Saturday, May 23, 2009

Weekend Headlines: May 23, 2009

* Mexico: A moderate 5.7 magnitude earthquake hit central Mexico yesterday though there have been no reports of fatalities or major damage.

* U.S.: Was the deportation of three high school students from California to Mexico an “immigration raid” or where Border Patrol agents following proper procedure?

* Peru: Some academics claim that the government’s date on the economy is inaccurate and that Peru may actually be in a recession.

* Colombia: Coffee production in Colombia has plummeted by 33% this year according to recently released figures.

Image- AP (“An emergency official directs people evacuating a downtown office building after an earthquake in Mexico City, Friday, May 22, 2009.”)
Online Sources- AFP,, Reuters

Friday, May 22, 2009

Today’s Video: “See no evil, hear no evil…”

Note: We’ll be posting on Saturday before taking a long weekend off ‘til Tuesday. (Voices carry!)

Do you remember last week’s prison break from a Mexican jail where over fifty inmates escaped while the warden and guards pretended to be like the three wise monkeys? It was suspected that prison authorities were bribed by drug gangs to let the 53 convicts bust out of jail. After watching the video below, those assumptions seem pretty damn true:

Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Wikipedia, YouTube, Al Jazeera English

Sao Paulo fashionstas, prosecutors reach deal

Last year’s Sao Paulo Fashion Week was marred when an investigation revealed a terrible lack of black and mixed-race models sashaying on the runway. Though nearly half of Brazil’s population is said to be black or of mixed race, only eight of the 344 models at last year’s event were black.

With threats by authorities to shut down this year’s event, offaicls and organizers reached an agreement:
Under its terms, fashion brands must ensure that 10% of the models are of African or Indigenous descent…

Companies failing to meet the new target could face the prospect of being fined more than $120,000…

While there has been little visible sign of tension over race, people of African heritage make up the poorest section of society.

An attempt to create a national law to establish quotas to address this inequality has once again been delayed in the Brazilian Congress, because of a failure to reach a consensus.

Some legislators are arguing that the best way to tackle inequality would be to use social rather than racial criteria in setting targets.
As the BBC News reported last year, some Afro-Brazilian models are upset at the apparent racism in their country’s fashion industry. "In a fashion show it is practically impossible," attest one model.

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

Nike targeted for Honduran labor abuses

Several months ago, clothing manufacturer Russel Athletic (RA) was targeted by several university student groups after being accused of unfair labor practices in Honduras. The University of Minnesota, Cornell University, and Purdue University were some of the schools who cut ties with RA over allegations such as threatening workers who wanted to unionize.

Some students at the University of Washington who campaigned against RA have now set their sights on another clothing firm: Nike.
The student group that led a successful effort to end the University of Washington's apparel-licensing contract with the Russell Corp. is at it again -- this time protesting a contract with Nike.

The Student Labor Action Project organized a rally Thursday of nearly 100 people with banners, chants and bagpipes to march through campus and into the UW president's office. When they reached the door, they got an unexpected response: President Mark Emmert was out of the country...

SLAP and the national Workers Rights Consortium contend factory owners are withholding $1.5 million in severance payments to workers at two shut-down Honduran factories that produced, among other things, Nike apparel featuring UW logos...

Regarding the current case involving Nike, the UW advisory committee is waiting for a Workers Rights Consortium report on the two Honduran factories: Huggar de Honduras and Vision Tex. The committee's goal, Arkans said, is to get the $1.5 million in severance money to the laid-off workers.
Image- cnet news
Online Sources-, The Latin Americanist

Venezuelan Police Raid TV President's Office

On Thursday night, Venezuelan intelligence police raided the office of Guillermo Zuloaga, president of the Globovision television network, the New York Times reported.  Globovision is widely seen as an opposition network and has been under attack by the government recently for its reporting on an earthquake a few weeks ago.

The raid came after the government became aware of 24 Toyotas belonging to Zuloaga that were stored on a property located in the eastern part of the country.  Zuloaga maintains that the cars were moved there for safekeeping following a robbery at the dealership he owns.  "I don't know if they're trying to find something to try to shut me up.  They won't shut us up," Zuloaga told reporters.

