Friday, January 4, 2008

Video of the Day: A musical ode to Neruda

We’ll be posting a few odds and ends on Saturday Sunday (sorry!) so please tune in to our blog over the weekend (ugh, busy weekend.)

In the meantime, we want to embed a video of Brazilian singer Luciana Souza during a recording session for her 2004 album “Neruda.” It’s a lovely tribute to the legendary Chilean poet.

(Video link):

Souza is currently touring the U.S. and Italy if you’re interested in seeing her live and in concert.

Sources- Wikipedia, YouTube,

Cuban infant mortality lowest in L. America, says gov’t

The infant mortality rate in Cuba is the lowest in Latin America and the second-lowest in the Western Hemisphere according to figures released today by Cuban health officials. The rate of 5.3 deaths per 1000 live births in 2007 equals the rate obtained in 2006 and is much lower than the UNICEF’s average rates for Latin America (26/1000) and the world (52/1000).

Based on the results, the Cuban press has praised their health care system which is free and available to all citizens. As Granma noted:

As experts acknowledge, the true measure of a nation’s progress is the quality of care provided for its children, their health and protection, material safety, their education and socialization. And the infant mortality rate is an indicator that measures those advances in a synthetic form.

Sources (English)- Prensa Latina, Granma, Cuban News Agency

Sources (Spanish)- Milenio

Image- Granma

Mexico: President’s cousin kidnapped, released

Last year, Mexican president Felipe Calderon launched an anti-crime initiative to battle drug gangs, police corruption, and organized crime. Yet he may face a slightly embarrassing situation after his cousin was briefly kidnapped on Wednesday:

Armed attackers reportedly intercepted the president's cousin as he was about to get into his car with his wife. (Alfonso) Reyes was forced into another vehicle around 6 pm but was released around 10:30 pm. A strong police operation had been set up to find him.

Authorities are unsure of the exact motivation behind the nabbing, though an article from Reuters observed that “violent turf wars” between drug gangs were common in Reyes’ home state of Michoacán.

Sources- Reuters, Monsters & Critics, The Latin Americanist

Image- MSNBC

Colombian gov’t: DNA tests prove child’s freedom

DNA tests showed that 3-year-old Emmanuel Rojas was placed in a foster home after being born while his mother was held hostage by the FARC, according to head Colombian prosecutor Mario Iguaran. In an article by Colombian daily El Tiempo:

“[The tests] have established total coincidences (between Emmanuel and the foster child ‘Juan David’]” announced Iguaran in a press conference in Santa Marta.

According to him, the preliminary exam results indicated that there were “common traces” in the blood tests between ‘Juan David’…and the son of Clara Gonzales de Rojas [image].

Thus, it can be concluded that there’s a “very high probability” that ‘Juan David’ is a member of the Rojas family. [ed. personal translation]

Further tests will be conducted at a lab in Spain next week according to health officilas. If Iguaran is correct it could prove that the Colombian government was right in hypothesizing that the FARC was bluffing during hostage negotiations. It was the doubt over Emmanuel’s custody by the guerillas which led Colombian president Alvaro Uribe to help cease the rescue mission on Monday.

In the meantime, the families of the hostages who were supposed to be freed said that “Operation Emmanuel” continues and hope that their loved ones will soon be reunited with them.

Sources (English)- Guardian UK, Monsters & Critics, The Latin Americanist

Sources (Spanish)- RCN, El Tiempo, Milenio

Image- BBC News

Daily Headlines: January 4, 2008

* According to an article in Spanish newspaper La Razón, 80% of the cocaine coming into Spain comes from Venezuela.

* Guatemalan police arrested the suspected mastermind in the murders of three Salvadoran politicians last February.

* Health officials in the Dominican Republic were on alert after noticing a strain of bird flu last month.

* At least six people died in Mexico and Central America possibly due to frigid weather this week.

* Profits for chemical firm Monsanto more than doubled in the latest quarter partly due to increased Latin American seed sales.

