Saturday, May 22, 2010

Today’s Video: Revolutionary riches

Much has been said both praising and cricizing the major changes in Venezuela as a result of the "Bolivarian revolution" led by president Hugo Chavez. One of these changes includes the rise of local business magnates known as "boligarchs" who have greatly benefited from the Chavez regime. But are these "boligarchs" elites who have helped drive Venezuela's economy or puppets used by the government? In the video below, Al Jazeera English takes a look at these movers and shakers:

Online Sources - Council of the Americas, Time, YouTube

Weekend Headlines: May 22-23, 2010

* Colombia: With one week to go until Election Day polls show that the Colombian president race will likely head to a runoff between former defense minister Juan Manuel Santos and ex-Bogota mayor Antanas Mockus.

* Puerto Rico: Tensions between protesters and police flared up as students and labor unions continue to spearhead demonstrations against Gov. Luis Fortuno.

* Ecuador: A U.S. judge temporarily blocked Chevron from receiving raw footage of a documentary on the oil giant’s alleged pollution in the Ecuadorian rainforest.

* U.S.: Bernardo and Chaska where the names chosen for a pair of Andean bear cubs residing in Washington’s National Zoo.

Image – Reuters (“Presidential candidate for the ''U'' Party Juan Manuel Santos (L) speaks during a TV debate in Bogota May 18, 2010.” Fellow frontrunner Antanas Mockus is located at the fair right in the background.)
Online Sources- Reuters, Global Voices Online, WTOP, AP

Friday, May 21, 2010

Today's Video: Puerto Rico a Foreign Country?

Let's add to that today's quote: "I really don’t care what it is." -- Idaho Republican Candidate for Congress Vaughn Ward.

Vaughn's opponent, Puerto Rico-born Raul Labrador, finally gets completely fed up at 1:55.

Daily Headlines: May 21, 2010

* Cuba: President Raul Castro and two leading Cuban Catholic Church officials met on Wednesday and discussed “the sensitive issue of imprisoned political dissidents.”

* Chile: President Sebastian Pinera’s first state-of-the-nation speech delivered today focused on post-earthquake recuperation and improving the Chilean economy.

* Central America: Did a Costa Rican website go too far in claiming that the “Panama Canal is controlled by Israelis” or is the Panamanian government overreacting?

* Latin America: SABMiller may’ve had strong sales in Latin America yet the major brewer posted less-than-expected earnings.

Image – BBC News
Online Sources-, Tico Times, Bloomberg, New York Times

Thursday, May 20, 2010

World Cup Preview: 3 Weeks to South Africa

Twenty-one days until the best sports month in four years: the World Cup in South Africa. A quick guide to how some the region's teams are shaping up, with my amateur handicapping included (Full disclosure of the depth of my knowledge: I won a bag of peanuts on a bus in Panama last week for being the only person on the bus who could name Italy as the 2006 champ).

Honduras: Carlos Costly broke a bone in his foot and will miss the Cup, making it even tougher for the Catrachos to get out of their extremely difficult group that also includes Chile and reigning Euro Cup champs Spain.

Prediction: Eliminated first round

USA: An easy first group and some really fantastic players: Landon Donovan and Jozy Altidore are dangerous up front. José Torres, known as "El Gringo" when he plays with Pachucha of the Mexican league, is developing into a strong midfielder and captain Carlos Bocanegra anchors a defense ahead of one of the world's best goalies in Tim Howard. Not making it out of the group with be a big disappointment.

Prediction: Advance to quarterfinals.

Argentina: Would have the most talented attacking front in the world if they only had Lionel Messi. "La Pulga" is simply playing at a different level from everyone else in the world. Add Real Madrid's Gonzalo Higuain and Man City's Carlos Tevez and Argentina seems like it should be the clear favorite. Unfortunately for Los Pibes, Diego Maradona is their coach, and his team struggled to qualify for the Cup while Maradona was close to crazy.

Prediction: Advance to final.

Brazil: For a change, not the top pick to take home the Cup. Dazzling playmaker Kaka has struggled with injury in his first year with Los Merengues of Real Madrid but insists he'll be in top form come cup time. Can never count them out, but this seems like a somewhat down year for Brazil.

Prediction: Advance to semi-finals.

My winner: England take home their first cup since 1966, beating Maradona's Argentina to avenge his "Hand of God" handball that robbed them in '86.

Thoughts, comments and/or patriotic rants (it's the World Cup, after all!) are welcome.

