Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Musicians Take Action to Improve US-Cuban Relations

Many artists, businesspeople, and scholars are taking a stand on improving US-Cuban relations.

Referred to as the Cuban 'Bob Dylan', Carlos Varela has taken action on improving political relations from the ground up. Varela had come to remix one of his albums with friend Jackson Browne, but stopped in Washington early this month for meetings with legislators and a lunch with a senior White House official. Later he held a jam session in the House Budget Committee meeting room.

Varela visited many establishments, including at universities and policy institutes, engaging in small talk about music and questions on policy.

“I don’t represent any government or political party,” he said. “But perhaps that’s why governments and politicians might be willing to listen to what I have to say.”

New York Times

Friday, December 25, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Brazilian Court Wants Boy in Brazil back in US

Brazilian supreme court judge ruled Tuesday that the 9-year-old boy at the center of an international abduction and custody fight must be returned to the United States with his American father.

The ruling is the latest in a five-year legal battle that has involved both the American and Brazilian courts, and spurred up international controversy. The Jersey resident and father, David Goldman, is put one step closer to being reunited with his son, Sean.

The boy was abducted by his mother, a Brazilian native and Goldman's wife at the time, to Brazil in 2004. The woman and the boy have remained there ever since. After the mother passed away however, the boy's custody has been put to question.

After the mother died, Sean was left with her second husband, a prominent lawyer in Rio de Janeiro whose family has continued the fight to keep the boy in Brazil.

Mr. Goldman filed lawsuits in the United States and Brazil to get his son back, and after a 5 year battle the supreme court has now ruled in his favor.

Photo Source

American Airlines Plane Overshoots Runway in Jamaica

Tuesday night, the 150 passenger American Airline flight skidded off a rain-slicked runway while attempting to land in Jamaica, hitting a fence and plowing into a sandy embankment before it came to rest a few feet from the Caribbean Sea.

The close call certainly had passengers holding on to their boot-straps, and fortunately there were no deaths involved in the event. However, about 90 passengers were treated for minor injuries at hospitals around Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, according to a statement from Norman Manley International Airport.

The engines of the Boeing 737-800 were knocked off and cracked its fuselage, but nothing more.

Passengers experienced a grand amount of turbulence however anticipated that the landing would be successful. However, passengers started screaming as the plane slid down the runway, crossed a road, smashed through a perimeter fence and then crashed into a sandy embankment, according to the passengers’ accounts. The lights went out, and suitcases and bags popped out of the overhead bins and fell onto passengers.

Airline authorities are beginning to take action in piecing together the crash and what may have caused it.

Photo Source

Body of Colombian Governor Found

State officials gave notice Tuesday that the body of state governor, Luis Francisco Cuéllar was indeed found. The Caqueta leftist governor was abducted by a commando of 8 to 10 leftist FARC guerillas from his home in Florencia late Monday.

Uribe rejected political negotiations with the FARC, Latin America's oldest and longest-fighting rebel force. The rebel group has an estimated 7,000 fighters and has been trying to overthrow the government since the 1960s.

The tragedy marks the country’s first major political kidnapping in years.

Photo Source

The People's Socialist Store of Everything Bolivarian and Delicious

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is now in the retail business.

In a new plan announced to "defeat speculation," Chavez launched a new chain of "Comerso" stores (a Spanish acronym for Socialist Corporation of Markets) that will sell goods ranging from food to cars imported directly from China and Argentina.

Chavez promised the markets would be a boon to Venezuelan consumers that he says are victims of predatory sellers. "They'll see what's good. We'll show them what a real market is all about, not those speculative, money-grubbing markets, but a market for the people," Chavez said.

Image Source (Venezuelan Arepas): Mundo Recetas
Online Sources: AFP, Google News

Monday, December 21, 2009

Today's Video: Staying Kool in Cuba

It's still impossible for most Americans to travel to Cuba, but fortunately for Cuban music aficianados, an exception was made for Jersey City funk icons Kool and the Gang. The group became the first American band to perform on the island in almost five years. The last US group to perform on the "Anti-Imperial Stage" was Audioslave - a band whose members were known for their "anti imperialist" sentiments.

Far from wading into the political fray, Kool kept it, well, cool...

Video Source: Reuters
Online Sources: USA Today, Wikipedia

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Rocks at the Bottom of the Pyramid

At the risk of talking too much about the drug trade today, it's worth calling attention to an excellent piece published by Time that's based on an interview with Honduran drug czar Julian Aristides Gonzalez. Gonzalez was killed last week after he dropped his daughter off at school in Tegucigalpa.

One of the interesting nuggets Gonzalez mentions in the interview is the fact that Mexican cartels are distributing increasing amounts of crack in Honduras via street dealers connected to the MS-13 gang.

Narcos are known for their business acumen (they should probably teach classes on supply chain management), and this strategy struck me as something right out of the pages of new business texts on how to effectively engage consumers at the "Base of the Pyramid." The idea of leveraging the know-how of local entrepreneurs and producing products that are accessible for poor consumers is gathering attention at major multinationals. The strategy of creating demand by localizing distribution has been a major element in the rise of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

Goes to show that in every market - now matter how sinister - the innovators rise to the top.

Image Source:
Online Sources: TIME, BBC, Wall Street Journal, Palgrave Journals

Today's Video: Bitter Drinks (for Beltran Leyva Cartel)

Mexican cartel boss Arturo Beltran Leyva was killed last night during a gunfight with special forces troops from the Mexican Navy. Beltran Leyva, "El Jefe de Jefes," was aligned with the Los Zetas, a violent group of hitmen and traffickers formed by ex-members of the Mexican armed forces.

