Friday, February 13, 2009

Today’s Video: The koala survivor

We end our week with this brief video of a koala bear who somehow survived the devastating Australian wildfires of the past few days:

Online Sources- YouTube, Reuters

The wrong San Juan

Some stories speak for themselves:
A holidaymaker who booked a three-week trip said she ended up 1300 miles away from her chosen destination after her travel agent mixed up her flights.

Samantha Lazzaris booked a trip of a lifetime to Costa Rica, in Central America, but ended up in the US territory of Puerto Rico instead.

Miss Lazzaris, 33, from Bristol (UK), did not realize she was in Puerto Rico until she landed on the island last month and boarded a taxi, and the driver told her she was in the wrong country.
Image- BBC News
Online Sources-

Five convicted in L.A. prostitution case

Five people were convicted for running a prostitution ring that targeted girls from Central America.

According to the Justice Department, four Guatemalan women and one Mexican trafficked ladies to the U.S. and subsequently forced them into prostitution in Los Angeles. The convicted people now face life in prison with a minimum sentence of fifteen years.

During the six-week trial, details emerged of the abuse, exploitation, and shamelessness of those convicted:
The case presented by prosecutors relied heavily on the testimony of 10 young women who said they were forced to work as prostitutes and turn over their pay to the defendants.

Only one woman said she knew she was going to work in the sex trade before arriving in Los Angeles. The others said they were expecting to work as baby sitters, housekeepers, waitresses or in other jobs in which they hoped to earn up to $10 an hour, far more than they could in Guatemala.

Only after they arrived in the U.S., the young women testified, were they told the truth about what they would be doing.
Image- L.A. Now
Online Sources- AP, AFP, Los Angeles Times

Skinheads attacked pregnant Brazilian?

A Brazilian women living in Switzerland claimed to have been the victim of a terrible racial attack.

26-year-old lawyer Paula Oliveira said that three skinheads assaulted her outside a local train station in Zurich and scarred the initials of the far-right Swiss People's Party on her stomach and legs. The pregnant Oliveira claimed that the attack caused her to miscarry twins that she had in her womb.

Brazil’s government is looking into allegations made by Olivera:
Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said the charge d’affaires of the Swiss embassy had been summoned to receive the request.

"We can’t draw any conclusions yet, but we have asked the Swiss authorities to conduct their investigation with more transparency so we can have all the information," he told reporters...

He said Switzerland should carry out an exhaustive investigation "not only for the person attacked, but also for the good relations between Brazil and Switzerland."
Olivera’s ordeal has outraged people in her native Brazil including her father who said that “what they did to my daughter is like a horror movie.”

Image- AP
Online Sources-, Montreal Gazette, BBC News, JTA

Would This Ad Make You Vote Si in Venezuela?

Source : Inca Kola News

Daily Headlines: February 13, 2009

* Venezuela: Will Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez win or lose Sunday's national referendum on term limits?

* Colombia: The country’s FARC guerillas have been accused of killing at least ten natives in addition to the recent massacre of 17 indigenous peasants.

* Brazil: Could Rio de Janeiro be selected to host the 2016 Olympics?

* Argentina: Aerolineas Argentinas may be very close to returning to government ownership.

Image- AP (“A supporter holds up a portrait of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez during a rally in Guarenas, on the outskirts of Caracas, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009.”)
Online Sources- Bloomberg, BBC News, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, CNN, Reuters

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Today’s Video: From ocean to ocean

It usually takes several hours for a cruise ship or large commercial vessel to cross the fifty-mile Panama Canal. Yet with the help of time lapse photography you can do so too in less than two minutes:

(Hat tip: The Daily Dish).

Online Sources- The Daily Dish, YouTube

Ecuador: Chevron wants dismissal of environmental case

Lawyers for oil giant Chevron asked an Ecuadorian judge to drop a case involving the illegal dumping of chemicals in the Amazon jungle.

According to a filing with the court, Chevron reiterated its argument against the firm being liable for up to $27 billion in damages. The company claims that a report from geological engineer Richard Cabrera was biased and in favor of the plaintiffs. "Judging by Mr. Cabrera's undeniable disdain for science, transparency and Ecuadorian law, he cannot be seen as an unbiased adviser to the judge," said Charles James, Chevron's general counsel in a press statement emitted by the company.

The plaintiffs in the case are Ecuadorian natives and peasants who argued their health was damaged after Texaco dumped billion of gallons of contaminated water into the jungle over a 20-year period. (Texaco was purchase by Chevron in 2001).

