Friday, February 5, 2010

Today’s Video: Charlie Brooker on Haiti

"I believe it's a distraction for the Haitian people because they are talking more now about 10 people than they are about one million people suffering in the streets," he said.
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive's anger at the media's focus on 10 U.S. missionaries accused of child kidnapping may be cynically seen as the Haitian government trying to brush aside its own shortcomings. Yet the world press has not been entirely forthcoming and honest in their reporting on a post-earthquake Haiti.

British journalist and author Charlie Brooker's recent look on how the news is reported has become a viral video hit. A few days ago he examined the press coverage of Haiti in his cannot-miss show "Newswipe". As the video below shows, he found that among some bright spots in reporting the media was also guilty of sensationalism and the shameless "search for signs of conflict". (Note that starting at around the 1:50 mark Brooker very briefly touches on Venezuelan relief efforts).

On a personal note, "Newswipe" (and its predecessor "Screenwipe") are truly amazing programs that provide the misanthropic Brooker's astute analysis on the media, television, and pop culture. His observations tend to focus on British press and TV though this impressive takedown of Keith Olbermann and FOX News is a must -see video clip. If you'll forgive me for the hyperbole, Brooker is an absolute genius.

Online Sources - YouTube, BBC News

Daily Headlines: February 5, 2010

* Chile: The late Chilean author Roberto Bolaño’s first unpublished book entitled “El Terser Reich” will be released “in the coming weeks” throughout Latin America.

* Colombia: The U.S.-Colombia free trade pact has been held up due to Colombia’s unsatisfactory human rights record yet Treasury Secretary Timothy Either claimed that the agreement would be passed this year.

* Cuba: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will visit Cuba next week as part of an official visit aiming to deepen Russian ties to the region.

* Mexico: Former Sonora drug cartel leader Miguel Angel Caro Quintero was sentenced to seventeen years in jail yesterday.

Image – TIME
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, People’s Daily Online, Houston Chronicle, LAHT, Colombia Reports

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Arte Para Todos: Gustavo the gifted

It wouldn't be too large of a stretch to call Gustavo Dudamel this generation's Leonard Bernstein; a brilliant young conductor who has wowed the world of classical music. Dudamel is the main success story from "El Sistema"- Venezuela's famed music education program for thousands of youths- and has parlayed his talents to become music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. At the age of 29, the wunderkind he has not forgotten his roots in Barquisimeto as observed in this 2008 "60 Minutes" interview:
"The music saved me. I'm sure of this. With all these bad things around you, you are exposed to these things, very close. The music give me a way to be far of these things," Dudamel says...

Asked if he feels like the ambassador of "the system," Dudamel tells (correspondent Bob) Simon, "In a good way, yes. I think that it's not Gustavo Dudamel. It's the Venezuelan system."
Below is a 2007 performance of Dudamel conducting a stirring rendition from his homeland's Simon Bolívar Youth Orchestra. (Dudamel has served as the Orchestra's artistic director for over a decade).

Online Sources - YouTube, CBS News, BBC News

Getting away with murder for ”Baby Doc”

Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier from the country from 1971 to 1986 and served as the successor to his ruthless, iron-handed dad. Both father and son ransacked Haiti’s treasury, repressed their countrymen via the Tontons Macoutes militia, and have been accused of being behind the deaths of thousands of opponents. Since being exiled in France the over $6 million in Swiss bank assets of "Baby Doc" were frozen and in 2007 allowed portions of it were allowed to fund Haitian humanitarian projects.

One day before last month’s massive earthquake ravaged Haiti, a Swiss court contradicted common sense and good judgment:
In an embarrassment to Switzerland's government, the country's top court said Wednesday that at least $4.6 million from Swiss bank accounts previously awarded to charities must be returned to the family of former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier.

The decision was reached Jan. 12, just hours before the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti, killing as many as 150,000 people. The amount of money being contested could feed more than 1 million Haitians for two weeks.

