Saturday, October 25, 2008

Today’s Video: Wrestling, “cholita” style

In May, we briefly talked about Bolivia’s cholita wresters who are female grapplers dressed in traditional clothes and who “fight” in weekly bouts against men. Trans World Sport recently covered the increasingly popular trend and how the wrestlers represent the “changing role of women in Bolivian society”.

(Video link):

Sources- The Latin Americanist, YouTube

CANF head advises McCain, Obama

The head of one of the country’s most important Cuban exile groups penned a must-read opinion piece in Saturday’s Washington Post.

Cuban American National Foundation chairman Jorge Mas Santos criticized U.S. policy toward Cuba as “at best static and at worst counterproductive.” “Just as a democratic Israel is a key U.S. friend in a critical region, a democratic Cuba would be a crucial ally in furthering democracy in Latin America” wrote Mas Santos. He also claimed that the next president needs to take a more active approach in dealing with Cuba, and provided the following recommendations to John McCain and Barack Obama:
• Change the rules that make it impossible to send cash aid and allow direct, substantial and unfettered aid to Cuba's dissidents.

• Lift the 2004 restrictions on travel and remittances by Cuban Americans. Removing the handcuffs that have prevented us from becoming active participants in the development of Cuban civil society will make us agents of change.

• Maintain sanctions that diminish the Castro regime's access to hard currency, which it uses to help fund its apparatus of repression.

• Engage democratic and reformist forces in Cuba, including those in the military and in the civilian government. They need to know that they can count on the friendship and support of the United States.

• Rebuild our intelligence capabilities in Cuba; they have been dismantled over the past decade, creating a vulnerability in this nation's security.
Will the next president scrap what Mas Santos believes is the current “failed ‘wait and hope’ policy”? We’ll have to see what happens.

Image- The Age (“Maximo Gomez Park in Little Havana, Miami. Hatred of Fidel Castro and memories of the Bay of Pigs have made most Floridian Cubans staunchly pro-Republican.”)

Chavez, "boricua" politicos peeved at Palin

Last week, U.S. Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin referred to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez as a “dictator” who could receive economic sanctions for trying to “mess with the United States whenever they feel like it”. Chavez responded snarkily to the Alaskan governor and alluded to her background before entering the political stage:
"I saw the vice presidential candidate, there she was talking about 'the dictator Hugo Chavez.' The poor thing, you just feel sorry for her," he said during a televised broadcast.

"She's a beauty queen that they've pulled out to be a figurehead. We need to say as Christ did: Forgive her, she knows not what she's saying."
Aside from Chavez, some Puerto Rican politicos are upset at Palin. Members of the island’s ruling Popular Democratic Party (PDP) demand that she be investigated regarding the (overblown) controversy over the Republican Party's spending of $150,000 on her wardrobe.

Why is the PDP upset? Perhaps it has to do with Puerto Rican Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila who is under investigation for possible election fraud and embezzlement.

Image- ABC News
The Latin Americanist, AP, Reuters, El Universal, New York Daily News

Daily Headlines: October 25, 2008

* Brazil: Could the intervention of the Brazilian government lead to peace in Zimbabwe?

* Cuba: The E.U. officially renewed its ties with Cuba including sending over $2.5 million in emergency aid to the storm-ravaged island.

* Chile: Consumer advocacy groups in the U.S. want authorities to look into allegedly tainted Chilean salmon.

* Honduras: President Manuel Zelaya’s popularity continues to fall with only 1 in 4 of his countrymen supporting him.

Image- Christian Science Monitor (“Resolve it, please: Zimbabwean women held a mini-demonstration inside the Rainbow Towers Hotel in the capital, Harare, last week. A regional emergency summit started Monday.”)
Angus Reid Consultants, AP, BBC News,

Friday, October 24, 2008

Today’s Video: Betancourt’s honor in Spain

Note: We’ll be back on Saturday with a few posts.