The death of Beltran Leyva comes a week after Norteño singer Ramon Ayala was arrested at a Christmas party for Beltran Leyva bosses. Ayala, frontman for Los Bravos del Norte, claims he has no link with the cartel and that he had simply been hired to perform.

The Tragos Amargos the remaining members of the Beltran Leyva Cartel are drinking may be even more bitter once the rival Sinoloa Cartel and its boss "El Chapo" Guzman try to muscle into the void left by Arturo.

Video Source: YouTube
Online Sources: AP, Wall Street Journal, Google News

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Australian Company Helps Mexican Poor, the Environment, and their Wallets

Melbourne born company, Cool nrg International, is giving 30 million energy-efficient light bulbs out to poor and middle-income families in Mexico in hopes to capture a 'previously untapped corner of the carbon offset trading market' and to give the developing world the necessary push toward cleaner energy.

Cool nrg is one of a many businesses trying to cash in on the multibillion-dollar market for carbon offsets approved through the 1997 Kyoto Protocal. The United Nations has approved this under its Clean Development Mechanism to fight emissions of greenhouse gases.

The Clean Development Mechanism program allows wealthier countries that have binding greenhouse gas targets to offset their emissions by investing in clean technology in developing countries, which have no targets.

According to NYTIMES.com:
While Cool nrg makes money selling carbon credits, Mexican families can enjoy lower energy bills, since compact fluorescent bulbs consume as much as 80 percent less electricity than standard incandescents. And the Mexican government — which underwrites electricity costs for low-income families — is expected to reap a double windfall, paying fewer subsidies and deferring the need to build new power plants.

Cool nrg gave out the first million light bulbs in the Mexican state of Puebla in November, supported by a loan from the ING Group and a promise from a Dutch utility, Eneco Energie, to purchase all of the 240,000 credits that are expected to be created by the Puebla project in the next 10 years. It also has the right of first refusal for buying any credits generated by the remaining 29 million bulbs.
Photo Source

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Today’s Video: Leaving with a laugh

With comedian George Lopez’ latest album available in stores here’s a video of Lopez doing stand-up ages ago:

This post will more than likely is my final post of the year. (I’m taking a family vacation to Colombia and Internet access will be sporadic).

I wish to extend my many thanks to my fellow contributors for all their hard work this year. The creativity and dedication has been a huge benefit for our blog. In addition, thanks to all of those whose comments and feedback help foster debate and healthy discussion. Last but not least, gratitude goes out to all of our readers whose loyalty we try to reward with every post we publish. Thanks to all of you for your attention.

Felices fiestas y un prospero 2010! Hasta luego!

Online Sources- AHN, YouTube,

AIDS activist Dennis deLeon passed away

Some stories (tragically) speak for themselves:
Dennis deLeon, who served as the president of the Latino Commission on AIDS and as the New York City human rights commissioner, has died. He was 61…

DeLeon was one of the first New York City officials to reveal that he had HIV. In a 1993 op-ed piece in The New York Times he said he had long feared discrimination if he disclosed his condition.

DeLeon was president of the Latino Commission from 1994 until last month, and oversaw its expansion. He served as human rights commissioner under Mayor David Dinkins, and also worked for the U.S. Department of Justice and as deputy borough president for Manhattan.
Vaya con Dios, Dennis.

Image- CNN
Online Sources- AP

State Dept. removes Honduran travel alert

Citing an “improved security situation” the U.S. State Department removed its travel alert on Honduras.

The alert- which was officially removed last week- was placed shortly after the June 28th ouster of Honduran president Manuel Zelaya. As reported by the Canadian Press, Honduran travel authorities claimed that tourism plummeted in the near seven months since Zelaya was deposed.

The State Department’s move comes as reports have emerged of violence against opponents of Honduras’ de facto government. As one tipster informed us via e-mail, a local human rights group denounced the murder of a protestor while allegedly under police custody. Honduran LGBT activist Walter Trochez was killed in a drive-by shooting days after authorities supposedly harassed him. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jody Williams co-wrote the following in an op/ed piece yesterday:

Lawless violence against women has pervaded Honduras since the coup. As of August, women’s groups in Honduras have documented 249 cases of violations of women’s human rights, including 23 cases of beatings and sexual assault and seven gang rapes by police explicitly trying to “punish” women for their involvement in demonstrations. The number of femicides – the violent murder of women because they are women – has tripled since the coup, with 51 cases reported during the month of July alone.

But these statistics do not tell the whole story. Since those responsible for investigating cases are often also the perpetrators, it’s not hard to understand why women are unwilling to come forward to report gender-related crimes against them.
What do you think?

Image- Al Jazeera English (Hondurans voting during last month’s national elections).
Online Sources- Queerty, Christian Science Monitor, The Latin Americanist, Canadian Press, Democracy in Action

House extends Andean trade program

The U.S. House of Representatives voted yesterday to extend trade benefits for several South American states.

The program under the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) for Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru and had been set to expire at the end of this month. Yet the one year extension by the House will continue a plan enacted in 1991 that “provides duty-free treatment” to the aforementioned countries.

