Friday, January 28, 2011

Peru: Presidential candidate clarifies drug remarks

In Peru’s last presidential election former leader Alan Garcia won in a tight race against populist candidate Ollanta Humala. Another contentious election is expected this April with a group of candidates is vying to succeed Garcia. One of them is ex-president Alejandro Toledo and he has touted his credentials as a social progressive candidate. The results so far have been mixed.

In a speech on Thursday Toledo reportedly said that he would consider decriminalizing certain forms of drug use if ejected president. "Depenalizing is an alternative that must be looked at," he said according to Reuters and he warned that Peru could become a “narco-state” unless corruption is stopped.

Toledo's conservative rivals blasted his comments; Keiko Fujimori, congresswoman and daughter of disgraced jailed ex-president Alberto Fujimori, claimed that “legalizing drugs would mean the end of society.” Meanwhile, Justice Minister Rosario Fernandez said that decriminalizing “only leads to greater support for narcotrafficking.”

The resulting political firestorm caused Toledo to attempt to clarify his "misinterpreted" comments to the Peruvian press this morning. He noted that a U.N. panel of former South American presidents are studying the effects of decriminalizing drug use and he added that he “fully condemns the consumption of drugs”:

A recant poll indicated that a plurality of voters back Toledo but only by a slim margin ahead of Fujimori and ex-Lima mayor Luis Castaneda. All three have promised to follow current economic policies that have spurred growth and investment. On social issues each candidate has tried to differentiate themselves from each other; for instance, Toledo recently said that he would back same-sex marriage if elected. They do coincide on a few points, however, such as Toledo and Keiko backing abortion in the case that the mother is raped.

Video Source- La Republica via YouTube
Online Sources- Reuters, Wikipedia, Bloomberg, Gayopolis, Peru21, La Republica, RPP

Mexico: Families of children killed in fire seek justice

In June 2009 forty-nine children died in a fire that swept through the state-run ABC Nursery School in Hermosillo, Mexico. Though authorities charged seven regional officials with negligent homicide, parents of the victims believe that the government has been too slow to investigate the incident. This week some of the victims’ families took their complaints to Mexico City as part of a unique protest.

On Monday, twenty-three people related to children either killed or injured in the fire started a hunger strike in the main Zocalo Plaza of the Mexican capital. A statement from the protestors accused the Attorney General’s Office (PGR in Spanish) of being “unwilling” to punish those responsible for the fire. One of the demonstrators, who lost her three-year-old son in the blaze, underlined the impotence and suffering she and her comrades have faced:
“Justice would’ve been served had the government showed more sensitivity (to the victims’ families). This would not be happening in any other country but it’s hard to believe that this is occurring in a country where they took my son away,” (Juanita Luna) emphasized.
The hunger strike lasted roughly three days and was pulled after parents were able to reach a deal with representatives of the PGR. The deal, according to one of the protestors, is that the PGR agreed to move forward with the inquiry and send the case to an investigative judge by next week. In turn the demonstrators would return to Hermosillo though they warned that they would resume their hunger strike in Mexico City if the deal’s conditions weren’t met. Hopefully that won’t be necessary and justice can be served nineteen months after such a preventable tragedy.

Image- El Universal (Toys and photos serve as poignant reminders of the 49 killed and 100 injured in the June 2009 ABC nursery fire).
Online Sources- El Universal, Cronica, BBC News, The Guardian, El Economista,

Daily Headlines: January 28, 2011

* Venezuela: At least 37 people are reportedly infected with cholera in Venezuela while a dozen Venezuelans are being treated for the disease in areas like Madrid and Boston.

* Brazil: The country’s environment agency gave the green light for the construction of a massive dam in the Amazon rain forest that opponents claim would cause widespread damage.

* Colombia: Researchers at New York’s Stony Brook University concluded that coca cultivation has led to a rapid deforestation in Colombia.

* Chile: An official investigation will be opened in order to examine how former president Salvador Allende died in a 1973 military coup.

