Saturday, December 6, 2008

Common currency, credit, and passport for SICA countries?

Following their lackluster meeting to respond to the financial crisis in October, the presidents of Central America came together yesterday and agreed to a 41 point plan including several major stimulus and stabilization plans.

Among them are agreements in principle for common passports allowing freer traffic between the member countries (4 countries have already signed on to this), a credit fund accessible to member governments, and perhaps most notably, a common currency (El Salvador and Panama are currently dollarized, while the other 6 SICA countries use their own currencies; no agreement was made as to what currency would be adopted, or if a new one altogether would be instituted).

Details on each of these have yet to be laid out, and while the proverbial devil will inevitably be found therein, these agreements should be seen as potentially major shifts in moving towards regional financial integration. While international press coverage has been slim so far, I expect the development (if it happens) to become major news in the coming weeks, and for the comparisons to the EU will abound (if not only by the EU countries themselves, with whom the Central Americans just signed a separate agreement, making the EU the largest development aid donor to the sub-region).

other news to come out of the meeting, Daniel Ortega assumed the SICA presidency for a 6 month term. In his acceptance speech, the Nicaraguan president didn't miss the chance to stick to the world's capitalists, declaring "Nos vendieron un modelo, nos impusieron un modelo, y ese modelo nos tenía y nos tiene amarrado de manos de pies, y nos ha tenido amordazado," and adding "Hoy más que nunca tenemos que unirnos."

Sources: SICA, Univision, El Nuevo Diario, AFP, Deutcshe-Welle

Friday, December 5, 2008

Today’s Video: Fidel’s faux-ad

If Mikhail Gorbachev can do an a post-Soviet Union ad for a crappy pizza chain then perhaps Fidel Castro can do something similar within a few years:

(For the record, we featured this video last year. And Cuban beer is relatively decent).

Sources- The Latin Americanist, YouTube, South Florida Business Journal

U.S. gives Mexico anti-drug funds

On Wednesday U.S. officials released the first portion of a multimillion counternarcotics package destined for Mexico.

U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza formally released $197 million of the $400 million Merida Initiative at a signing ceremony in Mexico City. Most of money in that first part of the deal will be used as "military cooperation and economic support funds" according to Garza.

Congress passed the funds for the Merida Initiative several months ago after legislators placed human rights conditions to the package. The conditions were designed to ensure that funds would be used properly though some Mexican officials at the time were none too pleased.

It remains to be seen if the Merida Initiative will make a significant dent into Mexico’s rampant violence. The situation has gotten so out of hand that some Mexicans are calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty:
The initiative from Humberto Moreira, governor of the northern border state of Coahuila, would allow the death penalty for convicted kidnappers who killed or mutilated their victims. He said as far as the people of his state were concerned, the only issue was how to execute convicts, not whether to do so.

It is highly unlikely, if not impossible, that the death penalty could be reinstated because of legal obstacles, experts said. But that is almost beside the point. Moreira has tapped into public panic over soaring crime, a climate of fear that has made law and order the country's No. 1 worry.
Image- BBC News
Sources- The Latin Americanist, AP, AFP, Reuters, Los Angeles Times

UNASUR report “biased” says Bolivian opposition

Earlier this week we mentioned of a Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) report claiming that the killings of twenty Bolivians in September was a massacre. The UNASUR panel noted that most of the dead were pro-government supporters caught up during several weeks of violence in the Bolivian province of Pando.

In this AP article, an opposition senator from Pando reacted to the report; guess how he replied:
Bolivian opposition leaders accused an international commission Thursday of bias toward President Evo Morales (image) in its report on a September jungle "massacre" in which at least 19 people were killed…

"It seems to me this was a report made to measure for the government," Pando Sen. Paolo Bravo told The Associated Press. "They accepted the testimony from one side as truth, but said testimony from the other side had no validity at all."
Sadly, tensions continue to be high between factions for and against Morales and that conflict won’t subside any time soon.

Image- BBC News
Sources- The Latin Americanist, IHT,

Chile rescues 100+ on Antarctic cruise

Chilean Naval officials confirmed that they rescued all 122 people on a sinking Antarctic cruise ship. The Panamanian-flagged ship ran aground yesterday on a portion of the Antarctic Peninsula off the Chilean coast.

Argentine authorities claimed that none of the 89 passengers and 33 Argentine crew members was hurt.

