Saturday, April 10, 2010

Weekend World Watch: Mourning in Poland

* Poland: A national week of mourning has been declared in the wake of a Saturday plane crash that killed President Lech Kaczynski, his wife, and 95 others.

* Thailand: At least fifteen protestors died in Bangkok during clashes between police and anti-government protestors.

* U.S.: The death toll rose to 29 due to a West Virginia mine explosion described as the worst coal mining accident in forty years.

* South Africa: The funeral was held for infamous white supremacist leader Eugene Terreblanche who was killed in a pay dispute with two of his workers.

Image – Los Angeles Times (“Mourners stand amid a flood of candles and flowers outside the presidential palace in Warsaw.”)
Online Sources- MSNBC, BBC News, CNN, Voice of America

Weekend Headlines: April 10-11, 2010

* Mexico: Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez became the first Mexican player to sign with prestigious English soccer side Manchester United.

* U.S.: While the Marcelo Lucero trial nears its end on Long Island four suspects were arrested in an alleged bias attack in nearby Staten Island.

* Cuba: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed that the Cuban government doesn’t want to normalize relations with the U.S. since the Castro regime “would then lose all their excuses for what hasn't happened in Cuba in the last 50 years.”

* Costa Rica: China and Costa Rica signed a free trade pact on Thursday that should provide the Central American economy with greater access to the Asian market.

Image – Sky Sports
Online Sources- AFP, LAHT, New York Times, NY1, The Telegraph

Friday, April 9, 2010

Bolivia, Venezuela shut out of U.S. climate aid

The global climate conference designed to repair the rifts cause by last year’s Copenhagen summit began today with a continuation of divisions.

At the heart of the arguments at the Bonn conference is whether the goals set by last year’s Copenhagen pact are realistic and if the agreement itself is legally binding. “Few delegates believed a final agreement is possible this year,” according to the AP. Yet the U.S. has flexed its political muscle in favor of the Copenhagen guidelines by denying climate change funds to countries that rejected the pact. Thus, several Latin American countries including Bolivia and Ecuador are slated to lose millions of dollars in aid under the Obama administration's Global Climate Change initiative.

Aside from the global climate rift, Latin America itself has been divided over what to do regarding climate change. Brazil, for instance, helped co-draft the Copenhagen Accord while states such as Nicaragua and Argentina refused to endorse the pact. The agreement symbolizes “the economic interests of the few which are standing in the way of a broad, democratic agreement,” Venezuelan delegate Claudia Salerno said earlier today. Despite the lack of regional consensus Latin American countries could be key in moving discussions forward:
Mexico has convened informal talks among a smaller group of about 40 key nations -- many agree the U.N. process is too unwieldy with 194. The United States will host talks next week among 17 major emitters, accounting for more than 80 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions.

"We need to make progress in building compromise formulas that can be the result of an intensive and flexible process," said Fernando Tudela, Mexico's chief negotiator.
Image- Guardian UK (“Delegates of the UN climate change talks pass a symbolic pile of broken glass in Bonn, Germany.”)
Online Sources- Guardian UK, AP, Washington Post, BusinessWeek, New York Times, The Latin Americanist

Wet weather washes through Americas (Updated)

Stormy weather has barreled though several Latin American countries this week. The most tragic example so far has been in Brazil where 200 people are missing and feared dead after a massive mudslide buried several homes in Rio de Janeiro. Though twenty people have been rescued a civil defense spokesman Pedro Machado told Brazil’s Globo “in our experience, it's an instant death (for those caught in their homes).” Officials warned that more landslides could occur, thus raising the death toll since the storms began on Monday to beyond 175.

North of Rio a state of emergency was declared for the Ecuadorian province of Napo where rivers overflowed and led to a pair of deaths. Basements and storefronts in several neighborhoods of the Colombian capital of Bogota were full of water as a result of heavy rains Thursday evening.

