Friday, April 15, 2011

Today’s Video: The long arm of the law

There are occasions when it takes far too long for justice to be served but when it does it may be worth the wait.

Take the case of Reynaldo Bignone, Argentina’s de facto president during the final seventeen months of the infamous “Dirty War” regime. Bignone was part of a repressive government where tens of thousands of Argentines where killed and “disappeared” between 1976 and 1983. He enjoyed impunity for over two decades until the Argentine Supreme Court in 2005 overturned the amnesty that protected Bignone and other “Ditty War” figures.

For many years the families of victims targeted by Bignone and his cohorts have had to swallow the bitter pill of his impunity. Yet they received a measure of justice last year when he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his involvement in the kidnapping, torture and murder of 56 people at a military complex. A more severe and deserved punishment was handed down yesterday when a judge sentenced him to life in prison for the to torture and murders of political opponents in 1976.

Bignone claimed that the civil court was not "competent" to judge him and his attorneys sought house arrest for the 83-year-old. Yet he will have to spend the rest of his life behind bars along with three other former military or police officers were also given life sentences.

The court’s decision was praised by local human rights organizations and groups representing victims’ families including one that recently received a high honor from UNESCO. According to BBC News:
"This is a historic day for all Argentines of goodwill," said Estela de Carlotto, leader of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo human rights group.

"Many countries are viewing Argentina with growing respect because we are carrying the banners of truth and justice on behalf of the 30,000," she added.
Bignone still faces trial over the alleged the illegal adoptions of hundreds of babies from parents who were kidnapped and tortured. In the meantime, he will have plenty of time to reflect over his crimes while in prison:

Video Source – ntnnews24 via YouTube
Online Sources- BBC News, Buenos Aires Herald, The Latin Americanist

Daily Headlines: April 15, 2011

* Cuba: U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar admitted that planned offshore oil drilling by Cuba was an “issue of concern” being “monitored carefully” by U.S. officials.

* Chile: Senator Isabel Allende, daughter of late Chilean President Salvador Allende, requested that his remains be exhumed as part of an investigation into his death in 1973.

* Mexico: Attorney General Marisela Morales announced the arrests of sixteen police officers allegedly working in conjunction with the Zetas drug gang to cover up a series of mass graves.

* Brazil: A government report found that major improvement planned at Brazil’s main airports would not be ready in time for the 2014 soccer World Cup.

Image – France24 (“View of an oil pump in Havana.”)
Online Sources- BBC News, Reuters, Voice of America, CNN, The Latin Americanist

Thursday, April 14, 2011

De Musica Ligera: Lero-Lero

Every month several blogs specializing in music feature artists from around the world as part of a project entitled the Music Alliance Pact. ("It's sort of like the WTO without the human rights violations," according to the I Guess I'm Floating blog).

April's version of the MAP (as featured in the Einstein Music Journal) contains a fantastic variety of over thirty international musicians from countries like Singapore, South Africa, and Sweden. Latin America is also well represented by the likes of Peruvian rockeros Kuraka and Mexican DJ Toy Selectah.

Brazilian singer Luisa Maita receives a deserved mention in the MAP for a song described as such:
Lero-Lero is the minimalist samba that opens the debut album from singer Luísa Maita. It’s a song that calmly grows, almost without you noticing – her soft voice takes you to a special place in your head and suddenly you’re just dancing and singing along with her.
Lero-Lero can be downloaded for free via her website. Nonetheless, here is the video for this delightful song from Luisa Maita:

Video Source - Cumbancha Music via YouTube
Online Sources - I Guess I'm Floating, Einstein Music Journal, Official website of Luisa Maita

Colombia to extradite suspected drug capo to Venezuela

A suspected drug smuggler held in Colombia will be extradited to Venezuela instead of the U.S.

Colombian Interior Minister German Vargas Lleras confirmed yesterday that his government would hand over Walid Makled to Venezuelan authorities within the next five days. Lleras confirmed that the decision was made since Venezuela filed the request for extradition before the U.S. Furthermore, Lleras acknowledged that Makled is wanted on more serious charges in Venezuela including the murder of a journalist.

Lleras thus confirmed remarks by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos where he said that Makled would be extradited in exchange for two alleged “big drug lords” currently in Venezuela.

The upcoming extradition of Makled is just the latest chapter in the improved ties between Venezuela and Colombia since Santos assumed the presidency last year. Over the past week alone Santos praised his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, for extraditing a pair of suspected guerillas to Colombia. Last weekend Santos and Chavez met and signed a number of bilateral agreements such as improving trade relations. More importantly, Santos helped broker a meeting between Chavez and Honduran leader Porfirio Lobo that could ease the Central American country’s return to the Organization of American States.