Online sources: New York Times, Associated Press, The Latin Americanist

Daily Headlines: May 22, 2009

* Haiti: Days of heavy rains and flooding have killed at least eleven people and left over 600 families homeless.

* Venezuela: Thousands of students and opposition figures protested against the government’s budget cuts to education.

* Mexico: Authorities have removed all the restrictions put in place as a result of the swine flu outbreak.

* Colombia: Police in Venezuela nabbed a suspected drug trafficker accused of being one of the "bosses of Colombia's most important cartels."

Online Sources- Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Reuters, LAHT, MSNBC

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Today’s Video: “My Family/Mi Familia”

We end our look this week at Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and its “RACE AND HOLLYWOOD: LATINO IMAGES IN FILM” series” with 1995’s “My Family/Mi Familia”.

“My Family/Mi Familia” was co-written and directed by Gregory Nava whose primary claim to fame was 1983’s immigration tale “El Norte”. “My Family/Mi Familia” tells the saga of a Mexican-American family over three generations and stars a treasure trove of Latino actors including Edward James Olmos, Jimmy Smits, Esai Morales, and Jennifer Lopez.

According to TCM’s synopsis of “My Family/Mi Familia”:
Jimmy Smits, who plays troubled son Jimmy, loved making My Family. “From the beginning, My Family was a movie I knew I had to make,” said Smits in 1995. “My Family is one of the very few films with an entirely Latino cast and Latino director, and all of us working on it felt it would be a real breakthrough.” His attraction to the story had to do with its epic quality. “I like the span of the piece in terms of going from the early times of when California was part of Mexico and really seeing the family go through the 50s and the 80s,” he said. “This is a multi-generational piece. In that respect the piece to me is like a jewel.”
Here’s a clip from the film where Esai Morales pretends to be the Pied Piper of mambo:

Online Sources- Turner Classic Movies, YouTube, Wikipedia, The Latin Americanist

A brief letter to Rosario Dawson

Dear Ms. Dawson:

You’re an admirable Latina actress who has starred in several great films and you've spoken out as for several worthy causes. Thus, it would be a pity for you to sully your good name by planning to star opposite Kevin James in a romantic comedy with “zoo animals trying to teach the keeper their methods of dating and mating to help him win back the woman of his dreams.”

Please, pretty please, reconsider acting in “The Zookeeper.” Your fans would very much appreciate it.

Erwin C.

(Hat tip: Gawker).

Image- New York Daily News
Online Sources- Gawker, Variety,, Look to the Stars

The not-so-universal heath care initiative

Senate Democrats are campaigning for a bill that has been touted to provide “universal health coverage” to everyone in the U.S. The reality, however, is that the plan would not be “universal” and would exclude one group who is particularly vulnerable to the lack of health care:
Illegal immigrants won't be entitled to medical insurance under the health legislation Congress is working on, a leading lawmaker said Thursday.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said the health overhaul would cover nearly everyone — 94 percent to 96 percent of the population — but not undocumented workers. Baucus is chairman of the Finance Committee, which has taken the lead in drafting the sweeping legislation.

"We aren't going to cover undocumented workers because that's too politically explosive," Baucus said during a session with reporters, in which he previewed legislation he expects to introduce by mid-June. - [ed. emphasis added]
In other words, Baucus wants to exclude illegal immigrants from the plan in order to kowtow to a party that has gone out of their way to demonize immigrants even if it costs the GOP Latino support. (Case in point: several Republican senators nearly defeated plans to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program since it would cover legal immigrants).

The upshot could be a “very high” chance that a bipartisan compromise will help pass the proposal. Yet it’s an unfair burden for illegal immigrants to pay when they are consumers and pay taxes for the benefit of this country.

Image- Washington Times
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist,, AP, Bloomberg

Chevron on offensive in Ecuador trial

There’s an old saying: “the best defense is a good offense.” Oil giant Chevron has taken that advice to heart in a case where it’s being sued for alleged environmental damage in Ecuador.

The company has desperately tried to seek a dismissal of the case; in February, Chevron's general counsel accused a geological engineer serving as a court advisor of being “biased” and acting in favor of the plaintiffs. (The plaintiffs are Ecuadorian natives seeking $27 billion in damages for the alleged dumping of waste water in the jungle).