Today was the ceremony for the Prince of Asturias Awards named in recognition of Spain's Crown Prince Felipe. Despite the objections of fringe Spanish groups, Colombian politician and ex-hostage Ingrid Betancourt received one of those awards. She spoke out on arms trafficking, the drug trade and violence during her recognition speech:
"We ask that the drugs which are produced in Colombia and other regions not be allowed to be transported through our lands because the wealth it generates is feeding terrorism and increasing kidnappings"…

"We ask that our people stop arms trafficking because those same arms are used against our populations, to take the lives and freedom of our loved ones," added Betancourt, who wore a rosary she made out of wood while in captivity in the Colombian jungle wrapped around her wrist…

"I will not feel totally free, or happy, as long as one of my companions remains jailed in the jungle," she said.
The below video shows a portion of her impassioned speech where she pleads for international support for her comrades still held hostage:

The awards also recognized the state-run National Network of Youth and Children Orchestras of Venezuela (Arts) and Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal (sports).

Sources- The Prince of Asturias Foundation, YouTube, AFP, The Latin Americanist,

U.S. suspends trade deal with Bolivia

During a White House ceremony last week, President George W. Bush threatened with cutting off trade benefits to Bolivia. “Bolivia has failed to cooperate with the United States on important efforts to fight drug trafficking” said Bush after Bolivia was placed on a counternarcotics blacklist.

Yesterday, those threats became reality:
The United States is suspending a trade deal with Bolivia, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday. She called it unfortunate but necessary because Bolivian President Evo Morales had failed to improve anti-drug efforts.
Morales, in response, blasted the suspension as “an economic blockade” and claimed that the trade cuts will cause over 20,000 workers to lose their jobs. (The U.S. is the third-largest trading partner to Bolivia).

Bolivian foreign minister Luis Alberto Arce has traveled to Washington to meet with legislators and convince them to reinstate the trade benefits. “We will present statistics that show that this decision was unjust” said Arce.

Image- Al Jazeera English
Sources (English)-
Al Jazeera English, The Latin Americanist, New York Times
Sources (Spanish)-
Reuters America Latina

Tensions on border of Brazil and Paraguay

Tensions are high once again between South American neighbors Paraguay and Brazil, which share a border of over 800 miles. The current spat is centered around Brazilian military exercises being conducted in the border region and allegedly on the infamous "Friendship Bridge" (Ponte da Amizade) that connects the cities of Ciudad del Este and Foz do Iguaçu.

According to senior Brazilian officials cited in the coverage of the of the story in the New York this week, the military exercises are common and related to combating illegal commerce in the region -- and have nothing to do with historic tensions over farmland in the region that date back over a century.

Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo warned Brazil earlier this week that “not even one millimeter of the territorial sovereignty of the country can be bothered,” adding that such a scenario would necessitate that “the Paraguayan reaction will be swift.”

Regional coverage of the story suggest that the tensions are yet to be resolved, but are mostly focused on the harm to Paraguayan border commerce.

Sources: Diario Vanguardia, NY Times, Wikipedia.

Daily Headlines: October 24, 2008

* U.S.: Closing arguments began yesterday in the “Maletagate” trial where four Venezuelan defendants are being accused of trying to cover up an alleged money smuggling operation destined for Argentina’s president.

* Peru: The CEO of Norway's Discover Petroleum and 13 other execs have been charged in an oil scandal which led to a government shakeup.

* Mexico: The country’s Senate approved an energy reform plan which may partially privatize state-run PEMEX.

* Haiti: Despite being battered by tropical storms Haiti will not receive debt relief from the World Bank.

Image- AP (“In this court room illustration, Carlos Kauffmann, the business partner of defendant Franklin Duran, is seen on the witness stand, left, as Duran is seen on right in a Miami courtroom Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2008.”)
IHT, Reuters, The Latin Americanist, UPI,

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Colombian intel head resigns

The chief of Colombia’s intelligence services (DAS) quit on Thursday after her bureau was caught spying on an opposition senator.