The Colombian government’s decision was heavily criticized by some U.S. legislators and right-leaning publications as a diplomatic failure of the Obama administration. Ardent anti-Chavez Rep. Connie Mack claimed that having Makled in U.S. custody “would have been a huge victory in our region's drug war." An editorial in the Investor’s Business Daily went as far as comparing sending Makled to Venezuela to the U.S. not seeking the extradition of Osama Bin Laden from Sudan in 1996.

Makled previously claimed that he would only divulge information on alleged ties between the Chavez administration and narcotraffickers if her were sent to the U.S. Yet Makled could change his tune after Lleras mentioned "we have given full access to the American government for any matter they consider useful" and that such access was already underway.

As reported on the Christian Science Monitor’s website, Makled provided hints of some of his accusations during a recently aired interview on Univision:
Makled did not directly address allegations that he is a drug lord, as US prosecutors claim, but said that he regularly paid millions of dollars in bribes to Venezuelan government and military officials to gain lucrative business concessions…

He claims at one time to have had as many as 40 generals on his payroll, though he says he didn’t have to recruit any of them. “It was more like they recruited me,” he told the interviewer with a laugh.

In the interview, Makled also says Hezbollah is “absolutely” active in Venezuela but is saving the details for the court. “They make money and then send all that money to the Middle East.”
The Makled affair has also deepened the rift between two former close-knit allies: ex-president Alvaro Uribe and Santos who served as defense minister under Uribe. In a tweet posted today Uribe claimed that the U.S. “intent” to seek Makled should’ve surpassed Venezuela’s “formal” request. After Santos declared on Monday that Venezuela was free of FARC rebel camps, Uribe implied the opposite in a series of tweets tagged "terrorist hideaway".

Image- LAHT
Online Sources- Too many to list!

Daily Headlines: April 14, 2011

* Cuba: The Economist’s blog on the Americas blasted last week’s U.S. court ruling absolving ex-CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles of criminal charges yet suggested he could be sent to Cuba in exchange for imprisoned contractor Alan Gross.

* Uruguay: By a razor-thin margin the Uruguayan Senate approved a measure that would eliminate an amnesty for crimes committed during the country's 1973 to 1985 dictatorship.

* Central America: Costa Rican and Nicaraguan diplomats met on Tuesday and discussed several border disputes between the two states.

* Brazil: Police arrested a Rio de Janeiro politician and accused him of running a violent “paramilitary” group.

Image – Juan Carlos Llorca/AP via The Guardian (“Cuban anti-communist and former CIA agent Luis Posada Carriles has been cleared on 11 charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and immigration fraud.”)
Online Sources- The Economist, The Latin Americanist, Press TV, People’s Daily Online, BBC News

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Brazil: Gun control referendum proposed

As we mentioned on Monday, last week’s deadly school shooting in Rio de Janeiro reignited the debate over gun control in Brazil. One measure being proposed being considered by the country’s legislature could be a throwback to a previous attempt at gun control:
Brazilian lawmakers say they will propose a national vote on whether to ban the sale of guns, after a deadly shooting at a school last week…

The bill would have to be approved by both the Senate and the House before going on the ballot.

The leader of Brazil's Senate, Jose Sarney, said any referendum would be held at the beginning of October - the earliest possible date for the bill to pass and the referendum to be called.

Brazil held a similar referendum in 2005 under former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, but 64% voted against a ban.

Meantime, a Brazilian TV network aired Tuesday night a video purportedly of gunman Wellington Oliveira taped two days before the shooting. The 58-second video recovered from his computer’s hard drive details his plans for the shooting and railed against the “cruel, cowardly people who take advantage of the kindness, the innocence, the weakness of people who are incapable of defending themselves".

Twelve children aged between 10 and 13 years were killed indiscriminately by Oliveira before he allegedly shot himself in the head. It’s unknown if the death toll will rise since four students are still hospitalized including a pair in critical condition.