The incident with the Ushuaia was the second accident of a cruise ship in the Antarctic over the past thirteen months. A November 2007 accident led to calls for restricting tourism near the Antarctic:
Argentinean Environment Secretary Romina Picolotti…told Argentinean news agency Telam, "The purpose of the Antarctic is not tourism. Nations must make a greater effort to impose stricter controls." She pushed for reducing the number of ice tourists which had doubled over the recent years…

In 1990, less than 5,000 tourists came to the region. By 2003, their number have risen to more than 24,000 and this summer it is expected to climb further to 30,000. The visitors are not just gawkers or regular tourists who merely want souvenir shots with the penguins. Activities there include parachuting, skiing, motorbiking and flying a helicopter across the continent.
Image- BBC News
Sources- The Latin Americanist,, AP, Al Jazeera English, AHN

Ortega to U.S.: Give us reparations

Tensions and violence mounted in Nicaragua due to the controversy over recent electoral results. The sticky situation caught the attention of the U.S. and the White House has tried to put pressure on President Daniel Ortega. In the most recent gesture, U.S. officials threatened to withhold $64 million in aid.

In response to the possible freezing of aid, Ortega has called on the U.S. to pay reparations owed to Nicaragua for over two decades:
The International Court of Justice, based in The Hague, ordered the United States in 1986 to pay reparations to Nicaragua for training, arming and financing Contra rebels and mining Nicaraguan ports during a conflict that killed tens of thousands of people.

"The United States has not honored the judge's order," Ortega said on national television.

The World Court never set a figure for compensation but Sandinistas said Washington owed the country $17 billion. Washington at the time rejected the court's jurisdiction.
So far there has reportedly been no official response from the White House.

The Latin Americanist, AFP, Reuters

Panama to host Rice (and Russians)

This coming Tuesday, outgoing Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice will visit with President Martin Torrijos, which will precede Wednesday's regional meeting of foreign ministers from around the hemisphere to discuss the "Pathways to Prosperity" (PPA) initiative launched by the Bush administration earlier this year, framework for working with governments signed onto the FTAA agreements with the US.

It remains unclear what the Obama administration will do to continue the PPA (much less current and potential free trade agreements in the region), though the extent to which concrete proposals or promises are made during the Panama meeting may go some ways towards determining the Obama administration's initial posture (an interesting analysis on this subject can be found at

As noted here yesterday, and in a coincidence of no uncertain irony, the first Russian warship since WWII is scheduled to sail through the Panama Canal today. What's more, AFP reports that over 400 Russian soldiers from the ship are set to remain stationed in the former US naval base located at the canal througout all of next week's meetings in Panama City, just 15 minutes away from the canal zone. The same article reports that, according to the Russian embassy in Panama: "The main purpose (of the visit to Panama) is for the soldiers to rest and to replenish (ship) supplies."

Sources: AP, Univision, La Prensa, Alainet, Marketwatch,

Daily Headlines: December 5, 2008

* Colombia: Paramilitaries still exist in Colombia as new groups have emerged to spread fear into the countryside.

* Mexico: Officials in Mexico have begun repatriating illegal Cuban migrants under an agreement signed in October.

* Peru: Ancient Peruvians ate a diet rich in cultivated crops according to recent archeological findings.

* Chile: Ricardo Lagos’ withdrawal from the presidential race could be a big break for center-right billionaire Sebastian Pinera.

Image- Guardian UK (“A group of paramilitaries in Tulua, about 200 miles south-west of Bogota.”)
Los Angeles Times, AP, The Latin Americanist, UPI, The Irish Times

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Today’s Video: The prank that wasn’t

Some stories speak for themselves:
A Florida congresswoman, certain she was the victim of a joke, hung up on President-elect Barack Obama -- not once, but twice.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., told that Obama wanted to speak with her, cut the caller off, telling the person on the other end she thought "this is a joke" by a radio station known for pulling pranks, CNN reported Thursday….

"This was pretty embarrassing," Ros-Lehtinen said Thursday on ABC's "Good Morning America.
Ros-Lehtinen may have seemed a little too paranoid by rejecting Obama’s call. Yet the Miami-based radio station she cited has had a history of prank calling leaders like Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro.

One of the best-known pranks played by the aforementioned radio station was on Chavez a few years ago. The prank itself is funny though it takes an ugly turn in the end when the DJs berate Chavez by calling him a “terrorist” and a “dickhead.”

