Saturday, November 15, 2008

Blame placed on Mexico, Brazil air crashes

Aviation authorities have analyzed the causes of a pair of high-profile airplane crashes in Mexico and Brazil.

Turbulence has been cited as the reason behind a November 4th accident which killed fourteen people including Mexico’s Interior Minster. According to a preliminary investigation, the pilot of then small government jet flew too close behind a jumbo jet and this caused uncontrollable turbulence in the doomed Learjet.

The wake turbulence that supposedly caused the accident in Mexico was the same reason why American Airlines Flight 587 crashed seven years ago this week.

In Brazil, media reports claim that the government is to blame for a deadly July 2007 crash (image). A lack of government oversight in ensuring runway safety was cited as the cause of the accident which killed 199 people. Prosecutors in Sao Paulo may bring up criminal charges based on the conclusions of an unreleased study.

In the aftermath of the Sao Paulo accident numerous hypotheses were presented as to how it occurred. One aviation expert denied that runway conditions were inadequate while officials initially cited pilot error.

Image- AFP
The Latin Americanist, BBC News, AP, Reuters, New York Times

Rally held for murdered Ecuadorian immigrant

A reported 1000 people attended a rally last night on Long Island to honor recently murdered Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero (image). Chanting “we are all immigrants”, those present at the vigil expressed their disgust at an increasing anti-immigrant sentiment on Suffolk County where the Latino population has boomed over the past decade.

"Many people treat us like animals, like they just want to get rid of us," said one of the demonstrators who also expressed anger at Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy’s initially dismissive response to Lucero’s death.

Meanwhile, a grand jury has indicted seven teens in connection with Lucero’s murder. Hate crime charges may be levied against the accused who police alleged were “looking to beat up anyone who looked Hispanic.” Ironically, one of the accused teens is Latino who is supposedly “distraught” over the crime according to his lawyer.

The crime has received widespread media attention who has also focused on the increasing divide over immigration like the controversy in Farmingville a few years ago. Columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr. expressed his disgust not only at Lucero’s death but at the sickeningly spiteful tone of the immigration debate:
There are things that are so horrible that human beings should never become desensitized to them. Near the top of the list: when someone is killed because of his race, ethnicity, national origin or sexual orientation. That we cannot tolerate.

Nor should we tolerate an immigration debate that turned anti-Hispanic and that some now blame for incidents such as this…

In case you're keeping score at home, Hispanic immigrants are said to be responsible for street crime, traffic congestion, global warming, underperforming schools and crowded hospitals. In fact, recently, they were blamed for the collapse on Wall Street.

Who knew? I realized that Hispanic immigrants are tireless workers who could multitask. But I had no idea that they could -- in between doing our chores -- create so much havoc and misery. Or have so much havoc and misery visited upon them.
Image- ABC News
WNYC, Gothamist,, CNN, PBS

Daily Headlines: November 15, 2008

* U.S.: Could Hillary Clinton get her revenge on Bill Richardson for not endorsing her presidential bid or is my tin foil hat on too tight?

* Panama: An eagle-eyed blogger discovered that a financial exec working for a local firm was the former Grand Wizard of the Canadian Ku Klux Klan.

* Ecuador: Worries over debt repayments led Standard & Poor's and Moody's to downgrade Ecuador's credit rating.

* Uruguay: As was expected, President Tabare Vazquez vetoed a bill that would've depenalized first trimester abortions.

Image- AP (“Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., speaks at a New York Public Transit Association conference in Albany on Friday, Nov. 14, 2008.”)
The Latin Americanist, Bloomberg, National Post, Reuters, TVNZ

Friday, November 14, 2008

Today’s Video: Brazilian botox beauties

Note: We apologize for the lack of posts today. we ’ll publish a few posts on Saturday in order to make that up.

Some stories speak for themselves:
The Brazilian Society of Esthetic Medicine is offering free Botox injections and several other beauty treatments to those earning less than $250 a month.
See for yourself:

Sources- YouTube

Article: Lula holds “trump card” for LatAm

Whenever Latin America is discussed in the media oftentimes the focus is on Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. Talk on Chavez tends to place him as either some leftist regional Messiah (i.e. Venezuela as a socialist paradise for some “academics”) or as a crazed radical (i.e. the irrational fear that the U.S. “will turn into Venezuela”).

There’s more to Latin America than so much polarizing talk on Chavez. There are other leaders in the region who are lost in the fray and whose impact, dare I say, is greater than the Venezuelan ruler.

