Saturday, February 28, 2009

De Musica Ligera: Juana Molina

"Imagine if Tina Fey quit comedy and sang electronics-based folk songs." This was the description recently given by Rolling Stone to Argentina's Juana Molina. Don't let her comic background fool you, however. The critically acclaimed singer's voice resonates in such songs as "Un Dia" and "No es tan cierto." As the Boston Herald described her:
Molina’s unique sound is more than a one-note thing these days. Yet the same sensibility that drew her to her grandmother’s empty elevator continues to inform her dreamlike music decades later. It permeates the otherworldly, trance-inducing rhythms of her new CD, “Un Dia,” that enfold her sweetly melodic songs and Spanish lyrics.
The comedienne-turned-songstress will end her U.S. tour this weekend with performances in Virginia and Philadelphia. She is as delightful live as she is recorded and is well-worth seeing.

Here are some of her songs in case you missed her live or you're interested in what her music is all about:
Online Sources- Brooklyn Vegan, Juana Molina (English site), Rolling Stone, Boston Herald, YouSendIt
Image- NPR

Notable Quotables: Human rights hypocrisy?

"There is no Guantanamo in Chile".
---Chilean government spokesman Francisco Vidal responds to a global human rights report released this week by the U.S. State Department. Vidal also "questioned the moral authority" of the U.S. in criticizing the human rights problems of other countries.

The 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices was particularly harsh on Cuba and Venezuela though it pointed out problems that persist in Chile. The report coincided with Amnesty International in noting that Chile's indigenous peoples "suffered discrimination."

Image- ABC Online
Online Sources- China Daily, The Latin Americanist, State Department

Friday, February 27, 2009

Today's Video: El Chileno Vasconcellos

Note: We'll be back over the weekend with a few posts.

In the meantime, please enjoy a great song from a personal favorite: "Magico" by Chilean musician Joe Vasconcellos. Enjoy!

Costa Rican priests forgive women who abort

Ideally, the following move by Costa Rican priests would be done year-round and without major doubts. Yet it’s a positive step for the Catholic Church in the Central American country to preach inclusion and treat women with the respect they so often deserve:
(…) This Lent and Easter week, the 300 or so priests within the Archdiocese of San Jose have been given the order to pardon anyone who has had an abortion and anyone involved in the procedure such as doctors, nurses, family members and friends.

The amnesty period will go from Feb. 25 to April 29 and was decided upon by the Archbishop Monseñor Hugo Barrantes. This is not the first time the Archdiocese has approved such a policy during this holy period, but it is the first time that they made the announcement to the public.

Typically, the act of abortion can have a person excommunicated from the Catholic Church as it is seen as a break from the way of the Lord, according to the Archdiocese.
Abortion is illegal in Costa Rica under all circumstances except if the mother’s life is at risk. Nevertheless, an estimated 27,000 illegal abortions are performed yearly.

Birth control measures in Costa Rica are so harsh that the country’s government even prohibited a campaign designed to promote use of the "morning after pill".

Image- Baltimore Sun
Online Sources- Spero News, Tico Times,

2010 Dakar Rally to be held again in Chile, Argentina

Organizers of the famed Dakar Rally will again hold the race in Chile and Argentina next January:
"Based on the success and popularity of the 2009 Dakar held for the first time in Argentina and Chile, A.S.O. (Amaury Sports Organization) and the two countries have decided together to renew the organization of the rally in 2010 in South America," they said in a statement on
The decision was met with approval from government officials in both Southern Cone countries. Chilean Minster Francisco Vidal praised the rally for promoting his country “to hundreds of millions of people in the world.” "Argentina welcomes again the Dakar Rally," Sports Minister Claudio Morresi said hours after ASO made their decision.

After a year off, this year’s race was held away from Africa for the first time due to the increasingly dangerous West African region.

Last month’s race crossed through diverse areas like the Argentine pampas and the Chilean desert and was considered one of the most difficult ever. South African driver Giniel de Villiers won the competition which was marred by the death of French motorcyclist Pascal Terry.