As we mentioned in November, Chevron’s actions caused it to be named one of the world’s ten worse firms of 2008 by progressive news website

Image- Time
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, MarketWatch, Reuters,

U.N.: More kids to join rebel armies

As we’ve mentioned in previous posts there are numerous bad consequences that have come about due to the global economic slowdown from financial trouble to decreasing remittances. To that list we can add another negative factor: more child soldiers in rebel armies.
Global financial turmoil could drive more children to become fighters for Colombia's rebel groups as the country's poorest people suffer the fallout of the economic slowdown, a U.N. agency said on Wednesday…

"The armed groups aren't going to suffer the recession like the country's poor," Paul Martin, a United Nations Children's Fund representative in Colombia, told reporters.

"They're going to keep offering a million pesos [ed. about $400] to children who live and struggle more each day from the crisis and each day are more likely to accept those offers," he said.
In 2006 U. N. officials estimated that about 14,000 children under the age of 18 are part of Colombia's guerillas and paramilitaries. A 1998 Human Rights Watch report found that child soldiers are used to “collect intelligence, make and deploy mines, and serve as advance troops in ambush attacks against paramilitaries, soldiers, and police officers.”

Sadly, this trend is expected to continue in the war-torn country.

Image- BBC News (Teenage soldier standing next to a FARC sign which ironically warns against “Mistreating children. They are the future.”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, CNN, Reuters, Human Rights Watch

Reporter denies Alex Rodriguez “stalking” accusations

As primo sports blog Deadspin observed, an overlooked feature of the whole Alex-Rodriguez-took-performance-enhancing-drugs brouhaha was his accusation against Illustrated Selena Roberts.

In his televised interview to ESPN on Monday, the star shortstop accused her of being “thrown out of his New York apartment building, kicked off the University of Miami campus by police, and (amazingly) that she tried to break into his house—where his children sleep!” (Roberts was the co-author of the SI story that broke on Saturday regarding his failed drug test).

Since then Roberts has emphatically denied his allegations. Rodriguez’ accusations were “absurd” she said in a Tuesday interview on Dan Patrick's radio show. On another radio interview she admitted that she and another reporter once drove past the ballplayer’s exclusive Miami-area residence but only after getting permission from security personnel. A police report was filed but only “as a matter of procedure” according to the Roberts.

Regarding perhaps the most damning accusation- that Roberts broke into Rodriguez’ house- Roberts reportedly found that charge “laughable”. "I'd have to be pretty good to scale a wall, climb up a balcony and go into his child's room," she said in an article on Furthermore, police officials in cities where Rodriguez has homes have denied that he ever reported Roberts’ supposed misdoings:
"I haven't been able to find anything to corroborate that she has tried to break into his home," Detective Juan Sanchez of the Miami Beach police said. "I haven't been able to find anything that corroborates the statement Alex Rodriguez made to ESPN"…

Other Florida law-enforcement agencies said they haven't received any reports from Rodriguez, either. "The Coral Gables Police Department has no incident reports associated with the name Selena Roberts," department records manager Eileen Holloway said in a statement.

Lt. William Gerlach of the University of Miami police said "I have nothing on that" when asked if Roberts had trespassed while Rodriguez was working out at the campus athletic center.
Rodriguez has already fibbed about not having used any performance enhancing drugs; is he lying again?

Image- AP (“In this video frame grab, Alex Rodriguez is interviewed by ESPN's Peter Gammons on Monday, Feb. 9, 2009.”)
Online Sources- Deadspin, Sporting News,, New York Daily News,,

Darwin and the Galapagos

Today is Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday. The British naturalist is best-known for creating the basis of modern evolutionary theory via his 1858 book "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection".

A Gallup poll conducted earlier this month found that 39% of people in the U.S. believe in evolution while 36% have no opinion on evolution. Meanwhile, recent scientific work has put into doubt Darwin’s theory of an evolutionary tree of life. Yet Darwin’s work over 150 years ago was vital in the advancement of science and no other scientific theory has come close in explaining evolutionary descent.