Image – SPL via BBC News (“Cholera is spread by contaminated food or water.” It has been alleged that cholera spread into Venezuela by visitors who traveled to the Dominican Republic.)
Online Sources- El Universal, Reuters, UPI, Al Jazeera English

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Missouri court rules in controversial adoption case

During his State of the Union speech on Tuesday (which we’ll hopefully review in more detail tomorrow), U.S. President Barack Obama touched on immigration reform. While Obama and opposition legislators wrangle over the subject a recent Missouri court decision demonstrated the shortfalls of contemporary immigration policy.

Hours before Obama’s address the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that state adoption laws were not followed in the separation of an undocumented immigrant mother and her now four-year-old child. "The trial court plainly erred by entering judgment on the adoption petition and terminating Mother's parental rights without complying with the investigation and reporting requirements," wrote Judge Patricia Breckenridge in the tribunal’s majority opinion. Another justice, Michael Wolff compared the splitting of Encarnacion Bail Romero and her son, Carlos, to the biblical tale of Solomon and added that the “passage of time does not make a wrong a right.”

The court’s ruling does not permit the return of Bail Romero with Carlos but does send her case back to a lower court for a retrial. The case raised attention among several immigrants rights groups as well as the Guatemalan government whose consulate submitted written arguments to the court.

The details of the Bail Romero case contains plenty of twists and turns, but a UPI article boiled it down to the following:
Bail Romero, a Guatemalan, was arrested in an immigration sting in 2007, six months after her son was born. She was jailed as an illegal immigrant who used a stolen Social Security number to get work.

Her family took care of the baby, attorneys said, but eventually went to a couple who offered baby-sitting. When they asked to adopt the boy, Bail Romero refused.
The couple introduced the boy to Seth and Melinda Moser, who took him in and eventually filed for adoption.

Bail Romero, in prison at the time, did not object to the Mosers' custody, their lawyer said. She said she did not understand the situation and never approved an adoption.
Family reunification may be a sticking point in negotiations between Congress and the White House in the creation of a comprehensive immigration reform. Hopefully a fair compromise can be reached so that other immigrants, illegal or not, can avoid the same ordeal faced by young Carlos Bail Romero.

Image- Missouri News Horizon via (November 2010 image of Encarnación Bail Romero).
Online Sources- CNN, UPI, AP, Los Angeles Times

Daily Headlines: January 27, 2011

* Haiti: Haiti’s ruling political party has reportedly withdrawn support for its presidential candidate, Jude Celestin, amidst strong allegations that the first round of elections was rigged.

* Argentina: According to the Argentine press the government will pay $9 billion to the Paris Club of major creditor nations.

* U.S.: A former Border Patrol agent claimed that he was fired due to his opinions on the “war on drugs.”

* Colombia: At least 21 workers died after an explosion ripped through an underground coal mine in northeastern Colombia.

Image – Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press via CBC (“Presidential candidate Jude Celestin, seen waving to supporters during a campaign rally in Port-au-Prince, has pulled out of Haiti's election race.”)
Online Sources- BBC News, Reuters, Huffington Post, MSNBC

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

World Watch: Is Egypt next?

* Egypt: President Hosni Mubarak could suffer the same fate as Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali as he risks being ousted after a popular uprising.

* Tunisia: Speaking of Tunisia the country’s interim government issued an arrest warrant for the capture of Ben Ali and six of his relatives.

* Italy: The pressure of the latest sex scandal seems to be getting to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi after he engaged in a war of insults with a TV talk show host.

* Russia: The landmark “New START” nuclear disarmament treaty between Russia and the U.S. could soon take effect.

Image – Ben Curtis/AP via The Guardian (“Mobile phone users film riot police blocking press photographers during a second day of protests in Cairo.”)
Online Sources- The Guardian, AP, ABC News (Australia), The Telegraph

Today’s Video: Protesting in Puerto Rico

One week ago we mentioned that students at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) engaged in acts of civil disobedience in protest against plans by the commonwealth's government to boost school fees. (UPR students were obligated to pay the $800 fee, which roughly triples tuition, or else they would risk losing their enrollment).

