Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Rocks at the Bottom of the Pyramid

At the risk of talking too much about the drug trade today, it's worth calling attention to an excellent piece published by Time that's based on an interview with Honduran drug czar Julian Aristides Gonzalez. Gonzalez was killed last week after he dropped his daughter off at school in Tegucigalpa.

One of the interesting nuggets Gonzalez mentions in the interview is the fact that Mexican cartels are distributing increasing amounts of crack in Honduras via street dealers connected to the MS-13 gang.

Narcos are known for their business acumen (they should probably teach classes on supply chain management), and this strategy struck me as something right out of the pages of new business texts on how to effectively engage consumers at the "Base of the Pyramid." The idea of leveraging the know-how of local entrepreneurs and producing products that are accessible for poor consumers is gathering attention at major multinationals. The strategy of creating demand by localizing distribution has been a major element in the rise of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

Goes to show that in every market - now matter how sinister - the innovators rise to the top.

Image Source:
Online Sources: TIME, BBC, Wall Street Journal, Palgrave Journals

Today's Video: Bitter Drinks (for Beltran Leyva Cartel)

Mexican cartel boss Arturo Beltran Leyva was killed last night during a gunfight with special forces troops from the Mexican Navy. Beltran Leyva, "El Jefe de Jefes," was aligned with the Los Zetas, a violent group of hitmen and traffickers formed by ex-members of the Mexican armed forces.

The death of Beltran Leyva comes a week after Norteño singer Ramon Ayala was arrested at a Christmas party for Beltran Leyva bosses. Ayala, frontman for Los Bravos del Norte, claims he has no link with the cartel and that he had simply been hired to perform.

The Tragos Amargos the remaining members of the Beltran Leyva Cartel are drinking may be even more bitter once the rival Sinoloa Cartel and its boss "El Chapo" Guzman try to muscle into the void left by Arturo.

Video Source: YouTube
Online Sources: AP, Wall Street Journal, Google News

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Australian Company Helps Mexican Poor, the Environment, and their Wallets

Melbourne born company, Cool nrg International, is giving 30 million energy-efficient light bulbs out to poor and middle-income families in Mexico in hopes to capture a 'previously untapped corner of the carbon offset trading market' and to give the developing world the necessary push toward cleaner energy.

Cool nrg is one of a many businesses trying to cash in on the multibillion-dollar market for carbon offsets approved through the 1997 Kyoto Protocal. The United Nations has approved this under its Clean Development Mechanism to fight emissions of greenhouse gases.

The Clean Development Mechanism program allows wealthier countries that have binding greenhouse gas targets to offset their emissions by investing in clean technology in developing countries, which have no targets.

According to
While Cool nrg makes money selling carbon credits, Mexican families can enjoy lower energy bills, since compact fluorescent bulbs consume as much as 80 percent less electricity than standard incandescents. And the Mexican government — which underwrites electricity costs for low-income families — is expected to reap a double windfall, paying fewer subsidies and deferring the need to build new power plants.

Cool nrg gave out the first million light bulbs in the Mexican state of Puebla in November, supported by a loan from the ING Group and a promise from a Dutch utility, Eneco Energie, to purchase all of the 240,000 credits that are expected to be created by the Puebla project in the next 10 years. It also has the right of first refusal for buying any credits generated by the remaining 29 million bulbs.
Photo Source

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Today’s Video: Leaving with a laugh

With comedian George Lopez’ latest album available in stores here’s a video of Lopez doing stand-up ages ago:

This post will more than likely is my final post of the year. (I’m taking a family vacation to Colombia and Internet access will be sporadic).

I wish to extend my many thanks to my fellow contributors for all their hard work this year. The creativity and dedication has been a huge benefit for our blog. In addition, thanks to all of those whose comments and feedback help foster debate and healthy discussion. Last but not least, gratitude goes out to all of our readers whose loyalty we try to reward with every post we publish. Thanks to all of you for your attention.