Darwin’s scientific theories may have never come about had it not been for his stop on the Galapagos Islands off the Ecuadorian coast. As Sir David Attenborough describes, the islands served as the laboratory for Darwin’s observations:
The Galapagos are the classic example of the spark that lit the fuse, the one that natural selection. The evidence that is so transparently and dramatically and obviously clear in the Galapagos, you can also see in the Seychelles, you can see in Hawaii; you can see it wherever there is a group of small islands. Nonetheless, the Galapagos planted the seed that flowered, and so we revere them.
Conservationists warn that the islands’ rich diversity may soon disappear unless tourism is significantly curbed. The Ecuadorian government has established stiffer laws to protect the animals and plants on the islands. But with all the revenue tourism brings to the country it may prove to be a losing battle.

It would be a pity if in a decade’s time all that Darwin viewed over 150 years ago would disappear forever.

Image- National Geographic ("The largest of the tortoises, the endangered Galápagos tortoise is incredibly long-lived. One captive tortoise lived over 150 years.")
Online Sources- The Telegraph, Wikipedia, New York Times, Gallup

Daily Headlines: February 12, 2009

* Colombia: The U.N. has called on the Colombian government to investigate the recent massacre of 17 indigenous peasants supposedly by FARC guerillas.

* Venezuela: President Hugo Chavez warned that Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lech Walesa will be prohibited from entering Venezuela if he tries to back opposition groups.

* Peru: At least 32 people were killed in a pair of traffic accidents on Monday in Peru.

* Cuba: Look out Microsoft – Cuba has launched its own version of the Linux computer operating system.

Image- The Telegraph (“Colombian soldiers leave after setting on fire a cocaine processing laboratory”)
Online Sources- Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Reuters,, AP

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Today’s Video: That voodoo that you do

Update: No, this is not déjà vu – the U.S. once again beat Mexico 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier. (Apparently, the voodoo needles were not sharp enough to puncture Michael Bradley!)

Original Post:

Yankees vs. Red Sox.

Duke vs. North Carolina.

Lakers vs. Celtics.

Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs.

All of the above are great North American sports rivalries yet tonight one of the most contentious will be renewed:

Mexico vs. U.S.

The neighboring countries will face each other in a vital World Cup qualifier from Columbus, Ohio. For nearly fifty years Mexico has had the upper hand in the rivalry yet it has evened out considerably over the past fifteen years. The “stars and stripes” are favorites for tonight’s match and are expected to add to their nine game unbeaten streak when the rivalry is played on U.S. soil. Yet that won’t stop fans of “el Tri” from supporting their side, some of whom have employed unusual means to try to ensure victory:
In the hope of boosting their team's chances, Mexican sport magazine 'Record' has issued coupons for U.S. team voodoo dolls -- which could be attained with five different stamps from the publication.

The move has also been supported by U.S. chain Blockbuster, which began trading the coupons for dolls in its Mexican stores last week.

Complete with pins, the dolls represent U.S. players, however, users are instructed to wish for Mexican goals, rather than hoping for harm upon the U.S. players.

Will tonight be another dos a cero in favor of the U.S.? We’ll see what happens though I certainly hope that’s the case!

Online Sources- Voice of America, CNN, YouTube, New York Times

Bolivian killed by urine injection

Some stories speak for themselves:
A Bolivian woman has died from an injection of urine allegedly administered by her friend as a form of health therapy, a prosecutor said Tuesday. Investigating prosecutor Oscar Flores told The Associated Press that 35-year-old Gabriela Ascarrunz died Saturday of an "infection caused by urine that was injected by fashion designer Monica Schultz."

Local newspapers reported that Schultz, who is known across Bolivia for her clothing lines, is a practitioner of urine therapy — a form of alternative medicine using human urine for cosmetic purposes or to treat various diseases. Some people rub it on their skin, while others inject or drink it.

Skeptical scientists and physicians say there is no evidence urine treatment works and that chemicals it contains could potentially be toxic.
Online Sources- MSNBC

Ex-presidents call for changing drug policy

A group of intellectuals and Latin American ex-presidents have called for the revaluation of counternarcotics policy.

The group called the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy emitted their report after meeting in Rio de Janeiro. Their report blasted the “war on drugs” and called for making drastic changes:
“The prohibitionist policies based on repressing production, intercepting trafficking and distribution, and criminalizing its consumption have not produced expected results…The goal of eradicating drugs has been farther than ever”…

“(Drug use) has transformed into a taboo that has prevented pubic debate…and confines drug consumers to a closed circle where they become more vulnerable to organized criminal activities.”
The commission also called for the legalization of marijuana for personal use as part of “changing (the) paradigms” of counternarcotics efforts.

