Saturday, December 18, 2010

Weekend Headlines: December 18-19, 2010

* U.S.: Despite strong efforts by Latino community and youth activists the U.S. Senate voted against final passage of the DREAM Act.

* Bolivia: On Friday, Bolivia became the latest Latin American country to back the recognition of Palestine as an independent state.

* Colombia: Ex-president Alvaro Uribe continues to face serious allegations related to a major wiretap scandal that makes Watergate look like a walk in the park.

* Venezuela: Less than a month before a new legislature is sworn in outgoing members of the National Assembly passed a bill granting President Hugo Chavez decree powers for 18 months.

* Central America: Costa Rica and Nicaragua accepted an offer by Mexico and Guatemala to mediate in a sometimes heated border dispute.

* Mexico: Staff at a Tamaulipas prison are suspected of aiding in the escape of over 140 inmates on Friday.

* Haiti: Organization of American States chief Jose Miguel Insulza supposedly requested that the Haitian government delay reporting the results of last month's presidential election.

* Chile: A French court sentenced fourteen former officials who served under the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet for their roles in the "disappearances" of four Frenchmen.

Online Sources - The Telegraph, CBC,, BBC News, The Latin Americanist, AFP, MSNBC, CBS News
Image - Damian Dovarganes/AP via ("Immigrants parents, students and others participate in a candle-light procession and vigil in support of the Federal DREAM Act in downtown Los Angeles on Dec. 7.")

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What was the top news story of 2010?

We're going to go on a brief hiatus for a few days.

In the meantime, what do you feel was the most important news story of 2010 regarding Latin America and Latinos? Was it a major story that covered plenty of headlines or an item that was overlooked by the press? Did it involve a regional leader, a sports team, the arts, or another area of interest?

Please vote in the poll located on our sidebar with twenty options as to what was the main story of this year. The results of the survey will be revealed after the poll closes on January 10, 2011.

If we missed something or if you want to respectfully debate one of the choices please feel free to comment to this post.

Your opinion counts!

Image -
Online Source - The Latin Americanist

Wikipedia a la Cubana

In December 2008 we mentioned a “clear case of mistaken Internet priorities by the Cuban government” when officials “heavily promoted” a Spanish-based company running an online shopping site on the island during the holiday season. Few Cubans can afford a personal computer while roughly one in ten Cubans has access to the Internet. Furthermore, the Cuban government had had a very fractured relationship with the island’s bloggers that has included harassment and police pressure.

Therefore, it’s seems out of place that Cuba’s government has launched its own version of Wikipedia. was launched on Tuesday with the aim of gathering and spreading " knowledge with a non-profit, pro-democracy aim from a decolonizing point of view." According to BBC News, the site’s entry on the U.S. describes it as an "empire of our time, which has historically taken by force territory and natural resources from other nations, to put at the service of its businesses and monopolies".

The site has nearly 20,000 entries in total on items like Fidel Castro and U.S.-Cuba relations but supposedly has nothing on the possible reforms to the country’s economic model.

Ecured did encounter some difficulties during its initial run and briefly crashed earlier today.

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

Peru: Army chief rejects Wikileaks drug claims

A corny joke: denial is not a river in Egypt.

Peruvian army chief Paul da Silva is none too pleased at the implications made by a U.S. diplomatic cable uncovered by the Wikileaks website. The 2009 document from then-U.S. Ambassador Michael McKinley claimed that an unnamed source ''saw signs that (Peruvian army) officers may have continued to cooperate with drug traffickers''. McKinley’s “source” added that in 2007 da Silva met with a business executive who would later be arrested for trying to smuggle several hundred pounds of cocaine hidden inside frozen fish.
Da Silva replied to the accusations by threatening to take legal action against McKinley.

In addition, as reported in a Reuters article:
"This cable is defamatory and is aimed at damaging the honor of the armed forces," Da Silva said. "I can't close doors to people who want to meet with me. I didn't know at the time that this Mr. Velasco was implicated in drug trafficking."

Da Silva blamed Michael McKinley, the former U.S. ambassador to Peru, for writing the "irresponsible" memo and threatened to file a lawsuit against him.
On a related note, another U.S. diplomatic document uncovered by Wikileaks and reported in The Guardian will likely embarrass Jamaican authorities. The previously secret cable cited Cuban officials very “frustrated” at Jamaican antidrug efforts including “ignoring of Cuban attempts to increase the flow of drug-related information” between both countries.

Image- AP via CBS News (“Soldiers march during a military parade commemorating Independence Day in July. The top Army General Paul da Silva was accused in a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable of drug corruption.”)
Online Sources- The Guardian, Sydney Morning Herald, Reuters

Inter shocked in Club World Cup

It was four months ago that Brazilian soccer team Inter was on a high after having captured their second Copa Libertadores crown in five years. Earlier today, however, the Porto Alegre side was anything but jubilant after being shocked in the Club World Cup (CWC).

Inter became the first South American side not to reach the CWC title match after losing to African club champions TP Mazembe. Inter dominated the early stages of the match yet they missed several key chances partly due to the inspired play by goalkeeper Muteba Kidiaba. In the second half the team from the Democratic Republic of Congo broke the game in their favor with strikes by Mulota Kabangu and Dioko Kaluyituka. Despite several great opportunities by Rafael Sobis and Giuliano Inter ended up on the short side of a 2-0 defeat.