Some of Chevron’s stockholders have called for an environmental protection report to be conducted related to the case in Ecuador. Chevron’s management- as you might imagine- were none too happy with the proposal and have since gone on the attack:
In a letter on Wednesday urging investors to vote it down, Chevron said proposal backer Trillium Asset Management, a Boston-based manager of socially responsible funds, had waged carefully orchestrated media campaigns every year over the past half-decade.

"In their campaign for this year's annual stockholder meeting, the plaintiffs' lawyers and their colleagues have added a new dimension to their pressure strategy: a campaign to generate fear in the investment community," Chief Governance Officer Lydia Beebe wrote in the letter filed with regulators.
A spokeswoman for Trillium rejected Beebe’s claims and deemed it as a “a tactic to scare shareholders."

Image- Time (“The lawsuit alleges that Texaco, acquired by Chevron in 2001, left behind oil waste pits during the eighteen years in which it drilled in the region and that this has contributed to a higher rate of cancer and other ailments among the settlers and indigenous people who live there. This photo shows a waste pit left by Petro Ecuador, Texaco's partner in the region.”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Reuters,

Obama defends Gitmo strategy

Facing mounting bipartisan pressure over the anticipated closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention center, President Barack Obama spoke this morning to defend his plans:

Despite blaming his predecessor for the problems at the controversial prison, Obama backed his decision to not release photographs showing U.S. troops allegedly abusing detainees. "Nothing would be gained by the release of these photos that matters more than the lives of our young men and women serving in harm's way," said the president.

Meanwhile, former Vice-President Dick Cheney defended the Bush administration’s policies and blasted Obama for “mischaracterizing” the security decisions made by the previous White House.

Online Sources- BBC News, Guardian UK, YouTube, Los Angeles Times

Daily Headlines: May 21, 2009

* Haiti: A man accused of captaining a boat which capsized and killed nine Haitian migrants could face the death penalty.

* Mexico: Authorities nabbed who they claim is a “top lieutenant” in the Beltran Leyva drug cartel.

* U.S.: President Barack Obama has set June 8 as the day in which he and Congressional leaders will discuss immigration reform.

* Bolivia: U.S. Undersecretary of State for Latin America Thomas Shannon traveled to Bolivia in order to patch up rocky bilateral relations.

Image- AFP
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist,, AFP, CNN,

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Today’s Video: “Walk Proud”

We continue our look at Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and its “RACE AND HOLLYWOOD: LATINO IMAGES IN FILM” series” with the 1979 film “Walk Proud.”

The movie portrays Chicano youth gangs in SoCal though what catches the eye is Robby Benson as Emilio Mendez. The film isn’t bad but seeing him in darkened makeup and with a faux Latino accent is a little unsettling. (Loved him in “Ice Castles”, however!)

According to TCM’s synopsis of “Walk Proud”:
Critics of Walk Proud have pointed to its Latin-American themes as essentially window dressing on just another vehicle for Benson, done up with fake tan and dark contacts for the role... There was no small amount of perception amongst the Latin-American community that Walk Proud was more of the same, only with a quinceneara sequence. Benson also wrote and sang the number that plays over the closing credits.

While the project gave opportunities to several of the industry's stalwart Latin-American character players like (Henry) Darrow, (Pepe) Serna, (Domingo) Ambriz and (Trinidad) Silva, the latter's casting did more harm then help to the film's credibility. Serna was 35 at the time of the film's release, Ambriz 31, and Silva 29; as a result, it came as if these high school hardcases got held back a grade one time too many.
Below is the very beginning of Walk Proud; check out TCM next Tuesday at 10pm if you want to see the whole movie.

Online Sources- Turner Classic Movies, YouTube, Wikipedia

Notable Quotables: Almost gone

"Healing…To wish that people is ill gets better soon. Only two people here in Na Ha and on the other side is Lacanja can practice…He is the last old man in this area that can do it. The tradition is getting a little bit lost because of the new culture."
---Director of Natural Reserves and Wildlife in Chiapas Maria Theresa Vasquez describes a spiritual ritual of the healer of one of Mexico’s three remaining Lacandon tribes.