Members of the group include former presidents Fernando Enrique Cardoso (Brazil), Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico) and César Gaviria (Colombia) as well as Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa and Foreign Policy magazine chief Moises Naim.

Image- (Ex-presidents Fernando Enrique Cardoso and César Gaviria at the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy conference)
Online Sources-, El Tiempo,

Cuban Internet expansion soon (but not soon enough)

Cuban communications minister Ramiro Valdes declared that the island’s government will expand Internet access to the country sometime in 2010.

Valdes remarked that he anticipated broadening online access next year after the completion of a 930 mile-long fiber optics line between Cuba and Venezuela. The cable is designed to circumvent the U.S. embargo on Cuba which bars the island from using a nearby line that connects from Florida.

Despite a May 2008 reform permitting the public to purchase desktop computers, the U.N. estimates that only a scant 2% of Cubans have Internet access. Internet use is restricted to government officials and tourists that can afford it while the government has cracked down on Cuban bloggers.

Vice Minister Boris Moreno discarded the possibility of expanding online access this year. Moreno also reiterated government policy that is “to ‘favor collective access’ in such places as universities, scientific institutions and cultural centers.” Opposition on the island has decried such a policy:
Dissidents say the government's true goal is to control access to information…

In July, the head of the US interest section in Havana, Michael Parmly, said that Washington would allow US companies to connect Cuba to their underwater cables.

"The only thing that is missing is for the Cuban government to lift its restrictions, loose its fear and begin to trust its own people," he said.
Image- BBC News (“Cuba's licensed internet terminals are meant only for tourists”.)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, The Inquirer, Reuters,, AFP

Reggaetoneros rap for Jesus

The musical genre of reggaeton has been criticized for being misogynistic, overly vulgar, and sexually explicit. For example, one popular reggaeton dance move called perreo sometimes mimics doggy-style sex.

With such a bad rap it may seem impossible to believe that some artists have taken their sound in a different, more spiritual direction. (Note that I didn’t say “better”!) Much like Christian metal emerged from the stereotypically hedonistic heavy metal scene of the 1980s, some reggaetoneros have dedicated their music to a higher power:
"I had everything, but it was really nothing," says reggaetón star Héctor "El Father," explaining his conversion to Christ.

"Not even fame or money could fill this void I had in my heart.
Now I feel a joy I can’t even explain"...

Although he said he would retire from music, last September he released a Christian album titled "El Juicio Final" (Judgment Day).
There has been some criticism of this religious reggaeton sub-genre, however. Calle 13 poked fun at the trend in a song from their latest album with lyrics like "I know my music is profane, but when I stop selling I’ll make Christian music." There are also unique cases like that of reggaeton superstar Daddy Yankee who’s best-known for booty-shaking hits like “Gasolina” though his pastor brother released a Christian rap album last year.

Image- New York Daily News
Online Sources- New York Daily News, Urban Dictionary, Blogamole, Reuters, Wikipedia

Daily Headlines: February 11, 2009

* U.S.: While Alex Rodriguez may be losing in the court of public opinion, Miguel Tejada may plead guilty over lying to Congress about steroid usage.

* Mexico: Billionaire Carlos Slim and Mexican Labor Secretary Javier Lozano are butting heads over predicting the future of Mexico’s economy.

* Panama: Panama Canal officials estimate that the global economic slowdown has caused a decrease in ships using the waterway.

* Brazil: Police have accused three Amerindians suspected of killing and eating a 21-year-old disabled man.

Image- CNN (“Miguel Tejada, a shortstop for the Houston Astros, has been charged with lying to Congress.”)
Online Sources- Monsters & Critics, Reuters, IHT, National Post, Bloomberg, MSNBC

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Today’s Video: Mooning for money

Q: What do you do if you haven’t been paid for three months?

A: If you’re a member of Spanish third-division soccer club Galactico Pegaso you wear t-shirts saying “With our ass in the air” and then drop your shorts.

(Hat tip: The Offside).

Online Sources- The Offside, YouTube

Reports: 20 killed in Mexican drug-related violence

Reports claim that at least 20 people were killed including due to violence between drug gangs and the Mexican army in the northern border state of Chihuahua.

The deaths occurred this morning when hitmen executed six people in the town of Villa Ahumada. A subsequent shootout and car chase between the suspected sicarios and Mexican troops led to fourteen more deaths. One soldier was reported among the dead along with all of the gang members.