Despite such an upset Inter coach Celso Roth was gracious in defeat:
"We created opportunities but unfortunately we couldn't turn them into goals. Mazembe had the opportunities and scored," Roth said. "Football is like this. Mazembe defended very well and I congratulate them. We played much better than them but we have this very bitter defeat."

In the CWC quarterfinals Mazembe won over Mexico’s Pachuca by a 1-0 score. Hence, Pachuca will play the fifth-place match against Al-Wahda of the United Arab Emirates while Inter awaits the loser of the other semifinal between South Korea’s Seongnam Ilhwa and Inter of Milan.

Image- CBC (“TP Mazembe Englebert's Stopilla Sunzu, right, is challenged by Francisco Torres of Club de Futbol Pachuca during the African champion's 1-0 win on Friday.”)
Online Sources- Reuters, The Telegraph, CBC

Daily Headlines: December 14, 2010

* Venezuela: President Hugo Chavez could seek special decree powers to be used before the new legislature comes into office on January 5th.

* Bolivia: Bolivia could take legal action at the International Court of Justice as part of their staunch opposition to a compromise deal reached at the UN Climate Summit in Cancun on Saturday.

* Ecuador: Global demand for oil will fall next year according to predictions by the OPEC oil cartel during their summit in the Ecuadorian city of Quito.

* Argentina: Is Carlos Tevez justified or petulant in his desire to leave Manchester City and play for another club?

Image – Reuters/Miraflores Palace/Handout via Reuters (“Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez shows a map during a news conference at Miraflores Palace in Caracas December 10, 2010.”)
Online Sources-, UPI, Bloomberg, The Latin Americanist, Sify

Monday, December 13, 2010

The scars still linger

“Memories fade but the scars still linger”, is a verse from “Memories Fade” by Tears for Fears. Those lyrics would surely apply to the Legionaries of Christ (LOC) and its controversial founder.

The late Rev. Marciel Maciel founded the LOC in Mexico in 1941 and he used his links to the country's elite in order to build the LOC into “one of the most influential organizations in the Roman Catholic Church.” The conservative priest constantly denied rumors of personal improprieties while the LOC’s clout grew within the global Catholic Church movement.

The precarious house of cards that Maciel erected throughout his life came crashing down after his death in 2008. Allegations that he fathered multiple children were true according to LOC officials last March. "We express our sorrow and grief to each and every person damaged by our founder's actions," said a statement from sixteen LOC leaders that also admitted that they helped cover-up sexual abuse committed by Maciel.

The LOC has tried to overcome the terrible stigma left behind by Maciel’s callous actions. The Vatican authority appointed to run the LOC, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, announced several reforms to the sect including expanding the powers of the group’s general counsel. De Paolis last Friday also appointed members of a commission that will revise the LOC’s constitution.

Earlier today the LOC took several steps in trying to airbrush Maciel from its history:
The conservative order says photographs showing the late Rev. Marciel Maciel alone or with the pope must be removed from its installations…

The Legion also announced on its website Monday that it was prohibiting the celebration of Maciel's birthday. It also banned the sale of Maciel's writings inside Legion centers.
Aside from deeply damaging the LOC, Maciel’s legacy has shined a negative light on the Vatican that helped cover-up his wrongdoings.

Online Sources- Los Angeles Times, The Latin Americanist, BusinessWeek, CNN, MSNBC, AP

Report: LatAm economy to grow in ‘10

The recent international economic slowdown has hit plenty of countries hard and for the most part Latin America has been no exception to that. Yet it appears as if this year the region has bounced back faster than other parts of the world.

According to a study released today by the U.N.'s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, (ECLAC), the region’s gross domestic product will grow by a higher-than-expected 6% this year. The increase represents a big jump compared to a GDP drop of 1.9% last year, and the ECLAC anticipates that the region will continue growing throughout 2011 by 4.2%.

An ECLAC statement credited this year’s expected growth to several factors including an expansive monetary policy and rapidly increasing production. The report also mentioned that the governments in most countries in the region enacted public policies since mid-2009 that have allowed for “robust private consumption, which is due to a gradual improvement in employment, increasing credit conditions, and…an increase in real wages”.

Despite the positive outlook for next year, the ECLAC warned that there are challenges that still remain:
“The big challenge in the region is rebuilding its capacity to take contra-cyclical actions and create conditions for productive development that is not just based on exports of basic goods,” Cepal Executive Secretary Alicia Barcena said in the statement.
Not every country in the region will experience growth this year; Venezuela’s GDP is expected to fall by 1.6% while Haiti’s could nosedive by 7%. Aside from uneven growth, inflation also increased by 1.5% between 2009 and this year.

Paraguay with 9.7% of annual growth is the head of the class in Latin America, followed by Uruguay with 9.0% and Peru with 8.6%. Regional heavyweights Chile and Mexico will each grow by 5.3% based on the ECLAC’s analysis.

An ECLAC report released last month concluded that poverty in Latin America would drop by 33% this year.

Image- Mercopress (Workers at a Chilean fish processing plant).
Online Sources- Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Reuters,, Bloomberg, El Universal

Haiti orphan bill becomes law

Last week the U.S. Senate postponed voting on the DREAM Act, a proposal that would legalize the status of potentially thousands of undocumented youth. Discussion on the bill has reignited the debate on illegal immigration and led to some attacks against the plan that were reviewed by

While plenty of attention has been paid to the DREAM Act, another proposal to help undocumented youth was quietly passed and became a law this month. On Thursday President Barack Obama signed the Help Haiti Act (HHA) into law days after it received Congressional approval.