Sources- YouTube, BBC News, UPI

Brazil slump hurts ailing GM

General Motors (GM) has been feeling the pinch lately as a result of the global economic slowdown and decreasing auto sales. It’s a dire situation which has led its CEO to beg for a multibillion dollar government bailout.

One of GM’s few bright spots has been its sales in Latin America which have reached record highs. Yet it appears as if that gravy train may soon come to a screeching halt:
New automobile sales in Brazil slumped for the second straight month in November, falling 25.7 percent from October as a nagging credit crunch and a slowing economy kept many consumers out of showrooms, the national automakers' association said on Thursday…

Exports also fell sharply in November, dropping 23.1 percent from the previous month to $1 billion.
With Brazil serving as GM's largest market outside the U.S., today’s news is another pothole in the road for a firm desperate to stay afloat.

Other auto companies have had recent troubles in Brazil; according to AFP, firms like “Ford, Fiat, Peugeot, Volkswagen and General Motors have put many of their workers on mandatory vacation to idle assembly lines.”

Image- AFP (“Hundreds of new cars of US carmaker General Motors remain at the GM car park in Sao Paulo.”)
Sources-, AFP, Fox News, Latin Business Chronicle, Reuters,

Jeb Bush to run for Senate?

Will Jeb Bush run for Senate in 2010?
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the younger brother of President George W. Bush, is considering running in 2010 for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by fellow Republican Mel Martinez, an aide said on Wednesday.

"Jeb Bush has not ruled out running. He does intend to give it thoughtful consideration in the coming weeks and months," said his spokeswoman, Kristy Campbell. Bush is also the son of former President George H.W. Bush.
According to Bush’s Wikipedia entry, he holds a Bachelor’s degree in Latin American studies and he first met his wife during a student exchange program in Mexico. During his time as governor Bush sometimes butted heads with his older brother, usually over U.S. policy on Cuba.

Martinez’ recognition was announced earlier this week and came as a surprise for some political wonks. Though the Cuban-American is one of the most prominent Republican Latinos in Congress, he reportedly suffered a backlash due to his support of a 2007 bipartisan immigration reform bill.

Image- AP
Reuters, Wikipedia,, New York Times

Uruguay prez under fire over abortion veto

Uruguay’s legislature passed a reproductive rights bill that would have decriminalized first semester abortions. Despite his previous profession as a physician, Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez (image) vetoed that proposal based on his personal objections to abortion. In the end, the Senate lacked sufficient votes to overcome the veto and the bill was defeated.

Vazquez’ decision may prove costly among some of his political allies:
Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez has offered to resign as head of the ruling Socialist Party after he defied its members and vetoed a law decriminalizing abortions…

His offer to step down comes just days after Congress, which is controlled by the president's party, denounced his veto and vowed to present another bill in next year's session…

"The offer came in a few days ago. It is a painful decision, both for the president and for us, and we will do everything possible to keep him from leaving," Monica Xavier, a Socialist Party senator, said on local radio.
A recent poll showed that nearly 6 in 10 Uruguayans were in favor of the bill, though conservative groups and the Catholic Church backed Vazquez.

Image- BBC News
The Latin Americanist, AFP, AHN, Reuters, BBC News

No bases in Americas says Russia's Putin

"Today there is no necessity for the construction of permanent military bases in Venezuela and Cuba," declared Russian prime minster Vladimir Putin earlier today. Putin did not rule out future military cooperation, however:
"There is no need to build permanent bases, although we have such agreements with the Venezuelan leadership. I do not think the Cuban leadership would object either. If necessary, we will be able to use these countries' ports to refuel and replenish supplies for our warships," Vladimir Putin said during a televised question-and-answer session.
Putin's remarks came as Russian president Dmitri Medvedev continued his tour of the Americas including stops in Venezuela and Cuba.

As we mentioned this morning, one of the Russian warships involved in military exercises with Venezuela will cross the Panama Canal tomorrow. In what could be described as a show-of-force, the Admiral Chabanenko destroyer will also stop by a Panamanian naval base that used to be the “hub for all U.S. naval activities in South America.”

Image- BBC News
The Latin Americanist, AP, Xinhua, RIA Novosti, Canadian Press, New York Times

Juanes, Nortec Collective get Grammy nods

Nominations for the Grammy Awards were announced in a glitzy, overhyped ceremony live last night.