Today’s online version of the Christian Science Monitor examined Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and considered him as holding Latin America’s “trump card.” As the article goes on to mention:
But while Lula, a former union firebrand, effortlessly bands together with Latin America's left, he just as easily peels away, overseeing a market orthodoxy at home that pleases Washington, defies categorization, and has propelled him forward as the true, if understated, leader of Latin America's underclass today.

"Lula seems to have hit upon a pragmatic approach, using fiscal responsibility as his way to deal with poverty in Latin America, and the results are there," says Thomas Trebat, the executive director of the Institute of Latin American Studies at Columbia University.
Lula’s strategy of “helping the poor through conditional responsibility” can be seen in other countries with other moderate leaders like in Peru or Chile. The notion that Latin America is turning into some sort of socialist juggernaut belies the gains made in other countries. The region is not the monolithic ideologue it’s made out to be with so much of a focus on Chavez. It’s high time that other heads like Lula become recognized and the aforementioned article is a welcome step in that direction.

What do you think?

Image- Javno
Sources-, The Daily Show, IHT

Daily Headlines: November 14, 2008

* Argentina: Diego Maradona denied rumors that he would quit before his first game as coach of the men’s national soccer team.

* Latin America: Floundering auto giant General Motors may have set profit records in Latin America but that could soon change.

* Brazil: Congress has approved a measure that would toughen penalties for child pornography.

* Cuba: Stephen Soderbergh’s epic film on Ché Guevara is expected to be shown at Havana's New Latin American Film Festival next month.

Image- BBC Sport
The Independent, Latin Business Chronicle, AFP, IHT, Reuters

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Today’s Video: Juanes triumphs at Latin Grammys

Juanes has completed a sweep at the Latin Grammys in Houston by taking record of the year honors.

By winning the top honor, the Colombian rocker brought his total for the night to five, including trophies for song of the year, album of the year, best male pop vocal album and best short form music video.
We’ll have more on the Latin Grammys tomorrow; in the meantime, let’s turn back the clock to last March and watch Juanes’ performance at the Paz Sin Fronteras ("Peace Without Borders") concert:

Sources- The Latin Americanist, YouTube, AP

El Salvador: Seeking justice in ’89 massacre

One of the darkest days in Salvadoran history occurred nineteen years ago this month. Six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter where murdered in cold blood due to the clergymen’s commitment to investigate human rights abuses. The senseless killings brought increased global attention to the horrors of El Salvador’s civil war which would end in 1992.

Brining those responsible for the 1989 massacre to justice has been very difficult. Nevertheless, several human rights groups filed a lawsuit on Thursday against several Salvadorans including former president Alfredo Cristiani. "We hope this case helps to reawaken the memory and the conscience of El Salvador's people," said the lawyer of one of the petitioners who accused Cristiani of orchestrating a government cover up of the massacre.

Most of the murdered priests were Spaniards though that country’s judicial system was chosen for its precedence in international law:
The case was taken to Spain's National Court, because of its involvement in other high-profile human rights cases.

The same Spanish court issued an arrest warrant for former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, while he was in a London hospital. For the rest of his life he fought legal battles -- first in England and later in Chile -- to avoid convictions.

The Spanish court has also taken on human rights cases from other countries, including Argentina and Guatemala, testing a relatively new international legal principle known as Universal Jurisdiction.

It contends that if justice for human rights abuses is not served in the country where the crime occurred, then a court in another country can intervene.
Image- (“The bodies of killed Jesuit priests are seen in this Nov. 16, 1989, file photo in El Salvador.”)
The Latin Americanist, Tim’s El Salvador Blog, UPI, IHT, CNN

Colombia: Shock, anger over failed “pyramids”

A new house.

The savings of a young couple.

The financial future of an upcoming child.

These were a few of the aspirations held by thousands of Colombians who placed their trust in so-called “pyramid” businesses around the country. These firms targeted lower-class people in cities and often functioned out of rented storefronts in poor neighborhoods. The faux-financiers touted as much as 150% return as long as investors gave them their money and signed contracts promising not to withdraw it.

Over the past few weeks, several of these “pyramids” have shutdown under the cover of darkness and the executives have fled. In their wake are duped customers clamoring for their lost savings and desperately seeking answers. Yesterday, their rage reached a boiling point as riots flared in several cities:
Police used batons and tear gas to control angry investors and curfews were declared in several cities.

In Popayan in the south-western department of Cauca, 2,000 depositors stormed an investment firm's offices.

In Pereira, in Risaralda, police caught two men hurrying out the back door of a scheme's office with suitcases of cash.

