Saturday, November 21, 2009

Today’s Video: “Sergio”

A few days ago the shortlist for this year's Best Documentary Feature Oscar was announced. One of those on the list is “Which Way Home”, an arresting film that we talked about previously which examines the difficult journey of Central American child migrants to the U.S.

One of the other favorites is “Sergio”, a documentary based on the life of veteran Brazilian U.N. diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello. He worked tirelessly for the organization as a mediator worldwide and also labored in the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees office. His last post was as the UN's special representative in Iraq; it was in Baghdad where he died in 2003 as a result of a bomb attack.

Below is the trailer for “Sergio”; see for yourself if it’s worthy or not of being an Oscar contender:

Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, YouTube, The A.V. Club, BBC News

Weekend World Watch: Opening the gates

* Sri Lanka: International pressure and domestic “security concerns” were reportedly behind the Sri Lankan government's move to free 130,000 Tamil refugees kept in internment camps.

* China: At least 87 people have died and 21 are missing after an explosion at a northeastern Chinese coal mine.

* Middle East: Hamas and other Gaza-based rebel factions agreed to end rocket attacks against Israel yet warned that it would resume doing so “in the event of any Israeli incursions.”

* Vatican City: Pope Benedict XV met with the head of the Anglican Church as more conservative Anglicans are increasingly upset at the Church's wider of acceptance of gays and women.

Image – Guardian UK (“Tamil civilians peep over a fence at an internment camp in Vavuniya yesterday.”)
Online Sources- Al Jazeera English, MSNBC, Bloomberg, BBC News

Human Fat Ring Busted in Peru

It could be a scene from Fight Club- a man using human fat to produce high-end soap products- but it's actually the latest odd bit of crime news coming out of Peru this week. Officials arrested four members of the fat ring in Peru and suspect the group to be responsible for the death of over 60 people in the country. The brutal deaths of these people were not a result of a turf war or a drug deal gone wrong- but rather for the purpose of selling their fat to European labs.

Experts say that human fat provides little benefit to cosmetics- both to products and for plastic surgery- that other existing (and legal) products can't provide. But that didn't stop the European labs for paying a reportedly $15,000 per liter of human fat.

A little tough to swallow? Perhaps. But the four captured suspects have confessed to their crimes and one stated that this has been going on for five years at least. Authorities are still searching for the Peruvian ring leader. All of the men face a series of charges, including murder and drug charges.

Check Spelling
Would you be content using human fat in your products?

Online source:
Image source: BBC News

Friday, November 20, 2009

School of the Americas protest starts on Saturday

The annual demonstration against the U.S.-run military training facility formerly known as the School of the Americas will be held this weekend.

Currently known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC), the school has gained infamy for providing training to Latin American leaders infamous for human rights abuses including Manuel Noriega (Panama), Efrain Rios Mont (Guatemala), and Hugo Banzer (Bolivia). Critics such as the School of the Americas Watch also claim that “hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, ‘disappeared,’ massacred, and forced into refugee by those trained” since the school’s founding over six decades ago.

Backers of the WHISC claim that the school takes human rights into more serious consideration than before and that “they do not teach abuse”. Yet as School of the Americas Watch founder Father Roy Bourgeois wrote in the Huffington Post today:
The June 28th coup in Honduras against the democratically-elected President Zelaya was carried out by SOA graduates General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, the head of the of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Honduran military, and General Luis Prince Suazo, the head of the Air Force. The leadership of SOA graduates in the coup follows a pattern of anti-democratic actions by graduates of the SOA (renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, WHINSEC). The Pentagon claim -- that the institute instills respect for democracy and civilian leadership while teaching combat skills to Latin American soldiers -- has once again been disproved by the actions of the institute's graduates.
Click here for more information on this weekend’s activities being held at the WHISC at Fort Benning, Georgia. In addition, please feel free to leave your respectful comments if you're for or against the WHISC and its actions.