“It would not be fair for the work of hundreds of agents to be stained by the actions of a few," Maria del Pilar Hurtado said in a release after center-left politico Gustavo Petro accused the DAS of secretly monitoring his actions. Hurtado also claimed that neither she nor President Alvaro Uribe ordered the surveillance of Petro or other members of the Polo Democratico party.

The DAS’ illicit surveillance paints an ugly picture of the Uribe administrations intolerance of contrarian political factions. Regardless of the ideologies behind Uribe and the Polo, such actions are undemocratic and stifling of dissent.

As the Center for International Policy’s Adam Isacson observed on his blog:
These documents are frightening because of what they say about the Colombian government’s tolerance of dissent, its ability to distinguish between legitimate political participation and left-wing terrorism, and the amount of political space in which the political opposition can operate.

They should trigger a scandal, and an investigation into possible illegal infringement of Colombians’ right to organize and participate in political movements. They should also inspire the U.S. government to loosen its embrace of a government that is clearly going too far in an undemocratic direction.
In 2005, former DAS chief Jose Noguera quit over alleged paramilitary ties. A former intel official also accused Noguera of “plotting to destabilize” the Venezuelan government.

Image- El Espectador (Maria del Pilar Hurtado stands behinds a seated Alvaro Uribe)
The Latin Americanist, AP, BBC News, Reuters UK, Plan Colombia and Beyond

Floods kill 46 in Central America

Honduras is under a state of emergency after heavy floods and mudslides over the past week officially killed 24 people. Rescue services official Randolfo Funez said that 24,000 houses were destroyed and over 19,000 people have been left homeless as the rains are expected to continue in the upcoming days.

The torrential downpours have been deadly in other parts of Central America with 17 dead in Nicaragua and six killed in Costa Rica.

In 1998, Hurricane Mitch killed 10,000 people throughout the region though one senor charity official claimed that the current rains could be worse:
"This is the worst disaster this country has seen since Hurricane Mitch," said Arnaldo Bueso Hernandez, CARE's Program Director in Honduras. "And in some ways, this is worse. During Hurricane Mitch, the damages were limited to specific areas. Now, almost the entire country has been devastated - 17 out of the18 areas of the country are damaged. Everybody needs help."
Image- Sky News (“A local carries the coffin for Pablo Godoy, 3, who drowned during floods in Honduras.”)
Sources-, Reuters Alertnet,, Reuters Africa, BBC News

IMF: Lower growth expected for LatAm

The bad financial news just won’t stop for Latin American economies. On the same day that regional stock markets posted heavy losses, an International Monetary Fund (IMF) study came out with some sobering news:
Latin American economies will slow next year as a worldwide slump and recession in the U.S. spur investment outflows and declines in government revenue, the International Monetary Fund said…

“Given what is happening in the rest of the world, our forecast is for growth in Latin America to slow quite noticeably,'' (IMF sub-director for the Western Hemisphere David) Robinson said. “The region is much better prepared than it ever has been in the past to meet these challenges''…

“High food prices remain a threat to poor households in Latin America and “many countries still lack effective social safety nets that adequately reach vulnerable households,'' the fund said in the report.
Despite the grim regional forecast other countries like the U.S. and Pakistan are expected to go through greater economic difficulties. Indeed, the IMF report praised Chile’s government for effectively managing the country’s finances.

So far in trading today Brazil’s stock index continues to plunge, Venezuela may be forced to devalue its currency, and the Mexican peso gained value after the central bank intervened.

Sources- The Latin Americanist,, Reuters, Xinhua, Bloomberg, BBC News

Today’s Video: Dueling pan flutes

I had a hunch I saw something familiar the other day as I was waiting for the 7 train:

Click here to watch the full episode and find out just why the Department of Homeland Security wants to invade Peru.
Sources- South Park Studios

Could Hispanic vote be October surprise?