The HHA facilitates the adoption of approximately 1200 Haitian orphans adopted after January’s massive earthquake. The HHA treats the Haitian orphans the same as other internationally adopted orphans. Thus, they avoid the risk of being deported by staying in the U.S. with permanent resident status and subsequently citizenship.

Though both the DREAM Act and the HHA help young immigrants, the latter’s Congressional sponsor (Rep. Jeff Fortenberry) was opposed to the DREAM Act. “This is about Haitian orphans and their adoptive American families and to leverage that bill for a highly controversial immigration measure was just wrong,” Fortenberry said to over efforts to introduce both proposals together. Ultimately both plans were presented separately and after a brief delay the HHA was swiftly passed on December 1st.

Meanwhile, as reported on the Miami Herald’s website, some deportations to Haiti may resume after being put on hold after the tremor nearly a year ago:
Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez said Friday that the U.S. expects to begin flying deportees with criminal records back to Haiti in January in coordination with Haiti's government.

Gonzalez says ICE is must deport people with criminal records or release them "if their repatriation is not reasonably foreseeable."
Haiti has been rocked in recent weeks by an outbreak of cholera and unrest over last month’s possibly fraudulent presidential elections. Two of the leading presidential hopefuls on Saturday rejected a planned recount of the first round of elections.

Image- Ramon Espinosa/AP via MSNBC (“Children play at the Foyer des Infants orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on April 8.”)
Online Sources- Rochester Democrat and Chronicle,,,,, Reuters

Daily Headlines: December 13, 2010

* Venezuela: Venezuela's Energy and Oil Minister said that the country has become the third-largest exporter of oil to China.

* Honduras: Former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya blasted the “reckless accusations” in a 2008 U.S. diplomatic cable unearthed by Wikileaks claiming that he had links to organized crime.

* Argentina: Police were sent to monitor a Buenos Aires park where residents clashed with about 1000 immigrant squatters.

* Brazil: An executive order issued last week ensured that same-sex Brazilian couples receive pension rights.

Image – LAHT
Online Sources- Sydney Morning Herald, Bloomberg, LAHT, MSNBC

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Weekend World Watch: Unholy behavior

* Vatican: According to diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks Vatican officials were "offended” by an Irish investigation into alleged child abuse while the Holy See backed U.S. efforts in 2004 to ban “human cloning.”

* Iran: Did an Iranian women sentenced to death by stoning for the death of her husband really commit the crime as was depicted on a documentary on state-run TV or was the program government propaganda?

* Sudan: Southern Sudan’s ruling party backed independence for the region weeks before a critical referendum vote.

* China: Exports from China jumped by nearly 35% last month compared to November 2009 though the country’s trade surplus continued to grow.

Image – AP via CBS News (“Pope Benedict XVI uses a handkerchief during a canonization ceremony at the Vatican Oct. 11, 2009.”)
Online Sources- Voice of America, Reuters, BBC News, The Guardian, Al Jazeera English

Bolivia Against the Grain

Bolivia stood alone today at the UN Climate Summit in Cancun as the only country that opposed the summit's declaration. Why? Bolivia felt the declaration didn't go far enough to curb greenhouse gas emissions or to support the renewal of the Kyoto Protocol before it expires next year.

At last year's Copenhagen summit, British PM Gordon Brown accused Morales of "holding the world to ransom." The Bolivian position didn't seem to make a much better impression on this year's host, Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa who rejected Bolivia's attempt to "impose a veto" over the other 193 countries.

In economic news, Bolivia also lowered the country's retirement age from 65 (60 for women) to 58 and 55 in a time when crushing deficits are forcing Western economies to evaluate raising the retirement age.

It's worth pointing out however that France, which withstood protests to raise its retirement age to 62, enjoys a life expectancy of 81.5. By comparison, the average Bolivian (with a life expectancy of 65.2) could expect to get a whopping two-tenths of a year of retirement at the previous age of 65.

Image Source: The Guardian
Online Sources: Voice of America, Al-Jazeera, Google, MSNBC, The Guardian

Weekend Headlines: December 11-12, 2010

* Peru: In recognition of Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa, Culture Minister Juan Ossio announced that the writer’s childhood home will be transformed into “an historic site” and tourist attraction.

* Puerto Rico: University student activists are planning a strike scheduled for next Tuesday in protest against government plans to institute new fees.

* Mexico: Retired pugilist Julio Cesar Chavez was announced as one of seven people who will be inducted next year into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

* Latin America: U.S. legislator Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the incoming House Foreign Affairs Committee chair, echoed the Israeli government’s criticism of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay to recognize an independent Palestinian state.

Image – Fernando Llano/Associated Press via CBC (“Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa made a name for himself in the 1960s with several novels, which he now admits were altered to appease censors in Spain.”)
Online Sources- AHN, The Latin Americanist, AFP, Global Voices,

Friday, December 10, 2010

The year that was: Press under pressure

2010 has been a banner year for the Latin American press, albeit for the wrong reasons. From Cuba to Argentina, members of the media have come under attack from government censorship and violence from criminal organizations. For example:
  • A group of U.N. “human rights experts” criticized the Honduran government for not properly investigating death threats and murders of against journalists.
  • A study by a Mexican press watchdog group concluded that regional newspapers rarely reported on widespread “narcoviolence.”
  • Reporters Without Borders accused demobilized ex-paramilitary members in Colombia of “forcing journalists to self-censorship or exile.”
The following video is of a protest in Mexico City in the name of harassed and slain members of the media. Nearly 700 people participated in a silent march holding signs of killed press members as well as a banner calling for the government to provide “more guarantees” for journalists to fulfill their duties.