As Voice of America reported, the Lancondians “are one of the most isolated and culturally conservative of Mexico's native peoples.” Unfortunately, these descendants of the Maya have seen their numbers dwindle to roughly 1100 as some have fled to other communities while their lands have been encroached by loggers and ranchers.

Image- (Image from Canadian filmmaker Collin Hanney’s 1960 documentary on the Lancandon peoples).
Online Sources- Voice of America

Leading U.S. diplomat backs Guatemala’s Colom

Guatemala is facing “a serious test of its fortitude” over the allegations that President Alvaro Colom and his close allies masterminded the murder of a prominent attorney. The accusations surrounding Colom has lead his opponents to protest and present a petition of more than 30,000 signatures of citizens calling for his prompt resignation. Not to be outdone, Colom’s supporters have come out to back him up; the latest example being a rally of an estimated 40,000 people on Sunday.

So far, Colom has received the backing of the Organization of American States and several Latin American leaders. The embattled president has even got the support of a key U.S. diplomat:
A senior U.S. official visited Guatemala on Monday to show support for President Alvaro Colom, who has been facing public protest due to alleged involvement in a lawyer's murder, news reports said.

Colom restated his innocence of all charges at a meeting with U.S. Undersecretary of State for Latin America David Robinson, a Guatemala government spokesman told reporters Monday.
Whether he is innocent or guilty, the “two Guatemalas” that have emerged from the Colom scandal may break the country beyond repair.

Image- BBC News
Online Sources- Xinhua, LAHT, AP, The Latin Americanist,

Mexican economy almost hits bottom

Mexican officials confirmed earlier this month that the country’s economy is under recession. Figures released today by the government have shown that Mexico’s economy has hit its lowest point in many years:
Mexico's economy shrunk 8.2 percent in the first quarter, and the finance minister predicted GDP would drop 5.5 percent in 2009, as the country braced for its worst year in more than a decade.

The recession in the United States has hit exports hard, reduced the flow of money sent home by migrants, and dealt a blow to tourism, all key contributors to Mexico's one-trillion-dollar economy.

The latest figures do not take into account the impact of A(H1N1) flu, which led to a virtual shutdown of parts of the country and scared off tourists.
The decrease in GDP s the worst since the so-called “Tequila Crisis” of 1995 when the economy contracted, the peso was sharply devalued, inflation skyrocketed to 50%, and thousands lost their jobs. According to some analysts, the worst is yet to come as second quarter GDP is expected to falling and the recession will continue. “We are looking at a lost year,” said one financial analyst to Reuters.

Image- Money & Co.
Online Sources- The Telegraph, Bloomberg, AFP, The Latin Americanist,

The swine flu distraction

The massive hoopla surrounding the swine flu outbreak has obscured news about other, deadlier diseases. For instance, yesterday we mentioned how an outbreak of dengue fever has killed more people in Latin America (excluding Mexico) this year than the H1N1 virus.

According to some health advocates, such a strong focus on the swine flu have caused officials to be distracted and pay less attention to other more pertinent health problems. "Malaria, drug-resistant tuberculosis — they are killing people every day," said Dr. Sam Zaramba, Uganda's chief medical officer in reaction to how much time and energy has been spent on the swine flu at this year's World Health Assembly (WHA). Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) issued a statement decrying the lack of sufficient discussion on Chagas disease- a tropical disease that affects millions yearly throughout Latin America. MSF officials were disappointed that the WHA practically ignored a malady which kills an estimated 15,000 people in Latin America per year:
“At the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Chagas we had expected that the WHA would adopt a resolution where all affected countries agree to integrate care of acute and chronic Chagas patients into their primary healthcare systems, and to invest more in research,” said Roger Teck, MSF director of operations. “People affected by this neglected disease are once again neglected. However, even though Chagas is now off the WHA agenda, this should not be used as an excuse for inaction. Governments of endemic countries should step up through developing and implementing better national and international protocols to fight Chagas.”
Image- Discover Magazine
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Reuters, AP

Daily Headlines: May 20, 2009

* Cuba: Democratic legislators and President Obama aren’t seeing eye-to-eye after Senate Democrats refused to allocate funds for the upcoming shutdown of the Guantanamo detention center.