Felices fiestas y un prospero 2010! Hasta luego!

Online Sources- AHN, YouTube,

AIDS activist Dennis deLeon passed away

Some stories (tragically) speak for themselves:
Dennis deLeon, who served as the president of the Latino Commission on AIDS and as the New York City human rights commissioner, has died. He was 61…

DeLeon was one of the first New York City officials to reveal that he had HIV. In a 1993 op-ed piece in The New York Times he said he had long feared discrimination if he disclosed his condition.

DeLeon was president of the Latino Commission from 1994 until last month, and oversaw its expansion. He served as human rights commissioner under Mayor David Dinkins, and also worked for the U.S. Department of Justice and as deputy borough president for Manhattan.
Vaya con Dios, Dennis.

Image- CNN
Online Sources- AP

State Dept. removes Honduran travel alert

Citing an “improved security situation” the U.S. State Department removed its travel alert on Honduras.

The alert- which was officially removed last week- was placed shortly after the June 28th ouster of Honduran president Manuel Zelaya. As reported by the Canadian Press, Honduran travel authorities claimed that tourism plummeted in the near seven months since Zelaya was deposed.

The State Department’s move comes as reports have emerged of violence against opponents of Honduras’ de facto government. As one tipster informed us via e-mail, a local human rights group denounced the murder of a protestor while allegedly under police custody. Honduran LGBT activist Walter Trochez was killed in a drive-by shooting days after authorities supposedly harassed him. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jody Williams co-wrote the following in an op/ed piece yesterday:

Lawless violence against women has pervaded Honduras since the coup. As of August, women’s groups in Honduras have documented 249 cases of violations of women’s human rights, including 23 cases of beatings and sexual assault and seven gang rapes by police explicitly trying to “punish” women for their involvement in demonstrations. The number of femicides – the violent murder of women because they are women – has tripled since the coup, with 51 cases reported during the month of July alone.

But these statistics do not tell the whole story. Since those responsible for investigating cases are often also the perpetrators, it’s not hard to understand why women are unwilling to come forward to report gender-related crimes against them.
What do you think?

Image- Al Jazeera English (Hondurans voting during last month’s national elections).
Online Sources- Queerty, Christian Science Monitor, The Latin Americanist, Canadian Press, Democracy in Action

House extends Andean trade program

The U.S. House of Representatives voted yesterday to extend trade benefits for several South American states.

The program under the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) for Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru and had been set to expire at the end of this month. Yet the one year extension by the House will continue a plan enacted in 1991 that “provides duty-free treatment” to the aforementioned countries.

Bolivia was under the ATPA program yet the White House removed that country from the list in part due to “"explicit acceptance and encouragement of coca production.” Ecuador avoided a similar fate though not without some conditions:
The extension requires the U.S. Trade Representative's Office to report by June 30 on whether the three remaining Andean countries are complying with program criteria.

That language is aimed primarily at Ecuador, which is accused by some in the United States of having a corrupt government and biased judiciary and of failing to honor contracts.

U.S. oil company, Chevron Corp (CVX.N), has accused Ecuador of breaching a bilateral investment treaty with the United States by not forcing an Ecuadorean court to dismiss a $27 billion environmental lawsuit against the company.
Image- Living In Peru (The Peruvian port of Callao).
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist,, AP, Reuters

White House: Gitmo detainees off to Illinois

The White House announced today that it would acquire an Illinois prison for the future transfer of some of the Guantanamo detainees.

In a letter sent to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, the Obama administration said that move would send an as of yet undetermined number of prisoners to the Thomson Correctional Center (TCC) as well as conduct military trials there. The action would "help achieve our goal of closing the detention center at Guantanamo in a timely, secure, and lawful manner," said the letter signed by several top officials including the Secretaries of Defense and State.