Rapper Lil Wayne led the field with eight nominations, closely followed by Coldplay with seven and three artists including Kanye West with six. In addition, John Mayer received five nominations and the Jonas Brothers even got a nod.

(Despite such choices I haven’t totally lost my faith in humanity…yet).

Colombian Juanes- who dominated the Latin Grammys last month- was nominated for Best Latin Pop Album. That same category also included Mexico’s Luis Miguel (he’s still around?) and Argentine Jorge Drexler (who I thought would be snubbed).

Speaking of snubs, there were some surprise non-choices made in other Latin music categories. Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Kany Garcia won best new artist at the Latin Grammys but was shut out last night. Mexican rockeros Cafe Tacvba won two Latin Grammys but didn’t get a nod in the Best Latin Rock/Alternative Album category. (Nortec Collective and Locos Por Juana were deservedly picked in that category).

You can check out all the nominations here; could Lila Downs or Gilberto Gil upset Youssou N'Dour in Best Contemporary World Music Album?

Image- AP (“Singer Juanes accepts the song of the year award at the 9th annual Latin Grammy Awards on Thursday, Nov. 13, 2008 in Houston.”)
Sources- Chicago Sun-Times, New York Times, Reuters, AP

SICA Presidents gather in Honduras tomorrow

Tomorrow, the presidents of the 8 member countries of the Central American Integration System (SICA) will gather in San Pedro Sula, Honduras' "second city" and industrial center for the XXXIII SICA summit and to follow up their October 4th emergency meeting in response to the global financial crisis, held in Tegucigalpa.

Perhaps in response to the criticism of the October 4th meeting that the agreements made therein were broad and toothless, the agenda for tomorrow's summit features presentations by each president on the concrete actions being taken to shield their respective economies from the pangs of the global financial crisis.

Today, off-site technical meetings are being held with foreign and finance ministers from each country. Tomorrow's meeting with the presidents will be held at the exclusive Honduran-Arab Club.

According to press reports, a ceremony has been planned tomorrow for Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to be turn over the role of "President Pro Tempore" of the SICA to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a position he will hold through summer 2009.

Reports also confirm that the only president that will not be present is Costa Rica's Oscar Arias, who is currently travelling through Asia to negotiate possible bilateral trade deals.

Can Central Americans expect much from these meetings? Perhaps they shouldn't hold their breath through the weekend, and like anywhere else, things will still probably get worse before they get better. Nonetheless, the individual presentations on each country's response to the crisis is both a promising follow-up to the vagaries pronounced 2 months ago, and a good chance for the region's leaders to get a broad sense of the measures being taken in the region and the menu of options available to them. Hopefully, it will translate to more concrete pronouncements for which citizens can hold their leaders accountable to move on.

Sources: El Heraldo, La Prensa, El Informador, Inside Costa Rica, Associated Press

Daily Headlines: December 4, 2008

* Latin America: Over 100 counties around the world signed on to a treaty banning cluster bombs though the U.S. and Brazil were major exceptions.

* Chile: NPR takes a look at Chilean author Roberto Bolano whose legend has grown in the five years since he died.

* Russia: A Russian warship involved in recent military exercises with Venezuela is expected to sail through the Panama Canal this week.

* Mexico: The family of a student who survived a Colombian military raid on a FARC camp in Ecuador claimed that she will soon return to her native Mexico.

Image- AFP (“Bomblets that fail to explode on impact can still kill and maim long after the conflict.”)
CNN, Xinhua, The Latin Americanist, MSNBC,

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Bolivians killed in massacre says UNASUR

Twenty Bolivians- mostly pro-government supporters- were killed as part of a massacre in September according to the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) bloc.

According to the head of inquiries- Argentine Rodolfo Mattarollo- the deaths in the conflict-torn province of Pando were "a massacre under the UN definition of the word." In addition, Mattarollo claimed that local authorities including Pando’s former prefect are implicated in the massacre and other acts of violence.

In a report last month, human rights organization Amnesty International described the situation in Bolivia:
In September, civilians linked to some regional authorities opposed to President (Evo) Morales blocked roads, and forcibly seized airports and local branches of state offices. They also attacked media outlets and offices of several NGOs working with indigenous and peasant communities.
The violence in Pando led to a government edict of martial law which was recently removed by Morales.