In the last two weeks before the election, Hispanics are making news as a swing vote for the presidential election.

The Washington Post has an article about Latinas' efforts to sway voters both Democrat and Republican. The article details the English and Spanish efforts.

The New York Times reports today that McCain is faltering with Hispanic voters. The article chronicles how McCain's previous support from Hispanics regarding his efforts to reform immigration have faltered. Obama is now leading by a wide margin with Hispanics. UPI has a similar story about weakening support for McCain.

Other articles detail a newfound appreciation for the importance of Latino voters, and Latino populations in states like Oregon, Nevada, Florida and North Carolina.

I don't know about you, but I'm anxiously awaiting the Nov. 4 exit polls to see what kind of a dent Latino voters create.

Photo: Bloomberg

Daily Headlines: October 23, 2008

* U.S.: Opening statements began yesterday in the retrial of a Border Patrol agent who shot and killed a Mexican migrant.

* U.S.: Authorities including immigration officers conducted several raids in California targeting alleged members of the MS-13 gang.

* Puerto Rico: Officials have allowed thousands of visually impaired voters to vote by telephone for next month’s local elections.

* Costa Rica: Investigators are checking if President Oscar Arias abused his authority in granting permission for the Crucitas gold mine project.

Image- Boise Guardian
Sources- IHT, AFP, KCBS, Guardian UK

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Today’s Video: Police brutality in Colombia?

Thousands of indigenous activists and allies have taken to the roads of Colombia since mid-October to march in anti-government protests. Details are vague as little has been mentioned by the domestic and international press on the situation. Yet it has been reported by CNN that clashes between riot police and protesters have gotten ugly in recent days including the deaths of two men by gunfire.

The following video from CNN showed part of what protesters allege is brutality by the military against them. If you fast forward to the 1:35 mark you can see footage of a soldier firing his weapon though it’s unknown if he was aiming at anybody:

Sources- CNN, Plan Colombia and Beyond, Global Voices Online

Dark day for faltering LatAm stocks

Stock indexes worldwide plummeted in trading on Wednesday with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling by 514 points or roughly 5.7% while Japan’s Nikkei average decreased by 6.8%. Latin American indexes were not spared the rod and posted some ugly losses:
  • Chile - The blue-chip IPSA stock index dropped 6.3% while the general IGPA index fell 4.8% to 11,466.04 points.
  • Mexico – The country’s primary stock index stumbled by 7%, the worst decline in over eight years.
  • Brazil – Action on Latin America’s biggest stock market in Brazil had to be briefly halted after slumping by over 10%. (The Bovespa would eventually close with a 9.5% loss).
  • Argentina – The day’s biggest loser was Argentina where the Buenos Aires stock market nosedived by as much as 18% during trading. (Traders were reportedly worried over the nationalization of ten pension funds by the government).
Sadly, the worst may be yet to come; early Thursday trading in Asia has been painful with the Nikkei falling by over 7%.

Image- ABC News
Sources (English)-
BBC News, IHT, Bloomberg, Reuters, Xinhua, UPI, AFP
Sources (Spanish)-

N. Carolina sheriff inserts foot into mouth

A piece of constructive criticism: if you’re law enforcement official heading an anti-immigration campaign you may want to tone down the harsh rhetoric ever so slightly.
In a newspaper interview last month, (Johnston County, North Carolina Sheriff Steve) Bizzel complained that "Mexicans are trashy" and pointed to several children playing and said "All they do is work and make love." Though he quickly apologized, his contrition wasn't enough to ward off critics who call his comments evidence that the nation's increasingly popular efforts to enforce immigration statutes locally have nothing to do with law and order.
County commissioners gave their wholehearted support to Bizzel despite his inflammatory remarks to the News & Observer. One local daily reported that most Johnston County residents have been supportive of their sheriff claiming that he “pretty much has done a good job” and was “telling the truth.”

