Saturday, June 6, 2009

Air France flight victims bodies found (updated)

Update (June 7):
Brazilian and French ships have recovered 17 bodies over the weekend that are believed to be from Air France flight 447. (Link via BBC News).

Original Post:
In the most recent development to the presumed crash of Air France flight 447, Brazilian air force officials claimed that bodies of some of the 228 passengers and crew were located floating in the Atlantic:
The remains were taken from the water at 0814 Brazilian time (1114 GMT), said (Brazilian air force) spokesman Jorge Amaral.

Experts on human remains are on their way to examine the find…

"We confirm the recovery from the water debris and bodies from the Air France plane," Col Amaral said at a news conference in the northern city of Recife.

"We can't give more information without confirming what we have."
Some of the debris allegedly located includes a suitcase and a seat. On Thursday, debris had been located and initially been attributed to the missing flight but that was later confirmed as wrong.

Investigators said today that the Rio de Janeiro-to-Paris flight may’ve gone down due to “multiple systems failures” after the plane sent out sent out 24 automated error messages including one saying the plane’s autopilot was disengaged. Meteorologists also said that the A330 did cross a storm zone but that it didn’t seem strong enough to threaten the aircraft.

Image- Al Jazeera English (“Search crews have yet to locate the wreckage
in the deep Atlantic waters [AFP].”)
Online Sources- Xinhua, CNN, BBC News, The Latin Americanist

Weekend Headlines: June 6, 2009

* Cuba: A retired State Department official and his wife were arrested on Friday and accused of spying for Cuba during almost 30 years.

* Mexico: Tragedy in Mexico where at least 29 children died when a fire blazed through a daycare center.

* Venezuela: In the latest action taken against anti-government news channel Globovision, Venezuelan authorities ordered the network pay $2.3 million in back taxes.

* Guatemala: Much like in Peru (but without the violence), hundreds of protestors in Guatemala have blocked roads and demanded more social aid from the government.

Image- CNN
Online Sources- LAHT, BBC News, New York Daily News, The Latin Americanist, Guardian UK

Friday, June 5, 2009

¿Por qué no te callas? - Jorge Luis Pinto

We’ll return over the weekend with a few news and notes. But first, let’s see who earns this week’s “¿Por qué no te callas?” honors.

There were numerous nominees this week such as this silly comment comparing Sonia Sotomayor to Jennifer Lopez. But this week’s recipient is soccer coach Jorge Luis Pinto who couldn't handle a touchline ban:
Jorge Luis Pinto, coach of Colombian first division side Cucuta, has described his 10-match stadium ban for indiscipline as a breach of human rights.

Pinto, suspended after being sent off and insulting the fourth official 10 days ago, watched Sunday's home game with Atletico Junior from the office of a sports institute…

"I felt like I was in Guantanamo prison and that I was the object of a total disrespect towards human rights," the former Colombia and Costa Rica coach told the Futbolred website (
Do you want to know what “total disrespect towards human rights” really is, Jorgito? Try asking the hundreds of your countrymen that are still held captive by guerillas. How about talking to the families of those kidnapped of innocent civilians by the military and killed as “false positives”. If you emerge from your cocoon, you might notice the millions of displaced Colombians forced to flee brutal violence.

Get the idea, Jorge? So why don’t you just shut up?

Online Sources- Wonkette, The Latin Americanist, Colombia Reports, CNN, BBC News

At least 30 dead in Peruvian protests

Demonstrations have taken place in Peru since April as several indigenous communities fear that President Alan Garcia's move to change investment rules could cause a “private-sector land grab.” Roads have been blockaded and domestic oil production has trickled to a halt as protestors are seeking increased government spending in social services and infrastructural improvements.

Weeks of tensions finally emerged in violence that has resulted in numerous deaths:
Indians protesting oil and gas exploration on their lands battled police in Peru's remote Amazon Friday, with authorities and Indian leaders reporting at least 30 deaths.

The violence broke out before dawn as officers tried to end a road blockade by some 5,000 Indians in an area called Curva del Diablo — or "Devil's Curve" — in the northern province of Utcubamba.

Protest leaders said police opened fire from helicopters with bullets and tear gas, while national police director Jose Sanchez Farfan said Indians attacked officers with firearms. He said they also set fire to government buildings.
Peru’s Congress nearly overturned one of the decrees this week but that was prevented by members of the ruling ARPA party who walked out in protest.

Image- Al Jazeera English
Online Sources- Reuters, Bloomberg, AP, Americas Quarterly

New Strategy for US-Mexico Border

The United States announced its new joint strategy for dealing with drug trafficking on the U.S.-Mexico border today, the AP reports, at a news conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano Attorney General Eric Holder.

