Friday, March 25, 2011

World Watch: Escape

* Ivory Coast: A humanitarian crisis is rapidly developing on the Ivory Coast as an estimated one million refugees are fleeing the country.

* Portugal: The E.U. is considering a hefty bailout for Portugal after legislators rejected government-backed austerity measures.

* Canada: The Conservative Party-led government was defeated today after a vote of no confidence in the Canadian parliament.

* World: Unrest in Libya and the recent natural disasters in Japan could hurt the global auto industry according to this article.

Image – Reuters via Al Jazeera English (“The UNHCR's estimates of the number of displaced nearly doubled in the past week amid ongoing fighting.”)
Online Sources- USA TODAY, Xinhua, Bloomberg, euronews

Daily Headlines: March 25, 2011

* Uruguay: After reviewing the case of the daughter-in-law of Argentine poet Juan Gelman, the Inter-American Human Rights Court ruled that Uruguay should eliminate amnesty laws that protect former “dirty war” officials.

* Bolivia: Bolivia could take neighboring Chile to the international courts as part of the landlocked state’s ongoing dispute to regain access to the sea.

* Mexico: Mexican newspapers Reforma, La Jornada and Proceso did not sign on to a pact agreed upon by over forty media groups establishing guidelines on reporting on drug violence.

* Venezuela: A poll found that nearly half of respondents were either undecided or would not vote for President Hugo Chavez or the opposition.

Image – (Argentine poet Juan Gelman, seen here, believes that his daughter-in-law was kidnapped by Uruguayan officials in 1976 and taken to Argentina where she “disappeared.”)
Online Sources- MercoPress, CNN, The Latin Americanist, Voice of America, Canadian Press

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mexican state passes femicide law

Yesterday Mexico's interior ministry distributed a guide for federal employees with the goal of reducing machismo in the workplace. The useful recommendations in the "Manual for the Non-Sexist Use of Language" could help in promoting more equal workplaces though other measures may be more effective in combating violence against women.

Legislators in Mexico State unanimously passed a law last week that legally recognizes femicides as an independent crime category. Those found guilty of gender-based murder (as strictly defined by the new law) would be punished with a fine and a prison sentence of forty to seventy years. The measure also toughens penalties against sexual harassment and provides state officials with a legal mechanism to protect female victims of violence.

The new law also allowed for the creation of a specialized office in charge of cases of violence against women in Mexico State’s office of the Attorney General. This legal division has reportedly been busy identifying femicide cases that could be prosecuted under the newly created law.

Despite the overwhelming local legislative support though federal deputy Mónica Fragoso Maldonado told El Universal that the measure does little to solve the problem of violence against women:
“My particular viewpoint is against increasing penalties because we already have a repressive system that does not prevent that violence against women happens. Toughening penalties does not necessarily imply that delinquency will decrease even though (the new law) advances in codifying femicides”.
Carlos Mercado Casillas, deputy director of the organization that wrote the aforementioned manual, called for judicial reforms to make it easier for women to denounce possible cases of violence against them. Casillas claimed that 76% of all phone calls to Mexico’s emergency hotline were related to violence against women; thus making it a “fundamental problem of public safety”.

According to an umbrella group of women’s rights organizations at least 1700 females have been killed in Mexico since 2009.

Image- Margarito Perez/Reuters via (“Pink crosses made out of paper, each representing a woman who has been killed, are placed on a square in Cuernavaca in Mexico on March 7.”)
Online Sources- Prcoeso, Milenio, France24,, Excelsior

Daily Headlines: March 24, 2011

* South America: At least 100 cases of the H1N1 virus (a.k.a. the swine flu) have been reported in Venezuela’s Merida state while an Argentine girl died after contracting dengue fever.

* Mexico: Mexican and Ecuadorian law enforcement officials conducted a number of raids and arrests aimed at weakening the Sinaloa drug gang.

* Cuba: The government released the last pair of political prisoners from a group of 75 dissidents detained in the infamous 2003 "Black Spring" crackdown.

* Brazil: Automakers like Volkswagen and Fiat are allegedly trying to boost production in order to satisfy Brazil’s rapidly growing car market.

Image – AFP/Getty via The Telegraph (Archived photo of people trying to protect themselves from the swine flu by wearing facial masks).
Online Sources-, Bloomberg, Reuters, The Guardian, CNN

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

And the winner of Haiti's presidential election is...