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

Rights group warns against Colombian “neo-paramilitaries”

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report published yesterday highlighted the resurgence of criminal groups linked to Colombia’s rightist paramilitaries.

The HRW study entitled points out the crime and abuses by criminal groups that have emerged from the demobilization of the country’s AUC paramilitaries between 2003 and 2006. Most of the 30,000 demobilized soldiers have never really left the AUC structure and new recruits have taken their place according to the
scathing report.

The report also warned about the sharp increase in violence in urban areas as a result of paramilitary successors and comes after public backlash against president Alvaro Uribe’s unusual plan to pay Medellin schoolchildren as informants.

As to be expected the government’s reply was to strongly denounce the report; a Defense Ministry statement claimed “Colombian paramilitaries have been extinguished.” Such a shortsighted view was rebutted by HRW:
"Whatever you call these groups - whether paramilitaries, gangs, or some other name - their impact on human rights in Colombia today should not be minimized," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "Like the paramilitaries, these successor groups are committing horrific atrocities, and they need to be stopped."
The HRW report comes at a sensitive time for a proposed U.S.-Colombia free trade pact that has been stalled due to the concern of Democratic lawmakers over violence and human rights abuses.

Image- CBS News (“A member of the right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) raises his weapon during a demobilization ceremony in Tibu, northeast of Bogota, December 10, 2004.”)
Online Sources- UPI, CNN, Human Rights watch, Colombia Reports, Reuters, El Espectador

Daily Headlines: February 4, 2010

* Latin America: Are proposals such as calling in the National Guard to Puerto Rico and regulating social networks in Mexico effective tools to combat crime or cheap political ploys?

* U.S.: Latino groups in Costa Mesa, California and city officials are butting heads over an ordinance banning day workers from soliciting work on the street.

* Brazil: Author Paulo Coelho has a message for ex-British P.M. Tony Blair – stay away from the 2016 Rio Olympics.

* Paraguay: The third and final paternity lawsuit against priest-turned-president Fernando Lugo was dropped due to “personal reasons.”

Image – Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Online Sources- Mashable, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, BusinessWeek, BBC News

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

World Watch: Justice for Darfur

* Sudan: President Omar al-Bashir is one step closer to being put on trial for the roughly 200,000 victims of the Darfur genocide.

* U.S.: Former secretary of state Colin Powell publicly backed the repealing of the U.S. military’s "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

* Malawi: On a more discouraging note, police arrested a Malawian who put up gay rights posters while the government keeps unjustly cracking down against homosexual activity.

* Sri Lanka: Approximately 5000 protestors took to the streets of Colombo claiming that last week’s presidential elections were rigged.

Image – Huffington Post (“Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir attends a graduation ceremony at an air force academy near Khartoum, Sudan, Wednesday, March 4, 2009.”)
Online Sources- Worldfocus, CNN, Guardian UK, BBC News

Miercoles Musical: Los Van Van

Los Van Van is one of Cuba’s best-known musical groups and they have been described by one source as “Cuba’s most popular dance band.” Over the weekend they performed in Miami for the first time since violence erupted outside of a 1999 gig. Sunday’s performance was a lot more peaceful as 400 protestors demonstrated outside of the James L. Knight Center while concertgoers enjoyed Van Van singer Mario ``Mayito'' Rivera declaration that “all Cubans are my brothers.”

The Van Van gig may by symbolic of the changing attitudes among generations of the Cuban exile community in the U.S. As was reported by the Miami Herald:
Certainly, many in the community still oppose visits by Cuban groups. Callers to hardline exile radio talk shows have complained about Van Van billboards and ads.

But Al Fuentes, program director for music station El Zol 95 (WXDJ 95.7FM), part of the Cuban-American-owned, Miami-based SBS radio chain, says the calls he's been getting about the Van Van songs he's played for several months only ask for more.

``People who have come in the last 15, 20 years tell me there's this group Los Van Van, and they're great,'' Fuentes says. ``Great music is great music.''