It is hoped that the strategy will allow the United States to better coordinate with state, local and Mexican police on drug-related issues. Some specific aspects of the plan include: visual shields at the border so lookouts for the drug cartels cannot alert drivers about inspection points, an increase in intelligence analysts and the revival of an interargency working group. Bloomberg reports that the new strategy will give police officers in patrol cars access to federal databases so that they are able to check to see if suspects that they pull over are involved in drug cases. Lastly, the plan proposes $8 million for the hiring of new U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency officers in the next fiscal year.

Online sources: Associated Press, Bloomberg
Image credit: Minnesota Public Radio

E.U. okays, Canada rejects Gitmo detainees

One of the most controversial parts of U.S. President Barack Obama’s plans to close the Guantanamo Bay prison is where to transfer detainees. There’s a lively debate domestically regarding possibly sending detainees to U.S. supermax jails. Other countries have been mixed as to whether or not to accept prisoners from Guantanamo.

Yesterday, Canada’s government opposed transferring any Guantanamo detainees including seventeen Chinese Muslims the White House asked Canada to take in. "There really is no rationale for accepting them into the country" said Kory Teneycke- spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper- who also admitted that Ottawa had previously rejected similar requests by the Bush administration.

Teneycke also mentioned that Canadian-born inmate Omar Khadr will not be taken by his home country. “He is facing serious charges and is in the middle of a judicial process to determine his guilt or innocence…We will wait for that process to run its course.”

In the meantime, European Union (EU) states agreed on several conditions where individual countries can take in detainees. "It is materialized by a system of information-sharing, politically confirmed at the highest level” added EU Counterterrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove on the guidelines agreed upon during a meeting of the bloc’s interior ministers.

Despite the agreement, some EU countries like Germany are reluctant to house detainees:
“What we want to know, besides much more information about their past, is why the former inmates will not settle in the U.S. and why they cannot return home,” said (German interior minister Uwe) Schünemann. Until then, he said, Germany will not be prepared to accept any former detainees.
Image- AP (“In this photo, reviewed by the U.S. military, a guard stand outside the gate of Camp Iguana detention facility, which houses the Chinese Uighur Guantanamo detainees, who are cleared for release but with no country to go to, at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba, Monday, June 1, 2009. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, Pool)”)
Online Sources- Guardian UK, Reuters, New York Times, AHN, UPI, The Latin Americanist, MSNBC

Report: Venezuelan “authoritarianism” threatens democracy

Venezuela, China, Iran, and Russia are four authoritarian countries who use their influence to undermine other democracies. That is the main claim made in a report released on Thursday by the Washington-based Freedom House along with U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia.

According to the study, Venezuela and the other three countries “are using soft-power methods to advance their interests internationally, particularly through billions of dollars in no strings attached development aid." The report cited China’s growing economic and political influence in Latin America such as signing a loans-for-oil deal with Brazil or agreeing to a free trade deal with Peru.

The report warned of increasing ties to the Americas by Iran and singled out Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez as "a novel type of Latin American" strongman. In its analysis of the study, The Economist had this to add:
Over the past ten years, Venezuela’s aid has been comparable to China’s, though it is now falling behind. Gustavo Coronel, a critic of President Hugo Chávez, says Mr Chávez has made $43 billion worth of foreign “commitments” since 1999. Roughly $17 billion could be described as aid, including cheap oil to Cuba and cash transfers to Bolivia. The report estimates that Venezuela’s cheap-oil programme alone is worth $1.7 billion a year, though its most flamboyant feature—cheap heating oil for poor Americans—was recently scrapped. [ed. – Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the cheap oil program started again?]
Image- (The Petrocaribe initiative was started by Venezuelan and provides cheap oil to several countries in the region).
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, AP, The Economist, Reuters

Daily Headlines: June 5, 2009

* Guatemala: Authorities in Guatemala are desperately trying to contain the spillover effect of violence related to drug gangs in neighboring Mexico.

* Colombia: The New York Times takes a look at Colombian singer Shakira and the work she does for the ALAS charity.

* Latin America: Chile and Argentina were confirmed as co-hosts of the famed Dakar Rally in 2010 for the second straight year.

* Venezuela: Plans are under way for the nationalization of petrochemical projects by the Chavez administration.