Bolivia was under the ATPA program yet the White House removed that country from the list in part due to “"explicit acceptance and encouragement of coca production.” Ecuador avoided a similar fate though not without some conditions:
The extension requires the U.S. Trade Representative's Office to report by June 30 on whether the three remaining Andean countries are complying with program criteria.

That language is aimed primarily at Ecuador, which is accused by some in the United States of having a corrupt government and biased judiciary and of failing to honor contracts.

U.S. oil company, Chevron Corp (CVX.N), has accused Ecuador of breaching a bilateral investment treaty with the United States by not forcing an Ecuadorean court to dismiss a $27 billion environmental lawsuit against the company.
Image- Living In Peru (The Peruvian port of Callao).
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Forbes.com, AP, Reuters

White House: Gitmo detainees off to Illinois

The White House announced today that it would acquire an Illinois prison for the future transfer of some of the Guantanamo detainees.

In a letter sent to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, the Obama administration said that move would send an as of yet undetermined number of prisoners to the Thomson Correctional Center (TCC) as well as conduct military trials there. The action would "help achieve our goal of closing the detention center at Guantanamo in a timely, secure, and lawful manner," said the letter signed by several top officials including the Secretaries of Defense and State.

The decision has prompted the ire of Republicans including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who dubbed the TCC as “Gitmo North.” Reaction in the town where the TCC is located was more mixed:
"We need help economically, and most folks think it's going to bring business," said Todd Baker, a 43-year-old who helps support four children with his Thomson bait and tackle shop…

"We have to get some use out of this prison," (Lewis Frosch) said. "I don't label myself a liberal, but I don't feel any great threat from it. The idea that we would somehow be a target seems like a lot of fuss over nothing to me"…

"I think al Qaeda terrorists ought to stay in Cuba," (State Sen. Kirk) Dillard of Hinsdale, Illinois, said during a Republican gubernatorial debate. He called the idea "pathetic," characterizing the move as a money-grab by Democrats.
Image- The Telegraph
Online Sources- AP, CNN, USA TODAY, Reuters

Does “Illegal Aliens In My Yard” go too far?

Is there such a thing as bad satire? Humor is certainly a subjective area; would the same person who cringes at a Spanish magazine cover poking fun at President Obama’s “manhood” also laugh at a satirical video mocking the assassination of a Mexican presidential hopeful? Are some subjects more sensitive and off-limits than others?

Below are some of the lyrics of a satirical ditty from an outfit called "The Fox and Rice Experience". You can decide for yourself if the tune sung to the melody from "Feliz Navidad” is silly and in good fun or ugly and crass:
Illegals in my yard.

Illegals in my yard.

Illegals in my yard.

Hugo Chavez sends his kind regards.

They're going to tackle Pat Buchanan this Christmas.

They're going to chase down Lou Dobbs this Christmas.

They're going to join up with La Raza this Christmas.

Those illegals in my yard.

They're going to spread bubonic plague this Christmas.

They're going to bring me lots of bed bugs this Christmas.

They're going to pass tuberculosis this Christmas.

Those illegals in my yard.
On a related (and far more serious note), the U.S. Supreme Court will agree to hear a Fourth amendment-related case regarding immigrant deportations.

Image- AIGA (International symbol sign for immigration controls)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, AP, Right Wing Watch

Daily Headlines: December 15, 2009

* Spain: The Royal Language Academy of issued a new 4000-page grammar book designed to better reflect the evolution of the Spanish language throughout the Americas.

* Latin America: Cuba and Venezuela strengthened their ties after signing several deals worth approximately $3 billion.

* Mexico: The country’s severely weakened economy and decreased oil output has led Standard & Poor’s to lower Mexico’s credit rating.

* Argentina: President Cristina Kirchner was the target of death threats by someone who tapped into the radio frequency of the presidential helicopter.

Image – BBC News (King Juan Carlos was given a copy of the new Spanish grammar rules that will replace the Royal Language Academy’s 1931 guidelines).
Online Sources- Bloomberg, ABC News, Toronto Sun, MSNBC

Monday, December 14, 2009

Today’s Video: “El Taladro” celebrates!

The end of the year also brings the end of the soccer season in several countries throughout the Americas including Chile and Mexico. Tonight, however, we shine the spotlight on a modest club from the southern part of Buenos Aires: Club Ateltico Banfield. The side known by the nickname of El Taladro (The Drill) won the Argentine club championship for the first time in over a century. As you can see in the following video Banfield fans, players, and personnel celebrated their historic title:

Online Sources- SI.com, ESPN, TSN, YouTube

World Watch: Smacking Silvio

* Italy: Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will remain hospitalized until Tuesday after he was assaulted over the weekend at a political rally.

* Iran: Officials said that they would plan to prosecute three U.S. citizens who have been accused of spying.

* Sri Lanka: According to a former general the government was behind the killings of three Tamil Tiger rebels who had surrendered to the army.

* Australia: Could the cuddly and cute koala bears soon become extinct?

Image – CBC (“Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi leaves Duomo Square with blood on his face after the statue-throwing incident.”)
Online Sources- BBC News, Guardian UK, MSNBC, CNN

Brazil, U.S. envoys discuss Mahmoud, military, Mel

Senior Brazilian and U.S. diplomats met on Monday to discuss a wide range of topics pertaining to the Western Hemisphere.