Sources- Voice of America, International Herald Tribune, El Universal, Reuters, the Latin Americanist, Bloomberg

Image- BBC News

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Video of the Day: La Rumba de La Colifata

This is too cool:

This month [December 2007] in Buenos Aires, Manu Chao joined La Colifata for a live radio broadcast. La Colifata is the radio station run by patients at the Borda Hospital - a psychiatric hospital. There was a rumor that Manu would be playing a live show at the hospital, and since he’s done it once before during a visit to Buenos Aires, it seemed worth checking out…

There was camaraderie between the patients and Manu Chao with hugs and thanks all around. The performers were happy to share their own creative expression and the audience enjoyed their participation. They made jokes and shared intimate thoughts alike.

The following is one onlooker’s video of Manu singing “La Vaca Loca” (“The Crazy Cow”) during his appearance at the Borda Hospital:

(Hat tip: Global Voices Online).

Sources- Global Voices Online, YouTube, Argentina’s Travel Guide

Bolivian Official Says FARC Hostage Negotiations Marches On

Did Bolivia not get the memo? WTF? The confusion going on surrounding the release of three FARC held hostages continues in Colombia and Venezuela and other parts of Latin America. A Bolivian vice-minister said that the negotiations over the release of three FARC held hostages is continuing. The families of Clara Rojas and former Colombian congress woman Consuelo González de Perdomo remain in Caracas.

Sacha Llorenti, the Bolivian Vice-minister of coordination social movements, is part of the international delegation, including Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba, Brazil, France and Switzerland , that were set to witness the hostage release.

Source : Yahoo! News

Argentina Tries to Extradite (Again) Man at the Center of Maletagate

Maletagate is in headlines again, this time because on Tuesday the Argentine Embassy in Washington D.C. petitioned for the extradition of Venezuelan Guido Antonini Wilson for having smuggling money and money laundering. Now it's up to the U.S. Department of State to decide if the petition meets the guidelines set forth in a 1997 treaty between the U.S. and Argentina. Then the petition needs to be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice. The process could take up to a year.

Sources : The Latin Americanist, El Diario-La Prensa

Daily Headlines: January 3, 2008

* October 25th- Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez predicts that the price of a barrel of oil will soon exceed the $100 mark.

Yesterday - Oil prices hit the $100 a barrel mark.

* Mexican farmers have protested against the removal of import tariffs as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

* The boom in applications for citizenship may lead to immigrants not being able to vote in the U.S. presidential elections this November.

* According to a recent poll, 57% of Brazilians would elect a female president, 32% would vote for a gay candidate, and a mere 13% would opt for an atheist candidate.

Sources- International Herald Tribune, Times Online, Los Angeles Times, Angus Reid Global Monitor, PRESS TV


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Video of the Day: The eruption of the Llaima

Below is video of the Llaima volcano in Chile which has erupted several times since Tuesday, and forced the evacuation of over 50 people from the wilderness park where the volcano is located. Columns of ash and gases have drifted into neighboring Argentina as scientists hope that the eruptions will diminish.

(Video link):

Sources- Reuters, Bloomberg, YouTube

Drug mule caught sans leg to stand on

I wonder if the same ingenuity displayed by some criminals would’ve been better served elsewhere.

A Jamaican man is awaiting sentence after being caught in late November trying to smuggle a kilo of cocaine via John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. His arrest may not seem particularly newsworthy, but his method to try to sneak the drugs past security was certainly unique:

Customs inspectors stopped Stewart for a routine search after his Air Jamaica Flight 15 landed.

He told them he couldn't walk and wore prosthetic legs - which he claimed he couldn't remove, according to the complaint. Inspectors became suspicious because Stewart's round-trip ticket had been purchased in cash three days earlier, and Department of Homeland Security records showed he had traveled to the U.S. three times between June and August for brief visits…

Stewart's prosthetic legs were removed and X-rayed at Kennedy's medical facility.

Agents found multiple packages of cocaine concealed inside the limbs, according to the complaint.

Thank you Mr. Stewart for giving TSA “agents” more of an excuse to pinch, poke, and prod disabled travelers like myself every time we have to use air travel.

(Hat tip: Gothamist).