Students at the Columbine High School in the U.S. were thirteen people died in a 1999 shooting have sent letters of solidarity to schoolchildren at the Tasso da Silveira school. "You are not alone. There are people who are praying for you,” read one note that was translated into Portuguese by a Brazilian student at Columbine according to

Image- Victor R. Caivano/AP via (“A man visits a makeshift memorial of twelve crosses representing each child killed the day before in a school shootout in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Friday, April 8.”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, MSNBC, BBC News,

Kenji, the other Fujimori

With nearly 100% of the vote counted it definitely appears like Ollanta Humala will face Keiko Fujimori in a June presidential runoff. Potential voters will likely face plenty of negative campaigning in the weeks ahead from both candidates including accusations against Keiko’s father, imprisoned and disgraced ex-president Alberto Fujimori. It remains to be seen how presidential race will affect the third member of the Fujimori political clan – congressman-elect Kenji Fujimori.

On Sunday, Kenji received the highest voting total of all the candidates running ran for Congress. Despite his overall lack of political experience, the thirty-year-old received at least 133,000 votes according to preliminary results. His high vote tally permits him to serve as Congressional president though he rejected it in order to “avoid misinterpretations.”

Kenji unsurprisingly ran as a candidate of his older sister’s Fuerza 2011 political party though he was not expected to emulate Keiko’s accomplishment five years ago when she received the most votes heading into the legislature.

Both siblings have invoked their father’s name in order to back a possible resurgence of fujimorismo to the Peruvian presidency. Keiko has tried to walk a fine line by praising “accomplishments” under her father’s decade in power while downplaying the scandals that led to his humiliating downfall. Kenji, meanwhile, appeared to be his father’s most vocal cheerleader and he claimed that his campaign victory served as a “vindication of the works and successes under Alberto Fujimori.”

Despite his electoral popularity, Kenji's economic dealings raised a few eyebrows. In February it was revealed in the Peruvian press that he sold his minority stake in a company to a fellow Fuerza 2011 candidate at eight times its original value. It should come as no shock then that he was one of the 370 legislative candidates who did not disclose their personal finances to electoral officials.

Image- El Universo
Online Sources- La Republca, El Comercio, RPP, CNN

Today’s Video: Fighting back

Mexico’s drug-related violence has once again grabbed headlines after authorities uncovered at least 116 bodies in a series of mass graves. Seventeen suspects possibly linked to the Zetas drug gang were arrested for the graves in Tamaulipas, the same Mexican state where the corpses of 72 Latin American migrants where found last August.

Though the situation in Mexico appears dire, several individuals have given hope that civil society will not idly sit by and do nothing in the face of violence. One of these people is poet and journalist Javier Sicilia whose son, Juan Francisco, was found dead last month along with six other victims in Morelos state. His death led to protests nationwide last week where an estimated tens of thousands of Mexicans repudiated the country’s violence.

Sicilia himself has become the face of protest against violence and has been outspoken in seeking justice for the death of his son. In a letter penned in Proceso magazine, Sicilia blasted the government for their “badly proposed, badly made, badly led war” against drug gangs as well as the criminals whom he compared to “miserable Nazi sonderkommandos who kill children, boys, girls, women men and elders without any human sense.” Even though Sicilia’s pressure influenced the removal of Morelos’ public safety secretary, he continues to criticize governor Marco Adame for "playing dumb" when it came to security.

In the below video from BBC Mundo, Sicilia did not shy away from critiquing President Felipe Calderon for his “stupid war” against drug gangs that has led to over 35,000 deaths since he came into power four years ago. He explained that his campaign comes from his “moral conviction” to represent the thousands of sons who have died and who will be killed as a result of Mexican violence. Sicilia’s view is one that is shared by a Mexican society demanding greater accountability from officials and repudiation against criminal organizations.
Video Source – BBC Mundo
Online Sources- LAHT, Guanabee, The Latin Americanist, CNN, The Guardian

Daily Headlines: April 13, 2011

* Chile: Was Chilean president Sebastián Piñera really hoodwinked by his pen-stealing Czech counterpart Vaclav Klaus?

* Paraguay: The country is going through one of the worst epidemics of the dengue fever according to local health authorities.

* Guatemala: First lady Sandra Torres de Colom could soon run for the presidency after a judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging the divorce from her president husband.

* Uruguay: Uruguay could become the next Latin American country to legalize same sex marriages.

Video Source – euronews via YouTube
Online Sources- The Guardian, Mercopress, Huffington Press, On Top Magazine

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Daily Headlines: April 12, 2011

* Uruguay: The senate is expected to overturn an amnesty for crimes against humanity allegedly committed by former senior officials during the 1973-85 dictatorship.

* Central America: According to the U.S. Defense Department, Central America has become one of the world’s most dangerous regions.