According to Brazil's presidential foreign affairs advisor Marco Aurelio Garcia, his meeting in Brasilia today with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela was meant to “clear the air” over disagreements and sensitive points between both countries. Garcia criticized the White House’s controversial deal to expand U.S. military presence in Colombia by claiming that it "is not a positive factor in the region". Garcia also defended the recent visit of Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Brazil and asserted his country’s backing of Iran’s nuclear program solely under International Atomic Energy Agency guidelines. (Last week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that it was a "really bad idea" for Latin American states to engage with Iran).

Garcia also said that he and Valenzuela found common ground regarding the Honduran political crisis:
"We coincide in something: for the Brazilian and the U.S. governments the election is insufficient to normalize democracy," Garcia said, adding that they still had a "small difference" over the results of the election…

"We really agree on some of the fundamental aspects of our relationship, and we have a similar view of many of the issues in the hemisphere," Valenzuela said when asked about the differences with Brazil over Honduras.
Valenzuela’s trip to the Americas will continue with stops in the other Mercosur full member countries of Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay.

Image- The Telegraph (The current presidents of Brazil and the U.S. met at the White House last March).
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, AFP, JTA, Reuters, Mercopress

Bolivian President Calls for More State Control & Indigenous Power

After Bolivian President, Evo Morales, was reelected into office on Sunday, he addressed the country's economic state the following day.

According to The Washington Post, Morales vows to to increase state control over the economy and strengthen political power for indigenous groups. Several exit polls showed that Morales's Movement Toward Socialism party has a good amount of back-up, considering he is likely to win two-thirds of the seats in both houses of Congress.

As an Aymara Indian, Morales is Bolivia's first indigenous president. He is incredibly popular amongst Indigenous majority, which supported a constitutional reform this year to allow him to run for a second consecutive term in Bolivia.

Photo Source

Human Rights Watch Puts Brazilian Police in the Spotlight

According to NGO Human Rights Watch, an alarming number of police killings have gone unpunished in Brazil. Police officers from the states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo have killed more than 11,000 people since 2003.

Most of these killings are claimed to have been “resistance” killings — those that occur when police officers return fire in self-defense. Police officials say these killings are in resistance to gangs linked to drug trafficking.

However, Human Rights Watch says otherwise. The group led a two-year investigation, called Lethal Force, that focused on 51 such killings and found evidence that police officers often took steps to cover up the true nature of the deaths.

In particular, HRW focuses on an event in 2007. Police documents stated that at least nine victims were taken to the hospital in an attempt to “rescue” them, but photographs and autopsy reports obtained by Human Rights Watch showed that the victims were dead before their removal.

According to the Human Rights Watch report, “These false ‘rescues’ serve to destroy crime scene evidence while providing a veneer of good faith on the part of the police.”

New York Times reports:
In most of the cases examined, the police descriptions of shootouts appeared inconsistent with forensic reports documenting gunshot wounds, which were consistent with the victims’ having been shot at close range, the group said.

“The problem with the current system and the reason these killings continue is that the criminal justice system relies entirely on police investigators to resolve these cases, and they don’t do it,” said Daniel Wilkinson, the deputy director for the Americas for Human Rights Watch. “There is a total lack of accountability.”
Human Rights Watch proposes that public prosecutors’ offices in both Brazilian states create a special unit to focus on police resistance cases. HRW also recommends that public security officials establish and strictly enforce crime-scene protocols that deter officers from engaging in cover-up techniques, and that they prosecute officers who engage in such activities.

Here are some more striking statistics..

The police in Rio de Janeiro State recorded a record high of 1,330 resistance killings in 2007. The rate fell to 1,137 in 2008, but it was still the third highest number on record for Rio, Human Rights Watch said.

In São Paulo State, there were more than 2,176 reported resistance killings over the past five years, Human Rights Watch said, contrasting that with the 1,623 police killings over the same period in South Africa, a country with a much higher homicide rate.

Photo Source

US Contractor Held In Cuba

Charging development workers with espionage is a common enough practice in authoritarian states. Aside from the classic suspicion of Peace Corps Volunteers as spies, Iran, Sudan, and Nigeria have made waves for recent accusations of espionage against development workers. Generally the arrest causes a diplomatic spat and then, after receiving some concessions, the arresting country releases the "spy" to relieved family members.

With dialogue between the US and Cuba at its most active in years, Cuba may be looking for some additional leverage. The New York Times reported Saturday on the arrest of a subcontractor to a USAID-funded civil society project who was supposedly handing out computers and communications equipment "on behalf of the Obama administration." It added that it was "unclear exactly what the [man] was doing at the time he was detained."

Generally speaking, it's not a great idea to go around handing out computers and phones in a country that keeps a fairly tight lid on information going in and coming out. Still, it remains to be seen if the contractor is an innocent victim who was working within the guidelines of the program or if he was involved in illegal activity. It is interesting that this arrest comes a month after two Americans admitted to having spied for Cuba over the course of three decades.

Of course, there are no small coincidences and big coincidences; only coincidences...

Online Sources: NY Times, Miami Herald, AP, US News, BBC, Washington Post, Seinfeldscripts.com

Runoff election needed in Chile

Conservative Sebastian Piñera won Sunday’s presidential election in Chile but did not gain enough votes to prevent a runoff.

The billionaire businessman received 44% of the vote, about 6% shy of the cutoff needed to avoid a second round next month. In vying to become Chile’s first civilian conservative leader since the late strongman Augusto Pinochet ceded power, Piñera will have to face ruling the ruling Concertacion candidate and ex-president Eduardo Frei.