The seemingly out-of-control violence in Mexico has led to worries of a spillover into the U.S. Doubts have emerged over whether the three-year, $1.4 billion Merida Initiative will be sufficient to counter Mexico’s violence and corruption. Some are even planning for the worse to occur:
Texas officials are working on a plan to respond to a potential collapse of the Mexican government and the specter of thousands fleeing north in fear for their lives after recent reports indicated the country could be on the verge of chaos.

"You hope for the best, plan for the worst," Katherine Cesinger, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry, said last week. "At this point, we've got a contingency plan that's in development"…

Destabilization in Mexico might be only a remote possibility, but lawmakers said preparing for any potential disaster is prudent.

"It seems very far-fetched that something like this could occur," (State Sen. John Carona) said. "At the same time, I think it would be naive to believe it's impossible."
Image- AP ("A soldier stands atop an armored vehicle outside a police station in Cancun, Mexico, Monday, Feb. 9, 2009.")
Online Sources- El Universal, Milenio, Reuters, El Paso Times, AP

Brits toughen visa rules for Bolivia, Venezuela

British immigration authorities have strengthened the visa requirements for visitors from Bolivia and Venezuela.

According to officials, tourists from those countries will be forced to provide fingerprints and pay a fee to obtain a visa before entering Britain. The BBC News reported that those countries “failed a test of the threat posed by their citizens in terms of security, immigration and crime.”

Visa requirements were imposed on Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago last year though a spokeswoman for the Home Office told Bloomberg that those countries “have improved”.

British officials admitted that the visa requirements were placed on South Africa due to the “increasing risk from Islamic extremists using South Africa as a transit point and planning plots there.” Few specifics were provided as to why Bolivia and Venezuela were included:
The Ministry of Home Affairs stated in a notice that "the broadened request for visas is only one of a number of measures undertaken by the Government to reinforce border security and allow only for the entry into the country of those people that the United Kingdom wants and needs."
Image- The telegraph (“The biometrics program requires all UK visa applicants to provide fingerprints before arrival.”)
Online Sources- IHT, El Universal, BBC News, Bloomberg, U.K. Home Office

A trio of obits

The recent deaths of three figures in Latin America have caught our attention:
  • Orlando "Cachaito" Lopez (image) died on Monday from complications after having prostate surgery. The Cuban bassist was one of the founding members of the Buena Vista Social Club and passed away days after his 76th birthday.
  • Puerto Rican actor Jose Luis "Chavito" Marrero died on Sunday at the age of 82 due to respiratory problems from pneumonia. Marrero started his career in local theaters yet moved on to star in Boricua films such as My Little Angel, My Lucky Day and A Flight of Hope.
  • Freestyle motocross star Jeremy Lusk died this morning days after severely injuring himself at an event in Costa Rica. The 24-year-old sustained massive head trauma after a stunt went horrifyingly wrong.
May these three gentlemen rest in peace; our thoughts and prayers go out to their families and closest friends.

Image- Guardian UK
Online Sources- LAHT, The Telegraph, BBC News,,, Outposts

Congress considers dropping Cuba travel ban

The 46-year-old ban on travel to Cuba may soon be a relic of the past.

The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act was introduced in the House of Representatives last week and would overturn the prohibition on traveling to the Caribbean island. The proposal would remove limits for Cuban exiles who wish to travel to their homeland and would also permit for unrestricted travel to the island. The bill- which was introduced by Representatives on both sides of the aisle- would also prohibit the president from regulating travel to the island except in the case of armed conflict.

As The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported, the proposal has met with strong opposition from leaders of the Cuban exile community:
The bill has gone too far, said Francisco "Pepe" Hernandez, president of the Cuban American National Foundation. Cuban exiles should visit their families whenever they want, but tourists shouldn't spend money in resorts that Cubans are barred from. "It's improper and should not be allowed until the Cuban government makes some reforms," he said.

That's not the case for Jose Lopez, president of the Broward County Latin Chamber of Commerce and a staunch supporter of the trade embargo.

"It's a betrayal and it's not going to resolve anything," said Lopez, who left Cuba in 1961.
Tourism dollars spent in Cuba will inject more oxygen into the dying Castro regime, he said. Lopez also thinks Cuban exiles who want to return to the island whenever they please are abusing their refugee privilege.
It remains to be seen if the bill will be backed by President Barack Obama. As a presidential candidate he called for easing, not eliminating, restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba.