Image- Common Dreams (“Protesters carry crosses bearing the names of alleged victims of abuses in Latin America, during a protest, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2002, in Columbus, Ga., near the Fort Benning school that trains Latin American soldiers.”)
Online Sources- Common Dreams, School of the Americas Watch, Just the Facts, Huffington Post, Global Security

Daily Headlines: November 20, 2009

* Latin America: According to a U.N. report released yesterday the global economic crisis has caused an extra 9 million people in Latin America to live in poverty.

* Peru: Keiko Fujimori heavily implied that she would release her disgraced and convicted father- former president Alberto Fujimori- if she gets elected to Peru’s highest office in 2011.

* Haiti: Amnesty International has called on the Haitian government to do more to combat abuses against children forced to work as domestic help.

* Mexico: A Mexican court has ordered a Canadian-owned gold mine to suspend activities due to environmental damages.

Image – Latina
Online Sources- Amnesty International, LAHT,, Reuters

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Obama Pens Response to Dissident Cuban Blogger

Cuban Blogger Yoani Sanchez has been in the news a lot lately. First she jumped into the spotlight as a winner of Columbia Journalism School's prestigious Maria Moors Cabot Prize for Outstanding Reporting on Latin America and the Caribbean, and her work on her Generacion Y blog was recognized "for her courage, talent and great achievement."

But since Sanchez is a Cuban who speaks critically of the Cuban regime, it wasn't too much of a surprise that the Cuban government denied her visa to go to New York to accept the prize.

Last week she was on her way to a anti-violence march when she was detained and beaten by Cuban security forces.

Now her popularity and recognition as a force for change in Cuba has gotten President Obama's attention. Sanchez posted a set of seven questions regarding Cuban-US relations on her blog and asked that both Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro respond. Obama grabbed the initiative and this morning Sanchez posted his responses.

Whether Raul will follow suit remains TBD.

Image Source: Generacion Y
Online Sources: Generacion Y, The Economist, Huffington Post, Miami Herald

Arriba charruas! - Uruguay off to World Cup

With the last World Cup spot up for grabs, Uruguay overcame fellow Latin Americans Costa Rica in a two game series.

After a drab 1-0 win in San Jose, los charruas returned to Montevideo with the knowledge that a tie would be enough to send them to South Africa. Yet los ticos fought valiantly and kept the Uruguayans on their toes with numerous scoring chances. In the end, Sebastian Abreu’s powerful header in the 70th minute was vital for the Uruguayans to book their ticket in next year’s World Cup.

(As you can see in the highlights below, the match would end 1-1 and Uruguay won the series 2-1 on aggregate):

Uruguay thus joins Paraguay, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Honduras, and the U.S. as the Americas’ representatives to the World Cup.

Online Sources- YouTube, BBC Sport, ESPN

LatAm Wal-Mart Chief Quits

Vicente Trius, the head of Wal-Mart stores in Latin America, has decided to leave after less than five months in the post. He started July 6.

Wal-Mart didn't give a reason, only a statement from a company spokesman declining to elaborate. He added that they want to find a replacement quickly.

Before becoming region chief, Trius served for 11 years in Brazil and ran the Asia stores.

Source: AP, Photo,

Chile and Uruguay Recognized as Least Corrupt

Chile and Uruguay are the least corrupt countries in Latin America, according to Corruption Perception Index.

Chile might be sliding, however -- their ranking was lower than last year's, and the Santiago Times says it is sliding steadily.

Venezuela ranked the lowest. Its international ranking was 162. Chile's was 25 among all countries.

Read more about the study, conducted by Transparency International, here.

Source and photo from The Santiago Times; Photo of Corruption Index

Daily Headlines: November 19, 2009

* U.S.: A report written for the William C. Velasquez Institute concluded that Latinos and blacks face a disproportionate risk of foreclosure as a result of higher unemployment rates and a greater probability of signing off on high-risk loans.

* Venezuela: The country is officially in recession due to the global economic slowdown and decreasing oil prices according to government officials.

* Brazil: Execs at state-run oil firm Petrobras claimed to have found a massive offshore field with the capacity to produce an estimated 25 million barrels of light crude.

* Mexico: Harvard University recently recognized Mexico City's bus rapid transit system for helping reduce pollution in the metropolis.