The big surprise of Sunday’s election was the strong showing of independent candidate Marco Enríquez-Ominami who received 20% of the vote. Enríquez-Ominami split from the Concertacion and appealed towards marginalized younger voters. Ultimately nearly one of ten 18 to 29-year-old Chileans voted, yet yesterday’s first round may be a watershed election according to Bloggings by Boz:
No matter who wins, the Concertacion's continued existence is at risk. Even a Frei victory will only prolong the inevitable. The political coalition that formed to defeat a dictatorship can't fight Pinochet forever. For a generation whose political lives were defined by that fight, it's hard for them to accept that the next generation is not. If the old parties can't figure out how to move forward, as we saw in this election, they're going to leave space open for those who will.
On a related note, one of Pinochet’s grandsons lost in his attempt for a legislative seat. Rodrigo García Pinochet finished in a distant third after being rejected by the local leftist and rightist parties.

Image- AP (“Sebastian Pinera, presidential candidate of Chile's opposition coalition, shows his inked thumb and his ID card after voting in general elections in Santiago, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2009.”)
Online Sources- The Telegraph, Bloggings by Boz, AS/COA, AP, New York Times

Daily Headlines: December 14, 2009

* Honduras: Manuel Zelaya’s next move might be to meet with President-elect Porfirio Lobo for conciliatory talks in the Dominican Republic. (Thanks to one of our commentators for the tip!)

* U.S.:
Musicians in Philadelphia paid tribute over the weekend to Joaquin Rivera, a beloved Latino community activist who died in a hospital waiting room and was subsequently robbed.

* Paraguay: President Fernando Lugo’s favorability has slipped a bit over the past year though nearly six in ten Paraguayans feel he’s doing an “average” job.

* Brazil:
French investigators will soon resume the search for the black boxes of Air France Flight 447 that crashed off the Brazilian coast roughly six months ago.

Image – Times Online (“Manuel Zelaya has been living in the Brazilian embassy since September.”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, BBC News, Philly.com, CNN, Angus Reid Consultants

Friday, December 11, 2009

Vandalized Coffins Laid at Celebrity Mausoleum in Venezuela

“The cemetery has become an iconic emblem of our national tragedy,” said Venezuelan anthropologist, Fernando Coronil . “In our daily struggle to maintain a civil order against multiple transgressions against property and propriety, not even the dead can now rest in peace.”

The Cementerio General del Sur is a large cemetary where the mausoleums of statesmen, movie stars, aristocrats and thousands of commoners are laid to rest. However, this peaceful site has had a recent influx of violence and kidnappings.

Grave robbers are looting various graveyards for human bones, answering demand from some practitioners of a fast-growing transplanted Cuban religion called Palo that uses the bones in its ceremonies.

Most people do not even bother visiting the site anymore, they fear that they will be attacked by thugs or vandals.

Here are what Venezuelans have to say about the matter, according to NYtimes.com
“I still cannot comprehend how this happened,” said Jesús Blanco, 42, a horse trainer who went into despair in February when he visited the grave of his father, Melecio, and found the coffin pried open and his entire skeleton missing.

José Francisco Ceballo, a former manager of the Cementerio del Sur, caused a stir in May when he said the cemetery was “in chaos.” That month, he said, inspectors found at least 475 coffins looted of remains.

“We must take care since it is easy to blame paleros for all the ills of Venezuela,” said Samuel Zambrano, 34, a palero leader.

“At that moment, I felt like I wanted to leave this world,” said Ms. Santos, 40, a public servant. “Then I realized what could happen to my body if I died,” she said, “and I sat down to cry.”

Photo Source

Regional court faults Mexico over femicides

In a landmark decision, the Interamerican Court of Human Rights (ICHR) blasted Mexico’s government for irregularities and lax investigation in the deaths of women in Ciudad Juarez.

The ICHR’s decision- made in November but publicized on Thursday- found a litany of problems by federal investigators including forcing innocent people to confess, mishandling evidence, and impunity against suspected officials. The court further ruled that the families of the three female victims mentioned in the case should be given $800,000 in compensation.

The binding decision- that the Mexican government said it would abide- was highly praised by local human rights groups and victims rights organizations:
Activists said that the 156-page decision strikes a blow for justice in a circumstance in which many of the dead were impoverished young factory workers.

"It represents hope for thousands of people, of mothers, of desperate family members with nowhere to turn for help, no one to bring them justice," said Irma Guadalupe Casas, director of Casa Amiga, a Ciudad Juarez group that works with victims' families.
Some Mexican activists further claim that as many as 500 women have been slain in the border city since 1993.

Image- Los Angeles Times
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, AP

Latinobarometro releases new poll

The new Latinobarometro poll released this week brings to bear some interesting data, and has already made excellent fodder for news analysts and bloggers alike. The poll spans 18 contries of the region through October of this year. There are some interesting findings herein, but rather than rehash, let's give credit where it's due; here are links to some of the better English-language analysis of this poll data out so far:

Yesterday's Economist presents tables and analysis in typical Economist fashion (incisive while tongue in cheek).
Bloggings by Boz offers his take on the most interesting findings.
The AQ Blog offers a concise yet heavily-hyperlinked summary of the poll.
El Universal takes its obligatory jab at Chavez.

 Other conclusions welcome... 

What’s Mel Zelaya’s next move?

With the results of Honduras’ national elections in the books, it remains to be seen what ousted president Manuel Zelaya will do next.