* Honduras: In its annual human rights report last week, the U.S. State Department blasted Honduras for a spike in “hate crimes” against the country’s LGBT population.

* Puerto Rico: Last week’s last-second deal between the White House and Congress over spending could cost Puerto Rico as much as 10% in federal aid.

* Haiti: A U.S. company blamed Cuba for the sinking of a barge carrying supplies to Haiti.

* Paraguay: A complaint was filed with the Paraguayan environmental ministry accusing two Brazilian firms of destroying nearly 9000 acres of “virgin forest.”

Image – (An estimated 2008 protesters marched in 2008 calling for the investigation of Uruguay’s "disappeared”.)
Online Sources-, MSNBC,, LAHT, McClatchy, AFP

Monday, April 11, 2011

Today’s Video: Keep ‘em barefoot and pregnant

Women throughout Latin America have made great strides in combating outdated attitudes of machismo. (For instance, Marisela Morales Ibáñez became Mexico’s first female Attorney General). Unfortunately, obtaining overall gender equality continues to be an uphill climb especially in areas where traditional views of men and women are still espoused.

Al Bundy on “Married With Children” may’ve beaten Colombian Beto Barreto to the punch yet that didn’t stop him from founding the Casanare Machista Movement. Barreto, who as you can see in the video below has the looks only a mother might love, created his political platform with the expressed purpose of stripping women’s rights. Luckily his misogynistic notions of making adultery legal only for men and eliminating obligatory child support payments have mercifully not caught on with the general public.

(Click here for part two).

Video Source – Univision via YouTube
Online Sources- BBC Mundo, Urban Dictionary

World Watch: Gone Gbagbo gone

* Ivory Coast: Disgraced former president Laurent Gbagbo may face “judicial proceedings” after he was detained by French and opposition forces.

* Japan: No tsunami warning was issued after a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck off the Japanese coast one month after a major tremor and tsunami killed an estimated 25,000 people.

* Belarus: President Alexander Lukashenko claimed that a deadly bombing in the Minsk metro on Monday might’ve been a “gift from abroad.”

* France: Two Muslim women were arrested for peacefully protesting France’s ban on wearing face veils in public.

Image – Str/AFP/Getty Images via The Guardian (“Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo and his wife Simone after their arrest.”)
Online Sources- Busninessweek, USA TODAY, BBC News, The Guardian

Brazilians mourn school shooting victims

Tears and sadness overflowed in Rio de Janeiro over the weekend as funerals were held for twelve students killed in a school shootout. It may never be known why 23-year-old Wellington Menezes Oliveira indiscriminately opened fire at the children on Thursday though he reportedly left a suicide letter giving his burial instructions.

Last week’s tragedy shined a light on Brazil’s already strict gun control laws. According to the AP potential gun purchasers must meet a strict series of requirements including being at least 25 years old, passing a psychological exam and having no criminal record. Yet police charged two suspects with illegally selling the murder weapon with its serial number scratched off to Oliveira.

A parliamentary commission found that 580,000 handguns were sold illegally in the state of Rio de Janeiro or over double the amount of legally registered guns. It’s unknown if the weapon in the Oliveira’s shooting was one of the estimated tens of thousands of weapons sold illicitly into Brazil.

Lawmakers and activists on both sides of the gun control debate have used the tragedy to support their respective positions. “I will fight so that this doesn’t lead to a person being prohibited from having the right to have an arm to defend their family and property,” said gun rights backed Congressman Onyx Lorenzoni. On Sunday, meanwhile, a rally was held at Copacabana beach in favor of greater action to control arms trafficking.

While the gun control debate gathers steam, it would be a pity if it were to overshadow Brazil’s mental health issues. It seems that the demons of Oliveira’s mind unfortunately got the better of him:
As vigils were held for about 10 children still in the hospital, investigators and family members revealed new details about Mr. Oliveira. Police officials said he had been introspective as a boy, methodical and unsociable. Teachers told the police he had been bullied at school.

Family members had chastised him for saying that he was impressed by the Sept. 11 attacks, and for saying that he wanted to send a plane crashing into Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue.

The police said telephone records showed that in the past eight months Mr. Oliveira had called just one number: a tavern near his home that delivered food.
Image- Reuters via BBC News
Online Sources- Xinhua, LAHT, UPI, MSNBC, AFP, CNN, New York Times,

U.S.: Court upholds Arizona immigration law injunction

Last July, U.S. federal judge Susan Bolton struck down several sections of Arizona’s controversial immigration SB 1070 law. Bolton placed a temporary injunction on some provisions including making it a criminal offense for non-citizens to not carry paperwork and allowing local police to check a suspect’s immigration status.