Image- Los Angeles Times (“Miriam Ramirez Amador, center, mourns her brother Roberto Amador, an anti-drug agent, during his funeral in Guatemala City on April 25. Roberto Amador was killed along with four other agents in a shootout with alleged drug traffickers.”)
Online Sources- RTE, UPI, New York Times, Bloomberg

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Today’s Video: Needle in a haystack

Update (10:15pm)
Some debris that was found off the Brazilian coast and believed to be of the downed Flight 447 was not from that plane according to a Brazilian air force official. Nonetheless, authorities in Brazil and France contend that the Airbus 330 crashed somewhere over the Atlantic. (Link via BBC News).

Original Post
What’s the latest news on the crashed Air France Flight 447? Two words: not good.

Online Sources- YouTube, The Latin Americanist

Caught with a cocaine carry-all

Some stories speak for themselves:
A woman tried to fly from Chile to Spain with two suitcases that were made out of cocaine.

The drug "was not hidden in the luggage. This time the suitcases were the drug," Detective Leandro Morales of the Santiago airport said yesterday.

Morales said the suitcases were made of a substance combining cocaine with resin and glass fiber. A "chemical process" could be used to separate out the drug.
The prospective traveler- a 24-year-old Argentine woman- was promptly arrested. Had she delivered the suitcases as planned she would have received over $5000.

Image- BBC News
Online Sources- BBC News, New York Daily News

Cuba to OAS: Thanks, but no thanks

On Wednesday afternoon, the Organization of American States (OAS) opened the door for Cuba to return to the body nearly five decades after the country was kicked out. Today the Cuban government gave its response to the invite:
Cuba will not rejoin the Organization of American States, even though the multinational organization has lifted the 47-year-old suspension of the country's membership, a Cuban official said Thursday.

Ricardo Alarcon, president of the National Assembly, made the announcement to reporters. Former Cuban President Fidel Castro had said earlier this week that Cuba had no interest in rejoining the 35-nation group.
Despite rejecting the chance to be readmitted, Alarcon added that lifting the suspension on Cuba was a “major victory.”

As to be expected, Cuban-American members of Congress were peeved at the OAS move and have threatened to withhold taxpayer funds to the organization. Also in opposition was Human Rights Watch’s José Miguel Vivanco who said on Monday that “instead of lowering the region's bar to accommodate Cuba, the OAS should push Cuba to raise its respect for human rights to meet a higher collective standard.”

Image- AFP
Online Sources- Huffington Post, Miami Herald, CNN, The Latin Americanist, Voice of America

Poll: Majority against affirmative action

A poll publicized yesterday showed that most people disagree with Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s decision in a recent case on race-based hirings. There was another result from that poll, however, that may reveal overall views on race in the U.S.

According to the poll conducted by Quinnipiac College, 55% of those polled believe in doing away with affirmative action. Every racial and religious group except African-Americans opposed giving certain groups (i.e. blacks, Latinos, white women) preferences for private sector jobs.

In the case of Latino respondents, 58% of them would abolish affirmative action as opposed to 38%. This contradicts a Pew Research Center poll conducted last month where 53% of Latinos were in favor of “preferential treatment” for racial minorities.

Aside from race, over 70% of respondents agreed with keeping affirmative action for the disabled while 65% were against providing homosexuals with preferential treatment.

What can be concluded from the poll? Perhaps it means we’ve entered a post-racial, more colorblind world. On the other hand, maybe it means that people are resentful and jealous of perceived privileges from race-based programs. (Maybe it’s none of the above reasons).

What do you think?

Image- American Chronicle
Online Sources- NY1, Miami Herald, USA TODAY, Pew Research Center, RTT News

GM LatAm divisions untouched by bankruptcy

This week’s bankruptcy filing by auto giant General Motors (GM) sent shockwaves throughout the U.S. economy. Yet the troubled automaker’s Latin American divisions may weather the storm.

Despite the troubles GM has had in the U.S., its auto sales in Latin America have gone well such as the 10% increase in Brazil last year. Therefore, GM will not sell off its branches in Brazil and Argentina and may expand its operations there:
“There are no plans to sell GM operations in Brazil, or anywhere else in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East," said Jaime Ardila, the chief executive officer of General Motors do Brasil Ltda. and chief financial officer of GM's Latin America, Africa and Middle East division, or GM LAAM.

After months of uncertainty, the Detroit automaker sold a majority stake to the U.S. government in order to keep itself in business. Its LAAM division is one of its most profitable. GM LAAM, of which Brazil is the largest subsidiary, saw 2008 sales rise around 3% compared with a 20% decline in GM's North American car sales…

"We had a great 2008 and will have a lucrative 2009," Ardila said.
In terms of Brazil, GM has $2.5 billion invested there through 2012 with at least $1.5 billion of that secured. (The other $1 billion is expected to soon be financed partly via local banks).