Online Sources: ESPN Soccernet, El Heraldo, YouTube

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mexico’s Calderon urges immigration reform

During his visit to the White House today Mexican president Felipe Calderon continued his earlier criticism of Arizona’s recently signed immigration law. Via a translated transcript provided by the White House:
We can make it, if we continue building a safer border and if we transform it in a border that does not divide our peoples, in a land of opportunities and progress. We can make it, if we develop a comprehensive, fair and long term solution to the challenges that migration currently poses. I know that we share the interest in promoting dignified, legal and orderly living conditions to all migrant workers. Many of them, despite their significant contribution to the economy and to the society of the United States, still live in the shadows and, occasionally, as in Arizona, they even face discrimination.
For his part, U.S. President Barack Obama admitted that the controversial measure in Arizona arose from a “frustration over our broken immigration system.” He also pledged that he would tackle the much-delayed federal immigration reform yet warned that there may not be sufficient Congressional support.

Calderon’s state visit to DC will also focus on other issues including trade and increased drug-related violence in Mexico. These topics will likely be touched on when Calderon speaks at an upcoming joint session of Congress.

Image- CBS News
Online Sources- CBC, The Latin Americanist, Chicago Sun-Times, BusinessWeek, MSNBC

Cuba concerned over BP spill

Last week we mentioned that Mexican environmental officials have been “closely monitoring” the major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and were contemplating taking legal action against BP.

With the possibility that crude oil leaking from the underwater well could reach Cuban shores, authorities on the island are calling for increased action to prevent the oil from spreading. Though a spokesman at the Cuban Interests Section told the Miami Herald that Cuba would be “ready to prevent this kind of oil spill”, some environmentalists are unsure if that would be the case. “The fact that it's Cuba creates a rat's nest of red tape and bureaucracy and inaction on just about anything,'' said senior fellow at the Ocean Foundation in the aforementioned article.

The potential negative impact on Cuban fauna and flora has reportedly forced authorities from that country and the U.S. to undergo "working level" talks. According to the AP those discussions would also “rare moment of cooperation between two countries locked in conflict for more than half a century.”

The supposedly newfound collaboration between Cuba and the U.S. comes days after former leader Fidel Castro blasted multinational firms for what he believes is their global “imposition” of imperialism:
The ecological disaster which occurred in the Gulf of Mexico shows how little can governments do against those who control financial capital," Castro said in his article published by the local media, adding "The hateful tyranny imposed on the world"…

According to the former Cuban leader, these companies are those "who decide the fate of peoples" from the United States and Europe through "the economy in our globalized world."
Image- The Telegraph
Online Sources- Xinhua, Miami Herald, Daily Mail, AP, The Latin Americanist

Trade key issue at E.U.-LatAm summit

Tuesday was the final day of the E.U.-Latin America summit in Spain and numerous topics from climate change to immigration were debated. Yet improving economic ties and free trade became the main issue at the meetings.

One of the trade deals reached at the Madrid conference such as one between the European bloc and Central American states. That agreement- which had been stalled due to the brouhaha surrounding Manuel Zelaya’s ouster in Honduras last year- was touted by an E.U. statement as “ambitious” and “comprehensive.”

In addition, Europe and the Mercosur group will reportedly resume their free trade discussions that had been suspended six years ago. Furthermore, separate trade deals were also reached between the E.U. and Peru as well as Colombia. The pacts were praised by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero who declared that multilateralism is the “most suitable method to deal with not only financial problems, but also those of the political order.”

Despite the breakthroughs there has been opposition to free trade on both sides of the Atlantic, particularly in Europe. Last week ten E.U. states including Greece and Ireland emitted a statement opposing the renewed trade talks with Mercosur. Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner warned that “protectionist” factions in Europe could hinder discussions yet French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire accused Mercosur of raising tariffs to protect local meat producers.

The Obama administration earlier this month tried to assure that prospective free trade deals with Panama and Colombia have not been ignored but that the domestic political climate was not ideal:
"We are, as President Obama said in the State of the Union, committed to our free-trade agreements with both countries but we're also facing very difficult challenges," (U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) said. "But I am absolutely here to reiterate that commitment"...

"It is our goal to bring them to Congress as soon as we can. I cannot put a timeline on that, but they're important to us," (U.S. Trade Representative Ron) Kirk said.
Image- AFP
Online Sources- AFP, AP, Reuters, LAHT, BBC News

De Musica Ligera: Get well soon Gustavo!