Sources- UPI, New York Daily News, Gothamist


Colombia: Hostage rescue suspended as accusations surface

What should have been a dream come true for the families of three Colombian hostages ended up being the unfair extension of their collective nightmare.

The FARC rebel group said Monday that they would “suspend indefinitely” the mission to free three high-profile hostages. A FARC communiqué blamed “intense military operations” for delaying the rescue mission. However, Colombian president Alvaro Uribe publicly hypothesized that one of the hostages- 3-year-old Emmanuel Rojas- may have been secretly handed over to child welfare authorities by the guerillas.

ThThe failure of “Operation Emmanuel” has led to finger-pointing by some of the major actors involved:

  • Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez initially accused Uribe of using the claim of Emmanuel’s custody as a "smokescreen."
  • Uribe blamed the FARC for “cheating the world” by not permitting the hostage rescue to move forward.
  • The FARC blamed the Colombian government for creating a situation that would have “risked the lives of the hostages.”
  • Even ex-Argentine president Nestor Kirchner has been blamed by the opposition for his role in the failed operation.

Some political pundits claim that Chavez is the biggest loser of this whole affair, yet it’s really the families of those hostages who have suffered the most. They continue their never-ending wait for the liberation of their loved ones, and hope against all odds that it can happen safely and soon.

Sources (English)- AFP, Associated Press, Xinhua, Reuters, New York Times, Bloomberg,

Sources (Spanish)- El Tiempo, RCN

Image- Al Jazeera

Kidnapped aid workers released

A Somalian gang released a pair of aid workers who were kidnapped there last week. Though police claimed that the $70,000 ransom was not paid, the kidnappers freed a doctor from Spain and a nurse from Argentina who worked for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). The Somalia trade minister told BBC News that both women are in a hotel safe and sound.

Though the kidnapping occurred in the semi-autonomous northern region of Puntland, one local official said that the Spanish branch of Doctors Without Borders has pulled its foreign staff out of southern Somalia:

"MSF Spain withdrew its foreign staff from Jawhar and Middle Shabelle province saying it could not keep them in the region as long as two of its aid workers were in captivity," Osman Haji Abdule, mayor of Jawhar district, told Reuters by telephone.

He said the charity's local staff were still at work.

Sources- the Latin Americanist, Reuters Africa, BBC News, Associated Press, AFP


Daily Headlines: January 2, 2008

* Congrats to Paraguay’s Salvador Cabañas who was named as the best soccer player in the Americas according to Uruguayan newspaper El Pais.

* The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned that dietary supplements made in China and distributed by a Puerto Rican firm may have the active ingredient found in Viagra.

* Cuban leader Fidel Castro once again alluded to a possible retirement from office via a letter read during a legislative session.

* Five people accused of being hitmen for a Mexican drug gang were acquitted by a domestic court.

Sources- Xinhua, AFP, BBC News, Bloomberg

Image- El Mercurio

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Video of the Day: Feliz Ano Novo

We’ll resume regular blogging on Wednesday including the results of our top news stories of 2007 poll.

The following is the New Year’s celebrations on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro. Over 4 million revelers attended the world’s largest New Year’s party this year.

(Video link):

Sources- YouTube, Independent Online

Daily Headlines: January 1, 2008

* Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez pardoned those jailed for participating in a failed 2002 coup against him.

* Trade between Cuba and China grew by 23% last year according to the Cuban press.

* The World Trade Organization ruled against Mexico in a trade dispute brought up by the U.S.

* Could Panama’s construction boom soon bust due to suspicions of drug money backing investments?

Sources- Associated Press, International Herald Tribune, Times of India, Reuters

Image- Ashville Global Report (Soldiers and demonstrators clash on the streets of Caracas, Venezuela on Apr. 11.”)

Monday, December 31, 2007

Video of the Day: Adios 2007!

Just a quick note that we’ll reveal the results of our top headlines of 2007 poll on Tuesday.

We want to thank everyone who voted and made it one of the blog’s most popular polls ever. For the most part the results were very close except for your choice as top news story of ’07. (Can you guess what it is?)