Despite decreased sales in Argentina, a statement by GM Argentina said that the division “is economically and financially solvent thanks to our healthy balance in the region.” Additionally, the Argentine government is expected to soon provide some $55 million with the goal of developing a new car line for GM.

Image- BBC News (“Chevrolet's Brazilian range consists mainly of re-badged Opel models.”)
Online Sources- WSJ,, AP, New York Times

Daily Headlines: June 4, 2009

* Dominican Republic: Sammy Sosa said that he will soon officially retire from baseball and denied that allegations of steroid use will scar his legacy.

* U.S.: Another day, another relationship between Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and a newscaster.

* Venezuela: A Miami-based food company is suing Venezuela’s state-run oil firm after claiming that contracts were canceled since they stopped paying bribes.

* Costa Rica: Los Ticos outplayed and dominated the U.S. by beating them 3-1 in a World Cup qualifier Wednesday night.

Image- UPI (Sammy Sosa played with four different MLB teams between 1989 and 2007).
Online Sources- ESPN, Los Angeles Times, LAHT, AP

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Today’s Video: The bones of war

It is very difficult to tackle the demons of past conflicts, as is the case with looking back at Guatemala’s civil war. Yet that hasn’t stopped some activists and scientists from uncovering the mass graves of Guatemala’s dead and trying to bring some form of justice to so many victims:

Online Sources- Guardian UK, YouTube

OAS votes to readmit Cuba

The Organization of American States (OAS) opened the door for Cuba to return to the body after a 47-year absence.

The agreement to readmit Cuba was reached by unanimity during a plenary session of the OAS general assembly this afternoon in Honduras. "The Cold War has ended this day in San Pedro Sula," declared Honduran President Manuel Zelaya while Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Fander Falconi deemed it a “moment of rejoicing for all of Latin America."

The decision was a compromise that calls for "a process of dialogue" parallel to the OAS' "practices, proposals and principles", and rejected a push by the U.S. to force preconditions before lifting the suspension. Nonetheless, the move “eliminates a distraction from the past and allows us to focus on the realities of today” according to a statement from the State Department.

Cuba’s government has repeatedly rejected overtures to return to the OAS and that may continue regardless of today’s actions:
The news came as former Cuban leader Fidel Castro reiterated that Cuba had no desire to rejoin.

Writing in state newspapers on Wednesday, he said the OAS should not exist and historically had "opened the doors to the Trojan horse" of the US to "wreak havoc in Latin America".
Image- AFP (“Honduras' Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas reads the Organization of American States' (OAS) agreement to readmit Cuba.”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, CNN, AP, BBC News, Bloomberg

Holder overturns order on immigrants and attorneys

The Justice Department today reversed a decision made under the Bush administration barring potential deportees from seeking legal counsel.

The decision by Attorney General Eric Holder resumes what had been a long standing practice of providing attorney privileges to immigrants for deportation proceedings. That order had been implemented then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey less than two weeks before President Barack Obama took office and was decried by Latino rights and pro-immigrant groups.

Holder told the Justice Department to begin working on a new rule and blasted Mukasey’s order:
"The integrity of immigration proceedings depends in part on the ability to assert claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, and the Department of Justice's rule-making in this area will be fair, it will be transparent, and it will be guided by our commitment to the rule of law," Holder said.

In January, Mukasey issued an order in Matter of Compean overturning Board of Immigration Appeals precedent and procedures governing assistance of counsel in removal proceedings. The order limited the ability of aliens to claim ineffective counsel in immigration proceedings, and did so without public input that a notice-and-comment rule-making procedure would have provided, Holder said.
The issue of legal representation of prospective deportees will be examined by the Supreme Court later this year in the case of Padilla v. Kentucky.

Image- Deutsche Welle
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, UPI, Wall Street Journal, AP

State of play in Nicaragua

I attended a fascinating discussion on the state of Nicaraguan politics this morning at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, DC, featuring Carlos Fernando Chamorro, renowned Nicaraguan journalist, and the protagonist of "Esta Semana" and "Confidencial." His analysis was a refreshing break from the routine Ortega-bashing, yet nonetheless painted a stark overall picture regarding the decline of democratic politics in the country following the November 2008 municipal and legislative elections.