While trying to bounce back from January’s deadly earthquake Haiti is preparing for the upcoming rainy season. Wet weather last month forced several thousand families to be evacuated from the southern part of the country. According to Oxfam America international relief groups have asked the Haitian government to do a better job in relocating earthquake survivors who have sought refuge in makeshift tent camps:
The government has recently identified a site in Corail Cesselesse (15 km north of Port-au-Prince) for the resettlement of 7,500 people from the Golf Club in Petionville, and relocation has begun with little advanced notice…

“We realize this is an emergency relocation due to impending rains and we are moving with utmost urgency to prepare this site. But future moves cannot be done in this last minute fashion. The government and the international community must ensure that any moves are well-planned and adhere to humanitarian principles that ensure people’s safety and respect their rights,” said Marcel Stoessel, head of Oxfam in Haiti.
Update: Ironically several Caribbean nations "including Guyana, Grenada, St. Lucia and Barbados" have endured "record" droughts since last year.

Al Jazeera English (“The slum hit by Wednesday's mudslide had been built on a former rubbish dump.”)
Online Sources- Oxfam America, UPI, BBC News, Xinhua, People’s Daily Online, Caracol Radio, The Lain Americanist

Arte Para la Gente: Jorge Gutierrez and Sandra Equihua

A few days ago we criticized several Latino celebs who were a little too eager to associate with upcoming CGI/live-action films that will likely be critical flops. Mercifully not all is lost in the world of Latinos and animation. In the video below, the creators of El Tigre- Jorge Gutierrez and Sandra Equihua- talked about how they developed their careers in animation. The married couple discussed how they had to overcome cultural differences in order to make their dreams come true:

(Hat tip: Cartoon Brew).

Online Sources- Cartoon Brew, YouTube, The Latin Americanist

Daily Headlines: April 9, 2010

* Cuba: Rest in peace Graciela Perez-Gutierrez; the legendary Afro-Cuban jazz singer passed away on Wednesday at the age of 94.

* Latin America: A diplomatic row may be developing after Venezuelan authorities arrested eight Colombians and accused them of acting as spies.

* Guatemala: Coca-Cola is being sued in a U.S. court over allegedly “engaging in a campaign of violence” against Guatemalan labor activists.

* Argentina: The government is expected to appeal a U.S. court ruling that could permit creditors to the Argentine central bank to seize assets.

Image – New York Daily News ("Graciela Perez-Grillo became the first female singer to front a major tropical band when she moved to New York in 1942.")
Online Sources- Wall Street Journal, NACLA, MSNBC, CBC

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Another Green Jacket for 'El Pato'?

The Masters kicks off this week at Augusta National Golf Club with one story dominating all others: Tiger Woods.

At the end of day 1, a series of great subplots have developed: 50-year-old Fred Couples leading the field, 60-year-old Tom Watson one shot back and 16-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero shooting a round of one under par.

Lost in the shuffle is the story of the fantastic Latin American golfers who also hope to contend. Last year, Cordoba, Argentina native Angel "El Pato" Cabrera showed he's one of the greatest pressure players in the world when he knocked off Kenny Perry in a playoff. Also ready to contend on golf's greatest stage is Colombian Camilo "El Hombre Araña" Villegas (so know for his Spiderman-esque flexibility and style in reading greens).

The Latin American golfers are a ways back after day one, but with three more days of Tiger-dominated golf ahead, there's still plenty of time for El Pato or Camilo to steal the headlines.

Online Sources: ESPN, Guardian, Daily Telegraph
Image Source: Guardian

Give Ladies In White Nobel Prize says Juanes

Colombian musician Juanes received plenty of undue criticism in the run-up to last September’s “Peace Without Borders” concert in Havana. It could be interesting to see if those same people who blasted him last year will also criticize him for his public support of Cuba’s Ladies in White.

In an e-mailed message publicized by a Cuban dissident, Juanes advocated that the next Nobel Peace Prize should go to the Ladies. Juanes justified giving the prestigious honor to the Ladies so “that those who suffer injustice follow their example of perseverance.” Juanes further thanked them for supporting last year’s historic concert “despite the drastic opposition of other sectors.”