The results of Sunday’s runoff between musician Michel Martelly and former First Lady Mirlande Manigat continue to be tabulated. Preliminary results are expected to be announced one week from tomorrow while the final tally will be confirmed in mid-April.

In the meantime, it appears as if the real victors are the Haitian electorate who supposedly turned out in large numbers to some voting centers. According to Euronews:

International electoral observers praised the peaceful nature of Sunday’s vote despite political turmoil over the last several months and a problematic first round last November. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated Haiti on "the successful conduct" of the runoff while E.U. officials approved the manner in which the election was conducted.

Sunday’s vote was not devoid of problems such as polls opening late, missing voting materials and some harassment by partisan followers. Yet it has been reported that such inconveniences pale in comparison to the accusations in the first round of ballot stuffing and interference by President Rene Preval.

Former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s return from exile last worried U.S. diplomats but it seems as that his return did not lead to any widespread violence on Election Day. He came back to Haiti on Friday but he has since kept a low profile and rejected endorsing ether Martelly or Manigat.

The calmness after Sunday’s vote can perhaps best be explained by the stronger emphasis some media outlets seem to place on musician Wyclef Jean’s gunshot wound instead of the elections.

Video Source – Euronews via YouTube
Online Sources – AHN, The Latin Americanist, Voice of America, Caribbean360, Reuters, BBC News

Nuestro Cine: El Salvador’s “olvidados”

One of the most significant Mexican films of all time was 1950’s “Los Olvidados” (“The Forgotten Ones), which focused on impoverished children living in Mexico City. That movie’s title can also apply to El Salvador’s youth who are lost in a maelstrom of crime and poverty.

U.S. President Barack Obama may have cut his trip to El Salvador a little short, but not before he announced several measures. He pledged $200 million for Central American states to address security concerns including combating gang violence. He also acknowledged the need for El Salvador to create job opportunities, especially for younger generations, in order to stem the flow of illegal immigration into the U.S.

It remains to be seen if his words will translate into meaningful actions that will benefit Salvadorian youth, such as those who were the subject of “La Vida Loca” (“The Crazy Life”). The acclaimed documentary focused on El Salvador’s gang warfare and how adolescents get involved in such a dangerous way of life. The film provided an unflinching look at a very dark reality for one too many Salvadorans including footage of gang initiations and funerals.

The film’s insight into Salvadoran gang life eventually led to the 2009 murder of the documentary’s director, Christian Poveda. Two weeks ago a Salvadoran court convicted ten gang members suspected of assassinating Poveda, “an important message that impunity in crimes against journalists will not be tolerated” according to a Committee to Protect Journalists representative.

Below is the trailer from “La Vida Loca.” The images from Poveda’s magnum opus speak for themselves:

Video Source - YouTube
Online Sources- Cinelogue, Voice of America,, The Guardian, Committee to Protect Journalists

Daily Headlines: March 23, 2011

* Mexico: Mexican foreign minister Patricia Espinosa claimed that ties between Mexico and the U.S. have not been hurt by the resignation last week of U.S. ambassador Carlos Pascual.

* Nicaragua: President Daniel Ortega registered to run for another term despite accusations that his bid for reelection is unconstitutional.

* Puerto Rico: Pedro Pierluisi, the commonwealth’s non-voting Congressional representative, was found to be the top-spending legislator acceding to the non-partisan Sunlight Foundation.

* South America: Organizers of the 2012 Dakar Rally confirmed that the event will take place again in Argentina and Chile, and will be expanded for the first time to Peru.

Image – Reuters/Daniel Aguilar via Reuters (U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual resigned last Saturday after documents uncovered by WikiLeaks showed that he was highly critical of Mexican antidrug efforts).
Online Sources- El Nuevo Herald, CBS News, Sify, USA TODAY, France24

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

World Watch: Forgotten conflicts

* Ivory Coast: According to the BBC News, several U.N. aid agencies have warned that the escalating conflict in the Ivory Coast is leading to “forgotten humanitarian catastrophe.”

* Syria: Security forces could be to blame for gunfire erupting in Deraa where hundreds of protesters have been demonstrating for nearly a week.