Among new items I learned were:

> Iran and Russia really play much less of a role than some have argued; donations and relations are minimal are laregly exploited by the Ortega administration for political posturing.
> Venezuelan aid, reported to be as high as $300 million in 2008, is projected by government sources to be less than half of that in 2009 -- and may not equal the total MCC fund losses of $62 million which Venezuela has vowed to cover if withdrawn by the US (a final decision is pending a meeting later this month).
> The opposition to the FSLN, as fragmented as it was in 2006, shows signs of continued fracture, rather than consolidation. The private sector, civil society and NGOs are split into many different factions, very few of which have any interest in direct antagonism with the Ortega administration.

I'll update this post with a link to a full audio of the discussion soon.

Meanwhile, for an interesting read, check out this recent NY Times story on Chamorro, one of the most important independent voices in Nicaragua.

Miercoles Musical: Albita

It’s hump day and what better way to make it through Wednesday with some great music.

New York City’s SOBs will host a CD release party tonight for critically-acclaimed Cuban singer Albita. “Mis Tacones" (My Heels) is the name of her latest album which is undoubtedly catchy and an absolute treat to listen to.

Here is one of her best-known hits from roughly a decade ago - Qué manera de quererte:

Online Sources- SOBs,, YouTube, Urban Dictionary

Daily Headlines: June 3, 2009

* Mexico: Child vendors may be a relic of the past if legislators pass a bill to force street kids into schools or other programs.

* Venezuela: Hugo Chavez accused the CIA of working with Cuban militant Luis Posada Carriles in a plot to murder the Venezuelan president.

* Chile: Chile has become the second Latin American country aside from Mexico to have a death attributed to the swine flu.

* Brazil: Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and Belo Horizonte were three of the twelve cities selected to host the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Image- Christian Science Monitor
Online Sources- Christian Science Monitor, AFP, LAHT, Reuters

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

No OAS deal over Cuba says Clinton

Western Hemispheric countries could not reach a deal over readmitting Cuba to the Organization of American States (OAS) claimed U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Before departing the OAS summit in Honduras, Clinton said that the “Obama administration is obviously pretty much by itself” in terms of how to allow Cuba to return. Though she admitted that some countries were fine with the U.S. plan, others were reluctant to give in to preconditions on human rights, political prisoners, and elections.

One of the most vocal leaders backing Cuba’s readmission was Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega who said the 1962 expulsion of Cuba was "imposed by tyrants." His proposal called for readmitting Cuba sans clauses while two other plans were presented seeking a compromise. The lack of consensus may create the real possibility that Cuba is let in to the OAS without conditions.

Oddly enough, the whole debate may be moot and irrelevant; the Cuban government has repeatedly rejected overtures to return to the OAS.

Image- BBC News (Leaders from around the Americas have gathered in Honduras for the OAS summit).
Online Sources- AFP, MSNBC, BBC News, New York Times, Xinhua

Sotomayor makes rounds at Capitol Hill

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor visited several federal legislators today in a bid to confirm support among Democrats and convince Republicans that she would be a solid pick for the top court.

Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy and Harry Reid both met with her this morning and praised her judicial experience. Both legislators tried to deflect criticism that she is a “reverse-racist” as well as ridiculous critiques such as this piece of idiocy from Tom Tancredo. “I’ll tell you one thing that will motivate me to go sooner, rather than later — when you have vicious attacks by leading Republicans (who) call her the equivalent of the head of the Ku Klux Klan, and call her a bigot”, said Leahy.

Sotomayor also spoke with Sen. Jeff Sessions - the leading Republican on the Judiciary Committee. “She will get a fair hearing in the Judiciary Committee. She will be treated respectfully,” said Sessions though he contradicted President Obama by trying to push confirmations hearings for after the summer break.

According to an Associated Press-GfK poll released today, nearly a third of those surveyed have a favorable view of Sotomayor and half back her nomination. Democratic and Republican respondents where split in their support of her though she’s seen favorably by most independents.

Image- AP (“Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor shares a laugh with the Senate Judiciary Committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., during their meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 2, 2009. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh).”
Online Sources- AP, ABC News, Los Angeles Times, The Latin Americanist, New York Times

Today’s Video: Eduardo Galeano on “Democracy Now!”

Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano has become a household name after Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez presented Barack Obama with "The Open Veins of Latin America" at the Summit of the Americas. Though that is his best-known book, Galeano has written dozens of other books on topics like Latin American history, war, and even soccer. Though he’s mostly identified as a progressive writer, he has sometimes attacked leftists like those who blast soccer for ideological reasons.