In response one of the Ladies thanked Juanes while also acknowledging the group’s effort against repression:
“The Ladies in White are committed to our peaceful activities not for a prize but for the liberation of our husbands,” said Berta Soler, husband of activist Angel Moya who is serving a twenty-year jail term. – [ed. Translated text]
The Ladies have gained international fame for their marches against the Castro regime and have received increased support after being targeted in a police crackdown last month. Celebs like Gloria Estefan and Andy Garcia led solidarity marches in Miami and Washington, respectively.

Image- Al Jazeera English
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, EPA, El Universal, BBC News, Voice of America

Daily Headlines: April 8, 2010

* Costa Rica: President Oscar Arias reportedly commented that the Catholic Church should drop forcing priests to vows of celibacy and also advocated marriages for same-sex couples.

* Latin America: Chinese President Hu Jintao will visit Brazil, Chile and Venezuela later this month in order to strengthen political and economic ties to Latin America.

* Peru: U.S. authorities returned 25 “irreplaceable” pre-Columbian items to Peru including Inca-era ceramics and decorative skulls.

* Dominican Republic: At least fourteen people have died due to dengue fever according to health officials who also warned that there may be more dengue cases this year than 2009’s 8,800.

Image – BBC News
Online Sources- UPI, AP, LAHT, Xinhua

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

De Musica Ligera: Buen provecho!

A quick congrats to personal favorite Los Amigos Invisibles who will be one of the bands scheduled to be this year's Lollapalooza festival in Chicago. Hence, the video below of Los Amigos noshing on some delicious Venezuelan food:

Hungry anyone?

OAS to Chile: Court “biased” against lesbian couple

A tribunal linked to the Organization of American States ruled that Chile’s top court violated the rights of a lesbian couple.

According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Chilean Supreme Court overstepped their bounds by taking away custody of judge Karen Atala’s three children since she was in a same-sex relationship. The IACHR opposed the high court’s original 2004 opinion that the kids could be “psychologically damaged” by living with a lesbian couple and called on the Chilean government to take more active steps in combating discrimination based on sexual orientation.

One of Chile’s main gay rights groups- the Movement for the Integration and Liberation of Homosexuals- applauded the decision by the IACHR:
“Chile should end the practice of having first and second class citizens as soon as possible, so that homosexual mothers and fathers are never ever again separated from their children, just based on prejudice and ignorance.”
A spokeswoman for conservative president Sebastian Pinera said that the government would abide by the IACHR’s findings.

Image- BBC Mundo (Karen Atala’s relationship with Emma de Ramón led to a 2004 decision removing custody of her three children)
Online Sources- Santiago Times, BBC News, La Nacion

Study: Latino birth rate drops

One of the most terrible stereotypes against Latinos is that we fornicate like rabbits and families tend to have far too many children. (See the controversy around so-called “anchor babies”, for instance). Yet a U.S. government report has shown that the Latino birthrate fell in 2008.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) the overall birthrate in 2008 fell by almost 2% after previously reaching its highest point in two decades. Birth rates declined in nearly all categories; for example, the birth rate for teens fell slightly including a 4% drop among those ages 18 and 19. The “most dramatic change”, however, was among Latinos:
The most dramatic change, according to Stephanie Ventura, chief of the reproductive statistics branch at the NCHS, was among Hispanics. The overall birth rate for that group declined for the first time in years, with births to Hispanic teens declining by 5 percent to hit a historic low.

Ventura doesn't want to speculate about the decline in Hispanic births, but for the overall population, she says it's the economy. "As early as 2007," she says, "some job sectors were declining."
The NCHS data may be incorporated into the immigration debate since the national fertility rate fell to the point that “Americans were no longer giving birth to enough children to keep the population from declining.”