They offered one of the cases to the police to let them go.
Who’s to blame? There are those that fell for the Ponzi schemes, the unscrupulous men running the firms, and even the government who didn’t intervene to stop the obvious scams.

In the end, there are the dreams deferred of the victims whose savings have been apparently wiped out. The goals mentioned at the top of this post represent those of some of my family whose aspirations served as carrion for vultures. Their situation- like so many others- is heartbreaking and hopefully one that can serve as a lesson.

Image- AFP (“A man holds a sign reading "what about my money?" in Popayan, department of Cauca, Colombia.”)

Taiwan to close trade offices in LatAm

Taiwan, in a sharply worded message aimed at a few Latin American countries, said its Ministry of Foreign Affairs will close some of their offices in Latin America.

Saying some of its trade and economic representative offices have "failed to fulfill their functions," Chou Lin, deputy director of the Ministry's Central and South American Affairs Department, said the move will save money.

"The planned move is aimed at saving meaningless government spending, particularly for trade and economic offices in countries that are unfriendly to Taiwan," Chou said.

He said the Venezuelan government places restrictions on Taiwan's diplomats and requires them to renew work visas every three months.

The Mexican office, however, he said, has helped create two-way trade and investment between Taiwan and Mexico. Other countries, like Argentina, Brazil and Chile produce similar efforts, he said.

Source: Chicago Tribune

Photo: Agence France-Presse, Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou before a trip to Latin America

Hispanics volley for admin positions

After reports that Hispanics helped Obama take the presidency last week, the talk now turns to Hispanics' role in an Obama administration.

The Miami Herald reports that the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda is leading efforts to encourage Hispanics to apply to work in the Obama-Biden administration. Residents in states like Florida expect to see more Hispanic representation in Washington after their numbers tipped the scales for Obama.

Diverse also has an article about Hispanic power players pushing for more people in advisory roles. This article includes a list of potential and current players on the transition and advisory teams.

This circling of wagons comes amid rumblings that Obama might get a chance soon to dig into Latin American issues. The Chronicle's Jorge G. Castaneda's speculates that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's antics and the financial crisis might bubble to the top as immediate issues. Also, he portends that immigration will not soon drop as a hot topic.

Photo: LA Times, Obama and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a member of Obama's transition team

Costa Rica Joins CAFTA

From Tuesday's USA Today:

"Ending a four-year tussle, Costa Rican lawmakers today cleared the way for the U.S.-Central America trade deal to take effect Jan 1. In 2004 Costa Rica signed the pact along with its neighbors, the Dominican Republic and the United States.
Opponents had stalled implementation of CAFTA until today, when laws governing intellectual property were approved, the AP reports."

Finally, the DR-CAFTA plan is complete! Muhahaha... huh? Oh, right:

From Tuesday's
Xinhua News Service:

"Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez has praised his country's relations with China, saying the upcoming visit to Costa Rica by President Hu Jintao would be "historic." The visit is of great "importance" as the two countries have great potentials to further enhance their bilateral ties, Arias told Xinhua in a recent interview... Led by rapid growth in trade with China, Costa Rica's trade with Asia registered a strong surge in the following years."

Oh well, Uncle Sam; you win some, you lose some.

In all seriousness, despite the hand-wringing Costa Rica's legislature went through, both these newly strengthened trading partners and a little healthy competition may help bring Costa Rica's lagging economy to the next level, and with a hefty 57% approval rating (among the best in today's skeptical region), it seems to me that President Arias continues to navigate murky diplomatic waters with relative skill and popular support.

Daily Headlines: November 13, 2008

* Mexico: Diamonds are a girl’s best friend…especially if they’re made from tequila.

* Peru: Are the Shining Path guerillas mounting a serious comeback?

* Brazil: Plummeting energy prices led to Petrobras stocks tumbling to its lowest point in a decade.

* Chile: Government workers have gone on a two-day national strike in an effort to earn higher wages.

Image- BBC News
Guardian UK,, IHT, Bloomberg

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Today’s Video: Remembering Flight 587

Seven years ago today, American Airlines Flight 587 crashed shortly after takeoff from New York City’s Kennedy International Airport. 265 people died including all passengers and crew of the flight which was scheduled to arrive in the Dominican Republic.

The crash occurred two months and a day after the 9/11 attacks; thus fueling speculation that foul play downed the plane. In the end, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that wake turbulence the cause of the accident:

A memorial for those deceased during Flight 587 was designed by a local Dominican-born artist and dedicated two years ago.

Sources- The Latin Americanist, Guardian UK,, YouTube, Gothamist, Wikipedia

Guatemala: Foul play behind migrants' murder?