The decision has prompted the ire of Republicans including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who dubbed the TCC as “Gitmo North.” Reaction in the town where the TCC is located was more mixed:
"We need help economically, and most folks think it's going to bring business," said Todd Baker, a 43-year-old who helps support four children with his Thomson bait and tackle shop…

"We have to get some use out of this prison," (Lewis Frosch) said. "I don't label myself a liberal, but I don't feel any great threat from it. The idea that we would somehow be a target seems like a lot of fuss over nothing to me"…

"I think al Qaeda terrorists ought to stay in Cuba," (State Sen. Kirk) Dillard of Hinsdale, Illinois, said during a Republican gubernatorial debate. He called the idea "pathetic," characterizing the move as a money-grab by Democrats.
Image- The Telegraph
Online Sources- AP, CNN, USA TODAY, Reuters

Does “Illegal Aliens In My Yard” go too far?

Is there such a thing as bad satire? Humor is certainly a subjective area; would the same person who cringes at a Spanish magazine cover poking fun at President Obama’s “manhood” also laugh at a satirical video mocking the assassination of a Mexican presidential hopeful? Are some subjects more sensitive and off-limits than others?

Below are some of the lyrics of a satirical ditty from an outfit called "The Fox and Rice Experience". You can decide for yourself if the tune sung to the melody from "Feliz Navidad” is silly and in good fun or ugly and crass:
Illegals in my yard.

Illegals in my yard.

Illegals in my yard.

Hugo Chavez sends his kind regards.

They're going to tackle Pat Buchanan this Christmas.

They're going to chase down Lou Dobbs this Christmas.

They're going to join up with La Raza this Christmas.

Those illegals in my yard.

They're going to spread bubonic plague this Christmas.

They're going to bring me lots of bed bugs this Christmas.

They're going to pass tuberculosis this Christmas.

Those illegals in my yard.
On a related (and far more serious note), the U.S. Supreme Court will agree to hear a Fourth amendment-related case regarding immigrant deportations.

Image- AIGA (International symbol sign for immigration controls)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, AP, Right Wing Watch

Daily Headlines: December 15, 2009

* Spain: The Royal Language Academy of issued a new 4000-page grammar book designed to better reflect the evolution of the Spanish language throughout the Americas.

* Latin America: Cuba and Venezuela strengthened their ties after signing several deals worth approximately $3 billion.

* Mexico: The country’s severely weakened economy and decreased oil output has led Standard & Poor’s to lower Mexico’s credit rating.

* Argentina: President Cristina Kirchner was the target of death threats by someone who tapped into the radio frequency of the presidential helicopter.

Image – BBC News (King Juan Carlos was given a copy of the new Spanish grammar rules that will replace the Royal Language Academy’s 1931 guidelines).
Online Sources- Bloomberg, ABC News, Toronto Sun, MSNBC

Monday, December 14, 2009

Today’s Video: “El Taladro” celebrates!

The end of the year also brings the end of the soccer season in several countries throughout the Americas including Chile and Mexico. Tonight, however, we shine the spotlight on a modest club from the southern part of Buenos Aires: Club Ateltico Banfield. The side known by the nickname of El Taladro (The Drill) won the Argentine club championship for the first time in over a century. As you can see in the following video Banfield fans, players, and personnel celebrated their historic title:

Online Sources-, ESPN, TSN, YouTube

World Watch: Smacking Silvio

* Italy: Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will remain hospitalized until Tuesday after he was assaulted over the weekend at a political rally.

* Iran: Officials said that they would plan to prosecute three U.S. citizens who have been accused of spying.

* Sri Lanka: According to a former general the government was behind the killings of three Tamil Tiger rebels who had surrendered to the army.

* Australia: Could the cuddly and cute koala bears soon become extinct?

Image – CBC (“Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi leaves Duomo Square with blood on his face after the statue-throwing incident.”)
Online Sources- BBC News, Guardian UK, MSNBC, CNN

Brazil, U.S. envoys discuss Mahmoud, military, Mel

Senior Brazilian and U.S. diplomats met on Monday to discuss a wide range of topics pertaining to the Western Hemisphere.