Why is it, he asks, ``that we can have the Olympics in China, and we can't have a great Cuban band come here?''
Politics aside, we’ll invite you to listen for yourself and enjoy a taste of Los Van Van’s music:

Online Sources- Wikipedia, Miami New Times, ABC News, Miami Herald, YouTube

Third Journalist Killed in Mexico this Year

It's Feb. 3, and three journalists have already been killed this year in Mexico.

The third journalist, of Jorge Ochoa Martinez, was director of El Sol de la Costa, a small newspaper in Acapulco. Mr. Martinez was shot in the face at a food stand in Ayutla.

Last year, 12 reporters were killed in Mexico, and the country's National Human Rights Commission said 60 journalist have been killed since 2000. In addition, eight others have either been kidnapped or simply vanished.

Officials were not yet sure if Mr. Martinez was killed in connection to his work.

This third murder prompted Reporters Without Borders to announce that Mexico is the most dangerous country in Latin America to be a reporter. "The authorities are failing to respond adequately to a wave of threats against media personnel by presumed drug traffickers and, in some cases, by local officials,” according to a statement.

Source: Washington Post

Photo: Committee to Protect Journalists, with Rodolfo Rincón Taracena, a journalist who vanished in 2007.

Cuba courts medical patients

The International Medical Travel Journal reports today that Cuba is aiming to recruit more "medical tourists," or people who will travel there for medical services.

Cuba, which distributes "Cuba, Health Tourism" brochures with prices, already has a growing medical tourism operation from Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean. `

For example, since Cuba and the Dominican Republic established weekly flights between their countries last year, about 150 Dominicans have arrived in Cuba for medical treatments.

The World Trade Center Tampa Bag group has also encouraged the University of South Florida to begin a relationship with Cuba's medical schools. U.S. distaste for Cuba, however, might prove to be a foil, according to the article: "For Cuba, health tourism is not only a source of income, it is a tool for promoting Cuba's Communist system; and this explains the official American antagonism to the country."

In related news, Cuba was one of the first countries to send doctors to Haiti after the earthquake, where it already had 344 medical professionals working there full time.

Sources: Dominican Today

Photo: Dominican Today, Cuban doctors arriving in Haiti

Daily Headlines: February 3, 2010

* Chile: As she enters her last full month in the presidency Michelle Bachelet will leave office with an impressive 83% approval rating.

* Guatemala: While human rights activists welcomed the declassifying of military archives from Guatemala’s 36-year civil war they also worry that little will be done to punish those responsible for atrocities.

* Bolivia: According to a Bolivian newspaper 138 minors have been raped in shelters and administrators in one shelter tried to cover up the abuse of at least 42 children.

* Venezuela: Authorities in Venezuela deported suspected Colombian drug capo Salomon Camacho to the U.S. as well as a wanted paramilitary leader to neighboring Colombia.

Image – CBC (Chilean president Michelle Bachelet is about to leave office wit her highest popularity since being inaugurated in January 2006).
Online Sources- People’s Daily Online, IPS News, LAHT, TVNZ

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Today’s Video: Fishman's folly

Costa Rica’s federal elections are coming up this Sunday and it appears that Laura Chinchilla of the ruling Liberal National Party will become the country’s first female president. (Assuming her lead in the polls doesn’t continue to shrink and she avoids a runoff against Otto Guevara).

The race for the Tyco presidency has had several unusual moments as Americas Quarterly blogger Alex Leff wrote yesterday:
I was eating dinner at a Japanese restaurant here on the east side of San José, when right-wing candidate Otto Guevara popped on the restaurant's TV screen strapped to a polygraph machine.

"Have you profited in any way while carrying out your duties for which you could be legally charged?" a moderator asked Guevara, 49, of the Libertarian Movement. "Have you lied to the media during your election campaign?" she asked.