Image – MSNBC
Online Sources- Forbes, LAHT,, WCBS

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

World Watch: Climactic caution

* World: According to a report by the U.N. released yesterday slower population growth could help combat climate change and lessen the “climate burden” shouldered by women in underdeveloped states.

* Russia: Anti-facist groups and neo-Nazis have fought in the streets of Moscow after the “fatal shooting of an anti-racist activist.”

* Iran: It’s back to the drawing board over Iran and its nuclear ambitions after that country rejected an internationally-brokered deal.

* Somalia: A 20-year-old woman was brutally stoned to death in front of 2000 eyewitnesses after a “judge” punished her for committing adultery.

Image – BBC News
Online Sources- MSNBC, AFP, BBC News, Los Angeles Times

Conditions in Cuba Still Harsh

A new human rights watch report finds that Cuba is continuing to violate human rights and using draconian laws to repress its citizens.

Despite the switch from Fidel Castro's rule to his brother Raul, the country has not shown much of a difference in conditions; keeping abusive laws firmly in place.

According to, Human Rights Watch has issued several accounts of the unfair and horrid laws of conduct that is still in effect in Cuba:

The report says political and religious activists live in constant fear, and that persistent aggression is placed against dissidents.

Raul Castro has relied in particular on a Cuban law that lets the state imprison people even before they commit a crime, Human Rights Watch said.

"Despite significant obstacles to research, Human Rights Watch documented more than 40 cases in which Cuba has imprisoned individuals for 'dangerousness' under Raul Castro because they tried to exercise their fundamental rights," the report said.

Because the Cuban government strictly controls the media, Human Rights Watch went on a secret co-op mission to do their report. The report was secretly researched on unauthorized visits to the Caribbean island, and got data from interviews with around 60 people.

As Al Gore would put it, this is an inconvenient truth-- being that US President Barack Obama wants to re-set ties with Cuba.

Photo Source: BBC Americas, 2009

Honduras: Decision on the Return of President Zelaya Delayed

Honduran lawmakers decided to postpone any decisions in regards to the political situation between Zelaya and Micheletti until after the election ends on November 29th. However, this decision is controversial-- leaving many international powers unhappy.

Honduran congressional president, José Alfredo Saavedra, told a local news station that Congress will meet Dec. 2 to decide whether Manuel Zelaya should be returned to the presidency to finish his constitutional term.

Many of the world powers have different viewpoints on the matter. For instance, many Latin American countries have made it clear to Honduras that they will not recognize the outcome of the election without the restoration of Mr. Zelaya beforehand. As for the United States however, American officials said the US would recognize the results of the election even if Mr. Zelaya remained out of power through the vote.

Even Mr. Zelaya himself warned the Honduran government that he would not return to the presidency if Congress voted to restore him after the elections, saying doing so would legitimize the June 28 coup.

Even though the United States may seem to be uninvolved, The New York Times calls this crisis in Honduras "one of the biggest diplomatic challenges in Latin America for the Obama administration".

Being so, Obama's point to accept the Honduran election as valid (without Zelaya in power) could undermine efforts to establish good relations with the Latin American region.

It is clear that this crisis in Honduras is not just a Honduran issue, a central american issue, but now a world issue-- and this international opinion is setting precedent for new relations, specificially for the new Obama administration.

Photo Source

Murder charged in gay Boricua teen's death

Was homophobia behind the murder of a gay Puerto Rican teen days ago? This is what investigators are examining in the gruesome death of Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado.

Police arrested a suspect in the killing of Lopez Mercado whose body had been found mutilated, decapitated, and dumped on the side of a local highway. According to local prosecutors, Juan A. Martinez Matos held a “deep-seated rage” against gays and may’ve slain Lopez Mercado after he mistook him for a woman. (Lopez Mercado had been dressed in ladies clothes when he first met Martinez Matos, said police).

Martinez Matos was charged earlier today with several counts including first-degree murder in the slaying of the 19-year-old college student and gay rights activist. Furthermore, Martinez Matos could be the first defendant to be applied a recently-signed bill that makes anti-gay attacks a federal hate crimes offense.