The senseless death of fifteen Nicaraguan migrants heading to Guatemala raises concerns over immigration in Central America.

Originally, it had been reported that no foul play was suspected in the deaths of the sixteen passengers of the charred bus. Yet doubts over why the dead remained in their seats led investigators to find that the victims were shot at point-blank range.

Guatemalan officials have claimed that they have “various hypotheses” over the murders though they didn’t release more details. Meanwhile, Nicaragua’s government has put pressure to try to find out precisely what happened:
Nicaragua's Ambassador to Guatemala Silvio Mora said Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega was "very concerned" about the "murder" of the Nicaraguans.

"It looks like there were 16 people and we're afraid because they were killed. Up to now, the (Guatemalan) authorities have given us nothing to go on. It's all under investigation," Mora told reporters at the scene of the tragedy...

"We presume they were traders, but others say they were tourists and some others that they were undocumented workers, but we still don't know the truth," Mora said.
Thus far, reports have not said if the Dutch government will be involved in this case. (All the dead on board were Nicaraguan apart from a Dutch national.)

Image- AP (“In this photo released by Guatemala Fire Department, the bodies of fifteen people lie on the ground after a bus fire in Zacapa, Guatemala, Sunday, Nov. 9, 2008.”)
The Latin Americanist, IHT, Reuters, Xinhua, BBC News, AFP

Argies angling for Davis Cup title

The Davis Cup tennis championship is set for November 21-23 in Mar de Plata, Argentina and the home side is hopeful that they can take their first-ever title.

In 2006, the Argentines came close but lost in the deciding fifth match against Russia. This year could be different in the final series against two-time champs Spain since world number one Rafael Nadal will be unable to play. A painful tendonitis in the right knee has forced the Olympic gold medalist to drop out.

The Argentine squad lamented the loss of Nadal though acknowledged the advantage it gives them:
"Argentines want to be Davis Cup champions," (captain Alberto) Mancini said. "And in that sense this is good news, because our chances improve."

Added Jose Acasuso: "It's true that our possibilities are better, but we're still up against a tough opponent. We can't relax."
Acasuso will be joined by three strong players: Juan Martin del Potro, David Nalbandian and Agustin Calleri. Spain will field an experienced squad that have been together throughout the tournament.

Image- UPI (Photo of Juan Martin del Potro from this year’s U.S. Open).
The Latin Americanist,, IHT, MSN India, TVNZ, Xinhua, AFP

Bolivia to U.S.: Give us “Goni”

The Bolivian government has requested the extradition of former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada. According to the AP, the 2700-page request issued by Bolivia’s Foreign Ministry accuses the former leader of genocide during anti-government riots in 2003. As we mentioned last year, prosecutors in the Andean country said that “Goni” would face 25 years in prison if tried and convicted.

Lawyers for the ex-president claimed that the charges are political propaganda:
The ex-president's lawyers say the extradition attempt is no more than political harassment by leftist President Evo Morales.

"The actions taken by the Sanchez de Lozada government were constitutional, lawful, and appropriate," Howard Gutman, a lawyer representing the former president, said in a statement released Tuesday.

The extradition "is part of a politically motivated offensive orchestrated by Evo Morales against democracy and those he considers his political foes," he said.
The exiled “Goni” lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland though that hasn’t stopped lawyers for victims in Bolivia to file civil suits against him in U.S. courts.

Image- CNN
The Latin Americanist, PRESS TV,, CNN

Violence continues hurting Mexico

Earlier this week, Colombian president Alvaro Uribe visited his Mexican counterpart- Felipe Calderon- and praised the country’s anti-violence policy. “One is very happy to see efforts like those of President Calderon,” said Uribe who reportedly predicted that Mexico would eventually win its battle against drug gangs.

Uribe’s remarks may have been well-intentioned though the setbacks appear to outnumber the gains. On Monday alone, for instance, seven people were killed in the border city of Ciudad Juarez including a mutilated corpse left at a police station. A pair of physically disabled officers who served on a special police unit were shot and killed in Chihuahua. The rampant violence has scared off tourists and hurt the country’s finances.

According to the National Post roughly 4000 people have been murdered over the past year; a figure that is “four times' higher than the casualty rate in Iraq among Americans.”

Is it any wonder that Mexico’s private security industry is undergoing a boom?

Sources- The Latin Americanist, IHT, Los Angles Times, AP, Reuters, Voice of America, BBC News

Daily Headlines: November 12, 2008

* U.S.: Kudos to actress America Ferrera who is set to star and produce in a film drama centering on the Iraq war.