Online Sources- The Latin Americanist,, UPI

Daily Headlines: February 10, 2009

* Mexico: A new law published yesterday calls for the creation of a national phone registry that includes capturing fingerprints of suspected criminals.

* Latin America: China may be upping its investments in Latin America yet Morgan Stanley warms that the economic slump in Asia may cause “aftershocks” in the Americas.

* Central America: Countries in the region are worried that U.S. immigration raids are dumping thousands of criminals into already crime-infested areas.

* Venezuela: Police have arrested eleven suspects- including a policeman who served as a bodyguard for a local rabbi- for the recent attack on a Caracas synagogue.

Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Reuters, Bloomberg,, Xinhua, MSNBC

Monday, February 9, 2009

Today’s Video: Vigilantism along the border

A few things come to mind after watching the following CBS News report:

  • I hate to be repetitious but it’s worth mentioning – immigration reform ASAP!
  • One of the men monitoring the border warns that migrants crossing the border illegally could lead to another 9/11. But if most of 9/11 hijackers entered the country by overstaying visas and falsifying passports then shouldn’t legal immigration be scrutinized more?
  • A $2 million grant was spent on the hidden border cameras and the result has been eight arrests and four drug seizures. That doesn’t sound like money “well spent”.
What do you think?

Online Sources- YouTube

“Big Phil” fired by Chelsea

Brazilian Luis Felipe Scolari was fired from the head coach position of English soccer club Chelsea.

According to a statement on the club’s website, “in order to maintain a challenge for the trophies we are still competing for we felt the only option was to make the change now.” Despite being one of the world's wealthiest soccer clubs, Chelsea’s fourth-place in English soccer’s top division and preparing for Champions League action appeared to weight heavily on the club’s decision.

Scolari reacted to the news of his firing by thanking the club yet expressed regret “that my time with everyone could not last longer.”

The coaching resume of “Big Phil” is filled with accomplishments; he led Gremio and Palmeiras to Copa Libertadores titles in the 1990s, took Portugal to fourth place in the last World Cup, and led Brazil to World Cup glory in 2002. Yet as ESPNSoccernet’s Jon Carter noted, other factors aside from underwhelming play doomed Scolari’s time at Chelsea:
The rumors coming out of the Chelsea camp in recent weeks have not been good. With star striker Didier Drogba benched and unable to get into the side, speculation had surfaced that other players were not happy either. A dressing room of big egos need marshalling and Scolari apparently wasn't up to the task….

Failure at this level is not tolerated. A draw against Rosenborg set the seal on Jose Mourinho's time at Stamford Bridge. A draw against Hull accounted for Scolari. Guus Hiddink and Avram Grant are apparently being lined up to take over, but it is becoming obvious that nothing but instant success is accepted at Chelsea.
Image- Sky Sports
Online Sources- Bloomberg, IHT, Press Association, Reuters, ESPNSoccernet

Beyond Borders: Bomb explodes in Madrid

Spanish authorities have blamed Basque separatist group ETA for detonating a car bomb in Madrid.

The explosive was placed in an auto in Madrid's business district and may have targeted a transportation firm working on a high-speed rail line. The bomb has not claimed any fatalities yet has caused some extensive material damage. The Red Cross organized a rapid evacuation before the explosion and after receiving a telephone warning ahead of the blast.

If ETA was behind the bombing then that would signal the group’s first attack on the Spanish capital in about two years.

Today’s bombing comes hours after two Basque political parties supposedly tied to ETA were banned from local elections:
Spain's supreme court backed Sunday a government request to bar two Basque pro-independence parties from regional elections next month, judicial sources said…

The government and prosecutors charged that Democracy Three Million (D3M) and Askatasuna have links to the armed Basque separatist group ETA and its political arm Batasuna, which the court outlawed in 2003.

Anti-terrorist Judge Baltasar Garzon is to hand down a separate decision Tuesday on whether to suspend the parties' political activities.
Image- AFP
Online Sources- AFP, Guardian UK, CNN, UPI, Times Online

China invests in Latin America

China is Latin America's third largest trading partner, but the country is hoping for more.

Two top officials are visiting Latin America right now, which is unusual as a simultaneous trip.

Chinese Vice-Premier Hui Liangyu will visit Argentina, Ecuador, Barbados and the Bahamas.

Vice-President Xi Jinping will visit Jamaica, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil and Mexico.

According to the BBC, the government is eager to expand new markets after connections with Europe and North America have collapsed.