Probably worse than Bizzel’s claims was the support given to him by a Carolinian running for Congress:
"What El Pueblo and La Raza (Latino rights groups) should be doing is organizing clean-up crews, organizing Saturday educational crews," Webster said recently, following a Kids Voting forum in Raleigh. "They should be teaching these youngsters: Don't you get tangled up in any bad, bad gangs. Look after your family. Respect the women. Respect the people. Clean up your community. Study. Learn. Just because you're male doesn't mean your macho self is not responsible for your own doings."
Ugh, how very classy.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the pizzeria to eat a few slices cooked by an un-trashy guy from Puebla. Perhaps later I’ll run into my Mexican-born neighbor when he returns from work as an IT specialist.

Image- North Carolina Courts System (Johnston County, North Carolina courthouse building)
News & Observer, New York Times, Dunn Daily Record, Independent Weekly

Sesame Street not sponsored by the letters G, O, P

Actress Sonia Manzano- best known as Maria on “Sesame Street”- penned an opinion piece on the presidential campaign in today’s El Diario/La Prensa.

In an article entitled “The Struggle of Families” Manzano argued in favor of Barack Obama’s candidacy for the U.S. presidency. Writing that she had to “take a break from teaching Elmo how to count in Spanish”, the actress of Puerto Rican background claimed that the Republican campaign “becomes more and more against children and families.” She concluded with the following endorsement:
The complex world we live in needs intelligent men like Obama, not irrational mavericks like McCain. Obama will make health Insurance work for people -- not insurance and drug companies, and he will protect home ownership. A sign of civilization is how it takes care of its youngest citizens. Vote for yourself. Vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
New York’s main Spanish-language daily endorsed Obama’s candidacy though today’s edition also featured a pro-McCain opinion article. In “Why Latinas support John McCain”, the author contended that McCain is the better candidate in terms of areas like education, taxes, and “family values.” The article goes on to support McCain’s gestures towards Latin America on topics like free trade and immigration.

Image- Library of Congress
Sources (English)-, Vivirlatino
Sources (Spanish)- El Diario/La Prensa

Four Heads Are Not better than One in Ciudad Juarez

"Drug" related crime in Mexico is getting more gruesome by the day.
Police in northern Mexico have received an ice chest packed with four human heads.
The cooler was marked "vaccines" and wasn't opened for a week (gotta love that police work). When it was finally opened, the police were greeted by the heads and a note, with a still undisclosed message.

State prosecutor's spokesman Eduardo Esparza said Tuesday the chest arrived on a local bus line that also has a delivery service. An envelope with an undisclosed message was found inside.

The heads appeared to be part of a wave of drug-related killings. Cartels have turned to beheading their enemies as they battle each other for control of lucrative smuggling routes.

Sources : Hispanic Tips, AP

Daily Headlines: October 22, 2008

* Latin America: Currencies throughout the region fell in value yesterday partly over anxiety from the global financial crisis.

* Bolivia: More deals were made between Congress and President Evo Morales over land reform and the control of indigenous courts.

* U.S.: According to a study 58% of children and adolescents in the U.S. without health care are more likely to be Hispanic than white, non-Hispanic.

* Argentina: Ten private pension funds will be nationalized to the price tag of $30 billion in a plan pushed by President Cristina Fernandez.

Image- ABC News
Sources- BBC News,, Los Angeles Times, The Latin Americanist, Bloomberg

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

De Musica Ligera: New album from Aterciopelados!

One of our favorite groups- Colombian rockeros Aterciopelados- released their latest album today!

Entitled “Rio” the album emphasizes environmentalism and, more specifically, the need for clean waterways and access to potable water. Lead singer Andrea Echeverri and partner/bassist Hector Buitrago have lent their support to a campaign calling for constitutional amendment preserving water as a fundamental right.

The album’s title track symbolizes Aterciopelados’ social awareness combined with their unique rock sound. “The waters of the river come running, singing / they go through the city dreaming to be clean, to be clear” sings Echeverri in Spanish as the tune is dedicated to the protection of the Bogotá River.