Since our post last Wednesday student demonstrations continued and a new set of civil disobedience protests took place yesterday and today. One of these actions occurred this morning when thirty students engaged in a "silent protest" while wearing tape over their mouths. Meanwhile, police have been sent to monitor the protests outside of the UPR though hopefully things won't get out of hand much like what happened last month.

The following video comes from a teleSUR news report on yesterday's protests:

Online Sources -, The Latin Americanist, Global Voices
Video Source - teleSUR via YouTube

Daily Headlines: January 26, 2011

* U.S.: A federal judge handed down a sentence of life in prison in the case of the first former Guantanamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court.

* Venezuela: One month after he passed away legal wrangling continues amongst family members of ex-Venezuelan president Carlos Andres Perez over where he should be buried.

* South America: After meeting on Tuesday the presidents of Uruguay and Peru both called for greater unity and cooperation throughout Latin America.

* Peru: Lori Berenson might not return to prison after a Peruvian court upheld her parole.

Image – Shirley Shepard /AFP-Getty Images via MSNBC (Ahmed Ghailani was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted for his role in a pair of deadly U.S. embassy bombings in Africa in 1998).
Online Sources- Bloomberg, People’s Daily Online, NPR, BBC News

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

U.S. resumes deportations to Haiti

The economy is expected to be the primary topic in tonight’s State of the Union address and, according to ABC News’ Jake Tapper, President Barack Obama will propose a budget freeze and a ban on Congressional earmarks. Yet it will be interesting to see if and how he will treat other topics such as the problematic situation in Haiti and the need for federal immigration reform. Recently both of these topics were in the news as part of a major change in U.S. immigration policy towards Haiti.

Deportations of undocumented Haitians from the U.S. resumed last week after a one-year post-earthquake moratorium. Immigration officials announced that the 27 Haitian nationals deported were classified as "criminal aliens” including a man acquitted in a 2007 plot to destroy Chicago’s Willis Tower. Authorities reportedly plan to deport approximately 700 Haitians with criminal records who are said to pose "a threat to public safety."

Representatives of Haitian expat groups in the U.S. deplored the immigration measure. "I think it's outrageous and it's inhumane and very insensitive," said Marleine Bastien, executive director of the Haitian Women of Miami to the AP. A statement from the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center claimed that the move would worsen Haiti’s humanitarian crisis and that deportees could be “sent to a cholera-infested jail where they risk death.”

Immigration officials in Haiti’s neighbor, the Dominican Republic, have also taken their own steps. Earlier this month nearly one thousand undocumented Haitians were deported in what was described as the first “major crackdown” since the January 2010 earthquake. Dominican immigration chief Sigfrido Pared said that the move was necessary in order to combat the spread of cholera from Haiti. Indeed a Haitian man became the first cholera fatality in the Dominican Republic last week though his immigration status has not been reported and one of his sons told the press that his father hadn’t visited Haiti in nine years. Additionally, an advisor with Amnesty International claimed that deportations worsen the “great” health and security risk in Haiti.

The criticism of immigration policy towards Haiti has also affected Canada where officials recently praised the over 3000 Haitian migrants permitted to legally enter Quebec since the earthquake. For one resident, however, the measures were not entirely fair:
Neil Armand said Quebec boasted it was fast-tracking family reunification based on humanitarian considerations, but he said only those with a middle-class income qualified to sponsor relatives.

"They were saying if your family has enough money, you can bring them here. Does it mean that the people over there — the families with more money — were in more necessity than others? What kind of priority is that?" Armand said.
Image- AFP via BBC News (“Authorities in the Dominican Republic say they are worried illegal immigrants could spread cholera.”)
Online Sources- CBC, NPR, ABC News, LAHT, AP, Reuters, Voice of America

Nuestro Cine: Trash to treasure

Earlier today the nominees were announced for this year's Academy Awards. Mexican entry “Biutiful” was nominated for nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and Spaniard Javier Bardem was nominated for Best Actor for his role in that movie.