Image- AP
Online Sources- IHT, Wikipedia, AP, Canadian Press, Xinhua, El Mercurio

LatAm photogs earn World Press Photo honors

Several Latin American photographers were among those who received first prize honors in the 2009 World Press Photo contest:
  • Brazilian Luiz Vasconcelos won in the General News Singles category for his stirring photo of a Manaus woman desperately trying to avoid being evicted by police (image).
  • Lissette Lemus of El Salvador was honored in the Daily Life Singles group for her photo stunning photo of children staring at a dead woman shot in the street.
  • Walter Astrada of Argentina won in the Spot News category for his photo of a phalanx of demonstrators during post-election violence in Kenya.
  • Chilean Carlos F. Gutierrez won in the Nature Singles category for his awe-inspiring photo of the erupting Chaiten volcano.
  • Mexico’s Carlos Cazalis got top honors in the Contemporary Issues Stories division for his stark photo depicting homelessness in Sao Paulo.
The winning Latin American shutterbugs represented numerous agencies including Corbis, AFP, and Zuma Press.

Photo of the Year honors were given to Anthony Suau of the U.S. for his haunting snapshot of an Ohio sheriff creeping through a house abandoned after a foreclosure.

Image- AP
Online Sources- World Press Photo, Reuters, AP

Could Puerto Rico soon get Congressional voting rights?

By a vote of 61-37, the U.S. Senate approved a bill that would permit the District of Columbia to have a fully voting representative in Congress. The proposal will now go to the House of Representatives and that chamber is expected to soon approve a similar bill.

Supporters of the proposal like Democrat Sen. Harry Reid argued that the move represents changing a “centuries-old wrong…We are the only democracy in the world that denies the citizens of its capital, our capital, Washington, D.C., the right to vote.” Detractors like Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell contended that the bill was unconstitutional and that district representation is only reserved for states.

Ironically, it was GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch who helped push the bill through after a section was added that would potentially give Utah an extra House seat.

What are the chances that Puerto Rico- currently commonwealth- could get direct representation in Congress? According to the AP:
George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley sympathizes with the plight of D.C. residents, but insists the measure is "flagrantly unconstitutional" and ultimately doomed.

"What these (lawmakers) are doing is extremely dangerous and destabilizing for our system of government," Turley said. "They are claiming the right to create a new type of voting member." The bill opens the door for Congress to give the vote to Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories, he said.
Days before being inaugurated, Barack Obama promised that Puerto Ricans would get a chance to decide the island’s political status. In 2007, Congress approved a bill stipulating that a congressionally backed referendum be held in Puerto Rico by the end of this year. That proposal was introduced by Puerto Rico’s then-House Rep. (and the island’s current governor) Luis Fortuño.

Puerto Rico’s lone House Rep.- Pedro Pirluisi- is one of six non-voting members of the chamber and he’s allied to the Democratic Party.

Image- Fact Checker (Protestor holding sign in favor of Puerto Rican statehood)
Online Sources- Salt lake Tribune, Wikipedia, AP, Reuters, CBS News, Bloomberg, New York Times, The Latin Americanist

Daily Headlines: February 27, 2009

* Mexico: Days after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced a major crackdown of Mexican drug gangs Sen. Joseph Lieberman said that the Senate will hold hearings over rising violence in Mexico.

* Colombia: Will U.S. military operations become headquartered in Colombia after they leave the base at Manta, Ecuador this August?

* Guatemala: One week after apologizing to Cuba for the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom apologized to victims of his country’s cruel 36-year civil war.

* Haiti: Kristian Dyer of takes a great look at the legacy of Joe Gaetjens- the Haitian immigrant who scored the game-winning goal for the U.S. in one of the World Cup’s greatest upsets.

Image- Al Jazeera English
Online Sources- BBC News, Reuters, The Latin Americanist, AFP, ABC Online, ESPN

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Today’s Video: Punished for spirituality

Earlier this week we examined how religion can be used by clergymen as a tool to help others and bring about positive change. But what happens when a religious figure is condemned for trying to do what’s right?

The Rev. Luiz Couto is both a practicing Roman Catholic priest and member of Brazil’s congress. After seeing the negative effects of AIDS in his community, Couto advocated the free distribution of condoms. In addition, he publicly condemned discrimination against gays.

The Archdiocese of the Brazilian state of Paraiba disagreed with Couto and foolishly punished him:
According to media reports, Paraiba Archbishop Aldo di Cillo Pagotto cancelled Couto's right to celebrate mass in the northeastern Brazilian state.

The archbishop denounced Couto's comments and said they were the opposite of the Vatican's official positions on these contentious issues. Pagotto said this led to confusion within the Roman Catholic faith. If the priest publicly revoked his comments, he could return to his duties.