Read more about China's goals, such as purchasing Latin American commodities like soya, here.

Source: BBC

Photo: President Hu in Peru

Bolivia teams up with Iran

After Venezuela and Cuba, Bolivia might be the next country to entertain closer ties to Iran.

Iran is giving millions of dollars of aid to Bolivia, according to this article in McClatchy Newspapers.

The aid includes construction of a milk factory in Achacachi.

"Being in Bolivia will give Iran more pawns to play in its dealings with the Europeans and the United States," said Abbas Milani, co-director of the Iran Democracy Project at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

According to the article, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez brought the two countries together, flying Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit Bolivian President Evo Morales in 2007.

Iran also is assisting Ecuador and Nicaragua, prompting U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to address the issue in January in front of a Senate committee. "I'm concerned about the level of, frankly, subversive activity that the Iranians are carrying on in a number of places in Latin America, particularly South America and Central America," Gates said.

Source: McClatchy Newspapers

Photo: Infolatam, Morales and Ahmadinejad

Argentine seminary ousts Holocaust denier

An argentine seminary removed a controversial British bishop from being its leader.

Last month Pope Benedict XVI removed the excommunication of several priests including that of Monsignor Richard Williamson. Days after the Pope’s decision, Williamson publicly denied that gas chambers were used to kill Jews at Nazi concentration camps. “It was all lies, lies, lies," he said in the interview which has led to a public furor and diplomatic problems between Germany and the Vatican.

Yesterday, officials at the Argentine seminary Williamson headed came to their decision:
In a statement, Father Christian Bouchacourt, the head of the Latin American chapter of the Catholic Society St. Pius X, said Williamson had been relieved as the head of the La Reja seminary on the outskirts of the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires.

"Monsignor Williamson's statements do not in any way reflect the position of our congregation," it said.
The past few weeks have been difficult for the Vatican not only due to Williamson’s remarks but also as a result of the alleged improprieties of the late Rev. Marcial Maciel.

Image- AFP (“Bishop Richard Williamson denies the Nazis used gas chambers during World War II.”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, BBC News, Reuters, The Independent

Daily Headlines: February 9, 2009

* U.S.: Did New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez test positive for anabolic steroids in 2003? A Sports Illustrated article claims that he did.

* Latin America: Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa expelled who he called an "insolent and foolish" senior U.S. diplomat, while the White house considers who could be the next ambassador to Mexico.

* El Salvador: Roughly six weeks since promising to leave Iraq the last set of 200 Salvadoran troops returned from combat.

* Panama: The country’s government has agreed to pay about $250,000 in damages to the family of a political activist disappeared during the military regime of General Omar Torrijos.

Image- New York Daily News (2003 photo of Alex Rodriguez during his playing days with the Texas Rangers.)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, BBC News, Dallas Morning News, LAHT, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Sports Illustrated

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Juanes, Jaguares, “In the Heights” win Grammys

Image- MSNBC (Photo of Juanes at the 2008 Latin Grammys; Argentine producer Gustavo Santaolalla accepted Juanes’ honor tonight).

The Grammy Awards ceremony may be going on as we publish this post (we "heart" M.I.A.!), yet several awards have already been given out. Though most Latin American musicians have opted to skip the ceremony, awards in the “Latin” category have been doled out:
  • Colombian Juanes beat Luis Miguel, Jorge Drexler, and others to win Best Latin Pop Album. In a message published via his publicist, Juanes dedicated his award to “those held hostage in the Colombian jungle.”
  • “If Jaguares win, it will be because NARAS owes (lead singer Saúl Hernández) one (and only one),” mentioned one article ahead of today’s awards. Deserved or not, the Mexican rockers won Best Latin Rock Or Alternative Album ahead of worthy finalists like Locos Por Juana and Nortec Collective.
  • In other categories, reggaeton duo Wisin y Yandel won Best Latin Urban Album while José Feliciano got top honors in Best Tropical Latin Album. In addition, Nati Cano and Mariachi Divas shared Best Regional Mexican Album honors while Los Tigres del Norte captured Best Norteño Album.
  • Last but not least, “In The Heights” can add another honor to the four Tony Awards received in 2008. The musical inspired by the New York City Latino enclave of Washington Heights received Best Musical Show Album ahead of “Gypsy”, “South Pacific”, and others.
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist,, San Antonio Current, Prensa Libre, El Pais,, Milenio