While “Biutiful” hopes to become the second consecutive Latin American movie to win top foreign film honors (Argentina's "The Secret In Their Eyes" won last year), another film set in the region hopes to win its Oscar. Documentary film “Waste Land” examines how art can be born through ingenuity and imagination. The film focuses on an art project wherein the self-described “pickers of recyclable materials” at the the world’s largest garbage dump in Brazil create self-portraits by using garbage. Their artwork reveals details of the lives as unique people with unfulfilled aspirations but also deep emotions and personal pride.

“Waste Land” faces very stiff competition in the Best Documentary Feature category from “Exit through the Gift Shop” from street artist Banksy and from war documentary "Restrepo". Nonetheless, it has already won numerous awards on the film festival circuit and enjoys a 100% rating from critics according to the Rotten Tomatoes website.

We touched on “Waste Land” last August but it’s worth featuring again in light of today’s nomination. Here is the trailer for a documentary worthy of being named one of the best of the year and deserving of the Oscar:

Video Source - YouTube
Online Sources- CBS News, Rotten Tomatoes, The Latin Americanist, Official website for “Waste Land”

Daily Headlines: January 25, 2011

* Dominican Republic: Dominican model Maria Ester Garcia Polanco is one of the figures caught in the middle of the most recent sex scandal implicating Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

* Nicaragua: The ruling Sandinista party could ratify President Daniel Ortega to run for reelection though he may be constitutionally banned from doing so.

* South America: A minor diplomatic spat has arisen after the cover for Chilean author Eduardo Labarca’s latest book showed him supposedly urinating on the grave of Argentine wordsmith Jose Luis Borges.

* Mexico: Bishop Samuel Ruiz, best known for campaigning for indigenous rights and acting as a mediator with the Zapatistas, died on Monday at the age of 86.

Image – Ettore Ferrari/EPA via The Guardian (“Support for Silvio Berlusconi's party has increased from 28% to 30% this month, according to a poll published in Corriere della Sera.”)
Online Sources- The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Tico Times, BBC News

Monday, January 24, 2011

World Watch: Moscow massacre

* Russia: Authorities claimed that a suicide bomber was behind a "terrorist attack" at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport that killed at least 35 people on Monday.

* Tunisia: The country’s interim government could enact major cabinet changes in response to demonstrations against the previous regime under recently ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

* Sudan: Preliminary results showed that most voters in southern Sudan want their region to become an independent country.

* Indonesia: Human rights groups are upset with what they believe is a lenient punishment against three Indonesian soldiers convicted of abusing a group of Papuan villagers.

Image – Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press via CBC (“A wounded blast victim is moved on a stretcher at Domodedovo airport in Moscow on Jan. 24, 2011.”)
Online Sources- Voice of America, New York Daily News, Xinhua, BBC News

Mexican caught in mistaken identity ordeal

As part of its strategy in combatting drug related violence Mexican authorities have sought the capture of the country’s dangerous drug gangs. At times there has been some success though a recent incident embarrassed Mexico’s law enforcement.

Last week Mexico’s federal prosecutor’s office announced that a YouTube video of one of the country's most wanted criminals was legitimate. They claimed that the images were of Fernando Sánchez Arellano and they reposted pictures of the figure on its Most Wanted website. The photos on the video were subsequently reprinted on the front pages of several Mexican newspapers. It seemed that Sánchez Arellano’s days on the lam would soon come to an end.

Yet there was a glaring problem: the photos were not of the wanted drug kingpin but instead of an industrial engineer named Raul Inda Gonzalez. He tried to clear up his identity with the Mexican police on Friday but not before briefly fleeing to San Diego “for security reasons.” The mislabeled photos were stolen from his Facebook page by his friends and made into the YouTube video in 2009.