"I am going to continue celebrating mass at home, among friends," Couto retorted.
Instead of using religion to condemn and exclude, let us put it to better use. Couto’s remarks against the spread of AIDS and opposed to discrimination ought to be welcomed and maturely discussed. Sadly Pagotto opted for the wrong move.

(The above video is a Brazilian PSA that was aired during last year’s Carnaval).

Online Sources- earthtimes, YouTube, The Latin Americanist

NYPD arrest duo in Jose Sucuzhanay murder (includes update)

Update (March 1):
A lawyer for Keith Phoenix claimed that his client acted in self-defense over the murder of Jose Sucuzhanay.

Jay Schwitzman said that Pheonix and co-defendant Hakim Scott attacked Sucuzhanay and his brother when one of them appeared to reach for a gun. Police officials and a lawyer for the Sucuzhanay family rejected those claims. (Links via New York Times and AP).

Update (February 28):

Police yesterday arrested the second suspect wanted in the death of Jose Sucuzhanay.

Keith Phoenix was was arraigned Saturday morning on charges of second degree murder as a hate crime and is currently being held without bail.

"So I killed someone-that makes me a bad guy?...What's the big deal? That guy is dead." These were the chilling and remorseless words reportedly uttered by Pheonix during his interrogation yesterday according to the NYPD. (Links via CNN, NY1, and Gothamist).

Original Post:
New York City police arrested a man suspected in the December murder of Jose Sucuzhanay.

Hakim Scott, was charged with 2nd degree murder as a hate crime in the crime which took place in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. According to police, Scott and a second man- Keith Phoenix- assaulted Sucuzhanay and his brother Romel while shouting homophobic and anti-Latino insults. The attack was absolutely vicous and cruel:
Mr. Scott approached Jose Sucuzhanay and smashed a beer bottle over the back of his head, the police said, and then chased Romel Sucuzhanay.

Mr. Phoenix then took an aluminum baseball bat from the rear of the vehicle and struck Jose repeatedly on his shoulder, ribs and back until he fell, the police said.

“At that point Phoenix struck Jose several more times, full force, with crushing blows to his head,” said Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, who announced the arrest at a news conference at Police Headquarters on Wednesday evening with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney. Once in custody, Mr. Scott “made a full confession,” Mr. Kelly said.
Authorities released the following video of Phoenix and Scott paying the toll at the RFK Bridge while laughing it up a mere nineteen minutes after the Sucuzhanay attack.

Police are still searching for Phoenix; anyone with information is asked to call the CrimeStoppers hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS.

Sucuzhanay’s murder was condemned not only in New York but also in his native Ecuador. His death came weeks after the killing of Marcelo Lucero on Long Island.

Online Sources- CNN, New York Times, The Latin Americanist, ABC News, New York Daily News

Former hostage attacks Ingrid Betancourt

It’s been nearly eight months since a rescue mission organized by the Colombian government freed fourteen hostages including Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. citizens. She has campaigned since then to seek the release of hundreds of people held against their will by Colombian guerillas. Yet her efforts have been unfairly condemned by those on the extreme right as well as the far left.

According to the AP, one of the former contractors had harsh words to say about Betancourt during the time they were both hostages:
One of the Northrop Grumman employees alleges she was haughty and self-absorbed, stole food and hoarded books, and even put their lives in danger by telling rebel guards they were CIA agents.

"I watched her try to take over the camp with an arrogance that was out of control," Keith Stansell told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday. "Some of the guards treated us better than she did."
One of Stansell’s fellow ex-captives- Marc Gonsalves- mentioned in the above article that conflicts were common among hostages though his relationship with Betancourt has always been cordial.

Stansell, Gonsalves, and Thomas Howes have been making the media rounds in order to promote their new book “Out of Captivity”. The text describes the 1967 days they spent as hostages after their surveillance plane crashed in 2003 and they were captured by the FARC guerrillas.

Image- El Pais (Picture of Keith Stansell released in 2007 while he was still held hostage in the Colombian jungle).
Online Sources- ABC News, Colombia Reports, Plan Colombia and Beyond, MSNBC, The Latin Americanist

Study: Minority clinics “chaotic and crowded”

Health clinics that serve a sizeable number of minority patients tend to suffer from terrible work conditions according to a study released earlier this month.

Researchers examined data from 96 primary care clinics in New York and in the upper Midwest; 27 of which had a minimum 30% minority patients. The conditions in those health centers compounds the health care problems encountered by minorities in the U.S.
A combination of "time pressure, insufficient resources and patients with complex problems likely constitutes a 'perfect storm' that contributes to the challenges that physicians face in providing quality care to large proportions of minority patients," said Dr. Anita Varkey and colleagues at Loyola University Medical Center, Maywood, Illinois.