* Brazil: Barack Obama: U.S. :: Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva: Brazil. Is that true?

* Dominican Republic: A boat captain whose ship ran aground and killed six migrants faces human smuggling charges.

* Mexico: During a speaking engagement yesterday, ex-President Vicente Fox advocated in favor of immigration reform as well as a possible expansion of NAFTA.

Image- Javno
MTV Movies Blog,, New York Times, Columbus telegram

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Today’s Video: Reflections of a veteran

In honor of Veteran's Day we're going to repost the video that we featured on Memorial Day. The clip is of a documentary featuring the late Latino author Sabine Ulibarri. Ulibarri discusses his experiences as a soldier during World War II while serving in the Air Corps.

Sources- YouTube, The Latin Americanist

Peruvian breed to be “First Puppy”?

Some stories speak for themselves:
Peruvians crazy about their national dog, a bald and often toothless breed popular among Incan kings, offered on Monday to send a hypoallergenic puppy to the Obama family.

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has promised daughters Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, a new pet for the White House. But Malia is allergic to most breeds, he said on Friday as speculation swirled about the dog the family would choose.

Owners of the Peruvian Hairless Dog, a breed dating back 3,000 years and depicted in pre-Hispanic ceramics, say it is perfect for kids who are sensitive to dogs.

"They do not cause any type of allergy and are very friendly and sweet," said Claudia Galvez, 38, director of the Friends of the Peruvian Hairless Dog Association.
One question: will the dog bite?

Image- MSNBC (“Josh, left, and his mother, Jala, stand at the Huaca Pucllana archeological site in Lima, Peru. They are Peruvian Hairless Dogs, an ancient species that was nearly wiped out.”)
Reuters UK, NBC New York

Venezuela, U.S. agree over consular mishap

It’s not every day that one finds Hugo Chavez agreeing with the White House yet that occurred regarding the Venezuelan consulate in Houston.

Last week, the U.S. State Department ordered that consulate to be closed and revoked the visas and diplomatic privileges of a dozen Venezuelan diplomats. The sudden action came since the consulate moved its offices within Houston but did not receive State Department approval. Doing so violated international protocol, claimed a State Department spokeswoman.

Normally, such an action would lead to an annoying and often childish tit-for-tat between U.S. and Venezuelan officials. That was not to be the case, thankfully.
"Our lead diplomat in Houston moved the consulate without approval from the US authorities or Venezuela's Embassy in Washington," (President Hugo) Chavez said explaining the removal of the Venezuelan official.

"We have to accept that there was a mistake. There was no coordination with the authorities of that country. Then, all this has been used by some Venezuelans here, particularly some media and, of course, by some sectors in the United States," Chavez said.
Pardon me while I breathe a sigh of relief.

Image- AFP (“The embassy of Venezuela in Washington, DC.”)
The Latin Americanist, El Universal, AP, Houston Chronicle, AHN

Colombia: Indigenous march for their rights

Indigenous protestors continued their march to Colombia’s capital as tensions remain between them and the federal government.

Thousands of marchers are expected to make the 300-mile trek from Cali to Bogotá as a sign of protest against President Alvaro Uribe's policies. One of the main issues being advocated by the protests is that the government lives up to their promise of returning land to indigenous tribes. The group is expected to reach Bogotá on the 28th, the same day as an expected “freedom march” led by several former hostages.

The journey to Bogotá has been marred by the recent deaths of two soldiers via a bombing. Agriculture minister Andres Arias claimed that the attack was due to “infiltration by the FARC” and he has reneged on land restitution demands. March leaders denied Arias claims and said that they reject the involvement of the same armed groups that have terrorized indigenous communities.

The precarious situation between Colombia’s indigenous and the Uribe administration came to a head last month over allegations that soldiers fired unjustly at protestors. Unfortunately, negotiations that were supposed to have taken place between both parties fell through.

Image- RCN
Sources (English)-
The Latin Americanist, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Colombia Reports,
Sources (Spanish)-
El Tiempo, El Espectador, RCN

Uruguay: Abortion possibly decriminalized

The Uruguayan legislature passed a bill that includes legalizing some forms of abortion.

The new Reproductive Health Law would make Uruguay the second South American country to permit first trimester abortions without restrictions. The approved measure was a modified form of a similar bill defeated one year ago.

Despite polls showing 57% of Uruguayans backing the bill, Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez is expected to veto the proposal. The bill has also met with strong opposition of the country’s Roman Catholic Church which may have gone too far:
Uruguayan bishops are recalling that those who vote in favor of abortion exclude themselves from communion with the Church.