* Venezuela: The good news – Venezuela’s economy continues to grow. The bad news – the rate of growth is at its slowest pace in roughly six years.

* Peru: Oil production has slowed down significantly as a result of growing protests by indigenous groups.

* Bolivia: Former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada may be tried in absentia for his supposed role in the deaths of 60 demonstrators six years ago.

Image- AFP
Online Sources- Voice of America, Bloomberg, Reuters, BBC News

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Today’s Video: The unique Carmen Miranda

Yesterday we mentioned that Turner Classic Movies will feature films on Tuesdays and Thursdays highlighting the cinematic depiction of Latinos.

Tonight’s slate of classic films (including “The Lawless” and “The Young Savages”) will focus on social problems. This Thursday’s theme is on music and will include movies like “West Side Story” and “La Bamba.” Today’s video will look at a portion of 1944’s “Greenwich Village”- a film that starred the one-of-a-kind Carmen Miranda.

Born Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha, the Portuguese-born Brazilian actress was best-known for starring in films during the 1940s and 1950s. Usually seen donning a hat topped with tropical fruit and wearing a flowery dress, Miranda became the symbol of South America in the eyes of U.S. moviegoers. And it wasn’t just because she could sing well:
Miranda arrived in the United States in 1939 with her band, the Bando da Lua, and achieved stardom in the early 1940s. She was encouraged by the United States government in her American career as part of President Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy, designed to strengthen links with Latin America and Europe; it was believed that in delivering content like hers, the policy would be better received by the American public. She was the country's highest-paid entertainer for several years in the 1940s, and in 1945, was the highest-paid woman in the United States, earning more than $200,000 that year, according to IRS records.
The following clip is vintage Miranda; kitschy and dated yet absolutely catchy!

Online Sources- Turner Classic Movies, YouTube, Wikipedia

Notable Quotables: Losing the Latino vote

“It’s absolutely urgent. The demographics are there in black and white…If we don’t figure out a way to open our party up to more Hispanic voters, nothing else we do will matter. Mathematically, we can’t get there from here.”
---Former Rep. Henry Bonilla (Republican) is alarmed at how the Latino vote has mostly fled away from the GOP and towards the Democratic Party.

Bonilla’s comments are nothing to shrug off; the “anti-Hispanic rhetoric” has become louder within the GOP, as ex-Republican Party chairman Mel Martinez observed.

A recent survey by Bendixen & Associates found that 71% of respondents feel that the Democrats best represent the Latino community on immigration and that President Barack Obama has done “an excellent or good job” on Latino issues. Another study conducted by the University of Washington found that four in five Latinos back Obama’s presidency so far.

Online Sources-,,, Latina

China, Brazil sign $10 billion loans-for-oil deal

Recently we mentioned how China replaced the U.S. to become Brazil’s chief trading partner. Ties between the emerging countries were strengthened today after Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao in Beijing.

Both countries signed a multibillion dollar deal that would provide China with 200,000 barrels per day of oil from Brazil. In return, Brazil's state-owned Petrobras will receive $10 billion to explore in possibly lucrative offshore areas like the promising Tupi field.

A dozen other accords were signed including an $800 million loan from the China Development Bank to Brazil’s development bank.

Perhaps the most revealing detail of Lula and Jintao’s talks was the possible dropping of the U.S. dollar when both countries conduct trade with each other:
“The discussions have focused on how to improve the financial service system,” Celso Amorim, Brazil’s foreign minister, said today at a briefing in Beijing. “In terms of what currency to use, we are still discussing”...

“Concerted efforts and dialogue will be required among developing countries for their voice to be increasingly heard on the global stage,” Lula wrote in the article. “It is my belief that cooperation and friendship among developing countries is increasingly required to overcome the present threats to peace and development.”
Image- BBC News
Online Sources- Bloomberg, The Latin Americanist, Reuters

Dengue fever deadlier than H1N1 in LatAm

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks you’ve certainly noticed the media focus on the swine flu outbreak and its hundreds of cases throughout the Americas. Yet there is another fatal and deadlier disease which has spread throughout South America: dengue fever.