Varkey said the study did not turn up a root cause of the problem, although geography and funding cannot be ruled out.

"We can say that the challenges are measurably different from clinics serving lower proportions of minority patients," she said in a telephone interview.
The findings published in the Archives of Internal Medicine also found that clinics serving at least 30% minority patients are more likely to have patients less proficient in English and are more likely to be covered by Medicaid.

Image- Marketplace
Online Sources- Archives of Internal Medicine, Reuters, U.S. News and World Report

State Department study blasts Cuba, Venezuela

The State Department’s annual report on human rights claimed that there has been some progress in Latin America yet has deeply criticized the situation in Cuba and Venezuela.

Regarding Cuba, the report says that the Castro administration denies “its citizens their basic human rights and committed numerous, serious abuses.” Over 200 political prisoners remained detained and the report highlighted a litany of human rights abuses from “harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, including denial of medical care” to “denial of peaceful assembly and association”.

The State Department’s assessment of Venezuela was not as harsh as Cuba but still pretty critical nevertheless. Though U.S. diplomats recently expressed cautious optimism over the recent term limits referendum, the report said that referendums pursued “policies that threatened to undermine freedoms and democratic institutions."

The Venezuelan government replied this morning:
The report's allegations are "false, bad-intentioned and meddling," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on its Web site. It also said the U.S. government has "the darkest record of violations ... of human dignity in modern history."
According to Voice of America, the report praised several Latin American countries such as Argentina for going after suspected Dirty War criminals and Colombia for “improving” a still-deteriorated human rights environment. (Really? “Improving”?)

Image- The telegraph (The State Department’s annual report on human rights critiqued the referendum process in Venezuela)
Online Sources- Voice of America, State Department, AP, El Universal, The Latin Americanist

Daily Headlines: February 26, 2009

* Cuba: The U.S. House of Representatives approved a spending bill that included provisions to relax travel and remittance restrictions to Cuba. The bill will likely face a serious challenge in the Senate, however.

* Latin America: Could Argentina, Ecuador and Venezuela be “destabilized” due to the global economic crisis? CIA Director Leon Panetta thinks so.

* Guatemala: The country’s government still has a long way to go to repair the human rights violations during the civil war according to Amnesty International.

* Colombia: Time magazine examines the shortcomings of extraditing suspected Colombian drug capos to the U.S.

Image- BBC News
Online Sources- Time, AP, Amnesty International, BBC News, Reuters

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Today's Video: Happy birthday Lovefoxxx!

Today is the 25th birthday of Lovefoxxx (real name Luísa Hanaê Matsushita)- the lead singer of Brazilian electroclash group CSS (a.k.a. Cansei de Ser Sexy). Thus, the perfect excuse to feature one of CSS' best-known songs (and a personal favorite): "Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death from Above".

Online Sources- YouTube, Wikipedia, Myspace Music

Bloggers of the world unite!

Image- Concurring Opinions
Online Sources- La Plaza, Plan Colombia and Beyond, Deadspin, VivirLatino, Guanabee, Small State, Latin American Musings, Latin American News Review

Banana rift continue between E.U. and LatAm

The European Union (EU) and several Latin American countries continue to be at odds over tariffs levied on bananas.

In April 2008 the World Trade Organization (WTO) upheld a complaint by Ecuador that argued EU taxes on banana importers in the Americas were “excessive and discriminatory”. Since then, the EU has tried to sidestep the WTO’s decision by arguing that no agreement was reached on banana taxes due to the collapse of the Doha round of trade talks.

On Monday the EU added more wood to the fire by proposing to lower its taxes on banana imports from 176 to 114 Euros per ton by 2019, instead of 2016. The reaction from Latin America has been of justified indignation and anger:
"We will not accept the introduction of new elements and renegotiations to arrive at something that is completely different and disadvantageous compared to the balanced agreement concluded on July 27, 2008," Guatemala's ambassador Eduardo Sperisen-Yurt told AFP.

The world's largest banana exporters, Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru and Venezuela, have all rejected the EU's argument and have threatened sanctions against the bloc.
The deal will not affect former European colonies in the Caribbean who are part of the so-called “ACP countries.” Nations like Belize, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti don’t pay banana tariffs.