Earlier this week, Zelaya sought to leave the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa where he has been for over two months. The de facto government reportedly accepted Zelaya’s request to go to Mexico only under the condition that he resigned from the presidency. Zelaya subsequently refused and claimed that he would stay in the presidency until his term ends on January 27.

In the latest action, Zelaya admitted earlier today that he would leave the embassy by the end of next month:
Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya says he will leave the Brazilian Embassy in Honduras by Jan. 27, when his presidential term ends, according to an interview broadcast Friday.

Zelaya said in the telephone interview with Globo TV that he wants to leave soon but did not say where he will go. He has been holed up in the embassy in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa for three months under threat of arrest if he sets foot outside the building…

The top-ranking Brazilian official at the embassy also told Globo TV that Zelaya must leave by Jan. 27. Francisco Catunda did not say where Zelaya might go, saying only that it would be "another destination."
In the meantime, President-elect Porfirio Lobo has been attempting to gain global recognition for the elections that have been largely repudiated. Only five countries in the Americas have publicly backed the elections yet one of them is the U.S. "We salute the Honduran people for this achievement and we congratulate President-elect Lobo for his victory. These November 29 elections marked an important milestone in the process moving forward, but not its end," asserted Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday.

Image- AFP (“Honduran soldiers and policemen stand guard behind a fence outside the Brazilian Embassy.”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Xinhua, New York Times, AP

All-immigrant high school among U.S. best

The latest U.S. News and World Report on the top high schools in the U.S. named an all-immigrant school as one of the best in the country.

New York City’s Newcomers High School was ranked in sixth by the magazine ahead of better-known private institutes in the metropolis. Newcomers specializes in assisting youth have arrived in New York in the past year and teaches not only the usual academics but also aspects of U.S. culture. Of the roughly 1000 students enrolled from 30 countries, about 90 % of pupils move on to a four-year college.

The school’s principal knows all too well what it’s like to try to assimilate to life in the U.S.; a quality much appreciated by his students:
"For many students, they were at JFK [airport] Wednesday, and today they are here," said Principal Orlando Sarmiento, a native of Colombia. "This is a little Ellis Island"…

"From the very beginning, we stress that we have very high expectations and then we work hard to meet the needs of the whole child," said Sarmiento, a founding teacher at the school, which is making its debut on the list…

"It's really cool," said Eric Leon, 18, who emigrated from Ecuador. "The people are great. I understand better these cultures. I feel more like home."
Image- New York Daily News (“Newcomers High is one of 12 NYC public school among U.S. News & World Report's best 100 high schools. Above, Newcomers teacher Catherine Del Frate with students.”)
Online Sources- New York Daily News, NY1, NBC New York

Today's Video: Feliz Hanukkah!

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah starts at sunset tonight and lasts through sundown December 19, and what better way to celebrate than with the Hip Hop Hoodios:

The Latino-Jewish hip-hop duo released their latest album earlier this year.

Online Sources - NPR, New York Times, YouTube

Daily Headlines: December 11, 2009

* Venezuela: Hundreds of protestors including university students marched on Wednesday in honor of an undergraduate killed during a recent demonstration.

* Guatemala: Authorities are looking into how documents relating to the murder investigation of lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg were secretly leaked to the local press.

* Brazil: One of the men sentenced for the murder of nun and rain forest activist Dorothy Stang waived his right to a new trial.

* Cuba: A U.S. federal judge reduced the sentences of two members of the “Cuban Five” – a group of Cubans sentenced in 2001 for spying.

Image – CNN (“Students demonstrate against the death of Jesus Ramirez in Caracas, Venezuela, on Wednesday.”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, BBC News, AP, LAHT, Kansas City Star

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor's scholarly semantics

The U.S. Supreme Court this week presented a unanimous verdict in a suit regarding attorney-client privileges. Justice Sonia Sotomayor read the court’s opinion on Mohawk Industries Inc. v. Carpenter, a decision Bloomberg described as a “setback to businesses”. The ruling also implicated “an expansive view of executive power on the ‘state secrets privilege’" that was championed by the Bush administration and upheld by the Obama White House.

Aside from granting her first high court opinion, Sotomayor reportedly had a hand in a change in semantics that could become de rigueur in future verdicts:
In an otherwise dry opinion, Justice Sotomayor did introduce one new and politically charged term into the Supreme Court lexicon.

Justice Sotomayor’s opinion in the case, Mohawk Industries v. Carpenter, No. 08-678, marked the first use of the term “undocumented immigrant,” according to a legal database. The term “illegal immigrant” has appeared in a dozen decisions.
The Supreme Court’s use of a more neutral phrase is a welcome move though ultimately what matters most is the content of their verdicts and how they will affect Americans.

(Hat tip: ImmigrationProf Blog via Think Progress).

Image- Forbes.com
Online Sources- ImmigrationProf Blog, New York Times, Think Progress, Bloomberg, CNN

Pope to Obama: Drop the Cuban embargo

In his Nobel Peace Prize Award acceptance speech, U.S. President Barack Obama said that the “moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct” led him to order the closure of the jail at Guantanamo. Earlier today, Pope Benedict XVI had his own message on Cuba for Obama:

In addition to calling for improved U.S.-Cuba relations and an end to the embargo against the island, the Pope also called for expanding religious freedoms. The Pope emphasized that he did not wish for the Church to meddle into Cuban politics though he does want to “continue to nourish the ‘extraordinary spiritual and moral heritage that contributed in a decisive way to forging the Cuban soul’."