Six people have died of the mosquito-transmitted dengue disease this year in Argentina; the latest victim died from “dengue shock syndrome” last week. Nearly 23,500 cases of dengue have been officially reported in Argentina though some analysts claim that the real amount is double that.

"This is the largest epidemic in many years," said Dr. Eddy Martinez, the director of epidemiology for Bolivia's Ministry of Health in the capital city of La Paz. So far this year, over 200,000 dengue cases have been reported in Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia leading to more than sixty deaths. Additionally, the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca issued a dengue warning yesterday after 126 people have become infected including seven with the deadliest form of the disease.

Sadly, the situation could soon deteriorate and become worse than last year’s epidemic:
In 2008, more than one million cases of dengue were reported in Latin America and the Caribbean, with 554 deaths, according to the Pan American Health Organization.

There are no anti-viral drugs for dengue. Doctors must treat the symptoms, mostly dehydration and severe fever.

''It's horrible,'' said Martinez, adding that, ``if it's treated early, it's seldom fatal.''

During the southern summer, just ending, medical providers in Bolivia, Brazil and northern Argentina were overwhelmed.

International health officials are now concerned that the coming rainy season in the Caribbean may lead to further outbreaks in countries in that region.
Image- MSNBC
Online Sources-, LAHT, Xinhua, The Latin Americanist, Mercopress

Study: Latina teen pregnancies on the rise

“Latino teens have the highest rate of teen pregnancy and births among all racial/ethnic groups”, according to the results of a study released today.

The survey- commissioned by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and the National Council of La Raza- concluded that the overall teen birth rate in the U.S. has grown for the first time in fourteen years.

In addition, the influence of parents on Latino teens is vital. Nearly half of Latino teens say parents most influence their decisions; far more than friends (14%), religious figures (3%) and the media (2%). But almost three-quarters say that parents send different messages on sex to sons compared to daughters. 49% say their parents have talked to them about contraception, thus explaining why most of those who don’t use birth control cited fear of their parents finding out.

The study comes on the heels of another analysis conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention out-of-wedlock birth rates have gone up, especially among Latinas. Silvia Henriquez- executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health- warned that the results shouldn’t be misconstrued to stigmatize single motherhood:
(…) we need to take this opportunity to call for greater economic support, health care access and education for all women, so that those wishing to be mothers can raise healthy and happy children, with or without the support of a spouse. Specifically we must remember that women still get paid less than men do for the same work and that women who are insured pay higher insurance premiums for health care coverage than men do. Both of these issues put single working mothers at a lower socio-economic status than women in two income households.
Image- March of Dimes
Online Sources- New York Times,

Daily Headlines: May 19, 2009

* U.S.: Rest in peace Sgt. Christian Bueno Gardos; the Peruvian-American soldier was slain last week by a comrade at a combat stress clinic in Iraq.

* Argentina: Buenos Aires police had to break up a clash between anti-Semitic demonstrators and Jews commemorating the 61st anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel.

* Nicaragua: Russian officials donated 130 buses to Nicaragua in gratitude for being the only other country to recognize the independence of a pair of breakaway Georgian republics last year.

* El Salvador: Spanish Judge Eloy Velasco began his investigation of fourteen Salvadoran officers allegedly involved in the brutal 1989 “Massacre of the Jesuits.”

Image- New York Daily News
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist,, Moscow Times, Expatica Spain, Radio Netherlands

Monday, May 18, 2009

Today’s Video: “Blackboard Jungle”

On Tuesday and Thursday nights all this month, Turner Classic Movies has shined its spotlight on the cinematic depiction of Latinos. Films on themes such as miscegenation (“Giant”) and life along the border (“Border Incident”) have been featured though a can’t-miss slate of movies will be shown over the next two weeks.

In honor of this special festival, this week’s video theme will briefly look at some of the films to be shown as part of the “RACE AND HOLLYWOOD: LATINO IMAGES IN FILM” series.