Image- (“Bolivian autonomist supporters hit a President Evo Morales supporter during Beni's autonomy referendum in Trinidad, about 540 km (336 miles) northeast of La Paz, June 1, 2008.”)
Sources-, Amnesty International, Prensa Latina, Reuters Alertnet

Poll: Most Cuban-Americans favor dropping embargo

A survey showed that most South Floridian Cuban-Americans back dropping the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

55% of respondents said that they would favor eliminating the blockade according to the poll conducted by Florida International University and the Brookings Institution. The results appear to follow a trend found in similar polls showing waning support for the embargo among people of Cuban background residing in the U.S.

The survey’s results were dismissed by the head of one Cuban exile group who cited the recent reelection of a trio of anti-Castro U.S. congressmen. She has something of a point in that 56% of Cuban-American registered voters preferred to keep the embargo. Nevertheless, the findings also revealed that most of those surveyed would prefer the easing of U.S.-Cuba relations:
Most respondents were Republicans who voted against President-elect Barack Obama, yet 65% or more said the U.S. should drop restrictions on travel and money transfers, re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba and establish dialogue about immigration and other critical issues.
One of Obama’s key challenges in Latin America will be whether or not to change policy in Cuba. The poll’s results may be a good indicator in figuring out how to go about modifying policy.

Image- Reuters
The Latin Americanist, WFLX,, BBC News

Brazil to sell missiles to Pakistan

Brazil will sell approximately 100 missiles to Pakistan according to the Brazilian defense minister Nelson Jobim. The $107 million deal involves missiles that can reportedly be mounted on jets and used to blow up radar installations.

The finalization of the deal comes days after the Mumbai attacks which were allegedly carried out from Pakistan. Pakistan’s president denied that his government was implicated in the attacks while Jobim has tried to downplay worries over the missile pact:
"I do not know whether the terrorists (involved in the Mumbai bombings) are Pakistanis, but the business we are doing is with the (Pakistani) government, not with terrorists," he said.
Image- PRESS TV (“An airborne anti-radar missile.”)
Bloomberg, Xinhua, AP, AFP

Ingrid Betancourt meets Madonna in Argentina

Former hostage Ingrid Betancourt continued her tour of Latin America with a stop yesterday in Argentina. It was there that she met with Argentine President Cristina Kirchner at the official palace along with an unexpected guest (image):
Madonna met with a president and a former guerrilla-held hostage Tuesday at Argentina's presidential palace, where she filmed "Evita" 12 years ago.

The pop star, in Buenos Aires on the Latin America leg of her "Sticky & Sweet" world tour, showed up early for a visit Argentine President Cristina Fernandez — who was then meeting with one of the world's best-known ex-hostages.
Earlier today, Chilean president Michele Bachelet met with Betancourt in Santiago. “When I come here I feel Chilean since so much pain has passed between us”, said Betancourt who also thanked Bachelet for nominating her for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Betancourt’s anti-kidnapping campaign has so far included stops in her native land and Ecuador where President Rafael Correa vowed to do “everything in our power to ensure these people are freed.”

Betancourt will continue her tour by traveling to Brazil and Venezuela; rumor has it that she will personally meet with Hugo Chavez and discuss a possible humanitarian exchange.

Image- AP
Sources (English)- The Latin Americanist, AFP, AP, Al Jazeera English
Sources (Spanish)- La Nacion

Richardson tapped for Obama cabinet

Just a short while ago, U.S. president-elect Barack Obama nominated New Mexico governor Bill Richardson to be the next Secretary of Commerce. Though Richardson had been one of the leading candidates for Secretary of State, Obama claimed that Richardson would serve as a "leading economic diplomat" for U.S. interests.

Richardson mentioned that the Department of Commerce would play “a vital role” in Obama’s economic recovery plans. In addition, Richardson gave comments in Spanish were he thanked the Latino electorate for helping elect Obama. More importantly, however, Richardson mentioned that the Obama administration will engage economically with Latin American governments.

Richardson may not be the only Latino politico to be part of Obama’s Cabinet. Representative Xavier Becerra will reportedly be chosen the next U.S. Trade Representative, a post that would very well compliment Richardson’s (assuming he’s accepted).