Galeano appeared last week on “Democracy Now!” where he revealed his reluctance on being a best-seller and reads from his latest text- “Mirrors”. Fast-forward to about the 14:30 mark in the video below to listen to a marvelous interview with the famed author:

Online Sources- Democracy Now!, The Latin Americanist, Wikipedia

“Missing” jet debris found (updated)

Update (5.45pm):
Braziliain officials confirmed that the wreckage found this morning floating in the Atlantic does belong to Flight 447.

Defence Minister Nelson Jobim gave few details but said that debris of the doomed flight was spread out over a three-mile strip roughly 400 miles off the Brazilian coast. "The plane went down" said Jobim who added that none of the 200+ passengers and crew have been located. (Sources via MSNBC and BBC News).

Original Post:
It appears as if the worse has occurred for an Air France flight gone missing since Sunday night.

Brazilian officials claimed that they may’ve located the wreckage of Flight 447 several hundred miles off the country’s coast.
Air Force spokesman Jorge Amaral said in a televised broadcast that airplane seats and other debris were found floating in the ocean waters along what is believed to be the jet's flight path, wire services reported. The debris was found about 390 miles (650 kilometers) northeast of the Brazilian archipelago of Fernando de Noronha. Some of it was white in color, as was the missing plane, Air France Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.

However, Amaral said it was not immediately known whether the debris came from the missing plane. Authorities will need to find a serial number or other identifying information in order to make that determination.
In the meantime, speculation continues as to what could’ve caused the Airbus A330 to lose communication and drop off the radar. The plane was said to have been hit by lightning and encountered heavy turbulence though Air France officials have yet to pinpoint a precise cause. The pilots reportedly had extensive flight experience with the chief pilot logging over 1100 hours on Airbus 330 jets.

The families and loved ones of the 228 people on Flight 447 continue to await the fate of the apparently doomed aircraft. The passengers and crew were of 32 different nationalities; 59 of them were Brazilian and 72 were French.

Online Sources- AFP, New York Times, Washington Post, UPI, The Latin Americanist
Image- AFP

Daily Headlines: June 2, 2009

* Mexico: The country’s recession-laden economy got more bad news – remittances plummeted by a record 19% in April.

* Cuba: The trial of Omar Khadr- a Canadian detainee at Guantanamo Bay- hit a major snag after he rejected his appointed attorneys for alleged infighting.

* Venezuela: State Department spokeswoman Sara Mangiaracina claimed that the agency was “concerned” over the “potentially destabilizing” effect that could occur via Venezuela’s arms purchases.

* Chile: Chilean Manuel Pellegrini was named as head coach of Spanish soccer giants Real Madrid.

Image- BBC News
Online Sources- MSNBC, UPI, BBC Sport, The Latin Americanist, Bloomberg

Monday, June 1, 2009

Notable Quotable: The GOP's long shot

Can the Republicans win back the White House in 2012 or 2016 while losing further ground among Latinos?...

I think the answer to the…question is 'yes' -- although it depends, of course, on exactly how much more ground they lose, as well as how much ground they could hope to gain among white voters. If they chose to pursue this strategy, the Republicans would probably elect to make immigration a linchpin issue of their campaign, perhaps coupled with the adoption of some paleoconservative, protectionist rhetoric on issues like NAFTA. While this strategy would be at best a temporary fix -- it would become less effective each passing year as the country continues to grow more diverse -- it might have some strategic benefits in the next two elections, particularly if the economy remains poor or there is some sort of double-dip recession.
---Political statistician/ founder Nate Silver describes the almost impossible situation the GOP faces of winning future presidential elections while Latino support diminishes. (Read his detailed post for more details about what he deems as “Operation Gringo”).

As we’ve mentioned before, some Republican politicos are worried that their party is alienating the Latino vote and increasingly ignoring a chief electoral demographic.

(Hat tip: The Daily Dish).

Image- New York Sun (Republican presidential candidate John McCain spoke at the League of United Latin American Citizens conference last July).
Online Sources- The Daily Dish,, The Latin Americanist

Funes takes the helm

Updating the previous story, here is a full-text version of Funes' inaugural address, made available on the Salvadoran government's website. His address, interestingly, gives shout-outs to Obama and Lula -- no other heads of state are mentioned - not even outgoing President Saca is thanked. Hillary is, however. Lest anyone worry that the new leftist president is already going soft, he made sure to emphasize El Salvador's new policy of open diplomacy with Cuba, which renders the US the last country in the region to officially not recognize the Cuban state.

In fact, the speech, which was deemed "very reasonable" by even some skeptical private sector analysts, may well characterize Funes' gubernatorial debut as associated with the "new left" -- popular in sentiment and policy, but above all, pragmatic.