Image- Latina
Online Sources- Washington Post, NPR, Reuters, CNN, Orange County Weekly

Daily Headlines: April 7, 2010

* Brazil: At least 95 people are dead in Rio de Janeiro after floods and mudslides were caused by nearly twelve inches of rain falling during a 24-hour period.

* Peru: Human Rights Watch has called on the government to investigate the deaths of six people who were slain during clashes between striking miners and police.

* Cuba: Images of a now 16-year-old Elian Gonzalez emerged showing him attending the Cuban Young Communist Union conference.

* Argentina: Lionel Messi continues to prove that he’s the world’s best soccer player; yesterday he scored all four of Barcelona’s goals and led the Spanish side into the Champions League semis.

Online Sources- YouTube, Bloomberg, BBC News, MSNBC

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Nuestro Cine: Mexico’s “narcocinema”

Normally in these weekly film posts I'll give a long-winded intro. In this case the following video by Vice Magazine on the Mexican "narco cinema" genre really does speak for itself:

Online Source -

U.S., Brazil reach deal in trade dispute (Updated)

Via the New York Times:
The United States and Brazil have reached an agreement aimed at settling a long-standing trade dispute over American subsidies to cotton growers, officials in both countries said Tuesday...

Under the preliminary deal, Brazil would hold off on retaliation in exchange for American concessions that include the modification of an export loan program and the establishment of a temporary assistance fund for the Brazilian cotton industry. The broader issues in contention would be deferred until Congress takes up the next farm bill, most likely in 2012.

Original Post:
A possible trade war between allies in the U.S. and Brazil may’ve been permanently aborted.

Last month Brazilian officials announced that they would subject import tariffs on over 100 U.S. goods as well as restrictions on a list of U.S. patents. The trade sanctions would’ve cost at least $830 million and were to be retaliatory after a 2009 World Trade Organization ruling against U.S. cotton subsidies. But Brazil decided to grant a temporary reprieve, thus opening the door for talks and hopefully a negotiated settlement:
Brazil postponed the higher tariffs until at least April 22 after the U.S. signaled it may revise cotton subsidies, ease requirements for meat imports and establish a $147 million fund to promote Brazilian cotton producers, Carlos Cosendey, head of the Foreign Ministry’s economic department, told reporters yesterday in Brasilia.

“Now we have a serious negotiating process,” Cosendey said, adding that implementation of the sanctions could be delayed another 60 days. “Given these signs, Brazil agreed to postpone the retaliation.”
The move seemed to have affected Brazilian investors with the benchmark Bovespa index rising in trading yesterday.

Image- Huffington Post
Online Sources- Washington Post, BusinessWeek, Reuters

Ecuador: Plaintiffs “faked” reports says Chevron

Was the evidence collected against Chevron in a multibillion dollar Ecuadorian environmental damages case fraudulent? The oil giant believes so and this week its lawyers launched its latest salvo against the South American country’s investigators.

According to Chevron one of the “technical experts” whose testimony was used against the firm suddenly retracted his claims. In 2004 U.S. biologist Charles W. Calmbacher made inspections of oil sites and reports were written in his name backing the plaintiff’s claims that Texaco illegally dumped contaminated oil in the Amazon. Yet in a deposition submitted last week he claimed that those “studies” were falsely submitted under his name. "The trial in Ecuador has been tainted from the outset," partly due to the "faked" reports said one Chevron lawyer in a press release by the company.

A statement by the Amazon Defense Coalition, which represents the plaintiffs, expressed “bewilderment” at Calmbacher’s this development:
"Dr. Calmbacher clearly agreed to have his signature placed on materials, including reports, that were to be submitted to the court, and he acknowledged he was actively reviewing the reports with our local, technical team," the statement said. "We are bewildered, frankly, at his testimony."
In the meantime, the Ecuadorian government said that it would appeal against a recent arbitration decision in favor of Chevron. "We are going to look to nullify this monstrosity," President Rafael Correa said days after a tribunal ruled that Ecuador violated international law.