According to Brazil's presidential foreign affairs advisor Marco Aurelio Garcia, his meeting in Brasilia today with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela was meant to “clear the air” over disagreements and sensitive points between both countries. Garcia criticized the White House’s controversial deal to expand U.S. military presence in Colombia by claiming that it "is not a positive factor in the region". Garcia also defended the recent visit of Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Brazil and asserted his country’s backing of Iran’s nuclear program solely under International Atomic Energy Agency guidelines. (Last week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that it was a "really bad idea" for Latin American states to engage with Iran).

Garcia also said that he and Valenzuela found common ground regarding the Honduran political crisis:
"We coincide in something: for the Brazilian and the U.S. governments the election is insufficient to normalize democracy," Garcia said, adding that they still had a "small difference" over the results of the election…

"We really agree on some of the fundamental aspects of our relationship, and we have a similar view of many of the issues in the hemisphere," Valenzuela said when asked about the differences with Brazil over Honduras.
Valenzuela’s trip to the Americas will continue with stops in the other Mercosur full member countries of Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay.

Image- The Telegraph (The current presidents of Brazil and the U.S. met at the White House last March).
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, AFP, JTA, Reuters, Mercopress

Bolivian President Calls for More State Control & Indigenous Power

After Bolivian President, Evo Morales, was reelected into office on Sunday, he addressed the country's economic state the following day.

According to The Washington Post, Morales vows to to increase state control over the economy and strengthen political power for indigenous groups. Several exit polls showed that Morales's Movement Toward Socialism party has a good amount of back-up, considering he is likely to win two-thirds of the seats in both houses of Congress.

As an Aymara Indian, Morales is Bolivia's first indigenous president. He is incredibly popular amongst Indigenous majority, which supported a constitutional reform this year to allow him to run for a second consecutive term in Bolivia.

Photo Source

Human Rights Watch Puts Brazilian Police in the Spotlight

According to NGO Human Rights Watch, an alarming number of police killings have gone unpunished in Brazil. Police officers from the states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo have killed more than 11,000 people since 2003.

Most of these killings are claimed to have been “resistance” killings — those that occur when police officers return fire in self-defense. Police officials say these killings are in resistance to gangs linked to drug trafficking.

However, Human Rights Watch says otherwise. The group led a two-year investigation, called Lethal Force, that focused on 51 such killings and found evidence that police officers often took steps to cover up the true nature of the deaths.

In particular, HRW focuses on an event in 2007. Police documents stated that at least nine victims were taken to the hospital in an attempt to “rescue” them, but photographs and autopsy reports obtained by Human Rights Watch showed that the victims were dead before their removal.

According to the Human Rights Watch report, “These false ‘rescues’ serve to destroy crime scene evidence while providing a veneer of good faith on the part of the police.”

New York Times reports:
In most of the cases examined, the police descriptions of shootouts appeared inconsistent with forensic reports documenting gunshot wounds, which were consistent with the victims’ having been shot at close range, the group said.

“The problem with the current system and the reason these killings continue is that the criminal justice system relies entirely on police investigators to resolve these cases, and they don’t do it,” said Daniel Wilkinson, the deputy director for the Americas for Human Rights Watch. “There is a total lack of accountability.”
Human Rights Watch proposes that public prosecutors’ offices in both Brazilian states create a special unit to focus on police resistance cases. HRW also recommends that public security officials establish and strictly enforce crime-scene protocols that deter officers from engaging in cover-up techniques, and that they prosecute officers who engage in such activities.

Here are some more striking statistics..

The police in Rio de Janeiro State recorded a record high of 1,330 resistance killings in 2007. The rate fell to 1,137 in 2008, but it was still the third highest number on record for Rio, Human Rights Watch said.