Tuesday night will focus on social problems and include flicks like 1955’s “Blackboard Jungle”. Starring Glenn Ford, Sidney Poitier, and Vic Morrow, the film is a moralistic tale of a teacher (played by Ford) trying to tame the students of an urban high school. These students (including several Latinos) are depicted as the quintessential 1950s-era juvenile delinquents though he finds a cloud with a silver lining in Poitier’s character.

Here’s the original trailer to “Blackboard Jungle”. Note the use of “Rock Around the Clock" as the film’s theme in an era when rock music was viewed by some adults as crude and uncivilized.

Online Sources- Turner Classic Movies, YouTube

Teen apologizes in Luis Ramirez murder

A Pennsylvanian teen publicly apologized in juvenile court for participating in the beating death of a Mexican immigrant.

According to the AP wire, eighteen-year-old Brian Scully admitted that he was part of a group of teens who assaulted and murdered 25-year-old Luis Ramirez last July. A local judge subsequently reprimanded Scully (to use the term loosely) by ordering him to spend at least 90 days in a treatment center.

Scully and three other teens were charged in connection with Ramirez’ death in the rural mining town of Shenandoah. Two of his cohorts- Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak- were cleared of serious charges including murder and “ethnic intimidation”. (Both of them were still convicted of simple assault and could face federal charges.)

During the trial, both sides agreed that the assault took place with prosecutors arguing that the teens targeted Ramirez and baited him with racial slurs. Yet the jury sided with the defense who emphasized conflicting witness testimony and painted Ramirez as the real aggressor (despite him ending up dead, that is).

The trial highlighted the racial tensions in Shenandoah, a town that has recently seen a boost in its Latino population:
“It’s only gotten worse since the verdict,” said a white woman at a downtown store who asked that her name not be used because she was afraid of how her neighbors might react to her having talked to a reporter. “The whole thing has set us backwards, and if the trial had swung the other way, it would have just been the whites who were angry”…

Downtown, at the local Hispanic bodega and the town’s main Mexican restaurant, patrons did not want their names used but seemed eager to tell their stories.

One Mexican woman described how people yelled at them if they spoke Spanish in public. Another said that since the trial, more people in passing cars seemed to yell things at her as she walked home from work.

All of them added that most people in town did not act that way, but that there were enough exceptions to make them fearful.
Image- CNN (“Luis Ramirez died of blunt force injuries after a confrontation with a group of Pennsylvania teens.”)
Online Sources- New York Times, CNN, Guardian UK, Los Angeles Times,,

Mexican Prisoner Governor and Guards in Custody After Jailbreak

The Cieneguillas prison governor and approximately 40 guards were taken into custody today for questioning by Mexican authorities following Saturday morning's jailbreak by an armed group of people, the BBC reported. There is also a manhunt underway in several states for others involved in the event.

Suspected drug traffickers dressed as policemen gained entry into the Zacatecas state prison and released 53 prisoners, many of whom were gunmen for some of Mexico's biggest cartels, without firing a single shot. By Sunday, authorities had viewed the security camera tapes and declared this an inside job. Zacatecas state governor Amalia Garcia stated, ""It is clear to us that this was perfectly planned" and that guards were bought off.

Online Sources: BBC, Los Angeles Times

Image: Oscar Baez, Associated Press

Swine flu spreads throughout LatAm

Though one more victim has been added to the swine flu death toll in Mexico, the country has gradually been returning to a reasonable level of normalcy. For instance, the U.S. removed its advisory against non-essential travel to Mexico (though the warning did have its advantages).

Nonetheless, the outbreak has continued to spread worldwide and may soon be officially classified as a pandemic. Aside from Mexico, eleven other Latin American countries have confirmed cases H1N1 and are on high alert:
  • Costa Rica: A 53-year-old Costa Rican died earlier this month after having been infected with the swine flu. Though the man suffered from diabetes and asthma, it appears as if the flu was the cause of death.
  • Chile: Chilean authorities claimed its first H1N1 case yesterday who recently returned home after vacationing in the Dominican Republic. "All the measures needed to contain the outbreak have been taken," assured the country’s health minister while the woman is slowly recuperating in hospital.
  • Ecuador: Ecuador also confirmed its first H1N1 case over the weekend in the form of a 12-year-old boy who returned from the U.S. over a week ago.
  • Peru: A second person in that Andean country has been diagnosed with the swine flu; both cases involved people who had recently been in the U.S.
Image- Al Jazeera English
Online Sources- AFP, NME, Bloomberg, Xinhua, Reuters,

Guatemala on the brink

Days after the murder of Guatemala lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg and his client, former government official Khalil Musa, Guatemala finds itself in a serious test of its fortitude.