Image- AFP
Online Sources- Radio Netherlands, AFP, The Latin Americanist

Investigation probes Latin American scouting

Baseball scouting practices in Latin America are being placed under an even bigger magnifying glass. Federal authorities are looking into scouting in the region, particularly skimming of signing bonuses and in the Dominican Republic, including the investigation of Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden.

Bowden said Monday that he is innocent of any wrogndoing.

He is part of a federal investigation into how prospects are recruited in Latin America, according to the Associated Press.

Last year, the Chicago White Sox fired three people involved with scouting in Latin America, not elaborating beyond a statement saying they were fired "for actions in Latin America that were violations of club policy and standards."

Sports Illustrated reports that one former Latin America scout Jorge Oquendo previously worked for Bowden.

Sources: AP. Kansas City Star

Photo: SI, Jim Bowden

UN urges anti-drug aid for Central America

Countries in Central America need more aid to help fight drug traffickers, a United Nations commission warns.

The presence of Mexican and Colombian drug cartels leave Central America in the center of a "situation of emergency," according to U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Carlos Castresana.

At the worst of the problem is Guatemala, which Castresana said is an important transit point to ship cocaine to the United States.

Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador need international help. These countries are more at risk because of thier organized crime and dangerous juvenile gangs. He also suggested Guatemala needs a high-security court to prosecute "transnational criminals."

On Monday, Fernando Henrique Cardosos, Cesar Gaviria and Ernesto Zedillo, respectively the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal criticizing tactics in the "war on drugs."

Read the article here.

Source: AP

Photo: AP photo from DayLife: "Guatemalan anti-drug policemen prepare 3300 kg of cocaine for incineration in Guatemala City."

Son of ex-African dictator nabbed for drugs

The oldest son of late Guinean president Lansana Conte was arrested yesterday for drug trafficking in that West African country.

Ousmane Conte- a commander in the Guinean army- was nabbed by army officials and taken to a military camp for detention. According to AFP, Conte was named by other alleged drug traffickers and had been implicated in a 2008 investigation of intercepted plane carrying cocaine into Guinea.

A military junta has led Guinea since Lansana Conte died in late December after 24 years in power. Since then, details of widespread corruption during his time in power have emerged as western Africa has become a de facto safety haven for drug trafficking from Latin America into Europe.

According to BBC News:
On Monday a relative of the former president was shown on state television confessing that he had received tens of thousands of dollars from a Colombian partner.

The army officers who seized power when President Conte died, after more than 20 years in power, said they intended to punish the corruption associated with the illegal drugs trade.
Image- BBC News (“About 50 tones of cocaine are shipped through West Africa each year.”)
Online Sources- BBC News, The Latin Americanist, Reuters, AP, AFP

Daily Headlines: February 25, 2009

* Spain: After meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said that his country would consider taking in detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

* Latin America: Though more still needs to be done, “Latin America is now the site of some of the most pro-gay legislation in the developing world” says this Foreign Policy article.

* El Salvador: U.S. immigration officials have charged former Salvadoran defense minister General Jose Guillermo with two counts of immigration fraud.

* Argentina: The country’s beef industry has been hit hard by government regulations and one of the worst droughts in decades according to BBC News.

Image- BBC News
Online Sources-, The Latin Americanist, Foreign Policy, BBC News, UPI

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Today’s Video: Father Will Wauters

With the start of Lent tomorrow (Ash Wednesday) it’s worth noting those unselfish souls who use religion to help the people in their communities.

What happens when a priest who dedicates himself to helping impoverished Latino neighborhoods in Los Angeles then suddenly finds he’s unemployed? Al Jazzera English looks at the case of Father Will Wauters:

Online Sources- YouTube, Wikipedia

Hilda Solis confirmed by Senate (includes update)

By an 80-17 vote the Senate confirmed Hilda Solis as the next Labor Secretary. Solis was approved by Senators on both sides of the aisle despite some Republican opposition. (Links via NPR, Bloomberg).

Original Post:
After weeks of delays and wrangling a Senate confirmation vote is expected later today on Labor Secretary-designee Hilda Solis. MSNBC’s First Read says that the vote could come as early as 4:30 this afternoon.

According to an article in the Huffington Post:
Republicans in the Senate just agreed to unanimous consent on the California Democrat's nomination for the labor post, according to a labor source. That means that no cloture vote is needed and Solis will be confirmed should she get more than 50 votes. In short: she will be the next Labor Secretary.