In São Paulo State, there were more than 2,176 reported resistance killings over the past five years, Human Rights Watch said, contrasting that with the 1,623 police killings over the same period in South Africa, a country with a much higher homicide rate.

Photo Source

US Contractor Held In Cuba

Charging development workers with espionage is a common enough practice in authoritarian states. Aside from the classic suspicion of Peace Corps Volunteers as spies, Iran, Sudan, and Nigeria have made waves for recent accusations of espionage against development workers. Generally the arrest causes a diplomatic spat and then, after receiving some concessions, the arresting country releases the "spy" to relieved family members.

With dialogue between the US and Cuba at its most active in years, Cuba may be looking for some additional leverage. The New York Times reported Saturday on the arrest of a subcontractor to a USAID-funded civil society project who was supposedly handing out computers and communications equipment "on behalf of the Obama administration." It added that it was "unclear exactly what the [man] was doing at the time he was detained."

Generally speaking, it's not a great idea to go around handing out computers and phones in a country that keeps a fairly tight lid on information going in and coming out. Still, it remains to be seen if the contractor is an innocent victim who was working within the guidelines of the program or if he was involved in illegal activity. It is interesting that this arrest comes a month after two Americans admitted to having spied for Cuba over the course of three decades.

Of course, there are no small coincidences and big coincidences; only coincidences...

Online Sources: NY Times, Miami Herald, AP, US News, BBC, Washington Post,

Runoff election needed in Chile

Conservative Sebastian Piñera won Sunday’s presidential election in Chile but did not gain enough votes to prevent a runoff.

The billionaire businessman received 44% of the vote, about 6% shy of the cutoff needed to avoid a second round next month. In vying to become Chile’s first civilian conservative leader since the late strongman Augusto Pinochet ceded power, Piñera will have to face ruling the ruling Concertacion candidate and ex-president Eduardo Frei.

The big surprise of Sunday’s election was the strong showing of independent candidate Marco Enríquez-Ominami who received 20% of the vote. Enríquez-Ominami split from the Concertacion and appealed towards marginalized younger voters. Ultimately nearly one of ten 18 to 29-year-old Chileans voted, yet yesterday’s first round may be a watershed election according to Bloggings by Boz:
No matter who wins, the Concertacion's continued existence is at risk. Even a Frei victory will only prolong the inevitable. The political coalition that formed to defeat a dictatorship can't fight Pinochet forever. For a generation whose political lives were defined by that fight, it's hard for them to accept that the next generation is not. If the old parties can't figure out how to move forward, as we saw in this election, they're going to leave space open for those who will.
On a related note, one of Pinochet’s grandsons lost in his attempt for a legislative seat. Rodrigo García Pinochet finished in a distant third after being rejected by the local leftist and rightist parties.

Image- AP (“Sebastian Pinera, presidential candidate of Chile's opposition coalition, shows his inked thumb and his ID card after voting in general elections in Santiago, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2009.”)
Online Sources- The Telegraph, Bloggings by Boz, AS/COA, AP, New York Times

Daily Headlines: December 14, 2009

* Honduras: Manuel Zelaya’s next move might be to meet with President-elect Porfirio Lobo for conciliatory talks in the Dominican Republic. (Thanks to one of our commentators for the tip!)

* U.S.:
Musicians in Philadelphia paid tribute over the weekend to Joaquin Rivera, a beloved Latino community activist who died in a hospital waiting room and was subsequently robbed.

* Paraguay: President Fernando Lugo’s favorability has slipped a bit over the past year though nearly six in ten Paraguayans feel he’s doing an “average” job.

* Brazil:
French investigators will soon resume the search for the black boxes of Air France Flight 447 that crashed off the Brazilian coast roughly six months ago.

Image – Times Online (“Manuel Zelaya has been living in the Brazilian embassy since September.”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, BBC News,, CNN, Angus Reid Consultants