Former Soda Stereo frontman Gustavo Cerati is said to be in critical condition after undergoing surgery for a stroke suffered on Saturday. He has undergone several surgeries and one of the neurologists who examined him said that Cerati has suffered from “extensive brain damage.”

Fans have held a vigil outside of the Caracas hospital where he remains while artists from around the Americas including former bandmate Charly Alberti wish Cerati a speedy and prompt recovery:
“I’m not feeling well at all. My mind has been like a beehive since Sunday…you have to have faith.’ – [ed. Translated text]
Below is the music video of “Rapto”, one of the songs from his latest album entitled “Fuerza Natural.” Here’s hoping that Cerati can somehow recuperate after such massive stroke:

Online Sources-, El Universal, El Comercio, YouTube

Daily Headlines: May 19, 2010

* Puerto Rico: On Tuesday the island entered a second day of a general strike against Gov. Luis Fortuño’s budget cuts including firing public workers and raising university tuition.

* Haiti: Days after about 2000 people in Port-au-Prince protested against President Rene Preval’s supposed abuse of power the leader vowed that he would step down at the end of his term in February 2011.

* Chile: A Pakistani man who was detained for five days after traces amounts of explosives were found on him claimed that his case results from "a big misunderstanding stemming from a mistaken identity."

* Latin America: Auto manufacturer General Motors posted its first profit in three years partly due to strong sales from Latin America.

Image – EPA (“Labor unions activists and students are united in an anti-government strike”.)
Online Sources- The Telegraph, AFP, The Latin Americanist, MSNBC, Global Voices Online

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

World Watch: Under siege

* Thailand: Shortly after negotiations failed Thai troops began a crackdown of anti-government protesters by breaking through a fortified camp in Bangkok run by the “Red Shirts”.

* Malawi:
A gay couple was convicted of “unnatural acts” and may face a maximum jail sentence of fourteen years.

* Afghanistan: Seven Afghan militants were killed in an attack on troops stationed at the Bagram military base.

* Israel: Citing the “complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”, musician Elvis Costello cancelled a pair of planned concerts later this year.

Video Source– YouTube
Online Sources- BBC News, MSNBC, New York Times, Voice of America

Today’s Video: Seeking salvation

Oftentimes the finger pointing and accusations thrown about in the volatile immigration debate can opaque the victims who are caught in the middle.

Take, for instance, those immigrants who try to escape political persecution for a safer, freer life in the U.S. The below video from CNN highlights Mexicans whose lives are in danger and, thus, seek political asylum north of the border. Despite the dangers they face at home only a tiny fraction of Mexican asylum seekers are given the green light to legally migrate to the U.S. Who knows how many of these failed asylum seekers prefer to migrate illegally rather than risking their lives staying in their native country.

Online Sources - CNN, Christian Science Monitor

Juanes to Santos: Hands off my music

In 1984 Bruce Springsteen demanded that U.S. President Ronald Reagan cease from using “Born in the U.S.A.” as part of his reelection campaign. Twenty-six years later a similar situation is occurring in Colombia.

On Monday Colombian pop rock star Juanes accused presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos of using one of his hit songs without the musician’s consent. In a message written on his Twitter page Juanes accused the Santos campaign of “abuse” for crating a pro-Santos video with a rewritten version of his song “La camisa negra” (“The Black Shirt"). “I’m wearing a shirt/ because I support Santos/ I want him to be the president and protect our homeland,” warbled a Juanes imitator in the video that had been posted onto several social networks.

The Santos campaign quickly tried to remove the video in question from sites such as YouTube and Facebook, and attempted to assure Juanes that they were not behind the video’s creation. Indeed, the originator of the video turned out to be a former Senatorial candidate from Santos’ own party.

Earlier this month the Santos campaign came under fire for publishing a radio commercial with the voice of current president Alvaro Uribe allegedly giving his full support to the ex-Defense Minister. In reality, the ad used an imitator of Uribe and pre-recorded sounds of a cheering audience though that information was not disclosed in the commercial.

The latest polls indicate that both Santos and independent candidate Antanas Mockus are in a dead heat and that neither man will win outright in the first round later this month.

Online Sources- El Universal, Media Nation, EFE, AFP, BBC Mundo, El Espectador,

DREAM Act-ivists protest at McCain office

In an act of civil disobedience five protestors including four undocumented migrants held a sit-in the Tucson, Arizona offices of Sen. John McCain.