The pontiff also criticized abortion by calling on Cubans to respect life from conception to its “natural end.” (Most forms of abortions are legal in Cuba except in pregnancies after twelve weeks and for minors without parental consent).

Online Sources- YouTube, AP, Spero News, CNA, IPS, El Espectador

Daily Headlines: December 10, 2009

* Latin America: Could strict anti-smoking measures in Latin American countries like Colombia, Guatemala, and Panama help combat the global “tobacco epidemic”?

* Cuba: Supporters of the Castro regime reportedly tried to shout down a protest in Havana by the "Women in White" opposition group.

* Mexico: Mexican troops have engaged in “frequent and in some cases routine” human rights abuses while trying to combat crime according to Amnesty International.

* Venezuela: The Venezuelan government has accused exiled opposition leader Manuel Rosales of violating the terms of his political asylum in Peru.

Image – CBC
Online Sources- Guardian UK, BBC News, AP, LAHT

Former Costa Rican President Dies at Age 82

After complications from open-heart surgery, a former leader of Costa Rica has died. Former President Rodrigo Carazo Odio died on Wednesday at the age of 82. He won the presidency by running as candidate under the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) and governed Costa Rica from 1978 to 1982. During his presidency he tried to remain neutral during the Sandinista rebellion in Nicaragua, but but later sided with the Sandinistas. Some accomplishments of his were helping to create the University for Peace, and making positive changes toward environmental preservation and protection. He also promoted the oil industry and the tourist industry and the development of national parks. He notably helped to create the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and helped to create the American Institute of Human Rights.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

LatAm calls for action vs. climate change

The global climate talks in Copenhagen are in peril with wealthy and poor nations quarreling as well as developing countries feuding amongst themselves. That hasn’t stopped several Latin American states from trying to get their voices heard during the negotiations, however.

One of those nations is Costa Rica who joined with five other countries to advocate for the world to put their differences aside and effectively address climate change. The so-called “Green Group” including Cape Verde, Iceland, and the United Arab Emirates issued a joint statement touting each state is "a small point of green reference inside its own region, and all these points are related between them to establish an efficient world network".

In addition, Brazilian representatives to the summit have advocated the use of biofuels such as ethanol. Though Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva two years ago said that biofuels could “’un-warm’ the planet”, officials at the summit have tried to counter heavy criticism over farmlands being used for ethanol rather than for growing food.

Whatever results come out of the conference remain to be seen. Yet it is painfully clear that more action needs to be taken to tackle the problems of climate change. Just take a look at Peru:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Online Sources- MSNBC, BBC News, Xinhua, Guardian UK, Monsters & Critics

Brazil considering video game ban

We first mentioned last August that the Venezuelan legislature was looking into banning violent video games and toys as a way to combat high crime rates. The measure was eventually passed last month in a move backed by some parents while decried by others.

Now comes word that Brazil is looking into banning “offensive” video games. The bill introduced by Senator Valdir Raupp would “curb the manufacture, distribution, importation…(of) video games that affect the customs, traditions of the people, their worship, creeds, religions and symbols” and would carry a punishment of one to three years in prison.

On the heels of a Human Rights Watch report blasting Brazilian police for widespread abuse, Raupp’s measure appears to be superficial to combat the problem of increased violence appears to be superficial. Indeed, this was what one tech commentator said as quoted by Foreign Policy’s Passport blog:
CNET's Dave Rosenberg has lambasted Brazil's move, suggesting they deal with "larger social issues, including lack of parental oversight," instead. They praise the US system of industry self-regulation, which relies on ratings to isolate children from violent games.
What do you think? Would a video game ban work in Brazil and/or Venezuela or is it like placing a bandage on a flesh wound?

Image- The Telegraph (Still taken from the “Manhunt 2” video game)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Foreign Policy Passport, MSNBC, boingboing.net, gamespolitics.com, CNET, Miami Herald

Miercoles Musical: The best non-Spanish language Christmas song ever!

I hope you'll forgive me for copping out by including an English-language song for this week's Miercoles Musical. But I must confess that I'm in feeling festive and in the holiday spirit (albeit a little peeved due to my apartment having no heat!) Thus, the following Yuletide treat via the terribly underrated* New Wave rockers The Waitresses:

* Yes I know that they're generally seen as one-hit wonders whose only hit was "I Know What Boys Like" but they had a great and varied sound in songs like "Make The Weather" and "Bruiseology". And now I'll come down from my musical soapbox!

Online Source - YouTube

Daily Headlines: December 9, 2009

* Latin America: Aside from discussing economic issues representatives of the Mercosur bloc agreed to not recognize the results of the recent Honduran presidential election.

* Bolivia: Now it’s official – Evo Morales won reelection to a second five-year presidential term.

* Brazil: According to the local press President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will soon sign a decree raising the minimum wage and retirement payments.

* Puerto Rico: Boricua boxer Miguel Cotto has been targeted by a former employee in a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Image – LAHT (Presidents of the Mercosur group met at a summit this week in Montevideo, Uruguay).
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Xinhua, Bloomberg, AP, LAHT

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Hispanics news event-driven

The Pew Research Center released a study yesterday reporting that the majority of Hispanics in the media are portrayed in event-driven news, not through "focused coverage of the life and times of this population group."

The study, available here, is on journalism.org, the journalistic arm of the research center.

