like he knows less than a fool” said one Peruvian lawyer regarding the actions by ex-president Alberto Fujimori while on trial.

Sources (English)- Reuters Africa, Christian Science Monitor, The Latin Americanist,

Sources (Spanish)- El Diario/La Prensa

Image- Christian Science Monitor

Monday, December 17, 2007

News briefs - Tourism

With the New Year fast approaching perhaps one of your resolutions may be to take a vacation in the Americas. Here are some options you may want to consider:

* With the increased anxiety over global warming, more and more tourists have opted to visit locations endangered by climate change such as the Amazon rainforest and the Galapagos Islands. According to the International Herald Tribune, one visitor went to the Amazon “before it was turned into a cattle ranch or logged or burned to the ground.”

* Perhaps eco-tourism isn’t your cup of tea and you would much rather do something a little more selfish. Then why not travel to Colombia and get cheap plastic surgery; one procedure that cost as much as $40,000 in the U.S. only cost a quarter as much way south of the border, for instance.

* Are you a television writer sick of being on strike for over a month? Then maybe take a trip to Argentina where unionized extras received an 18% to 20% pay increase earlier this month.

* With all the press coverage of Hugo Chavez you might want to visit Venezuela and check out the situation for yourself. According to Bloomberg, Venezuela has experienced a travel boom partially based on favorable exchange rates for visitors.

* Then again, not everything is rosy for certain tourism sectors; though Jamaica is one of the most sought after Caribbean destinations, the island’s tourism has diminished in quality according to a recent survey.

Sources- International Herald Tribune, Houston Chronicle, BBC News, Bloomberg, Variety,, Jamaica Gleaner

Image- BBC News (Carnival revelers in Colombia)

Daily Headlines: December 17, 2007

* Brazilian Kaka’s goal and two assists were key in leading AC Milan to a 4-2 win in the World Club Cup final over Argentine side Boca Juniors.

* The American Bar Association backtracked from naming former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales “Lawyer of the Year” and will instead deem him “Newsmaker of the Year”.

* Central American gangs have undergone an “extreme makeover” in their recruiting and operations, according to the Associated Press.

* The first joint space launch between Brazil and Argentina was carried out successfully yesterday.

* Follow-up: Last week’s floods and rains caused by Tropical Storm Olga in the Caribbean has raised the official death count to 38 people.

Sources- Guardian UK, The Latin Americanist, BBC News, USA TODAY, Wonkette, Associated Press

Image- BBC Sport