The protest was held in order to bring much-needed attention to the DREAM Act- a proposal to grant conditional citizenship of young illegal immigrants who either pursue a college degree or sign up for two years of military service. "Every day we live with this fear of what's going to happen the next day," said Tania Unzueta, one of the protestors who dressed in a cap and gown while sitting in McCain’s office. Unzueta added that she and her fellow activists were treated very nicely and expressed her hope that Monday’s event could convince McCain to support the bipartisan-created DREAM Act.

The protestors were joined by about 20 to 30 others who held a vigil outside of the office building. Yet late at night the protestors were arrested and three of them risk being deported due to their undocumented legal status.

A spokeswoman for the incumbent senator said that the “individuals have a right to peacefully protest in the senator’s office” but added that they ought to “focus their efforts on the president and the Democrats that control the agenda in Congress.” Though the protesters targeted McCain’s office their overall aim is to convince politicos of both parties to support the DREAM Act:
The students protesting in Mr. McCain’s office said they wanted to increase pressure on Congress to pass the Dream Act this year, even if lawmakers do not take up a broader overhaul of the immigration system. The student bill is currently part of a Democratic proposal for an overhaul, largely written by Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York.
McCain has taken a tougher stance on immigration as part of his contentious primary challenge from J.D Hayworth. He has backed Arizona’s recently signed immigration law and last month unveiled a plan that includes deploying 3000 National Guard soldiers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The DREAM Act has also received additional attention in Georgia where a Mexican-born university student was under threat of deportation after being arrested for a minor traffic violation.

Image- Michigan Messenger
Online Sources- KOLD, KGU, Phoenix New Times, New York Times, The Latin Americanist, USA TODAY

Daily Headlines: May 18, 2010

* Puerto Rico: After weeks of student-led protests the Rio Piedras Campus of the University of Puerto Rico will be closed until July 31st.

* Honduras: Oswaldo Lopez Arellano- an ex-Air Force who led two separate bloody coups that killed hundreds- passed away at the age of 89.

* Argentina: Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri has been implicated in an illegal wiretap scandal that targeted politicos and business leaders.

* Latin America: Mexican officials are hoping to improve trade with Brazil by reducing all tariffs to zero.

Image – EFE (“Police try to take control of the University of Puerto Rico” last week.)
Online Sources- Bloomberg, LAHT, Latina Lista, UPI

There Goes the Neighborhood (Moroceli, El Paraisio, Honduras edition)

Honduras once again has the unfortunate distinction of playing home to a less-than-desirable visitor.

A few years after it came out that the weirdo who didn't actually kill JonBenet Ramsey had spent time as a teacher in La Esperanza, Honduras, Jacqueline LeBaron has been arrested in Honduras and extradited the the US. On a larger scale, Mexican drug traffickers and Contra rebels can be said to fit the same bill of visitors that Honduras could have done without.

Jacqueline LeBaron was on the run since 1992 when she was implicated the murder of 3 adults and an 8-year-old who had left her father's polygamous church. Her dad, Ervil LeBaron, apparently preached a sort of justified war against those who disobeyed him.

The case is as bizarre as they come. From the Salt Lake Tribune:

While in prison,Ervil LeBaron wrote the 400-page Book of the New Covenants in which he imposed the death penalty for any sect member who broke sect commandments. The FBI alleges that those writings influenced LeBaron family members to carry out the simultaneous slayings in Houston and Irving, Texas, on June 27, 1988.

The FBI also said many of Ervil LeBaron's more than 50 children -- fathered with as many as 13 wives -- are believed to still be following their father's teachings.

Image Source: Salt Lake Tribune
Online Sources: Time, Salt Lake Tribune, AP

Monday, May 17, 2010

World Watch: Worse and worse

* Thailand: Anti-government protesters continue to be defiant against the army as the country remains on the brink of civil war.

* U.S.: The broken underwater well that has spewed roughly 5000 barrels of oil per day since late April could endanger the Floridian coastline.

* Europe: The euro traded at its lowest point in over four years as Europe undergoes a massive debt crisis.

* Africa: According to a recently released scientific study Africa’s Lake Tanganyika has “experienced unprecedented warming” possibly caused by climate change.

Image – The Telegraph
Online Sources- MSNBC, BusinessWeek, BBC News, AFP

Supreme Court rules in Chilean custody case

A mother illegally moved her son from the U.S. to Chile according to a Supreme Court ruling issued on Monday.

By a 6-3 vote the top tribunal overturned a lower court ruling in favor of Jacquelyn Abbott who had argued that she had exclusive custody to her 10-year-old U.S.-born son and she had the right to take him to Chile under international law. Yet the Supreme Court disagreed and the majority opinion found that the Hague Convention on child abduction- which the U.S. and Chile are signatories to- dictated that she had to consult with her estranged husband, Timothy.