The above protest is an unfortunate reminder of the dangers constantly faced by the press in Latin America. Perhaps the situation for the media will improve in 2011 though it's much easier to be pessimistic than hopeful.

Online Sources- The Latin Americanist
Video Source - YouTube

World Watch: Absent but not forgotten

* China: Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize in absentia though his recognition may help advance the human rights movement in his native country.

* Spain: The non-profit Qatar Foundation will pay $225 million as part of a sponsorship deal with soccer powerhouse F.C. Barcelona.

* Pakistan: A pair of newspapers confessed to being duped by a fake Wikileaks report critical of the Indian military.

* Nigeria: On a related note, a statement from Pfizer rejected a cable uncovered by Wikileaks claiming that the pharmaceutical giant used "dirty tricks” against a former Nigerian attorney general.

Image – AP via NPR (“Nobel Commitee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland sits next to an empty chair with the Nobel Peace Prize medal and diploma during a ceremony honoring Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo at city hall in Oslo, Norway Friday Dec. 10, 2010. Liu, a democracy activist, is serving an 11-year prison sentence in China on subversion charges brought after he co-authored a bold call for sweeping changes to Beijing's one-party communist political system.”)
Online Sources- CNN, The Guardian, BBC News

Daily Headlines: December 10, 2010

* Cuba: While marching in Havana yesterday members of the dissident group the Ladies in White were reportedly jeered by a crowd who accused them of being “sellouts” and “opportunists”.

* Venezuela: A diplomatic cable made public through Wikilieaks said that officials at Venezuelan-state-owned oil firm PDVSA “had quicker access to U.S. visas” after they allegedly claimed to falsifying data on oil exports.

* Argentina: Avellaneda-based side Independiente won their first regional title in fifteen years after defeating Brazil’s Goias in the final of the Copa Sudamericana.

* Colombia: At a conference of the Internet Commitment for Social Responsibility in Cartagena the group called for the creation of a “.xxx” domain name for adult websites.

Image – Javier Galeano/AP via MSNBC (“Members of the Cuban dissident group Ladies in White demonstrate during their weekly march in Havana, Cuba on” last month.)
Online Sources- Reuters, AFP, ESPN

Thursday, December 9, 2010

World Watch: Free Liu Xiaobo

* China: On the eve of Human Rights Day, the U.N. and human rights activists worldwide called on China to release 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo from prison.

* Britain: Tens of thousands of protesters rallied in London against the legislative approval of a government plan to triple maximum university tuition fees.

* Ivory Coast: The African Union bloc suspended the Ivory Coast due to the disputed presidential election that took place last month.

* India: Several Transportation Safety Administration agents are under fire after patting down the Indian Ambassador to the U.S. reportedly due to the sari she was wearing.

Image – Morten Holm/Scanpix/AP via (“Supporters of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo demonstrate outside China's Embassy in Oslo, Norway, Thursday, Dec. 9.”)
Online Sources- Voice of America, Al Jazeera English, BBC News, New York Daily News

Daily Headlines: December 9, 2010

* Bolivia: Japan’s government agreed to help in the development of Bolivia’s potentially lucrative lithium industry.

* Latin America: Latin America’s education performance is below average compared to most member countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development according to a study by that body.

* Peru: A U.S. appeals court ruled that a case by indigenous plaintiffs from Peru against Occidental Petroleum should be heard in Los Angeles instead of Peru.

* Colombia: A U.S. diplomatic document revealed by Wikileaks showed that despite his tough-guy rhetoric former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe tried to secretly negotiate with the FARC guerillas.

Image – Mercopress (“The spectacular Uyuni salt lake that holds world’s largest lithium deposits.”)
Online Sources- Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, ABC News,, LAHT

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

French court tries Pinochet-era officials

Former Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet may be deceased but some of his cohorts have been pursued by the long arm of the law. In the latest case, fourteen former officials including an ex-defense minister and the former chief of the secret police are being tried in absentia in a French court.

The defendants, who include an Argentine, were accused of numerous charges including the kidnapping and torture of four Frenchmen who disappeared in Chile between 1973 and 1975. Among the four “vanished” men is a former priest as well as two members of a Chilean leftists party arrested as part of the infamous Operation Condor.

Approximately thirty witnesses are expected to appear at the trial that began today and is planned to end on December 17th. The trial is based on complaints filed in 1998 by the victims' families, and originally included indictments against five people who were alive at the time including Pinochet.

According to an article by France24, the lawsuit takes advantages of several unique aspects of the French legal system:
The country’s criminal code can be applied to foreigners guilty of crimes committed against French citizens outside its borders. In addition, French judges have accepted that the forced disappearances constitute a “continuous crime” against the four victims and have cancelled the statute of limitations that would have exempted the accused from trial.
Some of the accused are already serving short prison sentences in South America while others live freely in Chile. Though they probably will not serve additional prison time if the defendants are convicted, lawyers for families of the disappeared men hope this can bring justice to their presumably dead loved ones. "Of course, Chile does not extradite its nationals, but Chile will be their prison - and if they cross a border, they will be arrested," said a lawyer representing one of the family members to BBC News.