Image- Huffington Post
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, San Francisco Gate, MarketWatch, Reuters, NASDAQ

Daily Headlines: April 6, 2010

* Mexico: The Mexican city of Mexicali has been declared a “disaster zone” in light of a powerful earthquake that struck Sunday night and killed at least three people.

* Chile: While Catholic Church leaders face mounting pressure over a series of sex abuse scandals, the archbishop of the Chilean capital of Santiago claimed that officials were investigating a few possible pedophilia cases.

* Argentina: The government predicts that the GDP is expected to grow by over 5% this year though other data estimates that inflation will also increase.

* Peru: At least six people were killed during clashes between striking miners and Peruvian police.

Image – MSNBC
Online Sources- AP, Xinhua, The Latin Americanist, Buenos Aires Herald, MSNBC

Monday, April 5, 2010

Today’s Video: Watching one's step

Today is the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action and according to UNICEF nearly 5200 people were killed in 2008 as a result of landmines and similar devices. The problem of landmines is not immune to Latin America, especially children whose lives have been forever changed by armed conflict and violence. Such is the case in Colombia as one can see in the jarring video below from Euronews:

Online Sources - UNICEF, YouTube

Sofia Vergara linked to “Smurfs” film

It’s hard to believe that there may be a worse movie in the works than the planned Speedy Gonzales live-action/CG hybrid. But believe it or not principal photography on a “Smurfs” movie began last week. “Audiences everywhere are in for a Smurfy good time,” boasts the film’s press release in what is set to be yet another 3D animated nightmare. The cast that has signed on to this likely debacle includes several names you may be familiar with:

Sofia Vergara, one of the stars of ABC's Modern Family, is joining the cast of the Smurfs movie. 

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Vergara "will portray Odile, a powerful executive at a high-end French cosmetics company who is married to the live-action character played by Neil Patrick Harris"…

In addition to NPH and Vergara, the live-action cast includes...Hank Azaria as Gargamel. The voice cast includes Jonathan Winters as Papa Smurf, singer Katy Perry as Smurfette, George Lopez as Grouchy Smurf, and Alan Cumming as Gutsy Smurf.
Vergara has also been linked to “Happy Feet 2 in 3D” along with the voices of Robin Williams and Brad Pitt.

In a stunning coincidence, the voice of George Lopez will be in both the upcoming Smurfs and Speedy Gonzales films.

Perhaps those films won’t turn out as terribly as I believe they will. Then again I have a hunch that some agents’ careers will be on the line after the aforementioned films come out.

Image- (“Rico Rodriguez, Sofia Vergara, and Ed O’Neill in ‘Modern Family’.”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, PR Newswire, IGN, Paste Magazine

Venezuela, Russia strengthened ties

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s visit to Venezuela has thus far boosted ties between both countries.

After returning from his trip to Caracas Putin said that he was considering selling $5 billion worth in arms to Venezuela. According to the Russian press orders will be placed at thirteen of the country’s leading defense firms and that previous weapons deals with Venezuela “have spurred positive effects.”

Though no new arms deals were signed during Putin’s stop in Venezuela, Reuters noted that “Venezuela has bought more than $4 billion worth of weapons from Russia, from Sukhoi jet fighters to Kalashnikov assault rifles.” Indeed, Putin personally delivered four military helicopters to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez on Friday.

In addition, Putin and Chavez signed a number of energy and trade pacts last week including expanding oil exploration right to the oil-rich Orinoco belt. Chavez noted that the increased cooperation with Russia doesn’t signify the creation of “an alliance against the United States". That didn’t stop a State Department spokesman from teasing about a rumored Venezuela-Russia space program:
"We would note that the government of Venezuela was largely closed this week due to energy shortages and to the extent that Venezuela is going to extend resources on behalf of its people, perhaps the focus should be more terrestrial than extraterrestrial."
Image- AFP
Online Sources- Xinhua, Washington Post, BBC News, UPI, AFP, Al Jazeera English

Castro callously criticizes Cuban dissidents

In a speech yesterday Cuban president Raul Castro blasted dissidents on the island. "We will never give in to blackmail,” said Castro against political protestors he claimed where being manipulated by foreign countries. Castro also blamed the U.S. and Europe of "hypocritically holding up the flag of human rights" and declared that the Cuban human rights situation has slowly improved.