Other songs on the album like "Dia Paranormal" talk about social injustice while "Bandera" focuses on immigration.

With gratitude to Nacional Records, here’s the single “Rio” from Aterciopelados which you can download via the link below. We hope you enjoy it!

Image- Houston Chronicle
YouSendIt, Aterciopelados English, The Latin Americanist

Report: Mexican income gap among OECD’s worst

Question: what do the U.S. and Mexico have in common besides a common border?

Answer: Vast income inequality and high poverty rates.
Only two of 30 nations, Mexico and Turkey, are ahead of the United States for income inequality and poverty rates, or the gap between rich and poor, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report was released by Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development of its 30 member-nations, most of which are developed countries.
In terms of Mexico, the OECD study found income gaps shrinking over the past five years. Yet 22% of children and nearly 30% of Mexicans over the age of 65 live in households with an income below the poverty line. Furthermore, the average income of the poorest 10% is approximately 25 times less than the top 10%.

OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria warned that governments in developed and underdeveloped countries must be more active against the problems of inequality. “Growing inequality is divisive. It polarizes societies, it divides regions within countries, and it carves up the world between rich and poor," he said.

Image- Diario La Verdad
Sources- Bloomberg,, AFP, AHN

Eduardo Verástegui campaigns against gay marriage

Remember when actor Eduardo Verástegui publicized his own video railing against abortion? The Mexican born-again catholic recently taped an ad in favor of a Californian ballot initiative that would obligate parental notification if a minor seeks an abortion.

Besides campaign against reproductive rights Verástegui has taken up the cause against gays. He has given his public support to California's Proposition 8, a proposal that would bar gay marriage statewide.

Despite heavy campaigning for and against the proposition, recent polls show that Californians are nearly divided in half.

Verástegui may have renounced his beefcake image after his religious conversion but does that make his stance on Prop 8 and birth control hypocritical? One blogger explains:
So here is the question: If this dude clearly had no problem exploiting his body and sexuality for his professional advancement, where does he get off telling women what to do with their bodies and reproductive rights? I've always tended to be sympathetic to the right's view that most celebrities --especially those with out artistic virtue-- should keep their mouths fastened shut when it comes to politics (paging Susan Sarandon), and this guy could use a whole lot of duct tape.
Verástegui has his right to speak out on the issues even if one disagrees with them (like I do). But perhaps it may be wise for him to remember the old adage: "zapatero a su zapato" ("shoemaker stick to your shoes") and focus on his acting.

(Hat tip: Guanabee).

Image- (Screenshot from Eduardo Verástegui’s pro-life video)
Sources- The Latin Americanist, People en Español, California Voter Guide, Hispanic Business, U.S. News and World Report, Miami New Times, Guanabee

McCain: “Tested” by ’63 Cuban crisis

Republican presidential nominee John McCain said that he was “tested” by the 1963 Cuban missile crisis. While speaking at a rally today in Pennsylvania, McCain emphasized his years of military service while also attacking his Democratic rivals:
McCain recalled being ready to launch a bombing run during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which (Joe) Biden said over the weekend tested a new President John F. Kennedy and was the template for the kind of "generated crisis" the 47-year-old (Barack) Obama would face within six months of taking office.

"I was on board the USS Enterprise," McCain, a former naval aviator, said in the capital city of Harrisburg. "I sat in the cockpit, on the flight deck of the USS Enterprise, off of Cuba. I had a target. My friends, you know how close we came to a nuclear war."

As the crowd of several thousand began to swell with cheers and applause, he added with dramatic effect: "America will not have a president who needs to be tested. I've been tested, my friends."
McCain’s running mate also went after Biden’s remarks; Alaska Governor Sarah Palin claimed that an Obama administration would spark the sorts of crisis that Biden warned about.