Guevara replied "No" to both, and the machine gave him a green light—Canal 7 told viewers he was telling the truth. The front-runner in the campaign, National Liberation Party's (PLN) Laura Chinchilla, refused to participate in the televised interrogation. Guevara is in second place in the polls, hovering at or under 30 percent. Not to miss the opportunity to capitalize on the polygraph test, he bought a two-page spread in national newspapers that boasted he is the only honest candidate in the race.
From Leff also comes the most unusual political ad in Costa Rican (and perhaps Latin American history) that can be boiled down to three words: guy with diapers.

(If you understand Spanish, click here to see the very serious Luis Fishman trying to defend his weird ad).

Online Sources- YouTube, Angus Reid Consultants, Reuters, Americas Quarterly

Nicaragua: Canal 8’s supposed conundrum

The presidents of Nicaragua and Venezuela- Daniel Ortega and Hugo Chavez - have enjoyed a close political relationship. But are the rumors of Venezuelan investment in a Nicaraguan television station misleading?

The Nicaraguan press reported that Telenica Canal 8 was sold last month for $10 million to a consortium called ALBA de Nicaragua S.A. or Albanisa. These reports alleged that the Albanisa group- owned in part by Venezuela’s PDVSA- purchased the channel which was highly critical of Ortega. Opposition to Chavez and Ortega denounced the purportedly “secret deal” and claimed that it was part of a “government takeover” of the press. Anti-Ortega political commentator Carlos Fernando Chamorro quit from his post at Canal 8 and claimed that he wanted "nothing to do" with Ortega.

Nevertheless, a close assessor to Chavez denied the hysteria surrounding the sale of Canal 8 and supposed Venezuelan involvement in Nicaragua. Bayardo Arce emphatically tried to clarify the matter:
Bayardo Arce, the top economic adviser of President Daniel Ortega, said on Tuesday that the Nicaraguan government "did not purchase" the private TV network Canal 8 (Telenica) as Rafael Paniagua, a Venezuelan official and general manager of Albanisa, said last week. Arce claimed that Paniagua "is crazy" and "spoke too much." 

In an interview with Canal 12, a Nicaraguan TV station, Arce lashed out at the Venezuelan official Rafael Paniagua, who said that Alba de Nicaragua (Albanisa), a company set up by Presidents Daniel Ortega and Hugo Chávez, purchased the TV network Canal 8 for about USD 10 million, DPA reported.

"In the case of Canal 8, the government has not invested any money. We have not invested a penny to buy a radio, a TV station or a flea market," Ortega's senior adviser said.
Gone unreported is what will happen with Canal 8’s programming once the purchase is completed. Perhaps it would be best to see what changes (if any) happen at the network before arriving at knee-jerk conclusions either for or against Ortega and Chavez.

Image-La Jornada
Online Sources-, El Universal, Knight Center, AFP, Americas Quarterly

Juarez shooting stuns Mexicans (Updated)

The Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez has seen its fair share of violence in recent years but one incident over the weekend has shocked locals and Mexicans alike.

At least sixteen teens died when unidentified gunmen broke into a late night party and mowed down the revelers. "There is no logical explanation, a concrete reason for this event,” said Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz as he claimed that the victims were “good kids” without previous criminal records or known ties to drug gangs. (Update: On Tuesday Reyes said that a suspect had been arrested for his possible involvement in the shooting).

Investigators suspect that cartels may be behind the shooting after having found over 100 AK-47 bullet casings at the crime scene. Yet the possibility of a random act of violence has upset the already distraught families of the victims:
The father of one victim wept during a radio interview as he called upon his government to stop the killing that has shown no signs of abating in Juarez.

"It's not fair, President Calderon. Hear these cries. They're not from families that have problems with drugs, it's from a father whose heart has been torn out, whose son has been taken away this way," said Adrian Cadena, whose son Rodrigo was killed.
In the aftermath of the shooting Calderon vowed to create a broader security strategy designed to tackle the “complex problem” of violence in Ciudad Juarez. The authorities have had their hands full, however, and have been seemingly incapable of stemming the tide of violence in Mexico. (January was the bloodiest month during Calderon’s presidency with over 900 homicides).