Solis' nomination had been held up in committee and on the Senate floor due to a variety of factors, most recently tax liens her husband had failed to pay on his business. Labor allies, however, contended that the opposition was driven by her support of the Employee Free Choice Act -- a union priority that Republicans in the Senate staunchly oppose. With Solis set to get through the Senate Tuesday afternoon, these same labor allies are now ecstatic.
The Californian of Honduran and Mexican background had been selected over two months ago by President Barack Obama to head the Labor Department and could become the second Latino to be part of Obama’s cabinet.

Critics of Solis contend that she’s a puppet manipulated by major labor unions and this would continue if she becomes Labor Secretary. On the other hand, her supporters argue that her detractors exaggerate her pro-union stance and that she “is a true champion of America's workers”.

Regardless of whether one agrees with her or not, it’s only fair that she can at least face a Senate vote and see if she’s confirmed or rejected.

Image- Pasadena Star-News
Online Sources- Human Events, The Nation, The Latin Americanist, Huffington Post, First Read

Canada aid readjustment affects LatAm

In a move that affects some Latin American countries, Canada’s government is planning to limit the number of nations that receive most of its foreign aid.

Currently Canadian foreign assistance is spread across 69 countries around the world. The plan presented yesterday by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government would shift 80% of aid to twenty countries. (As of now, Canada splits its $1.5 billion in aid roughly in half between individual countries and international organizations).

The move appears to be most detrimental to Africa who would have the number of countries on the list of twenty reduced from fourteen to eight. According to the, Latin America and the Caribbean seem to be the biggest beneficiaries of Harper’s new plan:
The new pared-down list signals that Mr. Harper will put aid money behind his pledge to make the Americas a foreign-policy priority - an area where his government wants to develop trade ties and a strategic alliance with the United States.

It bumps up five recipients from the hemisphere - Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Honduras, plus the Caribbean islands - which were not among the top 20 countries that received Canadian aid last year…

Bumping up the place of the Americas in aid will bring criticism, however. Aside from
Haiti, the second-largest recipient of Canadian bilateral aid after Afghanistan, most countries in the Americas are considered middle-income nations on the UN Human Development Index, while many African nations are far poorer.
Not every country in the Western Hemisphere will enjoy increased Canadian aid, however. Nicaragua and Guyana were on the previous list created by Harper’s predecessor but removed from the new one.

Image- CBC (Canadian P.M. Stephen Harper along with ex-presidents George W. Bush and Vicente Fox toured the ancient Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza during a 2006 summit).
Online Sources- CBC,,

Editorial by ex-presidents criticizes “war on drugs”

A trio of Latin American ex-presidents called for a revaluation of the “war on drugs” in an editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal.

"The war on drugs has failed," said the opinion piece by former presidents Fernando Enrique Cardoso (Brazil), Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico) and César Gaviria (Colombia). They suggested that U.S.-led counternarcotics efforts change their focus towards a more humane and efficient approach:
(…)Cardoso, Gaviria and Zedillo defend in their article the importance of creating informative campaigns about drug use among the public in order to attack the problem at its roots, as was done with tobacco.

The ex-presidents believe that the policy of repression and criminalization of consumption practiced in recent decades has failed both in eradicating the habit and in combating the trafficking rings.

"The alarming power of the drug cartels is leading to a criminalization of politics and a politicization of crime. And the corruption of the judicial and political system is undermining the foundations of democracy in several Latin American countries," the three men wrote in the Journal.
The editorial mentioned the conclusions of a report presented earlier this month by the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy on the “war on drugs”. (Cardoso, Zedillo, and Gaviria are part of that group.)

The editorial coincides with a rift between Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and his attorney general over resuming penalties for the personal use of illicit drugs.

Image- (Farmer tending to coca leaves)
Online Sources- LAHT, Bloomberg, The Latin Americanist, El Espectador

Supreme Court to hear key immigration cases

The U.S. Supreme Court (USSC) has agreed to listen to arguments in a pair of cases involving immigrants.

On Wednesday, justices will hear oral arguments in Flores-Figueroa v. U.S. where a Mexican immigrant was convicted for using a false social security number and resident alien card to obtain work. Lawyers for Ignacio Flores-Figueroa argued that it was not conclusively proven that he knew that the documents did not belong to him. Thus, the USSC will examine if “an individual who used a false means of identification but did not know it belonged to another person can be convicted of ‘aggravated identity theft’”. (Those guilty of the law in question “knowingly transfers, possesses, or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person.”)