Affecting the high court’s decision was that Chilean judges previously said that Timothy had visitation rights to the boy as well as the right to consent should the child be moved to another country.

The dissenting opinion penned by Justice John Paul Stevens claimed that Timothy never received custody rights and, hence, the international treaty had no bearing on the case. The verdict does have its loopholes, as Justice Anthony Kennedy mentioned in the majority opinion:
Kennedy said that an exception to the Hague Convention deals with the safety of the parent.
"If, for example, Ms. Abbott could demonstrate that returning to Chile would put her own safety at risk, the court could consider whether this is sufficient to show that the child too would suffer 'psychological harm' or be placed in an intolerable situation," Kennedy said.

Lower courts can also take into account the child's wishes if he is mature enough to express them, Kennedy said.
Image- Rainforest Coalition
Online Sources- AP, CNN, UPI

Mexico: Ex-presidential candidate missing

The disappearance of a prominent politician and former presidential candidate has highlighted the increasing violence and instability in Mexico. As the following video from Al Jazeera English shows, Diego Fernandez de Cevallos has been missing since Friday and little has been known of his possible whereabouts:

De Cevallos’ supposed kidnapping comes as several local elections have come under violent pressure from drug gangs. Last week gunmen killed mayoral candidate in the northern Mexican town of Valle Hermosa while some of the major political parties have encountered difficulties in finding candidates for some high-risk areas. "Stop accusing the boss or your head will roll ... just like Jefe Diego's head rolled,” read a text message that local daily Reforma claimed was sent to one senator.

Sadly recent political violence has not been reserved only in Mexico; Colombian presidential candidate Antanas Mockus has been the target of death threats via a Facebook group while at least five Dominicans died in scuffles between rival political parties.

Online Sources- AFP, Poder360, Reuters, BBC News, YouTube

Brazil co-brokers Iran nuclear deal

Tensions over Iran’s nuclear plans appeared to have eased after Brazil helped broker a deal with the Islamic republic.

Under the arrangement Iran would send roughly 2645 pounds of low-enriched uranium to Turkey, the country other than Brazil who worked out the diplomatic plan. In exchange, Iran will receive a “smaller amount of highly-enriched uranium” destined for the country’s medical research reactor.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim praised the deal as one that could prevent U.N. sanctions against Iran in favor of a softer stance compared to the U.S. and Europe. Indeed, Amorim noted that the arrangement reaffirms Iran’s right “to have peaceful activities in the nuclear area, including enrichment.” Ironically the uranium swap agreed to today is similar to one initially agreed to by Iran in October that it would later reject.

Western powers have been lukewarm and skeptical towards the deal; the Obama administration has “serious concerns” over the deal according to White House press secretary Robert Gibbs while EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said that the pact “does not solve the fundamental problem” of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Yet as Financial Times blogger Jonathan Wheatley noted, Brazil’s diplomacy was certainly "worth trying”:
(…) the weekend’s news of a deal to swap Iranian nuclear fuel in Turkey could vindicate Brazilian diplomacy. The idea that Iran would abandon its alleged nuclear weapons program in favor of a peaceful nuclear energy program in response to amicable talks rather than under the threat of UN-backed sanctions seemed unrealistic, even naïve. But it may well have paid off. Even a US official conceded today that the latest news was “potentially a good development.”
Image- Al Jazeera English (Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva helped reach today’s uranium swap deal with Iran.)
Online Sources- NPR, Washington Post, Voice of America, Los Angeles Times,, Al Jazeera English,

Daily Headlines: May 17, 2010

* Argentina: The new British government under Prime Minister David Cameron rejected Argentina’s request to stop oil exploration in the waters around the Falklands Islands.

* Cuba: An appellate court overturned the verdict against blogger and journalist Dania Garcia who had originally been sentenced to 20 months in jail for “abuse of authority.

* Venezuela: Authorities raided four foreign currency exchange offices that were accused of illegally selling dollars.

* Latin America: The Stockholm Peace Research Institute criticized the “arms race” occurring in Latin America and has called for greater transparency in weapons deals.

Image – Reuters (“The Ocean Guardian semi-submersible drilling rig floats tethered to the sea floor just three days after beginning its second exploration well a little more than 100 km (62 miles) offshore from the Falkland Islands, April 19, 2010.”)
Online Sources- UPI, BBC News, Reuters, AFP, The Latin Americanist