As noted here recently, Guatemala's
president stands accused of a Shakespearean murder plot, which he vehemently (yet coldly) denies. His political opposition demands his resignation despite only accusations from a dead man to substantiate the claim. Guatemalans on both sides are staging protests and rallies. Some fear that the country's civil rights and democracy, a tender 13 years of age, may be at stake. All the while, rampant criminality in Guatemala roils on, causing some analysts to question whether the government or the criminals have the upper hand.

The coming weeks will be crucial in determining whether Guatemala can get a grip on its current problems or whether dire measures will be needed. The UN and FBI have offered their assistance in investigating the murder. Still, as his political coalition now sees daily defections, some suspect that President Colom's ability to govern in the wake of this scandal will be terminally weakened. Once the investigation's dust settles, the hope must be that Colom -- whether guilty or innocent or somewhere in between -- will be able to gauge whether or not stepping down or staying on ultimately makes sense for the good of the country.

Sources: The Economist, El Periodico, Siglo XXI, The Guardian

Daily Headlines: May 18, 2009

* Venezuela: General Motors’ woes have hit Venezuela where the troubled automaker will close assembly plants there for three months.

* U.S.: Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced a guest-worker bill last week that would legalize the status of about two million illegal immigrant farmworkers and their families.

* Cuba: The White House should press for Cuba to return to economic bodies like the International Monetary Fund according to the personal views of one senior IMF official.

* Uruguay: Now it’s official – the Uruguayan government lifted the ban on gays joining the military.

Image- AP (“A flag flies over a General Motors dealership, Friday, May 15, 2009, in Willoughby Hills, Ohio.”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Bloomberg, AFP, New York Times,

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Today’s Video: Adios Mario Benedetti

Sad news from the world of literature as one of South America’s best-known writers passed away.

Uruguayan author Mario Benedetti died today at his home in Montevideo at the age of 88 according to sources close to his family. The cause of his death has not been officially confirmed though he had been recently hospitalized due to a chronic intestinal problem.

“The injustices of the dictatorship and his re-adaptation to Uruguay” were said to be the major themes of Benedetti's career which spanned over six decades. His outspokenness against Uruguay’s military rule forced him to be exiled though he continued writing during and after his return to native soil. Over the past decade he had received several awards including the Queen Sofia Ibero-American Poetry Prize and the Jose Marti Ibero-American Prize. His latest work was published nearly a year ago though he had been working on a book of poetry tentatively titled “Biografia para encontrarme” (“Biography to find myself”).

The following is of Benedetti reading his poem “Desaparecidos” (“Disappeared”) in a touching tribute to the Madres de Plaza de Mayo.

Adios Mario. You will be missed but certainly not forgotten.

Online Sources- Reuters, LAHT, Xinhua, YouTube

Weekend Headlines: May 17, 2009

* Argentina: Carlos Tevez may’ve been celebrating winning the Premier League title yesterday with Manchester United, but will he leave the “red devils” for Real Madrid?

* Venezuela: Claiming that their pasta was not being sold at cheap, government-established prices, the Chavez administration “temporarily” took over a factory owned by U.S. firm Cargill.

* Mexico: Ex-President Vicente Fox said last week that he felt there should be a decriminalization of marijuana as part of a change in U.S. and Mexican drug policy.

* Haiti: The U.S. Coast Guard called off the search operation for at least nine Haitian migrants presumed dead after their boat capsized near Florida.

Image- Guardian UK (“Carlos Tevez celebrates with Alex Ferguson after Manchester United had clinched the title at Old Trafford, though the Argentinian's substitution drew some dissent from the home crowd.”)
Online Sources- UPI, CNN, BBC News, The Telegraph, The Latin Americanist