The murder of Lopez Mercado has touched a nerve not only on the island but in other areas of the U.S. As Vivirlatino noted several vigils in his memory are planned for this weekend:
Sunday, November 22nd, 2009
4-6 pm
Humboldt Park

Los Angeles
Sunday, November 22nd, 2009
8pm-9:30 pm
West Hollywood Corner of Santa Monica and San Vicente

New York City
Sunday, November 22nd, 2009
7-9 pm
Christopher St. Piers (Tentative)

People are also post vigil information from across the U.S on this facebook page.
Online Sources- Vivirlatino, Facebook,, CNN, Voice of America

El Salvador hits skids

Only days after Hurricane Ida ripped through El Salvador, costing nearly 200 lives and hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructural damage, Moody's Investors Service this week downgraded El Salvador's sovereign rating to "Ba1" from "Baa3." According to Reuters this elimates El Salvador's "investment grade rating" to "junk bond" and "places the country on a negative outlook."

I don't know all the calculations that factor into such decisions, nor the ultimate macroeconomic implications, but I know that they are not made lightly, and I know that the imaginable consequences for the political economy of El Salvador today are not promising. El Salvador had managed to stay afloat in the global financial crisis and a poltically unstable region (most of its neihbors have horrible debt as well) even as its first presidential transition to a new party in nearly 20 years begins to take root, these two major shocks do not augur well for the Funes government's ability to govern in an already cash-strapped and politically fractious envrionment.

Sources: Reuters, Bloomberg, El Diario de Hoy

Daily Headlines: November 18, 2009

* Latin America: According to the E.U.’s Trade Commissioner the bloc and Latin American countries are close to resolving a major trade dispute over banana tariffs.

* Peru: In the latest twist to the spy scandal between Peru and Chile, the Peruvian government claimed that an air force officer had confessed to spying for Chile.

* U.S.: Yet another case of a Latino being accidently deported from the U.S.; this time, a Salvadoran man was sent back despite having been originally granted temporary protected status.

* Ecuador: President Rafael Correa’s popularity amongst his countrymen has slipped gradually in recent months and has reached 44% according to the latest polls.

Image – Sky News
Online Sources- New York Times, Miami Herald, Angus Reid Consultants, Bloomberg, The Latin Americanist

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Mexicans Send Money to Struggling Family Members in the U.S.

Yes, you read that right. According to The New York Times, Mexicans are now sending money north, WAY north. Millions of Mexicans largely depend on remittances sent from family members who have migrated to the United States (in 2003 it was about about 18% of the population who were DIRECTLY affected). In 2008, remittances to Mexico were $25 billion. But as the the economy in the United States has taken a turn for the worst, remittances to Mexico have greatly slowed down and Mexican families are actually sending money to family members in the U.S.

The New York Times article, which describes some personal stories through speaking with family members in the southern Mexican states of Oaxaca and Chiapas (two of the three poorest states in the country) said :
Unemployment has hit migrant communities in the United States so hard that a startling new phenomenon has been detected: instead of receiving remittances from relatives in the richest country on earth, some down-and-out Mexican families are scraping together what they can to support their unemployed loved ones in the United States.
Online Sources: The New York Times, Pew Hispanic Center, Migration News, Changing Structure of Mexico by Laura Randall
Image: The New York Times

Movie Trailer: Pecados de Mi Padre (Sins of My Father)

We are always told to play the hand we're dealt, but no one knows the consequences of that more than Sebastian Marroquin, a name that is probably unfamiliar to most of us. This is exactly why Juan Pablo Escobar, the 32 year old son of the notorious and highly violent drug czar Pablo Escobar changed his name to Marroquin- to escape the legacy of his father.

Marroquin and his mother fled Colombia shortly after the shooting death of Escobar and finally relocated to neighboring Argentina in 1994. He's spent most of his life avoiding the legacy of his father, trying to be just another "low profile architect" in Argentina.

But in a surprising twist of events, Marroquin has emerged from his recluse life to be a part of the documentary Pecados de Mi Padre (Sins of My Father). The film, which premiered last week at the Mar de Plata film festival, has been receiving a flood of press, appearing in Time Magazine, Newsweek, and The New York Times, to name a few.