The prelates appealed to canon law in recalling the Catholic position on abortion during their Nov. 5-12 plenary assembly.

In a communiqué Friday, the bishops responded to a bill regarding "reproductive and sexual health" currently under consideration…

The bishops go on to say that no "honest law can justify the elimination of a defenseless being who has the right to life and to be born."
According to government figures, approximately 33,000 illegal abortions are carried out in Uruguay yearly, a number that is expected to decrease if the law goes into effect.

Sources (English)- The Latin Americanist, AP, CNN, Zenit, Catholic News Agency, Prensa Latina
Sources (Spanish)-
CNN (“An anti-abortion protester displays an Uruguayan flag last week in front of Uruguay's Congress in Montevideo.”)

Electoral Uncertainty Leads Way to Violence in Nicaragua

Strong doubts are now being cast on a number of the 146 municipal election tallies from yesterday, including key cities such as Managua and Leon. At the same time, low-scale violence is erupting across the country in delayed reactions to voting irregularities.

Reports from Managua on Monday afternoon indicated that FSLN sympathizers attacked the campaign headquarters of Eduardo Montealegre, the PLC candidate for mayor of Managua who had proclaimed himself the victor, despite most results showing him down by at least 5% to former boxer and FSLN candidate Alexis Arguello.

Similar reports came in from Rivas, where official tallies show the PLC mayoral candidate won by only hundreds of votes, though the results are in question. In Matagalpa, election-related conflicts left 16 arrested, 3 injured, and one person dead.
Official reports indicate that 91 of 146 elections were won by FSLN candidates, which (if the results don't change) amounts to a gain of 4 municipalities from the 87 held since 2004.

Sources: La Prensa, El Nuevo Diario, Bloomberg, AP

Daily Headlines: November 11, 2008

* Puerto Rico: Congrats to Geovany Soto; the Chicago Cubs catcher won National League Rookie of the Year honors yesterday.

* Haiti: The rescue mission has become one of recovery as search crews doubt that there are any survivors left of Friday’s school collapse in a suburb of Port-au-Prince.

* Brazil: "It was a very audacious act," said the police chief of Sao Paulo in an understated reaction to the bombing of a local precinct.

* Ecuador: The capital of Quito is under alert as activity from the nearby Reventador volcano has spewed ash and dust throughout the city.

Image- National Post
Sources-, MSNBC, CBC, The Latin Americanist, IHT

Monday, November 10, 2008

Today’s Video: Hugo sings?!

Some stories speak for themselves:
Venezuela's flamboyant President Hugo Chavez has made a show business appearance singing on a new compilation of revolutionary songs released by his United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

Chavez, who is prone to belting out Venezuela folk songs during his frequent television appearances, sings an ode to a 19th century rebel leader on the album, released to coincide with the last weeks of campaign to elect governors and mayors.

The president's familiar growling baritone rolls over a traditional harp-led "joropo" backing in the song, which praises the exploits of Maisanta, a rebel fighter from whom Chavez claims to be descended.
Is a singing career in the works for Chavez or will his musical ambitions be limited to annoying “por que no te callas?” remixes? Decide for yourself with this clip of an impromptu performance during his weekly TV program:

Sources- The Latin Americanist, YouTube, Reuters

Mexico: New interior minister named

Mexican President Felipe Calderon named a new interior minister in order to replace Juan Camilo Mourino who died in a plane crash last Tuesday.

Calderon said today that he was “convinced” that former congressman and “little-known lawyer” Fernando Francisco Gomez Mont was the best choice for the powerful law enforcement post. Nonetheless, one political analyst considered Mont as “the least well known” option for several high-level duties including supervising national security and the war on drugs.

Mexican aviation authorities have so far “ruled out” that a bomb took the life of Mourino along with twelve others. Yet with the mystery of the 1994 high-profile assassination of Luis Donaldo Colosio in the minds of many, it should come as no surprise that Mexicans believe sabotage was behind Mourino’s death:
A survey published this morning by the Milenio newspaper here in Mexico reports that more than half of all Mexicans -- 56% -- won't believe that the plane crash last week that killed the country's interior minister was an accident, even if a government investigation declares it so.