* Libya: Fighter planes from countries including the U.S., Britain and France continue to attack Libyan military targets while the anti-government international coalition could be expanded to thirteen countries.

* Japan: Power has been restored to all six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that continues to be crippled after the March 11th earthquake and tsunami.

Image – Luc Gnago/Reuters via The Guardian (“Young supporters of Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo gather at a stadium at army headquarters in Abidjan to sign up for military service.”)
Online Sources- BBC News, Reuters, Voice of America, The Globe and Mail

Obama backs Cuban dissidents, protesters

U.S. President Barack Obama urged Cuba’s government to enact “meaningful actions” in order to expand the freedom of residents on the island.

In remarks made yesterday during his visit to Chile, Obama claimed that the Cuban people “deserve” the same freedoms “as everyone else in this hemisphere.” He acknowledged the efforts of Cuba’s opposition movement including the Ladies in White who have faced constant harassment by pro-government supporters.

Additionally, Obama emphasized relaxing travel and remittance restrictions as examples of the U.S. trying to improve ties with Cuba. Relations between both countries have been strained over the past several weeks, especially with the conviction of aid worker Alan Gross for allegedly aiding Cuban dissidents. Obama did not mention the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, a decades-long measure that served as a sore point between the U.S. and Cuban governments.

The Cuban government has yet to respond to Obama’s words though state television aired a film critical of the island’s dissidents. The documentary accused the U.S. of launching a “new kind of counterrevolution” against Cuba by using “cyber-mercenary” bloggers such as Yoani Sanchez. Sanchez replied by posting a video on her blog of a symposium with other anti-Castro activists. According to AFP:
In a blog video in response to the latest charges, Sanchez and five other opponents accuse the government of "demonizing" the Internet after revolutions led by online activists brought down longstanding regimes in Egypt and Tunisia.

"It is nervous because social networks like Twitter and Facebook can play the same role in Cuba they did in Egypt and Tunisia," it said.
Image- Reuters via BBC News (The Ladies in White where confronted by government supporters in this photo taken last month).
Online Sources- CNN, AP, AFP, Generation Y, The Latin Americanist, Sydney Morning Herald

Obama skips apologizing for U.S. backing Pinochet

U.S. President Barack Obama moves on to El Salvador this afternoon for the final leg of his five-day Latin American tour. He spent roughly twenty-four hours in Chile where he focused on the need to look towards a better future for Latin America. Yet when confronted by a delicate question over Chile’s past Obama preferred to skirt the query.

During a press conference yesterday a Chilean reporter asked Obama if he would be willing to apologize for the U.S. involvement with the 1973 coup d’état led by late dictator Augusto Pinochet. “I cannot discuss the politics of the past…It’s important that we do not remain trapped by history” replied Obama.

Nonetheless, Obama pledged that the U.S. would cooperate with Chilean authorities to investigate human rights abuses under the Pinochet regime. (Nearly 3200 people were estimated to have been either killed or “disappeared” under during Pinochet’s seventeen-year rule). Obama’s promise to help “clarify” the deaths of former presidents Salvador Allende and Eduardo Frei Montalva satisfied the son of the latter, congressman Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, who praised Obama’s “commitment to democracy and human rights.”

Prior to Obama’s comments one group representing victims’ families and several legislators penned a letter seeking a mea culpa from Obama as well as “declassifying all archives pertaining to U.S. intervention in Chile.” Additionally, several hundred protesters marched in the Chilean capital city of Santiago against Obama’s visit and U.S. cooperation with Pinochet.

By not apologizing, however, Obama may have avoided adding more wood to the fire being stoked by opposition at home:
Obama’s decision not to offer an explicit apology may have been aimed avoiding another round of criticism from Republicans at home, who have previously accused him of being on an “apology tour” during his past travels. They have cited remarks he made about the “arrogance” of past U.S. attitudes toward Europe and even some comments on Latin America, though none have appeared to be outright apologies.
Image- La Cuarta (Monday afternoon’s press conference between the U.S. and Chilean presidents took place at the same presidential palace where Salvador Allende died in a 1973 coup).
Online Sources-,, Reuters, La Tercera, La Nacion, El Nuevo Herald, Voice of America, Politico

Today’s Video: High and dry

There are several items in the news that we plan on discussing today including some related to U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Latin America. Before doing so, however, we would like to point out that today is World Water Day.