In the meantime, a recently released poll showed that protestant Latinos are shying away from the McCain campaign. The survey of 500 Latino Protestant registered voters found Obama ahead of McCain 50%-34% with immigration and abortion serving as their most important issues.

Image- AP (“Cindy McCain, wife of Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, applauds as he appears at a campaign rally in Bensalem, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2008. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)”).
Sources- Guardian UK, CNN, USA TODAY

Daily Headlines: October 21, 2008

* U.S.: A study conducted for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California concluded that Los Angeles police officers are more likely to stop and search blacks and Latinos than whites.

* Brazil: Could the financial crisis get Barack Obama elected to the U.S. presidency? Brazilian president Luiz Inancio da Silva thinks so.

* Venezuela: President Hugo Chavez announced the construction of a naval base on the country’s biggest island in the Caribbean.

* Mexico: Twenty-one prisoners died during a riot at a jail near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Image- CBS News
Sources- Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg, CNN, MSNBC

Monday, October 20, 2008

Colombia’s “Biblioburro” enlightens rural kids

Some stories speak for themselves:
In a ritual repeated nearly every weekend for the past decade here in Colombia's war-weary Caribbean hinterlands, Luis Soriano gathered his two donkeys, Alfa and Beto, in front of his home on a recent Saturday afternoon.

Sweating already under the unforgiving sun, he strapped pouches with the word "Biblioburro" painted in blue letters to the donkeys' backs and loaded them with an eclectic cargo of books destined for people living in the small villages beyond.

His choices included "Anaconda," the animal fable by the Uruguayan writer Horacio Quiroga that evokes Kipling's "Jungle Book"; some Time-Life picture books (on Scandinavia, Japan and the Antilles); and the "Dictionary of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language."
Colombia’s literacy rate is about 93% according to a 2004 CIA World Factbook estimate. Yet the “Biblioburro” represents a marvelous tool to the outside world to the children of the country town of La Gloria.

(Hat tip: MetaFilter.)
Image- New York Times
Sources- CIA World Factbook, MetaFilter, IHT

Evo Morales agrees to skip third term

Bolivian president Evo Morales agreed to not run for a third term in a deal made with Congress.

According to Vice President Alvaro Garcia, Morales agreed to run only for a possible second term in scheduled for December 2009. In exchange, Congress agreed to vote on permitting a national constitutional referendum for January.

Garcia’s announcement came during a rally of over 100,000 pro-government supporters in the Bolivian capital of La Paz. The assembly represented the end of a week-long national march by backers of Morales which started in the western highlands. He participated in parts of the march though doctors ordered him to refrain from campaigning.

The deal may unravel depending on the opposition; the majority of Senate seats are controlled by anti-Morales factions, for instance. As the AP noted:
Conservative lawmakers have balked at Morales' argument that the new framework would require immediate nationwide elections — placing his opponents at risk of losing their seats while allowing Morales to start over on two full five-year terms.
The topic of a presidential third-term has been on the minds of several Latin American leaders. Dominican President Leonel Fernandez recently started his third term while Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe is seriously contemplating that option.

Image- CNN (“Supporters of Evo Morales pass through the village of San Antonio, Bolivia, on Sunday en route to La Paz.”)
The Latin Americanist, Voice of America, Xinhua, AP, Al Jazeera English, Reuters

Cuba, Mexico to sign immigration pact

The Cuba and Mexican governments are expected to sign agreements designed to tackle the growing immigration problem between both countries.

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque claimed that the pact would permit Mexico to repatriate undocumented Cuban migrants. (Currently, Mexico can only detain them for fifteen days and they can be freed after paying a fine). Perez Roque added that the agreement would serve to call attention to the U.S. for “artificially stimulating” illegal immigration.

Perez Roque- who is visiting Mexico City- said this morning that relations between Cuba and Mexico have improved drastically after years of diplomatic tension.