Furthermore, 48% of respondents said that if the government investigation into the crash does in fact find that foul play was at work, the authorities will bury the facts. Of the remaining respondents, 41% said that the government would inform the public if foul play was found, but that it would hide some of the details, and the other 8% said that they didn't know.
Image- AP
Bloomberg, CNN,, BBC News, La Plaza

Sen. Mel Martinez states the obvious

During an appearance on “Meet the Press” yesterday, Senator Mel Martinez explained one key reason why Latino voters shied away from John McCain. Here’s a hint: it was a topic barely mentioned by either of the major presidential candidates.
Cuban American Senator, Mel Martinez, feels the strong anti-immigration rhetoric spewed by some members within the Republican Party contributed to their massive loss last week.

Martinez, appearing on Meet the Press on Sunday, said if those Republican members, meaning largely far right ultra conservatives, ` continue with that kind of rhetoric, anti-Hispanic rhetoric, that so much of it was heard, we're going to be relegated to minority status.`

He said `that the very divisive rhetoric of the immigration debate set a very bad tone for our brand as Republicans,` especially since he said `Hispanics are going to be a more and more vibrant part of the electorate, and the Republican Party had better figure out how to talk to them.`
Now that federal elections have passed let’s see if our elected representatives have the cojones to tackle the immigration debate. Hopefully they will, though one shouldn’t be surprised if they’re far too willing to acquiesce to the broken status quo.

Image- CNN
The Latin Americanist,, Foreign Policy

Next prez faces Cuban challenge

There is much speculation over what to expect domestically and globally under U.S. President-elect Barack Obama. Earlier today, we looked at how a new administration can tackle Iran’s influence in the Americas. Another area that could see a change in policy is Cuba.

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s Election Day, numerous leaders from around the Americas coincided that it was time to drop the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Yet according to several reports, numerous Latin America analysts believe that removing the blockade will not happen anytime soon. "The Cuban-American lobby poured money into the Congressional contests so it is unlikely Congress will break the paralysis on Cuba," noted Daniel Erikson of the Inter-American Dialogue to BBC News. Indeed, the electoral victories of three staunch anti-Castro legislators in Florida will likely prevent any substantive short-term change to the embargo.

Nevertheless, trade policy analyst Jake Colvin told the Los Angeles Times that the next administration could institute “relatively incremental things.” These actions would mirror campaign pledges made by Obama over the past year; chiefly, the easing of travel restrictions imposed by the White House in 2004.

At the same time, the impact of any changes in U.S. policy to Cuba depends on the actions of the Castro regime. “If Cuba makes some sort of gesture toward the United States, it could begin a diplomatic process,” observed Dario Moreno, a Florida International University political science professor.

In the end, the biggest change may have to do with the controversial military base on Guantanamo Bay (image). An AP piece this morning described that the prison’s days may be numbered:
Under plans being put together in Obama's camp, some detainees would be released and many others would be prosecuted in U.S. criminal courts.

A third group of detainees — the ones whose cases are most entangled in highly classified information — might have to go before a new court designed especially to handle sensitive national security cases, according to advisers and Democrats involved in the talks. Advisers participating directly in the planning spoke on condition of anonymity because the plans aren't final.
What do you think: is fundamental change coming to Cuba or will it be more of the same?

Image- BBC News
The Latin Americanist, BBC News, Los Angeles Times,, MSNBC

US / Iran tensions to play out in Latin America?

Much speculation has already been made on President-elect Obama's Iran strategy, but could his administration face a similar situation to that of President Reagan's with respect to Iran in Latin America? Some think so.

Former CIA man John Kiriakou (of water-boarding infamy) published an op-ed in Saturday's LA Times warning against Iran's growing presence in Latin America. Focusing in particular on the chummy relations between Iran and the current governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, and Paraguay, he argues against the specter of "visa-free Iranian travel and the potential creation of a terrorist base of operations in the United States' backyard." (Ironically, he fails to mention Nicaragua, which may have the closest relationship to Iran of anyone in the group). Kiriakou's piece follows other neoconservative speculation on the confluence of LAC governments' complicity in drug trafficking and Iran's complicity in terrorist activity, a mixing which has been ambiguously referred to "narco-terrorism."

Perhaps I'm naive on such matters, but I find these arguments a bit specious, and the compounded fears a bit paranoid (yes, I know that in the post 9/11 world, just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not out to get you).

Yet, without citing any precedence for the relationship between terror cell growth and visa-free travel (which, it bears mentioning, only US citizens currently enjoy in nearly of all Latin America), Kiriakou assumes that the Iranian government has a strategic interest in a Latin American terror presence, and that LAC governments will be complicit. To be fair, however, he was sure to mention the infamous and horrible 1994 bombing of the AMIA in Argentina with ostensible links to Hezbollah, which, in turn, Iran is considered to support on ideological grounds. Kiriakou cited this evidence (yes, from 14 years ago) of what Iran "can do in Latin America with visa restrictions."