Interestingly, at the inauguration, dozens and dozens of world and regional leaders were present, with the notable (and unexplained) absences of Daniel Ortega and Hugo Chavez.

Also of note in the Salvadoran press is that Funes -- who recently testified against the accused murderer of his eldest son, Alejandro, in France -- came on stage this morning holding his smiling 19 month-old son, Gabriel, who has fast become a media darling in El Salvador. ("Gabo 2059 - Sí Se Puede"?)

Sources: Reuters, AP, La Prensa Gráfica, El Diario de Hoy

Violence flares over Haitian immigration

There has been a recent escalation of violence in the Dominican Republic regarding migrants from neighboring Haiti. The latest incident involved police clashing with Haitian nationals in northwestern Dominican Republic after officials destroyed vegetable plots grown on private land. The confrontations were worse after three Haitians were arrested for killing a Dominican farmer.

The Dominican Republic and Haiti are two of the poorest countries in the Americas though tens of thousands of Haitian migrations have crossed the border in recent years seeking cheap, basic labor. The increased influx in migrants has led to mass deportations of Haitians and numerous confrontations between nationals of both countries.

In the U.S., meanwhile, the Haitian community continues to call for a fairer immigration policy. Despite resumed deportations and rejected requests for the granting of temporary protected status, some Haitian activists continue to hope that change will be forthcoming:
Supporters of temporary protected status for Haitians say that Haiti is in no condition to absorb tens of thousands of deportees, and that its recovery may depend, at least in part, on a continuing flow of remittances sent home by illegal Haitian immigrants in the United States. Those remittances totaled $1.87 billion last year, according to estimates by the Inter-American Development Bank…

Others complain that while temporary protections for immigrants can sometimes be justified, the government has been too liberal in extending the time frames. Temporary protected status “should be used just to stop the flow back home for a relatively short period of time until a country gets back somewhat to where normal was before the emergency,” said Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, a public policy group that seeks to reduce immigration.
Image- Miami Herald
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, LAHT, IPS, Dominican Today, New York Times

El Salvador's Funes is Sworn in as President

Mauricio Funes, a journalist from the FMLN party, was sworn in today as El Salvador's first leftist president. He replaces conservative president Tony Saca as head of the country.

Funes has promised to maintain El Salvador's good relations with the United States while also restoring ties with Cuba. As the Associated Press points out, Funes has his work cut out for him domestically and will inherit, "an economic recession, widespread gang violence, and a population bitterly polarized over his party's rise to power."

In an opinion piece in today's Miami Herald, United States Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, wrote, "The inauguration of a new president in El Salvador today is a testament to the strength and durability of democracy throughout the Americas." Clinton traveled to El Salvador to attend the ceremony.

Online sources: Associated Press, Miami Herald
Image: Associated Press

Suspected air crash off Brazilian coast (updated)

Update (10.00 pm):
Search operations continue to try to locate Flight 447 though hopes of survival fade away with every passing hour. Barring a miracle, the plane went down somewhere over the Atlantic possibly due to stormy conditions.

Of the 216 passengers on the missing plane, 61 were French and 58 are Brazilian. Passengers are on the flight also included people from Canada, Argentina, the U.S., and roughly 20 other nationalities.

(Links via MSNBC and BBC News).

Original Post:
Brazilian air force planes are searching off the country’s coast after an Air France flight with over 200 people possibly crashed over the Atlantic.

Flight AF 447 left Rio de Janeiro bound for Paris, France last night before all communication suddenly got cut off from the plane to air traffic controllers. According to a Brazilian Air Force spokesman, the plane disappeared off the island of Fernando de Noronha, a small island roughly 186 miles northeast of the coastal Brazilian city of Natal. The search area itself is vast and finding the airliner will be a difficult task.

Air France officials claimed that the packed airliner was hit by lightning though also noted that the plane reported an electrical fault after hitting some rough turbulence. Whatever the case may be, French authorities have suspected the worst:
Pierre-Henri Gourgeon, the airline's chief executive, said: "We are probably facing an air catastrophe".

Jean-Louis Borloo, France's environment minister, said the plane would have certainly run out of fuel by now, adding "we must now envisage the most tragic scenario"...

John Guntrip, a former crash investigator, said the plane's disappearance indicated a "catastrophic failure".

"The fact that the Brazilian authorities have released air search and rescue units ... would seem to indicate it has gone down fairly early on in the flight from Brazil," he told Al Jazeera.
Today’s occurrence is the first major incident in Brazilian air space since 199 people died in a TAM flight that crashed in Sao Paulo two years ago. That incident- coupled with a 2006 collision over the Amazon which killed over 150 people- had placed Brazil's beleaguered air traffic control system under close scrutiny.