Image- Al Jazeera English
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Washington Post, CNN, Los Angeles Times, BBC News, AFP

Cine Martes: “La historia oficial”

Last Tuesday we looked at a pair of Latin American films- Argentina’s “El Secreto de Sus Ojos " and Peru’s “La Teta Asustada”- that were named to the the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar shortlist. This morning both these movies were chosen along with three other flicks as finalists for the Academy’s top foreign film. They should be considered as strong candidates; “La Teta Asustada” won top honors at last year’s Berlin Film Festival, for instance.

No foreign language film has ever won the Oscar for best picture and that infamous streak was continued today. This has not diminished the enthusiasm of the director of "El Secreto de Sus Ojos", however:
(Juan Jose) Campanella, whose "Son of the Bride" was nominated for an Oscar in 2002, told Argentine cable channel Todo Noticias he was stunned by Tuesday's news.

"I cannot believe it," he told the channel in Spanish. "You go through the process with so much anxiety that when it happens the news is a relief."
Movies like "Pan's Labyrinth", "Alsino and the Condor", and "Central Station", have been nominated to the Best Foreign Language Film category but only once has a Latin American film won it. Argentina’s “La historia oficial” (“The Official Version”) won in 1985. The emotional drama centers on a possible illegal adoption resulting from the Dirty War and was made as Argentines slowly started coming to grips with one of the ugliest chapters in the country’s history:

Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, CNN, Canadian Press, Wikipedia, IMDB, YouTube

Daily Headlines: February 2, 2010

* Colombia: Campaigns for Colombia’s May presidential election officially started yesterday yet current leader Alvaro Uribe continues to be inexplicably silent over possibly running for a third straight term.

* Latin America: Toyota will recall at least 60,000 vehicles in Latin America as part of its global recall of millions of autos containing a serious accelerator defect.

* Ecuador: In the latest chapter regarding Ecuador’s environmental lawsuit against Chevron attorneys for the oil giant filed an injunction last week to try to stop arbitration proceedings.

* Brazil: The government is going ahead with the construction of a hydroelectric dam opposed by environmentalists and some Amazonian locals.

Image – CNN
Online Sources- LAHT, Sydney Morning Herald, Wall Street Journal, BBC News

Rest in peace Tomas Eloy Martinez

The world of Latin American literature was hit with a great loss when Argentine writer Tomas Eloy Martinez died over the weekend. The 75-year-old Eloy Martinez passed away after a painful battle against cancer.

Eloy Martinez was best-known internationally for “Santa Evita”- a novel on Eva Peron that was translated in over thirty languages around the world. Yet he was a jack of many trades throughout his life having served as a lecturer, film critic, and screenplay writer aside from being an author and journalist. It was his outspokenness against the censorship and oppression of the Dirty War-era government that forced him into exile between 1976 and 1982. In recent years he served as the director of Latin American Studies at Rutgers University and he was honored last year with the prestigious Ortega y Gassett journalism prize.

"Journalism is not an act of narcissism but an act of service to the community" said Eloy Martinez in the video below. Sage words from such a "worldly man." May he rest in peace.

Online Sources - Earthtimes, YouTube, LAHT

Monday, February 1, 2010

World Watch: The not-so-beautiful game

* Togo: Africa's ruling soccer body banned Togo from the next two Africa Cup of Nations tournaments after the national team withdrew last month when gunmen attacked them.

* Israel: A pair of senior Israeli officers were "disciplined" with regards to the January 2009 military offensive on Gaza.

* U.K.: In a move seen as an attempt to attract conservative Anglicans opposed to opening the Church to gays and women, Pope Benedict XVI will visit Britain later this year.

* Iraq: At least 54 people died near the Iraqi capital of Baghdad after a suicide bomber targeted Shiite pilgrims.

Image – BBC Sport
Online Sources- BBC Sport, The Latin Americanist, Guardian UK, MSNBC, New York Times

Breast milk donations sent to Haiti

Haitians are still trying to sort themselves out weeks after being hit with a massive earthquake. With all sorts of donations still being sought to help the Caribbean country (have you done your part yet?) one of the most interesting items being donated is breast milk.