Richardson’s nomination may please Latino politicos, yet Asian-Americans may not be too glad:
In a move bound to create political tension between Latinos and Asian-Americans, a group of Chinese-American activists in Silicon Valley has launched a nationwide grass-roots movement to fight President-elect Barack Obama's nomination today of Bill Richardson as commerce secretary.

The group is upset at the New Mexico governor for his handling of the nearly decade-old case of Taiwanese-American Wen Ho Lee, a former nuclear scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. U.S. officials once suspected Lee of giving nuclear secrets to China when Richardson was President Clinton's energy secretary.
Image- AP
The Latin Americanist, Fox News, AFP, San Jose Mercury News, U.S. News & World Report

Today’s Video: Promoting the rights of the disabled

Today is the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, a date that has been commemorated since 1992 by the United Nations. This year’s theme is to celebrate the recent ratification of an international treaty designed to promote the rights of disabled persons around the world.

According to the World Bank, at least one in ten people in Latin America and the Caribbean are disabled. Most of them live in poverty while facing economic and social barriers that impede development. Some countries lack the proper infrastructure to encourage mobility for the physically disabled as I’ve learned firsthand during my visits to Colombia.

The following video demonstrates the numerous barriers faced by persons with disabilities in Central America along with the campaigns that try to break the barriers affecting disabled individuals:

Sources- United Nations, Wikipedia, People’s Daily Online, YouTube, World Bank

Daily Headlines: December 3, 2008

* Paraguay: A substance derived from the stevia plant and popular in Paraguay may serve as the “holy grail of sweeteners.”

* Mexico: Will telecom tycoon Carlos Slim make a tidy profit from the global financial crisis?

* El Salvador: Defense minister announced that he will travel to Iraq and decide how much longer Salvadoran troops will be stationed there.

* Argentina: The Argentine peso fell in value for the fifteenth straight day in a move being reportedly managed by the country’s central bank.

Image- Dallas Morning News
Reuters, Bloomberg, ABC News, IHT

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What are the top stories of 2008?

With 2008 coming soon to a close we’re interested in finding out what have been the most important headlines of the year. Thus, this Sunday (December 14th) we will reveal our poll where you can choose the top news stories that have affected the Americas.

Before doing so, however, we would like to know your ideas for which news stories we can include in the poll. It can be item we’ve talked about in this blog or something you’ve read about elsewhere. Maybe it’s an underreported story or something that has specifically touched you.

If you have any ideas of what we can include in the poll please comment to this post or e-mail us at We’re always glad to hear from you, our esteemed readers.

Image- BBC News
Sources- The Latin Americanist

Chile-Peru tensions reignite

Chile and Peru have a long history of animosity ever since both countries faced each other in the War of the Pacific back in the 19th-century. Hard feelings between the neighbors have lingered on even serving as the butt of jokes in these outtakes for Don Francisco’s program several decades ago.

Relations between Chile and Peru have markedly improved over the past few years though there have been some disagreements. In the most recent incident, Peruvian General Edwin Donayre’s not-so-smart comments have led to a diplomatic crisis between both countries:

Donayre made the remarks in 2006 or 2007 at a party at a friend's house. The video was downloaded to YouTube in February and surfaced a week ago to wider attention when an independent Peruvian member of Congress Gustavo Espilnoza sent copies to Chilean counterparts.

"We are not going to let Chileans pass by," Donayre says in the amateur-quality video as he offers a toast. "Chilean who enters will not leave. Or will leave in a coffin. And if there aren't sufficient coffins, there will be plastic bags."
Donayre has stood by his remarks claiming that they were done at a “private gathering” and shouldn’t have been made public. Chile’s government has called for Donayre to be fired from his post while Peruvian President Alan Garcia replied that Peru will not accept being pressured by a foreign country.

In the end, let’s hope cooler heads prevail and tensions can soon simmer down.
Sources- The Latin Americanist, YouTube, Xinhua, CNN, MercoPress

Dubya’s regrets include immigration

In a televised interview last night George W. Bush expressed numerous regrets that he has had over his two terms in the presidency. He cited that his biggest regret was “the intelligence failure in Iraq” though he waffled when asked if he would take back the decision to invade the Middle Eastern country.
In addition, Bush expressed how “sorry” he felt over the current financial crisis as well as his regrets over a lack of immigration reform:
The failure to enact immigration reform was another disappointment, Bush said.