Image- BBC News
Online Sources- Bloomberg, The Telegraph, Al Jazeera English, BBC News, Guardian UK, New York Times

Daily Headlines: June 1, 2009

* U.S.: A “right-wing shock jock” from Boston will return to the airwaves tomorrow after bring suspended since April for numerous deregotary remarks including calling Mexicans “leeches” and claiming that “women with mustaches and VD” are one of Mexico’s top exports.

* Peru: The country’s foreign minister defended the decision to grant asylum to four South American opposition figures including ex-Bolivian president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and Venezuela’s Manuel Rosales.

* Brazil: Authorities released a man of Lebanese background who was arrested and misidentified as an Al-Qaeda operative.

* Ecuador: President Rafael Correa declared that Ecuador will leave a global arbitration body affiliated to the World Bank.

Image- Gimme Noise
Online Sources- Boston Herald, Boston Globe, Forbes, Voice of America, BBC News, The Latin Americanist

Sunday, May 31, 2009

New rules to impact U.S.-Mexico border

Legally crossing the border into the U.S. will be different after several new rules are going to come into effect on Monday.

The new rules- which were drafted shortly after 9/11- states that U.S. citizens returning home from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda will need to carry one of several approved types of government-issued IDs. The method of showing a regular driver's license or birth certificate and answering a few questions will be scrapped. Instead, travelers will have to show forms like a valid U.S. passport or an enhanced driver's license (only available in Michigan, New York, Vermont and Washington).

The new rules reportedly don’t apply to travelers returning from Puerto Rico due to the island’s status as a U.S. commonwealth. Mexican nationals- such as the hundreds who cross the border to shop, work, or go to school- are also exempt from the new regulations:
All Mexican nationals, including children, are currently required to present a passport with a nonimmigrant visa or other approved travel documents to cross the U.S. border. The new law will not change current practices.

However, it will affect U.S. residents attempting to re-enter the country at the southern border. They will face the same document requirements as at the northern border.
Image- AP
Online Sources- Connecticut Post, CNN, Houston Chronicle,

Cuba accepts immigration talks with U.S.

In what could be another step in the thawing of decades of frigid relations, U.S. officials claimed that Cuba accepted an invite to hold discussions on several topics.

Last week, the White House proposed that U.S. and Cuban diplomats resume biannual negotiations over immigration that had been halted in 2004. According to the State Department, the Castro administration accepted to restart those talks as well as to have new discussions on establishing direct mail service between the two countries. "We and the Cubans have to determine a mutually convenient place and time," said the unnamed official who added that Cuba was willing to discuss other areas of interest such as hurricane preparedness and counternarcotics.

The move comes as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton travels to Central America for the inauguration of Salvadoran president-elect Mauricio Funes tomorrow and Tuesday for a meeting in Honduras of the Organization of American States (OAS). A contentious part of the conference could be whether Cuba should be readmitted to the OAS after a 47-year absence:
U.S. officials say they are ready to support lifting the resolution that suspended Cuba from the OAS, but want to tie readmission to democratic reforms in Cuba. Nicaragua, backed by Venezuela, Bolivia and others, favors an approach that would declare Cuba's expulsion an error and remove all legal hurdles to it regaining its membership.

Diplomats at OAS headquarters in Washington have tried frantically to forge a compromise. Nicaragua has threatened to press for a vote on its proposal.
Image- AFP
Online Sources- ABC News, BBC News, UPI, Reuters

Weekend Headlines: May 31, 2009

* Honduras: Months after issuing a plea to investigate the murder of Honduran LGBT rights activist Cynthia Nicole, Human Rights Watch released a report condemning the country’s “epidemic of violence against transgender people.”

* Nicaragua: Nearly 500 women protested outside the Nicaraguan Supreme Court while demanding a change the country’s harsh ban on all forms of abortion.

* Uruguay: Hannah Packer- Uruguay’s version of Florence Nightingale- was posthumously honored for her humanitarian efforts by her native England.

* Peru: At least 44 inmates escaped from a remote Peruvian prison after ambushing a pair of guards.

Image- ABC News (“Second Prize in the Portraits Stories category of the 2009 World Press Photo contest went to Spanish photographer Pep Bonet of Noor, for a shot of a transsexual sex worker in Honduras in 2008.”)
Online Sources- BBC News, The Northern Echo, LAHT, The Latin Americanist, Human Rights Watch