Image- Reuters via BBC News (“The trial is being attended by families of the four French citizens who disappeared.”)
Online Sources- BBC News, NPR, France24

Getting away with murder

The big news out of Colombia is the havoc caused by some of the heaviest rainfall in decades (and to a lesser extent reports that the FARC rebels will free five hostages). This post, however, will focus on a miscarriage of justice that occurred last week.

Jorge Ivan Laverde, a former paramilitary commander, had his sentenced reduced significantly after authorities deemed that he cooperated in a demobilization program. Laverde confessed to ordering the murders of over 4000 people and having their bodies incinerated in an oven. Furthermore he claimed to have personally executed 98 people during his time as the head of one of the blocs of the right-wing United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC, in Spanish). Yet under he statutes of the 2005 Peace and Justice Law, Laverde’s original punishment of forty years in prison was sliced to a scant eight years.

The Laverde case is symbolic of the problems behind the paramilitary amnesty program championed by the government. Last June two paramilitary leaders were sentenced to eight years in jail after confessing to participating in a number of massacres. Additionally, as was written in a Latin American Herald Tribune article:
The AUC’s more than 31,000 fighters demobilized between the end of 2003 and mid-2006 as part of a peace process with then-President Alvaro Uribe, although successor groups have since emerged that comprise between 4,000 and 10,000 members, depending on the source.
The Laverde incident wasn’t the only recent injustice regarding the paramilitaries; last month, an Israeli mercenary accused of training AUC troops was allowed to leave a Russian prison and return home free.

In the meantime, current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said that he would continue the demobilizing program though a recent Constitutional Court ruling knocked out a key component of the Peace and Justice Law.

Image- Radio Santa Fe (Carlos Castaño was the founder and head of the AUC until 2004 when he was murdered under mysterious circumstances).
Online Sources- Herald Sun, Reuters, Xinhua, BBC News, LAHT, AP, Colombia Reports

The year that was: The (Peruvian) pen is mightier than the sword

We continue our look at some of the top stories of 2010 with a high honor granted to one of Latin America’s most famous authors.

In October, Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa was named as this year’s Nobel Literature Prize winner. Though oddsmakers named the likes of Philip Roth and Alice Munro as favorites, the Nobel committee cited Vargas Llosa’s “cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat". The 1995 Cervantes Prize winner and former presidential candidate thus became the sixth Latin American to win such a prestigious honor.

As part of his Nobel lecture in Stockholm on Tuesday, Vargas Llosa praised the maturation of democracy in Latin America though he also criticized the “pseudo populist, clownish” governments in parts of the region. Politics aside, he also gave some powerful and inspiring on the importance of literature in our modern world:
"We would be worse than we are without the good books we have read, more conformist, not as restless, more submissive, and the critical spirit, the engine of progress, would not even exist," he argued. "Like writing, reading is a protest against the insufficiencies of life. When we look in fiction for what is missing in life, we are saying, with no need to say it or even to know it, that life as it is does not satisfy our thirst for the absolute – the foundation of the human condition – and should be better."
The following video is of a 2007 Al Jazeera interview of Vargas Llosa by British journalist David Frost. He echoed the sentiments expressed in his speech this week including proclaiming that “literature is not only entertainment…writers and intellectuals can have an impact on political life.”

Video Source - YouTube
Online Sources- The Guardian, Times of India, NPR, The Latin Americanist

Daily Headlines: December 8, 2010

* Latin America: A report by the United Nations Environment Program and major climate talks in Cancun, Mexico concluded that glaciers in the Southern Cone region of South America are melting at an alarming rate.

* Haiti: Protests continued in Port-au-Prince after Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council declared that Jude Celestin and former first lady Mirlande Manigat will face each other in a runoff for the presidency.

* Argentina: Spanish oil firm Repsol reportedly found several massive fields of natural gas reserves in the Patagonia region.

* Mexico: Is a fourteen-year-old teen accused of being a Mexican drug gang hitman also a U.S. citizen?

Image –
Online Sources- AFP, USA TODAY, The Latin Americanist, CNN, Bloomberg

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Follow-up: Isreal peeved over Palestinian recognition

On Monday we looked at the decision made by several Latin American states to formally recognize a Palestinian state. "Israeli and U.S. officials who already critiqued Brazil’s move will likely condemn Argentina’s decision," we wrote in that post. As was noted in BBC News on Tuesday our assumption was not a bad guess:
Israel has reacted angrily to Argentina's recognition of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders...

Israel Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the moves were irresponsible.

"They never made any contribution to [the peace process]... and now they're making a decision that is completely contrary to everything that has been agreed so far," he said.

Costa Rica, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela along with roughly 100 other countries have previously recognized a Palestinian state. Aside from the announcements made in recent days by Brazil and Argentina, Uruguayan officials said that they will officially recognize Palestine next year.

It remains to be seen if other Latin American countries will also engage in this "recognition diplomacy" regarding Palestine. An estimated 500,000 people of Palestinian background reside in Chile while El Salvador and Honduras allegedly have "substantial Palestinian populations."

Image - Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom via ("Palestinians walk past the Brazilian (r.) and the Argentinean (l.) flags hanging on a shop in the center of the West Bank city of Ramallah on Dec. 7. Argentina is the latest in Latin America to recognize an independent Palestinian state, just days after Brazil.") Online Sources -, The Latin Americanist, BBC News, Foreign Policy Passport

Lengthy Chilean miner strike ends

One of the most notable stories of this past year was the rescue of 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for approximately 70 days. Though the media tended to focus on the human-interest side of the story, the incident also shined a light on the problems regarding the Chilean mining industry.