The Mexican government has already apologized to Inda Gonzalez and removed the controversial photos from the website. In a recent news conference, however, he asked that the attorney general publicly apologize for the mistake and said that he could sue the government. His request is the least that could be done for a man caught in an unfortunate case of mistaken identity:

Video Source – Al Jazeera English via YouTube
Online Sources- Christian Science Monitor, CNN, Sify, UPI

Suspected Guatemalan war criminal arrested

In the twentieth century some Latin American political leaders and military officials abused their power and were behind terrible human rights atrocities. In recent years, however, the long arm of the law caught up with several of these figures and they’ve been forced to pay for their crimes. In the last month alone, for instance:
  • Ex-Argentine president Jorge Videla, who ruled for several years during the infamous “Dirty War” era, was sentenced to life in prison.
  • The former head of Chile’s secret police under dictator Augusto Pinochet was convicted for the murders of six political prisoners.
  • Corruption and misappropriation of public funds charges were raised against former Haitian president Jean-Claude Baby Doc” Duvalier. (Quick aside: where does ex-Congressman Bob Barr get the cojones to serve as Duvalier’s “advisor”?)
Jorge Sosa was a former military commander for several years in his native Guatemala during that country’s bloody civil war. He is accused of numerous war crimes including 1982’s Dos Erres massacre where he supposedly ordered troops to kill over 250 villagers. (A “United Nations-backed Truth Commission” found that soldiers killed babies by bashing their heads with hammers while women were repeatedly raped before being murdered).

Since fleeing Guatemala in the mid-1980s Sosa emigrated legally to the U.S. and Canada. While thousands of victims of Guatemala’s war nursed their physical wounds and psychological trauma, Sosa lived in impunity and even managed a martial arts training school in Calgary.

After one too many years living as a free man, Sosa was finally arrested in Canada last week. According to the Calgary Herald, Sosa “was retrained by heavy chains visible from his hands, which were closed and held up by his chest” during his first court appearance on Thursday.

Though he is wanted in Guatemala for his suspected war crimes, Sosa may face extradition to the U.S. where he’s accused of lying on his immigration papers. His son, who left Guatemala with Sosa for the U.S told the Canadian media that his father was innocent of the immigration charges against him. For one Guatemalan human rights activist whose bother died in the massacre, however, Sosa must be punished for the suffering his callousness caused:
"We're not looking for revenge, but we want justice to be applied and for these men to own up for what they've done -- to own up for the lives they took and give some peace to the families that continue to live with voids in their lives that can never be filled," (Aura Elena Farfan) said.

"They destroyed people's humanities, killed the innocent, and we're looking for a way for them to acknowledge the innocents, the lives they destroyed."
The Sosa case has raised serious questions over the Canadian immigration process. (He currently holds U.S. and Canadian citizenship). "I was astounded that war criminals always find a way to get into Canada and people who come in through the legal procedures have to wait like nine years to get all their papers" said Carmen Aguilera, Guatemala's former honorary consul to Canada, to the press.

Image- YouTube via CBC (“Jorge Vinicio Orantes Sosa, 52, seen in a karate demonstration, is wanted in Guatemala on war crimes. He was arrested in Lethbridge, Alta., on Tuesday.”).
Online Sources- Herald Sun, Gawker, The Latin Americanist, EPA, Reuters, Calgary Herald, Vancouver Sun, Toronto Sun, CTV News

Daily Headlines: January 24, 2011

* Chile: A Congressional commission blamed the owners of the San Jose mine, not the federal government, for safety lapses that led to the mine's collapse and thirty-three workers being trapped underground for nearly seventy days last year.

* Mexico: The U.N.'s top human rights official urged the Mexican government to look into the possible involvement of authorities in the disappearance of forty Central American migrants.

* Honduras: The country's LGBT community is on alert after the recent murders of three gay and trangender Hondurans.

* Brazil: The death toll of those killed by heavy rains and mudslides in Brazil increased to 785 while at least 400 people are still missing.

Image - Roberto Candia/AP via MSNBC ("Relatives of 33 trapped miners wait for news outside the collapsed mine San Jose in Copiapo, Chile" last August).
Online Sources -, Voice of America, BBC News, The Telegraph