As CNN’s website reported, an appeals court this afternoon upheld Bolton’s decision:
In its ruling, a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit sided with the U.S. Justice Department and against Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the measure known as SB 1070 into law last year…

Monday's decision came more than five months after both sides presented their cases in San Francisco to the federal appeals court judges. The ruling was written by federal Judge Richard Anthony Paez and supported in full by Judge John Noonan. Judge Carlos Bea partially concurred and partially dissented from the ruling opinion…

"We hold that the district court did not abuse its discretion," the ruling states. "Therefore, we affirm the district court's preliminary injunction order enjoining these certain provisions of SB 1070."
Today’s decision could be appealed by Arizonan officials and taken all the way to the Supreme Court.

Arizona became the epicenter of the national immigration debate due to the implementation of SB 1070. Proponents of the measure argued in part that it was needed to control illegal immigrants crossing from Mexico. The Justice Department sued to block the law while other critics including Latino right groups argued that SB 1070 would lead to harassment of Latinos residing in Arizona.

The fervor in Arizona has received less media attention compared to roughly a year ago but that hasn’t stopped some states from trying to pass their own SB1070-like laws. Legislatures in at least ten states have defeated “restrictive immigration measures” according to the Immigration Impact website. Yet as Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer noted, “Arizona-styled bills” are being debated in four states including Florida and Oklahoma.

Image- Gallo/Getty via Al Jazeera English (Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, CNN, The Guardian, Immigration Impact, Miami Herald

Runoff likely to decide Peruvian presidential race

In the days leading up to Peru’s presidential elections Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa said that selecting Ollanta Humala or Keiko Fujimori would be like “choosing between cancer and AIDS.” after yesterday’s election it appears that Vargas Llosa’s remarks were not only exaggerative but also prophetic.

With approximately 80% of the vote counted, Peruvian electoral officials reported that Humala leads with a plurality of 30.5% of the vote. He will likely miss obtaining a majority to skip the runoff and his second round rival appears to be Fujimori who has gradually widened her slim advantage over third-place Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.

Both Humala and Fujimori have tried to distance themselves from past baggage that has harmed their respective candidacies. Four years ago, Humala would lose in the runoff to Alan Garcia after he portrayed himself as a firebrand revolutionary a la Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. This time around, however, Humala he has distanced himself from Chavez and tried to portray himself as a moderate leftist similar to ex-Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Fujimori is the daughter of disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori and this has served as both an advantage and a hindrance. On the one hand, her candidacy appealed to followers of her father who view him as a savior after Garcia’s disastrous first term in the presidency. Yet the imprisoned former leader is also a reviled figure due to a massive corruption scandal during his presidency and numerous human rights abuses committed by the military. Thus, Keiko has backed away from rumors that she would give her dad a pardon should she win the presidency.

Though Humala and Fujimori reportedly have support among lower-income Peruvians frustrated at the lack of economic equality, each candidate will need to appeal to certain voting blocs that may prove to be key in the runoff. For instance, moderate voters who backed former economy minister Kuczynski or ex-president Alejandro Toledo will likely have a hard time picking between Humala or Fujimori. The youth vote may prove to be decisive such as the over six million voters aged between 18 and 29.

Over 754,000 Peruvian voters reside abroad and according to early results Kuczynski holds a comfortable lead among expats over Humala and Fujimori. In the video below, Peruvian voters living in Spain went to the polls yesterday though a few complained of irregularities in the voting process:

Online Sources- Mercopress, ONPE, Xinhua, NPR, U.S. News and World Report, TeleSUR, LAHT
Video Source – Europa Press via YouTube

Daily Headlines: April 11, 2011

* Latin America: Latin America’s strong economic growth contributed to a spike last year in regional arms spending according to an analysis from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

* Mexico: Details emerged of a renewed pilot program agreed to by Presidents Felipe Calderon and Barack Obama last month that would permit Mexican long-haul truckers to transport in the U.S.

* Dominican Republic: President Leonel Fernandez declared that he would not run again next year though he did not discard seeking the presidency in 2016.

* U.S.: Baseball star Manny Ramirez retired on Saturday supposedly after testing positive once again for performance-enhancing drugs.

Image – AP via (2008 image where “Venezuelan soldiers shouted as they marched during the country's July 5 independence day military parade in Caracas.”)
Online Sources- Xinhua, The Latin Americanist, Reuters, Time, MSNBC