Weeks after the rescue at the San Jose Mine, employees at the Collahuasi copper mine went on strike. The trade union representing the workers at the world’s third largest copper mine sought an increase in wages and benefits. Despite government intervention both management and employees the strike that began on November 5th became the longest recorded at a foreign-owned Chilean copper mine.

Last week union and company representatives finally returned to the bargaining table and on Monday most of the strikers backed an agreement. After thirty-two days the stoppage finally ended and striking workers returned to their posts on Tuesday.

So was the strike worth it? It depends on who you ask; for instance, a spokesman for the mine’s owner claimed that operations were “normal” though it wasn’t specified what “normal” meant. Meanwhile, union President Manuel Munoz told the local press that the deal signified “a win for the union movement in Chile.” He may be right according to the terms of the deal:
The offer included a bonus of about $25,000, a 3.25 percent average increase in base salary and improvements in health, housing and education benefits.
Image- REUTERS/Fabian Cambero via Reuters (“Workers march in support of a strike of Collahuasi copper mine at Iquique city, some 1862 km (1156 miles) north of Santiago November 24, 2010.” The banner reads “Collahuasi (mining company) saved the 33 (trapped workers) and buries its 1531 miners.”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Reuters, Bloomberg, BusinessWeek

World Watch: Nuked

* World: While international negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program ended on a “vague” note, a deal was signed allowing a French firm to construct a pair of nuclear reactors in India.

* Ivory Coast: Hundreds of people are leaving the Ivory Coast amid growing fears of post-election violence.

* Middle East: Will the dropping of a U.S. demand to freeze Israeli settlements facilitate peace talks between that country and the Palestinian Authority?

* Britain: A British court denied bail to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange after he surrendered to authorities over sexual assault allegations.

Image – Reuters/Philippe Wojazer via Reuters (“Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (R) shakes hands with France's President Nicolas Sarkozy as they arrive for a meeting at Hyderabad house in New Delhi, December 6, 2010.”)
Online Sources- The Guardian, CNN, BBC News, MSNBC

The year that was: Up with Uruguay!

For the next few days we will highlight some of what we feel are the top stories of 2010. We’ll also post next week a poll where you can vote on what you think should be the leading story of the year.

One of the surprises of the year in the sports world was Uruguay’s extraordinary run to the semifinals of the soccer World Cup. The cynics will focus on Luis Suarez’ handball in a crucial match against Ghana. But la garra charrua demonstrated a gutsy performance throughout the tournament even in their one-goal losses in the semis and third-place games to the Netherlands and Germany, respectively.

Despite the great team effort, it’s necessary to recognize one player in particular: Diego Forlan. The striker deservedly won the best player at the World Cup honors for his stellar leadership as well as phenomenal goals such as those shown in the video compilation below:

Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, BBC Sport
Video Source - YouTube

Daily Headlines: December 7, 2010

* Mexico: In an insensitive act of violence a Ciudad Juarez nursery school was allegedly burnt to the ground after its owners did not pay extortion money.

* Central America: Costa Rica closed its embassy in Nicaragua as part of a tense-filled border dispute between both countries.

* Venezuela: Candidates from President Hugo Chavez’s party emerged as the big winners of local elections held amid a backdrop of torrential rains and terrible flooding.

* Haiti: At least five people including two infants were killed when a boat full of Haitian migrants crashed and capsized near the British Virgin Islands.

Image – PRESS TV
Online Sources- AP, BBC News, People’s Daily Online, Bloomberg

Monday, December 6, 2010

World Watch: Plugging Wikileaks?

* Switzerland: While Wikileaks continues to release documents a Swiss bank froze the assets of an account used by the website’s founder, Julian Assange.

* North Korea: International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo could charge North Korea with war crimes over a deadly military attack last month on a South Korean island.

* Ivory Coast: The E.U. could raise sanctions against the Ivory Coast due to the country’s heavily disputed presidential election.

* Iran: Representatives of Iran and “six world powers” met on Monday to discuss concerns about the controversial Iranian nuclear program.

Image – CTV (“Cable released by WikiLeaks reveals Canadian sites 'vital' to U.S.”)
Online Sources- MSNBC, CNN, BBC News, The Guardian

More U.S. tourists to Cuba say Reuters

Is Cuba’s tourism industry on the up-and-up? According to a Reuters article published today the answer is “yes.”

The article cites several “travel industry and diplomatic sources” in claiming that visitors from the U.S. have jumped over the past year. "Through October around 265,000 have traveled. November and December are the peak months, so we expect 330,000 will go to Cuba on direct flights from the United States this year," said airline charter company president Armando Garcia. Furthermore, an unnamed “U.S. State Department source” claimed that the estimated number of tourists from the U.S. to Cuba in 2010 would be over 400,000. Of these visitors the article claimed that most are of Cuban origin; thus implying that the easing of travel restrictions under the Obama administration has had a notable effect on travel.

Tourism is a key portion of a Cuban economy that has been hit hard by the global financial slowdown. Despite the U.S. embargo on Cuba being blamed for decimating the country’s cruise industry, the government has recently allowed foreign cruise ships to dock on the island. Furthermore, Cuban officials claimed that tourism revenue increased in the first nine months of this year by 3.5% with revenues reaching $1.35 billion.