Cuban migration by sea has gone down according to the U.S. Coast Guard while migration by land has sharply increased as the Los Angeles Times noted in July:
Even before summer’s high season of human trafficking, more than 1,000 Cubans had been detained in Mexico by late June, compared with 1,359 in all of 2007. More than 11,500 made it to the U.S. border last year, 33% more than the previous year and almost double the number who arrived via Mexico in 2004.

The number of Cubans detained in Mexico has grown 500% over the last five years, a politician from Mexico’s traditionally center-left Institutional Revolutionary Party told parliament last month. The lawmaker, Edmundo Ramirez, pointed to a recent bus hijacking as evidence that the smugglers have huge economic heft and firepower at their command.
Image- BBC News (“The Mexican security services have struggled to deal with the traffickers.”)
Sources (English)-
The Latin Americanist, UPI, IHT, MSNBC, Los Angeles Times
Sources (Spanish)-
El Universal, Excelsior

Venezuela to OPEC: Cut oil production

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has called on OPEC to cut oil production in order to boost sagging prices. “Now that the prices are coming down, we are going to take (to OPEC) the proposal of cutting production,” said Chavez yesterday as crude prices have been nearly half as much since its high of $147 per barrel in July.

Chavez’ remarks come in anticipation of the oil cartel’s summit which begins on Friday.

Oil has been a key component of Chavez’ influence across the region and beyond. Yet that may soon change according to this article from the Christian Science Monitor:
Coupled with production declines, Chávez's days as the ultimate benefactor could be coming to a close.

"In terms of revenue and oil dependence, Venezuela is by far the most vulnerable," says Ramon Espinasa, a former chief economist at Venezuela's state-company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and today an energy adviser for the Inter-American Development Bank. "It's not just prices falling but volumes are down, which compounds the drop in revenue. That's scary"…

Domestic spending is likely to remain stable for now, but Chávez's "Bolivarian Revolution" abroad – via subsistence programs like Petrocaribe and the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) – would probably be retooled, says RoseAnne Franco, lead analyst at PFC Energy in Washington.
Image- BBC News
Sources- The Latin Americanist, AFP, Sydney Morning Herald, Christian Science Monitor

Dominicans ponder constitutional reform

Dominican lawmakers are now embroiled in a political battle about the process of constitutional reform, which President Leonel Fernandez has for years called "essential" to remove the country from gridlock.

The proposed reforms would modernize the courts, clarify domestic and economic policy items, and perhaps most controversially, affect the term limits of the presidency.

Some opponents consider the reform unnecessary, citing numerous previous efforts and the young age (6 years) of the current
constitution. They also believe that any reforms must take place in a constitutional assembly, to which the Fernandez administration has not agreed.

Opponents from the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) claim that the proposed reforms, now being debated in congress, threaten the democratic process in the Dominican Republic and constitute a power grab by the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD). In 2002, when the PLD was in power, the constitution was amended by a process of executive constitutional review (not through the legislature) to allow for consecutive re-election (which permitted Leonel Fernandez to win his current term through 2012). PRD opponents who believe a constitutional assembly is now called for, however, believe that the reforms on the table, contrary to those in 2002, represent a new constitution altogether.

The jury is still out on which side has the law on their side, but given that the supreme court justices are said to be more closely aligned with the PLD, it likely that President Fernandez will ultimately get his way.

Sources: Listin Diario, El Caribe, Nuevo Diario, Dominican Today, DR1

Daily Headlines: October 20, 2008

* U.S.: According to a recent study 39.3% of Latinas in their 50s have osteoarthritis while roughly 42% of Latinas are obese.

* Latin America: Colombia’s Juanes, Mexico’s Café Tacuba, and Chile’s Kudai were among the winners at the MTV Latin America awards held last week. (Katy who?)

* Spain: In an unsurprising note, officials who served under ex-strongman Francisco Franco are angry at crusading judge Baltasar Garzon.

* Panama: Authorities have removed Chinese candy and cookies that were found with traces of an industrial chemical called melamine.

IHT, AFP,, Reuters,, The Latin Americanist