Several groups including the Human Milk Banking Association of North America and LaLeche League International recently put out an "urgent call" for breast milk donations to Haitian orphans and premature babies. Human milk donations have been shipped via a U.S. Navy vessel that has its own Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Prospective mothers interested in giving their milk must undergo a medical screening and meet several requirements (i.e. smokers and those who’ve recently had liquor would be excluded).

The call for breast milk donations has met with resistance from some aid groups citing unsafe conditions in Haiti, a lack of infrastructure to store and persevere the milk, and little need for human milk. Nevertheless, the Human Milk Banking Association of North America’s executive director assured that donations not used in Haiti would be diverted to the U.S. and Canada.

Baby formula may seem to be a reasonable alternative to breast milk yet its unsuitable in disaster situations like Haiti:
In Haiti, where most mothers breast-feed, an influx of formula — even ready-to-feed liquid formula, which requires sterilized bottles and nipples — could be particularly devastating. Both the World Health Organization and UNICEF discourage unsolicited donations of formula in disaster areas. Save the Children has been broadcasting messages in Creole on Haitian radio stations urging new mothers to breast-feed and warning against baby formula made with dirty water.
Image- BBC News
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, BBC News, Booster Shots, Motherlode, MSNBC, TIME

Making "Goud" in Haitian Aftermath

Years of underdevelopment have required Haitians to find creative ways to get by. A great example is that of Pierre Benoit, whose cell-phone charging service is highlighted in today's Miami Herald.

Pierre charges the equivalent of $0.37 USD (4 Haitian Gouds) to charge people's cell phones from a generator in front of the crumbled Haitian National Palace.

If you come across interesting examples of resourceful entrepreneurs that emerge from the Haitian tragedy please send them along.

Image Source: Miami Herald
Online Source: Miami Herald

Peru's New Addiction: Chocolate

Peru has been on the United States' radar for years now, but not just for it's lush hills and ancient ruins. The country is one of the largest coca leaf producers (only second to Colombia); the leaf is used by drug traffickers to produce cocaine for international markets.

But now Peruvians have something else to boast- a hearty (and delicious) crop of cacao beans used to produce chocolate. One of Peru's beans was recently honored at the prestigious summit of master chocolatiers in Paris as the most aromatic in the world. This is no small feat for a country formerly plagued by terrorists groups and drug traffickers. But over the past decade, Peruvians- with the help of USAID- have launched a variety of efforts to reduce the production of coca plants. The country previously tried eradication methods but is now trying to promote alternative products instead. The US alone has provided $110 million in the past decade for alternative development projects. This one, which started with only a few people in the San Martin region and now includes hundreds of Peruvians in the region, is proving to be one of the most successful projects. The production of coca leafs in the area has dropped dramatically in this region; however, overall coca production in the country is still rising today.

Peru wants to promote this new product and become famous for something other than its role in cocaine production. But can the country convert their new addiction into a successful model outside of San Martin? And can they compete with existing chocolate markets and make a name for themselves?
Online Sources: Time Magazine

Daily Headlines: February 1, 2010

* Latin America: Calle 13, Luis Enrique, La Quinta Estación, and Los Tigres Del Norte each received honors at Sunday’s Grammy Awards.

* Cuba: In 2006 conservative opponents blasted then-London mayor Ken Livingstone for his visit to Cuba and Venezuela. Last week Britain’s Conservative Party was criticized when one of its senior politicians recently traveled to Cuba.

* El Salvador: A fugitive convicted three years ago for sexual assault became El Salvador’s first ever extradition to the U.S. on Friday.

* U.S.: The largest Latino culture and arts museum- The Alameda National Center in Texas- is facing serious financial difficulties.

Image – El Universal (Mexico’s Los Tigres Del Norte were among those who won at Sunday’s Grammy Awards).
Online Sources- San Antonio Express, Billboard, BBC News, LAHT, Houston Chronicle