In the meantime, existing U.S. travel restrictions on Cuba might not change any time soon; staunch anti-Castro critic Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will lead the House Foreign Affairs Committee after the Republican majority to that chamber gets sworn in next month. She may have to butt heads with incoming libertarian-leaning members, however, according to The Hill:
Although many conservatives have traditionally supported the ban as a way of pressuring Cuba's communist dictatorship, the incoming class of Republicans brings with it a libertarian streak that favors individual freedoms above government intrusion, many observers note.

That position could place them at odds with GOP incumbents — notably Ros-Lehtinen — who have fought for years to keep U.S. restrictions on Cuba in place.
Image- (“A British-style double-decker offers free sightseeing tours at Varadero beach in Cuba.”)
Online Sources- MSNBC, The Latin Americanist, Reuters,, The Hill, Canadian Press

Latino hockey pioneer retires

Generally Latinos are associated with sports like baseball and soccer. Yet a few hockey players are of Latino background and perhaps one of the most famous Latino players to lace the skates decided to call it quits.

Earlier today Bill Guerin announced that he would retire after an extraordinary eighteen-season career. Guerin, who is of Nicaraguan descent, played for eight different teams and played in four National Hockey League (NHL) All-Star Games. He also was part of the 1996 U.S. team that would upset Canada in the World Cup and the 2002 silver-medal winning team. He was the first player to score at least a twenty goals per season with seven different teams.

Guerin won the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 1995 and with the Pittsburgh Penguins last year. Though Guerin may be best remembered as a member of the successful mid-1990s Devils sides, his brief time with Pittsburgh cannot be understated. Acquired at the 2009 trade deadline, Guerin scored twenty-six goals including a pair of game-winners in the playoffs and his invaluable leadership helped the Penguins win the title.

It’s unknown what Guerin’s immediate future will hold; for now, he expressed his immense gratitude towards his family in his retirement speech:
“There's not much I can actually say because I couldn't put into words what you mean to me, what you've sacrificed and how much you guys have done for me. I love you incredibly. I'm looking forward to spending more time with you, and doing all the things I've dreamt about for a long time. I'm looking forward to the second half of my life and you guys being the focal point. I love you guys. Thank you.”
Other Latino players currently playing in the NHL are Scott Gomez (Colombian and Mexican background) and Raffi Torres (Mexican and Peruvian descent). In addition, defenseman Francis Bouillon’s father was originally from Haiti.

Image- Jamie Sabau/Getty Images via CBC (“Bill Guerin will be honored by the Pittsburgh Penguins in an on-ice ceremony before Monday night's game.”)
Online Sources- Official websites of the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils, Wikipedia, Sporting News, USA TODAY

Palestine state recognized by South American countries

On Monday the Argentine government recognized a "free and independent” Palestinian state.

In a letter written from Argentine President Cristina Kirchner wrote to Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas, the South American government officially recognizes Palestine based on the 1967 borders. Furthermore, Argentina claimed that such a recognition “reflected a general consensus” in the Mercosur economic bloc whose members are Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

On Friday the Brazilian Foreign Ministry emitted a similar statement to the one announced today by Argentina. ”Considering that the demand presented by his Excellency (Abbas) is just and consistent with the principles upheld by Brazil with regard to the Palestinian issue, Brazil, through this letter, recognizes a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders,“ read the statement. Thus, both Argentina and Brazil would back Palestinian demands for a state in areas controlled by Israel (i.e. most of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and east Jerusalem).

Israeli and U.S. officials who already critiqued Brazil’s move will likely condemn Argentina’s decision. A cable from the Israeli Foreign Ministry accused Brazil of “advancing in a unilateral manner” by circumventing the 2003 Middle East roadmap for peace. “Brazil is sending a message to the Palestinians that they need not make peace to gain recognition as a sovereign state,” said U.S. Congressman Eliot Engel to Bloomberg.

Despite the controversy a Brazilian official told that recognizing a Palestine state “was the natural thing to do." Indeed over 100 countries, mostly from Africa and the Middle East, have already recognized a Palestinian state. More crucially, however, Brazil becomes the last of the emerging BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) to do so.

In the meantime it appears as if other Latin American states will soon follow the example set by Argentina and Brazil:
Following Brazil and Argentina's footsteps, Uruguay announced Monday that it recognizes an independent Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, according to AFP.

"Uruguay will surely follow the same path as Argentina in 2011," Uruguayan Deputy Foreign Minister Roberto Conde told AFP.

"We are working towards opening a diplomatic representation in Palestine, most likely in Ramallah," he said.
Image- PRESS TV (“Acting Palestinian Authority Chief Mahmoud Abbas (L) and Argentine President Cristina Kirchner.”)
Online Sources- AFP, Mercopress, PRESS TV, Bloomberg,, Jerusalem Post

Tensions rise over Haitian elections

Haiti’s political divisions have deepened over allegations of widespread electoral fraud during last month’s presidential elections. Yesterday ten of the nineteen presidential hopefuls marched with an estimated 1500 protesters and called for the election results to be annulled. As the following video from Al Jazeera shows, the protest in Port-au-Prince turned violent as some demonstrators fought with police:

Despite allegations that President Rene Preval conspired to give the presidency to his party's candidate, Jude Celestin, Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council proclaimed the elections as a “success." A report from an international team of observers from the Organization of American States and the Caribbean Community noted a number of voting irregularities such as "deliberate acts of violence and intimidation to derail the electoral process." Yet the group also noted that these problems should not “invalidate the process."

Whoever becomes certified as the next president will have plenty of problems to deal with including Haiti’s crushing poverty as well as rebuilding after last January’s major earthquake. In addition, the next leader will have to contend with a spreading cholera epidemic that has officially claimed over 2000 lives and nearly 89,000 cases.