Yesterday the USSC agreed to hear oral arguments this fall in the case of Padilla v. Kentucky. The case involves the issue of legal representation of prospective deportees; a contentious subject that has never resolved by the top court. The issue has become more contested after former Attorney General Michael Mukasey said last month that immigrants have no right to legal counsel.

As to be expected differing sides of the immigration debate have distinct arguments on Padilla v. Kentucky:
“In the past, there was a right to be represented by an attorney, just not at the expense of the government,” said Benjamin Johnson, Executive Director of the American Immigration Law Foundation...If you don’t have a right to an attorney you don’t have an opportunity to say I want to talk to a lawyer. This gives a much stronger green light to those judges that they can push the cases ahead”…

Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (said) “there’s a traditional division between criminal and civil proceedings...When you send somebody home, you’re sending them home. It’s not punitive. You’re simply making a determination as to their civil status,” he said. “The illegal immigrations advocates want everybody to get O.J. Simpson’s version of a deportation hearing.” [Ed. - Laying it thick on the hyperbole, huh Dan?]
Image- China daily
Online Sources- The Washington Independent, AP, Oyez, SCOTUSblog, The Latin Americanist

Daily Headlines: February 24, 2009

* Brazil: Officials are getting more hands-on with the free distribution of condoms during Carnaval. Just ask president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

* Mexico: The U.S. State Department isn’t the only one issuing travel warnings on Mexico; several universities have published warnings for prospective spring breakers.

* Peru: Rest in peace Conchita Cintron. The pioneering female matador born in Peru and of Puerto Rican background died last week at the age of 86.

* Cuba: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez met Raul and Fidel Castro during a 24-hour "working visit" to Havana.

Image- AP (“Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, left, Rio de Janeiro's Governor Sergio Cabral, center, and Rio de Janeiro's Mayor Eduardo Paes attend the carnival parade at the Sambodrome in Rio de Janeiro, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2009.(AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko).”)
Online Sources- LAHT,,, The Latin Americanist,

Monday, February 23, 2009

Today’s Video: “A Class Apart”

Tonight’s episode of the PBS series “American Experience” will focus on the landmark yet little-known case of Hernandez v. Texas.

The 1954 civil rights case was ruled upon by the Supreme Court two weeks before Brown v. Board of Education. The unanimously ruling by the court found that the 14th Amendment protects all racial classes including Mexican-Americans in this case.

In case you miss the episode- entitled “A Class Apart”- you can also view it online. The following video is a brief trailer of the episode.

Online Sources- PBS, Oyez, YouTube

News Briefs: Cuba

* U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder traveled to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. During his visit, Holder will be briefed on several detainees and will talk to officials over how best to close the controversial jail.

* Speaking of Gitmo detainees, former prisoner Binyam Mohamed was freed and arrived in Britain earlier today. Mohamed had been arrested in 2002 for conspiring to detonate a dirty bomb though charges were dropped last month.

* One of the top Congressional Republicans urged a “revaluation” of U.S.-Cuba affairs. “We must recognize the ineffectiveness of our current policy and deal with the Cuban regime in a way that enhances U.S. interests", wrote Sen. Richard Lugar in a letter attached to a report urging an end to travel restrictions to Cuba and a renewal of bilateral counternarcotics efforts.

* Cuban boxer Guillermo Rigondeaux defected and is in Miami according to his U.S.-based promoter. The boxer fell into disfavor with the Cuban government after he disappeared for eleven days in 2007 during the Pan American Games in Brazil.

Image- AFP (“A man rests on a street corner in Havana.”)
Online Sources- Bloomberg, AFP, AP, IHT, earthtimes, The Latin Americanist, BBC News, USA TODAY

Spanish king witness to a “¿Por qué no te callas?” moment

In 2007, the infamous “¿Por qué no te callas?” incident happened when King Juan Carlos of Spain ordered Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez to shut up during a summit. The two leaders have since patched up their differences yet his Highness witnessed a somewhat similar occurrence last week.

The King and Queen Sofia attended a South Beach Wine & Food Festival dinner during their visit to Miami. Celebrity chef Mario Batali appeared at the $1,000-a-person gala to say a few words. Much like the King two years ago, Batali ad-libbed his remarks:
After stepping up to the microphone, he swore and sarcastically asked the audience if they could spare him a moment.

"All you weasel f***wads in the back corners, can I have ten seconds of your time?" said the chef, who appeared intoxicated.