The documentary has ambitious goals- to "promote reconciliation" in Colombia, to stop the hatred being inherited from generation to generation, and perhaps more importantly, to tear down the glorified image that many of Colombia's youth still have today of Pablo Escobar. Many of them are tempted by the same things that lured Escobar into the drug trade- wealth and power. Marroquin's message, delivered almost 16 years after the death of his father, is a poignant and simple one: "'Hey, I'm the son of Pablo Escobar. Don't be like my father.'"

Will his message strike a chord with Colombia's youth? Check out the trailer and let us know what you think. Is this apology too little too late? Is it even relevant today?

The Onion: Lou Dobbs deported to Mexico

Don't get too excited folks. It's only a brilliant piece of satire from "America's Finest News Source" - The Onion:
Acting on anonymous tips from within the Hispanic-American community, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials on Wednesday deported Luis Miguel Salvador Aguila Dominguez, who for the last 48 years had been living illegally in the United States under the name Lou Dobbs...

"Mr. Dominguez did not come quietly, but in the end he came," said Sam Whitlock of the U.S. Border Patrol, who was injured during the arrest. "He pulled a knife on me, like they will, and swore a bunch in Spanish and spit on us when we finally managed to grab him by the serape and throw him against a wall. But the important thing is that he's now back where he belongs"...

Immediately before press time, "Dobbs" arrived in Mexico City, and was surrounded by members of the international press.

"¡Esos hijos de puta sufrirán por esto!" a handcuffed Dominguez shouted at reporters from the tarmac. "Sin mi vigilancia, mis hermanos y yo nos apresuraríamos a la frontera a robar sus carros y a violar sus mujeres. ¡Arriba!
No further comment needed.

Online Source - The Onion
Image -

Daily Headlines: November 17, 2009

* El Salvador: Six Jesuit priests slain in an infamous 1989 massacre where remembered by Salvadorans including being posthumously granted the country’s highest honor by President Mauricio Funes.

* Bolivia: With president Evo Morales apparently on his way to reelection the big race may be for control of Bolivia’s legislature.

* Mexico: Could increased auto demand in the U.S. help drag Mexico out of its worst recession in decades?

* Puerto Rico: Another reason for Boricuas to possibly be mad at Gov. Luis Fortuno – he has allowed “large-scale development” to begin in a nature reserve.

Image – CNN (“Items of slain Spanish Jesuit Ignacio Ellecuria at the Universidad Centroamericana museum in San Salvador .”)
Online Sources- New York Times, Mercopress, Reuters, Bloomberg

Monday, November 16, 2009

Today’s Video: Eye on Venezuela

What have different news sources and bloggers been saying over the tensions between Colombia and Venezuela? Newsy recently made a video of some of those viewpoints which give us plenty to think about:

Online Sources- Newsy, The Latin Americanist

World Watch: Up in smoke

* Africa: According to a report by the Global Smokefree Partnership 90% of Africans have no protection against secondhand smoke and tobacco use may double in some parts of Africa.

* China: U.S. President Barack Obama will meet with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao hours he criticized Chinese online “censorship” at a Shanghai Q-&-A session.

* Australia: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he was "deeply sorry" to about 500,000 "forgotten Australians" who faced child abuse after being placed in orphanages and foster care between 1930 and 1970.

* Afghanistan: Facing mounting international pressure over allegations of corruption, afghan President Hamid Karzai announced the creation of a new anti-corruption unit.

Image – BBC News (“The female chief of a village on Lake Bunyoni in Uganda enjoys a pipe in this picture taken by Shelley Fulton.”)
Online Sources- BBC News, The Telegraph, Voice of America, Los Angeles Times

News Briefs: Fútbol

* Latin America: Costa Rica and Uruguay were oh-so-close from qualifying for the World Cup yet came up short in the closing minutes of the final qualifying matches. Eager to overcome that disappointment both teams faced off in the first of a two game play-in series on Saturday. Uruguay won 1-0 and will make it to the World Cup if they either win or tie this Wednesday in Montevideo.

* Argentina: Soccer’s governing body punished Argentine team coach Diego Maradona for his vulgar outburst at the press last month. “El Diez” was fined $24,000 and prohibited from “any football related activity” for two months. His ban will be up several months before the World Cup is set to begin in South Africa.