Online Sources- Herald Sun, BBC News, Voice of America, MSNBC
Video Source - YouTube

Daily Headlines: December 6, 2010 (Updated)

* Colombia: At least 174 people died and 1.5 million people have been affected by one of the wettest rainy seasons in Colombian history. (Update: The death toll has grown to 188 after a dozen bodies were recovered after a landslide near Medellin).

* Latin America:
According to more documents divulged by Wikileaks the U.S. government is working closely with Mexican marines and Brazil sought the technology to build French military jets for sale to other Latin American countries.

* Chile:
Scientists discovered what is believed to be the oldest mine in the Americas - a 12,000-year-old Chilean iron oxide mine.

* Uruguay:
Rest in peace Maria Esther Gatti de Islas; the Uruguayan human rights activist died on Sunday at the age of 92.

Online Sources - MSNBC, Sydney Morning Herald, Voice of America, Reuters, PRESS TV, USA TODAY
Image - MSNBC ("
Residents wade through a flooded street Saturday in Puerto Santander, a town on Colombia's northeastern border with Venezuela.")

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Today’s Video: A crude reality

One of the biggest stories of the year here in the U.S. was the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico over the summer. The long-term environmental and economic impact of such a terrible accident remains to be seen though previous major spills have led to some notable damage.

The following CNN video looks at the aftermath of the 1979 Ixtec I oil spill off the Yucatan Peninsula. Tar balls from the estimated three billion barrels of crude can still be found on the islands near the Mexican mainland while mangrove forests in Campeche are under risk from clumps of oil.

Online Sources - CNET News
Video Source - CNN

Weekend Headlines: December 4-5, 2010

* Mexico: Did police behave “completely inappropriately” by exhibiting a presumed 14-year-old hitman in front of the assembled press?

* Cuba: A court commuted the sentence of a Salvadoran man convicted of killing an Italian tourist during a series of bombings approximate twelve years ago.

* Chile: At least two dozen people were injured after police clashed with Easter Island locals over land rights.

* Venezuela: The death toll attributed to heavy rains and increased flooding has risen to 31 according to the government.

Image – ITN (A 14-year-old nicknamed "El Ponchis" allegedly killed four people on orders of a Mexican drug gang.)
Online Sources- Reuters, TVNZ, CNN, El Universal

Friday, December 3, 2010

Today’s Video: Is it worth it?

We'll be back this weekend to cover several non-Wikileaks stories from the past few days possibly including allegations of discrimination against Latino farmers and the difficulties faced by Mexico's disabled population.

In the meantime the following video from the Associated Press examines some of the pitfalls in the "war on drugs" such as how most of those arrested in drug busts are small fish while the cartels' bosses are generally untouched.

Are the U.S. counternarcotics efforts successful or not? Please let us know what you think by leaving a comment to this post.

Video Source - YouTube

World Watch: Whose presidency is it anyway?

* Africa: Ivory Coast officials are divided as to who won last week’s presidential elections while tensions continue in Guinea after opposition leader Alpha Conde was declared as president-elect.

* India: As the 26th anniversary of the Bhopal industrial disaster approaches, some victims are seeking $1.1 billion in compensation from Dow Chemicals.

* World: According to a new survey released by Pew Research Center most Muslims in countries with large Islamic populations rejected Al Qaeda as well as the tactic of suicide bombings.

* Spain: An increased tobacco tax and pension reforms could be the next steps to strengthen an already weakened Spanish economy.

Image – Luc Gnago/REUTERS via The Guardian (“Supporters of opposition leader Alassane Outtara in the city of Gagnoa, Ivory Coast. The president's camp alleges vote rigging.”)
Online Sources- Bloomberg, Reuters, BBC News, CNN

De Musica Ligera: Feliz Hanukkah! (Again)

Tonight is the fifth evening in the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

Judaism has had a strong (albeit understated) history in Latin America. Jewish immigrants from Europe were part of a strong "colonization" push in the late 1800s and early 1900s in Argentina, for instance. Hundreds of thousands of Jews escaping the Holocaust during World War II were provided safe haven in Latin American countries like Brazil, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. Though some Jewish leaders in the region claimed that there has been an uptick in anti-Semitism, Latin America's Jewish community continues to thrive.

In honor of the eight-day "Festival of Light", the following video is from the extraordinary group Hip Hop Hoodios. "Ocho Kandelikas" is a song that we featured last year and, is a unique take on the Hanukkah festivities. Enjoy!

Online Sources - The Latin Americanist,, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Video Source - YouTube

Daily Headlines: December 3, 2010

* Argentina: Diplomatic tensions between Argentina and Britain could reignite over the finding of a new offshore oil field near the disputed Falkland Islands.

* Latin America: According to two more communiqués divulged by Wikileaks former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe “almost came to blows” with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez at a summit in February while a State Department cable expressed deep doubts over Mexican antidrug efforts.

* Mexico: Police arrested a key member of the Zetas drug gang, a “regional leader” accused of smuggling millions of dollars worth of drugs into the U.S.

* Costa Rica: President Laura Chinchilla said that she would send more police to the border with Nicaragua as part of a heated border dispute between both countries.

Image – BBC News (The chairman of British firm Desire Petroleum told BBC News that the finding of a new Falklands offshore oil field is "highly encouraging.")
Online Sources- Bloomberg, The Guardian, Voice of America, The Tico Times