The biggest headlines, from February to August, were Sonia Sotomayor, the drug war in Mexico, H1N1 and immigration issues.

Only 57 stories analyzed focused on the lives of Hispanics in the U.S.

Newspapers were most likely to write about Hispanics, and they were least likely to be featured on cable television.

Read more key findings here.

Source: Pew Research Center

Photo: levellers.files.wordpress.comter.

Morales neighbors cheer re-election

Now that everyone's reasonably sure Bolivian President Evo Morales will remain in the office, bring on the accolades.

Neighboring countries are complimenting the victory.

Cuba's official Granma said the win "shows again its democratic vocation and that it is possible to change."

Chile's foreign minister, Mariano Fernandez, called the outcome "heartwarming."

And Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez spoke up too, using "overwhelming" and "great joy" to laud the outcome.

We're still waiting on the official results, but exit polls show a 35 percentage lead between Morales and his competitor, former Governor Manfred Reyes Villa.

Read more accolades here.

Source: ChinaView

Photo: news.brown.edu

Daily Headlines: December 8, 2009

* Colombia: Shakira spoke at Oxford University in front of 400 students and emphasized the need for universal access to education.

* Brazil: According to a recent poll the country’s improving economy has strengthened President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s popularity but not that of his possible successor.

* Venezuela: "Thousands of missiles are arriving," claimed president Hugo Chavez in reference to arms including missile launchers that were received by Venezuela from Russia.

* Chile: Six people including four doctors have been charged with the 1982 death of former President Eduardo Frei Montalva.

Image – Oxford Mail

Online Sources- Washington Post, Reuters, BBC News, Guardian UK

Monday, December 7, 2009

Today’s Video: Counting backwards?

Did electoral fraud take place in the recent Honduran presidential elections or is it a silly conspiracy theory? Take a look at this video and judge for yourself:

Online Sources- RealNewsNetwork.com, YouTube

Crime Blotter: LatAm Style

  • The Venezuelan Interior Minister says up to 20% of violent crimes in the country are committed by the police. Not good.

  • Guatemalans must be getting really fed up with crime: On Sunday group of vigilantes in Panahachel beat a suspected criminal to death and threatened to burn three women after dousing them with gasoline. Sunday's incident marked the third straight day of mob violence against suspected criminals

  • Guatemalan Retired Col. Marco Antonio Sanchez was sentenced to 53 years in prison for his involvement in the disapearence of eight people in the village of El Jute in 1981. Sanchez is the first person convicted of failing to respect the rights of civilians.

  • Brazilian thieves pulled off a $6 million heist after tunneling from a rented house into an armored car company

  • Also in Brazil, authorities busted 11 people who sold fake US work visas to 4,500 people over the course of 7 years.

  • Online Sources: Inquirer.net, Houston Chronicle, AP, Yahoo! News
    Image Source: AFP via BBC

    Young couple forced to stay in Chile

    An English immigration law designed to combat forced marriages has wrecked havoc on a British teen and her Chilean husband.

    18-year-old Amber Aguilar married 19-year-old Diego Andres Aguilar Quila last year. His visa expired in August and faced with the choice of advancing her career in her native Britain or live with her husband in Chile she choose to cross the Atlantic with him. Yet when they wanted to legally return to Britain, the couple where rejected by immigration authorities. A change in immigration law only five days after they wed will force them to stay in Chile until both are 21-years-old.

    Earlier today the court’s decided against the couple, a decision that their family viewed as unfair:

    Her mother Helen Jeffery, a 57-year-old head teacher, said both families were angered by the ruling...

    “The cruel irony is that the actual effect of the rule is to force my daughter to live thousands of miles from her family and prevent her going to university in the UK, despite the fact nobody would ever suggest her marriage was anything but genuine.”

    Image- Guardian UK

    Online Sources- The Telegraph, The Press Association

    Morales triumphs in Bolivian elections

    In the biggest Latin American story of the weekend, Bolivian president Evo Morales easily won reelection to a second term.

    According to exit polls the Andean leader triumphed over his conservative rival- former governor Manfred Reyes- with between 61% and 63% of the vote. Official results are expected in the coming days while foreign observers have reportedly “praised the election for its transparency and fairness.”

    Morales’ victory was further strengthened by supposed gains made by the pro-government Movement Toward Socialism (MAS, in Spanish) party in the Bolivian legislature. MAS is expected to have won at least two-thirds of the seats; thus, Morales is expected to have a strong mandate to push through his polices such as greater state control of the economy.

    Why did Morales and his cohorts win so easily? He has gained wide support among Bolivia’s indigenous and poor, as well as charm:

    (…) for a majority of voters, it is Morales who will give Bolivians their best chance at moving forward, and he is a man they simply like and trust. "He's a really charismatic candidate. ... He's a president who has represented the people since his first day in office," says Tatiana Albarracín Murillo, a young lawyer and Morales supporter who lives in La Paz. "He's the first indigenous president of Bolivia – that affects his image. That along with his honesty, and the way he resolves problems from day to day, make him a very likable person. At the same time other groups, for the same characteristics, hate him. Even today, there are people who can't believe an Indian is president."

    Image- Sydney Morning Herald (“Ballots for change ... an indigenous woman casts her vote during the presidential elections which returned the President, Evo Morales. Much of his support came from Bolivia’s indigenous majority.”)

    Online Sources- Christian Science Monitor, BBC News, The Telegraph