"I firmly believe that the immigration debate really didn't show the true nature of America as a welcoming society. I fully understand we need to enforce law and enforce borders," Bush told ABC News. "But the debate took on a tone that undermined the true greatness of America, which is that we welcome people who want to work hard and support their families."
Pity that part of the reason that the debate took on such an ugly tone was through his lack of being an effective party leader. The GOP’s hard-line stance on immigration was a key factor in the Latino vote shying away from John McCain’s presidential bid, for example. When strong leadership was needed to enact meaningful reform Bush turned his back and tacitly permitted a deeply flawed system to continue. He had the chance to do something great on immigration yet he permitted the opportunity slip out of his hands.

During the interview Bush declared that he “will leave the presidency with my head held high.” Yet he may be weighed down with the burden of his numerous fallacies while in office like his dropping the ball on immigration. Such is the stigma he must live with.

Image- AFP
The Latin Americanist, UPI, Guardian UK, Reuters, Bloomberg

Judge drops most charges vs. P.R. governor

The legal load on the back of Puerto Rican governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá just got a whole lot lighter:
A U.S. judge on Monday threw out most of the federal corruption charges against Puerto Rico's governor, who faces trial in February for alleged campaign finance violations.

The judge dismissed 15 of the 24 charges against Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila. All but two were dismissed with prejudice and cannot be filed again.
Acevedo Vilá was indicted in March on charges related to campaign fraud and electoral wrongdoing during his 2004 gubernatorial campaign. But according to Judge Paul Barbadoro some of the charges were based on a misinterpretation of Puerto Rican electoral law.

Acevedo Vilá is still supposed to stand for trial in February. By then he will not be the governor anymore after his electoral loss last month to Luis Fortuño. Acevedo Vila’s loss was partially as a result of his legal problems.

Image- BBC News
The Latin Americanist, Caribbean Net News, IHT

Honduras chooses presidential candidates for 2009

Yesterday saw the final tallies of the Honduran presidential primaries, which were pushed back from their original date due to flooding, and were even threatened to be thwarted by continuous threats of teacher strikes.

Nonetheless, the ballots were cast peacefully all across the country and the presidential candidates of the two major parties were determined; Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo won the primary for the conservative national party (PNH) by a landslide while Mauricio Villeda eked out 52% of the liberal party (PLH) votes to seal the nomination over the erstwhile PLH front runner and current vice-president, Elvin Santos (who is technically barred from running since he served temporarily as commander in chief during a brief absence of President Zelaya).

I haven't seen any reliable polls on the general election outlook yet, but all reliable sources suggest that Lobo's margin of victory and his "change" oriented campaign in the face of an abysmally low Mel Zelaya approval rating put his campaign in a very strong position as the marathon general election campaigns begin in earnest (the election season in Honduras appears to be one of the longest in Latin America, as the general election takes place nearly 12 months from today).

Both nominees are 60 years old, and neither have held major political offices before (though Lobo lost the presidential bid to Zelaya in 2005). Notably, both primary winners share their "platform" with female running mates, ensuring that a female will occupy the vice-presidency after November 2009 (though this will not be the first such occasion for Honduras).

Source: La Prensa, IFES Election Guide, Reuters,

Daily Headlines: December 2, 2008

* Ecuador: The World Trade Organization upheld a ruling in favor of Ecuador with regards to banana exports.

* Mexico: According to officials at least 37 people were killed in the border city of Tijuana in three days.

* Argentina: Ex-president Carlos Menem has been charged with illegally selling weapons to several countries during the 1990s.

* Venezuela: In the latest chapter of the “Maletagate” ordeal, a Venezuelan lawyer was sentenced to two years in jail.

Image- AFP
The Latin Americanist, Reuters, MSNBC, BBC News, IHT

Monday, December 1, 2008

Report: Too many premature births in U.S.

The U.S. received embarrassingly low marks over premature births according to a “report card” issued last month by the March of Dimes.

Using data compiled since 2005, the report said that the country as a whole received a score of D while eighteen states and Puerto Rico received a failing grade. Unfortunately, the March of Dimes anticipates that the situation will continue to deteriorate as there’s been a steady increase of premature births since the beginning of the decade.

Why the trend of more premature births? According to health experts there are a variety of reasons including an increase in the number of C-sections, later motherhood, and more multiple births.