Lest I sound like an apologist, my point is simply this: terrorism conspiracists have been running US foreign policy for the past 8 years, and we now see that their prevention of another 9/11 has had negative diplomatic externalities. With respect to Latin America, where US policy has rarely been multi-dimensional, it will be easy for the new Obama administration to bite into this wedge issue for fear of looking soft. Doing so, though, will only hamper its ability to engage difficult, independent-minded leaders such as Chavez, Morales, or even Lugo. And to be clear, I think engagement -- yes, talking -- is good. Clearly, Iran is a country to be taken seriously, and clearly, it's a different story if evidence surfaces that these LAC governments are harboring terrorists (and not just visa-free Iranians). Thus, I hope that the new administration doesn't just take the bait, that they listen to the credible intel reports from current CIA staff, and if possible, can avoid having it's first LAC policy statement being just another Monrovian ultimatum about who should or shouldn't play with whom.

Daily Headlines: November 10, 2008

* Peru: According to the country’s press, the government will sue Yale University over artifacts taken nearly a century ago from Machu Picchu.

* Colombia: The incoming Obama administration will reject a White House plan to tie an economic stimulus proposal and a free trade deal with Colombia, said Rahm Emanuel.

* Bolivia: Could the key to the development of the electric car industry lie in Bolivia’s mines?

* Uruguay: Government officials including President Tabare Vazquez have strengthened their commitment against a bill that would legalize abortion.

Image- Brisbane Times
Sources-, MSNBC, BBC News, Catholic News Agency

Sunday, November 9, 2008

An interview with…Héctor Buitrago

Hailing from Colombia, the Aterciopelados are one of Latin America’s most well-known rock groups. Since the early 90s, the duo of Andrea Echeverri and Héctor Buitrago has created a unique blend of rock and social awareness which NPR compared to “The Police and Talking Heads.”

Last month Aterciopelados released their latest album entitled “Rio”, an effort whose titular song (MP3 sample) emphasizes environmental preservation.

Recently we were privileged to interview Buitrago via e-mail where he discussed music, fatherhood, and politics.

The Latin Americanist: First and foremost congratulations for the recent birth of your second child! How has fatherhood been treating you lately?

Héctor Buitrago: Thank you! It's really something that you can only experiment and interiorize when you experience it. You feel many emotions, some new, a different kind of love – more intense, also happiness. You also have to work on your patience, your imagination…

TLA: What are your feelings about "Río" and how does it compare to the group's previous albums?

HB: For us, 'Rio' means a new beginning. We felt that OYE from 2006 was more of a transitional album because of our extended break to release two solo albums before that. In this new album we combine what we learned from those CDs and the space they created and we head towards new terrains both in sound and concept. We also feel it's more compromising and activating. The album has already inspired political and social action.

TLA: Andrea and you are part of the Referendo por el Agua ("Water Referendum") campaign. Why is the environment so important to you both?

HB: Yes, the support for water is one of these movements. This is such a complicated time for the environment with serious threats such as global warming and the danger of water shortage. So it's time to act with a more focused effort. Each and every one of us should do it. It's not a distant threat from time or space; it's something that's happening right now. We have been supporting this referendum campaign for a year now and it has been very gratifying to see how changes at a political level can be generated from the actions of citizens. The environmental organizations were able to collect more than two million signatures! This has allowed the project to be debated in the Senate and it is awaiting approval. Some of the new articles would say that there will have to be a minimum gratuity for Colombians, that water will be declared a fundamental right not to be privatized and that the government will takes care and conserve its ecosystems.

The group's music tends to have a political slant. What are your views on Colombia's political situation and the Uribe administration?

HB: It is just a really difficult moment for our country. There are so many issues. Right now, we're experiencing massive indigenous marches throughout Colombia that ask for the treaties to be respected in places where their lands were guaranteed due to the murder of their leaders. At the same time, workers in many sectors are unemployed. The thousands of Colombians that were displaced due to the guerrilla conflict, the army/paramilitary and the networks of corrupt politicians under President Uribe are difficult subjects that need to be resolved too.

Lastly, a philosophical question: what do you feel is the meaning of life?

Ummm… it can be an experiment for each and every one of us to live a series of experiences that enrich the great mystery that is this existence... that we continue to advance and grow from our mistakes and constantly learn how to be better human beings.

Many thanks to Hector for taking the time to answer our questions as well as Nacional Records for helping set up the interview!

Image- Nacional Records
Sources-,, The Latin Americanist, NPR, YouSendIt