* Mexico: On a very somber note, former Mexican international Antonio De Nigris passed away on Sunday night. The 31-year-old attacker died in Greece where he had been playing for local side Larissa and initial reports indicate that he may’ve died due to a heart attack. The following are some of De Nigris’ goals from when he played with northern Mexican club Monterrey:

Online Sources- New York Times, The Latin Americanist, ESPN, YouTube, Canadian Press

Gay Argentine Couple Gets Marriage License

A gay couple received a marriage license in Buenos Aires today, becoming the first couple in the South American nation to take the legal steps toward full marriage. An Argentine judge ruled last week that a ban on gay marriage violates the Argentine constitution and the mayor of Buenos Aires said the city won't take steps to block the couple from wedding on Dec. 1, World AIDS Day.

After approving civil unions in some parts of the country as early as 2002, Argentina may now become the first country in Latin America to allow gay couples to marry. Lawmakers from the Argentine Congress are considering changes that would make gay marriage legal despite strong opposition from religious groups.

Although the developments in Argentina are not likely to start a wave of gay marriage recognition across Latin America, gay rights advocates may be advised to take their fight to San Jose, Montevideo and Quito, cities where the number of gay and gay-friendly establishments per capita is higher than in New York City.

In the same ranking of gay-friendly cities in the region, Port-au-Prince and Tegucigalpa ranked at the bottom of the list.

Image Source: AP
Online Sources: AP, Miami Herald, Foreign Policy

Chilean Spies Add to Diplomatic Tension Between Chile and Peru

Diplomacy has taken a mild set-back between Peru and Chile over the arrest of two alleged Chilean spies.

According to BBC Americas, the two Chilean officers are held in custody for allegedly paying a Peruvian air force officer to reveal national secrets.However, Chilean government denies its activity in espionage.

In light of this event, Peru's President Alan Garcia has cancelled his planned talks with Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet, at the Apec summit. This event does not help relations between the two countries, considering the fact that both have been quarreling since the late 19th century.

Strained tensions between the two countries followed the military exercise staged by Chile last month near its disputed border with Peru. This event only added to the long time disputes over land and maritime boarders for ages.

This incident regarding espionage is all but convenient in regards to building the foundation for good diplomacy between Chile and Peru.

Photo Source: BBC Americas, 2009

Amid War Talk, LatAm Militaries Beef Up

The fallout and war talk that has followed the US-Colombia military base sharing agreement is coinciding with a trend towards military buildups across the region.

Ecuador's leftist president Rafael Correa indirectly caused the furor over the US-Colombia agreement when he kicked the US military out of their previous base in Manta.

But despite the fallout over Manta, the US continues to work with Ecuadoran military forces to support their efforts to patrol the jungle regions that contain Ecuador's border with Colombia.

Meanwhile, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez has prompted concerns in Washington with his fiery anti-American rhetoric and huge purchases of Russian arms.

Farther south, Chile has requested to purchase $665 million worth of arms and radar systems from a group of US defense contractors.

With Peru and Chile now embroiled in a row over allegations of Chilean spying, it will be interesting to see whether an increasing military buildup will exacerbate tensions within the region.

Image Source: US Southern Command
Online Sources: BBC, Fox News, CNN, Examiner, US Southern Command News

Daily Headlines: November 16, 2009

* Puerto Rico: The U.S. government reversed a decision made in 2003 and concluded that military exercises on the island of Vieques may have posed health risks to residents.

* Mexico: Days after business groups in Ciudad Juarez were reported to seek help from the U.N. at least fifteen people were murdered in that city on Saturday alone.

* Panama: Construction on the third set of locks for the Panama Canal will begin in January 2010.

* U.S.: Lawmakers in Illinois are debating the possibility that detainees from the Guantanamo prison will be transferred to a state jail 150 miles away from Chicago.

Image – New York Daily News (“Disabled and non-live artillery and mortar shells are piled high in the former U.S. Naval Training Range on Vieques, Puerto Rico, in 2007.")
Online Sources- New York Times, LAHT, Bloomberg, Al Jazeera English, UPI