There are numerous risks attached to premature births including an increased chance of dying within one year of birth as well as being affected by hearing problems and cerebral palsy. Latinas are particularly susceptible to premature births; a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the March of Dimes:
Nearly 28,000 infants die before their first birthday each year – more than 5,000 to Latina mothers and more than 2,500 in California alone…

“Latinos are the largest and fastest growing ethnic group in the United States. More than 100,000 Latino infants are born premature each year and the rate of preterm birth among Latinos has increased nearly 10 percent over the past decade – from 10.9 percent in 1994 to 12 percent in 2004,” said (Dr. Carolina Reyes, MD). “Prematurity is the leading cause of newborn death.”
Image- CBS News
ScienceDaily, March of Dimes,,, WebMD, Los Angeles Times

Chavez to Venezuelans: I want another term

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez exhorted his followers to back his plan to be reelected to the presidency.

"Chavez is not leaving. Chavez is staying, if God wants and gives me life, I will be with you until 2019 or 2021," he said during a political rally yesterday.

He lost a referendum on reelection and several issues last year which means that he’s scheduled to stand down in 2012. Yet it appears as if Chavez is reacting to last week’s local elections where the opposition made some gains in urban areas including the capital, Caracas.

Chavez’ allies may opt to push the plan forward, though that will have to be ultimately decided in another national referendum. Unlike the 2007 vote where Venezuelans rejected a package of 69 constitutional amendments, the possible new referendum may hinge solely on the reelection issue.

During his speech, Chavez also railed against Colombia's consul in Maracaibo after an incident that may reopen diplomatic wounds between the neighboring countries:
Venezolana de Television, the state news channel, played the tape and said it was of Carlos Galvis Fajardo, Colombia’s consul-general in the second-largest city in Venezuela, talking with Jose Obdulio, an aide to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

Comments by the person identified by the TV station as the consul included that the new governors of Zulia and Tachira states are “very good friends and I think that for our work there, it has to be marvelous.” He later referred to Tachira’s new governor, Pablo Perez, as “a very, very special friend here of ours.”

The television station didn’t say how it got the tape.
Image- BBC News
BBC News, CNN, Bloomberg, AP, Xinhua, New York Times, The Latin Americanist

Today’s Video: The struggle against HIV

Today is the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day, a date in which we reflect on the millions of people affected by the disease.

There is the worry among some experts that complacency and the global economic crisis will lead to less treatment and prevention of the disease. Such is a concern in the Americas, particularly in developing countries marked by high poverty and few social opportunities. The Latino population in the U.S. continues to be susceptible after one Californian researcher found that Latinos wait the longest to get medical attention after being diagnosed.

Yet as we mentioned earlier this morning, there are numerous organizations still going strong in order to create awareness and education of the problems of HIV/AIDS in the Americas.

The following video was co-produced by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and examines how Dominican sex workers struggle to survive in light of the heightened risk of contracting HIV:

Sources- The Latin Americanist, Reuters, Caribbean World News, Jamaica Gleaner, YouTube, Global Voices Online

Betancourt begins thank-you tour

Ingrid Betancourt is back in Colombiai to begin a tour of South America.

It is her first visit back since July, when she was rescued from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) after six years as a hostage.

She met with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe yesterday and will visit other South American leaders to thank them for their efforts in her release.

Betancourt will visit Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Venezuela.

Read the story here.

Source and Photo: AP

Latinas call for health education, access

A coalition of Latina organizations are demanding more access to the female condom in Latin America.

The coalition includes 37 members -- 28 groups in Latin America and 9 in the U.S. -- who say this will greatly improve women's health and reduce AIDS.

The statement, released today on World AIDS Day, asks government to improve access and education.

Read more about health and World AIDS Day here.

Source: PR News Wire, Photo:

Daily Headlines: December 1, 2008

* Brazil: President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was one of numerous global leaders who condemned last week’s heinous attacks in Mumbai, India.

* Chile: Adios to Chilean soccer star Marcelo Salas who called it quits on Friday after a successful fifteen-year career.

* Ecuador: Is this a good idea? - Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa will make an official visit to Iran this week.

* Nicaragua: First the Sandinista government gets blasted for alleged electoral wrongdoing. Now they’ve had diplomatic relations with Georgia cut off over the Caucasus conflict.

Image- Los Angeles Times (“An Indian soldier stands guard outside the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel following an armed siege in Mumbai, India.”)
The Latin Americanist, Xinhua, Canadian Press, Monsters & Critics