In the meantime, here’s the video for one of our favorite songs of 2007:

Thanks for reading this blog and may all of you have a Feliz Año Nuevo!

Stalemate continues in Colombian hostage rescue

Delays have pushed back a rescue mission to free three Colombian hostages that was hoped to have taken place this past weekend.

Colombia’s president and Venezuela’s Foreign Minister have traveled to Villavicencio where an international commission continues to wait for the coordinates of where the three hostages may be picked up. The Colombian government has extended the deadline for the use of foreign aircraft in Colombia for the humanitarian mission, though a spokeswoman for the International Red Cross warned the FARC to move forward with the operation as soon as possible.

One of the most intriguing parts of the mission has been the involvement of filmmaker Oliver Stone. Stone- who has admitted to being a “friend” of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez- told local press that he planned to film the rescue mission if it occurs:

Telesur Venezuelan channel founder Jorge Botero who is attending the operation in Central Colombia, said Sunday Stone is the only one authorized to film the moment three hostages held by Colombia's Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) are to be released in a yet undetermined location.

"Oliver Stone and his cameraman, [Argentine filmmaker Carlos Marco], are confirmed to go with the group of international delegates that will receive the hostages," Botero said.

Update: According to local press, Colombian president Alvaro Uribe claimed that one of the hostages to be rescued, 3-year-old Emmanuel Rojas, is under custody in a medical clinic.

Image- Al Jazeera

Sources (English)- AFP, International Herald Tribune, Xinhua, Reuters

Sources (Spanish)- El Tiempo, RCN

Argentine nurse kidnapped in Somalia

The Argentine government expressed hope that a Somali gang would soon release an Argentine nurse and a Spanish doctor kidnapped last week. According to AFP:

"We're optimistic," the Foreign Ministry's head of consular affairs Felix Cordova told reporters, adding that both kidnapped women were "faring well."

"It’s possible that in the next few hours" Spanish and Argentine diplomats would meet in Somalia's breakaway region of Puntland -- where the kidnappings took place -- with its President Mahmud Muza to discuss the hostage situation, he said.

The medics- Mercedes Garcia (image) and Pilar Bauza- work for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) who on Friday demanded medical access to the hostages. The incident was condemned by an “influential Somali politician” who claimed that such violence was rare in Puntland despite the region's semi-autonomous status.

Image- Typically Spanish

Sources-, AFP,, Wikipedia

Mexico: High-tech solution for southern border

Most discussion on Mexico and immigration centers on the flow of migrants from that country into the U.S. However, an often overlooked issue is the tens of thousands of Central Americans who cross into Mexico via its southern border each year.

Mexican president Felipe Calderon has viewed that part of the immigration topic as “a law-and-order problem” and has tried to push a guest-worker program and increased border controls to control the influx of Central Americans into the country. The latest government initiative will be the use of electronic “smart cards” for visitors entering Mexico. According to the Associated Press:

Starting in March, the National Immigration Institute will distribute the cards to record the arrival and departure of so-called temporary workers and visitors. They will replace a non-electronic pass formerly given to foreigners who cross into Mexico, which has proven "easily alterable and subject to the discretion of migration agents," the institute said Thursday.

Will the Mexican government’s initiatives work? We’ll see.

Sources- AHN, Christian Science Monitor, El Universal, PRESS TV, Associated Press,

Image- New York Times (Some Central American migrants board on freight trains to cross into Mexico)

Daily Headlines: December 31, 2007

* The photoblog of Argentine First Daughter Florencia “florkey” Kirchner
is “a gossip columnist's dream” according to the Guardian UK.

* Fifteen ex-agents of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet were
sentenced to prison over their role in “revenge killings” of dissidents.

* The Vatican's second-highest official said that he would like to meet
acting president Raul Castro when he visits the island in February.

* Remember the monkey an airline passenger traveling from Peru to New York tried to smuggle under his hat in August? Sadly, the pint-sized primate died last week.

Sources- Guardian UK,, CNN, The Latin Americanist, Houston Chronicle, International Herald Tribune

Image- (“Florencia Kirchner in New York, November 2006”)