He then swore again in front of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia when introducing chef José Andrés, who runs the Los Angeles restaurant, The Bazaar.

Mr. Batali said his friend had received: "The most mother-f***ing stars of any
Spanish restaurant in the US." He finished by grabbing Andres' bottom.
According to the Times Online, Batali’s choice comments made the Queen turn white while “Gloria Estefan, the singer, started giggling.” Other celebrity guests including Julio Iglesias and Florida Governor Charlie Crist were reportedly “shocked” by what happened.

It’s unknown if the King and Queen publicly replied to Batali, though Andrés jokingly told the audience that "this is what food and wine from Spain will do to you."

Image- BusinessWeek
Online Sources- The Telegraph, LAHT, Times Online, AP, The Latin Americanist

“Tourism stumbles in Mexico” revisited

Last month we published a post describing how tourism in Mexico had been hit hard by increasing violence. The number of tourists visiting cities nationwide- especially in northern border states- fell by as much as 20% last year according to the Mexican Association of Hotels and Motels.

The Mexican government, however, contradicted that information and claimed that tourism continues to be strong. According to data released by the Tourism Department, visitors to the country spent more money last year compared to 2007. In addition, a statement from the agency claimed a 5.9% increase in tourism in 2008 to the tune of over 23 million foreign visitors.

Why the increase in visitors and revenue? Tourism Minister Rodolfo Elizondo said that it was due to the plummeting value of the peso as well as cheaper air travel.

Despite the rosy picture painted by Elizondo and his agency, the U.S. State Department views Mexican tourism differently:
"Recent Mexican army and police confrontations with drug cartels have resembled small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and grenades," the (State Department) advisory reads. "Large firefights have taken place in many towns and cities across Mexico but most recently in northern Mexico, including Tijuana, Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez. During some of these incidents, U.S. citizens have been trapped and temporarily prevented from leaving the area".
Image- BBC News
Online Sources- Bloomberg, Xinhua, LAHT,, AP, The Latin Americanist

Spy scandal hits Colombian intelligence

Colombia’s beleaguered intelligence agency (DAS, in Spanish) has come under fire over allegations that rogue agents illegally wiretapped politicians, members of the press, and judges.

"I have ordered a probe of the DAS interception systems and controls," Attorney General Mario Iguaran said yesterday after an article in local newsmagazine Semana detailed how DAS agents illicitly worked for criminal groups.

As Colombia Reports mentioned:
According to this week's publication, judges of the Supreme Court, the directors of Caracol Radio, W Radio, Noticias UNO and weekly Semana were bugged, as well as a respected columnist from newspaper El Espectador. The investigated media all operate relatively independently and at times are very critical of the government.

The judges allegedly were tapped when the Supreme Court was clashing with the Presidency over the bribery investigation of (former) ministers and the investigation of mostly coalition congressmen with ties to paramilitary groups.
In response to the allegations, DAS’ head of counterintelligence resigned along with other senior officers. DAS director Felipe Munoz Gomez (image) didn’t quit and appears to be safe in his post for the time being.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said this morning that he denied ordering the DAS wiretaps and was, in fact, a “victim” of said events.

This is not the first time that DAS has been caught in scandal under the Uribe administration. His first director- Jorge Noguera- quit in 2005 and is currently in jail for his alleged ties to right-wing paramilitaries. Anther DAS director- Maria del Pilar Hurtado- resigned in November after a key opposition senator accused the agency of secretly monitoring his actions.

Image- BBC News
Online Sources- Reuters, Colombia Reports, Al Jazeera English, AP, The Latin Americanist

Daily Headlines: February 23, 2009

* U.S.: Spaniard Penelope Cruz won the Oscar for best supporting actress while "Slumdog Millionaire" dominated the 81st Academy Awards with eight honors.

* Mexico: The police chief of Ciudad Juarez quit after receiving death threats from drug gangs.

* Haiti: Earlier this month Swiss officials announced that they will return over $ 6 million in frozen assets belonging to ex-dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier.

* Ecuador: Was a U.S. diplomat expelled last week from Ecuador really “the head of the CIA” in that country?

Image- AP (“Spanish actress Penelope Cruz, nominated for an Oscar for best actress in a supporting role for her work in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," arrives for the 81st Academy Awards Sunday, Feb. 22, 2009, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello).”)
Online Sources- Reuters, AHN, CNN, Bloomberg, The Latin Americanist