Castro’s comments echo those made last month by parliament speaker Ricardo Alarcon who said that a foreign-led “media campaign” was being run against the Castro regime.

The Cuban government has faced increased international pressure over a series of actions regarding political prisoners. Orlando Zapata Tamayo died in late February after going on hunger strike while the Ladies in White have accused authorities of heavy-handedness in breaking up a recent march. Dissident journalist Guillermo Fariñas has been in frail health while enduring his own hunger strike. Castro alluded to his condition in Sunday’s discourse:
"Everything possible is being done to save his life, but if he does not change his self-destructive attitude, he will be responsible, together with his backers, for the outcome we don't want," Castro said in a speech to a Union of Communist Youth convention.

"More than a half century of permanent combat has taught our people that vacillation is synonymous with defeat," he said.
Despite the Castro regime’s repression and staunch coercion against just about any opposition, the government denied that there are any political prisoners on the island.

Image- Guardian UK (Guillermo Fariñas has been on a hunger strike for over a month and has refused to leave Cuba in order to seek treatment).
Online Sources- CNN, MSNBC, LAHT, ABC News, The Latin Americanist, Washington Post, Reuters, BBC News

Bolivia: Mixed results in local elections

In a country where political, economic, and social divisions run deep Bolivians went to the voting booths in yesterday’s local elections.

The country’s ruling MAS party made some critical gains according to exit polls; MAS candidates are expected to easily win six of Bolivia’s nine provinces and they also captured the posts of mayor in three major cities. “This is an important leap for MAS,” said Bolivian President Evo Morales today while official results will be announced later this month.

The opposition was not shut out, however, and was able to consolidate their power in three eastern provinces. Surprisingly the MAS lost the mayor’s race in the capital city of La Paz against a candidate who accused them of running a “dirty war” during campaigning.

Both Morales and the opposition are trying to spin the electoral results in their favor. Yet as Baldwin Montero wrote in Bolivia’s La Razon neither side convincingly won:
The MAS did not accomplish their hegemonic control of power nor did the opposition pushback against the MAS’ popularity in the polls. Bolivians voted yesterday in favor of political equilibrium. – [ed. Translated text]
Image- Irish Times
Online Sources- La Razon, Americas Quarterly, AP, BusinessWeek, BBC News, La Prensa

Daily Headlines: April 5, 2010

* Mexico: At least two people are dead and 100 injured in Mexico after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake shook the northern part of the country as well as Arizona and southern California.

* Argentina: Tensions between Britain and Argentina over the Falklands continued as Argentine President Cristina Kirchner repeated her country’s claims to the islands.

* Brazil: Dorothy Stang revisited - a Brazilian land rights activist was gunned down last week.

* U.S.: The largest Latino museum in the U.S. received a much-needed financial lifeline from the San Antonio City Council.

Image – AFP ("The temblor was forceful enough to move buildings in Los Angeles and San Diego in southern California.”)
Online Sources- AFP, The Latin Americanist, CNN, Houston Chronicle, LAHT

War Games!

Fidel Castro dies, Raul is assassinated in coup, and thousands of would-be refugees make their way for Guantanamo. No, it's not a late April Fools joke, but rather a post-Castro simulation carried out by the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American studies.

The Miami Herald laid out some of the potential actions and reactions that the simulation produced, and all seemed to underscore the point that when things change in Cuba, they may change extremely fast and have huge a impact on whichever US administration has to deal with them.

Though the stakes might not be as high as a recent war game simulation carried out by the Brookings Institution in the case of an Israeli strike against Iran nuclear facilities, the Cuba case shed some interesting light on how a rapid change in Cuba would ripple across the Florida straight.

Online Sources: Miami Herald, New York Times
Image Source: US News