According to British risk consultants Maplecroft, most countries in the Middle East and North Africa have very insecure water supplies and this could lead to increased political strife. Regarding Latin America, a majority of countries in Central and South America face a "medium" water security risk. Some of these states have faced mixed results after the privatization of publicly-owned water companies though the main challenge according to IPS news is "expanding coverage of high-quality water services".

In the Americas, Mexico is one of the few "high" risk countries regarding water supply according to the Maplecroft study. Water shortages have hurt the metropolis of Mexico City though other parts of Mexico are also affected by a lack of safe water resources. This (along with "clever advertising campaigns by multinational corporations" and government inaction) has led Mexico to become the world's top consumer of bottled water.

The following video via YouTube user nanasurbanas looks at the many difficulties faced by the indigenous Huichol community due to the scarcity of potable water. It is a very fitting video to feature on World Water Day:

Online Sources - Maplecroft, AHN, IPS, Al Jazeera English, McClatchy
Video Source - nanasurbanas via YouTube

Daily Headlines: March 22, 2011

* Guatemala: First Lady Sandra Torres de Colom will allegedly divorce from her husband, President Alvaro Colom, in order to legally run in this September’s presidential election.

* Venezuela: The Chavez administration inked several economic deals with China including “a $4 billion line of credit for Caracas' housing investments.”

* Argentina: President Cristina Fernandez may have her back against he wall over a money laundering investigation that led to calls of a general strike.

* Colombia: Author Juan Gabriel Vasquez won the prestigious Alfaguara Spanish literary prize for his novel on the "dark balance of an age of terror and violence" in Bogota.

Image – AP via BBC News
Online Sources- ABC News, Sify, AFP, The Telegraph

Monday, March 21, 2011

Daily Headlines: March 21, 2011

* Peru: Ex-President Alejandro Toledo’s lead in the presidential polls narrowed against populist candidate Ollanta Humala.

* Chile: A Florida court sentenced Dannie Roy Baker to five life sentences for the shooting deaths of two Chilean exchange students in February 2009.

* Cuba: Pugilist Odlanier Solis was jeered by the crowd after losing to Vitali Klitschko in the first round of their heavyweight boxing title fight on Saturday.

* Colombia: Nine people were sentenced to forty years in prison for the murder of former paramilitary leader Carlos Castano.

Image – Reuters via Peru21
Online Sources- La Tercera, The Latin Americanist, Bloomberg, The Guardian, BBC News

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Brazil’s shift to democracy could inspire Middle East says Obama

Brazil’s transition from military rule into a thriving democracy can serve as an example for other countries including in the Middle East according to U.S. President Barack Obama.

In the speech given in Rio de Janeiro’s Municipal Theatre, Obama emphasized that Brazil is “a country that shows democracy delivers both freedom and opportunity to its people.” “As two nations who have struggled over many generations to perfect our own democracies, the United States and Brazil know that the future of the Arab world will be determined by its people,” Obama said to the crowd of roughly 2000 people.
In part of his speech (which can be seen below) Obama explained the example of Brazilian democracy for the world:

Though Obama neglected to back Brazil’s bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, he touched on the importance of close relations between the U.S. and the growing global power. “Let us stand together…not as senior and junior partners, but as equal partners,” said Obama.

Earlier on Sunday Obama visited the Ciudade de Dios (City of God) favela where he watched children perform capoeira moves and also kicked a soccer ball around with some kids. Despite the welcoming crowds in that slum and during his speech, an estimated 200 people protested near the Municipal Theatre protested against U.S. foreign policy.

Today’s speech was supposed to take place in Rio’s Cinelandia plaza but was changed abruptly days before Obama arrived in Brazil. The U.S. Embassy did not explain why the venue was switched, though Cinelandia was the site where a key 1984 protest took place against the ruling dictatorship. Obama seemed to have acknowledged this in his speech when he discussed Brazil’s shift to democracy.

Tonight he is expected to tour Rio’s famed Christ the Redeemer statue before moving on to Chile on Monday. He will be there until Wednesday when he travels to El Salvador, the last country on his visit to Latin America.

Video Source – AP via YouTube
Online Sources- BBC News, MSNBC,, USA TODAY, Los Angeles Times, The Latin Americanist, Bloomberg, Reuters